Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-38


Genesis 42:1

Now when Jacob saw—literally, and Jacob saw, i.e. perceived by the preparations of others for buying corn in Egypt (Lange), but more probably learnt by the report which others brought from. Egypt (Genesis 42:2)—that there was corn—שֶׁבֶר, either that which is broken, e.g. ground as in a mill, from שָׁבַר, to break in pieces, to shiver (Gesenius), or that which breaks forth, hence sprouts or geminates, from an unused root, שָׁבַר, to press out, to break forth (Furst), is here employed to denote not simply grain, but a supply of it, frumenti cumulus, for sale and purchase. The LXX. render by πρᾶσις, and the Vulgate by quod alimenta venderenturin Egypt (vide Genesis 41:54), Jacob (literally, and Jacob) said unto his sons,—using verba non, ut multi volunt, increpantis, sed excitantis (Rosenmüller)—Why do ye look one upon another?—i.e. in such a helpless and undecided manner (Keil), which, however, there is no need to regard as springing from a consciousness of guilt (Lange), the language fittingly depicting the aspect and attitude of those who are simply consiii inopes (Rosenmüller).

Genesis 42:2

And he said, Behold, I have heard (this does not imply that the rumor had not also reached Jacob's sons, but only that the proposal to visit Egypt did not originate with them) that there is corn—שֶׁבֶר ut supra, σῖτος ( LXX.), triticum (Vulgate)—in Egypt: get you down thither. That Jacob did not, like Abraham (Genesis 12:10)and Isaac (Genesis 26:2), propose to remove his family to Egypt, may be explained either by the length of the journey, which was too great for so large a household, or by the circumstance that the famine prevailed in Egypt as well as Canaan (Gerlach). That he entrusted his sons, and not his servants, with the mission, though perhaps dictated by a sense of its importance (Lawson), was clearly of Divine arrangement for the further accomplishment of the Divine plan concerning Joseph and his brethren. And buy (i.e. buy corn, the verb being a denominative from שֶׁבֶר, corn) for us from thence. From this it is apparent that the hitherto abundant flocks and herds of the patriarchal family had been greatly reduced by the long-continued and severe drought, thus requiring them to obtain food from Egypt, if either any portion of their flocks were to be saved, or themselves to escape starvation, as the patriarch explained to his sons. That we may (literally, and we shall) live, and not die.

Genesis 42:3

And Joseph's ten brethren went down—either it was for safety that all the ten went, or because, the corn being sold to individuals, the quantity received would depend on their numbers (Lange)—to buy corn—the word for corn, בָּר, if not a primitive, like the Latin far (Furst), may be derived from בָּרַר, to separate, sever, choose out, hence purify (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Gesenius), and may describe grain as that which has been cleaned from chaff, as in Jeremiah 4:11in (literally, from, i.e. corn to be brought from) Egypt.

Genesis 42:4

But (literally, and) Benjamin, Joseph's brother (vide Genesis 35:18), Jacob sent not with his brethren. Not because of his youth (Patrick, Lange), since he was now upwards of twenty years of age, but because he was Joseph's brother, and had taken Joseph's place in his father's affections (Lawson, Lange, Murphy, &c.), causing the old man to cherish him with tender solicitude. For he said (to, or within, himself, perhaps recalling the fate of Joseph), Lest peradventure mischief befall him. אָסוֹן, from אָסַה, to hurt (Gesenius, Furst), and occurring only elsewhere in Genesis 42:38, Genesis 44:29, and Exodus 21:22, Exodus 21:23, denotes any sort of personal injury in general, and in particular here such mischance as might happen to a traveler.

Genesis 42:5

And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came—literally, in the midst of the comers; not as being desirous to lose themselves in the multitudes, as if troubled by an alarming presentiment (Lange), which is forced and unnatural; but either as forming a part of a caravan of Canaanites (Lawson), or simply as arriving among ethers who came from the same necessity (Keil). For the famine was in the land of Canaan. The statements in this verse concerning the descent of Joseph's brethren to Egypt, and the prevalence of the famine in the land of Canaan, both of which have already been sufficiently announced (vide Genesis 42:3; Genesis 41:57; Genesis 42:2), are neither useless repetitions nor proofs of different authorship, but simply the customary recapitulations which mark the commencement of a new paragraph or section of the history, viz; that in which Joseph's first interview with his brethren is described.

