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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-38

The Pharaoh in Egypt had had two dreams with similarities because they had one interpretation. The first dream involved the seven fat cows grazing by the river and seven lean cows rising up and eating up the fat cows and still being lean. And then a wheat with seven stalks or corn of wheat upon them and fat and full followed by seven lean blasted wheat. And the lean and blasted wheat ate up the fat wheat.

The dream bothered Pharaoh. He called for his wise men and his astrologers for an interpretation which they were not able to give. And at that time the Lord jolted the memory of the butler who two years earlier had had a dream in the prison that was interpreted by Joseph. And he informed the Pharaoh that there was a young Hebrew boy in prison who is able to interpret dreams.

And so Joseph was brought before the Pharaoh to interpret for him the meaning of the dreams. And Joseph said your dream is actually one. For the Lord has shown to the Pharaoh what is going to happen. There are going to be seven good years; years in which you're going to have a surplus, years in which there will be bumper crop. But they will be followed by seven very lean years, so lean that the drought of the seven years will eat up all of the surplus of the good years.

Now he said, "let the Pharaoh find a wise man within his kingdom that during the seven years of abundance he might gather together the surplus into barns and granaries and all of the cities of Egypt, store it up so that when the lean years come, you'll be able to survive". And the Pharaoh said, "There is no wiser man than you in the kingdom because no one else was able to tell me what the dream means. So I make you second in command to me. Of all of those in Egypt, none will be greater than you except myself." And he puts Joseph in royal robes. He gave him his own royal chariot. As he would go down the street in his chariot the people would cry out, "Bow your knee". And the people thus did obeisance unto Joseph and he was exalted there in Egypt.

And during the seven good years he stored up in the granaries huge amounts of surplus. Actually used to be that the people gave ten percent of their crops to the king but they ordered them during this time to give twenty percent. And so a sort of taxation of twenty percent during these good years. And Joseph laid up so much wheat that they just left off counting it. They just didn't measure it anymore. It was just such a great abundance during the seven years. But then the seven lean years began. Now the famine or the drought that came was not local, that is, it extended beyond Egypt. And it extended into the area of Canaan where Jacob was living.

And as we come now into chapter forty-two:

Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, Why do you look one another, [why do you look at each other] ( Genesis 42:1 )?

Now they heard there's plenty of corn down in Egypt. And the boys started looking at each other, probably guilty conscience. Egypt, yeah, that's where we sold Joseph to, you know. What if we go down there, what if we should see him as a slave? What would we do? What would be our reaction? We sold him as a slave and what if in going to Egypt we saw this guy laboring out in the field and, you know, being mastered over and, what would be the reaction? And probably just a little bit of a tinge as they thought of Egypt. They're looking at each other thinking, "Oh man", you know, "what would happen if", you know; that kind of a thing.

Jacob said, Why are you looking at each other?

He said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: now go down, and buy from there; that we may live, and not die ( Genesis 42:2 ).

And so Jacob is ordering his sons now to go on down to Egypt to buy the corn from Egypt.

And Joseph's ten brothers went down to buy corn in Egypt. But Benjamin, Joseph's full brother ( Genesis 42:3-4 ),

His brethren went down but Joseph's full brother Benjamin.

Jacob did not send with the brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him ( Genesis 42:4 ).

Now Rachel, the one that Jacob was dearly in love with, had two sons. I don't know that we can really fault Jacob too much for his love for Rachel. Leah was, you know, just put on him in a dirty switch by her dad. He had labored for Rachel and his great love was always for Rachel. It was really a dirty thing that Laban pulled on Joseph switching the bride at night, all veiled and all, so that he didn't even know who he was married to until the morning light. And he looked across the bed and instead of seeing Rachel, it was her sister. And he could not help but sort of resent the dirty trick. His love originally and always was first for Rachel.

