Well thank you once again for joining me in this verse-by-verse Bible study. I’m Randy Duncan, and in this episode, we are covering Genesis chapter 42. In the last episode, we saw Joseph brought up out of prison and presented before pharaoh to interpret his dreams. After doing so, and then developing a plan to save Egypt from starvation, Joseph is promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt. He is now second in command in Egypt, answering only to Pharaoh.
Which brings us now to chapter 42, which is one of the most dramatic stories, not just in the Bible, but in all of literature. And we begin with the first five verses, which read…1 When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
So, where we begin this chapter is during the early years of the famine. Egypt has enjoyed it’s seven years of abundance, and now the people have begun to feel the effects of the seven years of famine.
After the promotion of Joseph in Egypt, the scene temporarily shifts to his father Jacob back in Canaan, where he has been now for over 20 years. And it says that Jacob learned that there was grain for sale down in Egypt. When it says he “learned”, the Hebrew literally means that he “saw”. Meaning, he saw his countrymen returning from Egypt with supplies.
And he says to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?”, in other words, ‘Why do you just sit there looking at each other? Not doing anything, and acting like you are helpless?
And he continues by telling them that there’s grain down in Egypt. And instructs them to go down into Egypt to buy grain for them so that they may live, and not die. And so, as readers, we immediately see where this is heading. We can see what’s about to happen, because remember who has just been promoted to prime minister over Egypt, and is in control of all of the agriculture and rationing of grain. Joseph! Their brother, who they sold into slavery 20 years ago. And so right away, we see the plot and tension growing, anticipating what is about to unfold here.
20 years earlier, Jacob had sent Joseph to check on his brothers. Now, it is Jacob who sends his sons, unknowingly, to Joseph. The first time, Joseph was at the mercy of his brothers. But this time, it will be the brothers who will be at the mercy of Joseph. And although they don’t yet know it yet, these brothers will shortly be relying on Joseph for their salvation.
So, 10 of Joseph’s brothers head down to Egypt to buy grain. Now the rations of grain must have been available on a limited, sort of, per capita basis. In other words, one person couldn’t go down and say and buy for all the family. You couldn’t just show up and say “Hey, I have 10 brothers and a father, and children and wives, so give me enough grain to feed them all”. No, you were only going to receive enough grain to help you and your immediate family survive.
Also, it probably made sense for security reasons. There was some measure of safety in numbers, and so would have been safer to travel into Egypt in a convoy, because this wasn’t like some day trip. This wasn’t like running into town to pick-up supplies like on Little House on the Prairie. “Load up the wagon Pa, we’re heading into town”. This was a journey that would have taken a week each way.
But notice that 10 of Joseph’s brothers go, not 11. Not all of them. Jacob does not allow Benjamin to go. Benjamin was the youngest brother, the full brother of Joseph, and the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who had died giving birth to him. Jacob had already lost his firstborn son of Rachel, Joseph, so there was no way he was going to jeopardize anything bad happening to Benjamin. To lose his only other son from his beloved wife Rachel would have been too much to bear.
And with that, the brothers head down to Egypt, and we continue with verses 6-11…6 Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. 7 Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” 8 And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 9 And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”
So, verse six reminds us who is in charge over Egypt, and who was in charge of selling grain to all the people of the land…Joseph.
And Joseph’s brothers come and bow themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Now the brothers of course have no idea who Joseph is, they are simply needing grain, and so bow themselves down in a sign of respect to the ruler of the land.
But when we read that they bowed themselves before Joseph, we should immediately be reminded of Joseph’s teenage dreams from back in chapter 37, in which his brother’s sheaves in the field gathered around and bowed down to his sheath, and the sun, moon, and stars, which represented his brothers, also bowing before him. And so, the brothers here unknowingly begin to fulfill the divine dream.
Now verse seven tells us that Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them. Just stop and think about this for a moment! How do you think you would have felt, after 20 years, finally coming face-to-face with the brothers who sold you into slavery? The range of emotions that Joseph must have been experiencing and trying to work through here. And to be able to maintain his composure!
