Genesis Chapter 42: Jacob’s Sons Go to Egypt Because of Famine

Mar 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis

Genesis Chapter 42: Jacob’s Sons Go to Egypt Because of Famine

Gen. 42:1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?

Gen. 42:2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.

Gen. 42:3 And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.

Gen. 42:4 But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.

Jacob told ten of his sons to go to Egypt to buy grain. He kept Benjamin at home ”lest peradventure mischief befall him.”

Gen. 42:5 And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

Gen. 42:6 And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.

When Jacob’s sons got to Egypt where Joseph was governor, they “bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.” Here was a partial fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams more than 20 years earlier in regard to the sun, moon, and stars and the shocks of wheat bowing down to him.

Joseph personally supervised all of the Egyptians as well as the foreigners who came to Egypt to buy grain. Since representatives of families and communities would come, the numbers were not as great as might at first be supposed. When they came before Joseph, they probably had to wait in line to see him.

Gen. 42:7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.

Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not know him. In addition to wearing Egyptian clothing and being at least 20 years older than when they had last seen him, Joseph spoke to them through an interpreter (verse 23), for he spoke Egyptian.

Joseph’s wisdom and self-restraint are notable and commendable. Most people in his place would have immediately identified themselves. Instead Joseph let at least a couple of years go by, and his method of dealing with his brothers was good for their character. He had a strategic purpose for withholding his identity. Also, since Joseph is a type of Jesus, it was appropriate for him to remain unrecognized for a time. For Jesus to deal with individuals, certain required steps must first be taken. Joseph’s brothers had sinned against him by selling him into slavery. Now he restrained his natural inclination to reveal his identity immediately, for he had several purposes in mind. And there are reasons in the antitype too.

Comment: Since Joseph knew from interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams that the famine would last seven years, he could delay revealing his identity to his brothers because he knew they would have to return to Egypt a second time for grain.

Gen. 42:8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

Gen. 42:9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

Gen. 42:10 And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.

Gen. 42:11 We are all one man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.

Gen. 42:12 And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

Gen. 42:13 And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.

Gen. 42:14 And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:

Joseph remembered his two earlier dreams in regard to his family’s bowing down to him. He mentioned three times that the brothers were spies: verses 9, 12, and 14. When he questioned their truthfulness, they answered, “We are ten sons out of 12. One is not and the youngest is home with our father.” Joseph was judiciously trying to extract information about Jacob and Benjamin.

Joseph accused them of coming to see the “nakedness” of the land. The Revised Standard Version says they wanted to see the “weakness” (the defenselessness) of the land. By coming ostensibly for grain, they could have been spies to see how well fortified Egypt was.

Gen. 42:15 Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.

Gen. 42:16 Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.

Gen. 42:17 And he put them all together into ward three days.

Gen. 42:18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:

Gen. 42:19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:

Gen. 42:20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

First, Joseph said, “Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.” This command would have frightened the brothers.

Joseph put his ten brothers in prison for three days. The imprisonment made the brothers feel that they were in real trouble, and of course they did not know how long the imprisonment would last. For all they knew, they were there for the rest of their lives. The three days gave them a feeling of what Joseph had gone through in the pit at their expense. The three days also gave them time to think about their mistreatment of Joseph.

On the third day, Joseph released nine of the brothers but said, “I will keep one of you as a hostage in prison.” The other nine were allowed to go home with grain for the family’s needs. However, they were to bring their youngest brother back to verify their words. “And they did so” was a historical addendum, which meant, “That is what happened [eventually].”

The conversation was very interesting. Joseph spoke harshly and used an interpreter, so the interpreter had to transmit the message in a fragmented manner, using the proper inflections. “If ye be true men….” Joseph was rubbing this point in because his brothers had not been true in some things in the past. In other words, he was saying, “If ye be honest men, upright….”

Joseph’s words bothered the brothers because they knew what they had done to Joseph.

Gen. 42:21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

Gen. 42:22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.

Gen. 42:23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.

Gen. 42:24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.

