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Chapter 42

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Joseph's Brothers Go To Egypt (ch. 42:1 - 38)     


In verses 1 and 2 we see that Jacob hears that there is grain in Egypt.  He asks his sons," why do you just keep looking at each other?"  This famine was severe.  We have extra-Biblical evidence that there was in fact a severe famine that spread across the known world at this time.  It is clear that the sons of Jacob had no work to do in the fields.  They were just sitting around, looking at each other, that seems to be quite irritating to Jacob.  There was no grain, so the flocks were probably beginning to die since they would have no food to eat.  Jacob was clearly afraid that they would die as well, as seen in verse 2, so he tells his sons to get down to Egypt and buy some grain.


In verses 3 and 4 we see that ten of Jacob's sons went down to Egypt.  He had twelve sons altogether.  Jacob would not allow Benjamin to go with the other brothers.  Remember, Jacob's favourite wife Leah had only two sons.  They were Joseph and Benjamin.   Jacob was still in distress over the fact that Joseph was gone.  He thought that he was dead, and he did not want the last of the two sons born to Leah to die too. 


Verse 5 tells us that Jacob's sons weren't the only one's going down to Egypt.   The verse tells us that the famine had spread throughout Canaan.  Everyone heard of the grain in Egypt, so everyone was going to Egypt for food.


We see in verse 6 that Joseph was the governor of Egypt.  He was second in command to Pharaoh, the king.  We also see that Joseph's brothers arrived in Egypt.  In order to buy the grain, they had to come to the governor, that's Joseph and bow down to him in respect.  This clearly fulfills the dreams that Joseph had when he was seventeen years old.  The reason why Joseph was in Egypt in the first place was because his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites who then sold him to Potiphar.  In his dreams, all the brothers fell down before him.  Now there was one brother back home at this point who did not bow before Joseph, so you might suggest that this was a partial fulfillment of the dream.  You may be right, but later on, we will see that they all eventually did fall before Joseph. 


In verse 7 we see that the brothers did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them.  You might wonder why this was the case.  There are a few reasons.  One is that he was trying not to be recognized.  He might well have been disguising his voice.  He would have also been clean shaven, since that was the custom of Egyptian men back then.  The custom of Hebrew men were to grow beards.   Also, at least 15 years had now passed since the brothers saw Joseph, and his appearance would have changed.  He was only seventeen the last time they saw him.  We will also learn later that Joseph did not speak directly to his brothers.  He spoke through an interpreter, even though he knew the language.


The text states that Joseph "spoke harshly" to his brothers.  This suggests that he was tough on them.  He did not want to make it easy for them.  This also might imply some kind of changing of his voice to disguise who he was.


Some suggest that Joseph was getting back at his brothers with his harsh words and the ordeal he was about to put them through.  There might be some truth to this, but I think the reason he is about to do what he does is to get Benjamin and Jacob in Egypt as well.  He wanted to see all of his family.   The text seems to make that clear, so I'm not convinced that Joseph was simply being nasty.  That being said, I think there might well be an element of pay-back going on here.


The last part of verse 7 simply states that the brothers were from Canaan, something Joseph obviously knew. 


In verse 8 it clearly states that Joseph recognized the brothers but they didn't recognize him.  It then says that Joseph remembered his dreams.   It might be possible that he had long forgotten the dreams but as soon as the brothers bowed down before him, the dreams came flooding back to his memory.  That only makes sense.


In verse 9 Joseph accused the brothers of being spies.  He told them that they had come to spy out any unprotected land in Egypt.  We see here that Joseph was a quick thinker.  It didn't take him long to think of a plan to get all his family in Egypt.


In verse 10 the brothers flatly denied Joseph's claim.  They say, "no, my lord, your servants…"   Note that the brothers call Joseph "lord", and call themselves "servants" to Joseph.  Once again, a fulfillment of the dreams that Joseph had when he was seventeen years old..


In verse 12 the brothers tell Joseph that they are all sons "of one man", and that they were honest men.  Being sons of "one man" was correct, but being honest, well, that's somewhat debatable.  They all had participated in selling Joseph.  Two were murderers.  One slept with his father's concubine, and the rest, we don't know all the things they might have done.


In verse 13 to 17 we see that Joseph pretends that he doesn’t' believe  his brothers.  He still says that they are spies, and to prove it, one of the brothers must return to bring back the youngest brother while the rest are put into prison.  Joseph put them all in jail for three days.  This was meant to be a test, as the text states, to prove whether or not the brothers were spies.  Yet in Joseph's mind we know it wasn't that kind of a test, but it still might have been a test to him.  He might well have been testing them to see their reaction, to see just what kind of men his brothers turned out to be after all of these years.


