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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-2

Genesis 42:1-2

Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt.

The famine in the house of Jacob


CONSIDERED IN ITS EFFECT UPON JACOB’S SONS. “Why do ye look one upon another?” This sad question reavealed--

1. The utmost distress.

2. Great perplexity.

3. Forebodings of conscience. (T. H. Leale.)

The famine; or, good out of evil




1. When distresses and trials come, we should be ready to trust that God means to do good by them in some way, though we may not know how.

2. When difficulties occur, we should still hope on.

3. When disappointments are our lot, we should remember that they come not without God’s knowledge and permission.

4. Humility and faith will always lead to renewed hope. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Corn in Egypt

We have here a picture of man’s lost estate, he is in a sore soul-devouring famine. We discover here man’s hope. His hope lies in that Joseph whom he knows not, who has gone before him and provided all things necessary, that his “wants may be supplied. And we have here practical advice, which was pre-eminently wise on the part of Jacob to his sons in his case, and which, being interpreted, is also the wisest advice to you and to me. Seeing that there is mercy for sinners, and that Jesus our brother has gone before us to provide for us an all-sufficient redemption, “Why sit we here and look one upon another?” There is mercy in the breast of God, there is salvation in Christ; “get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.”

A PITIFUL PLIGHT. These sons of Jacob were overtaken by a famine. They were cast into a waste, howling wilderness of famine, with but one oasis, and that oasis they did not hear of till just at the time to which our text refers, when they learned to their joy that there was corn in Egypt. Permit me now to illustrate the condition of the sinner by the position of these sons of Jacob.

1. The sons of Jacob had a very great need of bread. But what is this compared with the sinner’s needs! His necessities are such that only Infinity can supply them; he has a demand before which the demands of sixty-six mouths are as nothing.

2. Mark, again: what these people wanted was an essential thing. They did not lack clothes, that were a want, but nothing like the lack of bread; for a man might exist with but scanty covering. Oh that men should cry for bread--the absolute necessary for the sustenance of the body! But what is the sinner’s want? Is it not exactly this? he wants that without which the soul must perish.

3. Yet again: the necessity of the sons of Jacob was a total one. They had no bread; there was none to be procured. Such is the sinner’s case. It is not that he has a little grace and lacks more; but he has none at all. Of himself he has no grace. It is not that he has a little goodness, and needs to be made better; but he has no goodness at all, no merits, no righteousness--nothing to bring to God, nothing to offer for his acceptance; he is penniless, poverty-stricken; everything is gone whereon his soul might feed.

4. But yet worse: with the exception of Egypt, the sons of Jacob were convinced that there was no food anywhere. In speechless silence they resigned themselves to the woe which threatened to overwhelm them. Such is the sinner’s condition, when first he begins to feel a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, he looks to others. “There is no hope for us; we have all been condemned, we have all been guilty, we can do nothing to appease the Most High”; what a wretched world were ours, if we were equally convinced of sin, and equally convinced that there was no hope of mercy! This, then, was the condition of Jacob’s sons temporally, and it is our condition by nature spiritually.

Now we come, in the second place, to the GOOD NEWS. Jacob had faith, and the ears of faith are always quiet; faith can hear the tread of mercy, though the footfall be as light as that of the angel among the flowers. Jacob had the ears of faith. He had been at prayer, I doubt not, asking God to deliver his family in the time of famine; and by and by he hears, first of his household, that there is corn in Egypt. Jacob heard the good news, and communicated it as speedily as possible to his descendants. Now, we also have heard the good news. Good news has been sent to us in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. “There is corn in Egypt.” We need not die. Now, we have better news than even Jacob had; although the news is similar, understanding it in a spiritual sense.

1. We are told to-day, by sure and certain witnesses, that there is corn in Egypt, there is mercy in God. Jacob’s messenger might have deceived him--idle tales are told everywhere, and in days of famine men are very apt totell a falsehood, thinking that to be true which they wish were so. The hungry man is apt to hope that there may be corn somewhere; and then he thinks there is; and then he says there is; and then, what begins with a wish comes to be a rumour and a report. But this day, my friends, it is no idle talk; no dream, no rumour of a deceiver. There is mercy with God, there is salvation with Him that He may be feared.

2. There is another thing in which we have the start of Jacob. Jacob knew there was corn in Egypt, but did not know who had the keeping of it. If he had known that, he would have said, “My sons, go down at once to Egypt, do not be at all afraid, your brother is lord of Egypt, and all the corn belongs to him.” Nay, more, I can readily imagine that he would have gone himself, forthwith. Sinner, the mercies of God are under no lock and key except those over which Christ has the power. The granaries of heaven’s mercy have no steward to keep them save Christ. He is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins.

3. There is yet another thing which the sons of Jacob knew nothing of. When they went to Egypt, they went on hap-hazard: If they knew there was corn, they were not sure they would get it. But when you and I go to Christ, we are invited guests.

4. But one other remark, and I will have done with this second point. The sons of Jacob were in one respect better off than you are apparently, for they had money with which to buy. Jacob was not a poor man in respect of wealth, although he had now become exceedingly poor from lack of bread. His sons had money to take with them. Glittering bars of gold they thought must surely attract the notice of the ruler of Egypt. You have no money, nothing to bring to Christ, nothing to offer Him. You offered Him something once, but He rejected all you offered Him as being spurious coins, imitations, counterfeits, and good for nothing. And now utterly stripped, hopeless, penniless, you say you are afraid to go to Christ because you have nothing of your own. Let me assure you that you are never in so fit a condition to go to Christ as when you have nowhere else to go to, and have nothing of your own.

Thus I have noticed the good news as well as the pitiful plight. I come now to the third part, which is GOOD ADVICE. Jacob says, “Why do ye look one upon another?” 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.” This is very practical advice. I wish people would act the same with religion as they do in temporal affairs. Jacob’s sons did not say: “Well, that is very good news; I believe it,” and then sit still and die. No, they went straightway to the place of which the good news told them corn was to be had. So should it be in matters of religion. We should not be content merely to hear the tidings, but we should never be satisfied until by Divine grace we have availed ourselves of them, and have found mercy in Christ. Lastly, let me put this question: “Why do ye look one upon another?” Why do ye sit still? Fly to Christ, and find mercy. Oh, says one, “I cannot get what I expect to have.” But what do you expect? I believe some of our hearers expect to feel an electric shock, or something of that kind, before they are saved. The gospel says simply, “Believe.” That they will not understand. They think there is to be something so mysterious about it. They can’t make out what it is; but they are going to wait for it and then believe. Well, you will wait till doomsday; for if you do not believe this simple gospel, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” God will not work signs and wonders to please your foolish desires. Your position is this--you are a sinner, lost, ruined; you cannot help yourself. Scripture says, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Your immediate business, your instantaneous duty is to cast yourself on that simple promise, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that as He came into the world to save sinners, He has therefore come to save you. What you have to do with, is that simple command--“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” In conclusion, I make this last remark: Did you notice the argument Joseph used why the sons should go to Egypt? It was this--“That we may live, and not die.” Sinner, this is my argument with thee this morning. My dear hearers, the gospel of Christ is a matter of life and death with you. It is not a matter of little importance, but of all importance. There is an alternative before you; you will either be eternally damned, or everlastingly saved. Despise Christ, and neglect His great salvation, and you will be lost, as sure as you live. Believe in Christ; put your trust alone in Him, and everlasting life is yours. What argument can be more potent than this to men that love themselves? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The famine in Canaan


1. A dire calamity. Perhaps none greater. One which human wisdom cannot foresee. Affects all classes. Animal life depends on vegetable life, vegetable life on seasons, light, heat, rain, temperature, &c. These under the control of God. The lawmaker may suspend the operation of natural laws, moderate their influence, or affect their course.

