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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-38


Retributive Discipline. The Famine and the First Journey to Egypt. Joseph’s struggles with himself. The repentance of the Brethren. Joseph and Simeon.

Genesis 42:1-38.

1Now when Jacob saw there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? 2And 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. 3And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt. 4But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief1 befall him. 5And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came; 6for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 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. 7And 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. 8And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. 9And 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. 10And they said unto them, 11Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man’s sons; we are, true men; thy servants are no spies. 12And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. 13And 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. 14And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies; 15Hereby ye shall be proved; By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. 16Send 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 17surely ye are spies. And he put them all together into ward three days. 18And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: 19If 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; 20But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so. 21And 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. 22And 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, 23And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter. 24And 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. 25Then 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. 26And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence. 27And 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. 28And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored, and, lo, it is even in my sack; and their heart failed them,2 and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us? 29And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them, saying. 30The man, who is the Lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. 31And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies; 32We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan. 33And 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; 34And 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. 35And 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. 36And 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. 37And 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. 38And 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.


1. It appears uncertain to Knobel which narrator (the Elohist or the Jehovist) tells the story here. Many expressions, says he, favor the original Scripture, but some seem to testify for the Jehovist, e. g., land of Goshen (Genesis 45:10), thy servant instead of I (Genesis 42:10). Very singular examples truly! Yet the language, it is then said, is rich in peculiarities. This part the Jehovist is said to have made up from his first record. A very peculiar presentation this, of the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα of different authors, as obtained by such a combination. The ἅπαξ λεγόμενα (words or expressions occurring but once) are always forth-coming from behind the scene. Such is the dead representation of that spiritless book-making, or rather that book-mangling criticism, now so much in vogue with those who make synopses of the New Testament.

2. The history of Joseph’s reconciliation to his brethren extends through four chapters, from Genesis 41-45 It contains: 1) The history of the chastisement of the brothers, which, at the same time is a history of Joseph’s struggles; 2) of the repentance of his brothers, marked by the antithesis Joseph and Simeon (Genesis 42:0); 3) the trial of the brothers, in which appears their repentance and Joseph’s reconciliation, marked by the antithesis of Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 43:1; Genesis 44:17); 4) the story of the reconciliation and recognition, under the antithesis of Judah and Joseph (Genesis 44:18; Genesis 45:16); 5) the account of the glad tidings to Jacob (Genesis 42:7-28).

1. The contents of the present section: 1) The journey to Egypt (Genesis 42:1-6); 2) the rough reception (Genesis 42:7-17); 3 the tasks imposed and the arrangements made by Joseph (Genesis 42:18-34); 4) The voluntary release, the return home, the report, the dark omen (Genesis 42:25-35); 5) Jacob’s lament (Genesis 42:36-38).


