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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-38

The Fear of God

Genesis 42:18

No one could say this with more confidence than Joseph, all whose actions were evidently inspired and governed by genuine piety. He seems to have used this language as a pledge of honourable and just dealing with those who were completely within his power.

I. What does the Fear of God Involve?

( a ) A conviction of God's existence. Without this man is little better than the brutes that perish, to whom an unseen and Superior Being remains unknown, through the limitation of their faculties. It is the prerogative of man to know that God is, and that He is omnipresent and omniscient.

( b ) A reverential regard for God's law. The Supreme is not only a Creator; He is also a Ruler, who ordains laws and ordinances for the regulation of the life of His intelligent and voluntary subjects. The mind of man can not only comprehend such laws; it can appreciate their moral authority, admire their justice and wisdom, and treat them with loyal respect.

( c ) A sense of amenability to God's authority. This may take various forms, but from true piety it is never absent. The godly man fears to offend a Governor so great, so righteous, and so interested in the obedience of His people.

II. Is the Fear of God Compatible with the Relation of the Christian to his Saviour? The ancient Hebrews cherished toward Jehovah a reverence and awe which gave an especial gravity and solemnity to their religion and their worship. The revelation of the law amid the thunders of Sinai was fitted to form in the Jewish mind an association between religion and trembling awe. But 'grace and truth came by Jesus Christ'; and we are told that 'perfect love casteth out fear'. The solution of this difficulty is to be found in the progressive nature alike of revelation and of experience. There were reasons why the earlier revelation should be especially of a God of righteousness, why the latter revelation should be of a God of love. And the penitent sinner, whose religious feelings are first aroused by fear of justly deserved punishment, advances through the teaching of the 'spirit of adoption' to an intimacy of spiritual fellowship with His Father in heaven which softens fear into reverence and awe into a chastened love. Thus the Christian never ceases to say, 'I fear God'; though the expression from his lips has a somewhat altered shade of meaning.

III. Are Important Social Ends Answered by the Prevalence among Men of the Fear of God? Yes, for it is

( a ) A corrective to the undue fear of man.

( b ) A preventive from the tendency to follow out every natural impulse.

( c ) A strengthening of the bonds of mutual confidence in society. Where the members of a community are understood to be under the influence of this spiritual and religious motive, there will be less of suspicion and distrust, and more of harmony and fellowship and true love.

The Power of Conscience

Genesis 42:21

The history of Joseph is well known, but let us briefly recount it up to the point when the brethren break out in the words of the text. It is here that the strange part of the story begins.

What was it that made these men, just at this moment, when they saw one of their number bound before their eyes to be retained as a hostage, utter these strange words of self-accusation?

I. It was the Power of Conscience. But observe that conscience was stirred by memory.

( a ) Was there anything in the tone of Joseph's voice which brought back to their minds the thought of the brother whom they had so many years ago so wrongfully treated? It is a well-known fact that the voice changes less than anything that belongs to us, and when recognition by form and features fails after years of absence, some well-known and well-remembered tones will start again forgotten links of memory.

( b ) Was it in the action of blindfolding, which reminded them of that scene so many long and forgotten years ago?

( c ) Or did they think of what would be the grief of the old man at home when he found another son lost, and did this call to their minds the outburst of grief when Joseph was thought to be no more? In any case, it illustrates the fact that conscience is stirred by memory.

II. The Power of Conscience to Punish How many times had that scene of anguish, when they were about to cast Joseph into the pit, caused them misery, and how they now recall it! ' We saw the anguish of his soul and would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.' The face of Joseph is before them as perfectly as if the deed had only happened yesterday. See the story of Herod Anti-pas, the murderer of John the Baptist, in the Gospels.

( a ) Conscience is the witness in our hearts of a moral ruler.

( b ) Conscience is the witness to us of a day of account.

References. XLII. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2497. XLII. 21-22. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 236. XLII. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 840.

Genesis 42:36

'A God of infinite perfections has the whole of our life in His hands, sees the end from the beginning, knows how to adjust the strain of trouble to our powers of endurance, sends appropriate little mitigations of one kind or another, like temporary cordials; and by a long and wonderful series of interventions, succours, and secret workings, Jacob, who at one time said, 'All these things are against me,' finds himself housed in Goshen, in the land of light.'

James Smetham, Letters, p. 174.

A Sea of Troubles

Genesis 42:36

I. There are times when everything seems to be against us. It is clear that such a time had come to Jacob. He was old life's fire was damped and the land was famine-stricken and his sons were lost. Jacob had reached one of those bitter times when everything seemed to be against him. It is not the way of the messengers of evil to come at respectable and ordered distances. Sometimes the hand of one has barely ceased to knock when the feet of another are hurrying to the threshold. If this view of the coming of troubles be a true one, and not a rare or exceptional experience, there is one proof of it that we shall be sure to find. We shall find it expressed and crystallized in proverbs, for a proverb is an epitome of life; and a proverb will only live in people's tongue if it interpret with some measure of truth a people's heart. Well then, have we not one proverb that says, 'Troubles never come singly'? Have we not another that says, 'It never rains but it pours'. These proverbs have lived because men feel that they ring true. They might be written across this hour in Jacob's life, and they might form the motto of hours in your life and mine. May I not say that in the life of Jesus, too, we find traces of this unequal pressure? There were days for Him when every voice made music; there were hours when everything seemed to be against Him. Had it been otherwise the Bible dared not have written that He was tempted in all points like as we are. So to our Lord there came the hour of darkness when sorrows were massed and gathered as to a common centre, and pierced not by one shaft but by a score. He died as a sacrifice upon the cross.

II. Things that seem against us may not be really so. God wraps His blessings up in strange disguises and we rarely have faith to see into their heart. Many a thing that we should call a curse, in the language of heaven may be called a blessing; and many a thing we welcome as a blessing, in the language of heaven may be called a curse. I would suggest, then, in all life's darker seasons a wise and reverent suspense of judgment. It takes the totality to understand the parts, and we shall not see the whole until the morning.

III. The things that seem against us, then, may not be really so; then lastly, whether they are or not we may still triumph. If God be for us who can be against us all things are working for our good. So may a man whose faith is firm and steadfast wrestle on towards heaven 'gainst storm and wind and tide till the light affliction which endureth for a moment, is changed into the glory of the dawn.

G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 207.

References. XLII. 36. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 837. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 113. XLII. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 152. XLIII. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 262.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 42". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-42.html. 1910.
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