So though Leah bore many sons, when Rachel finally bore him a son, the son of Rachel, the one he truly loved became a favored son in Joseph's eyes. He was the son of his wife who he truly loved. She also had a second son, Benjamin, but while she was in childbirth with Benjamin, she died. And so she first called him "Benoni", the child of my grief or sorrow and Jacob graciously changed his name to Benjamin. It would be a sad tag to put on a kid all his life, "son of sorrow". And so his dad changed the "son of my right hand". But he also loved Benjamin because of the fact that it was Rachel's son.

So when Joseph was sold by his brothers, Benjamin no doubt replaced Joseph in the affections of his father. And that place that Joseph once held was now held by Benjamin, a place of favoritism, a place of sheltering. He was the youngest son and as the youngest son had, of course, advantages of that which the youngest child so often has when all of the brothers and sisters are older. And then they come along; they're the baby of the family. And you usually by that time have more maturity in your raising your kids. You're easier on them; you don't crack the whips so hard. And so had that favored position now that was once held by Joseph.

So that when his brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain, Benjamin was kept home. You don't know what problems might befall you on a journey like that, about two hundred and sixty-five miles through wilderness area. And so Benjamin was kept home, "lest peradventure mischief should befall him." In case they got any trouble, at least he still has Benjamin there at home.

Now the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan ( Genesis 42:5 ).

So many people were coming down from Canaan to buy corn in Egypt or to buy wheat, actually.

And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land ( Genesis 42:6 ):

So Joseph was over the land and it seems that when you would come from another country, that you had to sort of clear through Joseph in order to buy your wheat.

and so Joseph's brothers came, and they bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. And Joseph saw his brothers, and he knew them, but he made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Where are you come from? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. And Joseph knew his brothers, but they knew him not ( Genesis 42:6-8 ).

Now no doubt when they bowed down before him, his mind flashed back to his dreams. His dreams that had made his brothers so mad. When he was at home he said to his brothers, "I had a dream last night. I dreamed that we were all out in the field and we were binding our sheaves and my sheaves of wheat stood upright and yours all bowed down to mine". Oh, did they get mad! "Bow down to you, you runt, no way", you know. And now here is Joseph and he sees his brothers all bowing down and probably a flashback on that dream that he had had.

It was twenty-one years since his brothers had seen him. He was only seventeen years old when they sold him to the caravan going to Egypt and now it is twenty-one years later, he is thirty-eight years old. He has matured. He is dressed as the Egyptians. And they just didn't recognize him. Who would expect to see their brother, you know, in this position in Egypt anyhow? And so he made himself strange to them and though he recognized them. He has the advantage. He recognized them but they didn't recognize him.

And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed of them, and he said to them, You are spies; you've come to see the nakedness of the land. And they said unto him, Oh no, my lord, but to buy food that's why we have come. We're all one man's sons; we are true men, the servants, thy servants are really not spies. And he said unto them, Oh no, to see the nakedness of the land is the reason why you've come. And they said, Thy 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 not. And Joseph said unto them, That's it, I've said it unto you from the beginning, You are spies ( Genesis 42:9-14 ):

And so he's just really giving them a rough time, you know, as they are there and he said.

Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh you will not go from here, except your youngest brother come on down ( Genesis 42:15 ).

In other words, we'll send one of you back to get him and you're going to have to bring him down before I let you go from here.

And so we'll,

Send one of you, let him fetch your brother, and you will be kept in prison, that we may prove your words, whether there's any truth in what you have to say: or else by the life of Pharaoh you are surely spies. And so he put them all in jail for three days ( Genesis 42:16-17 ).

Now they had not had much mercy on him. They had thrown him in the pit and he had spent a lot of time in jail because of what they had done to him. And so he figured a few days in jail won't hurt them, you know, they caused me to experience several years in that jail. And so he just acted tough and rough to them and accused them of being spies. Finally just threw them in jail.

And Joseph after three days said unto them, I'll tell you what, this you can do, and live; for I fear God ( Genesis 42:18 ):

Now it is interesting as part of his disguise he was swearing by Pharaoh. You know, I swear by Pharaoh you're not going to see me and all. But now he calls them. He says, "Look, I fear God".

