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 servantsare 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.
“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” (13).
This statement must have affected Joseph deeply, but it showed him that his father and youngest brother were alive and well. So it would also have been a relief.
‘It must have been difficult for Joseph to control his emotions as he spoke harshly to his brothers, because his natural desire would have been to speak to them in Hebrew and reveal who he was. But that would have ruined everything , for he knew that all eleven brothers had to bow before him. This meant that Benjamin would have to come with them on their next trip. Furthermore, Joseph’s brothers had to be forced to face their sins and come to a place of honest confession, and that would take time.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: Old Testament Commentary’, p.125.
Four times Joseph accused his brothers of being in Egypt under false pretences (9, 12, 14, 16), and each time they protested their innocence. It seems like very rough treatment. But if we take into account the story as a whole, we know Joseph loved these men and his heart was breaking (see 24,25). However, he was working to a plan to ensure that true repentance and reconciliation would take place.
“Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God…” (Romans 11:22).
The ‘New Living Translation puts this:
“Notice how God is both kind and severe.”
God, who always works to a plan, seems at times to be hard on His own family. But this is never incompatible with who He is, and it is an expression of His love for them, even though it may not immediately appear so.
“My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastises every son He receives…No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5,6,11)
See also Jeremiah 31:18,19:
“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return,
because you are the Lord my God.
After I strayed,
after I came to understand,
I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’ “