Joseph and Pain (Part 3)


joseph-with-brothersIn our last entry we saw how Joseph had set the stage for his brothers to re-live the past pain of family loss. The only door to hope was bringing Benjamin back to Egypt, but the resulting separation from Jacob would surely create deeper agony for the family. The significant element, though, is that Joseph was not motivated by revenge. He was not designing to have his brothers re-live the past in the exact same negative way that he had experienced it. This was not about eye-for-an-eye retribution.

The manner in which the brothers would re-live the past was framed in a way that would not cause additional harm. But what about additional discomfort? Indeed, discomfort would be felt. What we see here is how a facilitated dialogue process between alienated parties is designed to revisit the gravity and discomfort of past pain without returning the same negative fallout of the original harm. This condensed mental and emotional journey allows an offending party to accept greater ownership and express greater empathy, and in this way the victim’s pain, now shared, understood and validated, can be transferred away and ultimately dissipated.


In our story we are at the point when Joseph insisted that his brothers could not return home unless the youngest brother (Benjamin) was brought to Egypt. One brother could return to Jacob while the rest would be imprisoned. To show his seriousness, Joseph puts them all in custody for three days. This is a picture of how offenders, before encountering the personal impact of their actions on others, often experience, after an arrest, a disempowering situation that forces them to shed pretentious thoughts about getting by in life with no consequences. For the brothers, life was now biting back.

Joseph then softened the arrangement as victims are apt to do when they can look forward toward a better outcome. He sent all of them home while keeping only one brother hostage, namely Simeon. Nevertheless, Joseph was insistent on having Benjamin brought to Egypt as a way for the brothers to prove their honesty. Taking greater stock of the situation, the brothers said to one another, “Surely we are being punished for our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us” (42:21).

“…but we would not listen.” 

The raw truth is starting to sink in. Reuben, the eldest, reminds the others of their failure to listen, but he shifts the focus off of listening to Joseph’s voice to listening to his own advice. There is frustration in the air; poor choices were made in the past. “Now we must give an accounting of his blood,” he concludes. Justice seemingly requires a matched harm for an original harm. Meanwhile Joseph understood their dialect and he turned momentarily to weep, but then turned back to speak through a translator. The unresolved and unhealed energy of internal pain, triggered by the brothers, has arced from the past betrayal to the present moment because the electrical charge of harm’s pain is still ‘live.’


Of all things, Joseph then gave orders for the purchase money (silver) to be hidden back in the grain sacks. In the midst of famine, needs are to be met. Recall how the Ishmaelite merchants gave silver to the brothers (37:28). Reversals are in play, and Joseph intends for this drama to have a good ending. The scenario of replaying the past, which indeed will raise more discomfort, is not separate from a process that brings about greater life and goodness for everyone. This is a picture of a harmed party transcending the impulse to see the harming party suffer. There is too much human connection for Joseph to wish for that. In a similar way that the brothers are now vicariously feeling the distress they once set in motion, so it is that Joseph extended material blessing to and through his brothers out of his own abundance. A good resolution process is essentially a series of transactions that set things right.

Egypt JosephHalf way back to Canaan the brothers discovered the money in one of the bags, “and their hearts sank” (42:28). More negative consequences will now come their way, they think. “What is God doing to us?!” It’s a fair question because in their minds Joseph was as good as dead. What actually was being done to them? Like offenders in a restorative justice process, their hearts were being softened to the truth of who they were and what they did. By the time they returned to father Jacob, they told every detail as if with greater honesty. Their vulnerability couldn’t get much lower, so why not be honest. Or maybe it could go lower. When they discovered that every sack of grain contained the original money payment, Jacob lost it. “You have deprived me of my children. First Joseph, then Simeon, and now Benjamin. Everything is against me!” (42:36). Jacob the ‘grasper’ was now gripped by blame and exaggerated despondency. He is like a perpetual victim of life circumstances.

Two of the elder brothers, however, stepped up to the plate to show greater responsibility for the situation. The internal discomfort was finally prompting a restorative response. They were starting to listen. They were gaining a ‘response ability’ for what they were coming to terms with. In our next entry we will see how this repentant turn of the inner heart was influential in the choices made for returning to Egypt.

Contacting Ted Lewis

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