Seven years of plenty had passed. Joseph proved himself an excellent administrator over this massive project to save grain and produce during this prosperous time. As we begin the forty-second chapter of Genesis, the good times are over—famine had wiped out any excess enjoyed.
This is what brings the sons of Jacob to Egypt. Ten of them come to buy grain, so that, as their father said, “we may live and not die.” That’s a good indication of just how bad things had become. It’s as the brothers are lined up in the grain line that we find our gem for today.
Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”Genesis 42:6-11 ESV (Emphasis added)
If you find it confusing why Joseph would recognize his brothers but they didn’t recognize him, don’t worry. After years in Pharaoh’s court, Joseph was quite a different man. Not only had Pharaoh given him the name Zaphenath-paneah, but I’m sure Joseph now dressed as an Egyptian with kohl lining his eyes to help keep away the flies. He would no longer look the part of the Hebrew shepherd’s son, and he would be speaking the language of the Egyptians as well. His status and use of a translator to interpret for the sons of Jacob would give his brothers no reason to look at his face; no, their faces were in the ground, as they bowed in respect.
Joseph, however, had time to spot them. After all, they were a group of ten men, obviously not Egyptian, in line for probably a long time to buy their allotment. This gave him time to reflect on how he would treat them once they stood before him. How he responds is the biggest surprise.
The Scripture tells us that he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. He wasn’t about to reveal himself so easily to his brothers. He remembered his dreams. He remembered what they did to him.
However, the fact that Joseph doesn’t act impulsively to either reveal himself or take revenge means that he recognized God’s hand at work and realized he needed to be wise in how he dealt with his brothers. He was the one who knew how long the famine would last. This was just the beginning of the trials and troubles for his family. If he was not wise in how he handled this, they might flee and be denied the blessing of reunion with their brother and food for their families.
As he sold grain to each who came his way, Joseph realized his dream of the bundles of wheat had direct correlation with his leadership over Egypt during these years of harvest and famine. His brothers bowing in anticipation of receiving grain brought his dream to life.
And so begins a chapter of intrigue and deception which allows Joseph to learn whether or not his brothers have grown up since the day they threw him in the pit and then sold him off. All this begins with recognition—recognition of the faces of his brothers, but more importantly, recognition of the hand of God in his life.
Have the years changed you? If someone from your past comes back into your life, will they recognize you? Will you recognize an opportunity God may use to show them how he has worked all things for his good in your life? May you have the wisdom of Joseph to recognize and remember.
Grace and Peace