How Did Joseph’s Brothers Not Recognize Him? (Genesis 42:8)

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In our world of social media, it’s nearly impossible to “not recognize” someone. Even if you’re not friends with someone online, you most likely have seen their faces in pictures that are posted by acquaintances.

But remember the time before the internet? When you used to have to actually write letters and postcards and watch home movies in people’s living rooms? How many times did you watch those and think to yourself, “Wow, they look so different now!”

That’s probably what Joseph thought. As he watched his brothers walk towards him for the first time in nearly 20 years, the Text says that he knew who they were, but they didn’t know who he was. It also says that he “remembered the dreams” he had when he was younger of being a ruler over them – dreams that have now come true.

So if he was so quick to recognize them, why could they not recognize who he was?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Joseph has changed a lot. When they sold him to the Midianite traders, he was 17. Joseph is nearing 40 now, and he’s clean shaven, and he’s wearing royal garments, and he’s married with a couple kids. The brothers were grown men when Joseph left; they most likely hadn’t changed very much since.

And let’s also state another obvious fact: They were expecting Joseph to be dead. Or a slave, at the very least. Either way, none of them, in their wildest dreams, expected to see Joseph sitting on any kind of throne. Whereas Joseph had remembered his dreams from all those years ago, they evidently had not.

The reason they couldn’t recognize Joseph is the exact same reason the two men on the road to Emmaus couldn’t recognize Jesus in Luke 24. They didn’t see Him as Jesus that night, even though they were well acquainted with the stories of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It wasn’t until Jesus explained the Scriptures to them that their eyes were opened.

In short, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize Joseph because they weren’t looking for him. They didn’t know where he was by this point, so they didn’t know where to look.

Joseph, on the other hand, knew exactly what they looked like and knew exactly where they would be coming from. He was ready, as the next three chapters’ worth of tests indicate.