Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
Of course, they didn’t know that Joseph understood them, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Now he turned away from them and began to weep. When he regained his composure, he spoke to them again. Then he chose Simeon from among them and had him tied up right before their eyes. (Genesis 42:21-24)
Put yourself in Joseph's sandals. How must he have felt as he heard their words? So far as his brothers were concerned, he no longer existed! He was buried in the graveyard of their memories. He was "no more." Out of sight, out of mind, gone forever.
Three times Joseph accused them of being spies. Then, in one of their responses, they unwittingly gave him information he wanted. They told him that his father and Benjamin were still alive!
We can imagine what was surging through Joseph's mind: "I wonder if Benjamin is healthy and strong. And what about my father? Is he too old to remember? Oh, how I long to see my entire family. How tempted I am to tell them who I am—they'll be shocked! What I really wonder about is the condition of their hearts."
Joseph chose Simeon as hostage and had him put in shackles there in his brothers' presence. Why did Joseph pick Simeon? We might think he would have chosen the firstborn, but that was Reuben, who had tried to save Joseph's life back at the pit when they all teamed up against him. Perhaps Joseph remembered Reuben's attempt to intervene on his behalf, and instead chose the second eldest brother, Simeon, to remain behind.
"Then they said to one another, 'Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us'" (Genesis 42:21).
In the original language, the "we" in their conversation is emphatic! "We are guilty . . . we saw the distress of his soul . . . we would not listen."
The first step toward softening a seared conscience is taking responsibility for one's own personal guilt. The brothers did not blame their father for being passive. They did not blame their brother Joseph for being proud or arrogant or favored. They did not diminish the wrong by saying they were too young to know any better. They used the right pronoun when they agreed together, "We are responsible! There is no one else we can blame!"
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