Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Genesis 42

Verses 1-24

The history of Joseph was introduced by the record of the two prophetic dreams that were granted to him. Chapter 40 puts on record two further dreams of a prophetic nature, and their fulfilment. Though not given to him, yet in the providence of God they had a very distinct effect upon his future.

Both the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh had offended their lord. Nothing is stated as to the nature of their offence, but bearing in mind the fact of Pharaoh being of an alien race and therefore likely to fear an attempt upon his life by poison, it is not surprising that both the chief custodians of his drink and his food had fallen under suspicion. Pending a decision in the matter, they were confined in the same prison as Joseph, and put in his charge. The first link in the Divinely ordered chain of events was that Joseph should be put in the place where the king's prisoners were bound. The second was that in due season these two men should be placed there too.

The third was that both men in one night should have dreams of a peculiar nature and yet marked by certain resemblances, and the effect on their minds should be such as to make them look sad and attract the notice of Joseph. They felt that there must be a hidden meaning in their dreams and they desired an interpreter. Joseph's reply was virtually an offer to interpret, while he acknowledged that all power to do so came from God.

The butler told his dream. Its salient points were: (1) that the vine had three branches, which produced the ripe grapes; (2) that Pharaoh's cup was in his hand, so that he could press into it the ripe grapes; and (3) that the cup of grape juice passed into Pharaoh's hand. The interpretation was simple. Within three days Pharaoh would restore the butler to his place. Having declared this, Joseph very naturally asked the man to remember him when thus he was prospered, to the end that he might be taken out of prison.

Emboldened by this favourable interpretation, the baker told his dream. Its salient points were: (1) that the baskets of bakemeats were three; (2) that the baskets were on his head; and (3) that the bakemeats were devoured by birds and never reached Pharaoh. Again the interpretation was simple. Within three days Pharaoh would lift up his head, hanging him on a tree, so that the birds should devour his flesh. His dream had an exactly opposite meaning to that of the butler.

The event proved that Joseph's interpretations were given of God. Pharaoh's birthday was on the third day, and he acted as the dreams had indicated. Yet the chief butler in his renewed prosperity forgot about Joseph, and has become a standing monument of human ingratitude. Nevertheless, as we believe, the hand of God was over even this. Had the butler remembered, Joseph's deliverance from prison would have been the result of thankful and perhaps respectful human arrangement. God intended to take him out, reviving the butler's memory, in a far more striking way. And not only take him out but also exalt him above the chiefest of butlers and bakers. How God brought this to pass Genesis 41:1-57 reveals.

Again dreams enter into the story; this time in connection with Pharaoh himself. In our last article we spoke of five dreams but we should have been more correct had we said six, since, as it was with Joseph at the beginning so now, Pharaoh's dream was in duplicate. The general drift of both dreams was the same, and that both should have occurred in one night was very impressive. Sheep were not popular in Egypt and cattle provided the flesh food, and corn gave them their bread. The river Nile was the basis of the prosperity of both.

Pharaoh was troubled for he must have had a vague sense that evil was indicated in both these directions. The magicians and wise men of Egypt were helpless. Their evil trade depended upon their being able to prognosticate good things for the kings that they served (see 1 Kings 22:1-53) and evidently both dreams portended some kind of evil. In this predicament the memory of the chief butler revived and, remembering Joseph, he narrated to Pharaoh the wonderfully accurate way in which he had interpreted the dreams of both himself and the chief baker no less than two years before. What a test those two years must have been! No wonder it says of him in Psalms 105:19, "The word of the Lord tried him." The word of the Lord by his dreams had indicated his future glory, but how long he had to wait for it. A trying experience indeed!

May we not see here a forecast of the fact that though the sufferings of the Christ are to be followed by His glory in public display, there is a period to elapse between, in the which He is hidden from the eyes of men: a period which is characterized as, "the patience of the Christ" (2 Thessalonians 3:5, New Trans.) Thus it was in a small way with Joseph. He remained hidden and forgotten in the prison, and the affairs of Egypt moved on without him.

