What have Joseph's brothers learned in the time that they were parted from him? A lot more than I thought on a first reading. Digging beneath the surface shows how changed and repentant they are.
A guilty conscience is worth little if it does not lead to change. A comparison of the two homecomings reveals that Joseph's brothers are not the proud, selfish, jealous brutes they were when they sold Joseph.All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.
The first thing to notice is the increased sense of family. The brothers seem to see themselves as all in this together, no longer every man for himself. Judah, who left after selling Joseph for a life in Canaan, is back in the picture. And whereas before throwing Joseph in the pit they called him "this dreamer" and to Jacob they called
him "your son," now they call Joseph "our brother" and "the lad" and say to Joseph "we are 12 brothers." Even though Joseph is thought dead, they consider him part of the family.
Second is the lack of jealousy or anger at Jacob's favoritism. Even though Jacob obviously prefers Benjamin now that Joseph is gone, there is no sign of resentment among the brothers about this or that Jacob kept him behind or that his absence endangers them.
Perhaps most telling is the sons' honesty with Jacob. When they "lost" Joseph, they were heartless liars; now they are honest. On the earlier occasion they offered no information, but allowed Jacob to come to his own grisly conclusion. This time they tell everything that happened on their trip. And the first time they offered insincere comfort, whereas this time they are clearly distressed.
Finally, there is a genuine effort to make good. When Jacob accuses them of bereaving him of his children, Reuben doesn't just try to offer comfort, he offers his own sons if he fails to bring Benjamin back. His solution may not move Jacob, but he is at least trying to make things right. When Joseph was lost no one seemed to consider their father's feelings, but now they take care not to cause their father any more grief than he already has experienced.