Genesis 42:6

And Joseph was the governor over the land. The word שָׁלִּיט from שָׁלַט, to rule, describes one invested with despotic authority, or a sultan (Gesenius), in which character the early Shemites appear to have regarded Joseph (Keil). It is probably the same idea which recurs in the name Salatis, which, according to Manetho, belonged to the first of the shepherd kings (Josephus, 'Contra Apionem,' 1.14). Occurring nowhere else in the Pentateuch, it reappears in the later writings of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 7:10; Ecclesiastes 10:5), Ezra (Ezra 4:20; Ezra 7:24), Daniel (Daniel 2:15; Daniel 5:29), which, however, need not suggest an exilian or post-exilian authorship, but may be explained by the fact that the root is found equally in the Arabic and Aramaean dialects (Keil). And he it was that sold to all the people of the land. Not conducted the retail corn trade (Tuch, Oort, Kuenen), which was assigned to subordinates (verse 25; Genesis 44:1), but presided over the general market of the kingdom (Murphy), probably fixing the price at which the grain should be sold, determining the quantities to be allowed to purchasers, and examining the companies of foreigners who came to buy (Rosenmüller, Havernick, Lange, Gerlach). And Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. And so fulfilled his early dream in Shechem (Genesis 37:7, Genesis 37:8).

Genesis 42:7

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but (literally, and) made himself strange unto them. The root נָכַר, to be marked, signed, by indentation, hence to be foreign (Furst), or simply to be strange (Gesenius), in the Hiphil signifies to press strongly into a thing (Furst), to look at a thing as strange (Gesenius), or to recognize, and in the Hithpael has the sense of representing one's self as strange, i.e. of feigning one's self to be a foreigner. And spake roughly unto them—literally, spake hard things unto them; not from a feeling of revenge which still struggled in his breast with his brotherly affection (Kurtz), or in a spirit of duplicity (Kaliseh), but in order to get at their hearts, and discover the exact state of mind in which they then were with regard to himself and Benjamin, whose absence it is apparent had arrested his attention, and perhaps roused his suspicions (Keil, Murphy, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary' And he said unto them,—speaking through an interpreter (Genesis 42:23)—Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan (adding, as if they feared Joseph's suspicions, and wished to deprecate his anger) to buy food (i.e. corn for food).

Genesis 42:8

And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. The lapse of time since the tragedy of Dothan, twenty years before, the high position occupied by Joseph, the Egyptian manners he had by this time assumed, and the strange tongue m which he conversed with them, all conspired to prevent Jacob's sons from recognizing their younger brother; while the facts that Joseph's brethren were all grown men when he had last looked upon them, that he was quite familiar with their appearances, and that he perfectly understood their speech, would account for his almost instantaneous detection of them.

Genesis 42:9

And Joseph remembered (i.e. the sight of his brethren prostrating themselves before him recalled to his mind) the dreams which he dreamed (or had dreamed) of them (vide Genesis 37:5) and said unto them, Ye are spies (literally, ye are spying, or going about, so as to find out, the verb רָגַל signifying to move the feet); to see the nakedness of the land—not its present impoverishment from the famine (Murphy), but is unprotected and unfortified state (Keil). Cf. urbs nuda praesidio (Cic; 'Att.,' 7.13); taurus nudatus defensoribus (Caes; 'Bell. Gall.,' 2.6); τεῖχος ἐυμνώθη (Homer, 'Iliad,' 12:399)—ye are come. The Egyptians were characteristically distrustful of strangers,—AEgyptii prae aliis gentibus diffi-dere solebant peregrinis (Rosenmüller),—whom they prevented, when possible, from penetrating into the interior of their country. In particular Joseph's suspicion of his Canaanitish brethren was perfectly natural, since Egypt was peculiarly open to attacks from Palestine (Herodotus, 3.5).

Genesis 42:10-12

And they said unto him. Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. "They were not filled with resentment at the imputation" cast upon them by Joseph; "or, ff they were angry, their pride was swallowed up by fear" (Lawson). We are all one man's sons; we are true men, i.e. upright, honest, viri bonae fidei (Rosenmüller), rather than εἰρηνικοὶ (LXX.), pacifici (Vulgate)—thy servants are no spies. It was altogether improbable that one man should send ten sons at the same time and to the same place on the perilous business of a spy, hence the simple mention of the fact that they were ten brethren was sufficient to establish their sincerity. Yet Joseph affected still to doubt them. And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come—assuming a harsh and almost violent demeanor hot out of heartless cruelty (Kalisch), but in order to hide the growing weakness of his heart (Candlish).

