Genesis Segment 28 (42:1-38)

Genesis 42:1-3 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? (2) And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die. (3) And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.

We learned in the last segment that the word “corn,” as used in the KJV, simply meant grain. It is a generic word for all sorts of grain, including, but not limited to, wheat, barley, maize, oats, etc. Only in North America did corn begin to refer specifically to maize. Here in the USA corn does not refer generically to grain; it is synonymous with maize. Of course, other English speaking countries now often refer to maize as corn just as we do here in America.

A great land as Egypt was would certainly be newsworthy. Each band of travelers would bring news. Each caravan, company, or even lone traveler would bring reports. For British and Australian readers, a caravan in America is a group of people traveling on foot or by conveyance, which is meant here; it is not a travel trailer or mobile home. Since there was famine in Canaan, more than likely one of the main questions asked of such travelers would have been, “How far from here does the drought extend?” Perhaps they would ask, “Is there any grain available anywhere?” Since Egypt had plenty, the news would easily spread throughout the known world. Jacob would certainly have heard since he was a man of stature and of means.

Whether his sons were lost without his guidance or whether they simply deferred to his authority, they did not take any action. Instead, they mulled around and probably discussed the situation, griped about it, and considered their options. It seems like they did quite a bit of shooting the breeze, but apparently took no action to alleviate the situation. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary suggests that they were despondent because they could think of no solution to the food problem. The fact that there was no natural means of obtaining grain in Canaan shows that God wrought a miracle here. Jacob finally had enough and curtly told them to go to Egypt to buy grain.

When Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, had sojourned in Egypt, he left there with much wealth. The same occurred in the land of Abimelech. Abraham was a very wealthy man. See Genesis 13:2 and Segment 11. See also Genesis 20:14-17 and Segment 15. Isaac and then Jacob had inherited that wealth. Jacob had plenty of silver and gold. Yet, all the wealth in the world cannot buy grain when there is none to be had. So Asher, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun and their entourages all went down to Egypt together.

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

Benjamin stayed home and Joseph was in Egypt, unbeknownst to his father. Since Jacob had already lost his favored son, Joseph, and now favored the youngest son, He didn’t want to take the chance that Benjamin, who was 24 years old, would be lost as well. Would you do the same in a similar situation? I probably would.

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

The ten were not the only ones headed to Egypt; there were others, perhaps many others that went to Egypt to buy grain.

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

We now refer back to Genesis 41:39-44:

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. (40) You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” (41) Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” (42) Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. (43) Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. (44) And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”(NLT)

Joseph was the satrap, sultan, PM, vizier, lord, prince, king, etc. Take your pick. Except for the throne of Pharaoh, Joseph was the ruler of all of Egypt. There was great pomp surrounding an audience with him. People approached him in fear, bowing low, kneeling or crawling up to him in obeisance. The brethren did no different. They prostrated themselves with their foreheads touching the floor as is still common in those parts.

In other words they fulfilled the prophecy that Joseph dreamed many years before. “One day, Joseph told his brothers what he had dreamed, and they hated him even more. Joseph said, ‘Let me tell you about my dream. We were out in the field, tying up bundles of wheat. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles gathered around and bowed down to it.’ His brothers asked, ‘Do you really think you are going to be king and rule over us?’ Now they hated Joseph more than ever because of what he had said about his dream.” (Genesis 37:5-8; CEV). He dreamed they would one day bow down to him. His dream had come true. The brethren had asked if he would be king and rule over them. Though not actually king of Egypt, Joseph was as powerful as the king.

Genesis 42:7-9 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spoke roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. (8) And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. (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.

Note that all of the communication between Joseph and his brethren was done through an interpreter (Gen 42:23). Joseph did not let on that he understood every word they spoke. It was only after Joseph identified himself that the interpreter was dismissed.

Joseph was gruff with his brothers because he did not want them to recognize him at that time. The time was not right for his to reveal himself. This was God’s plan to get all of Jacob’s family down into Egypt. By accusing them of being spies, he could legally hold them until he had time to question them. He began the questioning immediately and drew out information from them that they may not have given under other circumstances. Adam Clarke said this was done to awaken their consciences.

Genesis 42:10-11 And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. (11) We are all one man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.

They protested their innocence of the charge leveled at them. They simply told the truth but with anxiety. They feared him because of his power—a power that allowed him to accuse and convict them and prosecute any sentence he desired. Perhaps they thought that telling him they were all from one family might allay the accusation that the vizier made against them. He had, after all, the power of life or death over all who entered into Egypt’s borders as well as the people of Egypt. It is a safe assumption they were plenty scared.

