In Genesis 42:16-19 it reads:
“Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” And he put them all in custody for three days. On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households (NIV).”
There is a lot happening here. Joseph has been elevated to the second highest position in Egypt. He holds the power of life and death over his brothers, who are seen by Egypt as foreigners and potential spies. But, Joseph has come to this crossroads after a) being confined to a pit by these same brothers, b) sold into bondage by them as well, and c) being held in Pharaoh’s prisons on false charges.
Some commentators believe that Joseph’s imprisoning of his brothers was revenge, while others seem to think it was to “teach them a lesson.” What ever his initial intent, most commentators agree that, he show’s himself a man of God, by not abusing his powers, and by showing mercy. Notice he reverses his original demand (sentence) of one being free to return to Jacob – to only one remaining. There is an added act of compassion here as well. Jacob, and the households of Israel – including Joseph’s full brother Benjamin are suffering famine. Joseph saves political face in the eyes of the Egyptians by holding one “spy” while the claims of the others are being verified – and also provide sufficient manpower by the release of the 9 others to take the much needed grain to Canaan. Despite the past wrongs meted out on him, he has not lost the love for his family.
Joseph was a man who knew captivity, whether at the hands of his family, through slavery, or by the law. He offers freedom – from jail, from hunger, and from vengeance. He was a model of what Jesus would come to be – “a man of sorrows” who in his own trials sets others free.