The Bible as Literature: Joseph’s Deceptions

Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him into a pit after conspiring to kill him, considered selling him to the Ishmealites, instead leaving him in the pit to be kidnapped by the Midianite traders. As such it’s amazing to believe that Joseph would still hold love in his heart for his brothers. And maybe that’s the real basis for this story…

When Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in pursuit of grain they do not recognize their lost younger brother. Joseph then does nothing to strike their memory of him, instead employs deceptions as a means to draw his fleshly blood brother to him, and then ultimately his father. This is the equivalent to modern-day ‘not showing your cards’.

First Joseph deceives his brothers into believing that he is an Egyptian, not Isreals son as he truly was, by speaking the Egyptian language and using an interpreter in speaking to his brothers. I believe this deception was merely a foresight on Joseph’s part as he worked to figure out what to do, and devise a plan.

Next Joseph accuses the brothers of being spies, though he knows full well who they are and that they are in the land of Egypt only to obtain grain. Here we start to see Joseph’s plan start to form and take shape. With this accusation he has the means to hassle the unsuspecting brothers, and to rattle them a bit making them eager to acquiesce to whatever it is that the Governor might suggest.

Joseph then tells the brothers that they must send one to retrieve the youngest brother (Benjamin) while the others remain in prison as proof that they are indeed not spies. He then throws them in prison and leaves them to sit and reflect for three days.

Joseph then calls the brothers before him and saying that he fears God and tells them instead to leave one brother behind, the others should take the food, and then bring back the youngest brother as proof of their words. Ah ha! A light goes on in the readers mind – Joseph is forcing the brothers again to abandon a brother and he wants to see if they might do so. They agree to his terms, and turn away to lament their demise feeling as though they’ve succumbed to the reckoning or retribution of Joseph’s lost blood. Hearing their lament Joseph turns away, and cries privately.

Another deception – Joseph returns to take Simeon and binds him in front of his brothers as he is the one to be left behind. Binding Simeon before them is a gesture of power and likely was to instill fear in the Governor. This was a power play and we know that Joseph’s intention was not to have his brother suffer in prison. Obviously he hoped that the brothers would then hurry home and return as fast as possible to rescue their brother, and with their youngest brother in tow as agreed.

As they prepare to leave Joseph is again sneaky and gives orders to have their sacks replenished with the money that they had brought to purchase the grain. Likely this was more insurance on Joseph’s part – to incite his brothers to honesty and again for a hurried return to Egypt with the youngest brother, his blood brother, so that he may see him.

Unfortunately Isreal’s life was bound up with that of his son Benjamin’s and thereby he refused to send him to Egypt as required by the Governor. Only when they are in dire straits and famine again forces their hand do they entreat their father to let them return taking Benjamin. Their father gives in because he has no choice, but sends them with twice the money (to return the original funds, plus another sum of payment) and gifts. Poor Simeon – he was left abandoned until this point.

After the brothers return to Egypt Joseph again has the opportunity to come clean, however again they are greeted with deceit. First they are told that the money was received, therefore what they found in their sacks was not the same money that had been given in payment for the grain. Joseph again had the opportunity to reveal his true identity as his heart yearned for his brother and his emotion was apparent, however they are brought into eat and are seated separated from the Governor, their brother.

Finally when the brothers all go to leave, Benjamin and Simeon with them, Joseph performs his last deceit sending away his cup in the sack of his little brother. Then he sends his aid to retrieve it. The brothers, certain that none among them had stolen it, boast that whoever among them has stolen it be die and they be taken as slaves. They are destroyed when the cup is in Benjamin’s sack, and the group returns to Joseph’s house to beg on their brothers behalf.

Here is where the deceit finally comes to an end. Joseph hears his brothers regret at that which they had done to him, through the reenactment of the scene in the situation with their brother Benjamin. As God tests those to resolve faith, as tested faith proves endurance, Joseph tested his brothers to see that they were true and to see how they would endure. All of Joseph’s deceit was so that he may know the good in his brothers, that they felt regret for that which they had done to him when he was seventeen, and that they would not do it again given the chance with Benjamin.

[I find it interesting as the footnote notes that they apparently forgot Simeon as they did not return until they ran out of grain again. I feel that this is explained in that their father refused to send Benjamin, and they felt that there was no hope, per the Governor’s words, if they were to return without him. Hence, though it may seem callous that the brothers didn’t try to return to rescue Simeon from captivity, apparently his was because they had no apparent choice. ]


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