2. Usually unexpected. In this case there was a warning given, and preparations made. Men cannot foresee the suspension or deviation of natural laws. Hopes for the future built on productiveness of the past.

3. Often over-ruled for good. In this case conspicuously so. Promotes human sympathy (thus the Irish famine, 1846-7, besides evoking much individual benevolence, was responded to by Parliamentary grants of, in the whole, £10,000,000. Ill. Indian famine, 1861). Provokes scientific inquiry into “supply and demand.” of food. Leads to emigration and breaking up of new ground.

4. Always possible and near. World at any time only a harvest off starvation.

5. Generally local (Genesis 8:22). “All countries” (Genesis 41:57), those adjacent to Egypt. Kindness of Providence in this. Nations in their turn dependent on each other. Each “offers something for the general use.”


1. Where? In Egypt. A storehouse of plenty for hungry nations. Always food in some place, and will be while the earth lasts. He who feeds the ravens knows what man has need of.

2. Why? Does it seem strange that the promised land should suffer, rather than be the favoured spot?

(1) It was a small country.

(2) Had other nations gone thither they would have conquered it.

(3) Chiefly: it was part of the Divine plan that Israel should go down into Egypt, and the famine necessitated this.

3. How? By the extraordinary productiveness of seven preceding years, and the storing of the surplus corn. This effected by the instrumentality of Joseph. His mind supernaturally illuminated. Favour given him in the sight of the king of Egypt. Him appointment to office, including the absolute control of the produce of the land.


1. Want in the house of Jacob.

2. The ten sent out to buy corn in Egypt.

3. They arrive in Egypt, and visit the royal granaries.

4. Joseph recognizes them, and they bow before him, and thus fulfil the dream.

5. To disarm suspicion, and to discover the temper of their minds, and the history of their family, they are charged with being spies, and cast into prison.

6. After three days they are liberated, and a hostage required for their return with the younger brother of whom they have spoken, and of whose existence Joseph affects to doubt.

7. Mutual recriminations respecting Joseph.

8. Joseph is affected by what he hears.

9. Simeon bound and left in prison, while they betake themselves away to Canaan. Learn: However great the dearth of the bread that perisheth, there is always sufficient of the “bread of life,” and it is always accessible. (J. C. Gray.)

Verses 3-20

Genesis 42:3-20

Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt

Providence working in men’s lives


The story of Joseph is a good example of what is meant by Providence working for the best in the lives of men. Look at the young foreigner, as he comes to a land not his own; see how he resists the one great temptation of his age and station; observe how, through means not of his own seeking, through good report and evil, through much misunderstanding of others, but by consistent integrity and just dealing on his own part, he overcomes all the difficulties of his position, and is remembered long afterwards in his adopted land as the benefactor of his generation and the deliverer of his country.

The story of Joseph is, perhaps, of all the stories in the Old Testament, the one which most carries us back to our childhood, both from the interest we felt in it as children, and from the true picture of family life which it presents. It brings before us the way in which the greatest blessings for this life and the next depend on the keeping up of family love pure and fresh, as when the preservation and fitting education of the chosen people depended on that touching generosity and brotherly affection which no distance of time, no new customs, no long sojourn in a strange land, could extinguish in the heart of Joseph. Home is on earth the best likeness of heaven; and heaven is that last and best home in which, when the journey of life is over, Joseph and his brethren, Jacob and his sons, Rachel and her children, shall meet to part no more. (Dean Stanley.)

The first journey of Jacob’s brethren into Egypt

THEY SHOW EVIDENT SIGNS OF FEAR. Therefore they go together in a company, ten strong, that by their numbers they might encourage and support one another (Genesis 42:3).

THEIR WORST FOREBODINGS ARE FULFILLED. They dreaded Egypt, and events justified their fears.

1. They are received roughly (Genesis 42:7).

2. They are suspected of evil designs (Genesis 42:9).

3. They are threatened with the prospect of imprisonment and death.


1. That pride is sure to meet with a fall. In Genesis 42:6 we are told that “Joseph’s brethren came and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.” Where were now those lofty looks, and that contemptuous tone with which they said when Joseph had told them of his dreams--“Shalt thou then indeed reign over us, or shalt thou have dominion over us?”

2. That nothing can hinder the counsel of God from taking effect.

3. That the crisis will arrive when the wicked must appear before the judgment-seat of the pious.

4. That retribution, even in kind, follows sin.

5. That throughout the severity of God’s righteous anger against Sin there runs a purpose of mercy. (T. H. Leale.)

The first journey of Joseph’s brethren into Egypt


THE OFFICE OF CONSCIENCE (Genesis 42:21). Where sin is voluntary wrong-doing, the language of the human heart inevitably connects the penalty with the wrong-doing. In every temptation that comes upon you, think what it will be in the hour of death to be free from the recollection of it. Refrain, refrain, remember the hereafter.

OBSERVE THE SEVERITY IN THE LOVE OF JOSEPH (Genesis 42:7). He did not allow his personal feelings to interfere with what seemed to him his duty. Joseph’s love to his brethren was a noble love. God’s love to us is still nobler, and severity accompanies it. It does not shrink from human suffering, for suffering is necessary for the man’s well being.

Lastly, we remark on THE RETURN HOMEWARDS OF JOSEPH’S BRETHREN. Jacob expected corn to relieve their necessities; he got the corn, but with it came sorrow upon sorrow. Bereaved of Joseph, he is now bereaved of Simeon also. In Jacob’s answers to his sons, in the close of the chapter, we find a depth of querulousness and despondency. Job was tried with sorrows far more severe, and yet they only served and contributed to the purifying of his spirit. In order to understand the cause of Jacob’s despondency we must go far back. Jacob was a selfish man; his very religion was selfish; he would become religious only on condition that God would protect and guide him. To that selfish origin may be traced all the evils of his after life. Throughout it seems to have been his principle to receive as much as possible, and to give as little as he could. He who lives in this world for his own personal enjoyment, without God and His Christ, will by degrees find, like Jacob, that he has no rock to rest his soul upon, but that he must go down in sorrow to the grave. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The retributions of Providence

Men troubled by memory of former sins, not because they doubt mercy of God, but because they doubt themselves. Jacob’s sons better men than formerly, yet the retribution follows.

