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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.

The brothers look at one another in silence; later in this chapter we will read that they say to one another, "We are truly guilty about our brother Joseph" (:21). Connecting these two statements we surely learn that their silent looking at one another, not saying anything, but all reticent about returning to Egypt... was likewise because they had an unspoken conscience that there in Egypt they might just meet Joseph. The Hebrew in :21 is "They said each to his fellow". The idea is that every one of those men was convicted in their conscience, and they all burst out and said the same thing at the same time; the thing which was unspoken amongst them in :1

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. Another alternative is that Jacob "saw" in vision- bear in mind he was virtually blind in his old age.

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. One theme of the Joseph story is that people subconsciously believe and understand home truths, and those subconscious beliefs are then brought out into the open by the hand of providence. This is how people "come to the truth" today- they are led to see that what they intuitively sensed and knew, both about God and themselves, was in fact true. No matter how unpalatable it is to the conscious mind.

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. In this case, again we have a probe into the realms of the deep subconscious. On one level, the brothers recognized Joseph, like the Jews of the first century ["This is the heir, come let us kill him" alludes to the words of the brothers as they saw Joseph approach them at 17 years old]. In their case it was only the passionate nudging of Joseph which led them to repentance.

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. At this point he may well have recalculated the interpretation of the dreams. They were not about his simply having power and seniority over his older brethren. His brothers came to him and bowed before him in that they were begging for mercy. Or maybe he 'got that' from the start, and had calculated his becoming grand vizier of Egypt and personally meeting all foreigners who wanted to buy food- exactly to bring about this fulfilment. That one day, his brothers would come to him begging for mercy and salvation. This is what they had not wanted to accept when he was 17 and first had the dreams. He was then the family priest, but they didn't want to accept him as that. But, the dream said that one day they would be desperately begging for his grace, mercy and salvation. And in this sense the dreams were coming true. But he wants them to seek not just material blessing from him, but spiritual blessing. Hence, having remembered the dreams, he goes on to accuse them of being spies / liars- because he wanted to bring them to repentance.

"About them" uses the term lehem, which can as well mean "for" as in Gen. 11:29. Perhaps Joseph now better understood that his youthful dreams were about him doing something "for" his brothers, saving them, showing them grace; and not simply meaning that he would have power over them. His dreams were "for them" in that they were pictured finally bowing before him, begging for and then in gratitude for his grace and salvation. We note that bowing can mean gratitude rather than mere servanthood. Thus Abraham bowed to the Hittites in gratitude for their agreement to sell him a burial place (Gen. 23:7,12).

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.

It was unlikely that a single family would be "spies". If they were acting on behalf of another nation, that might be reasonable. But seeing they were the sons of one old man who was separate to the other tribes, 'spying' is a strange accusation to make. The brothers would have thought about it. The double meaning of the Hebrew term for spying, meaning also 'liars', would have made them wonder, at least silently, whether his real accusation was simply that they were liars. It was their untruthfulness to Jacob which was the issue Joseph wanted to help them come to terms with. His false accusation that they were liars ["spies"] was to make them reflect that although they were innocent of this accusation at this point, they were not innocent of it historically.

"To see the nakedness..." is a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible in a distinctly sexual sense. The French Jewish Bible translation of Andre Chouraqui has: "Vous etes venu pour voir le sexe de la terre".  A man saw the nakedness of another person through inappropriate sexual behaviour with their family members. We recall that both Reuben and Judah had behaved in a sexually abusive way to their own family members. Maybe through this false accusation, Joseph was seeking to elicit their acceptance of their sexual guilt over other matters. Or it could be that Joseph was unaware of the behaviours of Reuben and Judah, and his point rather was to falsely accuse them of sexual behaviour in Egypt- because that was what had happened to him. Their response was that they were innocent, and had only been forced to visit Egypt because of pressure of circumstance. And this of course had been precisely Joseph's experience. We too are led through the hand of providence to know the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, that this mind might be in us which was in Him throughout His sufferings.

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. God's leading of us to repentance likewise involves using circumstances, e.g. false accusations, to lead us to total honesty.

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.

Without understanding and appreciating all the psychological prodding and eliciting that is going on in Joseph's words, his behaviour would appear haphazard and bizarre. But it was far from that. Joseph's accusation was that they were not in fact brothers. The implication was that they did not appear to act as brothers act toward each other. This was to elicit their self examination on this point. His doubt of their story may well imply that if they were true men then they would surely not have left their old father alone. 'Do you really care for your father?' was the implication. Their answer would have been "Yes we do care for him, we love him very much"... but then, the memory of their previous deception of him about Joseph would have been elicited. God likewise probes our conscience at every point, to try to lead us to self knowledge and repentance.  

