Thank you once again for joining me in this verse-by-verse Bible study as we continue our study through the book of Genesis. I’m Randy Duncan and in this episode we will be tackling chapter 43, which will see Joseph’s brothers return a second time to Egypt.
As a quick summary of a very dramatic chapter, in the last episode we saw the brothers head to Egypt to buy grain in an effort to stay alive and not starve to death due to the widespread famine. But after Joseph recognizes them, he begins a series of tests to determine if they have changed. And so he accuses them of being spies, secretly places money into their bags, and imprisons them for three days.
But ultimately, he allows them to return home to bring back their youngest brother Benjamin, to prove their truthfulness, and he keeps only Simeon in prison. And so chapter 43 now begins with the brothers back home after returning from their trip to Egypt.
Verses 1- 5 begin…..”Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” 3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’”
And so we quickly learn that the grain they had brought back from Egypt was about to run out. Their provisions are once again coming to an end. There is just enough food left to allow the family to survive long enough for the brothers to return to Egypt and back. And remember, this was a trip that took a week each way.
And so Jacob tells his sons to “go back again, and buy us a little more food”. But Judah responds by saying “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.” Notice that Judah is the one who responds to Jacob, not Reuben. In fact, Reuben is not heard from again, even though he is the oldest. Judah is the oldest son who is still in good standing with his father Jacob. Because Jacob had earlier rejected Reuben’s way over-the-top and strange guarantee of Benjamin’s safe return by offering up two of his sons. And Simeon was still in custody in Egypt. And both Simeon and Levi had been discredited after they slaughtered the male inhabitants of Shechem.
From this point on, Judah becomes the leader of his brothers. In fact, his tribe will become preeminent among the sons of Israel, culminating in the birth of the Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah
But Judah steps us, he speaks to Jacob in a very forthright, honest, but firm manner, and he gets straight to the point. “If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down”. Now understand, Joseph’s word was final in Egypt, but Jacob’s word is final here in Canaan. And although Judah steps up and lays down the condition under which they will go, he still respects his father’s direction. In other words, the brothers don’t just take Benjamin and leave without Jacob’s approval.
This is important, because this is a life and death situation here. The situation must be confronted head-on. Unless Benjamin goes back to Egypt with the brothers, the entire family is doomed to a slow death by starvation. There is no alternative. This is the reality of the situation. But even in this harsh reality, the brothers still respect Jacob’s decision.
Verses 6-7 continue…6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
And so what we see now is Jacob expressing his frustration. He asked his sons, “Why did you even tell the man that you had another brother?! They reply and tell Jacob that the man questioned them carefully, asking if our father was still alive, and if we had another brother! And we just answered his questions honestly. In other words, “How in the world were we supposed to know he would require us to bring Benjamin down to Egypt to prove our truthfulness??
Jacob is sort of playing Monday- morning quarterback here. It’s easy to make all the right calls after the game. It’s much easier to second-guess someone else after-the fact. Jacob absolutely does not want to jeopardize Benjamin’s safety here, but he must face the harsh reality that there is simply no other option.
Verses 8-10 continue … .8 And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”
So Judah says to Jacob, send Benjamin with me, and we will go to Egypt, that we may live and not die. Those words, “that we may live and not die”, are the exact words Jacob used when he sent his sons to Egypt the first time. Pretty clever wordsmithing there by Judah!
But he also steps up and says he will take responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. Unlike Reuben, who offered to kill two of his sons, Jacob’s own grandsons, if anything happened to Benjamin, this was a genuine, sensible pledge. He says ”I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever”.
The Hebrew literally means “I will become surety for him”. IOW, should he default in returning Benjamin, Judah is willing to default his family’s entire fortune to Jacob. He says, “You can hold me personally responsible”. To emphasize the seriousness with which he is willing to assume responsibility, Judah here is using two distinct legal idioms. One is in reference to the legal responsibility for a debt, the second means to hold responsible, to require an accounting for, and is used with respect to bloodshed.
“I will bear the blame before you all my life”. The Hebrew literally says “I will have sinned”. If he violates the agreement, Judah is willing to accept whatever penalty Jacob wishes to inflict on him for the rest of his life. Reuben put his sons’ lives on the line; Judah here is putting his own life on the line
Judah ends by once again echoing Jacob’s earlier words when he says, “If we hadn’t delayed so long, we could have been there and back twice now”!! But this time, rather than the sons delaying, it has been Jacob, due to his reluctance to jeopardize Benjamin’s safety
Verses 11-14 continue…11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
And so what we see is Jacob offering no further resistance, and he resigns himself to the inevitable. But he gives directions on how to prepare and what to take with them. He has them take gifts to “the man in Egypt”, and also, the money for the payment of grain, plus the extra money they found in their bags must be returned. But these gifts refer to giving a token of submission. When approaching a military, political, or religious superior, this was a way to demonstrate respect.