The vengeance of TIME. The sin of twenty years ago. Time no friend to the sinner. Time gives the harvest opportunity and room to develop. Years of Joseph’s imprisonment. Years of torture to brethren.

The vengeance of CIRCUMSTANCES. Every link in chain, strong and connected with next link. “Remarkable series of coincidences,” very. The plots and counterplots of fiction: of with Scripture.

The vengeance of MEMORY. Joseph’s cries wrought into the mental texture of these men. Hetfy, in “Adam Bede.” The baby’s cry: “ Son, remember.” Memory, a cup of blessing, or devil’s scourge.

The vengeance of CONSCIENCE. Memory may exaggerate, extenuate, add, subtract, &c. But conscience is a just judge. Hamlet, “The play’s the thing,” &c. Adonibezak, conscience-stricken wretch.

The vengeance of PUBLICITY. Evildoers clever in blocking up ninety-nine avenues of discovery. The 100th. The shame. The collapse. Conclusion: Vengeance, not last word in relation to sin. “We know that He was manifested,” &c. “Better to fall,” &c. “Faithful and just.” “Though your sins as mountains rise,” &c. (A. P. Watson.)

Verse 8

Genesis 42:8

Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him

The betrayers confronted with the betrayed





Known and watched



Verses 11-17

Genesis 42:11-17

We are true men

True life


THE MISTAKEN ESTIMATE. “We are true men.” Were they? They spoke for themselves, they spoke for one another; but had they a good report of the truth itself? You know better than that--they were not true men, anything but true men. How came it to pass that they formed such a mistaken estimate of themselves? How comes it to pass that men now-a-days form similarly false estimates of themselves?

1. They dwelt on their superficial goodness, and forgot their deeper wickedness. “We are no spies.” No; they felt hurt by the very suspicion; they would have scorned the thing. But there are worse things than going forth to see the nakedness of the land, worse men than spies. And these very men were guilty of far greater wickedness (see Genesis 37:2; Genesis 37:4-5; Genesis 37:11; Genesis 37:18; Genesis 37:20). They were guilty of malice, falsehood, treachery, murder. Their conduct was unmanly, unbrotherly, unfilial. They were not spies, but they were liars, impostors, kidnappers, fratricides, monsters. But they ignored the profound wickedness, and dwelt fondly upon a goodness which was not very good. Is not this a very common method with us still? We think how blameless we are in matters on the very surface of life, and forget how guilty we are in the weightier matters of the law.

2. They dwelt on their exceptional goodness, and forgot their prevailing wickedness. “We are no spies.” They were right here, but in how many respects were they wanting? How many base characteristics they had we have just seen. But is not this seizing on some creditable trait of character, and ignoring all the bad traits a constant source of self deception? Says the prodigal son, listening to some story of covetousness and meanness, “Well, anyhow, nobody can charge me with money-grubbing!” And the man who is a walking lie, a mass of selfishness, full of egotism and pride, will reply, when some one is convicted of tippling, “Well, thank heaven, I never was a beast!” People think sometimes that the Pharisee is only found in the Church among seemingly good people; but the Pharisee is in the world also, in the most outrageous stoners, and it is often curious to hear the sanctimonious accent in the hiccup of the drunkard, and to see the broad phylactery showing through the finery of the harlot. The apostle says, “If we offend in one point we are guilty of all,” but we argue as if to keep one point was to be innocent of all. “True men.” They are true all round, the soundness of their hearts discovering itself in the harmony and beauty of their whole life. But, alas I we judge ourselves by some phase of exceptional goodness, and because we are not spies conclude ourselves saints.

3. They dwelt on their present goodness and forgot their past wickedness. “We are no spies.” They were right in that matter, right at that time, but what of the past? The moral insensibility and forgetfulness exhibited by these men is simply surprising. So it is with ourselves. Nothing is more startling than our moral unconsciousness and forgetfulness. We easily believe time sponges out all disagreeable records, and presents us with a clean state. “True men.” We are not true men until we are “purged from our old sins.”

THE PAINFUL EXPOSURE. How wonderfully God can cleave to our very heart, and show us what spirit we are of, no matter how profoundly we may have been disguised from ourselves. Many years ago in Brazil a slave found what was supposed to be a diamond of nearly a pound weight. It was presented to the emperor, constantly guarded by soldiers, and was supposed to represent millions of money. But an English mineralogist produced a cutting diamond, and scratched the supposed mammoth prize. One scratch was enough, if it had been a real gem it would not have taken a scratch, it was no diamond at all, the millions vanished in a moment into thin air. So God detects and exposes character. It was thus in the narrative before us. “And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: if ye be true men bring your youngest brother unto me.” That single scratch spoiled all the string of diamonds. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” The “ true men” were found out, they knew themselves to be frauds. So God finds us all out one day or the other, one way or other. We notice sometimes with our friends how they suddenly stand revealed to us in a light most unexpected; they flash upon us in a character hitherto wholly unsuspected by us. And so our true self is long concealed from ourself, but at last God by His Spirit makes us know our true self, and we are filled with astonishment and distress. By Christ “ the thoughts of many hearts are revealed.” By the Spirit of Christ “the world is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” The Pharisee at last becomes a publican, and smiting on his breast, cries, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “A true man.” Is not that the very grandest character you can give a man? How eloquent it is! “A true man.” Is not that the very grandest epitaph you can write over the dead? Rich man, successful man, great man, gifted man, no, none of these are to be compared with “ a true man.” We all covet that inscription far more than sculptured urn or animated bust. And yet many of us are painfully conscious that we are not “true men.” Oh! no, far from it. How full we are of weakness, hypocrisy, confusion, misery. “False and full of sin I am.” But we may be all made “true men.” Jesus was the true man, “the Son of Man,” as Luther calls Him, “the Proper Man.” Oh! how brave, noble, majestic, tender, pure, true, was the ideal Man. How grand is man when he reaches the full conception of his nature! And Christ can make us “true men,” that is His mission. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Searchings of heart



A PERPLEXING INCIDENT (Genesis 42:27-28).

