Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
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.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.
The brothers consider their circumstances and view it as a long overdue penalty for their sin against Joseph. Little do they know that they stand before Joseph as they have this discussion. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(21) We are verily guilty.—They had evidently expected that whatever suspicions might be aroused by their first appearance, all such ideas would disappear upon their explanation of themselves and their purpose. Instead of this they are thrown into prison, abandoned to their reflections for three days, and dismissed only upon the condition of their leaving one brother as a hostage for their coming again accompanied by Benjamin: and as they knew no reason for this, it would fill their minds with fear. But though they were now suffering unjustly, it brought back to their mind their former sin; and the fact that it was so fresh in their memories is a sign of the reality of their repentance.
The last part of the comment above strikes me as being true. While it might seem obvious to link their circumstances with Joseph, they did not need to do that. If their hearts were hardened to what they did, they might have only complained about their own unjust treatment without a mention of Joseph. There must be a measure of guilt they have been carrying around since their crime against their brother. Continuing with Ellicott:
(22) His blood.—Evidently they thought that Joseph was dead, so that the accusation brought against them of falsehood for saying in Genesis 42:13 “one is not” is groundless. Moreover, Jacob uses the same words of Simeon (Genesis 42:36), meaning by it only that he was lost to him.
As the note states, this verse implies that the brothers believed that their actions certainly led to Joseph’s death. Thus, when they told Joseph in verse 13 that one of their brothers is dead, they were likely not intending to lie (though they did omit the *how* of his fate.) Adding to this, The Pulpit Commentaries state the following:
And Reuben—who had not consented to, but had been altogether unable to prevent, the wickedness of his brethren (Genesis 37:22, Genesis 37:29)—answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child (or lad); and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required—literally, and also his blood, behold it is required. This was in accordance with the Noachic law against bloodshed (Genesis 9:5), with which it is apparent that Jacob’s sons were acquainted.
Joseph thus learns – though perhaps he already knew from the original circumstances – that Reuben did not consent to his unjust treatment. Reuben tells his brothers that they must atone for what happened to Joseph. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries and verse 23:
And they knew not (while they talked in what they imagined to be a foreign dialect to the Egyptian viceroy) that Joseph understood them;—literally, heard (so as to understand what was said)—for he spake unto them by an interpreter—literally, for the interpreter. (חַמְּלִיץ, the hiph. part; with the art; of לוּץ, to speak barbarously, in the hiph. to act as an interpreter), i.e. the official Court interpreter, ἑρμηνευτής (LXX.), was between them.
They might have expected the interpreter to convey their conversation to Joseph but they could not have assumed that the conversation would mean anything to him. Ellicott paints the picture.
(24) He turned . . . and wept.—There was no bitterness in Joseph’s heart, and at their first word of regret he melted. But lest he should lose Benjamin he overcame his feelings, and commanded that Simeon should be bound, choosing him, probably, as the one chiefly guilty of the wrong done him. As soon as the rest had departed, he would probably make his imprisonment as easy as possible, especially as he was detained, not as an evil-doer, but as a hostage.
I think it might be going too far to state that there was no bitterness in Joseph’s heart. How could we know? The text does not tell us. He could have wept at their remorse and remained bitter, in my opinion. I wonder to what extent Joseph considered Simeon the ringleader of what happened to him? The Pulpit Commentaries have a note concerning that:
And he turned himself about from them (in order to hide his emotion), and wept (as he reflected on the wonderful leadings of Divine providence, and beheld the pitiful distress of his brethren); and returned to them again (having previously withdrawn from them a space), and communed with them (probably about the one of them that should remain behind), and took from them—by a rough act of authority, since they either could not or would not settle among themselves who should be the prisoner (Candlish)—Simeon,—passing by Reuben not because he was the firstborn (Tuch, Lengerke), but because he was comparatively guiltless (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, Candlish, and expositors generally), and selecting Simeon either as the eldest of the guilty ones (Aben Ezra, Keil, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth, Alford, and others), or as the chief instigator of the sale of Joseph (Philo, Rosenmüller, Furst, Kalisch, Gerlach, Lawson, et alii)—and bound him before their eyes—thus forcibly recalling to their minds what they had done to him (Wordsworth), and perhaps hoping to incite them, through pity for Simeon, to return the more speedily with Benjamin (Lawson).
As stated above, then, most of the commentaries view Simeon either as the eldest of the guilty, or as the ringleader directly. I suspect that Joseph believes he will learn something about the veracity of their remorse based on how Simeon handles incarceration and how his brothers hasten (or don’t) to return with Benjamin.
Joseph then sends the remaining brothers back home. From Ellicott:
(25) To fill their sacks.—Heb., their vessels. The word includes all their means of transport, and probably they had come with materials sufficient for the removal of a large quantity of corn. They had sacks as well. So in Genesis 42:19, Joseph had commanded them to “carry corn for the famine of their houses.” And as their households were numerous, what would nine sacks of corn avail for their maintenance?
To restore every man’s money into his sack.—It is evident that each one had made his own separate purchase for his own household. The restoration of the money frightened Joseph’s brethren, as they saw in it a pretext for their detention on their next visit. But Joseph could not have meant thus to alarm them, as their fear would act as an obstacle to their coming again accompanied by Benjamin. It is more likely that he intended it as an encouragement, and sign of secret good will.
So Joseph tests his brothers and will continue to do so – as one does when they once sold you into slavery and debated your murder.