But Jacob ends here by saying, “and if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved”. IOW, Jacob resigns himself to fate. He resigns himself to his destiny after praying for God’s mercy on their journey. Having done all that is humanly possible, Jacob now leaves the rest up to God.
Saint Augustine is credited for saying “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you”. And I think that’s very practical advice for navigating life. But it is often times very difficult to discern when, no matter how hard you work, no matter how badly you want something in life, that it is simply not God’s will for you, at least not right now. The tricky thing is trying to discern when that time has come. When do you quit fighting so hard for what you think you want, and understand that perhaps God has something different in store for you?
As I’ve grown older, and after experiencing a few instances of God obviously stepping in and saving me from mistakes, I have learned to more often simply pray and pour out my heart to God. And to say God, this is what I think I want, but if it is not what’s best for me and my family, since you can see the future, I pray you put up a barrier that I cannot overcome, despite my best efforts to do so. And I will praise you and thank you either way.
And at some point, we must learn to recognize there is no reason this hasn’t worked out yet, I’ve done everything I know to do, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. Perhaps this is God creating that barrier that I prayed for. And so maybe I need to take another path. I may be disappointed in my flesh. I may be disheartened because I’m not going to get what I want right now, my pride may be hurt, but I will still praise God and thank him. And this is where Jacob is now, finally understanding that he has done all that he can, the rest is now up to God.
But we continue with verses 15-18…15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.”
And so we see that they follow Jacob’s instructions, taking double the money, as well as Benjamin, and they head back down to Egypt.
And when Joseph sees his brothers, he instructs his steward to bring the men inside the house, and prepare for them a dinner, because they were going to be dining with him. Now you think they would be excited to be invited to a meal with this most powerful Egyptian ruler. But no. They were afraid.
Since they are singled out from the other buyers, they are interpreting this act of “goodwill as evil. They alone, out of all the buyers of grain down in Egypt, have been singled out. And so they think it is because of the money that they found in their sacks, and that this must be some ruse to lure them into the house, and then attack them, take their possessions, and enslave them as penalty. And so they are scared!
It is ironic however, because what they now fear, being attacked, overpowered, having their possessions taken from them, and becoming enslaved, is exactly what they did to Joseph years ago.
But if you pause a moment, and think through this rationally, you realize that if the ruler of Egypt wanted to seize you and enslave you, he wouldn’t have to come up with an elaborate scheme or ruse to do so. He would simply give the command. He didn’t need any pretext or reason. If Joseph wanted you arrested, there’s nothing you could do about it. You were going to be arrested. But the brothers aren’t thinking rationally at this point, they are very emotional, and they don’t understand what’s happening
Verses 19-25 continue…19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.
So Joseph’s brothers lose no time in telling their side of the story to the house steward. They explain that they had simply come down to Egypt to buy food, and when they later opened their sacks, their money was still there. But now, they have brought it all back, they are returning it, along with more money to purchase additional food. They are being proactive here, providing answers and explanations to questions they haven’t even been asked yet
But to their surprise, the steward replies, “Peace be to you, do not be afraid”. IOW, “it’s alright”. He says “ Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.”
Now understand, there’s no way an Egyptian would have said this to them, invoking God, unless Joseph had told him what to say. He tells them that their God, and the God of their fathers has blessed them by providing the money in their sacks.
He also tells them that he received their money they purchased the food with during their first trip. In fact, he uses a legal formula, which literally says “your money came to me”, that confirms receipt of full payment. And they are to keep the money, even though they have returned it.
The steward then brings Simeon out to them, who, if you remember, has been sitting in prison since they left for home after their first trip to Egypt.
But the steward bring them in, provides them with water, they wash up, have their donkeys fed, and then prepare the gift they have brought to present to the Egyptian ruler
Verses 26-30 continue…26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.
So when Joseph returned home, the brothers bring in the gift they had prepared for this Egyptian ruler, and they bowed down before him. The fact that they bowed down to him is important, because now that Simeon is back with them, all 11 brothers are together, and so Joseph’s boyhood dream of all his brothers bowing down to him is now fulfilled.
