Context: Of his twelve sons, Jacob loved best the two whom Rachel, his most beloved wife, had born him, Joseph and Benjamin. But Jacob's other sons, resenting the favors shown to Joseph, Rachel's older son, sold him to a company of Ishmaelite or Midianite merchants. The merchants in turn sold him to Potiphar of Egypt. After thirteen years of trying vicissitudes, Joseph was elevated to a position next to that of Pharaoh himself, having warned the land of a coming famine through an interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams. The people of Canaan being victimized by the famine, which came seven years after Joseph's warning, the sons of Jacob went into Egypt to buy corn from the Viceroy, whom they did not recognize as their own brother, Joseph. Joseph recognized them, however, spoke roughly to them, accused them of spying, and demanded that they bring their young brother, Benjamin, in order to clear themselves of guilt. When the brothers return to their father, one brother having remained as a hostage, and reported to him the charge against them and the condition of their acquittal, Jacob, unwilling to risk the life of Rachel's last son, replies:
. . . My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.