Although the text doesn’t say anything about it, I wonder if Joseph recognized them so quickly because he was expecting them? Remember, the famine was widespread, and it impacted the land of Canaan where his family lived. Joseph is by no means oblivious to this. I wonder if he knew, or at least suspected, that his family would be no different than any other family and would have to come down to Egypt to buy grain if they wanted to live. Again, the text doesn’t say that it is the case, so that is speculation on my part. But just from my experience in leadership positions over the past 25 years, I just don’t think there is any way Joseph had not considered this possibility and maybe the inevitability.
But although he recognizes them, they of course do not recognize him. And if you are wondering how they could not recognize their own brother, think about it. First of all, they had no expectation of ever seeing Joseph again, may have even thought he was dead. Second, Joseph was 17 when they sold him into slavery. He is now in his thirties. He has matured. He is a full-grown man now. Also, he looked Egyptian, and would have had a shaved head and face, dressed in Egyptian clothes. And not only everyday clothing, but the clothing appropriate for his royal position. Finally, Joseph would have spoken to them in the Egyptian language, not Hebrew. So no, they would have had no realistic chance of recognizing Joseph.
Now it tells us that after they had bowed down to him, he remembered his boyhood dreams of them. Joseph may have suspected they would have to come to Egypt for food, but it is only after they actually bowed down that he is reminded of those dreams. Again, can you imagine what must have been going through his mind when that dawned on him?! When he remembered those dreams? He is a very bright person, and so he had to realize that those dreams had actually predicted his future.
But at the same time, it had to also bring back a flood of emotions, recalling how much his brothers hated him for those very dreams. Because there is no doubt that his brothers would have mockingly mentioned those dreams as they tossed him into the pit all those years ago. And so, it would be perfectly normal for Joseph to be experiencing a wide range of emotions right now. Partly wanting to reach out to his brothers, and partly wanting to exact revenge for their terrible act against him, and for all of the suffering he has endured
But Joseph restrains himself. No doubt he has to wonder how his father Jacob is doing, or if he is even still alive. But again, Joseph’s approach here is brilliant. He controls himself, even though he speaks to them harshly. He asks them where they have come from, and they tell him Canaan.
But Joseph responds by accusing them of being spies! And “coming to see the nakedness of the land”. Now this Hebrew phrase, “coming to see the nakedness of the land, literally means to uncover any defects in the fortifications of the land. Now, of course he knows they are not spies, but this is part of his plan to test his brothers. And his accusation would not have seemed far-fetched at all to his brothers. Because frontier guards at Egypt’s borders routinely checked travelers to discover any potential spies. This is another reason Jacob probably didn’t want his youngest son Benjamin to go to Egypt. He was aware that these were some of the inherent dangers.
But they respond by telling Joseph, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.” The reason they tell him they are all sons of one man is because a family would not risk all of its sons in the very dangerous venture of spying. Too risky. And so, they thought this would be an obvious and credible explanation.
But we continue on with verses 12-17, 12 He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” 13 And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. 15 By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days.
And so even after their explanation, Joseph once again accuses them of being spies. And once again, thinking their explanation is credible, they offer it up once more, telling Joseph that they are all brothers, the sons of one man, assuming that Jospeh would understand a family would never risk having all their sons captured and executed at the same time.
But in their response this time, they add a couple of additional details. They think that by adding these additional details that their story will seem more compelling. But in reality, they are unknowingly providing Joseph with the information he wants. They tell him that they are all brothers, but then add the detail that their youngest brother is back home with their father.
So, this provides Joseph with two bits of information. First, his younger brother Benjamin is still alive and well, and second, his father Jacob is still alive. In addition, they also tell him that one of their brothers is “no more”. It was a delicate way of saying that he was dead. Can you imagine how Joseph felt when he heard these words? I mean, he is the brother they’re talking about as being dead! And it was of their doing!
But Joseph remains calm, and on task. And once again, accuses them of being spies. Them leaving behind one son suggests that their father knows spying and espionage was a dangerous endeavor, so he keeps one son behind to guarantee the family line in case all the others are caught and executed. And so, Joseph continues with his testing of his brothers
And he tells them, “By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. He tells them that one of them is to go back and bring their younger brother, as proof that their story is true. The others will remain in custody until they return.
