Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 42

Verse 1

Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?

Now when Jacob saw - learned from common rumour. It is evident from Jacob's language that his own and his sons' families had suffered greatly from the scarcity; and through the increasing severity of the scourge, those men, who had formerly shown both activity and spirit, were sinking into despondency. God would not interpose miraculously when natural means of preservation were within reach.

Verses 2-4

And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 5

And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

The famine was in the land of Canaan. The tropical rains which, annually falling, swell the Nile, are those of Palestine also; and their failure would produce the same disastrous effects in Canaan as in Egypt. Numerous caravans of its people, therefore, poured over the sandy desert of Suez, with their beasts of burden for the purchase of grain; and among others, "the sons of Israel" were compelled to undertake a journey from which painful associations made them strongly averse.

Verse 6

And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.

Joseph was the governor - in the zenith of his power and influence.

He it was that sold - i:e., directed the sales; because it is impossible that he could give attendance in every place. It is probable, however, that he may have personally superintended the storehouses near the border of Canaan, both because that was the most exposed part of the country, and because he must have anticipated the arrival of some messengers from his father's house.

Bowed down themselves before him. His prophetic dreams were in the course of being fulfilled; and the atrocious barbarity of his brethren had been the means of bringing about the very issue they had planned to prevent (Isaiah 60:14; Revelation 3:9, last clause).

Verse 7

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 8

And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

Joseph saw his brethren ... they knew not him. This is not wonderful. They were full-grown men-he was but a lad at parting. They were in their usual garb-he was in his official robes. They never dreamt of him as governor of Egypt, while he had been expecting them. They had but one face-he had ten persons to judge by.

Made himself strange ... spake roughly. It would be an injustice to Joseph's character to suppose that this stern manner was prompted by any vindictive feelings: he never indulged any resentment against others who had injured him. But he spoke in the authoritative tone of the governor, in order to elicit some much-longed-for intelligence respecting the state of his father's family, as well as to bring his brethren, by their own humiliation and distress, to a sense of the evils they had done to him.

Verses 9-16

And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.

Ye are spies, [ mªragªliym (H7270)] - ye are footing it; ye are traversing the country. The Egyptians, like Orientals generally, are not accustomed to walk much, and consequently suspect that travelers have some concealed object in view. This is a suspicion entertained regarding strangers in all Eastern countries down to the present day. Joseph, however, who was well aware that his brethren were not spies, has been charged with cruel dissimulation-with a deliberate violation of what he knew to be the truth-in imputing to them such a character. But it must be remembered that he was sustaining the part of a ruler, and, in fact, acting on the very principle sanctioned by many of the sacred writers, and our Lord himself, who spoke parables (fictitious stories) to promote a good end.

To see the nakedness of the land are ye come - i:e., the exposed, unfortified, and easily accessible part of the country. 'Under the circumstances of the lower empire, in the reign of the Hyk-Shos, "nakedness" was a designation appropriate at this time to considerable portions of the northeastern border of the Delta. In the absence, then as now, of the energy needful to keep it under cultivation-whether this arose from the smallness of the population or its feebleness, or, more probably, from the need to employ a considerable force to protect the frontiers on the south against the native race-this part of the Delta was only partially cultivated' (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 27).

Verse 11. We are true men - in opposition to false deceivers. This word, "true," however, is frequently placed by old writers in opposition to 'thief' (Steven's 'Shakespeare,' vol. 2: p. 113).

Verse 13. The youngest, [ haqaaTon (H6996); Septuagint, ho (G3588) neooteros (G3501)] - (cf. Genesis 42:20; Genesis 42:23; Genesis 42:26.) Gesenius considers it here a superlative, minimus natu.

One is not. This primitive expression denotes a dead person as being cut off from the land of the living, and excluded from all further concern in the things of this world.

Verse 15. By the life of Pharaoh. It is a very common practice in Western Asia to swear by the life of the king. Joseph spoke in the style of an Egyptian, and perhaps did not think there was any evil in it. But we are taught to regard all such expressions in the light of an oath (Matthew 5:34; James 5:12).

Verses 17-24

And he put them all together into ward three days.

Put them all together into ward three days. Their confinement had been designed to bring them to salutary reflection. And this object was attained; because they looked upon the retributive justice of God as now pursuing them in that foreign land. The drift of their conversation is one of the most striking instances of the power of conscience on record.

