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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-26

Joseph and His Brethren

Genesis 42:1-26


As we enter the Genesis 42:1-38 of Genesis we find Jacob and Joseph's brethren under the throes of the famine. As we see it from the Divine viewpoint there are several lessons from this famine, that, so far, we have not touched.

1. The Famine was sent from the hand of God. It was His hand that sent the years of plenty, as well. Those years were not years of average crops, but years of unprecedented harvests. Nothing like them had been known. God had opened the windows of Heaven and poured out blessings that there was not room to receive. The people had all they wanted for themselves and had in addition sold to Joseph at big crop prices, so much of cereals that he had ceased numbering the quantities.

2. The famine came from God, but, by God, it was forewarned, and foreprovided against. We mean that God, knowing that He must send the famine, had abundantly prepared the people against the day of its coming. He had provided a way by which that famine might be escaped.

The years of plenty were from the hand of God's grace; the years of famine were from the hand of His righteous judgment. God is both gracious and merciful, but He will not keep anger forever, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

The years of plenty said, there is mercy and love and grace with God; the years of famine said, there is wrath with God against sin.

3. The famine was sent from the hand of God to drive men to Joseph. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. But grace abounded only in Joseph. There was corn only in Egypt, and there was corn in Egypt only in Joseph. This is true today in its spiritual application. God punishes the sinner. He abides tinder the wrath of God, and yet, to every sinner there is a full and a free salvation in Christ.

Joseph had become the saviour of the world, he had become that savior by means of his sufferings. Jesus Christ is the Savior of men, but a Savior through suffering.

4. The famine was sent from the hand of God to bring Joseph's brethren back to Joseph. We need not stretch our imaginations to see that the whole course of events away down in Egypt was paving the way to answer Joseph's prayers, and to set him on high among the sons of Jacob, even among his brethren.

God was moving in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. From the day that Joseph was innocently hated of his brethren, God began to work out the restoration of Joseph to his brethren.

We do not believe that Joseph doubted God's promises. His quick perception of Pharaoh's dream and his utter confidence in its certain fulfillment showed no sign of his weakening in faith. Thus, through all the weary days of Christ's being set at naught of His brethren, He never doubted. He knew that they would ultimately return. Nearly two thousand years have passed, and Israel is still scattered and unbelieving. However, the famine is now on, and the children of God, His chosen nation, will soon be going to their Joseph for corn.


This verse is important. The famine had laid its thin fingers on more than Egypt. Canaan had felt the strangling grip. Why Canaan? Because the brethren of Joseph were there. Think you that Joseph's brethren would have gone to Egypt to see if Joseph still lived? Think you that they were concerned with finding the one they had sought to slay, and whom they had ruthlessly sold to the Ishmaelites? Not they. The only way to get them to Egypt, and, incidentally, to Joseph, was by way of a famine.

We now are enabled to see back of God's movements, the consummation of a Divine purpose. The famine had two great purposes, the one was to give to Joseph his rightful exaltation, and the other was to awaken in Joseph's brethren a repentant heart, that they might with sincerity be restored to Joseph.

1. It is vital to view recent world events in the light of their relationship to the chosen nation. The World War, from man's viewpoint, was waged from greed of gold, or enlargement of territory, or from pride of achievement. However, the World War, from God's viewpoint, was waged to begin to pave the way for Israel's restoration to power in their own land, Palestine, When General Allenby entered Jerusalem, with the fleeing of the Turks and the ensuing suzerainty of Britain, the war was over.

2. It is vital to view what is now about to happen in the light of Israel. The famine of Joseph's day was sent primarily to get Joseph's brethren back to God and to Joseph. The famine and pestilence and the wars which are now heading up among men, with the coming of the antichrist and his direful persecutions against Israel are all for the purpose of preparing the heart of Israel to receive their Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ.


1. Corn came to Jacob under the election of God. Thus, what Jacob's descendents, Israel, could not obtain, the election hath obtained. Jacob and his sons, even in disobedience, were yet the objects of God's watchful care and tender love. Israel is still moving, even in their present sinful state, under God's watchful eye. He who watches over Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep. God may permit much of famine, much of suffering to come to the chosen race, but He will not suffer them to be utterly destroyed. For their sakes the days of the Great Tribulation will be shortened.

