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Deeper Commentary

Gen 42:1 Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, Why do you look at one another?- Their silence was because of their unspoken suspicion that Joseph was alive in Egypt and they must meet him and maybe bow down to him as he had once predicted. I suggested on Gen. 41:54 that the news of Pharaoh's amazing dreams and their interpretation by a Hebrew had spread around the neighbouring countries; and people believed they had come true to the extent that they went to Egypt to buy grain. And this would have triggered subconscious chords in the minds of the brothers; for they had effectively murdered their brother because of his dreams, which they considered impossible of fulfilment. They could not explain their inaction, sitting in silence looking at one another, as none would dare have revealed their innermost thoughts. If their cattle had died and the land was parched, they would have had little else to do apart from sit and look at one another.

Gen 42:2 He said, Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy for us from there, so that we may live, and not die- Jacob "saw" the grain in Egypt (:1), but he "heard" about it. Hearing is seeing; the word becomes flesh. This is true of 'seeing' by the eye of faith as a result of hearing the word of the Gospel. The situation was desperate; they were really facing death by starvation. The sons surely had heard before Jacob that there was corn in Egypt, for he was not elderly; but he speaks to them as if they don't know this. They had acted as if they didn't realize; and thus their guilty consciences are revealed to us.

Gen 42:3 Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt- We wonder why they all went, especially as Judah had apparently separated himself from them (see on Gen. 38:1). Perhaps the famine had bound them together. Maybe they took with them all the wealth they had, and so they were not needed to stay and protect Jacob's encampment as there was nothing left to steal by robbers. Or perhaps Joseph had created a rule that corn would only be sold to heads of families personally, to avoid speculative purchase of corn for re-sale.

Gen 42:4 But Jacob didn’t send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers; for he said, Lest perhaps harm happen to him- Jacob clearly suspected the brothers of foul play with Joseph, and he figured that the other son of the favoured Rachel, his favourite and youngest son, would likely suffer from them too.

Gen 42:5 The sons of Israel came to buy among those who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan- They were made to realize that for all their separation from the Gentiles, they were "among" them in a common need for salvation. This was another step in their progressive and intended humiliation which would lead to repentance. Latter day Israel have to come to realize this. Or it could be that their unspoken, unarticulated conscience about Joseph led them to try to fade in with the other Canaanites, from whom they were supposed to be spiritually separate.

Gen 42:6 Joseph was the governor over the land. It was he who sold to all the people of the land- The situation would have required a major management team, headed by Joseph. He would surely have had to delegate much of the day to day selling of corn. Yet he guessed his brothers would come to him, and so he arranged things so that he would personally interview those who came from Canaan, perhaps stationing himself near the northern border from whence he knew his brothers would arrive. All along he had structured his life in accordance with the fulfilment of God's word which he had received as a teenager. And this has great power of example for those of us who likewise encountered the Gospel as teenagers.

Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed themselves down to him with their faces to the earth- This was only a primary fulfilment of the dreams, as I have often noted. For both Jacob and a resurrected Rachel had to be present for them to fulfil, and the brothers had to be involved in prosperous agriculture rather than cattle ranching.

Gen 42:7 Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but acted like a stranger to them, and spoke roughly with them. He said to them, Where did you come from? They said, From the land of Canaan to buy food- The apparent roughness of God at times is here explained. As with Joseph, it is not because of anger with us; for behind those rough words was a love passing description. It is to elicit response in us, towards our greater blessing and final salvation; because in His love, He wants us only good in our latter end. And on a more simple, human level, it could be that the only way Joseph could hide his emotion and passionate love toward them was to mask it with harsh words. Anything less would have blown his cover. Joseph acted like a stranger, with the rudeness which Middle Eastern peoples tended to have towards foreigners.

Gen 42:8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him- He was 30 when elevated from prison, and they had last seen him at 17. And there had been seven good years and now two bad years of famine, meaning they had not seen him for 22 years. He would have changed more than they had, would have had a shaved head, and he spoke through an interpreter and was likely arrayed in Egyptian clothing appropriate to his position.