3.Genesis 42:1-6. The first journey of Joseph’s brethren to Egypt.—When Jacob saw.—It is already presupposed that the famine was raging in Canaan. Jacob’s observation was probably based upon the preparations of others for buying corn in Egypt. The word ‎‎‬‬‬‬שבר is translated corn, but more properly means a supply of corn (frumenti cumulus, Gesen., Thesaur.), or vendible or market corn.—Why do ye look one upon another?—Their helpless and suspicious looking to each other seems to be connected with their guilt. The journey to Egypt, and the very thought of Egypt haunts them on account of Joseph’s sale.—And Joseph’s ten brethren.—They thus undertake the journey together, because they received corn in proportion to their number. For though Joseph was humanely selling corn to foreigners, yet preference for his own countrymen, and a regard to economy, demanded a limitation of the quantity sold to individuals.—But Benjamin.—Jacob had transferred to Benjamin his preference of Joseph as the son of Rachel, and of his old age (Genesis 37:3). He guarded him, therefore, all the more carefully on account of the self-reproach he suffered from having once let Joseph take a dangerous journey all alone. Besides, Benjamin had not yet arrived at full manhood. Finally, although the facts were not clearly known to him, yet there must be taken into the account the deep suspicion he must have felt when he called to mind the strange disappearance of Joseph, their envy of him, and all this the stronger because Benjamin, too, was his favorite—Rachel’s son, Joseph’s brother.—Among those that came.—The picture of a caravan. Jacob’s sons seem willing to lose themselves in the multitudes, as if troubled by an alarming presentiment. Knobel thinks the city to which they journeyed was Memphis. According to others it was probably Zoar or Tanais (see Numbers 13:23). By the double הוּא the writer denotes the inevitableness of their appearing before Joseph. Having the general oversight of the sale, he specially observed the selling to foreigners, and it appears to have been the rule that they were to present themselves before him. Such a direction, though a proper caution in itself, might have been connected in the mind of Joseph with a presentiment of their coming. He himself was the שַׁלִּיט. The circumstance that this word appears otherwise only in later writers may be partly explained from the peculiarity of the idea itself. See Daniel 5:29. Here Daniel is represented as the third שליט (shalit) of the kingdom. “It seems to have been the standing title by which the Shemites designated Joseph, as one having despotic power in Egypt, and from which later tradition made the word Σάλατις, the name of the first Hyksos king (see Josephus: Contra Apion. i. 14).”—Keil—And bowed themselves.—Thus Joseph’s dreams were fulfilled, as there had been already fulfilled the dreams of Pharaoh.

2.Genesis 42:7-17. The harsh reception. Joseph recognized them immediately, because, at the time of his abduction, they were already grown up men, who had not changed as much as he, and because, moreover, their being all together brought out distinctly their individual characteristics. He was, besides, familiar with their language and its idioms. They, on the contrary, did not recognize him because he had attained his manhood since in Egypt,—because he appeared before them clad in foreign attire, and introduced himself, moreover, as an Egyptian who spoke to them through an interpreter. Add to this, that he had probable reasons for expecting his brethren, whilst they could have had no thought of meeting Joseph in the character of the shalit.—But made himself strange unto them.—By speaking roughly unto them. It is a false ascription to Joseph of a superhuman perfection and holiness, when, with Luther, Delitzsch, Keil, and others (see Keil, p. 259), we suppose that Joseph, with settled calmness, only intended to become acquainted with the disposition of their hearts, so as to lead them to a perception of their guilt, and to find out how they were disposed towards his hoary sire, and their youngest brother. Kurtz is more correct in supposing it a struggle between anger and gentleness. Their conduct to himself may have even made it a sign of suspicion to him that Benjamin did not accompany them. True it is, that a feeling of love predominates; since the humiliation foretold in his dreams was already, for the most part, fulfilled, and he might, therefore, expect the arrival of his father, and of his brother Benjamin, who would, at the same time, represent his mother. His future position towards them, however, must be governed by circumstances. The principal aim, therefore, of his harsh address, is to sound them in respect to their inner and outer relations. According as things should appear were they to expect punishment or forbearance. Finding them well disposed, self-renunciation becomes easier to him; whilst his harsh conduct is to them only a wholesome discipline.—Ye are spies.—That such a danger was common, in those ancient days of emigration and conquest, is clear from various instances (Numbers 21:32; Joshua 2:1, etc.). See also Knobel, p. 321. Moreover, Egypt was exposed to invasion from the North. Supposing, too, that Joseph had already a presentiment of how the affair would turn out, he might term them spies, with something of an ironical feeling, because their coming was undoubtedly a preliminary to their settlement in Egypt.—The nakedness of the land—its unfortified cities, unprotected boundaries, etc. Afterwards Joseph himself becomes to them the gate through which they enter Egypt.—Nay, my Lord.—Their answer shows a feeling of dignified displeasure.—We are all one man’s sons, we are true men.—Yet their mortified pride is restrained by fear and respect. Joseph repeats his charge, and so gets from them the further information, that his father is still alive, and that Benjamin was well at home.—And one is not.—From this expression Keil concludes that they did not yet feel much sorrow for their deed. But are they to confess to the Egyptian shalit? If, however, their distress alone had afterwards drawn from them a sudden repentance, it could hardly have been genuine.—That is it that I spake with you.—Joseph’s great excitement shows itself in his wavering determinations quickly succeeding and correcting each other. They gravitate from severity to mildness. In Genesis 42:14, we have his positive decision that they are spies, and are, therefore, to expect death. In Genesis 42:15, it is made conditional. As a test of their truth they are to be retained until the arrival of their brother.—By the life of Pharaoh.3—The Egyptians, as the Hebrews afterwards, swore by the life of their kings (see Knobel, 322). Joseph thus swears as an Egyptian. His main solicitude, however, appears here already: he must know how Benjamin does, and their disposition towards him. In Genesis 42:16, he expresses himself more definitely: one of them is to go and bring the brother, the others are to remain in confinement. A change follows in Genesis 42:17, they are confined for three days, probably on account of the expression of their unwillingness to fetch Benjamin. Pit for pit (see Genesis 37:24)! These three days, however, were to Joseph a time for reflection, and for the brothers a time of visitation. They all seemed now to have fallen into slavery in Egypt, even if they had not incurred the death of criminals. How this must have made them remember Joseph’s sale! One ray of hope has he left them: on Benjamin’s appearance they could be released.

