When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt, they did not recognize him, nor did Joseph reveal his identity to them. Joseph appeared to them like an Egyptian. He wore Egyptian clothing. He had no beard. He wore the hair and cosmetics of Egyptian royalty. He spoke the Egyptian language. To the ten brothers, Joseph seemed to be a Gentile prince. They had no inkling that he might be their own brother. The brothers had long ago come to regard Joseph as dead. They had convinced themselves with their own story regarding his disappearance.
All of Joseph’s trials came upon him only for the salvation of Israel’s family. God sent Joseph to Egypt to store up provisions that could save Jacob and his sons during the famine. Likewise, the sorrows and trials endured by the suffering Messiah occurred for the sake of the nation of Israel. Therefore, if Joseph’s character symbolizes the suffering Messiah, the brothers of Joseph (the sons of Israel) must symbolize the Jewish people for whom He suffered.
Why did Joseph not reveal his identity to them at once? He sustained the ruse in order to test their hearts for repentance. The long years of our Master’s concealment from the Jewish people accomplishes the same objective.
Although Yeshua of Nazareth is the only serious candidate in the running for Messiah, and despite the fact that billions of Christians revere Him as the promised Messiah, most Jewish people for the last two thousand years have solidly rejected that possibility. The reasons behind Judaism’s rejection of Yeshua of Nazareth are complex and completely explicable in view of historical events and the sociological circumstances. Nevertheless, the Torah seems to hint toward a divine plan that God Himself set in motion.
To a large extent, Gentile Christianity has inadvertently wrapped on additional layers to the disguise which conceals the identity of Yeshua from His brothers, the Jewish people. Christian artwork represents Jesus as a Gentile. Christian theology presents Him as an enemy to the Jewish people. Church tradition has removed Him from His Jewish context and made Him unrecognizable to His own brothers. Historically, the harder Christians have tried to convince Jews otherwise, the more that we have strengthened the Jewish people in their conviction that Jesus is not a Jew and that He is certainly not the Messiah.
The ten brothers did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them. The Midrash Rabbah notes the irony of the situation between Joseph and his brothers:
“Joseph had recognized his brothers” when they fell into his hand, “although they did not recognize him” when he fell into their hands. (Genesis Rabbah 91:7)
Joseph’s brothers did not “recognize” him in that they did not treat him like a brother. He recognized his brothers in that he treated them with mercy when they fell into his power. Joseph did not return evil for evil. This alludes to the grace and mercy which our Master Yeshua makes available to the faithful of His people despite Israel’s continuing rejection of His name. Though the Jewish nation has not yet recognized Him as a brother and as the Messiah, He recognizes His brothers.