The Middle East, North Africa, and Greater Arabia were devastated by famine. Jacob heard that Egypt had grain for sale, not knowing it was due to his God blessing his son with wisdom. Jacob sent the sons of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah to Egypt — ten brothers — to bring back grain so they could survive. Only Benjamin stayed home with his father.
Joseph, now “governor of the land” (v.6), recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph had grown and matured. The last time they had seen him, approximately 27 years before, he was looking up at them from the bottom of a dry well, begging for his life (v.21).
Verse 9, the key verse in this chapter, is packed with powerful emotion: “Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed of them.” It all came back to Joseph as the brothers bowed before him with their faces to the ground. His first boyhood dream, the one in which their bundles of grain bowed down to his, was coming true before his eyes.
I believe it was in that moment that God’s plan became clear to Joseph. All the hurt, the lonely nights, the years of imprisonment made sense now: had his brothers not sold him, he would not have met Potiphar, in which case he would not have gone to prison. Had God spared him from the prison, he would not have been brought to Pharaoh to interpret dreams. And had he not interpreted the dreams, he would not have been in a position to help his family to survive so that they could fulfill the destiny of Abraham. Yes, it all made sense now!
Joseph’s poise under the circumstances is an indication of his godliness. He immediately — and very craftily — took steps to ensure that his entire family would be brought to Egypt where he could guarantee their survival. Meanwhile, the brothers were convinced that they were being punished for how they had treated Joseph so many years before. Hearing this (v.23-24), Joseph had to turn away. He was overcome with emotion.
He sent them home with bags of grain (along with their money inside). He kept his half brother, Simeon, for good measure, and demanded that his only full brother, Benjamin, be brought back. Joseph knew that if Benjamin came, Jacob would soon follow.
Think of how Joseph’s faith must have been strengthened even as his brothers’ (and fathers’) faith was challenged. Joseph was learning that God’s plan is greater and more exciting and more glorious than we could ever dream!