Genesis 42:13

And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest—literally, the little one (cf. Genesis 9:24)—is this day with our father, and one—literally, the one, i.e. the other one, ὁ δὲ ἕτερος (LXX.)—is noti.e. is dead (cf. Genesis 5:24; Genesis 37:30)—in which statement have been seen a sufficient proof that Joseph's brethren had not yet truly repented of their cruelty towards him (Keil); an evidence that time had assuaged all their bitter feelings, both of exasperation against Joseph and of remorse for their unbrotherly conduct (Murphy); a suppression of the truth (Words. worth), if not a direct falsehood (Lawson), since they wished it to be understood that their younger brother was dead, while of that they had no evidence beyond their own cunningly-invented lie (Genesis 37:20) and their own probable surmisings. But in point of fact the inference was natural and reasonable that Joseph was no more, since twenty years had elapsed without any tidings of his welfare, and there was no absolute necessity requiring them to explain to the Egyptian governor all the particulars of their early life. Yet the circumstance that their assertion regarding himself was incorrect may have tended to awaken his suspicions concerning Benjamin.

Genesis 42:14-16

And Joseph said unto them (betraying his excitement in his language), That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies. But Joseph knew by this time that they were not spies. Hence his persistent accusation of them, which to the brothers must have seemed despotic and tyrannical, and which cannot be referred to malevolence or revenge, must be explained by a desire on the part of Joseph to bring his brothers to a right state of mind. Hereby (or in this) ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh—literally, life of Pharaoh An Egyptian oath (LXX; Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Lange), in using which Joseph was not without blame, aliquid esse fateor quod merito culpetur (Calvin) though by some (Ainsworth, Wordsworth, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary') the expression is regarded simply as a strong asseveration (cf. 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Samuel 17:55)—ye shall not go forth hence except your youngest brother come hither. The condition, which must have appeared extremely frivolous to Joseph's brethren, was clearly designed to ascertain the truth about Benjamin. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye (i.e. the rest of you) shall be kept in prison (literally, shall be put in bonds), that your words may be proved (literally, and your words shall be proved), whether there be any truth in you; or else (literally, and if not) by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies—literally (sc. I swear), that ye are spies.

Genesis 42:17

And he put them all together into ward (literally, and he assembled them into prison) three days. Ostensibly in consequence of their unwillingness to agree to his proposal, but in reality to give them an experience of the suffering which they had inflicted on him, their brother, and so to awaken in their hearts a feeling of repentance. Yet the clemency of Joseph appears in this, that whereas he had lain three long years in prison as the result of their inhumanity towards him, he only inflicts on them a confinement of three days.

Genesis 42:18-20

And Joseph (whose bowels of mercy were already yearning towards them) said unto them the third day, This do, and live;—i.e. this do that ye may live—for I fear God—literally, the Elohim I fear; the term Elohim being employed, since to have said Jehovah would have been to divulge, if not his Hebrew origin, at least his acquaintance with the Hebrew faith (Hengstenberg). At the same time its use would arrest them more than the preceding adjuration, By the life of Pharaoh! and, whether or not it implied that the true God was not yet unknown in Egypt (Murphy), was clearly designed to show that he was a religious and conscientious person, who would on no account condemn them on mere suspicion (Lange). If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison. Joseph's first proposal, that one should go for Benjamin while nine remained as hostages for their good faith, is now reversed, and only one is required to be detained while the other nine return. If the severity of the first proposal filled them with consternation, the singular clemency of the second could not fail to impress them. Not only were the nine to be released, but their original demand for grain to carry home to Palestine was to be complied with, the grand vizier adding, to their undoubted amazement, As for the rest of you, go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses. "How differently had they acted towards their brother, whom they had intended to leave in the pit to starve" (Keil). The Egyptian governor feels compassion for their famishing households, only he will not abandon his proposition that they must return with Benjamin. But bring your youngest brother unto me—or, more emphatically, and your brother, the little one, ye shall cause to come to me. That Joseph should have insisted on this stipulation, which he must have known would cause his aged father much anxiety and deep distress, is not to be explained as "almost designed" by Joseph as a chastisement on Jacob for his undue predilection in favor of Benjamin (Kalisch), but must be ascribed either to the intensity of his longing to see his brother (Murphy), or to a desire on his part to ascertain how his brethren were affected towards Benjamin (Lawson), or to a secret belief that the best mode of persuading his father to go down to him in Egypt was to bring Benjamin thither ('Speaker's Commentary'), or to an inward conviction that the temporary concern which Benjamin's absence might inflict on Jacob would be more than compensated for by the ultimate good which would thereby be secured to the whole family (Kurtz), or to the fact that God, under whose guidance throughout he acted, was unconsciously leading him in such a way as to secure the fulfillment of his dreams, which required the presence of both Benjamin and Jacob in Egypt (Wordsworth, ' Speaker's Commentary). The reason which Joseph himself gave to his brethren was that Benjamin's presence was indispensable as a corroboration of their veracity. So (literally, and) shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die (the death due to spies): And they did soi.e. they consented to Joseph's proposal.

