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JOSEPH'S CONDUCT TO HIS BRETHREN.
GEN. XLV. 4, 7, 8.
Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.... And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God."
We left the brethren of Joseph very sorrowfully departing from Egypt laden with corn, yet sad of heart, and returning unto their father with their money indeed in their sacks, but without Simeon in their company, and with a command to return with Benjamin also. It was not, however, until the famine had become "sore in the land, and they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt," that Jacob though repeatedly urged and reasoned with upon the subject could be prevailed upon to part with Benjamin upon any terms and even then it was with very great reluctance and regret. But
whatever might be the bitterness of his father's grief, Joseph cannot be fairly considered as in any degree responsible for his sufferings. He was indeed the cause of his sorrows, but he was their innocent cause. He had done all in his power, by the united wisdom and humanity of his plan, to hasten the return of his brethren into Egypt; and if they were regardless of Simeon's bondage it was contrary to all his reasonable expectations, and neither the desire nor the fault of the delay was with him. Strong necessity however at length forced from the father of Joseph an unwilling assent to his demands, and his brethren appeared in his presence once more to bow before him as their lord, and in fulfilment of his dreams. "They came with double money in their hand, and Benjamin."
It is impossible but that the long and unexpected delay in the return of his brethren must necessarily and very materially have strengthened Joseph's doubt of their veracity, and his suspicions of the evil which their envy and cruelty might have inflicted upon Benjamin. But all those anxieties and fears were now at an end. His mother's son stood before him amongst the rest, and every lingering apprehension of his slavery or death was for ever removed. Satisfactory however as was this demonstration
of the truth of what the sons of Jacob had asserted with regard to Benjamin, what they had asserted with regard to the existence of Jacob remained still unconfirmed and still liable to doubt. Why, if he were alive, had Jacob thus permitted his whole family to be torn away from him, and not rather preferred to share with them in their evil, if evil was indeed appointed to befal them. It was strange that, under any circumstances, he should thus leave them to meet their perils alone; but it was stranger still under the peculiar circumstances of the present separation. When Joseph had commanded his brethren to verify their words by the personal appearance of their youngest brother, they had pleaded against the fulfilment of the command the misery which his absence would inevitably bring upon their aged father. They declared that so strong was the affection of Jacob to the lad, and so lively his fears for his welfare and life, that "if the lad should leave his father, his father would die." But Joseph had doubted the truth of their statement, and acted in consequence without any regard to his father's alleged existence or sufferings. He had persevered in requiring the appearance of his youngest brother, and, behold, his youngest brother appeared. The lad had now left his father. Had then his father died, and was that
the melancholy reason why he had not accompanied his child? Or had the existence and strength of Jacob's affection for Benjamin been a mere fiction of his brethren to evade the performance of what was so strongly required at their hands? Reflections like these could not but spring up amidst the meditations of Joseph's mind, and we consequently find that the very first question with which he opened this second interview between his brethren and himself was directed to the determination of this interesting point. "And he said, Is your father well? The old man of whom ye speak, is he yet alive?" Paley has very beautifully illustrated the testimony which these repeated questions bear to the filial piety of Joseph. But they quite as powerfully display the strength of his filial anxieties and fears; and except we permit these anxieties and fears to occupy at least half our consideration in the present instance, we shall rob the enquiry of the principal part of its propriety and force. Except we conceive the piety which suggested the question to have been chastened by a dread of the answer it might receive, we shall appreciate but very imperfectly either the meaning of the words, or the tone and feelings with which they were pronounced. "Is your father well," said he, or is it the sickness of sorrow which has indeed fallen upon him as ye told
me that it would, and compelled him to send this child of his love into the midst of danger alone? "The old man of whom ye spake, is he yet alive," or has the unhappy plan which I imagined to be for good, brought down the hand of death upon his infirmities and age? This is the fulness of his intention in the words, and unless we enter into the mingled nature of those fears and feelings by which he was oppressed when he uttered them, we shall never thoroughly be able to understand their import, or to form a correct opinion of the conduct he subsequently pursued.
It is a pity that the brethren of Joseph did not meet his earnestness at this critical moment with a corresponding openness and candour of reply. For had they told him in their answer how he himself was regretted, and how his supposed loss had struck the root of love for Benjamin still deeper into his father's heart, and how hard had been their task to persuade their father, and how great was his sorrow, and how many were his fears, all these things would have wrought the same effect now which, when urged so beautifully by Judah, they afterwards wrought, and the Patriarch would have been at once revealed to them, and their uncertainties and anxieties been terminated in immediate reconci