They were in a foreign country. They had previously been accused of spying. This time they had been invited to the house of the vice president for dinner. As they entered the room the scripture says, “And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph's house, and they said, "It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys." (Gen 43:18, English Standard Version)
When Joseph’s brothers were in Egypt, facing what they thought was certain punishment for theft and espionage, what did they fear? Logically they feared “that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen.” But then they add, “and our donkeys also.” If they were going to be imprisoned, what use had they for their donkeys? They had a right to be worried for their own lives, but why think, at such a time, about their donkeys?
Their donkeys were important. They represented wealth. They were the means by which they hoped to take grain back to their father in Canaan. It is probable that they had brought many donkeys. But when faced with a life and death situation, why worry that their donkeys would be seized. It is not like those facing death who worry about their pets; the donkeys would be cared for.
Perhaps many people are like Joseph’s brothers. They worry about the wrong things. They worry about the trivial when it is time, if ever it is time, to worry about the important things. A mother rushes to the hospital because a child has been in an accident, and all of a sudden she worries that they did not turn off the television. The family leaves on a trip for a week, and somebody asks, “Did we turn off the burner on the stove?” Even though they had not used the stove that morning.
Sometimes, as in those examples, worry about trivialities is a method of release. We know we cannot do anything about our situation, so we reduce it to the smaller worry so we don’t have to face the bigger one. Perhaps this was the case with Jacob’s sons. They acknowledge the possibility of the greater punishments, but have to worry about the donkeys so they don’t have to face the other.
At other times, perhaps, people merely have their priorities in the wrong order. Those who have taught others the gospel see this frequently. The student acknowledges the seriousness of sin and the absolute need for Jesus as savior. He or she may fully understand that a failure to follow God has serious consequences in this life and for eternity. The teacher thinks they have the person ready for the final step, and then the student says, “But if I do this, I am saying that everything my parents taught me is wrong.” There is nothing the person can do about the parents, but this relative triviality becomes an excuse not to do the important thing for himself or herself. Jesus knew that this might happen. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:37-38) Some things are too important to let smaller worries get in the way.
As the story of Joseph’s brothers continues, they find that they have nothing to worry about. They eat a fine feast. Then verse 3 of the next chapter even points out that they were sent on their way, “they, and their donkeys.” Not only was their worry about themselves a waste of energy, so also their worries about their donkeys.
Whether the trivial or the important, so often worry is over something out of our control. The brothers had no recourse to appeal whatever Joseph chose to do to them. They could not even save their own donkeys. Again, the Master addresses such worries.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)