Genesis 42:21

And they said one to another (Joseph's treatment of them beginning by this time to produce its appropriate and designed result by recalling them to a sense of their former guilt), We are verily guilty—"this is the only acknowledgment of sin in the Book of Genesis" (Inglis)—concerning our brother. They had been guilty of many sins, but the special iniquity of which their reception by the Egyptian governor had reminded them was that which some twenty years before they had perpetrated against their own brother. Indeed the accusation preferred against them that they were spies, the apparent unwillingness of the viceroy to listen to their request for food, and their subsequent incarceration, though innocent of any offence, were all calculated to recall to their recollection successive steps in their inhuman treatment of Joseph. In that (or because) we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us (literally, in his beseeching of us, an incident which the narrator omits to mention; but which the guilty consciences of the brethren remember), and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. The retributive character of their sufferings, which they cannot fail to perceive, they endeavor to express by employing the same word, עָרַח, to describe Joseph's anguish and their distress.

Genesis 42:22

And Reuben—who had not consented to, but had been altogether unable to prevent, the wickedness of his brethren (Genesis 37:22, Genesis 37:29)—answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child (or lad); and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required—literally, and also his blood, behold it is required. This was in accordance with the Noachic law against bloodshed (Genesis 9:5), with which it is apparent that Jacob's sons were acquainted.

Genesis 42:23

And they knew not (while they talked in what they imagined to be a foreign dialect to the Egyptian viceroy) that Joseph understood them;—literally, heard (so as to understand what was said)—for he spake unto them by an interpreter—literally, for the interpreter. (חַמְּלִיץ, the hiph. part; with the art; of לוּץ, to speak barbarously, in the hiph. to act as an interpreter), i.e. the official Court interpreter, ἑρμηνευτής (LXX.), was between them.

Genesis 42:24

And he turned himself about from them (in order to hide his emotion), and wept (as he reflected on the wonderful leadings of Divine providence, and beheld the pitiful distress of his brethren); and returned to them again (having previously withdrawn from them a space), and communed with them (probably about the one of them that should remain behind), and took from them—by a rough act of authority, since they either could not or would not settle among themselves who should be the prisoner (Candlish)—Simeon,—passing by Reuben not because he was the firstborn (Tuch, Lengerke), but because he was comparatively guiltless (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, Candlish, and expositors generally), and selecting Simeon either as the eldest of the guilty ones (Aben Ezra, Keil, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth, Alford, and others), or as the chief instigator of the sale of Joseph (Philo, Rosenmüller, Furst, Kalisch, Gerlach, Lawson, et alii)and bound him before their eyes—thus forcibly recalling to their minds what they had done to him (Wordsworth), and perhaps hoping to incite them, through pity for Simeon, to return the more speedily with Benjamin (Lawson).

Genesis 42:25

Then (literally, and) Joseph commanded to fill—literally, commanded, and they (i.e. Joseph's men) filled—their sacks (rather, vessels or receptacles, כְּלִי) with corn, and to restore every man's money (literally, their pieces of silver, each) into his sack,—שַׂק, saccus, σάκος, σάκκος, sack (vide Genesis 37:34). Joseph "feels it impossible to bargain, with his father and his brethren for bread" (Baumgarten)—and to give them prevision for the way: and thus did he (literally, it was done) unto them.

Genesis 42:26

And they laded their asses with the corn (literally, put their grain upon their asses), and departed (or went) thence.

