The prospect of travelling all the way back *to Canaan to fetch Benjamin*, then travelling all the way back to Egypt with him, made Joseph’s brothers wonder what they’d done to deserve this hardship.
Speaking in his native Canaanite so Joseph wouldn’t understand, Simeon said to his brothers, “No doubt we deserve to be punished because of *what we did to Joseph*. We saw his anguish when he had pleaded with us not to throw him down the well, yet we did so knowing he’d never get out and would die an agonising death.”
Reuben, speaking also in his native Canaanite, said “Why did you all not go easy on Joseph, as *I’d implored you*. If you had only listened to me, we would have been spared much suffering.”
“Don’t try to wriggle out of this, Brother Reuben,” said Simeon, “whatever your sentiments, you went along with us. We should have thrown you down the well too, as Dan had suggested.”
Although the brothers knew Joseph could hear them, they didn’t know he could understand them, for although Joseph’s Canaanite was rusty, it wasn’t that rusty. As Joseph listened to his brothers he was filled with memories of his boyhood in Canaan, a halcyon time ever burnished in his mind. Joseph began weeping, and turned away to hide the tears. It was some moments before he was recomposed.
“Have you decided who will stay behind while you return to Canaan to fetch Benjamin?” said Joseph through the interpreter.
“Er…..it’ll be Simeon,” said Reuben.
“Who are you to decide this?” said Simeon.
“I, as the oldest brother, have this right under Hebrew law in the absence of our father,” said Reuben, “and I say it is you, Brother Simeon, who will stay behind.”
“Why me?” said Simeon, “why not…….I dunno……Zebulun? He’s the youngest of us and so is the least important.”
“I’ve decided on you, Brother Simeon. That’s final.”
“Over my dead body I’ll stay,” said Simeon as he moved swiftly away through the marketplace crowd.
“Arrest that man,” shouted Joseph. Two guards fell upon Simeon and hustled him to the jail.
Joseph ordered his brothers’ sacks be filled with the corn they’d paid for. The bags now full, the brothers loaded them on their donkeys and, minus Simeon, set off for Canaan.
When they stopped for the first night, one brother, Levi, opened his sack and saw it had not only corn, but lots of silver coins. It was the money he’d paid for the corn.
“Brothers,” shouted Levi, “my money’s in my sack. What about yours?”
It turned out that everyone’s sack had money.
“Well, son of a sling,” said Reuben.
The brothers on arriving in Canaan, told Jacob all that had happened. When Jacob learned he would have to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers if he was to see Simeon again, he said, “You have already robbed me of Joseph. Now you would rob me of Benjy. This is just too much. No, Benjy stays here.”
“How little faith you have in us, Father.” said Reuben.
“Do I not have cause to have little faith in you all, especially you, Reuben? Quite apart from your carelessness with Joseph, *you slept with my slave girl, Bilhah*, who you knew not only slept with me too, but is the biological mother of your brothers, Dan and Naphtali. Although I never confronted you with what you did – and I should have – I know you slept with Bilhah, and it seems most others knew it too. So, don’t try to deny it. No words adequately describe how I felt on first hearing this rumour. The very thought, even today, of what you did makes me sometimes retch.”
“Had I known this, Father, I would never have slept with Bilhah. If I have an excuse, it was that I was young. I’m different now. Trust me.”
“Your emollient but insincere words make me want to retch even more. You’re an abomination, if you must know.”
“However you feel about me, Father, it does nothing to ameliorate the urgent problem of how to get Simeon back if Benjamin doesn’t come with us to Egypt. I’ve just had an idea. How about that you kill my two sons if I don’t return from Egypt with Benjamin? I love my two boys so much, my life wouldn’t be worth living without them. This is reason enough – wouldn’t you say, Father – for me to do all in my power to ensure that Benjy not only returns from Egypt, but returns with not even a scratch. You would get Simeon back too.”
“My answer is still ‘no’,” said Jacob.
Source: Genesis 42, 21-38