وَجَآءُوٓ أَبَاهُمْ عِشَآءً يَبْكُونَ (يوسف: 16).
And they came to their father isha‘an (at night), weeping (12.16). Joseph’s brothers returned home pretending to cry for their brother.
Joseph’s brothers were keen on pretending that they cared about Joseph and were sad to lose him, so they would have been expected to tell their father about Joseph’s death immediately after they knew about it. What, then, was their excuse for returning late? We will see in the next two verses Joseph’s brothers untruthfully claim that a wolf has devoured Joseph, and that they could find only his blood stained shirt. This leads me to conclude that Joseph’s brothers must have claimed that they could not come back before night because they kept on looking for Joseph’s body until the night set in.
Probably, Joseph’s brothers thought that getting back at night would provide cover for their lie. If they had told their father about what had happened to Joseph in the morning he would have certainly asked them to take him to where they left Joseph or found his shirt. By returning during the night, they guaranteed that Jacob would not be able to go before the next morning to wherever Joseph was supposed to have been devoured by the wolf and they found his shirt. If Jacob went there in the morning and did not find anything supporting his sons’ claims, that would not represent a problem for them. They could claim that beasts or the elements had removed any trace of their brother. In fact, we will see in verse 12.18 that Jacob knew that it was useless to try to search for Joseph, so his only reaction to the news of losing his son was to leave the matter in the hands of Allah.
The well that Joseph’s brothers chose was far enough from their home to prevent Joseph from returning home should the person who found him try to identify his family and return him home. This could have been one reason that forced them not to come back before night.
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