Now however his hour had struck. Desperately anxious to find out the meaning of his peculiar dreams, Pharaoh ordered Joseph to appear before him, and having prepared himself, Joseph did so. His answer to Pharaoh's enquiry reveals his simple confidence in God. He disclaimed any power or wisdom in himself but declared that God would give an answer of peace. It is a mark of a true servant of God to say, "It is not in me." The same spirit we see in Paul, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Pharaoh, in recounting his dreams to Joseph, added one detail omitted in the earlier account. Having eaten the seven fat cattle the seven lean ones were just as bad as they were before. It is easy to see how this feature suited the interpretation which Joseph proceeded to give. The two dreams were but one in their significance, just as Joseph's two dreams were one in their meaning.

Again the dreams were prophetic. God was revealing what He was about to bring upon the land of Egypt. First, seven years of very great abundance, but these to be followed by seven years of grievous dearth and famine, both depending upon the waters of the Nile. At the end of the seven years of famine all the fatness of the good years would have disappeared. In the figurative language of the dream the seven lean cattle would be just as they were at the beginning. Moreover, the dream was doubled to Pharaoh that he might realize that the thing was determined, beyond any hope of revocation, and God would shortly bring it to pass.

Joseph not only interpreted the dreams but he indicated to Pharaoh what should be done since these things were impending, and that what was needed was the man of wisdom who should be entrusted with the carrying of them out. Joseph was really speaking on God's behalf and he indicated that on the human side all that was needed in the presence of these acts of God, was A MAN.

As a ruler of men, Pharaoh had doubtless acquired a measure of discernment, and he at once saw that in Joseph the man for this emergency was found. It was indeed the Spirit of God who was speaking and acting through Joseph, though Pharaoh, being an idolater, only thought of "the spirit of the gods." Still he recognized at once that here was superhuman wisdom and executive power. In result he straightway appointed Joseph as administrator of all Egypt with authority only second to his own.

Once more, in verse 42, Joseph's hand appears. Its power and skill had been manifested in Potiphar's house, in the ordinary affairs of life, and then later, amid scenes of much humiliation in the prison. Now amid the splendour of the palace, the ring from the very hand of Pharaoh (doubtless carrying the great seal of the kingdom) was placed upon the hand of Joseph. Power of a practically autocratic nature was his. Step by step he had gone down into the valley of humiliation. Now at one mighty bound he had ascended into power and glory. The typical nature of all this is very evident. In Philippians 2:1-30 we have detailed the downward steps of our blessed Lord, even to the death of the cross. But this is followed by one mighty uplifting to the glory, where to Him every knee will have to bow.

So, in verse 43 of our chapter, we see Joseph arrayed in fine linen, with a gold chain about his neck, in the second chariot of the kingdom, and "Bow the knee!" is the cry as he rides through the streets. Moreover a new name is given to him. It is said that Zaphnath-paaneah would have meaning whether it be read as Hebrew or as Egyptian. In the former it would mean "Revealer of secrets," in the latter, "Saviour of the world." We may happily accept both, and see in this double meaning a further type of the One whom we adore. In Him both revelation and redemption have reached their climax and full accomplishment, to our eternal blessing.

Then again, it was while Joseph was thus separated from his brethren and exalted among the Gentiles that a bride was given to him, and she was of Gentile stock. Two sons were born to him before the years of famine came, and while he was employed in collecting and laying up the produce of the seven years of plenty. The names of the sons are significant. Manasseh means "Forgetting," and Ephraim means "Fruitful." The name of the elder was negative in its bearing, for it commemorated the fact that he had been severed from all his old family associations, as well as the toil and sorrow of his early years. The name of the younger had a more positive significance, commemorating the fruitfulness that was produced from his former afflictions.

And so it has been with our Lord Jesus, only in a far larger and more striking way. His afflictions did not stop short of death itself, and out of His death springs eternal fruitfulness, as the Lord's own words, in John 12:24, declare. Moreover that fruitfulness at the present time is being produced mainly among the Gentiles, while His links with Israel as a nation are broken. In our chapter we see a typical forecast of this great two-fold development. In Isaiah 49:1-26 we have it prophetically announced. It was declared that, even if Israel were not gathered, the Servant of the Lord would be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, since the raising up of the tribes of Jacob was a light thing, and He was to be a light to the Gentiles and God's salvation to the ends of the earth. The historical fulfilment of both type and prophecy we find in the Acts of the Apostles.