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

Though he knew it to be false, Joseph kept on with the false accusation that they were spies sent to scope out Egypt. To see the nakedness of the land means to scout the land and look for areas of weakness in their defenses. Again, Joseph reiterated his accusation that they were spies.

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 is this day with our father, and one is not.

The one that was not was considered by Jacob to be dead. The brothers knew better. It is amazing how glibly they spoke of the one that is not. It rolled off the tongue of the speaker a bit too freely. Apparently they had not repented of the deed they did to Joseph. Apparently they thought they had gotten away with it and it was no longer important. How foolish they were.

Genesis 42:14-17 And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spoke unto you, saying, Ye are spies: (15) Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. (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. (17) And he put them all together into ward three days.

“I still say that you are spies! As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will stay here until your younger brother comes. Choose one of your number to send and the rest of you will wait in prison for his return. If not you are spies and will be tried as spies.”

Was Joseph toying with them? Perhaps a little bit? After all, if anyone had the right to toy with them it was Joseph. Yet we are enjoined not to pay back someone for a wrong that person has done to us (Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). No, he was not toying with them. He knew it would take a powerful drive to bring Jacob and the whole family there to Egypt. Joseph knew that his family still lived and were affected by the famine so his entire desire and compulsion was to get them into Egypt where he might take care of them. This was God’s will so the Holy Spirit gave Joseph the wisdom to know what to do in order to induce his father to come to Egypt.

Why did Joseph imprison them for three days? To prove he would do what he said he would do. They needed to understand the extent of his authority. Albert Barnes said, “Joseph is not without a strong conviction of incumbent duty in all this. He knows he has been put in the position of lord over his brethren in the foreordination of God, and he feels bound to make this authority a reality for their moral good.

Additionally, they needed time to stew. They had to decide who to send to Jacob, and who would stay. They were terrified at the prospect of one of them going back to Canaan to tell Jacob. He was elderly and may not be able to withstand the shock. Perhaps they intended that none of them should go. At any rate, after three days Joseph intervened. He had never intended to actually carry out sentence against them as spies. Revenge was never his motive. All along his motive had been to protect his father and his family since he had the power to do so. He was the most powerful man in the world aside from Pharaoh.

Genesis 42:18-20 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: (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: (20) But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

“I fear God.” Joseph told him that he was a believer in the one true God, Yehovah. His words were, et-ha’elohim ‘ani yare’, or “for the God I fear.” The fact that the word elohim can refer to gods (lower case ‘g’) might make the brethren misunderstand what Joseph was saying. By adding the article “ha” makes the plural elohim, into a single entity. The Shema states that the Lord our God is one, but the word for God is elohim, which is the plural of the word eloah, god. God is one God but he is the God of unity so the plural is used as a singular word representing the one true God, Yehovah. The brethren fully understood that Joseph said he feared the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (See His Name is One by Jeff A. Benner, Virtualbookworm Publishing Inc., College Station, TX, 2003, chapter 5)

By telling them that he feared God, Joseph was saying that he would not judge them capriciously, but that he would judge justly as God requires (Deuteronomy 1:16).

Joseph told that that if they were honest men, true to their word, then they would be willing to accept his terms. They agreed to the terms to go home and leave one of them behind as a surety of their return.

Genesis 42:21-22 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. (22) And Reuben answered them, saying, Spoke I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.

The CEV puts it this way, “‘We’re being punished because of Joseph. We saw the trouble he was in, but we refused to help him when he begged us. That’s why these terrible things are happening.’ Reuben spoke up, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen, and now we have to pay the price for killing him.’” They finally repented of the deed done to Joseph. Joseph understood every word though the brothers did not know that:

Genesis 42:23-24 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spoke unto them by an interpreter. (24) And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.

That was too much for Joseph to take, so he went away from them and wept. He was filled with wonder that they had repented of the deed and he wept for joy. It is absolutely certain that he did not allow them to see him weep. He had to keep the persona of the stern authority. So when he returned he bound Simeon. Why Simeon?

Tradition has it that Simeon was a very strong and fierce man that did not shrink from a fight. In fact the tradition says that Joseph asked his men to bind Simeon but they were afraid of him and would not do it. But Manasseh, Joseph oldest son, seized Simeon, and bound him. The tradition also states that the brethren were shocked to see an Egyptian of such strength, for they thought that only descendants of Jacob had that kind of strength. It was Simeon and Levi, by themselves that slew all the males of Shechem after the rape of Dinah. This is information garnered from extra-Biblical sources (except the slaying of the males in Shechem, which is Biblical) that cannot be deemed accurate, however interesting it might be.