A PLAINTIVE LAMENT (Genesis 42:36; Genesis 42:38). (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

The accusation

Far be it from us to say that Joseph had attained absolute perfection when he was on earth, although his virtues were far beyond those of most other men. It will not be easy, or rather it will be impossible, to exempt him from the charge of dissimulation, when he alleged that his brethren were spies. His words are not to be considered as an assertion, but they express a suspicion, which certainly did not enter into his mind. His design was good. He meant to humble them for their good, but good intentions will not excuse a departure from truth. He knew that they were not spies come to see the nakedness of the land, but he wished, without discovering himself to them, to be informed of the welfare of his father and of his father’s house. It is to be remembered that Joseph lived before the law was given. The light which discovers sin and duty shone less brightly in his days than in ours, and therefore the limits between what is lawful and what is unlawful would not be so easily discerned. It is likewise to be feared that Joseph’s station as Prime Minister in the court of Pharaoh led him into connections, and placed him in circumstances, unfavourable to progress in virtue. He held fast his integrity, and would not let it go amidst great temptations, but human infirmity discovered itself in some parts of his conduct. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The answer

It could not be supposed that one man would suffer ten of his sons to engage at once in a business so full of perils as that of spies, or that so many brethren should risk the almost total extirpation of their father’s house at one blow. It requires a very daring spirit for a man to venture his own life in an office so desperate; but who would venture at once his own life and the life of almost all that are dear to him along with his own? Clear proof, at least, is requisite before belief can be given to an accusation so improbable as this which was laid against Joseph’s brethren, when it was known that they all belonged to the same house, and that there was only one brother left at home with a father sinking under the burden of age. “We are true men, we are no spies. We are what we pretend to be, and have assumed no false character.” The business of a spy is not in all cases unlawful. It is a business, however, so full of temptations to falsehood that an honest man will not rashly undertake it. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Put to the test unconsciously

The whole treatment of his brothers by Joseph was meant to prove their characters, and see whether they had or had not repented of their sin against him, and whether they had or had not changed their disposition and mode of life. They did not know that he was thus experimenting on them, but the result satisfied him, and led to his revelation of himself to them. Now it is often similar with men and their fellows. When Gideon led his army to the brook, and saw his soldiers drink, they had no idea that he was picking out his three hundred for his midnight attack on the Midianitish camp. But so it was; for those who did not care luxuriously to go down on hands and knees to put their mouths to the stream, but who simply lapped the water up with their hands as a dog laps up with his tongue, showed thereby that they had the qualities of rapidity, dash, and hardihood which were specially needed for the service on which he was bent, and therefore they were selected for it. Even so men have been watched by others when they were not thinking of anything of the kind, and the diligence, energy, integrity, and amiability which they have shown has commended them to those interested for some situation of trust, honour, and emolument. Young man, your employer is testing yon when you do not know it, therefore see that you are faithful and obliging even in that which is least, that you may approve yourself worthy of something greater. Many incidents might here be narrated to prove that men have risen from comparative obscurity to eminence simply because they had been tested, unwittingly to themselves, by others who were on the outlook for the agents that would most effectually serve their purpose. When they rose, envious people prated about “luck,” but they who knew best spoke about character manifested by faithfulness in that which was least, and saw in their promotion the earthly miniature of the doing of the last Judge, who shall say to him whom He approves, “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Verse 18

Genesis 42:18

For I fear God

The fear of God


The first impression which the human mind receives from the conviction of an over-ruling Power, is that of fear. It is a moral impression. It is made upon the conscience. A feeling of awe at the thought of an invisible witness, who judges and will requite.

2. “For I fear God.” The text begins with a word that connects it with something else; that supposes a reason for the assertion it makes. Why should we thus “fear” Him? Because He is present to every agreement that is made, to every promise that is spoken, to every purpose that is secretly devised, to every action, however silently done. Because He is holy, and “the righteous Lord hateth iniquity.” Because He is mighty, and who can stand before His displeasure? Because He requires the duty by which we feel ourselves bound. Because He appoints every law, and chastises for its infraction. Because, if through that subduing veneration, that salutary dread, we hold fast our integrity and depart from evil, we are encouraged by His assurances, we are encompassed by His defence.

3. There are various ways in which these effects are produced upon the children of disobedience.

(1) They fear the powers of the visible world, as if they were ready to betray or smite their delinquencies; as if their sounds might publish something concerning them, or their “arrows upon the string” had an aim towards them. The stormy wind or the voice of the waters may have a word to fulfil for their condemnation. The rustling leaf has a warning. The bare bough points. “A bird of the air shall carry the matter.” There is a Greek story of a poet who, falling under the daggers of robbers, called upon some cranes who was flying overhead to avenge his death. While his name and fate were yet upon the public tongue, in a great assembly of the people--when in the vast theatre of Corinth, open to the sky, the solemn chorus and personation of the Furies were exhibiting the truth, that “there is no shadow of death where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves”--a flock of those noisy birds darkened and shook the air. A cry escapedfrom the assassins, who were present at the spectacle. Their detection followed, and their just death was added as the terrible conclusion of the sacred song, and fulfilment of its prophecy. The story may be true, for doubtless such things have been. And they illustrate one part of the fact, that the creation, even in its innocent objects and pleasant forms, is the enemy of those who will not make the Author of it a friend.

(2) There are surprises of Providence, in disappointment, deprivation, pain. These are trials wherever they fall; but to persons sensible that they have given them the right to surprise, they are peculiarity full of dismay. Sudden accidents will occur. The usual order of our lives will be broken in upon by strange occurrences. Dangers springs up by the wayside. Sorrows invade the dearest neighbourhoods of our life. Many, like old Israel’s son’s, find a journey made to the south terminate into captivity, and have to bear “the burden of Egypt,” while they were seeking for its corn. Wretched, indeed, if what they must suffer then admonishes them of their trespasses, and forces from them the confession, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” But, without imagining any of these casualties and violent interruptions, and troubles that may come, there are others that must come. The God whom we “fear” deals with us in the slow course of His appointments, through the gradual changes of time and age. If He continues our days upon the earth, we must pay for the privilege by parting with many of their delights, feeling some unwelcome alterations, and witnessing more. The soul will have to retire further inward for its satisfactions or its repose, as remembrance out-measures expectation, and the veils of the flesh grow thin. When the world is declining, its weight greater and its pleasure less, will not everything appear departing from us, if the answer of a good conscience and a hope towards an immortal possession do not remain behind? To feel forsaken of God, or obnoxious to His judgments then!--is not that a dreary and terrible occasion of fear?

4. The several topics hitherto mentioned touch upon what is outside of us. They have been immediately connected with natural objects, or distressful incidents, or waning powers. But all these are only circumstances. The individual consciousness of every one dwells in the midst of them, and impresses them with a character of its own. Here is the true seat of the principle. Let each stand in awe of what is within him; of the judgments that are pronounced beyond mortal hearing, and executed through the habits, the fancies, the passions, the memories, of the mind itself. Are these habits depraved--these fancies disordered? Do these passions start away from holy motives? Do these memories condemn the past, that cannot be restored to be tried again and live better? The hostilities of nature the utmost rage of the air and sea, are nothing to this. Pain and misadventure are nothing. The wear and losses of encroaching years are nothing. (N. L.Frothingham.)

