SEVEN AFTER SEVEN
While Yusuf AS was serving his indefinite sentence in prison, forgotten by all, the King of Egypt had a dream:
“Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry.” (Al Qur’an 12:43)
He knew this dream to be a crucial premonition, but none of the eminent people serving him could decipher the meaning. They told him that these were just confused dreams, and further, they were not learned in the skill of interpreting dreams. The freed cupbearer, who was Yusuf’s AS prison mate, remembered Yusuf’s AS ability to interpret dreams, so he sought Yusuf’s AS help so that he could convey the meaning to the King.
[Yusuf] said, “You will plant for seven years consecutively; and what you harvest leave in its spikes, except a little from which you will eat.
Then will come after that seven difficult [years] which will consume what you saved for them, except a little from which you will store.
Then will come after that a year in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press [olives and grapes].” (Al Qur’an 47 – 49)
Upon hearing this wise advice, the King asked for Yusuf AS to be brought into his presence, but Yusuf AS instead requested the King to investigate his case first. He did not want to meet the King until the people knew that he had been imprisoned unjustly and that he had committed no crime.
By some calculations, by then, Yusuf AS had been imprisoned for seven to twelve years, and around twenty five years had passed from the time he was dropped into the well. This is a wide approximation, based on different sources.
The investigation was opened, and they brought the women who had originally accused him. They admitted that they knew no evil of him, for indeed, he had resisted their seduction. The wife of his master then confessed that she was the one who tried to seduce him and bore witness that he was truthful. Finally, the truth was revealed.
With his reputation cleared, Yusuf AS was able to face the King with dignity. The King was so impressed with his wisdom, integrity and innocence, that he appointed Yusuf AS to be in the established and trusted position of the treasurer of Egypt. From a slave and a prisoner, Yusuf AS was now responsible for the entire country’s storehouses and in the King’s elite circle!
The King’s dream, as interpreted by Yusuf AS came true. Egypt enjoyed seven years of abundance. During this time, Yusuf AS taught them how to protect the wheat from being eaten by insects and pests, which was by storing the wheat while still on their stalks, allowing them live longer and be more resilient. During this time, the people ate only what they needed, and stored the rest in anticipation of the long drought ahead.
After seven years, a drought came upon Egypt. The soil refused to yield any crops for seven years, so the entire nation now used the wheat that had been systematically set aside in the granary over the previous years. The nation was saved from famine due to the measures taken at the advice of Yusuf AS. On the fifteenth year, as foretold, crops grew again in abundance.
The Brothers Reunite
As treasurer of Egypt, Yusuf AS was entrusted to distribute the stored wheat fairly to the nation. Egypt at this time had enough surplus food to feed its neighbouring countries which were also affected by the drought, including Jerusalem where Yaqub AS, Yusuf’s AS father now lived.
One day, Yusuf’s AS brothers (except for the youngest, Bin Yamin (Benjamin), who remained in Jerusalem) arrived in Egypt with their caravan and wanted to barter their goods for the wheat and other provisions of Egypt. The procedure was to go through the treasury department of Egypt to make the trade, which was controlled by no other than Yusuf AS, the helpless brother whom they had thrown into the well as a child!
Yusuf AS recognized his brothers immediately, even though they did not recognize him. Yusuf AS issued instructions for his brothers to be given whatever they asked for. In addition, he also returned their merchandise without their knowledge:
And [Yusuf] said to his servants, “Put their merchandise into their saddlebags so they might recognize it when they have gone back to their people that perhaps they will [again] return.” (Al Qur’an 12:62)
Having proven his generosity to them, he asked if they had another brother, and they confirmed that was the case. Yusuf AS then said:
“Bring me a brother of yours from your father. Do not you see that I give full measure and that I am the best of accommodators? But if you do not bring him to me, no measure will there be [hereafter] for you from me, nor will you approach me.” (Al Qur’an 12:59 – 12:60)
This request and veiled threat created a predicament. Their father was never convinced of their story about Yusuf’s AS disappearance. They knew that if they tried to take Bin Yamin with them, it would not be easy to convince him. How could they win his trust given the history?
When they went to their father and told him of the request, of course, Yaqub AS resisted. The suspicious disappearance Yusuf AS was still fresh in his memory.
He said, “Should I entrust you with him except [under coercion] as I entrusted you with his brother before? But Allah is the best guardian, and He is the most merciful of the merciful.” (Al Qur’an 12:64)
When they unpacked their belongings, they discovered that their merchandise had been returned to them.
They said, “O our father, what [more] could we desire? This is our merchandise returned to us. And we will obtain supplies for our family and protect our brother and obtain an increase of a camel’s load; that is an easy measurement.” (Al Qur’an 12:65)
His sons kept persuading him with all sorts of oaths and affirmations that Bin Yamin would be returned to him. Finally Yaqub AS relented on the condition that they gave him a strong and sincere pledge:
“Never will I send him with you until you give me a promise by Allah that you will bring him [back] to me, unless you should be surrounded by enemies.” And when they had given their promise, he said, “Allah, over what we say, is Witness.” (Al Qur’an 12:66)
Yaqub AS knew that whatever they plotted and planned would not save him from what Allah had planned. Yaqub AS felt that destiny was about to take place. He remembered the dream that Yusuf AS had confided to him as a child, which foretold a great status for him. As a human being, he was apprehensive of what would happen, but as a Prophet and Messenger, he knew that the destiny of Allah would occur and that any precaution was useless.
He nonetheless ordered his sons to divide themselves and enter the city through separate gates, although he knew that he could not save them from Allah’s will.
When they arrived, Yusuf AS took Bin Yamin aside and revealed his identity, but that it should be kept secret at that stage. He then devised a plan to retain his brother in Egypt.
Yusuf AS distributed the provisions to his brothers, but arranged for the treasury’s golden measuring bowl to be hidden amongst the belongings of Bin Yamin. After they left, Yusuf AS and his people ran after the caravan, telling them that the King’s measuring bowl was missing, and by some reports, offering a prize of one camel load of food for the one who retrieved it. The brothers of course denied that they were there to create mischief or that they were thieves. The brothers agreed that the person on whom the missing measuring bowl was found would be charged with theft, carrying the penalty of being held as a bondsman to atone for his crime, as was the customary punishment at that time.
The brothers’ belongings were searched one by one starting from the eldest to the youngest. The missing bowl was “discovered” amongst Bin Yamin’s things, so, to the horror of the other brothers, he was arrested.