Reuben sighed and wiped sweat from his forehead. The line of men, speaking a babble of languages, snaked around the colossal courtyard. Some faces showed anger, others excited with hope. Some stared silently, exhausted and hungry. Some gazed about in wonder and fear.
Reuben was afraid. This new lord might be good organizing the grain distribution, but he was a hard man. He claimed that he was seeking spies, but the questions were too personal for Reuben; and at the mention of Benjamin, he seemed obsessed with seeing him. Besides that, last time their coins were returned in their sacks.
It was strange, and Reuben didn't like it. But, this famine was worse than ever before. They hoped the rains would come. They carefully stretched their supplies months longer than usual; but their wives and children and animals had to eat. Their only hope was in Egypt.
Reuben fidgeted and scanned the room. There he was second only to the Pharaoh, his white tunic decked with indigo and scarlet. His shaved headed was crowned with gold. He stood with his feet apart and his arms crossed watching the Hebrew shepherds fastening his gaze on Benjamin.
Reuben glanced at Benjamin. He shouldn't be here. Their father had wailed in grief, "Why? Why must I lose the sons of my love? I have lost Rachael and Joseph. Must I lose Benjamin too?"
Reuben frowned at the memory, and he tried to push away the other memory. It had been more than twenty years ago, but fresh in all their minds.
He could still see the lad in that colorful coat. He prevented his jealous brothers from killing Joseph, but those reckless rascals sold him away as a slave. Who knew where he was now, or if he was still alive? Reuben grimaced at the lie they told their father. Reuben tried to erase the sound of his father screaming at the sight of the blood-soaked garment. The weight of his guilt wearied and aged him.
What's this? A squadron of soldiers marched across the courtyard, long pointed spears on their shoulders. Men scattered as they marched toward the cluster of Hebrew shepherds. The brothers were escorted from the line, paraded from the courtyard and into the lord's magnificent palace!
Reuben didn't like it. What does this man want? They were given basins of cool water to wash the desert dust from their faces and feet, and escorted into an elegant dining chamber. Each was seated before platters of meats and breads and fruit. Reuben was first, Simeon next, then Levi, all the way down to Benjamin in order of their birth. It was strange, and Reuben didn't like it.
When they were finally allowed to leave, thoughts of his family brought a smile to Reuben's lips. With God's blessings, this famine would soon be over, and they would never return to this place again. He secured his sack of grain on his donkey's back and faced home.
The sun lay low on the horizon as the brothers sat about the campfire. Their anxieties were over, and jovial relief replaced fear. A cry of alarm broke through the laughter. "Chariots approach from the south!" Reuben leapt to his feet.
"Halt! The lord's silver cup has been stolen!"
One by one the sacks were opened. They found nothing, until they reached Benjamin's sack. Reuben held his breath. The soldier grunted and lifted his arm high. The firelight glinted on the silver cup in his hand.
"Nooooo!" It was Judah's voice. "You can't take Benjamin. Our father will die if we return without him. You can't take him!"
Reuben spoke. "We'll all go back together."
With hearts beating beneath their rough robes and anger darting from their dark eyes, the brothers burst into the lord's quarters. They bowed and pleaded for mercy. When the lord sent his servants from the room, they looked up in fear, but saw tears upon his cheeks. He spoke gently in their childhood language. "Do you not know me? I am your brother, Joseph!"
He held his arms to them, but no one moved. No one spoke. The reason of their guilt, which grew year by year, and the object of their regrets now stood before them. Their brother had the power to imprison them, enslave them, or even kill them.
"Don't be afraid. You thought evil toward me, but God meant it for good."