The New Testament emphasizes that it was only at their second encounter with Joseph that he was recognized by them, and this points forward to Israel's recognition of their Messiah only at His second coming (Acts 7:13). Perhaps we can infer from this clear parallel that the brothers were intended to perceive Joseph at this first meeting, but their consciences didn't let them.

Gen 42:9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed about them- This doesn't mean he had forgotten them; he remembered them in the same way as God 'remembers' promises; it's not that He has forgotten them out of mind. His whole plan with his brothers was based upon his realization that those dreams would come true in a primary sense even in this life, although the greater fulfilment was to be when his mother was resurrected and also bowed before him.

And said to them, You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land- "Spies" can mean various things in the original. They were a group of ten men, perhaps with servants. Their response was that they were "one man's sons" (:11). Therefore this would have been in reply to the accusation that they were a group of men looking to invade Egypt or otherwise do harm. Joseph's accusation was not therefore made in anger, but to elicit from them news about their father and family. Egypt was most prone to attack on its northern border, over which Joseph's brothers would cross. So perhaps this was his excuse for stationing himself there, so that he could meet his brothers.

Gen 42:10 They said to him, No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food- The purpose of the false accusations was to make them totally honest in their answers, desperate as they were to avoid prison and to obtain corn so as to keep alive. Joseph elicits a spirit of total honesty from them, in the hope that this will lead them to recognize their sin against him. "Your servants" was another primary fulfilment of the dream.

Gen 42:11 We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men. Your servants are not spies- As noted on :9, the accusation of being spies was made on the basis of them being a significant group of men together; and Joseph's intention was thereby to elicit from them a statement about their connection to each other, and information about their father. The false accusations were made to elicit from them the statement that they were "honest / true men"- and as soon as the words were off their lips, they would have realized that in another context, they were not true men at all. This is why God allows false accusation- to elicit from us an awareness of where in fact we are really and truly at fault.

Gen 42:12 He said to them, No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land!- Joseph disagreed with their claim to be honest, because they had not recognized him, and they had repeated the old lie that Joseph was dead. Seeing or looking upon nakedness is the very phrase used of Ham in Gen. 9:22. To look upon nakedness was also a euphemism for incest; and this was what Reuben and Judah had both committed, Reuben with Jacob's concubine, and Judah with Tamar. And who knows which other of the brothers had done similar things. Perhaps this was a further attempt to prod their consciences. They were indeed not spies, looking upon the nakedness of the land; but they had looked upon nakedness.

Gen 42:13 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- They were being careful to be truthful, and yet they had repeated the lie about Joseph's death so often that they had come to believe it. And this is the problem with lying; we deceive ourselves until we live in a false reality.

Gen 42:14 Joseph said to them, It is like I told you, saying, ‘You are spies!’- AV "That is it"; they had lied about Joseph by saying "one is no more". Joseph therefore repeated his claim that they were lying- over years of faith in the fulfilment of his dreams, Joseph had carefully planned all this. His sufferings had made him very sensitive, and he was like the Lord Jesus, a great psychologist. And the brothers responded just as he thought they would, but they refused to allow him to elicit from them the stark truth: 'And one we effectively killed and his blood is upon us to this day'. The Hebrew word translated "spies" can also mean "slanderer" and it is translated like this in 2 Sam. 19:27 and Ps. 15:3. It was a word with a range of meanings, and Joseph repeatedly uses the word, hoping to elicit in them a recognition that they were indeed tale bearers, although they were not spies.

Gen 42:15 By this you shall be tested. By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go out from here, unless your youngest brother comes here- This is effectively saying that they are liars. As noted on :14, "spies" can mean both spies and liars, slanderers. So Joseph is trying to get them to see his point- that "spies" can mean both spies and slanderers. And he wishes to 'test' them to try to get them to realize his double entendre.