The story of Joseph

Joseph punishes Simeon by imprisonment. It may be that he had reasons for it which we are not told. But when his brothers have endured the trial, and he finds that Benjamin is safe, he has nothing left but forgiveness. They are his brethren still--his own flesh and blood. And he “fears God.” He dare not do anything but forgive them. He forgives them utterly, and welcomes them with an agony of happy tears. He will even put out of their minds the very memory of their baseness. “Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither,” he says; “for God,” &c. Is not that Divine? Is not that the Spirit of God and of Christ? I say it is. For what is it but the likeness of Christ, who says for ever, out of heaven to all mankind, “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye crucified me; for God, my Father, sent me to save your souls by a great salvation.” My friends, learn from this story of Joseph, and the prominent place in the Bible which it occupies--learn, I say, how hateful to God are family quarrels; how pleasant to God are family unity and peace, and mutual trust, and duty, and helpfulness. And if you think that I speak too strongly on this point, recollect that I do no more than St. Paul does, when he sums up the most lofty and mystical of all his Epistles, the Epistle to the Ephesians, by simple commands to husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, as if he should say: You wish to be holy? you wish to be spiritual? Then fulfil these plain family duties, for they, too are sacred and divine, and he who despises them, despises the ordinances of God. And if you despise the laws of God, they will surely avenge themselves on you. If you are bad husbands or bad wives, bad parents or bad children, bad brothers or sisters, bad masters or servants, you will smart for it, according to the eternal laws of God, which are at work around you all day long, making the sinner punish himself whether he likes or not. Examine yourselves--ask yourselves, each of you, Have I been a good brother? have I been a good son? have I been a good husband? have I been a good father? have I been a good servant? If not, all professions of religion will avail me nothing. If not, let me confess my sins to God, and repent and amend at once, whatever it may cost me. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

The fear of God

This fear should daily control every Christian. No influence on the feelings, or the character, can be more salutary. What greater preservative from wrong can there be in youth, than the constant presence of a parent, whose feelings we regard, whose opinions we respect, and whose judgment we reverence. And if the presence of a parent is so salutary in restraining us from transgression, how much more so must the impression be, that we act in the view of the Almighty? And how appropriate to the condition of an immortal being is the state of mind, which is described in the saying, “I fear God.” “I fear God.” I know He is here. He is everywhere. I cannot go from His presence, nor flee from Him. To live, and move, and be in the presence of so great and adorable a being, cannot but excite emotions of awe. It cannot fail, if rightly considered, to produce a salutary fear in the heart of every child of Adam. “I fear God.” He knows all my actions. Not one of them has been concealed from His view. The sins of my childhood are known to Him. They are written in His book. The iniquities of my youth are kept in His remembrance. The transgressions of maturer years are not hidden from His eyes. No palliation nor excuse can cause Him to take a different view of them from that with which He beholds them. He understands my thoughts. “There is not a thought in my heart, but He knows it altogether.” There is no operation of my intellect, which He does not readily perceive. The subterfuges, which a perverted heart, or a soul full of prejudice, cast over its own doings, do not conceal it from the Most High. He knows all my opinions. If interest, or the fear of man, or the pride of consistency shall influence me to give, as my view of facts or of truths, a sentiment at variance with what seems to me to be according to truth, He sees it all. He fully comprehends the hyprocrisy of the transaction, and abhors the iniquity. He knows my motives. He knows what it is in us that moves us to retain His Word in our families; what it is that influences us to come to His house; what it is that incites any of us to profess to be His disciples. He knows all our feelings. There is no affection in our hearts which is not entirely open to His view. I fear God; for He is holy. To some, it may seem strange that the holiness of a being should be a ground of fear. But there is no other consideration which invests the character of Jehovah with such fearfulness, as that of His holiness. And this is as true of those who are holy, as of those whose sinfulness exposes them to His indignation. No other trait is more prominent in the character of devout men, than the fear of God. And this reverential regard for Him does not abate, even when the soul becomes perfect in glory. When John had a view of the heavenly world, he heard them “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glory Thy name, for Thou only art holy!’” “I fear God”; for He has a settled aversion to sin. This is His nature, and He is immutable--immutable in His attachment to holiness, and in His opposition to sin. Now, who that knows the holiness of Jehovah, and His constant abhorrence of sin, will not fear Him? Can a human being, who is convinced that he has violated the law of God--who understands that during many years he was constantly engaged in rebellion against Him--who feels, that even if he has been born of God, he has not been perfect, but is chargeable every day, in the view of Infinite Holiness, with many transgressions--can he live without fear? Considering the strength of his unsubdued propensities to evil, will he not be apprehensive that he may incur the displeasure of a Holy God? “I fear God;” for He inflicts severe chastisements, even in this life, on such of His people as wander from Him. “I fear God”; by Him I must be judged. All my deeds, my words, and my feelings, must pass His scrutiny and receive His sentence. Do you say, if I am a Christian, I ought not to fear? The Saviour has not thus instructed me. “I will forewarn you,” said He to His disciples, “whom ye shall fear--fear Him who has power to destroy both soul and body in hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him.” In view of such a Judge, who will not fear? Now, if such a fear of God occupy our souls, then it will be impossible not to speak reverentially respecting Him. Again: If this fear of God be in us, we shall have a happy influence on others. Our conversation will evince that there is something in our hearts, which is not known to the world, nor felt by such as are alienated from God. Our lives will tell to all around us that there is something in the fear of God which is calculated to diffuse a heavenly savour over all cur feelings and actions. In ways innumerable--in ways which, it is impossible for us to describe, or others to see--a grace will distil on those around us like drops of the morning dew; and blessings of immeasurable value, and eternal duration, will descend upon them. Brethren--let the fear of God dwell at all times in your’ hearts; for “to that man,” said Jehovah, “will I look, who is humble, and of a contrite heart, and who trembleth at My word.” (J. Foot, D. D.)

Verses 19-20

Genesis 42:19-20

Let one of your brethren be bound



To prove truth among national parties, it is not unequal to give hostages.

2. Hostages being taken it is but equal that parties have liberty to manifest truth.

3. Nature will not, much less grace, dispatch hungry men without food.

4. Bread-corn is the break-neck of hunger (Genesis 42:19).

5. Reasonable testimonies of truth may be peremptorily demanded of suspected persons.

6. Justification and security are to be afforded to men of truth.

7. It is reasonable for men under trials to yield to just terms for deliverance (Genesis 42:20). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Verses 21-22

Genesis 42:21-22

We are verily guilty concerning our brother

Conscience awakens in Joseph’s brethren


Joseph’s brethren had not been placed in any peculiar circumstances of trial since the loss of Joseph; consequently their sin had slept. There had been nothing to call it to light; they had well-nigh forgotten it; its heinousness had become dim in the distance. But now they were in trouble, and they could not help seeing the hand of God in that trouble. Their spiritual instinct told them that their trouble did not spring out of the ground; it had been planted there--it had a root. Their sin had found them out at last, and their own adversity brought about that contrition for their offence which its own hatefulness ought to have been sufficient to produce.