The closing verses of Genesis 41:1-57 record the complete fulfilment of Pharaoh's dream. The resultant famine was of exceptional severity, extending over the habitable earth. When the people cried to Pharaoh for relief, his reply was simple: "Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do." We are immediately reminded of the words spoken by the mother of our Lord on the occasion of His first miracle, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it " (John 2:5). Does a conscience-stricken sinner cry out today for salvation? The answer in three words is, "Go unto Jesus." All God's grace and bounty flows through Him.

The scene changes as we begin to read Genesis 42:1-38, and we are carried back to Canaan, to Jacob and to Joseph's brethren. He was now highly exalted among the Gentiles and acting as saviour of the world, but his brethren needed his bounty as much as others. They had, however, by their own wicked actions, shattered all the links that once bound them to him, and those links could not be rightly restored save by severe dealings of a nature very painful, yet calculated to work in them a real repentance. The terrible famine, whatever else it might do, was designed to play a part in bringing to pass that desirable end.

All his brethren except Benjamin were dispatched by Jacob to buy corn in Egypt, and in result we begin to see the fulfilment of Joseph's dreams. Joseph was the governor, and the brethren bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. They did not know him though he recognized them, and started at once to deal with them in such a way as to test them and arouse their consciences. Accusing them of being spies, he drew forth from them the family details he wanted, including mention of Benjamin and of himself; for he was the one who "is not." How mistaken they were in this! They were presently to discover that Joseph "IS," and that their very lives are in his hand. The careless world to-day acts as though Christ is not. They have yet to learn that He is the Master of their lives, for He is the great "I AM."

The men, however, were speaking the truth as far as they knew it, and their confession gave a good opportunity to put them to the test. Benjamin was a son of Rachel, as Joseph himself was, and therefore specially beloved of Jacob. He would demand that Benjamin should be taken from his father's side, and until he was produced, one of them should be held as a hostage. How would the brethren react to that?

The point of this struck home to the brethren. They had robbed their father of Joseph, and now he is to be deprived of the younger son on whom his affection was specially set. It stabbed their consciences into action, as we see in verses Genesis 40:21-22, and this was their first step in the right direction. Moreover it was the first indication to Joseph of a change taking place in them. He had spoken to them roughly, as indeed they deserved, and he understood their language, though they knew not the Egyptian dialect in which he spoke.

The effect upon Joseph of this first sign of repentance was very striking and beautiful. He turned from them and wept. They were evidently tears of thankfulness. Now we shall see, before we finish the story of Joseph, that no less than seven times is it recorded that he wept. Never once is it recorded that he wept for his own sorrows in the days of his affliction. Every occurrence was during the days of his glory, and was an expression of his love and interest in others.

His tears were not of the merely sentimental kind, as verse 24 shows. He did not allow his deep feelings to hinder his further action, still of a severe nature, for he had Simeon bound as a prisoner before their eyes. The workings of conscience, which lead to repentance, had only just begun and that work needed to be greatly deepened. Thus it is that God deals with us. He permits His hand of chastisement to be heavy upon us until the work is carried to a completion. Then afterward the blessing is reached.

We think then that we may speak of Joseph as the man of the mighty hand and of the tender heart. The power of his hand is emphasized in the earlier part of his history: the tenderness of his heart in the later part. But in both he is a fitting type of the Lord Jesus, in whom power and grace are perfectly blended, though not expressed in just the same order. His grace came fully into manifestation at His first advent, and of that grace we have received abundantly. We must wait until His second advent for the full display of His power.

Verses 25-28

Though Joseph entertained such tender feeling towards his brethren that he wept over them, he did not allow it to deflect him from the stern dealing that was necessary, if they were to be brought to a proper spirit of repentance as to the great wrong they perpetrated against him, and against their father also, many years before. Simeon was held as hostage, but the rest were sent off with full loads of corn and provision for the way, but each man with his money placed in his sack.

Only one of them discovered this while at the inn, and the effect of the discovery on their minds is recorded in verse Genesis 42:28. They suspected that some plot or pretext lay behind it and it filled them with fear. Their consciences were still at work and they saw in it an act of retribution on the part of God. We too can recognize that truly the hand of God was in it.

Arrived home, they related their experiences to Jacob, and their fears were increased by the discovery that each man had his money returned in his sack. Poor Jacob's reaction to it all, recorded in verse Genesis 42:36, is very characteristic of him. When he said, "Me have ye bereaved... Joseph is not..." he spoke more truly than he knew. His bereavement, as regards Joseph, did indeed lie at their door, so this must have been a further stab to their consciences.