3.Genesis 42:18-24. The hard terms imposed; Joseph’s arrangement and the repentance of the brothers; Joseph’s struggle; Simeon in prison.—This do and live.—Joseph now presents the charge in its conditional aspect. The motive assigned: For I fear God.—This language is the first definite sign of peace—the first lair self-betrayal of his heart. Agitated feelings lie concealed under these words. It is as much as to say: I am near to you, and to your faith. For them, it is true, the expression meant that he was a religious and conscientious man, who would never condemn on mere suspicion. It is an assertion, too, on which they are more to rely than on the earlier asseveration made: by the life of Pharaoh.—Let one of your brethren he bound.—Before, it was said: one shall go, but the others remain; now the reverse, and more mildly: one shall remain, but the others may go. This guarantees the return with Benjamin, and leaves them under the impression that they are not yet free from suspicion. Joseph sees the necessity of the others going, for his father’s house must be supplied with bread.—And they did so.—A summary expression of what follows, but anticipatory of their readiness to comply with Joseph’s request.—We are verily guilty.—Not: “we atone for our brother’s death” (Delitzsch); for thus there would be effaced the thought that the guilt was still resting upon them. The expiation is expressed in what follows.—Therefore is this distress come upon us.–Knobel translates it atoning, and makes the trivial remark: “All misfortune, according to the Hebrew notion, is a punishment for sin.” Joseph’s case itself directly contradicts him.—When he besought us.–Thus vividly paints the evil conscience. The narrator had not mentioned this beseeching. Thus are they compelled to make confession in Joseph’s hearing, without the thought that he understands them. But their open confession, made, as it was, before the interpreter, betrays the pressure of their sense of guilt.—And Reuben answered.—A picture of the thoughts that “accuse or excuse one another” (Romans 2:15). Reuben, too, is not wholly innocent; but, as against them, he thought to act the censurer, and what he did to save Joseph he represents in the strongest light. We may, indeed, conclude that his counsel to cast him into the pit was preceded by unheeded entreaties for his entire freedom.—For he spake with them by an interpreter.—Knobel here has to encounter the difficulty that Joseph, “as an officer of the Hyksos” (to use his own language), assumes the appearance of not being able to speak Hebrew.—And he turned himself about from them.—Overcome by his emotion, he has to turn away and weep. This is repeated more powerfully at the meeting with Benjamin (Genesis 43:30) and finally, in a most touching manner, after Judah’s appeal (Genesis 44:18, etc.). The cause of this emotion, thrice repeated, and each time with increasing power, is; in every instance, some propitiating appeal. In the first case, it is the palliating thought that Reuben, the first-born, intended to save him, and yet takes to himself the feeling of the guilt that weighed upon them. In the second case it is the appearance of the young and innocent Benjamin, his beloved brother, as though standing before the guilty brethren. In the third instance, it is Judah’s self-sacrifice in behalf of Benjamin and his father’s house. The key-note of Joseph’s emotion, therefore, is this perception of atoning love, purifying the bitter recollection of injustice suffered. A presentiment and a sentiment of reconciliation melt the heart which the mere sense of right might harden, and becomes even a feeling, at the same time, of divine and human reconciliation. Only as viewed from this definite perception can we estimate the more general feelings that flow from it: “painful recollection of the past, and thankfulness to God for his gracious guidance.”—And returned to them again.—Joseph’s first emotion may have removed his harsh decisiveness. His feeling of justice, however, is not yet satisfied; still less is there restored his confidence in his brethren, especially in reference to the future of Benjamin. But before adopting any severer measures, he communed with them, doubtless in a conciliatory manner. Then he takes Simeon, binds him, or orders him to be bound, that he might remain as a hostage for their return. That he does not order Reuben, the first-born, to be bound, explains itself from the discovery of his guiltlessness. Thus Simeon, as standing next, is the first-born of the guilty ones. He did not adopt Reuben’s plan of deliverance, though he did not especially distinguish himself in Joseph’s persecution, as might have been expected of him from his zealous disposition shown in the affair of Shechem,—a fact the more easily credited since neither did Judah, the next after him, agree with the majority.

