Here is, I. The penitent reflection Joseph’s brethren made upon the wrong they had formerly done to him, Gen. 42:21. They talked the matter over in the Hebrew tongue, not suspecting that Joseph, whom they took for a native of Egypt, understood them, much less that he was the person they spoke of.
1. They remembered with regret the barbarous cruelty wherewith they persecuted him: We are verily guilty concerning our brother. We do not read that they said this during their three days’ imprisonment; but now, when the matter had come to some issue and they saw themselves still embarrassed, now they began to relent. Perhaps Joseph’s mention of the fear of God (Gen. 42:18) put them upon consideration and extorted this reflection. Now see here, (1.) The office of conscience; it is a remembrancer, to bring to mind things long since said and done, to show us wherein we have erred, though it was long ago, as the reflection here mentioned was above twenty years after the sin was committed. As time will not wear out the guilt of sin, so it will not blot out the records of conscience; when the guilt of this sin of Joseph’s brethren was fresh they made light of it, and sat down to eat bread; but now, long afterwards, their consciences reminded them of it. (2.) The benefit of affliction; they often prove the happy and effectual means of awakening conscience, and bringing sin to our remembrance, Job 13:26. (3.) The evil of guilt concerning our brethren; of all their sins, it was this that conscience now reproached them for. Whenever we think we have wrong done us, we ought to remember the wrong we have done to others, Eccl. 7:21, 22.
2. Reuben alone remembered, with comfort, that he had been an advocate for his brother, and had done what he could to prevent the mischief they did him (Gen. 42:22): Spoke I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child? Note, (1.) It is an aggravation of any sin that it was committed against admonitions. (2.) When we come to share with others in their calamities, it will be a comfort to us if we have the testimony of our consciences for us that we did not share with them in their iniquities, but, in our places, witnessed against them. This shall be our rejoicing in the day of evil, and shall take out the sting.
II. Joseph’s tenderness towards them upon this occasion. He retired from them to weep, Gen. 42:24. Though his reason directed that he should still carry himself as a stranger to them, because they were not as yet humbled enough, yet natural affection could not but work, for he was a man of a tender spirit. This represents the tender mercies of our God towards repenting sinners. See Jer. 31:20; Since I spoke against him I do earnestly remember him still. See Jdg. 10:16.
III. The imprisonment of Simeon, Gen. 42:24. He chose him for the hostage probably because he remembered him to have been his most bitter enemy, or because he observed him now to be least humbled and concerned; he bound him before their eyes to affect them all; or perhaps it is intimated that, though he bound him with some severity before them, yet afterwards, when they were gone, he took off his bonds.
IV. The dismission of the rest of them. They came for corn, and corn they had; and not only so, but every man had his money restored in his sack’s mouth. Thus Christ, our Joseph, gives out supplies without money and without price. Therefore the poor are invited to buy, Rev. 3:17, 18. This put them into great consternation (Gen. 42:28): Their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done to us?
1. It was really a merciful event; for I hope they had no wrong done to them when they had their money given them back, but a kindness; yet they were thus terrified by it. Note, (1.) Guilty consciences are apt to take good providences in a bad sense, and to put wrong constructions even upon those things that make for them. They flee when none pursues. (2.) Wealth sometimes brings as much care along with it as want does, and more too. If they had been robbed of their money, they could not have been worse frightened than they were now when they found their money in their sacks. Thus he whose ground brought forth plentifully said, What shall I do? Luke 12:17.
2. Yet in their circumstances it was very amazing. They knew that the Egyptians abhorred a Hebrew (Gen. 43:32), and therefore, since they could not expect to receive any kindness from them, they concluded that this was done with a design to pick a quarrel with them, and the rather because the man, the lord of the land, had charged them as spies. Their own consciences also were awake, and their sins set in order before them; and this put them into confusion. Note, (1.) When men’s spirits are sinking every thing helps to sink them. (2.) When the events of Providence concerning us are surprising it is good to enquire what it is that God has done and is doing with us, and to consider the operation of his hands.