Gleaning what we know from the Bible, Reuben, the oldest, had saved Joseph from sure death. Perhaps out of kindness and a sense of obligation, Joseph did not want to imprison him, so he bound the next oldest brother. Perhaps Simeon had been the one that wanted to kill him. If so, it is only a guess for Scripture does not elaborate. For whatever reason, Joseph chose Simeon to remain.

Gen 42:25-28 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. (26) And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence. (27) And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth. (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?

Was it compassion that made Joseph return their money? Or was it to further agitate the brethren so that they would realize their misdeed? Apparently the brothers took it as punishment from God, but it appears that Joseph was actually moved by his compassion for his family. The fact that they felt guilty was their consciences bothering them. Nevertheless, this was all in God’s plan.

The King James renders the Hebrew, מלוֹן, malon, as “inn.” But it simply means the place where they stopped for the night. Most likely it was a well or an oasis where they camped for the night. There were no inns, hostels, campgrounds, or hotels along the way in that part of the world at that time. Today there are a few towns and cities along the road that leads from Egypt to Israel through the Sinai, and there are a few inns and a few hotels along the way. The road is paved and has many stretches of four lane highway. It would only take a few hours to traverse in an automobile. However, they were on foot with an entourage and donkeys. It was at least a three hundred mile trip. They would average 20 miles today at best, therefore it would take them at least a fortnight to make the trip. They would need several camping sites.

When they found the money in one of the bags, they were afraid to the point of terror. They shook in their boots to quote a cliché. Why? Because of their being accused of spying and having to leave Simeon with Joseph. They likely thought surely they would be pursued. Not this time; that happens later. They assumed God was doing it to them to punish them for their sins. They obviously felt very guilty about selling Joseph to the merchants and lying about his death to their father.

Gen 42:29-32 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying, (30) The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. (31) And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies: (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.

In other words, they spoke out of turn. It would have been better for them to have said nothing about their family. They were trying to convince Joseph that they were from a good family and were trustworthy probably revealed more than they should have. It is in our nature to attempt to defray guilt when we are not guilty of a thing. The brethren were not guilty of what Joseph accused them. They knew it was not true. But had they not told him so much private information about their family, they would not have been in the predicament of having to convince Jacob to allow them to take Benjamin back to Egypt. Of course that would have been true only if the Governor had been anyone but Joseph, who was already familiar with the intimate affairs of the family. Additionally, this was in God’s plan.

In verse 13, they said to Joseph, “the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.” Here, in front of their father, they said, “the other is dead.” Naturally they had to perpetuate the lie they had told their father years before when they took Joseph’s coat to him with the blood of a goat on it. But in Egypt they were more truthful for they really did not know the fate of Joseph, so they just said “and one is not.”

Some commentators maintain that the statement “and one is not” to be elliptical meaning he was dead. But I disagree. The brethren did not and could not have known the real fate of Joseph. They were saying, as some translations maintain, that he was no longer with his father. The Septuagint backs me up on this. The Hebrew also seems to indicate that they were saying they did not know the whereabouts of Joseph.

Gen 42:33-35 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: (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 traffick in the land. (35) And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

Joseph would not believe, or so he allowed the brethren to think, they were telling the truth unless they delivered Benjamin. When they told this to Jacob, an icy shiver must have run down his spine. When they found their money in the sacks they were terrified more than they had been at the campground. The money was most likely placed in the top of the sack of the brother that found the money at the camp. Here the money was probably in the bottom of the remaining sacks. They now knew that they had to return to Egypt to return the money to Joseph. It was the only honest thing they could do.

Genesis 42:36-38 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. (37) And Reuben spoke 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. (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.

Jacob said “No way are you taking Benjamin with you! Forget it!” So what did the ever resourceful Reuben say? “You can kill your grandsons if Benjamin is harmed.” Brilliant! No wonder Jacob’s refusal was even more adamant after Rueben’s gifted suggestion. To be fair, Reuben’s sons were his most prized possession. He offered his father the most important thing in life to him as a guarantee of Benjamin’s safety. By the standards of the day it was a legitimate offer. By today’s standards, it would be a criminal suggestion. Jacob’s answer settled the issue for a while; they did not go—at least until they needed grain again and the only place to get it was in Egypt.

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