Last September Jason Fischer yelled something that was heard round the world, “We’ve got weights in fish!”  As the organizer of a fishing tournament in Ohio had just cut open the winning fish.  The walleye just seemed to weigh more than they looked and people were suspicious.  When the weights spilled out the whole place erupted.  The culprits, Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominskey looked on in horror as a mob of over a hundred angry fishermen wanted to mete out justice right there.  The two crooks were raking in thousands of dollars in winnings all season long.  But something didn’t seem right to a lot of people during the season.  They kept winning in different tournaments, which was unusual, and they never donated their fish to local food banks, which was customary for the winners to do.  But Jacob and Chase have been met with justice:  they’ve forfeited their winnings, their $100K boat was confiscated, they will be hated by anyone who owns a fishing rod for the rest of their lives, and they’ve pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on May 11th.  But perhaps worst of all is they ended up a sermon illustration.    

We love when the net of justice catches crooks, don’t we?  We see some of that going on in our text.  After what his brothers did to him Joseph is giving them a little payback, a little “justice.”  Not too much – at least nothing like what they put him through.  But he was enjoying putting the fear of God into them.          


Our text today shows the sons of Israel returning to Egypt to get more food.  The seven year famine is in full swing and they’ve run out of the food from Egypt they got on their first trip.  But they cannot return to Egypt without Benjamin, their youngest son.  “The man” who governs Egypt, kept their brother Simeon as a prisoner and told them they cannot return to Egypt and free Simeon unless they bring back Benjamin, who did not accompany them on their first trip.  This puts Jacob-Israel between a rock and a hard place.  He either refuses to let Benjamin go and they all starve, or he sends Benjamin and risks losing Benjamin too.  The brothers convince their father to let Benjamin go with them.  They arrive, give gifts to Joseph, catch him up on how their father is doing, Simeon is set free, and then to their surprise, Joseph arranges to have a feast with them.  The chapter ends with them all around the table “feasting and drinking freely” together.  

Remember the brothers do not realize that this powerful Egyptian ruler is their own brother, whom they sold into slavery over 20 years earlier.  But he knows who they are.  This is an emotionally gripping story and you can see it welling up with Joseph.  He is going to burst at some point.  


Jacob, who is now called “Israel,” tells his sons to go back to Egypt to get more food.  Read verses 1-10…

The seven year famine is in full swing.  Life is brutal.  Food is running out.  A family meeting takes place.  Israel tells his sons to go back to Israel.  He knows what they are going to say to him.  Judah speaks up.  Judah is the 4th born.  Why not Reuben the firstborn?  The second-born, Simeon, is in an Egyptian prison.  Why not the third-born, Levi?  Why Judah, the fourth-born?  Perhaps because of their sins, Reuben and Simeon didn’t have a good standing with their father and anything they said would not have been well received.  You know how it is:  sometimes good advice is rejected because the person giving it is not well-liked.  Maybe at that point in life Judah was the one Israel would’ve listened to.  Anyway, Judah seems to be a guy who speaks up and helps groups make decisions, like we saw back in chapter 37 when it was Judah who convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph and instead to sell him.  

So Judah reminds his dad that they cannot go back to Egypt without Benjamin.  Israel knows this.  You know how it is when you’re facing a hard decision.  You go over it again and again.  You try and talk about what you can do and you’re desperately hoping one of your options doesn’t include the consequences you really know deep down in your heart can’t be avoided.  So Israel takes his frustration out on his sons, “Why did you bring this trouble on me!”  

Judah explains things again – probably for the 100th time.  They didn’t volunteer information.  The man interrogated them very carefully.  They had no idea he would make such a demand.  Judah knows they need food and he knows they need to bring Benjamin and he knows they need to convince their father to agree.  So he tells his father that if something happens to Benjamin you can blame me, hate me, curse me, disown me, whatever you want to do.  You can sense this is not really motivated by sympathy for his father and rather Judah is impatient, because he says in verse 10, “We could’ve been there and back twice already if we weren’t dilly-dallying all this time.”  

APPLICATION:  Leadership means making hard decisions.  Israel had to make the hard decision to send Benjamin.  Leadership at home.  Leadership at work.  Leadership in church.  Leadership in politics.  Leadership with friends.  Leadership in life.  Leadership means making hard decisions.  

APPLICATION:  We’re not in control as much as we wish we were.  Israel was in a situation that was beyond his control.  And his two options were his only two options.  Either cling to Benjamin and don’t go to Egypt which would mean starving everyone to death, or, release Benjamin to go to Egypt to get food and risk something happening to him.  “Please God, if there is any other option show me.”  Israel couldn’t control his circumstances.  Of course, there is no mention of him praying about all this.

Have you ever felt that way?  That what you’re in is out of your control?  That your circumstances were too big or too complicated and you couldn’t do anything about it?  


So Israel gives the green light for Benjamin to go to Egypt.  Read verses 11-15…

Benjamin packs for the road and Israel packs his sons up with a very generous gift for the man in Egypt.  Proverbs 21:14, says “A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.”  Israel hoped to pacify any anger the man in Egypt had.  Remember this is in the middle of a famine – any gift of any amount was a sacrifice. 

So they get packed and loaded up and before they leave Israel commends them int God’s hands, hoping for mercy to prevail.  

ANTI-APPLICATION:  Pray your way to a decision.  Israel doesn’t appear to pray at all when he’s facing big situations.  Why didn’t he pray?  