Gen 42:16 Send one of you, and let him get your brother, and you shall be bound- Joseph later changes his game plan, so that instead of nine remaining in prison and one going for Benjamin, one remains in prison and nine return for Benjamin. To some extent, he was unsure of his game plan because of the emotion and relative suddenness of the situation. But it is also clear that their repentance and spiritual reformation was his intention, and all he asked of them, and all his changes of plan with them, were to that end. It could be that he guessed they hated Benjamin as they hated him; and he wanted to give them the opportunity to be alone with Benjamin and learn to treat him better than they had Joseph. The apparent change of plan might however have been purposeful, to indicate to them that change of plan was possible with those who have power, and God Himself changes His plans and position on things- in order to give us inspiration towards repentance, change of mind on our side.

That your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you, or else by the life of Pharaoh surely you are spies- The idea was that they were to perceive that the Hebrew word for "spies" meant both liars, and spies. Joseph wanted them to confess that they had been liars, about his 'death'. John seems to allude to this idea of truth within us when he writes: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn. 1:8). Joseph wanted them to admit that in the brief biography they had presented, they had sinned. But they were still denying they had sin.

Gen 42:17 He put them all together into custody for three days- As they had cast Joseph into the pit (Gen. 37:22) and as he had been cast into prison because of false accusation (Gen. 39:20). The three days in prison perhaps recalled Joseph being three days in the pit- although such a time period isn't stated in the record, we can maybe infer he was there for three days because he is such a clear type of Jesus in the grave for three days. He did all this so that they could enter into His sufferings. Or perhaps their three days in prison corresponded with three years in prison for Joseph, although the period isn't mentioned. It is unusual for groups of offenders to be imprisoned together, in the same cell. But Joseph did this, because he wanted to overhear their conversations, and he hoped that their collective guilt would result in a collective confession to him; but their pride and self deception was still too strong for that to happen at that time.

Perhaps the three days point forward to a three year tribulation of Israel in the last days to bring them to accept Christ? We get the impression that Joseph changed his plans for them several times; he recalled them when already on their journey etc. - Does this show that he hastened the day of revelation to them from purely emotional considerations- and will the Lord do the same with His Israel?

Gen 42:18 Joseph said to them the third day, Do this, and live, for I fear God- The Hebrew could mean "I also fear God", as if to encourage them to indeed fear God, and join the dots and perceive he was Joseph before he had to reveal it to them. H.P. Mansfield claims that the article is present in the original: "I fear the God", as if inviting them to get the hint that he like them worshipped only one God. "Live" could carry the suggestion that if they remained in prison, they would die; the death threat is still there in :20. For the significance of them facing death in Egypt, see on Gen. 43:8. He wanted them to understand what Egyptian prison was like, and to place before them death in Egypt if they were not honest about their family situation, or death from famine in Canaan.

Gen 42:19 If you are honest men, then let one of your brothers be bound in your prison; but you go, carry grain for the famine of your houses- Joseph changed the conditions- instead of all the brothers going to prison, only one of them would (cp. :16). He wanted to develop within them appreciation of the idea of one brother suffering for and in the place of his brothers- to prepare them to realize what had been achieved through Joseph's sufferings. In addition to this, we should consider that their appearance before him was unexpected, and he was reeling under shock. He perhaps had no clear game plan in place. And he would have had a desire to simply forget his father's family and move on with life; on the other hand, he loved them and wanted their salvation; yet without doubt he would have had natural feelings of anger and a desire at least for them to appreciate the magnitude of what they had done.

"Honest men" is literally 'upright men', but the word carries the sense of 'something being so'. It occurs in :20 "They did so" and in :21 "therefore is this distress...". The idea could be that they were proving themselves 'upright'; but they still could not make the confession Joseph sought. In fact, they never did; his pity and grace was such that he gave up demanding it. God likewise so loves us that it seems He accepts our internal recognitions of sin, even without the articulation of it as confession in the terms He ideally seeks. We should likewise not be too demanding of confession of sin from others, but grace and pity should dominate our attitude.