We see from this story that men may commit sins, and may forget them; and yet the sins may be recorded, and may one day rise up again with a frightful vitality. Men will soon bury their own sins, if they be left to themselves; but it is like burying seed, which appears to die and be forgotten, and yet it rises up again, and perhaps becomes a great tree.

The voice of conscience is a good voice, a wholesome voice--yea, the very voice of God to our souls, and one to be welcomed by us if we only listen to it at the right time. The consciousness of guilt is a blessed thing, if only it come at the right time, and when there is opportunity for bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. Well for us if our estimate of our condition is the same, at least in its main features, as that estimate which God has made, and which the last day will produce! (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

The memory of conscience




1. In that it brings the past accurately to mind.

2. In that it connects the penalty with the sin.

IT CONVERTS MORAL DIRECTION AND REMONSTRANCE INTO REPROACH AND UPBRAIDING. Reuben became to his brethren what conscience becomes to the sinner.

IT REMINDS US OF MORAL PROCESSES NOW AT WORK IN THE WORLD. God’s searching providence is ever bringing past sins to light. Christ’s Cross reveals the darkness of the world’s guilt. (T. H. Leale.)

The Nemesis of wrong


1. This secret bound them henceforward to a life of hypocrisy.

2. This secret filled them with constant anxiety.

3. This secret neutralized all healthful moral influence.


1. They were the objects of suspicion. Jacob refused to allow

Benjamin in their company.

2. They were the subjects of suspicion. Living in dread of God and man.


Joseph’s brethren in trouble -





The guilt of neglecting the souls of our brethren


1. The relation of the sufferers. Our brethren.

2. The wretchedness of their state.

3. Our orders to succour them.

4. The possibility of affording them succour.

5. The facilities we have in this cause of compassion.

(1) Providence;

(2) The grace of God.

6. That even the effort we have made in this work furnish evidence of our guilt.


1. The depravity of human nature will be acknowledged.

2. Deep and godly sorrow will be felt.

3. It will lead us to apply to the mercy of God.

4. It will awaken zeal. (J. Summerfield, M. A.)

Transgression unperceived

The most dangerous propensity of sin is its deceivableness; the concealment of its true nature and danger when committed, the extent and evil of it are seldom perceived; a veil is thrown over its hideous and destructive qualities; and it is imagined to be, if not altogether defensible in the sight of God, at least desirable at the moment, and tolerable. However the conscience may give warning that all is not perfectly right, the consequences are commonly neither foreseen nor apprehended. Whether this be in the very nature of sin, as brought by the spirit of evil into the world; or whether that wicked spirit, with his numberless agents, is continually exercised in producing this deceit; or whether it proceed from both these sources, which is probable, the evil and misery are the same: men are tempted to sin, because they do not perceive its utter sinfulness; and it seems as if they could do it with impunity, do it and have nothing to fear.

And here, as we see the dreadful nature of sin, how it blinds the sinner, and makes him content with his guilt, so do we see the goodness of our heavenly Father, how graciously, by the ordination of His providence, He leads the transgressor to a deep sense of his perilous condition; how compassionately He interposes to deliver him from the fatal snare.

The instruction to be drawn from this subject is highly beneficial and important: it warns us to consider our own case, to look into our own condition. And let us be mindful that we do draw, from such considerations and examples, the right conclusion.

There are two great considerations in connection with this subject, which I desire to press upon your attention.

1. The importance of our hearts being always open to God’s merciful dealings in awakening us, and reclaiming us from evil.

2. That we profit from them without delay. (J. Slade, M. A.)

The Christian responsible for his influence over others

The language of self-reproach, which sharp compunction wrung from Jacob’s sons, may well be adopted by many among ourselves. Take the most favourable case you can. Grant that you have done no positive harm to others. Have you not, too often, forgotten to do them good? Some, with no more natural abilities, and no better opportunities than their neighbours, render all with whom they come in contact, wiser, holier, and happier. Others, possessing the same powers of mind, and surrounded by she same circumstances, stand like a moral Upas, rendering the very atmosphere about them unwholesome and deadly. But, alas! how many who ought to improve a privilege so great, are, by inactivity and gross neglect, preparing for themselves seasons of sorrow in the future, when they will cry out, in agony of soul, knowing it is then too late to offer advice or aid to one who has become hopelessly hardened in sin, but whom, at an earlier period in his career, they possessed influence enough to save: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” The wicked might kindly have been warned; the ignorant might easily have been taught; the headstrong might have been moved by expostulation and love; the poor might have been effectually relieved. Selfishness is the true secret of such unwarrantable neglect. We are disposed to think too much of our ease. Christians should not be contented with being in the right road themselves, but they should feel a lively interest in the welfare of others. Christians are responsible for their example. They are “the salt of the earth.” They are “the leaven,” which must leaven the whole lump. Their example in their families, in private intercourse with friends, and in their regular occupation, should be safe and consistent. Christian principle should be discovered in everything. Is it any wonder that the ungodly mock? Can we be surprised that unbelievers multiply? Is it astonishing that such a reckless disregard of ordinary duties, and such a strange forgetfulness of the importance of setting a good example, should draw a long train of calamities in the wake of inconsistent Christians, and cause them, in the hour of sickness and death, to cry out, at the remembrance of a brother, or husband, or child, or friend, shipwrecked and ruined by their neglect: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother”? (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Of the cause of inward trouble

In this chapter we have the description of our fathers, the patriarchs; their first journey into Egypt for corn, to relieve their famine in Canaan. Herein is considerable--

1. Their entertainment there: it was harsh, with much trouble, more danger.

2. The consequence of this their hard and distressful usage and entreatment; and that is trouble of mind, horror and perplexity of spirit: “And they said one to another,” &c. The words, then, are the Holy Ghost’s report of the case of the sons of Jacob, their being spiritually troubled, by way of conviction, or judgment in their own (which also is the Lord’s) court of conscience.

Wherein we observe--

1. The actors themselves: being the registers, accusers, witnesses, judge, and tormentors.

2. Process in judging themselves: wherein--

(1) Self-accusation of the cause of their trouble, their sin, with the utmost aggravations; namely--

(a) In general: “We are guilty.”

(b) In particular: Of envy, wrong against a brother; whom in bitterness we saw without pity, and were deaf to his entreaties; obstinate to the admonition of Reuben, and abiding therein.

(2) In self-condemnation: “Therefore is this distress come”; and his blood required.

3. Execution: wherein--

(1) The smart, by inward terror and consternation; their heart, misgiving them, is deeply affected, and that makes them very abrupt: “Yea, verily,” that is, Alas! what shall we do?

(2) The circumstance of the time when; couched in, “and”

(a) In general: Many years after the offence was done.