The ten remembered what they had done to Joseph. Even though they did not know Joseph was the governor, the way he interrogated them through the interpreter made them feel they were getting retribution for having sold him into slavery.

Joseph seized Simeon as the one to be kept in prison while the other brothers took grain home. The selection of Simeon indicates that he may have been the instigator in mistreating Joseph. At least Reuben and Judah had not wanted to kill Joseph.

For more than 20 years, the brothers had lived with the knowledge of their crime. They had seen their father Jacob grieve during all this time over Joseph’s supposed death. Reuben, especially, seems to have sorrowed and now saw the retribution aspect.

Joseph definitely had a strategy—right down to the time of Jacob’s arrival in Egypt. He was very shrewd to hide his identity. For one thing, it brought his brothers to a repentant condition. The three days seemed to bring a climax. The anxiety of not knowing their fate called to mind Joseph’s not knowing his fate when they had put him in the pit. But now other things had to be done.

Simeon was the second-born of Leah. Reuben was the firstborn, but he had shown some mercy. Therefore, Simeon, the next oldest brother, bore a lot of responsibility. Also, there may be a symbolic reason for Simeon’s being chosen, for he is absent in the 12-tribe prophetic listing of Deuteronomy 33:6-25.

The brothers had the discussion in Hebrew, and Joseph heard all their words. Seeing that they were conscience-stricken softened Joseph—so much so, in fact, that he turned from them and wept. (He probably went into another room to weep and then returned when his emotions were under control.)

Gen. 42:25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

Gen. 42:26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

Gen. 42:27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth.

Gen. 42:28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?

Now the brothers were even more conscience-stricken. Money was put in every sack, although at first, only one of them discovered it as he went to feed his animal. The brothers were greatly alarmed. They had gladly taken money for Joseph. Now they were getting it back under a peculiar situation, and they did not want it. They thought that God was against them—they saw His hand of retribution. Not only had they been accused of being spies, which was a serious crime, but now they were afraid of being accused as thieves as well.

The brothers were at a place of no return. If they went back to Joseph to explain about the money, they had a problem, for Joseph had said he would not see them again unless they brought Benjamin. It was dangerous to go back, so they were forced to continue on to Jacob.

They could even have felt that they were being set up and that if they returned to Egypt, they would be apprehended. All of this was calculated to prick their consciences. Incidentally, the other brothers did not find their money until they had returned home (verse 35).

Gen. 42:29 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,

Gen. 42:30 The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

Gen. 42:31 And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:

Gen. 42:32 We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.

Gen. 42:33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:

Gen. 42:34 And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffic in the land.

The brothers reported events to Jacob even before unloading their animals. They were trying to prepare Jacob as to why Simeon was not with them. Joseph had said, “If you bring Benjamin back, you can traffic in the land. There will be no more suspicion.”

Gen. 42:35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

Gen. 42:36 And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.

Gen. 42:37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.

Gen. 42:38 And he said, 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 the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

They all discovered money in their sacks and were very frightened, for the leadership of Egypt seemed to be against them. When Jacob expressed dismay upon hearing the instruction to take Benjamin to Egypt, Reuben nobly offered that his own two sons be slain if anything happened to Benjamin in Egypt. Reuben is also the one who had chided the other brothers upon their release from three days in prison (see verse 22). Incidentally, Reuben is No. 2 on the high priest’s breastplate. Judah, too, had favorable character aspects—and both Reuben and Judah had some unfavorable traits as well.

Jacob replied, “Me have ye bereaved of my children.” His statement was true, for the brothers were responsible for Joseph’s being gone, and Simeon was in prison because of what they had done to Joseph. Jacob refused to let them take Benjamin back to Egypt.

“Joseph is not.” The 11 brothers did not know where Joseph was. For all they knew, he could have been dead. The blood-soaked garment many years earlier had made Jacob think Joseph was dead.

What about the expression “is not”? The Apostle Paul used “was not” with regard to Enoch, who is still alive (Heb. 11:5). Hence the use of the expression “is not” (or “was not”) does not prove that one is dead, for Jacob also said, “Simeon is not,” and Simeon was merely incarcerated, not dead.

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