And if you are true men, let one of your brothers be bound in the house of your prison: and you go, and carry corn for the families of your houses: But bring your youngest brother unto me; and thus your words will be verified, and ye shall not die. And so they did. And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he begged us, and we wouldn't listen; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them and said, Didn't I tell you don't sin against the child; and you wouldn't listen to me? therefore, behold, also his blood is required ( Genesis 42:19-22 ).

You know time of recrimination. "I told you so. Why didn't you listen to me?" You know. "Didn't I tell you?" But it is interesting that twenty-one years later they are still feeling the guilt of their misdeed. You cannot cover guilt. Your guilt will out. Sooner or later your guilt is going to out. A guilty conscience is something that continues to nag.

The US Treasury Department has what they call "The Conscience Fund". Every year they receive thousands of dollars, not checks because it's sent in anonymously. People who have cheated on their taxes and they feel guilty and so they send in the amount to cover that which they cheated the government. And they just have what they call "The Conscience Fund".

They say that neurotic behavior patterns are often subconscious desires or created by subconscious desires for punishment. I know I have done wrong. I have this sense of guilt. I desire to be punished. I'm too big, my dad isn't around anymore to take me into the other room and to relieve me of my guilt complex. And so I start some weird little behavioral pattern, an anti-social kind of a behavior pattern where people start saying, "What's the matter with him? Man, he's crude". And I hear them saying these things and I think, "Aha, yes, I'm being punished now", you know, and it gives me a sense of relief from guilt. Guilt will out in neurotic behavior or somewhere or other, guilt is going to out.

Twenty-one years they carried the guilt of what they had done to Joseph and now when they are really in trouble, what do they think about? When they are really in a tight place, what do they think about? We did wrong to our brother. We didn't listen to him when he was begging with us and asking us and pleading with us to, you know, to not sell him and all. Oh, we did wrong.

Now Joseph can understand what they're saying. They don't know that he can, but he understands everything they're saying and he's probably learning a lot about the whole conspiracy. As Reuben says, "Yeah, didn't I tell you not to hurt the kid and you wouldn't listen to me" and all? "I told you don't lay your hand on him." And thus he realizes, "hey, Reuben was standing up for me". And perhaps Reuben was looking at Simeon when he said it. Somehow or other, Joseph got the idea, and of course he was there when the thing happened, too, and he could hear them talking above the pit when he was down inside, and no doubt Simeon was sort of the henchman in the whole thing.

Now Simeon was cruel. He was hot-tempered and cruel. Later on as Jacob was giving the patriarchal-kind of prophecies over his son, he said to Simeon, "Cursed be thy cruelty." So Joseph chose Simeon to stay in jail while the brothers took the corn on back to their father.

Now Joseph, of course, was concerned with his father's welfare and the family welfare. He knew that the famine was going on and he didn't want them to run out of food and so after the three days of letting them all sit in jail, he called them out and he said, "I'll just keep one of you as hostage. The rest of you go on back and take the supplies back for your families and all. But don't bother to come again unless you bring your youngest brother."

They didn't know [verse twenty-three] that Joseph could understand them; for he spoke unto them through an interpreter. And so he turned himself about from them, and cried ( Genesis 42:23-24 );

Actually he couldn't take it. He heard them talking saying, "Oh, you should have listened to me. Oh, don't you remember the way he was begging", and all. And talking about Joseph and realized that they were now really repenting for what they had done to him. I believe that this whole thing of Joseph's was a design to really test his brothers to find out where they really were after this length of time.

Joseph knew that the purposes of God were to be accomplished through these boys. That God's providential plan was all wrapped up in this family. Jacob had no doubt shared with Joseph many times the visions that he had had and the dreams that he had and God speaking with him and telling him the destiny of the family. That the nation was going to come forth from them and the various tribes from each of the brothers and knowing God's destiny was involved with these boys.

He was wondering, "Are they now ready for God to work in them?" And really just sort of putting them unto the test. And here's the first sign that things have changed; there's a repentance here. "We did wrong", a confession of their sins, no longer an attempt to justify it.

