Joseph’s Brothers Come to Egypt
Genesis 42 – 44. These chapters are typical of the way the Lord will work to bring the remnant of Israel to repentance for the guilt of the nation, and bring about their restoration.
- In ch.42, the brothers make their first trip into Egypt, and when Joseph accuses them of being spies, the brothers acknowledge their guilt in selling Joseph into slavery.
- In ch.43, Benjamin comes to Egypt, and through Joseph’s hospitality, the brothers demonstrate that they no longer harbor feelings of envy.
- In ch.44, using the silver cup, Joseph threatens the liberty of Benjamin, and Judah demonstrates his desire to spare his father grief.
The Brothers’ First Trip to Egypt (42:1-28)
1 And Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? 2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down thither and buy grain for us from thence, in order that we may live, and not die. 3 And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy grain out of Egypt. 4 But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest mischief may befall him. 5 So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those that came; for the famine was in the land of Canaan. vv.1-5 God allowed the seven-year famine for many reasons, to be sure, and not only to solidify Joseph’s power in Egypt, but also to bring his brothers down from Canaan; “for the famine was in the land of Canaan”. God had a controversy with these men, because of their evil behavior. He alone is able to bring about repentance. In a type, this pictures how God will use the events of the seventieth week of Daniel to accomplish the restoration of Israel, Christ’s brethren according to the flesh. Notice that Jacob said to his sons, “Why do ye look one upon another?” There is a tendency, when natural resources run dry, to seek to place blame on others; to accuse others of mismanagement or wastefulness. Evidently these brothers were prone to quarreling, and even Joseph would later tell them, “See that ye fall not out by the way” (Gen. 45:24). Before the Lord appears, the condition of the land will be that of internal strife (Isa. 9:19). It is a manifestation of deeper moral issues. Having grain was a matter of life and death, and so Jacob instructed his sons to go to Egypt, never expecting that they would meet Joseph there. Nonetheless, Jacob would not send Benjamin with the brothers; “for he said, Lest mischief may befall him”. Jacob was not trusting the Lord for the safety of one remaining son of Rachel. Often for parents who lose a child, there is a terrible battle in the soul between fear, and trusting the Lord. This can lead to overprotectiveness toward remaining children, and bitterness in the soul. Jacob believed the Benjamin was safer at home. Through the process of these chapter, Jacob is brought to the point where he is willing to let Benjamin go.
6 And Joseph, he was the governor over the land — he it was that sold the corn to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brethren came and bowed down to him, the face to the earth. 7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and knew them; but he made himself strange to them, and spoke roughly to them, and said to them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan, to buy food. 8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they did not know him. 9 And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamt of them; and he said to them, Ye are spies: to see the exposed places of the land ye are come. 10 And they said to him, No, my lord; but to buy food are thy servants come. 11 We are all one man’s sons; we are honest: thy servants are not spies. 12 And he said to them, No; but to see the exposed places of the land are ye come. 13 And they said, Thy servants were twelve brethren, sons of one man, in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not. vv.6-13 Joseph saw his brothers coming; he recognized them, but they did not recognize him. He had been a young man in shepherd’s clothing, and now Joseph was a middle aged man in royal robes. They would never have expected this governor of Egypt to be Joseph! But the brothers probably looked quite similar to the last time Joseph had seen them, because they were much older than he. Finally, after at least twenty years (30-17+7+?), Joseph’s dreams that he had in childhood were fulfilled: “And Joseph’s brethren came and bowed down to him, the face to the earth.” It says, “Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamt of them”. How had the many years of suffering tested his faith! Now at last, faith gave way to sight. If Joseph were motivated by pride, he might have proudly revealed his identity to the brothers, and flaunted it in their faces. Or, if Joseph cared more for the immediate warmth of family recognition that for the happiness of their souls, he would have instantly greeted the brothers. That would not have been true love.1 Instead, “he made himself strange to them” (or, disguised himself), and “spoke roughly to them”. Joseph did not speak roughly to his brothers to “punish” them, or out of fleshly anger. He spoke this way out of love, because he desired their restoration. No doubt Joseph wondered: are my brothers sorry for what they did to me? After Joseph accused the brothers of being spies, they reply with information; “we are all one man’s sons; we are honest: thy servants are not spies”. Now it was true that they weren’t spies, but it was not true that they were honest. Joseph pressed them again, accusing them again of being spies. The brothers then offered more information: “Thy servants were twelve brethren, sons of one man, in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.” How would this mention of himself and Benjamin touch Joseph’s heart! But he restrained himself. There was no admission of guilt, and therefore no repentance.
14 And Joseph said to them, That is it that I have spoken to you, saying, Ye are spies. 15 By this ye shall be put to the proof: as Pharaoh lives, ye shall not go forth hence, unless your youngest brother come hither! 16 Send one of you, that he may fetch your brother, but ye shall be imprisoned, and your words shall be put to the proof, whether the truth is in you; and if not, as Pharaoh lives, ye are spies. 17 And he put them in custody three days. 18 And Joseph said to them the third day, This do, that ye may live: I fear God. 19 If ye are honest, let one of your brethren remain bound in the house of your prison, but go ye, carry grain for the hunger of your households; 20 and bring your youngest brother to me, in order that your words be verified, and that ye may not die. And they did so. vv.14-20 The brothers were all guilty, and so Joseph put them all in prison. They would be held hostage while one of them returned to fetch Benjamin. If Benjamin were real, the brothers would be deemed honest. Eventually, Joseph changed the terms so that all but one brother could return.This was out of compassion for the families; “go ye, carry grain for the hunger of your households”. This was a test. They must leave one. Which would it be? In a sense, each must put himself in the place of the standed brother, and this brought their thoughts back to Joseph again (vv.21-24). He drops this statement, “I fear God”, to give the reason why he changed the terms. But this also may have been calculated to touch the brothers’ consciences. He feared God… did they?