Genesis 42:27

And as one of them opened his sack—literally, and the one opened his sack, i.e. they did not all open their sacks on the homeward journey, although afterwards, in reporting the circumstance to Joseph, they represent themselves as having done so (Genesis 43:21); but only one at the wayside inn, and the rest on reaching home (Genesis 42:35; vide infra, Genesis 43:21)—to give his ass provender in the inn (the מָלוֹן, from לוּן morf , an inn to pass the night, was not in the modern sense of the term, but simply a halting-place or camping station where travelers were wont to lodge, without finding for themselves or animals any other food than they carried with them), he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth—literally, in the opening, of his amtachath, אַמְתַּחַת, from מָתַח, to spread out, an old word for a sack (Genesis 43:18, Genesis 43:21, Genesis 43:22), here used synonymously with שַׂק, from which it would seem that the travelers carried two sorts of bags, one for the corn כְּלִי (Genesis 42:25), and another for the called asses' provender called אַמְתַּחַת. It was in the latter that the money had been placed.

Genesis 42:28

And he (i.e. the one who had opened his sack) said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack (amtachath): and their heart failed them (literally, went forth; as it were, leapt into their mouths through sudden apprehension), and they were afraid, saying one to another (literally, they trembled each one to his brother, a constructio pregnans for they turned trembling towards one another, saying), What is this that God hath done unto us? Elohim is used, and not Jehovah, because the speakers simply desire to characterize the circumstance as supernatural.

Genesis 42:29-34

And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them (literally, all the things happening to them, the participle being construed with the accusative); saying, The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us (literally, spake the man, lord of the country, with us harsh things, the order and arrangement of the words indicating the strong feeling which their treatment in Egypt had excited), and took us for spies of the country. And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies: 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 (vide Genesis 42:11, Genesis 42:13). And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of Our brethren here with me, and take food r the famine of your households, and be gone. It is observable that they do not mention Joseph's first proposal, probably because of Joseph's subsequent kindness; neither do they intimate the fact that Simeon was bound, perhaps through a desire to soften the blow as much as possible for their venerable parent. 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 (cf. Genesis 34:10).

Genesis 42:35

And it came to pass as they emptied (literally, they emptying) their sacks, that (literally, and), behold, every man's bundle of money (or silver) was in his sack: and when (literally, and) both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they (literally, and they) were afraid.

Genesis 42:36

And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved (or are ye bereaving) of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not (Jacob appears to suspect that in some way or another his sons had been responsible for Joseph's disappearance as well as Simeon's), and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me—literally, upon me, as an heavy burden, which I must bear alone.

Genesis 42:37

And Reuben spake unto his father, saying (Reuben was probably actuated by an ardent brotherly affection, which prompted him to endeavor to recover Simeon, as formerly he had sought to deliver Joseph), Slay my two sons—as Reuben had four sons (Genesis 46:9), he first be understood as meaning two of my sons (Ainsworth, Murphy), either the two then present (Junius) or the two oldest (Mercerus)—if I bring him (i.e. Benjamin) not to thee. Reuben's proposal, though in one sense "the greatest and dearest offer that a son could make to a father" (Keil), was either only a sample of strong rhetoric (like Joseph's "By the life of Pharaoh!") designed to assure his father of the impossibility of failure (Lawson, Candlish, Inglis), and of the fact that neither he nor his brethren entertained any injurious designs against Benjamin (Calvin); or, if seriously made, was not only inconsiderate and rash, spoken in the heat of the moment (Kurtz), but sinful and unnatural (Ainsworth), plusquam barbarura (Calvin), and absolutely worthless besides, as what consolation would it be to Jacob to add to the loss of a son the murder of his grandchildren? (Calvin, Willet). Deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again. Reuben might have learned to avoid strong asseverations on this point. "It was his wish to bring Joseph home to his father, and yet he could not persuade his brethren to comply with his intentions. It was his desire to bring Simeon safe to his father, and yet he was compelled to leave him in Egypt" (Lawson).

Genesis 42:38

And he (i.e. Jacob) said, My son shall not go down with you;—not because he could not trust Reuben after the sin described in Genesis 35:22 (Wordsworth), or because he could not assent to Reuben's proposal (Ainsworth), but because of what is next stated—for his brother (i.e. by the same mother, viz; Joseph) is dead (cf. Genesis 35:13; Genesis 37:33; Genesis 44:28), and he is left alone:—i.e. he alone (of Rachel's children) is left as a survivor—if mischief befall him (literally, and mischief shall befall him) by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye (literally, and ye shall) bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave—Sheol (cf. Genesis 37:35).


Genesis 42:1-38

The first visit of Joseph's brethren to Egypt.