4.Genesis 42:25-35. The voluntary release; the return; the report; the dark omen.—To fill their sacks.—כְּלֵיהֶם, receptacles or vessels, in the most general sense.—To restore every man’s money with his sack.—Joseph would not receive pay from his father, and yet he could not openly return the money without betraying a particular relation to them. Therefore the secret measure, one object of which, doubtless, was to keep up the fear and excitement, as it also served to give them reasons for expecting something extraordinary.—Provisions for the way.—To prevent the decrease of their store, and to make unnecessary the premature opening of their sacks.—One of them opened his sack.—At the place of their night-quarters. It could not have been what we now call an inn. Delitzsch supposes that, at that time, already, there were shed-like buildings, caravanseras, existing along the route through the desert (Exodus 4:24). Keil doubts this. The fact of the separate opening of his sack by one of them, demands no explanation. He might have made a mistake in the sack, or the money might have been put in a wrong one; but even this circumstance is so arranged as to increase the fear of their awakened consciences.—What is this that God hath done unto us?—They are conscious of no deception on their part, and they cannot understand how the Egyptians could have done it. Whether it were an oversight on their side, or a cunning trick of the Egyptians to arrest them afterwards for theft—at all events, their aroused consciences tell them that they have now to contend with God. They see a dark and threatening sign in it, now that a sense of God’s judgments is awakened in them.—And they came unto Jacob.—The story of their strange intercourse with the terrible man in Egypt, is confirmed by the fearful discovery made when all the sacks are opened. Joseph’s intimation, which they report, that they might traffic again in Egypt, provided they fulfilled the imposed condition, is a ray of light, which, in their present mood, they hardly knew how to appreciate.