(b) In special: Now that they were outwardly in an afflicted condition.


Every man hath a conscience within himself.

The guilt of sin turns a man’s conscience, that is, himself, against himself.

Conscience is apt to be very sensible, when it is awakened, not only of sin, but particular sins, and the particular circumstances and degrees thereof to the utmost; and charge all upon a man’s self, not upon God’s decrees or providence, nor upon the devil or evil company, &c.

Envy, unnatural affection, cruelty, deafness to the entreaties of the distressed, obstinacy against warning and admonition, continuance in sin without repentance, &c., are very heinous and dangerous.

The accusations and condemnations of conscience are terrible, or cause terror beyond all expression.

There is a time when God will call over sins that are past, and charge them upon the conscience.

Inward trouble of mind sometimes (yea, usually) comes upon the people of God, when they are outwardly in some distress. (E. Pledger, M. A.)

The moral impotence of time

Twenty years after the event l Their recollections of that event was as clear as if it transpired but yesterday. Learn the moral impotence of time. We say this evil deed was done fifty years ago. Fifty years may have some relation to the memory of the intellect, but it has no relation to the tormenting memory of the conscience. There is a moral memory. Conscience has a wondrously realizing power--taking things we have written in secret ink and holding them before the fire until every line becomes vivid, almost burning. Perhaps some of you know not yet the practical meaning of this. We did something twenty years ago.
We say to ourselves, “Well, seeing that it was twenty years ago it is not worth making anything to do about it, it is past, and it is a great pity to go twenty years back raking up things.” So it is in some respects, a great pity to bother ourselves about things other men did twenty years ago. But what about our own recollection, our own conscience, our own power of accusation? A man says, “I forged that name twenty-five years ago, and oh! every piece of paper I get hold of seems to have the name upon it. I never dip the pen, but there is something in the pen that reminds me of what I did by candle light, in almost darkness, when I had locked the door and assured myself nobody was there. Yet it comes upon me so graphically--my punishment is greater than I can bear!” Time cannot heal ouriniquities. Forgetfulness is not the cure for sin. Obliviousness is not the redeemer of the world. How then can I get rid of the torment and the evils of an accusing memory? The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” That is the kind of answer men want, when they feel all their yesterdays conspiring to urge an indictment against them, as sinners before the living God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The human soul contains within itself all the necessary elements of retributive penalty

Here is nothing but memory, conscience, and reason; yet what an exhibition and illustration of the self-retributive power of sin!

1. Memory. “We saw the anguish,” &c.

2. Conscience. “We are verily guilty,” &c.

3. Reason. “Therefore is this distress come upon us.”

Let a soul go into the future state with a memory to recall, a conscience to accuse, and a reason to justify penalty as deserved; and what more is necessary to hell? Hence Milton--

“The mind in its own place, and in itself,

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven!”

Sin brought home to the conscience

It would be good for us if we could entertain the same views of sin in the time of temptation, that we are likely to have after it is committed, or at the time when trouble brings it home to our consciences. When Joseph cried piteously to his brethren out of the pit, they thought only of the pleasure of gratifying their envy. They then wilfully overlooked the guilt they were contracting, and the sorrows they were preparing for their father, and for them, selves; but when they were in trouble, they remembered their guilt in all its aggravating circumstances, and they would have given all they had in the world to recover that degree of innocence to which they might have pretended before Joseph came into their hands. They were chargeable with many other sins. Simeon and Levi, in particular, were chargeable with a crime not less heinous than the murder of Joseph. Yet the affliction which they endured in prison brought to remembrance in a special manner this sin against their brother. This was an atrocious iniquity, of which the most of them were equally guilty. We are naturally averse to suffering of every kind, and yet nothing is more necessary than suffering when we have sinned. It is necessary for us to know and feel the bitterness of sin, that we may confess and forsake it. And the sufferings which our flesh endures, are often necessary and useful to bring our sins to our remembrance. No doubt Joseph’s brethren had often formerly thought with regret of the hatefulness of their conduct. If they were not hardened to a very uncommon degree, their hearts must have smitten them soon after the fact was committed. The sight of their father’s anguish must have melted their stubborn spirits. But they needed their afflictions in Egypt likewise to awaken a new and more affecting sense of their wickedness. Joseph, and God by Joseph, did them a kindness in giving them an experimental knowledge of the bitter sufferings of an oppressed man, when he pours out tears, but finds no comforter. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Therefore is this distress come upon us

Jacob’s sons did not think that the man who had treated them with such severity knew anything concerning their conduct to their poor brother, but they knew that there is a God in the heavens, who knoweth and judgeth all the actions of the children of men. In this knowledge they were trained up by their father. But although they had been the children of a man who knew not God, this reflection might have occurred to them in the day of trouble, Adoni-bezek, king of Jerusalem, had his education amongst the most hardened sinners that ever lived in the world, and was himself one of the most hard-hearted tyrants that ever disgraced a throne; yet, when sore trouble came upon him, he acknowledged that it was the infliction of just punishment from God (Judges 1:1-36.). It is said of the virtuous Dion, the Syracusan, that when he was compelled to flee from his country, and knocked at some doors that did not open unto him as they would have done in former times, he meekly observed to his servant, that perhaps himself, in the time of his prosperity, had not always opened his door to the stranger. When we meet from men with treatment which we did not deserve, it may be of use, for calming our spirits, to consider whether we have not been guilty of as bad, or even worse conduct, to some of our neighhours. What if God has commissioned these men who behave ill to us, as His messengers, to execute His anger for offences against some of their fellow-men? Look forward, ye who have hitherto lived in ease and prosperity. The day of trouble will come. Plant not your dying pillow before hand with thorns and briars. If no reverse of circumstances should come upon you before you till you die, yet you are sure that you must die; and a death-bed will be the very worst place for such reflections as awakened conscience may produce. Bitter was the anguish of Joseph’s brethren, but it would have been ten times more bitter if they had seen inevitable death before their eyes. They had little prospect of repairing the injury done to Joseph; but they might yet live to repair in some degree the wrong they had done to their father, and to seek with tears and supplications the forgiveness of their sins from God. Look back on your former conduct. Consider whether you have not done some injuries that may yet be repaired, or neglected some important duties that may yet be done, before you go to that place where there is no counsel, nor device, nor work. O death! how terrible are thy approaches to the man who is conscious that he hath shut his ears against the cry of the poor, or against the loud calls of the Son of God, urging him to improve the space given him for repentance! (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The time when conscience makes itself heard

Have you ever heard of the great clock of St. Paul’s in London? At midday, in the roar of business, when carriages, and carts, and waggons, and omnibuses, go rolling through the streets, how many never hear that great clock strike, unless they live very near it. But when the work of the day is over, and the roar of business has passed away--when men are gone to sleep, and silence reigns in London--then at twelve, at one, at two, at three, at four the sound of that clock may be heard for miles around. Twelve--One!--Two!--Three!--Four! How that clock is heard by many a sleepless man! That clock is just like the conscience of the impenitent man. While he has health and strength, and goes on in the whirl of business, he will not hear conscience. He drowns and silences its voice by plunging into the world The time will come when he must retire from the world, and lie down on the sick bed, and look death in the face. And then the clock of conscience, that solemn clock, will sound in his heart, and, if he has not repented, will bring wretchedness and misery to his soul. (Bp. Ryle.)