I. THE JOURNEY TO EGYPT (Genesis 42:1-5).

1. The famishing household. Although Canaan was the land of promise, and the family of Jacob the Church of God, yet neither was the one nor the other exempted from the pressure of that heavy famine which had fallen on all surrounding lands and peoples. It is not God's intention that his people should escape participating in the ills of life. Besides enabling them, collectively and individually, to sympathize with their fellow-men, it is a means under God of advancing their own sanctification, and oftentimes as well of furthering the purposes of God concerning both the world and the Church.

2. The perplexed brethren. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, and the rest of them were manifestly at their wits' end what to do to keep themselves from starving. If the thought of Egypt had anything to do with their listlessness and inactivity, it may remind us how dangerous it is to sin, the memory of past transgressions having an uncomfortable habit of springing up at unexpected moments, like grim and shaggy lions in the path; if their spiritless dejection was in no way connected with the Dothan tragedy, it shows that saints are not necessarily a whit more talented or fertile in expedient than their ungodly neighbors, and are frequently as helpless as the rest of them in the face of sudden and overwhelming calamities. Grace, though it gives goodness, does not guarantee greatness.

3. The parental exhortation. Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, and forthwith proposed that his sons should undertake a journey thither to fetch a supply for their necessities, at the same time prefacing his sound advice with a word of brisk reproof at their want of push in the face of news so full of comfort and hope as that grain might be had for the purchase. Jacob clearly discerned that, while it was right in them to look to God for help in their distress, it was also expected of them by God that they should help themselves. Although God promises to give his people bread, he does not undertake to relieve them of all trouble in the matter. If he provides corn in Egypt, he expects men to go for it; and it is a mark of sound sense, if it is not a sign of grace, when men are able to detect in Egypt providential supplies for their necessities.

4. The important mission. Concerning which may be noticed—

(1) The number of the travelers: Joseph's ten brethren. Whether it was for safety to themselves, or for the advantage of the household to enable them to return with larger supplies, it was clearly a wise providential arrangement that the ten brethren who had sinned against the son of Rachel should go down to Egypt.

(2) The destination of the travelers: Egypt. In all probability Egypt was the last place that they would ever have thought of going to. It is scarcely likely that they had quite forgotten Joseph. Whether or not they suspected that Joseph might yet be alive, they knew that he had gone to Egypt as a slave. And now they were themselves upon the way to the scene of Joseph's captivity. If Joseph's brethren were thoughtful men at all, they must have had their reflections by the way.

(3) The object of the travelers: to buy corn. This at least was a lawful and an honorable purpose, which is more than could be said of some of their previous adventures. But God's people, whether they abide in Canaan or go to Egypt, should follow peace with, and provide things honest in the sight of, all men.

5. The paternal reservation. "But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren." If Jacob's reason for detaining Benjamin was anxiety for himself, who was now an old man, and afraid to lose the lad who served him as the son of his old age, it may remind us of the feebleness and helplessness of age, and of the duty of the young, to comfort and assist the old. If it was anxiety for Benjamin, whom he feared to expose to the fate of Joseph, it is a beautiful example of the tenderness and strength of a father's love, and may well suggest the duty of rewarding that love with true filial affection. If it was anxiety for his ten sons, lest in the case of Benjamin they should repeat the crime which they had perpetrated against Joseph, it shows how difficult it is to remove from the minds of others, even of those who have the most disposition to judge us with charity, unfavorable impressions concerning ourselves when once they have been formed. There is good reason for believing that a change had passed upon the characters of Joseph's brethren since the dark deed at Dothan. Yet the old man was afraid to trust them. If once by our wickedness we forfeit the confidence of our fellow-men, these are not to be blamed if in future they fail to trust our integrity and honor.


1. Humble homage to the governor. Arriving in Egypt, the sons of Jacob were conducted to the presence of the viceroy, and they "bowed down before him with their faces." Such respectful behavior was due to the majesty of him in whose presence they stood (Romans 13:7), and was admirably fitted to the character in which they came. They who have a suit to press, at an earthly or a heavenly throne, should be "clothed with humility."

2. Non-recognition of the governor. The moment Joseph looked upon the Hebrew strangers he knew them to-be his brethren. But they entirely failed to discern him; because

(1) he spoke like a foreigner—"an interpreter was between them;"

(2) he dressed like an Egyptian—he wore a garment-of byssus, like art Egyptian priest (Genesis 41:42);

(3) he swore like a courtier—"By the life of Pharaoh," which certainly his brethren knew was not the language of Canaan. Yet, if they had been as anxious to see their lost brother as he had been to see them, not even these disguises would have concealed his identity.

