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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 43

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter is a continuation of the remarkably dramatic history that began to unfold in the last chapter. Here we have:


Jacob’s determination not to send Benjamin into Egypt with the brothers on their return mission to buy grain gave way under the dire necessity for the procurement of food for his posterity. The famine grew worse and worse. And although he had no information about how long it might last, there was simply no other way to provide for the children of Israel. Reluctantly, he consented to send Benjamin upon the solemn assurance of Judah that he would be surety for the lad. He also put as good a face on things as he could by sending an appropriate present for the officers from whom they would buy grain, also returning the money which they had found in their sacks following the first journey.

That we are dealing with hard historical facts in this narrative is evident from the wealth of detail concerning social, political, cultural, and economic conditions mentioned here which are corroborated absolutely by the archeological findings of the present century. “The Biblical description of the historical background is authentic.”(F1) The details of Joseph’s elevation to viceroy of Egypt is exactly how Egyptian artists depicted this ceremony. The ring, the costly vestments, the gold chain, even the second chariot have been found on murals and reliefs. “There is even a spot on the Nile river that bears the name of Joseph!”(F2)

Verses 1-2

“And the famine was sore in the land. And it came to pass when they had eaten up the grain they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.”

This entire experience of God’s people was, “as much of a testing of Jacob because of his favoritism as it was of the sons because of their evil deeds.”(F3) It is not until Genesis 43:14 that Jacob decides to rely upon God, instead of his own devices and precautions. Until that time, he was centering his thoughts upon the dangers and difficulties, NOT the providence of God.

Verses 3-5

“And Judah spake unto him saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food: but if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down; for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.”

The fact that Judah takes the leadership here, whereas, in the previous chapter Reuben had attempted to do so by his ridiculous proposal that Jacob could slay Reuben’s two sons as a surety for Reuben’s responsibility, is no evidence whatever of “two contradictory accounts from different `documents’“ allegedly lying behind the history here. All such allegations are merely demonstrations of the remarkable blindness that characterizes such criticisms. The last chapter made it plain that Jacob rejected Reuben’s proposal out of hand, “My son shall not go down with you!” That closed the matter of Reuben’s leadership of the second expedition into Egypt. Here, as the narrative absolutely demands, Judah took charge. The Biblical account does not explain fully why Jacob consented to what Judah said, but Josephus tells us that Judah pointed out to him that Benjamin also could die without food, and appealed to Jacob on the basis of faith in God, saying, “Nothing can be done to thy son, but by the appointment of God.”(F4) Genesis 43:14, below, supports this.

“The man” is used repeatedly here as a designation for Joseph. If they had learned his name, they had not become familiar with it.

“Ye shall not see my face” This expression meant that the sons of Jacob would not be permitted in Joseph’s presence at all without Benjamin. Willis pointed out that, “To see Joseph’s face, in court language, meant to get an audience with him or to be permitted in his presence.”(F5) Only ministers of the very highest rank were permitted to be in the ruler’s presence, except by special permission. Jesus declared of the angels of little children, “Their angels, do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:11), the same being a recognition of the fact that “angels of the face,” were the highest-ranking ministers in ancient kingdoms.

Verses 6-7

“And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had a brother? And they said, The man asked straitly concerning ourselves, and concerning our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we in any wise know that he would say, Bring your brother down?”

“Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me” Skinner stated that this reproachful question is “intelligible only on the understanding that Jacob has just heard for the first time that he must part with Benjamin”;(F6) however, we believe that it is Skinner’s statement that in not intelligible.

Also, we note the quibble that the account given in the previous chapter says nothing about the particular direct questions relating to Benjamin that are mentioned here. This, of course, is perfectly in the manner of Biblical narrative. Another example is in Jonah, the fact of his having told the mariners that he was fleeing from Jehovah did not occur in the first of the narrative but was revealed as something that occurred earlier, only after the lots had been cast and after the identification had fallen upon Jonah (Jonah 1:10). That what the brothers told Jacob here was absolutely true may not for a moment be doubted. Due to Joseph’s great curiosity about his natural brother Benjamin, he most certainly would have inquired directly concerning him, a fact flatly stated here. After this explanation to Jacob, Judah took charge.

Verses 8-10

“And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever: except we had lingered, surely we had now returned a second time.”

By this time, Judah seems to have taken over as spokesman for the brothers. Evidently, no one paid much attention to Reuben anymore. Simeon was in prison in Egypt; and Levi was also regarded with disfavor because of his association with Simeon, not merely in the slaughter of the Shechemites, but also, probably, in the sale of Joseph.(F7)

The crisis which Jacob here confronted and met successfully by trusting God and sending Benjamin on the expedition to buy food resulted in his being referred to here and in Genesis 43:11 as Israel, his covenant name. This is not evidence of different documents from which the narrative was compiled. The leadership of Judah which emerges here contrasts sharply with the impetuous irresponsibility of Reuben. Reuben spoke of his father slaying his two grandsons, children of Reuben, but Judah offered himself as surety for the youngest brother. What a world of difference! The next chapter reveals how gloriously Judah honored his promise.

Verses 11-13

“And their father Israel said unto them, If it be so now, do this: take of the choice fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, a little honey, spicery and myrrh, nuts, and almonds; and take double money in you hand; and the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks carry again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man.”