2. Corn in Egypt provoked Jacob to jealousy. We wonder how the blessings to the Gentiles, under Christ, our Joseph, have appealed to the Jews. They must, as a race, realize that the Church of Christ has a relationship to God, and a blessing under God's leadership that they themselves do not enjoy.

Great paeans of praise ascending from the hearts and lips of millions of Gentile Christians certainly must cause thoughtful Jews to sit up and take notice. The sons of Jacob, who still live, have heard that there is "corn in Egypt."

3. God was able to bring Joseph's brethren back to favor. The sin of Jacob's sons, Joseph's brethren, proved to be the riches of the Gentiles, the Egyptians. This very blessing upon Egypt, was, however, that the brethren might be restored and blessed.

We trust that all can see how God, in blessing Egypt, blessed Jacob. During all the steps of Joseph's imprisonment and exaltation, God was steadily moving toward the hour of the happy restoration of Joseph and his brethren. Thus God is able to graft Israel back again. Even now her redemption draweth near.


1. It was the distress of famine which sent Joseph's brethren to him. Our minds cannot but ponder the centuries of wandering which have marked the Children of Israel. They have gone from country to country, scattered among all nations, and yet ever unmindful of Him who loved them and bought them with His Blood. Once their progenitors cried, "His Blood be on us, and on our children," and under this self-pronounced curse they have wandered for many centuries.

Shall Israel always refuse to know the Lord? Nay. They shall yet return in full repentance and faith unto Him. However, that return will be brought about just as the return of Joseph's brethren was brought about, by means of famine and affliction.

It is only when the hour of Jacob's trouble, which will reach its peak in the time of the Great Tribulation, has come that Israel will nationally turn their faces once more toward their Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ.

They, who sold Him for thirty pieces of silver and delivered Him unto death, shall yet come to Him with great tears and crying.

2. It was the fact that there was no other help save in Egypt that sent the "brethren" to Joseph.

Had there been any help in themselves they had never gone to Joseph for help. God had to shut them up to their own utter inability before they would turn their faces Egyptward.

The old phrase, "Sweet are the uses of adversity" comes before us, God permitted them to suffer want that they might seek their Jehovah-Jireh. God sent suffering that they might be driven to Joseph Zaphnath-paaneah the savior of the world. God shall once more send suffering that they may be driven to Jesus Christ, the Savior of men.


It seems almost unprecedented this marvelous prophetical outline of Israel's coming history. The story of Joseph grows with intense interest as we see that, at one time, we are studying both the history of Joseph and also the history of Israel, and of Christ in the days to come.

1. Joseph knew his brethren. During all the years of Christ's rejection, Christ has known His brethren. He has kept Israel as the apple of His eye. He has watched their every footstep, seen their every movement, known their every sorrow.

He that watches over Israel has never slumbered nor slept. Great has been His faithfulness. It has been fresh every evening and renewed every morning. There has never been a word in her tongue that God has not known it altogether. He has known her downsitting and her uprising. He has seen her thoughts afar off.

He has not only known, but He has guided. Even though Israel has rejected Him, He has led her, unbeknown to herself, in the way that she should go. He has been a wall of fire round about her. In all of her goings He has been the Goer-before. When she has passed through the fire, He has passed with her, and through the floods He has not forsaken her.

2. His brethren knew not Joseph. So with Israel and Christ. Their eyes have been blinded that they could not see; their ears have been heavy that they could not hear. They crucified the Son of God and have believed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.

Think of it, to Israel belonged the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the keeping of the Law, and the service of God, and the Prophets; and of Israel, as concerning the flesh, Christ came; yet they followed not after righteousness, and knew not the Lord. As Joseph was a stumbling block to his brethren, so was Christ a stumbling block to His. All day long has Christ held out His hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.


1. There is a time when approving smiles must be withheld. Had Joseph shown his brethren favor before they had truly repented they might have sought again to entangle him or even to slay him. They had never come clean with their father, Jacob, neither had they sought after the welfare of their brother.

David foolishly forgave Absalom and restored him to the place of recognition when Absalom had shown no sincere repentance for his sins. The result was that Absalom, after forty years, gathered together an army to take the throne of David by force.