3. Harsh treatment by the governor.

(1) The nature of it. He spoke to them roughly, he questioned them straitly, he accused them directly, he proved them severely, he imprisoned them closely.

(2) The reason of it. Scarcely revenge; ostensibly to test their sincerity; but really to conceal his own identity, in order to secure time for thought how to act, and, if possible, to penetrate into their characters.

(3) The mitigation of it. At the end of three days he somewhat relaxed his proposition, asking them to leave only one of their brethren instead of nine, viz; Simeon, whom he took and bound before their eyes.

4. Bitter grief before the governor.

(1) The remembrance of their sin. As a result of their rough handling by the Egyptian vizier, they began to think of Joseph and their early sin against him, which almost every step in their present experience vividly recalled. It is good when affliction brings sin to mind.

(2) The confession of their guilt. "We are verily guilty concerning our brother." It is better when tribulation leads to an acknowledgment of ill desert.

(3) The recognition of their punishment. They saw the hand of God pursuing them for their wickedness, and requiting them, as they imagined, for Joseph's blood. It is best when God's retributive dispensations make the soul sensitive and humble.

5. Unexpected kindness from the governor. Though he did not depart from his original demand that they should bring down Benjamin, and though he insisted on retaining Simeon as a hostage for their obedience, he yet granted their request for corn, and, unknown to them as yet, caused their money to be restored to their sacks. So Christ often deals with penitents; first blows and buffetings, then benefits and blessings.

III. THE RETURN TO CANAAN (Genesis 42:26-38).

1. The startling discovery. Resting for the night at a wayside khan, or lodging-place, one of the brethren, having had occasion to give his beast a little provender, opened out his sack, and lo! the silver money he had paid for his corn was in its mouth. The same discovery was made by the rest on reaching Hebron. The instruction which Joseph gave his steward had not been heard by them, and they had penetration to see how the circumstance might be turned to their disadvantage. They were innocent of any crime in this matter; but how were they to explain it to the austere and impenetrable man who sat upon the throne of Egypt? "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all." The best that can be said of them in this connection is that they had piety enough to see the hand of God in the untoward affair.

2. The faithful report. On arriving at Hebron, they related to their father Jacob all that had befallen them in Egypt" beginning with the rough reception they had gotten from the governor, and ending with the startling discovery they had just made; in all which there was at least a symptom of improvement in the characters of those ten brethren. Here was none of the concealment and lying that marked them at an earlier stage in their history, as when they palmed off upon their aged parent the clever story of the wild beast and the bloody coat to account for Joseph's disappearance. They presented themselves as before without their brother, but this time they told the truth: Simeon was a hostage in Egypt for the bringing down of Benjamin.

3. The parental sorrow. In the anguish of the moment Jacob committed three mistakes.

(1) About his sons who had returned from Egypt, whom he was manifestly blaming for the loss both of Simeon and Joseph,—"Me ye are bereaving,"—which should lead us to beware of passing hasty judgments upon the characters of others, of those even whom we may think we know best.

(2) About the two who were detained in Egypt, Joseph and Simeon, the first of whom he thought he knew was already dead, and the second of whom he feared had shared the same fate; whereas Joseph was in honor in Egypt, and Simeon was only languishing in temporary confinement.

(3) About himself. and Benjamin, that their separation would but be the beginning of sorrow for them both, whereas it was to be the means of leading both to happiness and honor. So God's providences are often misinterpreted by his saints. Contrast with Jacob's exclamation that of Paul in Romans 8:28.

4. The filial security. Reuben offers to undertake the charge of Benjamin, and to he responsible for his safe-conduct to Egypt and back again, and in so far the act of Reuben was generous and kindly towards both Jacob and Benjamin; but his proposal that Jacob should slay two of his sons if he failed to deliver Benjamin was rash, unnatural, and sinful, and accordingly was at once rejected by the patriarch.

See in this interesting narrative—

1. The fact of an overruling providence, exemplified in God's bringing Joseph's brethren to Egypt.

2. The strength of human affection, illustrated by Joseph's emotion in presence of his brethren, and Jacob's pathetic fondness for Benjamin.

3. The power of a guilty conscience, exhibited m the mutual recriminations of the brethren with reference to the sale of Joseph.

4. The beneficial influence of the discipline of life, as portrayed in the good effects produced by Joseph's rough handling of his brethren.

5. The short-sightedness of sense and reason, as seen in Jacob's lamentation, "All these things are against me," while, on the contrary, all things were working together for his good.