Gen 42:20 Bring your youngest brother to me; so will your words be verified, and you won’t die. They did so- See on :19. As noted on :18, Joseph was threatening them with death. But they could have just remained in Canaan; they would have reflected that Joseph spoke of death even in Canaan as somehow within his power. They would have concluded that he was speaking somehow from God. Why did Joseph insist on their bringing Benjamin when he knew it would cause his father so much stress that it might kill him? Was it a form of anger with his father, for having set him up as the favourite and thereby causing all the problem, or for disbelieving his dreams? Or as mentioned on :19, was it quite simply that he had no clear game plan in place and was reeling under the emotion of the situation? Or it could be that he correctly guessed that Benjamin was now the pampered, favourite son as he once had been. And he realized that for Benjamin to come to spiritual maturity, he had to become a man spiritually and separate from his father.

Gen 42:21 They said one to another, We are certainly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he begged us, and we wouldn’t listen. Therefore this distress has come upon us- See on :19. This was a major step forward in the process of repentance. But there was nothing done further, no attempt at a guilt offering, and no public confession. Joseph obviously thought that private acceptance of guilt was not enough; there needed to be something further. And that is a challenge to us. However, Joseph never succeeded in getting such a confession from them. This is the nearest he got to it. His grace and pity led him to simply reveal himself to them. "Distress" and "anguish" translate the same word. They were being brought to experience Joseph's feelings in the pit. We too are led by a loving Lord to know His mind during His sufferings, and we are to allow that mind to be in us which was in Him then (Phil 2:4,5). "The anguish of his soul" and pleas for deliverance, ignored by the brothers, point forward to "The travail of his soul" (Is. 53:12 s.w.), ignored by Israel (Is. 53:1-4).

Gen 42:22 Reuben answered them, saying, Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘Don’t sin against the child’, and you wouldn’t listen? Therefore also, behold, his blood is required- He is quoting the law of Gen. 9:5, which says that blood will be required from both animal and man if they slay a man. The brothers had created the story that an animal had killed Joseph; and they had been concerned at the time not to personally slay him. But now they realize that effectively, they had killed him by their decision; his blood was upon them. Even Reuben who had been against killing Joseph felt himself guilty for his blood. This is a huge challenge to us. We may carefully avoid the actual commission of sin, but the implications of our actions against others are tantamount to the same sin we thought we were technically avoiding. This is particularly true in the sin of excluding believers from Christian fellowship. The brothers were driven to realize that they were personally each one guilty of Joseph's blood. No shifting of the blame onto an animal or anonymous traders or Egyptians could take it away from them. Judah had suggested that by doing so they would "conceal his blood" (Gen. 37:26) and they had agreed with that. Now they realized that this was just a technical get out, and they were all guilty of his blood.

Gen 42:23 They didn’t know that Joseph understood them; for there was an interpreter between them- The Lord Jesus likewise keeps an apparent distance from us, when He understands exactly what we are saying and feeling.

Gen 42:24 He turned himself away from them, and wept- Joseph wept (this is recorded seven times in the record), as did the Lord Jesus. He must have found it hard to prolong the agony of not revealing himself to them immediately; he was motivated by a desire to make them see the enormity of their sin, for their spiritual good rather than his own vindication. This is a stunningly deep prophecy of the intensity of the Lord's feelings, as the mighty Son of God, towards wayward Israel in the last days. He was a man of sorrow in his mortal life, and will still have an element of this characteristic in the future.

Then he returned to them, and spoke to them, and took Simeon from among them, and bound him before their eyes- We wonder why Simeon was chosen; perhaps it was the outcome of his discussion with them when he returned "and spoke to them". Jewish tradition claims he was the one who was most aggressive to Joseph and had been the ringleader in trying to kill him in the pit. That would make sense; but again we must ever note that Joseph's actions were not so much punishment, as attempts to provoke their consciences. He had Simeon tied up before their eyes in order to restimulate their memories of how they had had Joseph bound.

Gen 42:25 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their bags with grain, and to restore each man’s money into his sack, and to give them food for the way. So it was done to them- This was grace indeed, and he wanted them to perceive it, and perhaps return to him from the lodging place (:27) once they realized. But their consciences were still not ready. Likewise, Israel ought to have recognized the Lord Jesus at their first meeting; but they will only do so at their second meeting, because their hearts were hardened the first time, and were too proud to repent.