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. Therefore, "speak the truth in your heart".

"We are", present tense, is surely another psychological slip that reflected their conscience that Joseph was still alive. We observe that they lied to their father Jacob about Joseph, and were believed; and God leads them to repentance over this matter by putting them in a position where they tell the truth, but are accused of lying. They lied and were believed; now they tell the truth and are disbelieved and accused of lying. God is the perfect psychologist, and worked on a human level through Joseph being a pretty good psychologist. This is in fact a psychological classic. Guilt over a past failure is elicited by being falsely accused in the same area of failure, in this case, honesty. This is one function of our experience of false accusation; we were falsely accused of some behaviour, but in fact we were guilty of that behaviour in another form many years ago. And thus we are lead to repentance. Again we see how nothing is wasted with God; even false accusation has a part to play in our spiritual path, if we allow it. This technique is used in interrogation; the suspect is accused of something the interrogators know is false, in order to elicit within the suspect an accute awareness and current consciousness of what he actually did do wrong. And that consciousness is then further probed by the interrogators. Joseph was working on behalf of God, but it is also true that he had developed a fine psychological awareness through his sufferings and wide life experience. His behaviour to the brothers reads as bizarre and haphazard- until we perceive that he is in fact purposefully seeking to elicit repentance and awareness of the past within them. He will finally cut short his process with them simply because of his love and grace toward them- he accepts them anyway, despite the fact they hadn't fully got to expressing repentance.

His interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams was "of God" and not of himself, and yet it is also possible that he figured out the interpretations himself. For they were not impossibly difficult to figure out, just as the dream of Nebuchadnezzar was fairly clear in its meaning even on face value. The Egyptian hieroglyph for a year was the picture of a cow. So the interpretation of seven years was logical. Drawings of seven fat cows are found on Egyptian tombs from the time; they represented prosperity. The magicians failed to tell these kings the meaning because it was bad news for the monarch, and in Pharaoh's case, evil cows arising from the Nile was a radical inversion of all he believed as a worshipper of the Nile as a source of only good.

Gen 42:14 Joseph said to them, It is like I told you, saying, ‘You are spies!’- Perhaps just before this point in the narrative, Joseph asked them specifically the question we learn of in Gen. 44:19, when Judah reminds Joseph: “My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Do you have a father or brother?’”. Maybe this was rhetorical. For the brothers had told Joseph of their own initiative that they had a father and a brother, Benjamin. Was Joseph saying, Do you really have a father and brother? Do you act like you do? So Joseph's question "Do you have a brother?" was designed to probe their subconscious conscience. Did they have a brother, Joseph? Did they still have him? Was he really dead, as they had persuaded themselves? Constantly, Joseph is seeking to nudge their conscience, to bring them to repentance. That is why he calls them spies, which is the same Hebrew word for "liars".

We also learn from Gen. 44:21 that Joseph at this point made a special promise about Benjamin: "You said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him’". It implies Joseph was going to do something with him, rather than just wanting to literally see him. The Hebrew could mean "I will keep my eye on him". And this was to elicit from the brothers the impression that this vizier of Egypt had a special interest in Benjamin. It was another nudge towards perceiving that this vizier was in fact Joseph, the only blood brother of Benjamin.

"It is like I told you" is 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.

Joseph was implying that they are lying about the one brother whom they said was no more. In the context of the spying accusation, surely Joseph was implying that this missing brother had actually been sent ahead of them to spy out or see the land of Egypt and the famine there. Again he is seeking so gently and subtly to lead them to the right conclusion about Joseph. Perhaps he was too subtle, just as many today do not grasp the subtleties of God's many nudges towards repentance. For Paul says that in His goodness, God does lead us to repentance. Or tries to. The brothers, wide eyed and innocent, would have struggled to understand how they were lying. In prison and on the way back to Canaan, they would have had plenty of time to work through the implications of what Joseph had said to them. They would've talked and thought about nothing else. Indeed they had a brother back at home, indeed their father was an old man, and they were all brothers. The point at which they were lying was therefore in saying that Joseph was dead. They were being asked to prove that Joseph was dead. And this was to prod and nudge them to wonder whether actually, this grand vizier with whom they were speaking had evidence that Joseph was in fact alive and not dead. And that was why he insisted they were lying.

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.

The command to send just one of their brothers was a test as to whether they would imagine the feelings of their father. They had not done so when they led him to believe Joseph was dead. And so he again is trying to lead them to repentance over that. 