5.Genesis 42:36-38. Jacob’s lamentation.—Me have ye bereaved of my children.—The pain of Simeon’s apparent loss, grief for Joseph here renewed again, and the anguish concerning Benjamin, move Jacob greatly, and cause him to express himself, hyperbolically indeed, but still truthfully, according to his conception, as a man overwhelmed with misfortune, and losing his children, one after the other. So little thought the wise and pious Jacob how Dear was the joyful turning-point in the destiny of his house. His reproach: me have ye bereaved of my children, as addressed to those who might have formally contradicted it, is more forcible in its application than he could have thought. Or had he a presentiment of something he knew not? In regard to Joseph he could only knowingly charge that he had once sent him to them, and they had not brought him back. In respect to Simeon he could only reproach them with having told too much to the governor of Egypt respecting their family affairs (see Genesis 43:0). Respecting Benjamin he could only complain that they should ask to take him along. The aroused consciences of his sons, however, told them that truly all the threatening losses of Jacob were connected with their removal of Joseph; for they themselves considered the present catastrophe as a visitation on account of it.—And Reuben spake.—With a clearer conscience, he has also more courage; but his offer to leave his sons as hostages, so that Jacob might slay them if he did not return with Benjamin, is more expressive of a rude heroism than of true understanding; for how could it be a satisfaction to a grandfather to slay both his grandchildren! It can only be understood as a tender of a double blood-vengeance, or as a strong expression of assurance that his return without Benjamin was not to be thought of. Knobel thinks it strange that Reuben speaks of two sons, since at the time of the emigration to Egypt, according to Genesis 46:0, he had four sons. And yet he was quite advanced in years, according to the Elohistic account!—With sorrow to the grave (see Genesis 37:35; 1 Kings 2:6; 1 Kings 2:9).


1. A chapter showing the unfailing fulfilment of the divine decrees, the power of a guilty conscience, the righteous punishment of guilty concealers as visited by suspicion on all sides, the certainty of final retribution, the greatness of moral struggles, the imaginations of an evil conscience, the presentiments of misfortune as felt by a gray-haired sire in a guilty house, and, with it all, the change from judgment to reconciliation and salvation in the life of the now docile sons of the promise.
2. They came at last; late indeed, but come they must, even if it had been from the remotest bounds of the earth. Joseph’s brethren were to come and bow themselves down before him. God’s decrees must stand. It is not because Joseph saw it in a dream, but because in the dreams there was represented the realization of God’s decrees as already interweaving themselves with the future of the sons in the innermost movements of their most interior life. So sure is the fulfilment of the divine counsels,—so. unfailingly grow the germs of destiny in the deepest life of man.

3. Why do the sons of Jacob look so helplessly one upon the other? Why does it not come into their minds that corn is for sale in Egypt, and that a caravan of travellers is making preparation in their vicinity,? To their guilty conscience, Egypt is a foreboding name, threatening calamity. If they must go, however, they would rather go all together, that, in the multitude, they may find mutual encouragement. They have to explain why they come ten strong, and are thus driven to speak about Joseph; but with what embarrassment do they pass hastily over one who is no more! And now, terrified by the prospect of imprisonment, and threatened with death, they are unable, even in Joseph’s presence, and within the hearing of the interpreter, to suppress their self-accusation: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” And now, again, how vividly come to their minds the prayers of that brother, in vain beseeching them for mercy. So truthful is the memory of conscience. The money, too, found again in the sack of one of them, becomes another fearful sign that the divine judgments are at last to descend upon them. The last discovery of it in the sacks of all of them, fills up the measure of their fears. All favorable signs are gone: the twofold mitigation of Joseph’s purpose; his assurance: I fear God; his explanation that Benjamin’s appearance would satisfy him; the voluntary release; the finding again of their money. Reuben, too, though having a better conscience, shares in their feelings; he sees coming down upon them the full visitation of their blood-guiltiness; even the pious father has a foreboding, becoming even more distinct, that somehow, through the crime of his sons, a dark doom is impending over his house. Therefore is he not willing to trust his Benjamin, for so long a journey, to these sons, who seem, for some reason, to have a guilty conscience,—it may be in relation to Joseph.
4. Ye are spies. Though Joseph’s suspicion was unfounded, it expresses a righteous judgment: that guilty men who conceal a crime demanding an open atonement, must ever encounter suspicion as the reflex of their evil secret. Even when trusted they cannot believe it, because not yet true to themselves. To Joseph it must have appeared strangely suspicious that they came without Benjamin.

