1 ¶ And the famine was sore in the land. 2 And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food. 3 And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. 4 If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food: 5 But if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. 6 And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother? 7 And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down? 8 And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. 9 I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever: 10 For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.
So, now there is nothing left of what Joseph had given his brothers. The famine is getting worse. Jacob tells them to go again to Egypt to buy food. Now, it is Judah who says to let Benjamin go and offers himself up as a guarantee against the young man’s return.
First Reuben then Judah tried to persuade their father to let Benjamin go with them.
11 ¶ And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds: 12 And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: 14 And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
This passage shows that it is the basic food crop that is affected by the famine and not other substances so that the famine has most likely been caused by a failure of the wheat crop throughout the Ancient Near East over several years. The reason I believe this famine has been caused by back to back wheat crop failures due to disease or other causes is that growing almonds takes a lot of water and I’ve even read it takes ten gallons of water to grow one almond. We’ve seen recently by the drought in California that drought takes its toll on nut and honey production. Egypt itself was not dependent upon rain as it was for the annual flooding of the Nile River. Taken together the evidence appears to indicate that it is not a lack of rainfall and water that hindered the wheat, the corn crop, but some other factor such as disease or even too much water. We must remember that many crop failures and famines in Medieval England were caused by too much rainfall. Nevertheless, Jacob’s family must have wheat from Egypt which would one day provide a great deal of the wheat necessary for the survival of Rome, the capital of empire, at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The famine was sore, very severe. See the definition of sore linked by and with great in a similar context.
Deuteronomy 6:22 And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes:
This has been the cause of many food riots in the recent past, when the cost of food rises too high. Americans spend about 20% of their incomes on food while some countries, particularly in Africa, have to spend 80% of their income on food.
If you want to pick a single indicator of where political instability will occur in the modern world; political, social, or economic then the price of grain is your best bet. Other factors such as tribal hatreds, lack of participation in the political process, etc. set the stage but the rising cost of food is the tipping point. Desperation drives revolutions.
Back to the passage, the brothers must go back to Egypt, and to Joseph.