"Bound" (also the word used in :19,24) is the Hebrew word used about Joseph being bound in the Egyptian prison (Gen. 39:20; 40:3,5). So the word is used three times about the binding of Joseph, and three times about the binding of Simeon on behalf of the brothers. In line with our view that Joseph is seeking to bring the brothers to repentance, we must not see this as Joseph seeking to 'do others as he was done'. Rather he was seeking to bring them to understand the consequences of their actions to him- so that they might repent. We too are led through suffering and experience to this understanding, so we might not only repent, but be prepared to live eternally with those whom we have hurt. And the Lord is seeking to teach those who hurt us the same lesson.

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 and on :1. The Hebrew is "They said each to his fellow". The idea is that every one of those men was convicted in their conscience, and they all burst out and said the same thing; the thing which was unspoken amongst them in :1. 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).

We were not told about Joseph's pleas for mercy when in the pit. But now we learn of them. This reflects how the brothers likewise had heard those pleas but were unaware of them and only now do those pleas come into their conscious awareness.

We note that their guilt was not about deceiving their father, not about hating their brother, not about selling him into a miserable life of slavery in a foreign land... but about their refusal to hear his cries for mercy. This was because they were within themselves crying out to God for mercy and grace. Although they don't do so out loud, nor collectively; but they all collectively recall and comment that they were deaf to Joseph's cries. So we deduce that they each said this, because each of them internally felt they were crying out to God and not being heard. So cleverly, the record invites us to view their hearts. And for all time the point is made, that if we ignore the cries of others, then our cries to God for grace will be apparently ignored. The passage of time must never be allowed to work a kind of quasi atonement, as if our past sins are dealt with by the passing of the years. The crises of our lives lead us to recall our past deafness to others' needs.

And yet in their cases, we marvel that there is simply the feeling of guilt, and observation that they must apparently suffer for their past sins. There is no statement of repentance. It can be discerned between the lines that they did repent in their hearts, but the lack of any statement such as "And each man verily repented of his sins against Joseph" is very obvious. One message of the Joseph story is that God accepts incomplete or unexpressed repentance. His grace and passion toward us as His family is very great, and is reflected in that of Joseph towards his brothers. Each time we read that Joseph cries, as he does when he hears these words (:24), the record intentionally leaves us to wonder why he cries. Perhaps in this case it was because they were reacting merely like caught criminals, regretting their actions and preparing to accept the consequences... but still not coming to repentance.

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- Reuben is perhaps more persuaded than the rest of them that Joseph is dead- for he talks of "his blood" being 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. We note the progress: "We are honest men" (:11) to "We are guilty". Joseph's probing of their statement to be "honest" therefore worked- "If you are honest men..." (:19). But Joseph maybe didn't know that. Because their confession of guilt was not said to him. And the wonder of the Joseph story is that the brothers never confess their sin and apologize. There is no famous final scene where the brothers confess, Joseph graciously forgives, and they walk off into the sunset arms around each other and live happily ever afterwards. No. That is the scene we expect, but it never comes. And yet the story cleverly shows that the brothers were in fact moved to repentance and self understanding regarding what they had done to Joseph. Here for all time we see that repentance means re-thinking, and it may or may not be reflected in specific words or actions reflective of regret. This is why we are to forgive without demanding evidence of repentance.

The brothers recognize their guilt and that "his blood is required"; they sense they must be punished for what they did to Joseph. The Joseph novella leads us to expect that indeed they will be punished. But there is no famous final scene of judgment. In fact, they aren't really punished. The classic moment of 'measure for measure' and 'crime and punishment' never really occurs. Although we are set up to expect it, and the brothers themselves expect it. I suggest this is because the repentance of the brothers in their hearts is accepted, and punishment is therefore unnecessary because it would not teach them anything further. Rather like 'Truth and Reconcilliation' approaches in Bosnia, parts of the USSR and South Africa have granted amnesty and no actual punishment to those who confessed their wrongdoing and abuses of others. The confession was accepted as obviating the need for punishment; and God was prepared to accept the unspoken confessions of the brothers in their hearts as good enough. Joseph appears to perceive their repentance, and therefore doesn't punish them.


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, also Gen. 43:29,30; 45:1,2,14,15; 46:29; 50:1,15-17), as did the Lord Jesus. Joseph is revealed as having passion and emotion arising from a very strong sense of love. His apparently hard exterior therefore hid this passionate love. Just as God's work in our lives can obscure His essential love from the eyes of the imperceptive. 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. They would all surely have been thinking: "This Egypt is an absolutely awful place". But this was to make them realize that they had sold their brother into Egypt to be a slave there. They were being brought again to understand the consequences of their previous actions, over 20 years before.