5. By regarding Joseph as a saintly man, who, from the very first, and with a freely reconciled spirit, was only imposing a divine trial upon his brothers, and leading them to repentance through a soul-enlightening discipline, we raise him above the Old-Testament stand-point; to say nothing of the fact that Joseph could not at first have known whether these, his half-brothers, were not also the persecutors of Benjamin, and with as deadly a hatred, perhaps, as they had shown to him. Neither had he any means of knowing whether or not he could ever be on friendly terms with them. But that he is to pass through a great religious and moral struggle with himself, is evident from his wavering decisions, from the time he takes for consideration, and especially, from the fact that he postpones the trial even after they had brought Benjamin to him. He adopts a course in which both his aged father and his beloved Benjamin are exposed, temporarily, to the greatest distress. Decidedly, from the very beginning, does he take a noble position, but by severe struggles is he to attain to that holy stand-point of complete forgiveness; and for this purpose his brothers’ confession of their guilt, and especially the appearance of Reuben, Benjamin, and Judah, are blessed to him, just as his own conduct assisted the brothers in bringing on their struggles of repentance and self-sacrifice by faith.

6. The turning of judgment into reconciliation. A principal point in this is the involuntary confession of the brethren in Joseph’s hearing, the discovery of Reuben’s attempt to save him, the atonement made by the proud-hearted Simeon, the melting of the brothers’ obduracy, and, through it, of Joseph’s exasperation. Above all, the recognition that God’s searching providence is present throughout the whole development. “Whatsoever maketh manifest is light” (Ephesians 5:13). Thus under the light of Christ’s cross the entire darkness of the world’s guilt was uncovered, and only in such an uncovering could it become reconciled.

7. Even now there already dawns upon Joseph the wonderful fact that his exaltation was owing mediately to the enmity of his brethren, and that they were together both conscious and unconscious instruments of God’s mercy and of his providential design to save much people alive (Genesis 45, 50).
8. Jacob feels the burden of his house, and his alarming presentiments of evil become manifest more and more. We must imagine this to ourselves, if we would clearly understand his depression. He is not strengthened by the spirit in his household, but put under restraint and weariness. He feels that there is something rotten in the foundation of his house.
9. Here, too, death is not denoted as a descending into Sheol, but as the dying from the heart’s sorrow of an uncompleted life. Opposed to it is the going home to the fathers when the soul is satisfied with the life on earth, and its enigmas are all solved.


See Doctrinal and Ethical. The brethren appearing before Joseph. Thus the world before Christ, the oppressors in the forum of the oppressed, the wicked at the judgment-seat of the pious.—Joseph and his brethren as they stand confronting each other: 1. He recognizes them, but they do not recognize him; 2. the positions of the parties are changed, but Joseph exercises mercy; 3. the judgment must precede the reconciliation; 4. human and divine reconciliation go together. We are verily guilty concerning our brother: 1. This language considered in their sense; 2. according to Joseph’s understanding; 3. in the sense of the spirit. The guilty conscience terrified, at first, by signs that were really favorable. Jacob’s lamentation as the seeming curse of his house becomes gradually known. At the extremest need help is near. Benjamin’s dark prospects (his mother dead, his brother lost, himself threatened with misfortune), and their favorable issue.

Taube: The hours of repentance that come to Joseph’s brethren: 1. How the sinner is led to repentance; 2. how repentance manifests itself; 3. the relation of the Lord to the penitent sinner.

First Section (Genesis 42:1-6). Starke: The utility of commerce. The different products which God has given to different countries, demand mutual intercourse for their attainment. A believer must employ ordinary means, and not tempt God by their refusal. Nothing can hinder God’s decrees in behalf of the pious.—Schröder: The guilt of Benjamin’s brothers in respect to Joseph seems to weigh upon the father’s heart as a kind of presentiment.—Calwer Handbuch: Joseph’s brethren are they called, because Joseph stands here in the foreground of history, and the destiny of the family is connected with him. The very ten by whom he was sold must bow themselves before him, and receive the righteous and higher requital.—Heim: The expression sons of Israel, instead of sons of Jacob, points to Israel the man of faith, whose children they were, who accompanied them with his prayers, and for whose sake, although he knew it not, this journey to Egypt, so dark in its commencement, became a blessing to them all.

