Genesis 42:9-24: Harsh treatment.
“9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, ‘You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.’ 10 ‘No, my lord,’ they answered. ‘Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.’ 12 ‘No!’ he said to them. ‘You have come to see where our land is unprotected.’ 13 But they replied, ‘Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.’ 14 Joseph said to them, ‘It is just as I told you: you are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: as surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!’ 17 And he put them all in custody for three days. 18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.’ This they proceeded to do.21 They said to one another, ‘Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.’22 Reuben replied, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.’ 23 They did not realise that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.” NIV
We may feel that Joseph was unduly hard on his brothers to treat them as he did. On the face of it, this seems quite cruel behaviour. But the twenty fourth verse provides an insight into his heart. He loved these men. He did all he did purposefully – just as the Lord Himself disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12).
‘The true interpretation of Joseph’s treatment of his brethren is to be found in the supposition that he repeated toward them, as nearly as possible, the behaviour that they had shown to himself at the pit’s mouth, and this with no thought of retaliation, but that their consciences might be awakened, and that he might discover if they would deal differently with Benjamin than they had dealt with him. He needed to be sure of their repentance before he could trust himself to them again. His purpose, therefore, was in part secured when he heard them saying to each other in the dear old home-tongue, which they never expected him to understand, ‘’We are verily guilty because of our brother.’’ So God deals with us. The east wind blows bitterly in our faces…but behind them all is the tenderest love…’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.30.
Joseph knew that Benjamin had to come to Egypt, because, so far, only ten brothers had bowed to him, but the dream said ‘’eleven’’: 37:9). When we are immersed in God’s Word we can know what we can expect, and so live by faith, and not by sight.