16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”
17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house.18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”
19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”
23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.
24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.
26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground.27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”
28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.
29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself,said, “Serve the food.”
32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
(Genesis 43:16-34 NIV)
In the first part of Chapter 43, the brothers finally convinced their father to let them return to Egypt with their youngest brother Benjamin in order to buy more food, as the famine was over their country as well as Egypt.
In today’s passage, Joseph sees his brothers, including his full brother Benjamin with the rest of his half-brothers. He orders his servant to prepare a noon meal for them all at his home.
The brothers were afraid when they were taken away from the public buildings to Joseph’s home. Their minds went to worst-case condition – they thought they were being punished and possibly enslaved for the money that was returned in their sacks from their last visit. After all, their father had warned them that they would be seen as thieves as well as foreigners, didn’t he?
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the brothers spoke to the servant in charge and told him all about their last visit, including the part about finding their money in each man’s grain sack. The servant assured them they had nothing to fear, and that God was showing them mercy, not justice. To reaffirm his words, the servant brought Simeon (who had been held until the brothers returned with Benjamin) out and reunited him with the rest of the brothers.
The brothers heeded the servant’s message, and got busy preparing themselves for the meal with the Egyptian ruler (Joseph). They prepared their gifts they had brought, and cleaned themselves up as well.
When Joseph arrived, the brothers bowed down to him (as God had given Joseph the dream so many years before) and gave their gifts to him. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome with emotion and left the room until he could compose himself again.
When Joseph returned, he ordered lunch to be served. The brothers were amazed that they were seated according to birth order. They were also astonished that Benjamin was given five times as much food as any of the other brothers. What was happening here?
Moses points out the Egyptian cultural customs for dining. Joseph, being a ruler, dined at a table by himself. The other Egyptians dined together, as they did not share the same table with Hebrews. The brothers ate at a separate table by themselves.
Among all this wonder, the brothers relaxed and had a wonderful dinner with Joseph. Before Joseph revealed himself to them, he was reacquainting himself with his brothers, learning what they were like now that so many years had passed.
While the story is quite straightforward, there are some definite lessons to be learned from today’s text.
One lesson is how we perceive the unknown before us. Do we automatically jump to “worst-case scenario” like the brothers did when they were taken to Joseph’s house? Or do we stop and pray and inquire what the Lord is doing, to see if it might be a blessing instead?
Another lesson is the amazing power of hospitality and a shared meal. Even though Egyptian customs dictated separate tables, Joseph, the Egyptians, and the brothers still enjoyed breaking bread together and sharing the time as a group.
May we make time – create margin – in our busy schedules to connect with others. It’s not about the house being perfectly in order; it’s not about a fancy meal – it’s simply about spending time together to get to know one another and hear one another’s stories.
And in those shared stories and time together, we find commonality as well as learn to respect and appreciate our uniqueness and differences.