Second Section (Genesis 42:7-17). Starke: Formerly they regarded him as a spy—now are they treated as spies in turn.

Genesis 42:15. This expression is not an oath, but only a general asseveration. The first Christians, though making everything a matter of conscience, did not hesitate thus to affirm by the life of the Emperors, but they were unwilling to swear by their divinity. Juramus sicut non per genios Cœsarum, ita per salutem eorum quœ est augustior omnibus geniis. Tert. Apol.—Hall: The disposition of a Christian is not always to be judged by his outward acts.—Gerlach: Genesis 42:9. Nothing is more common than this reproach upon travellers in the East, especially when they would sketch any parts of the country.—Schröder: He who was hungry when they were eating, now holds the food for which they hunger. To him (Joseph) there was committed, for some time, the government of a most important part of the world. He was not only to bless, but also to punish and to judge; i.e., become forgetful of all human relations and act divinely. [Krummacher: Still Joseph felt as man, not as though he were Providence.] Joseph plays a wonderful part with his brethren, but one which humbles and exercises him greatly. A similar position God assumes towards believers when in tribulation; let us, therefore, hold assuredly that all our misfortunes, trials, and lamentations, even death itself, are nothing but a hearty and fair display of the divine goodness towards us (Luther). Joseph’s suspicion, though feigned in expression, has, nevertheless, a ground of fact in the former conduct of his brothers towards him.

Third Section (vers 18–24). Starke: God knows how to keep awake the conscience.

Genesis 42:18. The test of a true Christian in all his doings, is the fear of the Lord.—Bibl. Tub.: How noble is religion in a judge!—Lange: Chastisements as a means of self-examination. There may be times when sins, long since committed, may present themselves so vividly before the eyes as to seem but of yesterday.—The same: God’s wise providence so brings it about, that though a guilty man may escape the deserved punishment for a time, the visitation will surely come, even though it be by God’s permitting misfortunes to fall upon him through the guilt of others, when he himself is innocent.

Fourth Section (Genesis 42:25-35). Starke: Simeon may now let his thoughts wander back, in repentance for his murderous deeds at Shechem, in weeping for the grief he had caused to Joseph, and in imploring God’s forgiveness. God does not bestow the blessing of the gospel on the sinner in any other way than in the order of the law, or in the knowledge of his sins. A frightened conscience always expects the worst (Wis 17:11).—Schröder: Simeon is bound; probably because the leader at Shechem was also the prime mover against Joseph (Baumgarten.

Fifth Section (Genesis 42:35-38). Starke: He “who wrestled with God (and man) and prevailed, shows here great weakness of faith. Yet he recovers, and again struggles in faith, like Abraham his grandfather.—Cramer: When burdened with trials and temptations, we interpret everything in the worst way, even though it may be for our peace.—Gerlach: Jacob’s declarations betray a feeling that the brothers were not guiltless respecting Joseph’s disappearance. He knew their jealousy, and he had experienced the violent disposition of Simeon and Levi.—Schröder: There is nothing so restless or so great a foe to peace as a frightened heart, that turns pale at a glance, or at the rustle of a leaf (Luther). He had long suspected them in regard to Joseph (see Genesis 42:4); the old wound is now opened again. Reuben is once more the tender-hearted one. He offers everything (Genesis 42:37) that he may prevail with his father. “But it is out of reason what he offers.” Luther.—Heim: Jacob’s painful language. There breaks forth now the hard suspicion which he had long carried shut up in the depths of his own heart.


