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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5


Verses 1-5:

The seven years of plenty passed. The first year of famine had come and gone and the second was underway. The same conditions that had caused the Nile to dry up also affected the other counties in that part of the world. The pinch of the famine had begun to be felt in the regions adjoining Egypt, including Palestine where Jacob lived with his eleven sons and their families.

News came to Jacob that there was grain for sale in Egypt. This word, coupled with the increasing famine in the area, spurred him to take action. His sons were confused and despondent, and looked helplessly to one another with no solutions to the problem. Jacob took the initiative, and ordered them to go to Egypt to buy grain.

Ten sons set out on the trade mission. Benjamin remained at home with Jacob. By modern standards, Benjamin was a man, being upwards of twenty years of age at this time. Jacob did not permit him to accompany his ten sons, partly because he feared some "mischief," ason, or personal injury befall him; and it is possible that Jacob did not fully trust the intentions of his other sons.

Verses 6-8

Verses 6-8:

Jacob’s ten sons arrived in Egypt. To accomplish their mission, it was necessary that they present themselves before the official in charge, who was Joseph By Pharaoh’s appointment, Joseph was "governor" of Egypt, and was in charge of food distribution. "Governor" is shallit, one vested with despotic authority.

The scene is truly Oriental. A crowd of foreigners presented themselves before this powerful Egyptian official, and bowed in lowest obeisance. Jacob’s sons were among this number.

More than twenty years had elapsed since the last encounter between Joseph and his brothers. On that occasion, Joseph had pleaded in anguish that they not sell him into slavery. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Now their positions were dramatically reversed. Joseph held the power of life and death over his brothers. (See Lu 14:11; 18:14.)

Jacob’s sons did not recognize Joseph They saw him as a proud Egyptian official. He had assumed Egyptian manners and dress, and he conversed with them in the language of Egypt. But Joseph recognized his brothers immediately. They were grown men when he last saw them, and he was but a teen-aged boy. He understood their speech, but did not let them know this.

Verses 9-13

Verse 9-13:

The sight of his brothers prostrating themselves before him recalled to Joseph’s mind his dreams of more than twenty years ago (37:5-11). Joseph’s conduct toward his brothers evidences his strong faith in Jehovah and His purpose in the Covenant Nation. It also reveals his godly character. He did not seek revenge against his brothers for their shameful treatment of him, but manifested a spirit of forgiveness and compassion (Mt 5:39; Ro 12:17; 1Th 5:15; 1Pe 3:9).

In all Joseph’s experiences in Egypt, he did not lose his faith that God would eventually bring to fulfillment the prophetic vision of his dreams (Ge 37:5). His trials wrought patience to wait for God’s own timing (Ro 5:3-5). The impulse may have been strong for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers immediately. But he must first know that they had undergone a change from their wicked jealously which led them to sell him into slavery over two decades past. This could be accomplished only by severe trial.

Joseph first accused the brothers of being on a spying mission, to seek out any vulnerable area in Egypt’s defenses. This was a common practice of the times. This charge would also give Joseph opportunity to learn of the affairs of his family.

The brothers vigorously denied this charge and affirmed their peaceful intentions: they had come to Egypt only to buy food for their families. The fact that they were "all one man’s sons" was a strong argument in their favor. No man would risk the lives of "all" his sons on such a dangerous spy mission as this, were the charge true.

Joseph repeated his charge, and thus led them to furnish further details of the family. He learned that Jacob was still alive, and that Benjamin was with him at home.

The brothers’ reference to their brother who "is not" implies their unresolved guilt in their evil treatment of Joseph They had never fully acknowledged their sin: thus it still rankled in their souls. Joseph then took steps to lead them to admit, confess, and correct their sin (Pr 28:13).

Verses 14-20

Verses 14-20:

Joseph persisted in his accusation against the brothers. His purpose was two-fold: 1) to be reunited with his brother Benjamin; and 2) to bring the brothers to repentance of their sin. The root problem was bitterness and anger in the heart of the brothers; the outward manifestation was their violent and cruel act of selling Joseph as a slave. They were aware of what they had done, as Joseph quickly determined. But they must be made aware of the underlying cause, and repent of this sin. ’

Joseph ordered the brothers arrested and jailed. He proposed that one of them return to Canaan, and bring Benjamin back to Egypt as verification of their innocence. The other nine were to remain in custody as hostages until their innocence could be established. After three days, Joseph summoned the brothers before him, and offered another proposal. He affirmed his faith in God, Elohim, as the basis for his leniency. This proposal was that one of the brothers remain in custody as a hostage, while the other nine should return to their families with food to alleviate their distress. The nine were specifically commanded to return to Egypt with their younger brother, in order to verify their story. Otherwise, the hostage brother would die.