His complaint was, "All these things are against me." And so indeed it appeared. He had yet to learn that all these things were a part of God's plan for his ultimate good, so that at the end of his life he might be able to refer to "The Angel which redeemed me from all evil" (Genesis 48:16). The fact was that "all these things" were going to "work together for good," and therefore provide us with an effective illustration of the truth of Romans 8:28.

For the moment Jacob flatly refused to part with Benjamin, but Genesis 43:1-34 shows us how his stubborn refusal had to give way before the hard logic of facts. There would be no obtaining of the needed food except Benjamin were permitted to go with his brothers down to Egypt. In the words of Judah, recorded in verses Genesis 42:8-9, we find disclosed an attitude towards him quite the opposite to his attitude towards Joseph years before. A repentant spirit was beginning to disclose its fruits.

In Hebrews 7:22, we read of Jesus being made "a Surety of a better testament." In verse Genesis 42:9 of our chapter we have an excellent illustration of what surety-ship involves. If there be any breakdown the blame of it must lie for ever on the surety, and all must be required at his hand. Were there any breakdown in the new covenant, the blame of it would rest upon Christ for ever. But, No! Its stability and the security of all its blessings are ensured for eternity.

Jacob's scheming propensities come again to light in verses Genesis 42:11-12, but at the same time there was a measure of trust in the mercy of God. With his permission the brethren at last depart for Egypt, taking Benjamin with them, and arrive in the presence of Joseph. Seeing that they had complied, and brought Benjamin with them, he was prepared to bring them into his house to dine at noon. This kindly attitude only stirred up more alarm in their minds, since they remembered the episode of the money in their sacks and they still had no idea of the identity of the man who was now lord of all Egypt.

Their ignorance made all Joseph's actions seem the more remarkable and their uneasiness and suspicions increased. On his part we are permitted to see again how true were his affections, particularly for Benjamin. He was again moved to tears, as verse Genesis 42:30 records. But he was marked by wisdom as well as love. At the dinner the rift between Hebrew and Egyptian was manifest, but the brethren sat before Joseph, and he placed them in the exact order of their ages, with Benjamin's portion five times as much as any of the others. All this must have seemed to indicate almost superhuman discernment on the part of the great man, and increased the uneasy feeling that they had.

Their consciences had already been aroused as we saw when reading Genesis 42:21, but the work of repentance needed to be yet deepened. Hence Joseph's further dealings with them as recorded in Genesis 44:1-34. The incident is so well known that we need only to point out a few of its salient details. Things were so ordered that the apparent guilt should fall upon Benjamin, for whom Judah had stood as surety to Jacob. This naturally brought Judah forward as the spokesman. He had taken the lead in selling Joseph to the Midianites going to Egypt, speaking with much hardness of heart. Now he has to speak as to Benjamin, and what a change is manifest! Instead of hardness great tenderness of feeling, particularly for his old father, Jacob. Then it mattered not how Jacob would feel: now it mattered everything to him. Here we see the working of a repentance not to be repented of.

Judah presented the whole case as regards his father and Benjamin with very great pathos, such pathos as could only spring from intense and genuine feeling, the reality of which was evidenced by his closing request to be allowed to stand as substitute for Benjamin. He was prepared to face life-slavery for himself rather than see his brother taken and his father's grey hairs brought down with sorrow to the grave. We saw Judah in a very unfavourable light in both Genesis 37:1-36 and Genesis 38:1-30; now we see what a complete change is produced when real repentance takes place.

In all this we see typified that national repentance of Israel, predicted in Zechariah 12:10-14. In that chapter Jehovah speaks, and He says, "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him." They will discover that the One whom they pierced is Jehovah Himself. In the same way the repentance of the brethren here reaches its climax when they discover that the great lord of Egypt is none other than Joseph whom they had pierced with so many sorrows. This discovery they make, as recorded in the opening verses of Genesis 45:1-28.

Again we see how very fittingly the history presents us with a type. The discovery was not made as the result of any discernment or sagacity on the part of the brethren but wholly by the revelation of himself on the part of Joseph. When at His second advent Christ is revealed in His glory, then Israel will recognize Him and cry, "My God, we know Thee" (Hosea 8:2). Moreover Joseph's revelation was made as the fruit of his love for them: love so real that he could not restrain himself longer and that moved him to tears.

