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Tuesday, June 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-38

Genesis 42:4. Benjamin. Jacob wished to reserve him to be heir of the blessing instead of Joseph, who he thought was dead. Hence he let the ten go, for it is highly probable that the Egyptians would not sell corn in large quantities to one man. Jacob’s fears seem to indicate a secret suspicion that Joseph had received foul treatment.

Genesis 42:6. Bowed down. The ten sheaves now made obeisance to Joseph’s sheaf, though they knew it not. Joseph, it would seem, made all strangers come to Memphis, the capital; and as sultan, or minister, he wished to be well acquainted with the laws and strength of all the neighbouring nations.

Genesis 42:8. They knew not him. In a youth separated from his family at seventeen, the changes which twenty years made in his appearance would be considerable; and especially when raised from the rank of a shepherd to that of a prince.

Genesis 42:9. Joseph remembered the dreams, when he saw his ten brothers bowing to the earth. His soul melted with divine emotions, and all his sentiments were collected on this one point, What shall I do to bring them to true repentance, and make them good men? What an idea of God’s faithfulness must now strike him; and how deeply must he have been affected with a sense of the divine goodness. Ye are spies. Ten fine looking men, not servants but masters, he would insinuate had a suspicious appearance. He here judiciously accuses them of a probable crime, to bring them to repentance for a real crime. Joseph would here plead that they looked too well to have spent their life in driving asses, and that they were too near of an age to be brethren.

Genesis 42:13. And one is not. In appearance suspicion falls heavily upon them; yet they now tell the truth, forbearing expressly to say that Joseph was dead, though the words implied as much. The Jews have a tradition that their affairs have never prospered since the sale of Joseph; they took this journey partly to make inquiries concerning him.

Genesis 42:15. By the life of Pharaoh. Joseph regarded this expression as proper language to be used by a man high in office; it cannot be supposed, and in a moment when his heart was so much affected by the divine goodness, that he would use a phrase offensive to God. The oath was sacred: the Hebrews swore by Jehovah, “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake.” 1 Kings 17:12.

Genesis 42:17. Put into ward. Here they had time to recollect that they had put their brother into the pit, disregarding the anguish of his soul: now they were in the pit, and no man to comfort them.

Genesis 42:23. They knew not that Joseph understood them. Though the primitive language had been confounded at Babel, yet all the oriental nations could then with a little difficulty understand one another. See on Genesis 11:1.

Genesis 42:24. Simeon, who was principal in the massacre at Shechem, Genesis 34:0., and foremost in advising his brethren to kill Joseph. The Jews say, that Simeon bound Joseph with his own hands, little dreaming that after more than twenty years, Joseph should cause him to be bound. He certainly was a wicked man, as appears from Jacob’s dying words. Genesis 49:0. Hence Joseph fixed on Simeon, to do him good by affliction, and to edify his brethren. He well knew that the detention of this hostage would bring his family once more into Egypt, and Benjamin in particular. It was therefore a masterly stroke of more than human prudence.

Genesis 42:28. What is this that God hath done? On finding the money they were embarrassed and afraid. Return they could not, for want of Benjamin; and if they went forward they might be pursued. Ah, the covered sin of an injured brother, everywhere, whether in Canaan, in Egypt, or in the desert, presented itself to their view.

Genesis 42:37. Slay my two sons. Reuben had four sons; but two he thought equivalent, for Joseph and Benjamin. No doubt, his words are to be understood as pledges of filial devotion; confident that his good old father could not augment the family calamities by the sacrifice of two grandsons in case of future disasters. Joseph must have foreseen the feelings of his father, but there was no milder way of bringing his offending brethren to repentance. What a stroke on the Sire that Benjamin must go into Egypt, and leave him childless.


When Joseph’s brethren had cast him into the pit, they sat down to eat and to drink; for they required some opiate to compose their conscience. And for the long space of twenty two years, the guilt which seemed to slumber, still secretly corroded in the heart. Just so, neither length of time, nor change of circumstances can diminish the guilt of sin; and consequently the sooner a man acknowledges a fault, with the generous fruits of true repentance, the better it is for his soul; nor can he have peace till this is faithfully done.

These brethren, finding themselves wrongfully imprisoned as spies, could now trace a connection between their present sufferings and their past sins. This we likewise should never fail to do, that we may meet the chastising hand of God with a humble and penitent heart. His severe rebukes and harsh treatment are most graciously designed to make us better men.

But did Joseph seek a place to weep in, the moment he heard his brethren begin to accuse themselves? Oh the joy there is in heaven among the angels of God when a sinner repents, and becomes a new man. And when good men can weep like Joseph, under a marvellous sense of God’s long and great mercies, it is a sure indication of a gracious heart. The soul swells with emotions of confidence and joy; it looks higher than worldly good, and expects the Lord to become its exceeding great reward.

Did Joseph also, notwithstanding his tears, persevere in duty, by the detention of Simeon? In like manner, God the judge and lawgiver, having once arrested the guilty sinner, will not let him go till he has brought him to a full and ample confession. Let no man therefore stifle conviction, and revolt as the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: rather let him pray the Lord to strike yet more, and to give deeper regret for his sins.

In Joseph’s prudence ministers have an excellent model, to guide them in the management of awakened people. His feeling heart and weeping eyes would gladly have sent the joyful tidings of all his glory to his mourning father, but this he could not do without spoiling the work of repentance, so auspiciously begun in his brethren’s heart; and their salvation was more important than the greatest tidings of temporal joy. We must therefore never do the Lord’s work in a superficial manner. We must search the conscience and the heart, and not impair the efforts of repentance by comforts injuriously applied. As he left his brethren several grounds to expect the best treatment, if he found them honest in their narrative, so during the convincing economy of the Holy Spirit, the hope of salvation should be set before the sinner; but we should never teach him to think his state safe, till he is come to a sound conversion by an actual close with Jesus Christ. And who is sufficient for these things? Who can penetrate the heart, and accommodate his ministry and conversation to all the weaknesses, temptations and fears of an awakened people! Here the ablest preacher needs divine assistance, as much as the weakest believer.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 42". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-42.html. 1835.
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