We’d never have guessed!

In response to today’s Daily Prompt I am retelling an old tale.

Tell us a story — fiction or non-fiction — with a twist we can’t see coming.

Were your parents fair or did they show favouritism?

My father seemed to be fair for most of my childhood and then my step-mother had a son and everything changed.  My half-brother was treated as if he was the first-born in our family.  My father even dressed him in finer clothes than the other ten of us brothers and half-brothers had ever had.

I suppose it wasn’t the fault of the youngest child, but the rest of us were really fed up about it.  Then another brother was born to our father’s favourite wife and he was pretty spoilt too.

Then our brother started telling us about his dreams.  They seemed to foretell that he would rule over us and our parents.  If he’d had any sense he’d have kept them to himself.

When our brother came out to see us while we were out in the countryside with our father’s flocks of sheep, he was very conspicuous in the fine coat father had given him.  As he approached my other brothers decided to kill him and throw him into a well.  I dissuaded them from taking his life, but they still attacked him and removed his coat.  Then they threw him down into the dry well.

I had hoped to be able to go back and rescue him later, but my brothers sold him to some foreigners, dipped his coat in the blood of an animal and went home and told our father he was dead.

What use would it have been to tell him the truth?  Nine against one and they would have been out to get me next.  It grieved me to see how our father mourned for that boy.  He transferred his affection to his younger brother, but never stopped missing the one who was lost to him.

Years passed and nothing would have changed in our routine of life with the flocks, except that it stopped raining.  Nothing was growing.  It was a struggle to find pasture for the sheep and our neighbours who grew corn had one failed harvest after another.

We did not know where to turn.

Then we heard that there was corn in a neighbouring country.  Our father sent us there to buy some.  He kept his favourite child at home.  The other ten of us set off and after a long journey with donkeys arrived at our destination.

The ruler of the land greeted us and asked us where we were from.  We told him and asked to buy corn.  Unexpectedly, he accused us of being spies.  In our defence we explained that our father had twelve sons, one was at home with him and the other was no more.  (My brothers had begun to believe the lie they had told our poor father.)  He demanded to see our brother as proof that what we were saying was true.  He didn’t seem to be able to make up his mind what to do about us.

At first he said he would send one of us for our brother and threw us all into prison for three days.  Then he seemed to relent and said that one of us must stay in prison and the others could return with grain for our families.  The hostage price was that we returned with our youngest brother.

My brothers seemed to think this was retribution for their treatment of our missing brother.  I reminded them that I had pleaded with them.  Strange that the one who was held in prison was the ringleader.

So we set off home in low spirits knowing that our father would be reluctant to let our youngest brother out of his sight and not knowing how our brother was being treated in a foreign prison.  Sometimes a body needs more than food.

We loaded our grain on our donkeys and went a day’s journey.  When we looked in our sacks we found that the purchase price for the grain was in the top of the sacks – all our silver and grain as well.

We told our father everything that had happened.  His reaction was just as we expected.  He was already parted from two sons.  He did not wish to lose a third (and favourite) son.  I swore by the lives of my own sons that we would bring the youngest back alive.

We were forced to return for more grain when ours was all used up and there was still none to be had in our own land.

After some argument with our father another of my brothers also pledged to be responsible for the safety of the favourite.

Father sent us with double the amount of silver, so that we would be able to repay what had been put back in our sacks in case it was a mistake.  So we set off again.

We were very disturbed by the treatment we received from the ruler of the other land.

He invited us to a cooked meal in his home.  We thought it was a trick, because of the money we had found in our sacks.  We mentioned it to another official who assured us that he had been paid for our grain.  He brought our brother to us who had been hostage for all this time.

We were given water to wash and fodder for our donkeys and prepared the gifts we had brought for the ruler.

The ruler asked us about the aged father we had told him about.  We told him, “He is alive and well.”  He noticed the youngest brother and on being told he was the one who had been left behind said some kind words to him and hurried out of the room.

When he returned he ordered that the food be served.  He sat at one table, we brothers at another and all the other people at a third.

It was really odd that all of us had been seated in order of age.  The youngest was given the largest portion of all.  So in spite of our misgivings we ate and drank at this unexpected feast.

The next morning we set off home with our sacks filled to overflowing.  We were in good spirits this time.  All eleven of us were returning to our father.  There had been no more suggestion that we were spies.  But what happened next put an end to our hopefulness.

The man who had assured us he had been paid for our grain came chasing after us on a horse and caught up with us.  He accused us of stealing a special silver cup.  We had been on our best behaviour.  There was no way any of us would have risked the wrath of the unpredictable ruler by stealing anything.  So we had nothing to worry about.

Or had we?

A cup was found in the sack of our youngest brother.  What new trick was this?  We were overcome with grief.  We all returned to the city.

The ruler insisted that he had to imprison the owner of the sack containing the cup.

My brother who had pledged his responsibility for him explained how much our father loved this son and that if we were to return without him it would be enough to cause our father’s death.  He offered to remain as a substitute.

Then the ruler sent everyone out of the room except for us.  (He really was unpredictable.)

He told us that he was the missing brother.  Would you believe it?  After all these years and what with him dressed and acting like a foreigner, we hadn’t a clue.  Of course, he had recognised us from the outset.

He explained the whole story in terms of the providence of our God.  He hadn’t changed from being a know-it-all.  He sent us back for our father so that we could all live where there was plenty of food for the remainder of the famine, which he predicted would last another five years.

He even told us not to quarrel on the way home.  It took us a while to convince our father when we arrived home.  After all he had been believing a lie for many years.

So we all went to live in Egypt.

signed Reuben

The original story may be found in Genesis 37 and 42 – 46

13 thoughts on “We’d never have guessed!

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    • Yes, indeed! I noticed other echoes. The son who was lost and is found. If this had not been for a daily prompt I’d have thought about it more.
      I might have another go at it one day.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. Sue


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