A messed-up family! Famine struck in Canaan, Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt and, so, he sent his sons down there to buy food. Oh, but not all his sons: “Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him” (42:4). Maybe Jacob was concerned about conflict with enemies along the way or possible accidents or . . . well, who knows? He might have been fearful that, away from the protection of Jacob, the brothers would turn against their youngest brother, the son of Jacob’s old age, and cause him harm. Whatever Jacob’s thinking was, this situation sets up much of the rest of the story. The boys get to Egypt, and they are granted an audience with Joseph, though they did not recognize him. They probably thought he was dead, not to mention that his appearance, after years in Egypt, would have changed.
Keeping Simeon in Egypt, Joseph demanded they return to Egypt with Benjamin; only then would Simeon be released. Sacks of grain sold to them, and their money returned and placed secretly in their bags by order of Joseph, the brothers returned to Canaan. The famine was severe, and the family needed more grain. Another trip to Egypt, this time with Benjamin in tow, according to the demand of Joseph. Returning home, once again, with grain, Joseph again had placed in their bags their money and, in Benjamin’s sack, Joseph’s cup, all a ruse to force Benjamin to stay in Egypt while the brothers returned to Canaan with the news that Joseph was alive and well.
Jacob and his entire family then relocated to Egypt and enjoyed a tearful and joyous reunion. Many years in Egypt brought the death of the old patriarch, Jacob, and the promise of Joseph to return his father’s bones to Canaan. The brothers, with their father dead and fearing retribution from Joseph, pleaded for mercy. Joseph’s response: “’As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (50:20,21).
“God meant it for good!” Our God is able to gather up into the fabric of his plans and purposes even the most wicked intentions and actions of men and bring good from them. The most amazing example of this is described by Peter: “"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). Bad turned into good; our God excels at this!