And live - literally, you shall live. Their conscience being awakened by the sudden perils in which they were involved, brought to their remembrance their relentless cruelty toward their brother; the recollection of what they had done filled them with remorse, while they saw and confessed the equity of Providence in measuring to them according to the measure they meted to him. Strauss pronounces the alleged affinity between sin and its punishment a 'common, Hebrew notion;' but a conviction of it, from a strong sense of demerit, is deeply seated in the human heart, and the conscience of the trembling sinner tells him, his 'sin has found him out.'

Verse 23. He spake unto them by an interpreter - (cf. Psalms 81:5; Psalms 114:1.)

Verse 24. Took from them Simeon, and bound him. He had probably been the chief instigator-the most violent actor in the outrage upon Joseph; and if so, his selection to be the imprisoned and fettered hostage for their return would, in the present course of their reflections, have a painful significance.

Verses 25-28

Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, [ kªleeyhem (H3627)] - utensils, vessels.

And to restore every man's money into his sack, [ saqow (H8242)] - coarse cloth, made of hair-sacking, to hold grain. There are two sorts of sacks taken notice of under different names in the history of Joseph, which ought not to be confounded-the one for grain, the other for the baggage and everything in general which a person carries with him for his own use. There are no wagons used almost in all Asia, as far as to India: everything is carried upon beasts of burden in sacks of wool, covered in the middle with leather down to the bottom, the better to make resistance to water, etc. Sacks of this sort are now called Tambellit. They enclose in them their things done up in large parcels. It is of this kind of sacks we are to understand what is said here in the latter clause, and not of the sacks in which they carried their grain (Chardin, quoted in Harmer's 'Observations.' vol. 2:, p. 189). The money may have been in bags containing certain sums (cf. 2 Kings 5:23; Isaiah 46:6; Proverbs 7:20; Haggai 1:6). This private generosity was not an infringement of his duty-a defrauding of the revenue. He would have a discretionary power-he was daily enriching the king's exchequer-and he might have paid the sum from his own purse.

Verse 26. They laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence. They probably returned by the same route as they had journeyed into Egypt; and, as the family were living at Hebron, the shortest course was by the way of Beer-sheba or Gaza, through the northern part of the wilderness of Shur. There is no weight in the objection to the historic truth of this narrative, founded on the employment of donkeys. Modern travelers who have passed through this desert have gone on horses and donkeys; and although it is a journey of twelve days, during which the tourists carried their own supplies of water in skin bottles, the latter beasts of burden stood the fatigue well, drinking of the brackish water which the rare wells of the desert furnished. Donkeys, as well as camels, are used in traversing this route; but horses are very unsuitable. Verse 27. Inn - a mere station for baiting beasts of burden.

Espied his money. The discovery threw them into greater perplexity than ever. If they had been congratulating themselves on escaping from the ruthless governor, they perceived that now he would have a handle against them; and it is observable that they looked upon this as a judgment of heaven. Thus, one leading design of Joseph was gained, in their consciences being roused to a sense of guilt.

Verse 29

And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 30

The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

The man who is the lord of the land, [ 'ªdoneey (H113) haa'aarets (H776)]. The word in the plural is used intensitively when only one person is meant (cf. Genesis 42:33; 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 2:5; 2 Kings 2:16).

Verses 31-34

And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 35

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.

As they emptied their sacks. It appears that they had been silent about the money discovery at the resting-place, as their father might have blamed them for not instantly returning with it. However innocent they knew themselves to be, it was universally felt to be an unhappy circumstance, which might bring them into new and greater perils.

Verse 36

And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.

Me have ye bereaved. This exclamation indicates a painfully excited state of feeling, and it shows how difficult it is for even a good man to yield implicit submission to the course of Providence. The language does not imply that his missing sons had been the victims of foul play from the hands of the rest, but he looks upon Simeon as lost, as well as Joseph; and he insinuates it was by some imprudent statements of theirs that he was exposed to the risk of losing Benjamin also.

Verse 37

And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.

Reuben ... Slay my two sons - (see the note at Genesis 37:22; Genesis 37:30.) This was a thoughtless and unwarrantable condition-one that he never seriously expected his father would accept. It was designed only to give assurance of the greatest care being taken of Benjamin. But unforeseen circumstances might arise to render it impossible for all of them to preserve that young lad (James 4:14); and Jacob was much pained by the prospect. Little did he know that God was dealing with him severely, but in kindness (Hebrews 12:7-8), and that all those things he thought against him were working together for his good.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 42". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-42.html. 1871-8.