In Joseph we see displayed both affection and magnanimity. With the brethren the workings of their consciences reached their climax, producing fear and reducing them to silence. They found themselves wholly at the mercy of the brother whom they had so bitterly wronged, and as yet they could not believe in his magnanimous dealings with them. What must it have been to them to hear his words, "Come near to me, I pray you"?

It was as they turned to Him that the veil was taken from their eyes and they knew him. So it will be with Israel in the coming day. At the present time "when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:15, 2 Corinthians 3:16). Then they will discover that Jesus, the Nazarene, whom they sold for thirty pieces of silver and crucified, is the Lord of glory, and at the same time the personification of magnanimity and love.

We might have expected that, having bidden his brethren to come near and said to them, "I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt," it would have been they who wept, firstly at the recognition of the great wrong they had perpetrated against him, and secondly at the grace that abounded over their evil. But, no, the tears were his and not theirs. They had had to bow down before him, but he deserved it for he towered above them in the things that are really great in the sight of God. A faint foreshadowing of the greatness of Christ.

A further thing characterized Joseph, as we see in verses Genesis 42:5-8. His eye rested upon God and not upon circumstances, however trying they had been. The evil actions of the brethren had faded into insignificance in his mind. He recognized that God had been behind all that they had done, and had worked it in as part of His plan for salvation and deliverance. We are reminded of that prayer of the primitive church, when they acknowledged that Herod, Pilate, Gentiles and Jews, gathered together against the Lord Jesus, had only accomplished "whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28). Joseph had been instrumental in bringing to pass "a great deliverance," yet it was very small when compared with the deliverance wrought by the death and resurrection of Christ.

And further, God had sent Joseph down into Egypt in order to preserve a posterity in the earth for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew what Joseph can hardly have known; that many centuries after out of that posterity, as concerning the flesh, would come the Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Turn where we may in Scripture, Christ is ever before the mind of God, and at this epoch Joseph was the instrument used of God to preserve that line of descent that finally would lead to Him.

Whatever Joseph may, or may not, have realized as to this, there was a touch of the prophetic about his words, and in the whole matter God was so distinctly before him that he was lifted far above any resentment as to the wrong done to him. To his brethren he said, "So now it was not you that sent me hither but God." Happy should we all be, if in regard to the perverse things of life, wrought by perverse persons, we could always say in truth, "Not you, but God." If in adversity we see man, we are irritated, if we see God, we are humbled, subdued and blessed.

Joseph acknowledged that it was God who had made him "lord of all his [Pharaoh's] house," and, "lord of all Egypt." Already we have had "lord" a number of times, but used as a title of respect, much as we might now address someone as "sir." This is the first time we read of anyone being made "lord." So that here we have a type of Jesus being made "Lord," as Peter announced in Acts 2:36. As lord of all Egypt Joseph had all power vested in him, and that power he wielded to promote what was good. So the Lordship of Jesus involves firstly, His absolute dominion, and secondly, His benevolent rule.

A very tender and touching note runs through the message that Joseph sent by his brethren to his father. After the long years of separation he was to be near unto his beloved son, and nourished by him. Tenderness and urgency marked the message that he sent, and realizing that in old age his father might be slow to move, he instructed as an incentive, "Ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt."

We have had the word "glory" once before in Genesis 31:1, used to indicate wealth. This is the first time it is used to indicate honour and splendour, so again we can discern its typical value. It is when Christ is revealed in His glory that Israel will be gathered to Him, and bow down before Him. Then shall be fulfilled the word, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" (Psalms 110:3). They were by no means willing in the day of His humiliation and poverty.

Having delivered these instructions, there was again a touching scene of affection and tears. Benjamin being his full brother, it was not surprising that there was this display after so long a separation; but that he should kiss and weep upon the brethren, who once had so cruelly wronged him, was a remarkable thing. The kiss and the tears were the sign not only of affection but also of a full forgiveness. It is significant that the record is, "after that his brethren talked with him." The free conversation, which flows from communion, could only be established on the ground of forgiveness.

Thus indeed it is with us today. Until we are assured of Divine forgiveness, and thus we are in the enjoyment of peace with God, we cannot be at home in His presence nor enter into communion with Him. Until then we find it impossible to freely address Him in either thanksgiving or in prayer.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Genesis 42". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.