[1][Genesis 42:4.—אָסוֹן. A rare Hebrew word, occurring only here, in Genesis 42:38, and in Exodus 21:22-23. Gesenius would connect the root with the Arabic ان ى, others with the Arabic ٱسا and the Syriac ܐ̃ܣܐ, which means to heal. The first comes nearer to it in sense, but a much closer agreement, both in form and significance, exists between it and the Arabic ٱسى, to be in grief or pain, and its noun ٱسًى, pain, affliction. It occurs in the Koran, v. 29, 72; vii. 91; Leviticus 23:0, in the very sense here demanded by the context.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 42:28.—וַיֵּצֵא לִבָּם, and their heart went out. LXX, ἐξέστη ἡ καρδία αὐτῶν. Hence the Greek ἔκατασις, ecstasy. It may denote rapture, astonishment, overwhelming sorrow—any condition of soul in which the thoughts and affections seem to pass beyond the control of the will. The heart goes forth, the mind wanders, the soul loses command of itself. It is the same imagery, and nearly the same terms, in many languages. Corresponding to it are the expressions for the opposite state. Compare the Latin exire de mente, ratione, etc., to be or go out of one’s mind, and the opposite, colligere se, to take courage, to recover one’s self. So the English, to be collected, or composed. There is a similar usage of the Greek συναναγείρεσθαι and ἀθροίζεσθαι, to collect, gather back the soul. See the Phædo, 67 c. Vulgate, obstupefacti sunt.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 42:15. חֵי פַרְעֹה. Literally, by the lives of Pharaoh; but the primitive conception, whatever it may have been (see note, p. 163, 2d. column), that gave rise to the plural form of this word, had probably become dim or lost, and there is intended hero only the one general sense of life. There is, however, a remark of Maimonides on this phrase, in this place, that is worthy of note. His critical, as well as most philosophical, eye observes a difference in this little word חי, and the vowel pointing it has in the Scriptures according as it is used of God or man. Thus in the Hebrew oath, חַי יְהוָֹה וְחֵי נַפְשְׁךָ (comp. 1Sa 20:3; 1 Samuel 25:26; 2Ki 2:2; 2 Kings 2:4; 2Ki 2:6; 2 Kings 4:30; and other places), which is rendered, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, he notices what has escaped most critics, viz., the change of vowel in the word חי; so that the rendering should be, as the Lord liveth, or by the living Jehovah, and by the life of thy soul. The reasons of this he thus states in the Sepher Hamada, or Book of Knowledge, the first part of the great work entitled Yad Hachazakah, ch. ii. sec. Genesis 14:0 : “In Genesis 42:15, it is said, חֵי פַרְעֹה, by the life (lives) of Pharaoh; so in 1°Sam. Genesis 1:26, חֵי נַפְשְׁךָ, by the life of thy soul, as also in many other places. But in the same connection it is not said חֵי יְהוָֹה (chei), but חַי יְהוָֹה (chai), in the absolute form instead of the construct or genitive, because the Creator, blessed be he, and his life are one, not separate, as the lives of creatures or of angels. Therefore, he does not know creatures by means of the creatures, as we know them, but by himself (מחמת עצמוֹ), because all life leans upon him, and by his knowing himself he knoweth all things—since he and his knowledge also, as well as he and his life, are one. This is a matter which the tongue has not the power of uttering, nor the ear of hearing, nor can the mind comprehend it; but such is the reason of the change, and of its being said חֵי פ־עה, by the life of Pharaoh, in the construct state, since Pharaoh and his life are two.” Again, sec. xi. and xii.: “All things beside the Creator, blessed be he, exist through his truth (or truthfulness) and because he knows himself, he knows everything. And he does not know by a knowledge which is without (or outside, חוץ ממנו), to himself, as we know, because we and our knowledge are not one; but as for the Creator, blessed be he, both his knowledge and his life are one with himself in every mode of unity. Hence we may say that he is, at the same time, the knower, the known, and the knowledge itself, all in one.” Or, as he tells us in the beginning of this profound treatise, ch. i. sec. Genesis 1:0 : “God’s truth is not like the truth of the creatures, and thus the prophet says (Jeremiah 10:10), Jehovah God is truth, and God is life (plural חיים lives; compare πατὴρ τῶν φώτων, James 1:17), he is the מלך עולם the king of eternity, the king of the world.” That is, he is, at the same time, the truth, the life, the everlasting law. Compare, also, Maimonides, Porta Mosis, Pococke edition, p. 256.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 42". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-42.html. 1857-84.
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