Gen 42:26 They loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed from there- The camera is as it were close up on them. We see them strapping the bags to the animals, lost in their own thoughts.

Gen 42:27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey food in the lodging place, he saw his money. Behold, it was in the mouth of his sack- They for some reason were dishonest with Jacob about this; for they made out that only one of them opened his sack in the lodging, and that Jacob and the rest of them were seeing their money in their sacks for the first time when they returned to him (:35). But as their repentance deepens and they are brought closer to being totally truthful, which is what repentance is about, they admit that each of them opened their sacks in the lodging and found their money (Gen. 43:21). It was anyway psychologically unlikely that one of them would open his sack and find his money, and the other brothers wouldn't even bother checking their sacks. See on :29 for another example of their lack of total honesty.

Gen 42:28 He said to his brothers, My money is restored! Behold, it is in my sack! Their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling one to another, saying, What is this that God has done to us?- They were being introduced to grace; but like many who encounter grace, they shy away from it, because it demands too deep a recognition of sin and unworthiness. We recall how they had looked at one another in the silence of a guilty conscience (:1). They realized that God was in this.

Gen 42:29 They came to Jacob their father, to the land of Canaan, and told him all that had happened to them, saying- They did not literally tell him everything, because they omit to say they had been imprisoned, and threatened with certain death. Again we see that although they were shaken up by what had happened, they were still far from total honesty. and that is required for total repentance. See on :27.

Gen 42:30 The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly with us, and took us for spies of the country- They are willfully missing the point. Joseph had accused them of being "spies", using a word which could mean both spies and liars; see on :14. They chose to focus on the meaning "spies of the country".

Gen 42:31 We said to him, ‘We are honest men. We are no spies- Jacob would have immediately realized that his sons had lied; they could hardly be called "honest men", given their suspected behaviour with Joseph, the massacre of Shechem and Judah's behaviour with Tamar- and probably much else which is not recorded.

Gen 42:32 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’- Again they repeat the lie about Joseph; they had told it so often that it was now perceived truth and reality for them.

Gen 42:33 The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your houses, and go your way- Jacob's refusal to allow Benjamin to return with them was therefore tantamount to agreeing that they were not honest men. He also shows his obsession with Benjamin and disregard for Simeon who was left in prison.

Gen 42:34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I will know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. So I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land’- Joseph is not recorded as saying anything about future trading. Perhaps we have another example here of how the brothers had still not come to the total honesty which is required for true repentance; they were prepared to add in some things here and there, to effectively lie to their father as Jacob had done to Isaac, to make their message more palatable or attractive to Jacob.

Gen 42:35 It happened as they emptied their sacks, that behold, each man’s bundle of money was in his sack. When they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid- This is recorded from the perspective they wished to give; this was the impression they gave Jacob, but they were still being deceitful; see on :27.

Gen 42:36 Jacob, their father, said to them, You have bereaved me of my children! Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me- This implies Jacob knew they had killed Joseph. There is a theme in the records of unspoken knowledge; in 42:1 the brothers fear to go to Egypt because of their unspoken suspicion they might meet Joseph there.

Gen 42:37 Reuben spoke to his father, saying, Kill my two sons, if I don’t bring him to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him to you again- This is typical hot headed language. Jacob could hardly be comforted over the death of another son by then murdering two of his grandchildren. The whole series of events was intended to lead the brothers to the truthfulness which is required for repentance. Reuben would have reflected on this foolish usage of language and how there was no real truth to it of itself... and been provoked in his path toward truthfulness.

Gen 42:38 He said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left- As Joseph had perhaps imagined, Benjamin was perceived by Jacob as his only remaining child. He was clearly the favourite, and by saying this, Jacob showed the disregard he had for the rest of his sons. He had still not learnt the need to not show favouritism.

If harm happens to him along the way in which you go, then you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol- Clearly enough, sheol refers to the grave, and not to a place of torment where only the wicked go.