APPLICATION:  Trust God with your decisions.  When you make a difficult decision and don’t know how it will turn out, trust God.  Israel didn’t know if something would happen to Benjamin.  Watching him ride off with his brothers he was literally having to put Benjamin “in God’s hands.”  That’s why he says, “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man…”  Israel was brought to a point where the only thing he could do is make a decision and cast Himself on God’s mercy.  

APPLICATION:  Remember God’s mercy.  Israel said “May God grant you mercy.”  That word for mercy is “womb” and its meant to evoke the way a pregnant woman cherishes what’s in her womb.  You might even say all the tenderness that the mother and the father and everyone has towards her when they see her having a baby in her womb.  The carefulness, the watching over and watching out for, the gentleness.  Contrast that with the harshness and roughness Joseph treated the brothers with when they first arrived.  Israel wanted God to be merciful towards him and for that mercy to show in the way the ruler of Egypt treated his sons.  I bet if Israel wishes he had the words of King David to encourage him, “I am in deep distress.  Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great.”  (2 Sam 24:14) Or Psalm 40:11, “Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.”  I bet those words would’ve been treasured by Israel.  May you treasure those words as you remember the LORD’s mercy towards you.  


Next we see the brothers are confused and frightened.  Read 16-25…

Upon arriving they briefly meet Joseph, apparently early in the morning, perhaps they were his first appointment.  He decides that they will all have a big lunch together at noon and then takes off to go work.  Before he goes he instructs his head steward to bring them home to his house, to prepare a feast for lunch, and apparently to get Simeon out of the prison and ready for lunch.  

The brothers are very nervous.  They’re worried that Joseph is taking them home in order to enslave them.  They’re worried about the whole silver incident from last time.  They bought food on their first trip with silver, but, secretly the silver was put back in their sacks by Joseph.  They were panic-stricken when they found it, and in order to hopefully pacify Joseph they bring not only enough silver to buy food this time, but they bring the silver from last time too.  They didn’t want to be seen as tricksters and imprisoned.  

But I love what they steward says in verse 23, “It’s alright.  Don’t be afraid.  Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks.  I have received your silver.”  He’s smooth.  He’s totally in on it with Joseph.  Joseph’s got a good one here.  Of course, Joseph knows how to pick a good steward because he was a great steward himself once – and actually was still one for Potiphar.

Certainly relieved, and certainly confused, the brothers begin unpacking their gifts for Joseph so they can present them when he arrives home.  

TIME TO EAT (26-34)

Joseph comes home and its time to eat, read 26-34…

When he comes home, Joseph talks with his brothers:  “How are you guys?  How’s your dad? etc”  Then he sees Benjamin – and he’s overcome by the emotion of it.  He quickly leaves the room to go somewhere alone and weep.  The most powerful man in Egypt is brought to tears for the second time.  Any layers of hardness and cynicism, any walls of self-protection he had erected, any severity life had formed in him was pierced when he laid eyes on his own brother for the first time.  He and his father had that in common – they loved Benjamin.  

So he washes up after crying and returns.  It’s time to eat before the food gets cold.  Three fascinating things happen at lunch that we should note:  the separation, the seating, and the servings.

First, the separation.  Joseph ate by himself, the Egyptians ate at a separate table, and the 11 Hebrew brothers ate at a 3rd table.  Why?  Egypt was a caste system, so Joseph’s distinction as a state official and even a priest prohibited him from eating with other Egyptians lower than him.  

Then, the lower Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrew brothers because it says that was “detestable to Egyptians.”  Later in 46:34 it said that shepherding was “detestable” to Egyptians.  That doesn’t mean they hated the Hebrew brothers for being Hebrews.  We have to be careful not to read our modern sensibilities into the text:  it wasn’t “racist” as we might reflexively assume.  Detestable is a word that can refer to something being morally repulsive like sin, or it can refer to something that is more along the lines of being ceremonially “unclean” for religious purposes.  Later the Jews would be instructed by God that certain things were to be detestable to them.  It ties in with the idea of clean and unclean, like when Noah offered clean animals as a sacrifice to God after getting off the ark.  

Maybe an illustration helps.  Pastor Ray thinks my subway order is “detestable.”  We went to Subway one time and I get a sandwich with everything on it.  I mean everything.  I have them sweep the floor and put that on.  He is disgusted by that.  He doesn’t dislike me or think less of me – well not for that anyway! But my sandwich customs are not his sandwich customs.  And while we eat together we would not eat the same thing.

And you can certainly have moral sensitivity to those ceremonies.  Eating at the same table with foreigners, like Hebrews, was one.    According to commentators, one reason Egyptians wouldn’t eat at the same table with Egyptians was probably because many other nations killed and ate animals that the Egyptians considered sacred.  Cows being one.  So because of their religious beliefs, and the offense to killing animals, they made a distinction between themselves and those nations.  They didn’t refuse to eat with them, they just didn’t eat at the same table.  

Take that how you want.  I’d advise us not to act like progressives and hold a foreign culture from thousands of years ago to the same ideas of right and wrong floating around our society today.  

Secondly, note the seating arrangements.  The brothers were astonished that they had been arranged by their birth order.  There’s no way it was an accident. Who was this man?  How does he know things?

Thirdly and lastly, notice the servings.  Joseph gives his brother Benjamin five times as much as his brothers.  My kids read that and they start thinking of all the ice cream and desserts!


  1. Remember God is in control when you’re not.
  2. Pray your way through decisions
  3. Trust God with your decisions
  4. Trust that God is a God of mercy

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