Genesis chapter 42 - 45 recount story of Joseph tricking his brothers who are in Egypt to buy grain, into going back and forth several times from Canaan to Egypt in an attempt exonerate themselves in the (feigned) accusation from Joseph of being a spy. Eventually Joesph reveals himself as their brother, and Jacob and his family move to Egypt as a result.

Why did Joseph trick them in this way? I can think of only a few reasons:

  • He wanted to get all of his brothers and father back to Egypt before he revealed himself.
  • He distrusted his brothers, since they had tried to kill him, and sold him into slavery years prior to this event, he was trying to ascertain if his younger brother and father were in fact still alive.
  • He was punishing his brothers by making them suffer this way in an act of revenge.

In any event the author of Genesis spends a lot of precipitous time and space recounting this deception, is there some cultural aspect to this that I am missing? Is there some context to the story that would reveal more about the characters involved or the nature of God or their relationship to him?

  • 2
    This falls under the category of Bible Trivia, I'd say. It's a great story (my favourite in Genesis), but as asked, there's nothing particularly Christian in the question. You might be interested in a related question on Biblical Hermeneutics. Oct 5, 2012 at 22:53
  • I don't feel strongly enough to mod hammer this but if I had just a community VTC I think I would use it. It seems like one of two things is happening.... Either you are hunting the text for possible connections or lack thereof in which case this should be edited and migrated to Biblical Hermeneutics, or you expect this to go somewhere doctrinal in which case either it needs focusing on some doctrinal framework or specifically asking for what doctrines affect or speak to this.
    – Caleb
    Oct 6, 2012 at 7:47
  • i answered but you may get more answers if migrated to BH.SE. - cheers
    – Mike
    Oct 12, 2012 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


I am six months late answering this, but this same question, particularly, the "elaborate ruse", have been nagging me a long time; and this was the reason for me googling the topic, again, and this time stumbling to this site.

For if I imagined myself in Joseph's shoes, it seems only natural and human to declare who you are to your brothers the moment you realise who they are; but this was precisely not what Joseph did, and thus the BIG question, WHY? And then did Joseph schemed the entire elaborate ruse from the onset or was he led by the Spirit to do what he did?

My view at this moment is that Joseph did not scheme the ruse, in that he did not plan nor forsee every action and their chain of consequences to eventually lead to his brothers' repentance and his father coming to Egypt, but rather each step he was led by the Spirit, not entirely sure what the outcome would be.

In other words the ruse was designed by God for a purpose.

(And there are implications here for what it means to be led by the Spirit.)

And this purpose seems to be to demonstrate to the brothers the meaning of power, absolute power. For Joseph has the power to do anything he wants to his brothers, even to falsely accuse them and to concoct false evidence to prove such accusations. Joseph is literally life or death for his father and brothers: he can give them grain, or not, or put them to death on any whim or fancy.

For absolute power is completely arbitrary, and God wants the brothers, and Jacob too, to understand that. And such absolute and arbitrary power, that Joseph is, is but a mere reflection of the authority of God, and who God is. And in bowing to Joseph, Jacob and his brothers are, truly, worshiping God.

But it is this very same power that is for, and not against, the people of Israel.

And this same lesson, to know God, was played out again when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.


I think all of your points are at play, except possibly he was not seeking to punish them, but to sift their motives bringing them into desperate sates in order to fully recognize their past sins and God's mercy in sparing them.

Imagine a more ordinary story and you can see how natural Joseph's actions are. Imagine your Father was a cop and his father cops. You and all your bothers went into a police academy but your brothers took bribes, robbed drug dealers and laughed at you for staying clean.

You actually admired your older, cooler and stronger brothers and wished to be with them but your conscience was too tender. Meanwhile great dangers were occurring in the police force and the President marked you out for the highest post not even making his plans known to your own Dad. You were young and foolish and told your brothers so they beat you up leaving you almost dead. Then you were transferred to another city.

Eventually the time had come for your dreams to come true. As you had risen to the highest post an opportunity presented itself where you could hang out with your brothers again! The police force was infiltrated with spies from an evil country and your brothers had stopped many of their bad habits as they were much older and mature. You did not even know if they were still alive but a blessed coincidence brought them into your power sphere. Now was your chance to enlist your brothers to your cause but not without ensuring their hearts were truly prepared for the blessings you were about to hand out. Also not before every last one would join them.

To make them sensible to their past crimes and to prove they were no longer wicked, you throw them in prison under false charges, knowing their consciences would feel it is just that their past sins had caught up with them. Also by manipulating events you prove that they are willing to face dangers to themselves in protecting the next youngest, which they never would have before. Finally by always keeping one, you had the family under control so that they would not run away before receiving all the good you had in store for them.

The whole ruse would be very necessary for the enlistment and to train them up for what was ahead but it would have been difficult emotionally. On one side you would be so ready to cry to see your long lost family, also to finally fully understand God's purposes originally promised and now coming true, would be overwhelming. Now the reason for all the pain of past years would be truly understood causing great tearful release of joy. To hold all these feelings in and have to act stern for the valuable training and induction of the whole family into your cause that this opportunity presented would have been very trying to say the least.

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