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 remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” (Genesis 42:18–22 (ESV)
Joseph placed his brothers in an Egyptian prison for three days after he accused them of being spies (Gen. 42:17). How ironic that the brothers who imprisoned Joseph into a pit and then sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:12-28) are now imprisoned and enslaved by Joseph. Joseph’s brothers presently reaped what they sowed over twenty years earlier.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Joseph’s accusations and imprisonment of his brothers are a test to see if they are now his spiritual kin. This testing comes about indirectly, for if it were obvious that Joseph was their tester, any godliness they manifested might only be for show. Joseph must see if they will repent for the right reasons; thus, he incarcerated his brothers to help them come clean regarding their sins against him (Gen. 42:17).”
Immediately following their three days in prison, Joseph spoke to his brothers. He said, “18Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.”
Joseph affirmed to them that he would deal honestly with them when he said, “For I fear God.” One brother would remain confined in the Egyptian prison. The others would return to Canaan with grain for their households. However, the final stipulation was the most significant. To eventually see their imprisoned brother freed, the remaining nine would have to bring Benjamin, their youngest brother, back with them to Egypt.
John Calvin writes, “Joseph declares that he fears God, which expression is worthy of observation. Doubtless, he speaks from the inward feeling of his heart when he declares that he will deal well and truly with them because he fears God. Therefore, the commencement and the fountain of that good and honest conscience, whereby we cultivate fidelity and justice towards men, is the fear of God.”
What was Joseph’s brothers’ response to this scenario? The text says “And they did so.” The agreed to the conditions Joseph set forth. They really had no other choice.
However, something also stirred within the souls of Joseph’s elder brothers. Though they have been falsely accused of spying, the LORD brought to their conscious awareness their true guilt. They begin to fear God. We will examine this contrition by the brothers when next we meet.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!