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. They trembled as they experienced the depth of God's grace. They whose sins were found out had been given grace not judgment. We very often experience such practical grace at our lowest moments. You may be driving furiously or foolishly- and God saves you from an accident; you may be cursing your husband at top voice when unexpected news of blessing arrives on your phone. We likewise must reflect this by showing grace to those who are at this point undeserving of it.

In Gen. 43:22 we can infer that Joseph asked them: "Who put the money in your sacks?", and the brothers say they don't know, and  Joseph tells them that it was God working through him. But they had remarked about the money in Gen. 42:28 "What is this that God has done to us?". The God they privately sensed but would not openly accept was being revealed to them- through Joseph. God put the money in their sacks, but Joseph put the money in their sacks. That was the point Joseph was trying to make, the realization he was seeking to elicit in them. He was trying to get them to admit what subconsciously they knew all along- that Joseph was alive in Egypt, God knew their sin, was working with them, and was leading them to repentance. In all this we see how God works- never forcing us, but strongly nudging us towards self realization, repentance and salvation. And all that involves accepting the truth of what we already subconsciously knew was true all along. Here we see them admitting that "God" had put the money in their sacks; but before Joseph they say they don't know who put the money in their sacks. And so Joseph then tries to join the dots for them- he tells them that it was God, through him, who put the money in their sacks. But he was telling them what they already secretly, intuitively knew.

Gen 42:29 They came to Jacob their father, to the land of Canaan, and told him all that had happened to them, saying- The force of the word "Saying..." is that 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.

Their claim to Jacob that Joseph had offered them trading rights in Egypt was untrue. What Joseph had said was that they would die unless they brought Benjamin with them (:20). This implied he had power over them even in Canaan. They omitted to tell Jacob that they had all been kept in prison for three days. Joseph had accused them of being spies, whereas they tell Jacob that he had treated them as spies. Five times Joseph accused them of actually being spies (:9,12,14,15,20), but they severely moderate this in retelling the story to their father. And they omit to tell Jacob the critical truth that Joseph had told them that unless they brought Benjamin with them, “you shall not see my face again” (:23), they would get no grain and Simeon would remain lost and in prison. They were still not being honest with their father; we have here a mixture of untruths and withholding truth which all amounted to deception. Their story didn't hold much weight- why would Joseph keep one of them with him whilst at the same time offering them special trading rights in Egypt? And as noted on :36, Jacob basically disbelieves them. They claim that they were asked "Leave one brother with me" (:33) when in fact Joseph had said "One brother shall be imprisoned in your prison" (:19). Simeon was not "with me" [Joseph], he was in prison. So we see that they still had some travelling left to do in order to come to complete truthfulness and honesty with their father. Repentance is therefore a process. And we must bear that in mind not only concerning ourselves, but regarding those whose repentance we await and seek. Repentance or impenitence are not simply binary states, i.e. you are either repentant or impenitent. Like forgiveness between persons, repentance is a process. And in fact we never read of the brothers fessing up and telling Jacob what they had done to Joseph and asking his forgiveness. We are led by the structure of the Joseph story to expect this; but this expected climax never comes. And yet these men were still accepted as the founding fathers of Israel God's people.

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.

Jacob clearly disbelieved their story that Simeon had been retained in connection with offering the family trading rights in Egypt. He assumes the brothers killed Simeon as they had Joseph. Again we see how people subconsciously know truth, in this case that Joseph had disappeared because of the brothers' machinations and not because of being killed by an animal. But they only express that truth under duress of circumstance. And the brothers were to go through the same. When Joseph reveals himself, we are left to correctly assume that each brother was quietly thinking "Yes I had a strange feeling you were Joseph". And this is the intended result of God's leading us to repentance- that we accept what we subconsciously, intuitively knew was the Truth all along.

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. But we can see some growth in responsibility here in Reuben. He offers his two sons as it were in place of Jacob's two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. He is saying that he feels responsible for the loss of Joseph, as he will feel responsible for the loss of Bemjamin. It is taking responsibility for our brethren which is a sign of maturity, and indeed it was in this that Joseph's maturity was displayed. Judah went further and offered his own life as a guarantee that Benjamin would return.

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. We also see here how Jacob's grief was from believing and imagining false narratives, when we will see that the very causes of grief were what were being used by God towards a glorious final resolution. Believing and imagining false narratives, over consumption by fear... all these things are used by God to bring us to the glorious final resolution of all things.