All these centuries God has been holding out His hands to a sinful and rebellious nation. He has been willing to forgive them, but has found this impossible because they have been unwilling to confess their sins, and to receive His mercy.

2. Joseph's brethren had not yet come to the place of confession. When Joseph frowned upon them and said they were spies who had come to see the nakedness of the land, they said unto him, "Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies."

When Joseph pressed upon them, they said, "Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not." The men were speaking the truth, but there was no acknowledgment of former guilt. They said, "One is not," and yet the one whom they said was not, was even at that moment speaking with them.


1. Joseph put them all into prison for a few days. As the men languished in the ward, they were learning the lesson of Divine retribution. God! will render unto every man according to his deeds. They had put Joseph into the pit, and now Joseph places them in the prison.

2. Joseph bound Simeon before their eyes, and held him as a hostage, until they should return and bring their brother, Benjamin, with them. All of this was done in order to quicken the consciences of these men. The result was that the ten men said one to another, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us."

It is so vital for us to remember that God is a just God, and He can, by no means, clear the guilty. The wages of sin is death, and there is no way to avoid just retribution.

If you argue that God forgives the sinner when he truly repents and believes, we reply, that God, in this forgiveness of sin, by no means changes the irrevocable law of His justice. If the sinner goes free, it is only because the Son of God suffered in the sinner's stead.

The application of all this is plain. The ten sons of Jacob cast into the ward for three days is the type of Jesus Christ three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The binding of Simeon in order that the others may go free to their homes presses home the story of substitution, and speaks of how Christ was bound, of how He suffered and died, the Just for the unjust, that we might be saved.

Thus it was that Joseph dealt with his brethren, and thus it was that they began to confess their guilt and shame.


As Joseph heard his brethren confessing their guilt one to another, he turned himself about and wept. He had understood them though they knew it not. Then Joseph, Simeon having been bound, commanded his servants to fill the sacks of his brethren with corn, and to restore to every man his money in his sack. In addition Joseph gave them provisions by the way and with their asses laden with corn, they departed thence.

1. During all the years of Israel's wanderings, God has proved Himself to be the God of abundant supply. Joseph did not suffer his brethren to have lack, neither did God suffer His people Israel to be without needed provisions. Even as the tribulation period comes on, and the world reels under the throes of war and famine and pestilence, God will not forget His people. They will be oppressed and afflicted of men, but loved of God.

It is interesting to observe that God will seal one hundred and forty-four thousand Jews against the day of famine. Not only that, but when the antichrist and Satan cast down seek to overwhelm the Children of Israel, God will prepare a place for them in the wilderness where they shall be nourished for three years and a half. Israel may suffer, and will suffer many things, but in all of their suffering, God will not utterly forsake them,

2. When Jacob said, "All these things are against me," he failed to know that God was working for him. Upon the return of the nine brethren, they related to Jacob, their father, the whole story of Joseph's dealings; the roughness of his speech, his detention of Simeon, and his demand that they should bring Benjamin with them on their second trip. Then it was that Jacob said, "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."

The Children of Israel have no more understood God's dealings with them than Jacob understood God's dealings with him. Joseph was not working against but for his father and his brethren. Neither is God working against Israel. Even as Joseph looked upon his brethren, he wept; even as he bound Simeon, his heart ached, so has it been in God's dealings with Israel.



"Keepers of Brothers." Wherever the Christian religion really makes itself felt there we find a growing sense that "no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself," but that in a very true sense we are our brothers' keepers. Some months ago, in the Philippines, as the Rev. J. C. Robbins, who had been holding meetings for several days in a certain place, came to the last evening, a woman, a native convert, said to him: "You ought not to leave us tomorrow. You ought to stay longer." But he said: "We have been here four days; you must not expect to keep us. You have had your opportunity, and now we must go on to other places." The woman answered: "Oh, I was not thinking of ourselves, but of those who will come in from the neighboring villages tomorrow. They have never heard of Jesus. And they might hear, if you could only stay. I was not thinking of ourselves, but of them." The young convert in the Philippines, who had learned but a few lessons of the Christ, had come to see more clearly, perhaps, than many of us do, that we are our brothers' keepers. Rev. John A. Hawley.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Genesis 42". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/genesis-42.html.
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