Okay, so what’s with Joseph? Why is he torturing his brothers and father like this? Why can’t he let bygones-be-bygones? Well, the simple explanation is that this story is very human. By that I mean we can’t expect people to behave in a strictly rational fashion. Emotions are involved, and they get messy, and we’re not just talking about Joseph’s emotions.
We need to look at this at the human level, from within a family that is not the Bradys. When we go back and examine how Joseph got here in the first place, it’s from the very believable dynamic of family disagreement. Joseph mouthed off to his brothers and parents, probably in that smug way that only the youngest child can master. Joseph, from the beginning, was pretty annoying to the rest of the family, but Dad had a soft spot for him, which probably made it worse.
When the brothers got rid of him, it created a very real family trauma for all concerned. As we saw, Jacob is devastated. The brothers are also convinced that “[they] are paying the penalty for what [they] did to [Joseph]” (Gen 42:21). Reuben even comes down on them with “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood” (Gen 42:22). This is telling, especially when paired with Jacob’s anguish, to show that the entire family has not dealt well with Joseph’s “death.” Even though the entire thing is the fault of the brothers, it has indelibly affected them.
This is why Judah is so convincing when he pleads to take Benjamin’s place in chapter 44. Not only does he give a summary of Jacob’s trauma, he’s able to assert his own emotions in the telling of the story, which moves Joseph to reveal himself before he intended to.
However, Joseph had no way of knowing any of that prior to Judah’s story. He only knows what he’s been through. His side of the trauma explains why he’s going through this elaborate and convoluted scheme, and what the ultimate goal is.