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Simeon: Meeting Zaphenath-paneah: Simeon tells of visiting Egypt with his brothers and meeting Zaphenath-paneah, the ruler under Pharaoh
Posted by Douglas, May 13, 2008. 2401 views. ID = 1293

Simeon: Meeting Zaphenath-paneah

Posted by Douglas, May 13, 2008. 2401 views. ID = 1293
This post was written in 60 minutes.
This post has been awarded 16 stars by 4 readers.
This post is Part 11 of a writing series titled Joseph's Story.

When Father tells us to jump, none of us questions or hesitates. None of us stops to ask why. We just jump. It's kind of silly, really. I suppose we all have a secret and absurd hope that - with Joseph out of the way - whichever one of us plays up to Father the best might have a chance of inheriting everything. But we all know that hope is really nothing but a dream. As long as step-mother Rachel's other boy is still alive, none of us stands a chance of inheriting anything.

The downside of our eager, sycophantic attitude is that not a one of us dares to step out and take action on his own, without the express permission and approval of Dear Old Dad. So when the famine struck, and all our crops failed, and the wells were running dry, Father found us all just sitting around, waiting for him to tell us what to do. Father had never been shy about telling us what he thought of us, and he didn't hesitate now.

"Are you children? Or men? What are you doing, just sitting around staring at each other like helpless lumps of mud? Haven't you heard that in Egypt they have stored up grain for many years, and are selling food to those in need? Get off your lazy rumps, pack your bags, and get down to Egypt!"

As always, we leapt to our feet and began scurrying about in a frenzy to impress Father with our willing eagerness to do his bidding. Even young Benjamin was preparing for the journey, but the Old Man put a stop to that immediately. "What are you doing, Benjamin?" he asked my step-brother.

"Getting ready for the journey, Father."

"No, no, son, I don't want you to go. It will be a dangerous journey, and there is no telling what might happen once you reach Egypt. I cannot bear to have anything happen to my son."

My son. I don't think anyone can imagine how much it grates on us to hear him say things like that; are we not his sons also? Does he not fear for our lives as well? But with Joseph gone, Benjamin is our father's only living reminder of his favorite wife, and the only one he considers to be his true son.

It's strange; I think I've mellowed and matured with age, because I don't hate Benjamin for this favoritism. Maybe it's because Benjamin never had dreams about being the boss. Maybe it's because he never ratted on us when we did wrong. Or maybe it's just that I finally understand: it wasn't Joseph I should have hated; he was merely what Father made him. Father is the one I should despise. Father is the one I do despise.

Yet still I do his bidding.

When the ten of us - all the brothers except Benjamin - reached Egypt, we were directed to the Pharaoh's second-in-command, a man named Zaphenath-paneah. He was a man who by all accounts was great in wisdom and in power. The stories that we heard on the streets were wildly improbably: he was a slave, he was a criminal, he was a magician, or he was the mouthpiece of the gods (they say that his name means "Speaker of the Gods"). No matter which story you believed, all agreed that his rise to power happened with stunning speed, like a shooting star appearing in one moment and turning into a burst of glory before you could even blink.

The man was dressed in royal robes and jewelry, and my brothers and I felt shamed and embarrassed by our dirty, faded, single-hued homespun robes. Even Joseph's multi-colored cloak would have looked paltry and pathetic next to this great man's attire.

We bowed low before him, this great Egyptian ruler, and waited for him to speak. His words were harsh and angry; he demanded to know where we were from.

Reuben spoke for all of us. "We are from the land of Canaan, and we have come to buy food, if you can sell us some."

Zaphenath-paneah glared at us and said, "You are liars and spies. You have not come to buy food, you have come to spy out the land and discover our weaknesses, so you may attack."

I was filled with dread then, for if this great ruler believed us to be spies, he had the power to kill us all. And, of course, there is no good way to prove that you aren't a spy - is there?

Reuben merely reiterated what he had said before. "We are not spies. We have come to buy food." Then he added, "We are all brothers, and we are all honest men; you can trust us."

I felt a the blush of shame at these words; Reuben was the most honest of all of us, but even he had gone along with the story of Joseph's demise. No, there was not an honest man among us. But this Egyptian ruler had no way of knowing that.

Once again the great ruler insisted that we must be spies, searching the land for undefended places to attack.

It was my stupid half-brother Naphtali who spoke next, giving out far more information than was necessary. "My lord, we are all sons of one man in the land of Canaan. There are twelve of us in all, though one of us is dead, and the remaining son stays with our father."

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Tell this man - who believes us to be spies - all about our family; what an idiot!

The ruler looked from face to face, as though trying to find the truth in our eyes. I felt as though every lie and treachery of our entire lives was laid bare before his inquisitive gaze. After my eyes locked with his for a short measure of time, I shuddered and lowered my gaze, unable to meet his frank and honest stare.

Then he nodded. "It is as I suspected. You are all liars and cheats. If you would prove yourselves to be truthful men, there is only one way for you to do so. You must bring to me your younger brother, the one who stays with your father."

With that, he threw us all into prison and left us there for three days. Three days in a foreign prison, with no one to tell Father where we were, or what had become of us! At the end of those days, Zaphenath-paneah came to us again, and his expression had softened slightly from the fierce distrust he had turned on us three days earlier. "I cannot leave you here in prison," he confessed, "because I fear God, and must do what is right. I will release all but one of you. The nine who are released, you must go home, taking the grain you have purchased. You will get your brother there and bring him back to me."

Judah spoke up then, in the language of our people, and said, "This is our punishment, brothers. We heard the cries of our brother when we tossed him in the pit, and we heard his pleas when we sold him into slavery. Yet we turned a deaf ear to those cries. Now we are punished, for one of us must be sold into prison, while the rest return home."

Reuben added, "I warned you against this, telling you not to harm the boy, but you wouldn't listen, and now we all pay the price."

I wanted to smack Reuben in my anger. He had told us no such thing; he had merely said we should leave him to die instead of killing him with our own hands. Did he really think he was innocent? I almost said something in reply, but the words froze on my lips as I saw the Egyptian ruler watching us closely - as though he could understand every word we spoke.

I wondered, in that moment, why an Egyptian king would know the language of the Hebrew people, and as I stared at him, the Egyptian's eyes fell on me again. As he reciprocated my gaze with troubled curiosity, I knew one thing for sure: I was not going to be returning to Canaan any time soon.

Copyright 2008 Douglas. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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This post has been awarded 16 stars by 4 readers.
This post is Part 11 of a writing series titled Joseph's Story. The next part of this series can be found here: Judah: Life Is Growth.
This is a revised version of a post. Click here to view the original version


May 13, 2008
I took a bit of a liberty with the story here. There's nothing in the Bible account to indicate that any of the brothers figured out that Joseph could understand what they were saying. But if none of the brothers figured it out, there is really no way to add that interesting point into the story, since I'm writing from a brother's perspective.

So I let Simeon figure it out, because Simeon gets tossed in prison and ceases to be part of the story.
   ~Posted by Douglas, May 13, 2008

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