If my brothers had hated me enough to sell me to traders I am pretty sure I wouldn't have welcomed them with open arms. At first that seems to be Joseph's reaction as he pretends not to know them and questions them. But we then can see there is a reason besides hurt feelings or revenge for Joseph's methods.
|Joseph and His Brothers, Gustav Dore|
So why does he pretend to be a stranger and question them harshly, if not to punish them? It is clear from his questions that before telling them who he is, Joseph wants to learn more about them and test them. ...All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.
All Joseph's testing aims to bring them to repentance and reconciliation. Three days in prison gave the men real time to worry about their predicament. They were being asked to bring their youngest brother to Egypt, and if they had never sold Joseph, Benjamin would be with them now. They were confined in prison, which may have reminded them that they held Joseph in a pit regardless of his pleas and sold him into the prison of slavery. Their consciences began to accuse them. They realized that they did wrong against Joseph and deserve this punishment, which they see as coming from God. They have acknowledged their sin, which is the first step toward repentance. Evidence of true sorrow and a changed character remain to be seen.
As much as Joseph must have longed to see Benjamin, sending his brothers to get him posed a further test as much as it would bring about a reunion. Were the brothers still jealous, divided against their father's favorite? Had their relationship with their father improved? Would he trust them with Benjamin? These questions remain to be answered.