Genesis 42:1-38

God's trials of his people.

The trial of Joseph is over. Now comes the trial of his brethren and of Jacob. The Spirit of God is at work in all their hearts. True men they were and yet sinful men. Before they can be made partakers of the blessing of Joseph they must pass through the fire. He who is appointed minister of grace to them is the instrument of their trials. Notice—

I. The trial is one of CONSCIENCE. "We are verily guilty concerning our brother. "His blood is required." Face to face with one whom they supposed to be a heathen man, they are reproved. They have to tell facts which smite them with inward reproach.

II. The trial is one of HEART. To leave Simeon behind, to be afraid both for him and for themselves and for Benjamin. To be keenly perplexed and agonized for their old father. To be deeply wounded in the remembrance of their brother Joseph's anguish of soul and helpless cries for pity.

III. The trial is one of FAITH. "What is thin that God hath done unto us?" In the midst of all the roughness, and the fear, and the trouble there is still the feeling that they are being dealt with in some mysterious way by God himself, and there is a mingling of faith with their fear. Reuben again represents the better element in their character, and as they follow him they are led into peace. Joseph's smile is the smile of the loving heart which sometimes dissembles that it may reveal itself the more fully when the opportunity comes. He wept behind their backs. He was hiding the intensest love and the most abundant forgiveness and pitifulness, while he appeared to be a rough enemy. Still there were signs mingled with the harsh treatment that it was not all harsh. The sacks were filled with corn, and the money was returned. A deeper faith would have penetrated the secret. But those that have to be led from the feeble faith to the strong, have to be tried with appearances that seem, as Jacob said, "all against" them. How often the believer says, "All these things are against me," when he is already close upon that very stream of events which will carry him out of his distress into the midst of plenty, peace, and the joy of a healed heart in its recovered blessedness. Jacob poured out his natural fears and complaints, yet how little they were founded on truth. The son for whom he mourned yet lived and closed his eyes, and his gray hairs went to the grave in peace.—R.


Genesis 42:1, Genesis 42:2

Man's want and God's provision.

The famine was part of God's plan to carry out his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13, Genesis 15:14). But it is not merely a fact in the historical preparation for what he was bringing to pass; a link in the chain of events leading on to Christ. We must look upon it as part of a series of types foreshadowing gospel truths. The famine was a step towards the promised possession, and has its counterpart in the work of the Holy Spirit. It represents the spiritual want of man; conviction of sin (John 16:8; cf. Romans 7:9), leading to know the power of Christ's work (Matthew 18:11).

I. The first step is CONSCIOUSNESS OF FAMINE; that a man's life is more than meat; more than a supply of bodily wants. It is realizing that he has wants beyond the present life; that in living for time he has been following a shadow. This knowledge is not natural to us. Bodily hunger soon makes itself felt, bat the soul's need does not; and until it is known, the man may be "poor and blind and naked," and yet suppose that he is "rich and increased with goods."

II. WE CANNOT OF OURSELVES SUPPLY THAT WANT. Gradually we learn how great it is. We want to still the accusing voice of conscience; to find a plea that shall avail in judgment; to see clearly the way of life that we may not err therein. In vain we look one on another, seeking comfort in the good opinion of men, in their testimony to our upright life. In vain we try to satisfy ourselves, by promises to do better, or by offerings of our substance or of our work. In vain is it to seek rest in unbelief, or in the persuasion that in some way all will be right. The soul cannot thus find peace. There is a voice which at times will make itself heard—"all have sinned"—thou hast sinned.

III. GOD HAS PROVIDED BREAD. "I have heard that there is corn in Egypt" (cf. Romans 10:18), answers to the gospel telling of the bread of life. As to this we mark—

1. It was provided before the want arose (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). The gospel tells us of what has already been done, not of a gift to come into existence on certain conditions. The ransom of our souls has been paid. We have to believe and take (Revelation 22:17).

2. How faith works. They must go for that food which was ready for them. To take the bread of life must be a real earnest act, not a listless assent. The manna which was to be gathered, the brazen serpent to which the sick were to look, the command to the impotent "Rise, take up thy bed and walk," all show that it is not enough merely to wish, there must be the effort of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). This is a law of the spiritual kingdom. As natural laws regulate results within their, domain, so spiritual results must be sought in accordance with spiritual laws.

3. It is our Brother who has made provision for us. This is our confidence. He waits to reveal himself when in humility and emptiness we come to him, and to give us plenty (1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:22).—M.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 42". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.