In verse 18 Joseph says, "do this and you will live, for I fear God."   You would wonder what the brothers thought about this statement about Joseph fearing God.  Egyptians weren't fearers of Elohim.  I don't know if this triggered something in their minds or not, but it should have triggered something.  It should have at least showed the brothers that God might have something to do with the situation they were in, but we aren't really sure how much of a God-fearing group of men these brothers are in the first place. 


Note here also the number three, which is the number of completion in Bible terms.  In Joseph's mind the initial time of testing was over, and now comes part two of the test.  Many liberal scholars understand the importance of numbers in the Bible as do conservative scholars, but they have differing reactions.  Because there is a definite numbering system in the Bible, they say that the Bible is all contrived, a man made story, with a man made numbering system.  They fail to see that God Himself might just well place an important emphasis on certain numbers.


Joseph's plan is seen in verses19 and 20.  He will send grain back with nine brothers.  One brother will stay as collateral.  We note the word "die" in verse 20.  I'm sure at this point the brothers were afraid of what might happen to them. 


We see the reaction to all of this by the brothers in verse 21.  They rightfully felt that all these problems had come on them because of what they did to Joseph years ago.  Many years had passed, but the guilt had now risen to the top of their heart's.  The feeling of guilt often does such things.  Unless guilt is resolved, the feeling of guilt can arise any time in one's life.  We need to understand that guilt is not a feeling.  It is a position in which we stand before God, whether we feel guilty or not. Some people don't feel guilty when in fact they are.  Other's feel guilty when in fact they aren't. I use the term "feeling of guilt" in the sense that it is a by-product of positional guilt.


In verse 22 we see that Reuben speaks up.  He reminded the others that he told them not to sin against Joseph.  It was Reuben's thinking that what they were now experiencing was punishment, or a time of accountability.


We see in verse 23 that Joseph was using an interpreter all along to speak to his brothers.  It was all part of the disguise.   He could have spoke directly to his brothers but that might have given him away.  The brothers did not realize that Joseph understood every word they were saying.  What an impact this had on Joseph.  I don't think we can fully understand how he felt at this moment.  Now he knew what Reuben had thought all along.


Verse 24 gives us a hint to how Joseph felt. He had to turn his back on his brothers because he began to weep.  Clearly, he was quite disturbed.  Once composing himself, he had Simeon bound before the rest of the brothers and had him led away to prison.


In verses 25 and 26 the orders were given to fill the brothers bags with grain, and have the silver they brought with them put in the bags as well.  This silver was supposed to be the payment for the grain, but Joseph had other plans for this silver that was put back into the brother's sacks.  It would become a form of torment for the brothers. They would become afraid due to the fact that it looked like they robbed Joseph of the silver that was meant to by the grain. 


In verses 27 and 28 the brothers stop to feed their donkey's. The first sack to be opened showed the silver that was to be payment for the grain.  The first reaction was good.  They thought that the silver was given back to them, yet upon second thought, they trembled.  It now appeared that they had stolen the money that was meant to buy the grain.  Once again, they feel that God was punishing them for what they had done to Joseph. 


I won't comment on verses 29 to 34 since these verses are merely recounting the situation of the brothers to their father Jacob.  This is often how Hebrew writers wrote.  They could have easily shortened this portion, but they restated the story in full. 


In verse 35 we note that all the sacks of grain were opened, and in each sack the silver that was meant to buy the grain was in the sacks.  It is thus clear that not all the sacks were opened back in verses  27 and 28. 


You see how Jacob now felt.  He said that the brothers had "deprived" him of his children.  He said Joseph "was no more," meaning he was dead.  He also said that Simenon " was no more."   It appears that he thought that either Simeon was dead, or now would be dead because this money was found in the brothers' sacks.  He also thought that this would now be the end of Benjamin if they went back to Egypt.  What a dilemma  Jacob found himself in.


In verse 37 we see Reuben again speaking up with a plan that was clearly based on his guilt, although the text doesn't say it.  He told his father to trust him and he would make sure everything would turn out fine, and if it didn't, Jacob could kill his two sons.  Now I'm not sure how that would have solved anything.  Jacob was afraid that he would lose more of his children and here Reuben is suggesting that if things didn't work out, Jacob was free to lose two of his grand children by Jacob killing them.  It makes no sense to us, but in that time, it might have made some sense to Reuben.  Rueben felt that they were being punished for them selling Joseph years ago.  If Reuben could not pull this off now, then he thought that he should be punished again by the death of his two sons.  In Reuben's mind, this was all a matter of guilt and punishment.


In verse 38 Jacob refuses Reuben's plan.  We will see in the next chapter what the plan will be.

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