The Bible says "he who seeks to cover his sins shall not prosper but whoso confesseth his sin shall be saved". We many times make a mistake in trying to justify or cover our guilt. It's not until we come to the confession that we can really get rid of it. "As we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" ( 1 John 1:9 ).

And so here is a confession of sin, here is a repentance of sin, they are good signs.

Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with wheat, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for their ways: and thus he did unto them. And as they laded down their asses with the wheat, they departed. And as one of them opened his sack to give provender to his donkey in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in the sack's mouth. And he said to his brothers, My money is here in the sack: and their hearts failed them, for they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God has done unto us ( Genesis 42:25-28 )?

I imagine that Joseph had a sense of humor, too. And he just knew, you know, what this is going to do to them when they open their sacks and they find their money that is there.

And so they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, and they told him all of the things that had happened: saying, The man, who is the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us, and he took us as spies. But we told him that we were just true men; we weren't spies: That we were twelve brothers, sons of our father; and one was not, and the youngest was still with our father in the land of Canaan. And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that you are true men; leave one of your brethren here, and you take the food for the famine for your households, and be gone: And bring your youngest brother unto me: and then I will know that you are not spies, but that you are true men: and so will I deliver your brother, and ye shall be able to come and go in the land. And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid ( Genesis 42:29-35 ).

Jacob figured that the boys had ripped them off and was really shook now over this whole affair. And so at this point,

Jacob their father said unto them, Me have you bereaved of my children ( Genesis 42:36 ):

I wonder if Jacob began to-suspicion something concerning Joseph by this point. And he is accusing them of bereaving him of his children.

Joseph is not, Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me ( Genesis 42:36 ).

Jacob allowed fear to come in his heart because he was looking at the outward circumstances. He saw the money in the boys' sacks. He heard their story of the roughness of the lord of Egypt. He heard the demand made by the lord of Egypt. And because of fear taking over, he despaired.

Fear usually leads to despair. And when you despair, you often do foolish things. First of all, he lashed out against his own sons. When a person has come to a point of despair, quite often he'll lash out at his own friends. It's hard to go to comfort a person who has come to the point of despair because a lot of times they get to the place they don't even want to be comforted. And if you go to say some kind words, they'll just snap at you and they'll just, you know, come right back at you because in despair you do foolish things. Because of his despair, he exaggerated his situation. And it is interesting that when we become filled with despair or fear, fear has a way of exaggerating a situation.

When we were first pastoring, well our second church, we were pastoring in Tucson and we were hardly more than kids; I was in my early twenties. And we were having a meeting with our youth leaders where we were going to lay out our plans for our youth program, because this is what we've been taught to do. And so we had a couple girls that were twins. They were real rowdies. They were spoiled and they have been used to sort of running things. And so they sort of got a conspiracy of, you know, and time for the meeting to start and they just-before the meeting should start, took off and went up to the drugstore to buy some chewing gum 'cause they were always popping gum.

And so I figured, "All right, young ladies, I'm not going to just sit here and wait for you to get back. I'm going to teach you when 7:30 comes and we've called a meeting for 7:30,we want to start at 7:30 . So I called one of the fellows that was there and I said, "Let's go up to the drugstore". And just about half a block from the drugstore, there was one of these in Tucson they have these rain runoff areas they called washes and the wash came under the road. And there was a corrugated pipe that ran under the road and so we went and hid in this wash. And as the girls got to the wash, I said, "Grab 'em". And I took a big boulder and I rolled it down this corrugated pipe underneath the road and it rumbled, you know, and these girls screamed and took off across the street running and screaming.

Well, the other fellow and I headed back to the church real quick and we just sat down in the room like we were waiting for them. And pretty soon a police car came up and let the girls out and they came in and told us their story; how that at least fifteen guys tried to grab them and they went on with their wild story, you know. But their fear magnified the whole thing tremendously. It's amazing how fear can exaggerate a situation.