Now Joseph says this phrase, ‘By the life of Pharaoh” twice. This was a common way in Ancient Egypt to give the statement a character of an oath, validated by the awesome power of the king. This was also a common practice even in ancient Israel, to swear by the life of the king.
So, we’re going to see that Joseph’s plan here was to engineer a test that placed his brothers in a situation similar to the one they placed him in. Soon, they will be able to save themselves if they choose to abandon their younger brother to a life of slavery, just as they did Joseph. And so, Joseph is setting up a situation where he could determine if his brothers had changed, whether they had any remorse for what they had to done to him, and if placed in a similar situation, would they demonstrate a changed character. And with that, Joseph sends them to prison for three days. I can only imagine the conversations they must have had during those three days!
But we continue with verses 18-20…18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So, your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so.
So, three days after he imprisons them, Joseph comes to them and says that if they do this, they will live. They are to prove their honesty by keeping one of the brothers behind in prison while the others take back grain to their family, and then also bring back their youngest brother. That way, their story would be verified and they would live.
Joseph knows that the amount of grain he has given them will not last through the entire seven-year famine, and so they will have to come back. And they will have to come back with Benjamin in order to survive
Notice also that Joseph says, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God”. By telling them he fears God, he is planting in their mind and reminding them that they also fear God.
Now Joseph must have known the terrible consequences to his father Jacob and all the families, that detaining nine brothers would have had. How would the starving families have received food? And so, keeping them in prison for the three days is most likely a move to exert psychological pressure on them. Because remember, it took them a week to get to Egypt, and will take them another week to get back home.
Verses 21-25 continue…21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.
So, these verses see the brothers talking to each other, and admitting that they are guilty of what they did to Joseph, and now they are being punished by God for their evil act. Although they are being falsely accused of spying, they realize that God is in control, and now they are being punished for their crimes against Joseph
Now it is here where we learn that after they tossed him into the pit all those years ago, that Joseph begged them for mercy, to let him up out of the pit and to not commit this evil act. I mention this here because we are not given those details back in chapter 37 when it happened. We could only assume back then that Joseph must have protested and begged them, but here we are actually provided those extra details, which makes what they did seem even more evil and callous. Because if you remember, after they threw him into the pit, they sat down and ate dinner, no doubt while listening to Joseph begging them not to do it, just enjoying dinner over the cries of his anguish and distress
But during these conversation between the brothers, Reuben speaks up and says “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” So Reuben is reminding them that he said at the time not to hurt Joseph. It was Reuben who told the brothers that they were not to lay a hand on him. Reuben’s plan was to just throw him into the pit, and then later, he would come back and rescue Joseph and bring him back safely to his father Jacob.
IOW, this was Reuben’s way of stepping in with a plan to save Joseph’s life. But when Reuben returned to camp, the brothers had already sold Joseph to the Midianite traders. And now, Reuben is reminding all of them that they didn’t listen to him, and now they are all being punished and having to answer for Joseph’s blood.
But during all of this conversation, one thing the brothers don’t realize is that Joseph understood every word they were saying! They, of course, have no idea he can understand them because he has been speaking to them through an interpreter. And it tells us that Joseph turned away from them and wept. Can you imagine the emotions Joseph must have been feeling as he listened to the brothers discussing the events of that day? I mean, it is truly remarkable, Joseph now hearing how Reuben tried to step in and save him. He may have placed most of the blame on Reuben since he was the oldest. And he also listens, and hears how they realize they are now being punished for their evil act against Joseph, who they believe is dead.
And the emotions finally overwhelm Joseph, as he turns away from them, and weeps. It’s like, when the brothers are finally honest to themselves, then Joseph can finally be honest with his own emotions. The Bible never mentions Joseph breaking down or crying through all of his tribulations. Not when his brothers threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery, not when he was wrongly accused of attempted rape and cast into prison, not when forgotten by the cupbearer.
But now, upon hearing the details of that day, learning that his oldest brother Reuben tried to intervene, and hearing his brothers’ expressions of remorse and guilt, he is finally overcome with emotion. So much so that he has to turn away from them and cry.