Having resolved to consent to Benjamin’s making the journey, Jacob at once moved to handle the mission as astutely as possible. Adequate preparations of an appropriate gift for “the man” was ordered, also the return of the money they had found in their sacks, and double money with which to buy more were among the preparations made for the journey, including, of course, the taking of Benjamin on the trip.

Verse 14

“And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release unto you your older brother and Benjamin. And if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

In this, Jacob rested his hope on the blessing of God, agreeing to accept whatever consequences came of the situation with faith and resignation. We cannot leave this record of the preparations for that second journey without recalling the words of Morris:

“These brothers had sold their brother into Egypt for twenty pieces of silver; and now they were having to pay into the treasuries of Egypt, not merely twenty pieces of money, but twenty bundles of money. The words for “silver” and “money” are the same in the Hebrew [~keceph].”(F8)

“Almighty God” The word for God here is [~’El] [~Shadday], the God of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:1).(F9) Jacob’s use of this word showed that he had returned to the trust in God from which he had apparently somewhat drifted away, especially in his complaint in Genesis 42:36, “All these things are against me.” Indeed it seemed that way, but God was in reality doing the very things that were required before Jacob could become a great nation. So it often is with men when it seems that all is wrong, that troubles are multiplying, and that life is unfair. But in reality the Lord knoweth them that are his, and he will never leave them nor forsake them.

Verse 15

“And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.”

The treatment which the brothers received in Egypt no doubt came as a shocking surprise, the account of which follows.

Verses 16-21

“And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, Bring the men into the house, and slay, and make ready; for the men shall dine with me at noon. And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men to Joseph’s house. And the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses. And they came near to the steward of Joseph’s house, and they spake unto him at the door of the house, and said, Oh, my lord, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food: and it came to pass, that when we came to the lodging-place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, every man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand.”

The fear of the brothers is understandable enough. Joseph, the Chief Deputy of the all-powerful Pharaoh was supreme in Egypt, no doubt living in a place befitting his rank and authority. That these travelers from the land of Canaan were invited into such a place was no doubt an occasion for the most dreadful apprehension and fear. Supposing that the money in their sacks after the first journey might be an occasion for their seizure, they sought to put that matter at rest in advance by returning the money to the steward. His answers must have confounded and confused them even more.

Verses 22-25

“And the other money have we brought down in our hand to buy food: we know not who put our money in our sacks. And he said, Peace be to you, fear not, your God, and the God of your father hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them. And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender. And they made ready the present against Joseph’s coming at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.”

“And he brought Simeon out unto them” The notion of Skinner that this was merely a convenient place to introduce this fact in the narrative and that it in no way records what actually happened is unacceptable. That it was done, and that it was done exactly as indicated here is obviously the truth.

“Your God and the God of your father” From this, it appears that Joseph’s steward was aware of his master’s faith in God, and that to some extent, at least, he himself shared it.

Verses 26-30


“And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed down themselves unto him to the earth. And he asked them of their welfare, and he said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive? And they said, Thy servant our father is well, he is yet alive. And they bowed the head, and made obeisance. And he lifted up his eyes and saw Benjamin his brother, his mother’s son, and said, Is this your youngest brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son. And Joseph made haste; for his heart yearned over his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.”

Twice on this occasion, the brothers prostrated themselves before Joseph, thus fulfilling the dreams Joseph had dreamed such a long time ago, and which had precipitated the hatred of his brothers and their action against him in selling him into Egypt. Far from being elated over this, Joseph was deeply moved with compassion for his brothers, especially for Benjamin his uterine brother. His emotions almost overpowered him, but he retired to private quarters to weep, and after washing his face and regaining full composure, he returned to order the dinner.

Verses 31-34


“And he washed his face, and came out; and he refrained himself, and said, Set on bread. And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, that did not eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth; and the men marveled one with another. And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.”

There are several things of the most extraordinary interest in these verses:

(1) There is the order of the seating of the brothers in exactly the sequences of their ages from oldest to the youngest. No wonder the men marveled at it. The mathematical odds that this could have been done accidentally were exactly 39,917,000 to 1.(F10) This is about forty million to one!

(2) The “mess” which Joseph sent to his brothers, with such preference for Benjamin. It was the custom at such banquets in ancient times for the host to send especially choice morsels to guests from his own table. Plenty of food was served for all, but these tidbits were items of special honor to the guests chosen to receive them. Prominent here was the preference for Benjamin.

(3) “And they drank and were merry with him” The Hebrew here is literally, “they drank largely with him.”(F11) We cannot consider this any sufficient grounds for rendering the passage, “So they ate and drank with Joseph until they were drunk,” as in the Good News Bible.(F12) Aalders declared that such a rendition is, “more than the original text can rightly bear.”(F13) They drank until they were perfectly satisfied, but they were not drunk.”(F14) “There is no reason to suppose that either Joseph or his brethren were intoxicated.”(F15)

(4) Of great interest also is the fact that there were at least three different tables set for the participants in this feast. First, Joseph ate by himself, due to his rank and authority. There was also another table for the Egyptians present, and a third for the Hebrews. It is a strict and unyielding caste system that appears in such observances.

This chapter sets the stage for the dramatic triumph of the next in which Judah became the hero of the Jewish people, and from whom they would, as a race, forever bear his name. Joseph apparently wanted to reassure himself completely that the brothers held no animosity against Benjamin, and accordingly arranged the trial recorded in Genesis 44.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 43". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-43.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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