And so Jacob's account was an exaggerated account, as fear so often exaggerates the problem. "All things are against me." Oh, that isn't so. It just looked like all things were against him. But we should never measure the problem by that which we can see. That was his mistake.

Paul said we don't "look at those things which are seen, but the things which are not seen: the things that you're seeing are temporal; the things which are not seen are eternal" ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 ). Jacob, that isn't true. All things are not against you. In fact, Jacob, if you only knew the whole truth, instead of crying out in despair and fear, you would be rejoicing and jumping up and down if you only knew the whole story. Despair so often comes from just half of the truth. Just that which I can see and not taking God into account. It's when I take God into account that I begin to endure and have that staying quality and fear begins to subside when I consider God is on the throne. God is still working. God hasn't abandoned me. And then I can have confidence.

But the cry, "All things are against me", it was a false cry based upon fragmentary knowledge. The Bible tells us that all things are not against us. The Bible tells us that "all things are working together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose" ( Romans 8:28 ). All things. What do "all things" include? "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Famine, persecution, nakedness, peril, sword? Nay, in all these things"( Romans 8:35 ).

These things may include famine. They may include nakedness. They may include peril. They may include sword. But if I have to endure these kinds of afflictions, whatever comes it's working together for good because I love God and they cannot separate me from the love of God. For "in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me. For I am persuaded, that neither depth, nor height, nor principalities, nor angels, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, is able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus" ( Romans 8:37-39 ).

Do you have that kind of confidence in God's love tonight? If you do, you are a happy, peaceful man. I am so persuaded of God's love. I'm so persuaded of God's plan. I'm so persuaded of God's overruling providential care of my life, that I do not fear of what might happen to me or anything else. Because whatever comes it can only come to me as God allows it to come. And God loves me and He'll only allow those things to come that can work out to my good. He won't allow anything that would come that would destroy me, only those things that will work out for my good will God allow to come to me.

I have that kind of confidence in God and thus I am persuaded that in all of these things I can be more than a conqueror because God loves me. And if you have that kind of confidence in God's love, you can go through the darkest night and it's life about you because of His love and that confidence that He gives.

So Jacob's cry was a false cry. It was a cry that was based upon fragmentary knowledge. "All things are against me." That isn't true. Jacob, if you only knew the whole truth instead of crying out in despair, you would be rejoicing in victory. How many times do we cry out in despair and moan and complain unto God when God says, "Oh, if you only knew what I was doing. Wait; let Me finish this story. Let Me finish this chapter." The end comes out good. It's just a beautiful mystery. "But wait until the whole thing unravels and you're going to be so excited over the good plan that I have." But oh, think of the hassle God has to go through to get us there.

Oh, I don't think You love me anymore, God. I don't know about-I don't know if I'll serve You or not. If You can do this to me, I don't know. I think maybe I'll just quit and all. God has to go through all this guff and mouthing off and hassle that we give to Him as He's trying to do something good for us. Sometimes I feel sorry for God. The things He has to endure in order to show His goodness to us, all of the accusations and all that we cast upon Him. And all the while in His mind, He is thinking good and He sees the good fruit and the good results that's going to come.

Here's Jacob. "All things are against me." And complaining. And he doesn't know, he doesn't know the whole story.

So Reuben spoke unto his father, and he said, Kill my two sons, if I bring him not to thee ( Genesis 42:37 ):

In other words, you know, Benjamin is not going to go down. I won't let him go. He said, "Hey, kill my two sons if I don't bring him back". Now what good will that do? That's sort of a stupid thing to say but Reuben was unstable as water. He just didn't have very much smarts anyhow. And so he makes this kind of a rash thing, a statement. What comfort would that be to a grandfather to kill his two grandkids? You know, it's just you want to say something but that's the danger of saying something when just for the sake of saying something. Better that you have something to say. "Slay my two sons if I bring him not to thee."

deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to you again. And Jacob said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, he is left alone: and if mischief would befall him by the way in the which you go, then you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave ( Genesis 42:37-38 ).


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Genesis 42". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/genesis-42.html. 2014.
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