"Be sure your sin will find you out" is true in all ages (Nu 32:23). Joseph’s brothers provide a prime example of this truth (Mt 10:26; Lu 12:2).

Verses 21-24

Verses 21-24:

God directed Joseph in a course of conduct toward his brothers, designed to bring about their repentance (Pr 21:1). The spying charge, the arrest and imprisonment, the insistence upon bringing their brother to Egypt, and their conviction of their own innocence combined to bring to their minds their sin of twenty years earlier, when they had callously disregarded the anguished pleas of another who was innocent. The brothers at this point realized that the trials they were experiencing were in just retribution for their guilt, Ga 6:7, 8.

Reuben reminded the others that he had warned against harming Joseph long ago, but they would not listen (Ge 37:19-22).

The brothers were unaware that Joseph understood all they were saying. He had conducted all dealings with them through an interpreter. The realization of their own guilt convinced them that God was surely visiting their iniquity upon their heads. Their poignant words pierced Joseph’s heart, and he hastily withdrew from them to weep. When he was once more in control of his emotions, Joseph returned to the group, and ordered Simeon to be bound before their eyes.

The choice of Simeon as hostage was frightening to the brothers. Reuben was the eldest, and the logical choice. But Reuben was the least guilty of all; he had tried to save Joseph, and intended to set him free (Ge 37:19-22, 29, 30). Simeon was the eldest of the guilty brothers, and some expositors suggest he was the instigator of the plot to dispose of Joseph (Ge 37:18). So far as the brothers knew, there was no way the Egyptian official could have known who was the most culpable. This intensified their conviction that the entire affair was the hand of God, judging them for their sin.

Verses 25-28

Verses 25-28:

Joseph sent the nine brothers on their way. He ordered their sacks loaded with provision of food-grain. Then, privately he order that the purchase price of the grain be placed in each man’s sack. When they stopped for the night at the khan (inn), one of the brothers opened his sack to get grain for his donkey. He was astounded and frightened to see the money which he had paid for the grain, nestled in the sack’s mouth. All the brothers were plunged deeper into fear, recognizing the hand of God in the matter, but still unaware of God’s purpose in it.

This reminds of God’s dealings with the guilty today. He causes the rain to fall upon both the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45), to give the blessing of nature’s bounty to all alike. The purpose; to bring the guilty to repentance (Ro 2:4).

Verses 29-34

Verses 29-34:

Jacob’s nine sons returned to Canaan with the supplies purchased in Egypt. They recounted to their father the events that had taken place, but did not mention that they left Simeon bound and in prison. Neither did they mention the first test that the Egyptian "lord" or official proposed: that nine remain in custody while one returned to Canaan to bring proof of their innocence.

Verses 35-38

Verses 35-38:

When the brothers unloaded their provisions, they discovered in the sacks all the money they had paid for them. This added to their fear, along with all they had experienced.

Jacob’s reaction to the Egyptian official’s demand was to refuse to comply. Joseph and Simeon were "no more," so far as Jacob knew they were dead. He feared the loss of Benjamin as well. His attitude was like many today. Jacob focused on his loss, rather than on what remained to him. Even though it meant that there would be no food-grain, he steadfastly refused to send Benjamin to Egypt.

Reuben, the first-born, offered his own sons as surety for Benjamin’s safety. But Jacob was adamant in his refusal to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt. Jacob’s attitude toward Benjamin would provide yet another test for the brothers. Jacob was willing to endanger the lives of the rest of his sons and their families, in showing preferential treatment toward Benjamin. Nothing must happen to this youngest son, even though it meant disaster for the others. This would test their attitude: were they willing to be unselfish and still show love to this brother?

God provides tests to determine attitudes, in the most vulnerable areas of one’s life. These tests are not for God’s benefit: He knows what we will do. They are for our benefit, to make us aware of specific needs in our life.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 42". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-42.html. 1985.
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