21 Then they said one to another, We are indeed guilty concerning our brother, whose anguish of soul we saw when he besought us, and we did not hearken; therefore this distress is come upon us. 22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Did I not speak to you, saying, Do not sin against the lad? But ye did not hearken; and now behold, his blood also is required. 23 And they did not know that Joseph understood, for the interpreter was between them. 24 And he turned away from them, and wept. And he returned to them, and spoke to them, and took Simeon from among them, and bound him before their eyes. vv.21-24 The prospect of leaving one brother behind brought their thoughts back to that fateful day when they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Details are added here that we do not have in ch.37. They could see “the anguish of his soul” and the heard his cries as he “besought” or begged them not to do it. The expression “we are indeed guilty” was a first step in repentance. But God doesn’t merely want us to confess our sins to one another, but to the Lord, whom we have ultimately sinned against. They did have a sense of the government of God; “and now behold, his blood also is required”. How this must have touched Joseph’s heart, to see that repentance had begun! Reuben tried to hold up his head, saying essentially “I told you so”. Reuben had a sense that this serious predicament was allowed by God governmentally because of their sin. The brothers spoke among themselves, but Joseph was listening to every word. In a similar way the Lord searches the thoughts of our hearts to see if there has been any motion towards Him in repentance. Joseph went out and wept, no doubt overcome with emotion, memories flooding back, and rejoicing that the Lord was working with his brethren. Reuben would have naturally been the one to stay behind, but Simeon was chosen instead, as he was next in line. We are not told why Joseph chose Simeon. Perhaps Reuben was considered exempt because after all he had made an effort to save Joseph from his brothers’ murderous intentions. Or, it could be that Reuben was not taken seriously because of his sin with his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22); i.e. he had forfeited the responsibility. In either case, Joseph managed to restrain his emotions while he tied up Simeon before his brothers. How this sight would have reminded the brothers of the time when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites.
25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their vessels with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way. And thus did they to them. 26 And they loaded their asses with their grain, and departed thence. 27 And one of them opened his sack to give his ass food in the inn, and saw his money, and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28 And he said to his brethren, My money is returned to me, and behold, it is even in my sack. And their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God has done to us? vv.25-28 Joseph desired that the work of repentance would go deeper, and in order to stir the conscience of his brethren, Joseph commanded that their money be returned in each brother’s sack. This was done not only out of good will, but also to further reach the consciences of his brethren. He knew the discovery of the money would disturb the brothers, giving them the impression that they has stolen the corn. Sure enough, when they discovered the money, the brothers’ hearts failed them for fear. This event was now establishing a pattern of misfortune which the brothers unmistakably recognized as the hand of God; “What is this that God has done to us?” “The way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15).
Jacob Resists the Demand for Benjamin (42:29-38)
Genesis 42:29 – 43:14. In a certain sense, the narrative of Genesis changes for a moment, and returns to the life of Jacob. God had been dealing with Jacob in his schooling, and this had not ceased when Joseph went missing. In the following verses we have another chapter in the life of Jacob, in which God brings him to the point of full resignation to the will of God.
29 And they came into the land of Canaan, to Jacob their father, and told him all that had befallen them, saying, 30 The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us, and treated us as spies of the land. 31 And we said to him, We are honest; we are not spies: 32 we are twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan. 33 And the man, the lord of the land, said to us, Hereby shall I know that ye are honest: leave one of your brethren with me, and take for the hunger of your households, and go, 34 and bring your youngest brother to me, and I shall know that ye are not spies, but are honest. Your brother will I give up to you; and ye may trade in the land. 35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that behold, every man had his bundle of money in his sack; and they saw their bundles of money, they and their father, and were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, Ye have bereaved me of children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin! All these things are against me. vv.29-36 When the brothers returned to Canaan, they told their father everything that had happened, and how the governor of Egypt insisted on Benjamin coming down if they wanted more corn. Jacob was overcome with sorrow. He speaks of the loss of Joseph, and now Simeon, and their desire to take Benjamin. It is interesting to see that Jacob says “Ye have bereaved me of children: Joseph is not”. Did he come to suspect foul play? It could be. To understand this story we must remember that Jacob’s life was taken up with him trying to gain the blessing, even God’s favor, through his own efforts and energy. He wanted things on his terms. The loss of Joseph was a tremendous sorrow to Jacob, and the natural reaction was to cling tightly to Benjamin, while the same human energy was coming out in over-protection of the remaining son of Rachel. This experience, and contemplating the loss of Benjamin, was the lowest point in Jacob’s life; “All these things are against me”. But God was using “all these things” for the blessing and happiness of Jacob in the end; “and we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God wanted Jacob to trust Him implicitly. This was something Jacob was being brought to learn through many sorrowful experiences, but at the end of his life, Jacob would be a worshipper.
37 And Reuben spoke to his father, saying, Slay my two sons if I bring him not back to thee: give him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again. 38 But he said, My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left; and if mischief should befall him by the way in which ye go, then would ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to Sheol. vv.37-38 Reuben, evidently a man of weak character, pledged the lives of his two sons in place of Benjamin’s life; “Slay my two sons if I bring him not back to thee”. What kind of comfort would this have been to Jacob? He had lost one son already; how would killing to of his grandsons be a comfort to him? Reuben desperately wanted to be worthy of trust, but he was not. Jacob would not listen to his sons. He refused to let Benjamin go. If anything should happen to Benjamin, Jacob said he would die of grief; “then would ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to Sheol”.