Joseph then asked about their welfare, and the welfare of their father. He asked them if their father is still alive. The Hebrew here actually reads “Is there peace with your father?”, which is a question about his total well-being. And I would think Joseph may have been very nervous to hear the answer to that question.I mean, if it had been the case, that would be a tough, and sad way to learn that your father has died.
But the brothers respond by telling Joseph their father is alive and well. And at this they once again bow themselves before Joseph. Now this time, their bowing probably takes on a different connotation than the first time. This is either as a sign of appreciation to Joseph for asking about their father, or more as a physical gesture of gratitude to God. Sort of the physical equivalent of saying a verbal “Thank God”.
But Joseph then looks up and sees Benjamin, the youngest brother, and he asks them if this is indeed the youngest brother about whom they spoke. Remember, Joseph had a special bond with his brother Benjamin, because Benjamin was his only full brother from his mother Rachel. The other brothers are his half brothers.
But upon seeing Benjamin, Joseph can no longer hold it together emotionally.The text tells us that “Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.”
Underneath the cloak of Egyptian appearance, Joseph’s love for his family is still strong. The way the Hebrew actually reads, it paints the picture that Joseph was overcome with feelings, he is on the verge of tears, and he can find relief only through tears. In fact, as we will see, over the course of these three chapters, Joseph will have to leave the room to weep three different times.
It really shows how powerful emotions can be at times, even for the strongest and most powerful of men. I mean, consider everything Joseph has been through over the last several years. He has been betrayed by his own brothers, stripped and cast into a pit, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of attempted rape, cast into prison, and then forgotten about. And throughout all of that, this is the first mention of him shedding tears.
Never let anyone tell you tough men don’t cry. Jesus was the strongest person to ever live, and even he wept. But notice what causes those most intense emotions…relationships… love….both for Jesus and for Joseph.
But we close out this chapter with the last four verses, 31-34, which read…31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
So after having to rush out of the room to weep, Joseph re-enters the room after composing himself. And he instructs the steward to serve the meal. But notice, this is not like a normal family meal, like everyone sitting around a Thanksgiving or Holiday meal. Not at all. Joseph sits by himself. The stewards sat by themselves, and the brothers by themselves.
Joseph probably ate by himself due to his exalted status. But the Egyptians would not eat with the Hebrews because they considered that an abomination. The Egyptians regarded themselves as a superior race. They had a feeling of racial and cultural superiority, which led to contempt for foreigners because they considered them unclean.The looked at shepherds and Israel’s form of worship as detestable
In fact, the Greek historian Herodotus reported that because cows were taboo to Egyptians, but eaten by Greeks, that Egyptians would not kiss a Greek, use his kitchen utensils, or even eat the flesh of an ox that had been cut with the knife of a Greek!
Now, it says they sat before him, but what this literally means is that they sat before him, at his direction, meaning, under Joseph’s direction. Which obviously strikes the brothers as especially strange, since they noticed they were sitting in the order of their birth. And so they look at one another in amazement, like, how in the world could that have happened?
But it also says that portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but that Benjamin received five times as much as any of theirs. Some of your translations may say Benjamin was given “several” more portions than the others, but the word for “several” that’s used here is (“ha-maysh’), which is the Hebrew word for “five “.
Now, not only did the brothers notice they were seated in birth order, but they no doubt also noticed Benjamin was given five times the portion of food. Joseph has instructed the stewards to do this of course. He is testing his brothers for jealousy. He wants to see if this favoritism for the youngest brother would once again arouse envy or jealousy, just like it had done before when Joseph was the favorite of their father Jacob.
But there is no mention of any sort of jealousy on the part of the brothers. In fact, the last verse ends by saying “And they drank and were merry with him.” Now what this conveys in the Hebrew is that they drank and became drunk with him, they drank their fill of wine, and became fully content.
And that is a good way to end this chapter after all we have seen. But Joseph is not yet finished testing his brothers, as we will see in the next chapter.
Until then, step back for just a moment, and consider how God has orchestrated all of these events. From Joseph’s sale into slavery, to his rising to power, to the great famine, and Jacob refusing to allow his Benjamin to go down to Egypt, while Joseph insists that he does. God is using all of these individual decisions and actions to bring about a greater good. Because coming out of all this will be a group of brothers ready to become a nation within proud Egypt. And it is from this nation that God will send his Messiah.
The words of both the prophet Hosea and Matthew ring familiar here when God says, “out of Egypt have I called my son”!