“And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.” (Genesis 43:33)
In his dealings with his brothers, Joseph did several things which might have served as clues to his true identity, had the brothers picked up on them. First of all, Joseph tells them during their initial meeting: “This do, and live; for I fear God” (Gen. 42:18). In a land steeped in paganism and the worship of idols, this was truly an unusual statement. An acknowledgment of the Living God from the mouth of the second most prominent man in Egypt should have been a tip-off that this man was extraordinary. Next, we see quite an unusual seating arrangement at the lunch Joseph hosted in his own home. Being an abomination to the Egyptians, the Hebrew brothers are seated at a separate table away from Joseph’s Egyptian servants and officers. But Joseph does not eat at the table with his “own people” either. Instead, he is seated at a table by himself. That they themselves were not permitted to eat in the company of the Egyptians would certainly not have raised any suspicion, but the brothers should have at least wondered why this “Egyptian” ruler was not eating with the other Egyptians. Finally, to their utter amazement, the brothers are seated according to their position within the household of Jacob, that is, they are seated from the eldest to the youngest. To simply guess and put all eleven brothers in the correct order without personally knowing them seems highly unlikely; consequently, they took notice when Joseph did so.
Yet even after all of this, we see that the brothers still did not deduce Joseph’s true identity. Why? First of all, they did not recognize him because they were not looking for him. They honestly believed that their brother Joseph was long since dead. In addition to this, it seems that the brothers were so focused and caught up in their own series of misfortunes that they were not noticing much of anything going on around them. Even their father, Jacob, lamented when they returned without Simeon after their first visit: “…All these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). They failed to see the hand of God at work because they were not looking for God’s plan in all of this.
It is easy when everything seems to be working against us to become so fixed on our own problems that we miss out on what God is doing through our circumstances. We, too, fail to miss the subtle cues and clues that might otherwise reveal to us what God is doing behind-the-secenes. We do well to keep our eyes on the Lord and not on our own struggles.