GENESIS CHAPTER 42.
Joseph’s Brothers in Egypt
THE ARRIVAL IN EGYPT. - V.1. Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, having undoubtedly gotten the information from his Canaanite neighbors, many of whom were merchants, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? The mention of Egypt caused the brethren to look upon one another with a helpless and suspicious questioning, for their conscience reminded them of the fact that Joseph had been sold into Egypt. V.2. And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt, grain which people could buy for their own needs; get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die. All this appears to have happened at a family council at which Jacob, as the head of the family or tribe, presided. He saw no need for a long discussion or for hesitation: it was a matter of life and death. V.3. And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt, to obtain provisions for the family. V.4. But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, his full brother by Rachel, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him. Benjamin was now just entering manhood, being about twenty-one years old or somewhat more. Jacob had given him all the affection which he had formerly felt for Joseph, and his objection that some accident to life and limb might befall Benjamin was founded upon the fact that he believed Joseph to have been killed by wild beasts. V.5. And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came; for the famine was in the land of Canaan. They were only a few of a great number that came down from Canaan to buy a supply of grain for their needs, that were thus dependent upon the generosity of the Egyptian ruler for their food. V.6. And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land. As the ruler of the country by Pharaoh’s decree and as the chief overseer of the store-houses, Joseph exercised the greatest care in selling to strangers, and it seems to have been the rule that the foreigners were to be presented to him in person. And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth, the dream of Joseph being thus fulfilled, chap. 37, 7. 8. V.7. And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them, he literally spoke to them hard things; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. It was an easy matter for Joseph, even after the lapse of some twenty years, to recognize his brothers; their number, their language, their clothing, their manner indicated at once who they were. But not one of them would have looked for Joseph in the person of this despotic Egyptian, whose dress and language were entirely foreign to them. Joseph purposely spoke harshly to them, in order to sound them out, to find whether their hearts had changed in the last two decades. Though he still loved them, his treatment would provide some wholesome discipline for them.
IN PRISON AS SPIES. - V.8. And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. V.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, the open, unfortified places of the country, where an attack by a hostile army would be successful. It was a particularly hard test which Joseph determined upon, but in no manner to be compared to the distress of thirteen years as slave which be had to bear on their account. V.10. And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. The very idea of their suffering the fate of spies filled them with the greatest consternation and fear. V.11. We are all one man’s sons, not a band of adventurers, we are true men, thy servants are no spies. They protest, with mortified pride, that they are upright and honest. It did not stand to reason that a father would send out all his sons on an errand which would result in their execution if they should be caught. V.12. And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. V.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. Joseph’s refusal to believe their assurance of innocence brings him the further information that his aged father is still alive, and that Benjamin is well at home. Their non-committal manner in referring to Joseph shows that they bore uneasy consciences on his account, but they could say no more to the Egyptian ruler. V.14. And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies. He treats their mention of a brother at home as a mere subterfuge, as an attempt to make their story plausible. V.15. Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh, ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. Joseph, maintaining his role as an Egyptian, demands that they should produce this brother, the mention of whom was intended to disarm suspicion. V.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. If this brother, whose existence they allege, would be forthcoming, then he would be willing to believe them, but if not, then they should, as he solemnly says, be regarded and treated as spies. V.17. And he put them all together into ward three days, thus giving them an opportunity to discuss the situation from all sides and to think over some of their past misdeeds. V.18. And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: v.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; v.20. but bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. Here the love of Joseph for his brothers appears. He assures them that the fear of God governs him, he bids them take up the grain for the needs of their family, and while he does not change his condition that he wants to see Benjamin before believing in their uprightness, he relieves the severity by demanding only one out of their midst as hostage, while he offers to dismiss the rest. If they were really repentant, he knew that this way of dealing with them would be sure to have the desired effect. And they did so; the-brethren agreed to this condition in its present form.
SIMEON KEPT BACK IN EGYPT. - V.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. More than twenty years after their crime their consciences cause them to confess that they were indeed weighed down with guilt on account of their brother, whose deep anguish and heartrending cries had at that time made no impression on them. V.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. Reuben was by no means innocent in the matter of Joseph, and his present reminder was not in the sense of a reproach by which he meant to clear himself. But he declared their present plight to come from the avenging justice of God, who thus demanded the freedom and the blood of their brother at their hands. All these expressions showed that the brothers were deeply repentant for their sin, for they willingly bowed themselves under the punishment of the Lord. V.23. And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter, who was between him and his brothers and communicated all his commands to them in their own tongue, since Joseph purposely feigned ignorance of their language. V.24. And he turned himself about from them, and wept at this evidence of their complete change of heart; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes. He spared Reuben, either because he did not want to harm the right of the firstborn, or because Reuben was less guilty than some of the rest. His object had been attained, he had the information which he sought.
THE RETURN TO CANAAN. - V.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. Since it was not advisable, at this time, for him to reveal the reasons for acting thus, Joseph resorted to this secret measure, his object being to keep his brothers in a state of bewilderment and fear for the present. Provisions for the way he sent along, lest they be obliged to open their sacks very soon. V.26. And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence. The grain which they had brought for their needs made a big load, and they had a journey of several days. V.27. And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, at the place where they encamped for the night, probably in one of the shed-like buildings which are found along the caravan roads, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth. V.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? In their great consternation over this unexplainable happening they hastily conclude that it was another way in which God was visiting their transgression upon them. V.29. And they came unto Jacob, their father, unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying, v.30. The man who is the lord of the land spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. V.31. And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies; v.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. V.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; v.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, have the right to trade, to buy and sell in the country. Thus the brethren gave their father a complete account of the strange happenings which had befallen them on their journey; and yet, there was missing a frank confession of their great sin. What they had confessed to one another they did not yet dare to tell their father. It was necessary to employ still sterner measures to reach that point.
JACOB’S GRIEF. - V.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, the little sacks of silver with which they thought they had paid their grain, they were afraid. Surely the ruler of Egypt would now regard them as thieves. This fear was to have a wholesome effect, for it was intended to soften the hard hearts still more, just as the Lord even after conversion exhibits our sinfulness to us, in order that our knowledge of His grace may be all the sweeter. V.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. The renewed grief over the disappearance of Joseph, the apparent loss of Simeon, and now the anguish concerning Benjamin caused Jacob to cry out in bitterness that he was being made childless, that he was losing his children, one after another. V.37. And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons if I bring him not to thee. He thus offered his dearest and best as hostages, as a guarantee for the safe return of Benjamin. Deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again. V.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, to the realm of the dead. That was Jacob’s decision at that time, and his sons could not get him to change his mind. Thus the Lord visits His children with manifold sorrows, but His chastisement always reveals His goodness.