I don’t know about you but I often find myself in this position: something happens, someone says or does something and I ask myself, “Why did they do that?”  It’s really helpful to try and understand things from the other person’s perspective, to gain an insight into their thinking.  I often end up responding more sympathetically when I’ve thought those things through.

Sometimes though it can lead to darker places – I can start to be fearful that someone had a bad reason for what they did, I put motives in the mix that were never there in the first place.

And when it comes to understanding why Joseph spoke “roughly” to his brothers (Genesis 42:7) we see where these different mindsets can lead us. 

How could we view his approach?

Perhaps Joseph was struggling to overcome some baser instincts: anguish, anger, revenge.  Perhaps he knew immediately what he would do.  Perhaps there’s no grand plan and Joseph is just making it up as he goes and it’s only after they’ve been in prison for a few days that things begin to come together for him.

It’s clearly an emotional time and his brother’s are in a dark place, fearing the worst.  This may have been because Joseph, “questioned us closely about ourselves and our family,” Genesis 43:7.  They thought they were being punished for their earlier behaviour. 

Perhaps Joseph was dealing with them harshly but perhaps he was just keen to find out how the family was faring before he made any decisions.  Was his father still alive?  Was his closest brother still alive?  

It was important information he was seeking and when he has it Joseph implements a plan that leads to the family being re-united.  Is he testing his other brothers in the process?  I don’t know.  Would he have responded differently had Jacob and Benjamin been dead?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that in the event he shows his brothers a great deal of forgiveness and grace (which they also misunderstand 42:28).

And in our own situations, if we’re going to try and understand why someone has done something, as we are trying to do with Joseph, forgiveness and grace are qualities that we need in abundance.