But when he composes himself and returns to them, he takes Simeon and bound him in front of the others. Simeon will be the one to stay behind as a prisoner in Egypt until they return with Benjamin. Joseph learned that the oldest brother Reuben tried to step in and save him, so he does not select Reuben as the prisoner. Rather, he selects the second oldest, Simeon. Besides, Simeon had a reputation for cruelty, going back to the episode in chapter 34 and the massacre of the city of Shechem. But if the brothers want to save their brother Simeon, they must return with Benjamin.
Verses 26-28 read…26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
So, before they left, Joseph gave orders for their bags to be filled with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Now, we can’t be certain of his intentions in doing this. It may have been simply to bless his family, but it may also have been to increase the psychological pressure on them, to more severely test their integrity.
Joseph is forcing them to face their past, because by selling Joseph for silver, they had previously placed more value on money than on life. And so here, Joseph is testing their loyalty to their brother Simeon. Because to just go and return with Benjamin should be easy enough. But not if they appear to be criminals! This is why their hearts sank and they looked at each other, trembling! You didn’t steal from Egypt and Pharaoh and live to tell about it. And they knew they would have to return to Egypt, both to secure more food, and to bring Benjamin to obtain the release of Simeon. Again, just another brilliant play by Joseph here in sneaking their money back into their bags.
But we continue with verses 29-34….29 When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’”
So, in these verses, the brothers are simply relaying to Jacob everything that happened. But notice, they are giving Jacob the Reader’s Digest version here. They leave out the parts about being imprisoned for three days, or the shackling of Simeon before their eyes, or finding the money in their bags. I mean, they make it sound like Simeon is some honored guest, rather than a prisoner. And they apparently do this in consideration of Jacob’s feelings. They also change Joseph’s threat of life and death to sound more like an economic opportunity. And so, the brothers here make it sound like the Egyptian leader simply wanted them to return with Benjamin to prove they were honest men. They didn’t tell him that they needed to return with Benjamin so that they would live! But their attitude toward their father, Jacob, is now much more sensitive, compared to earlier, when they were more callous when asking him about Joseph’s bloody robe.
Now, obviously, each of the brothers would have gotten into their bags for food or other things during the week-long journey home. So, they would have no doubt seen the money in their bags long before they arrived back home in Canaan. Therefore, we can assume that they had agreed ahead of time to not say anything to Jacob about the money, and then to sort of stage the discovery of money in his presence, which is exactly what we see beginning in the next verse.
So, we close out this chapter with the last three verses, 35-38, which read…35 As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”
So again, they open their bags and act surprised and shocked when they see the money. Only now, Jacob is seeing the money, and he immediately understands the situation and the implications. Up until this point, their story has seemed credible to Jacob. But when he sees the money, it makes them look guilty of stealing.
And of course, Jacob is upset, and tells them that they have bereaved him of his children. Two times we read about Jacob’s sons leaving home together, and two times now they have returned minus one of their brothers.
He either doesn’t believe them or he doesn’t trust this leader in Egypt. He says that Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more. Since Jacob has no intention of anyone returning to Egypt to retrieve Simeon, he is considering him as good as dead.
At this point Reuben steps in and proposes “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.”. Now what kind of proposal is that? Who in their right mind would make that sort of proposal? And it certainly doesn’t convince Jacob either. How is this supposed to make Jacob feel better? If Reuben fails, does he seriously think Jacob would want to kill two of his own grandsons? How in the world would that make Jacob feel better?
What you will notice is that this is the last time Reuben will assume any leadership position. He will be displaced by the fourth oldest son, Judah.
And so, Jacob words end this chapter when he says “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol”, or what he means here is, the grave
Now when he says my son is dead, he is of course referring to Joseph. But when he says that he is the only one left, he is referring to Benjamin being the only son left of his beloved wife, Rachel. And he is not about to risk losing Benjamin.
So, in closing out this chapter, I would make one more observation. It’s interesting that his brothers cannot find salvation in Egypt without first facing Joseph. Without facing and dealing with their earlier sin, without a reconciliation with Joseph. And so, we see yet another Joseph/Jesus parallel, because in the same way, we cannot find salvation without first facing Jesus, without dealing with our sin, and admitting our guilt, and without making a decision on what we are going to do when faced with the reality of relying on Jesus for salvation.
Well, as for me, I made the decision years ago to place my trust In Jesus. And my prayer for all of you is that you’ll consider doing the same.