Indestructibility of conscience

Man’s conscience was once the vicegerent of Deity: what conscience said within was just the echo of what God said without; and even now, conscience in its ruin has enough of its pristine eloquence and surviving affinity to God never to be altogether and always silent. The passions try to make conscience a sort of citizen-king, putting it up and down as they please: but it will not quietly submit; it resists the authority of the passions; it insists upon supremacy; it cannot forget its noble lineage and its erst holy function derived from God. As long as man can gratify his passions, and give an opiate to conscience, so long will it be partially quiet. But a day comes when the passions must be laid, and when every beat of the heart, like the curfew bell, will tell you that the time for extinguishing their fires is come, and then and there conscience will re-assert its lost supremacy, grasp its broken sceptre, and, refusing to be put down, it will emit its true and eternal utterances; and reason of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment; and prove that man may peradventure live without religion, but die without it he rarely can. A death-bed is that hour when conscience re-asserts its supremacy, however stupefied it may have been with the opium of half a century, and reminds its possessor of all behind and before. In such a case there are two resources: either the Romish priest, with a stronger opiate, under which man will die deluded and deceived: or the blood of Jesus, with pardon for the sin, and therefore peace for the conscience, which is the joyful sound of forgiveness. (J. Gumming, D. D.)

Voice of an evil conscience

The voice of an evil conscience is not one evil in particular, but a multitude of evils. It is a barking hell-hound, a monster vomiting fire, a raging fury, a tormenting devil. It is a nature and quality of a guilty conscience to flee and be terrified, even when all is well, and when prosperity abounds, and to change such prosperity into danger and death. (Luther.)

A burdened memory

A dying man, floating about on the wreck of the Central American, thought he heard his mother’s voice saying, “Johnny, did you take your sister’s grapes?” Thirty years before his sister was dying of consumption, and he had secretly eaten some choice grapes sent her by a friend. For twenty years the words had passed from his recollection. What have we really forgotten.

Verse 22

Genesis 42:22

Do not sin against the child

Do not sin against the child

Thus Reuben reminded his brethren of his admonition concerning Joseph--thus would I address you with regard to your own children.

Note the words of the text: “Spake I not unto you saying, Do not sin against the child?” The essence of sin lies in its being committed against God. The sword of sin cuts both ways, it not only contends against God but against His creatures too. It is a double evil. Like a bursting shell, it scatters evil on every side. Every relationship which we sustain involves duty, and consequently, may be perverted into an occasion for sin. The text calls us to consider one particular form of sin, namely, sinning against a child, and it is of that I intend to speak this morning, looking up to the Father of spirits that He would teach me to speak aright.

WHAT IS THIS WHICH HAS BEEN SAID TO US? “Do not sin against the child.” This warning may be suitable for every one of us without exception, for those who are not parents, and who are not teachers of the young are nevertheless bound to remember that they are in a commonwealth of which young people make up a very considerable part. Little eyes are so quick to observe the actions of those who are grown up, that adults should be careful what they do. I would say to every man who is giving full swing to his passions, if nothing else will check you, at any rate pause awhile when yonder fair-haired girls and lisping children are gazing upon you. If you care not for angels, stop for the sake of yon blue-eyed boy. Let not the leprosy of your sin pollute your offspring more than must be. To the parent the text speaks with a still small voice, to which I trust none of us will be deaf. “Do not sin against the child”--against your own dear child! Yet how many parents do so! If, as I now speak, unconverted parents will be compelled to acknowledge the truthfulness of the accusations I shall lay against them, I hope they will be led to deep and true repentance. There are many parents who neglect altogether the religious education of their children. I remember a woman who was converted at an advanced age, who had been left years before a widow with many children; she was a most exemplary, moral, and industrious woman, and earning her living by most laborious work, she yet managed to bring up all her family, and settle them in a suitable manner; but after her conversion I think I never saw more bitter tears than those which she shed when she said, “I took care to feed them and clothe their bodies, but I never thought of their souls. Alas! for me, I knew no better; but alas! for them, I left the chief thing undone. The other day I spoke to my eldest son about the things of God, and he told me religion was all a farce, he did not regard a word I said; and well,” said she, “might he be an infidel when his mother never said a word by which he could have been led to be a believer.” Words were spoken by way of comfort to her, but like Rachel she refused to be comforted, because she said, and said truly, her great opportunity had been thrown away. The best time of effort for a mother had been allowed to pass away unused. Her harvest was passed, and her summer was ended, and her children were not saved. Parents who teach their children to sing the silly, frivolous, and perhaps licentious songs, are sacrificing them to Moloch. Shame is it when from a father’s lips the boy hears the first oath, and learns the alphabet of blasphemy. There are crowds of parents upon whose head the blood of their children will certainly descend, because they have launched them on the sea of life with the rudder set towards the rocks, with a false chart, a deceitful compass, and every other appliance for securing eternal shipwreck. The text further bears with equal severity upon the preacher. I feel it chides and chastens me. Preaching is full often too obscure for children; the words are too long, the sentences too involved, the matter too mysterious. Sacred simplicity should be so cultivated by the ambassador of Christ, that lads and lasses should hear intelligently under a good shepherd, and the least lamb should be able to find food. But we must push on. I want the Church of God, and especially this church, to attend carefully to the next few remarks. When teachers and others are earnest about the conversion of children, and some of them are converted, they then come into relationship with the Church, and too often the Lord’s people need the advice, “Do not sin against the child.” How can a Church so offend? It can do so by not believing in the conversion of children at all.


1. Nature says it first. The instincts of humanity cry, “Do not sin against the child. It is but a child; it is little; sin not against it.”

2. Experience adds its voice to nature, “Do not sin against the child.” Hundreds of parents have been brought with sorrow to the grave through the natural result of their own failures and trespasses in reference to their children. They taught the lesson of sin, and the children, having learned it, practised it upon their parents. If you would not stuff your pillow with thorns, do not sin against the child.

3. Conscience repeats the same advice; that inward monitor ceases not to remind us of what is due to God and to His peculiar charge, the weak and feeble. Conscience tells us plainly that we must not sport with responsibilities so vast.

4. The Church adds her voice to that of conscience. “Do not sin against the child,” for the children are the Church’s hope. Bring them to Christ, that He may put His hands upon them and bless them, that they may become the future teachers and preachers, the pillars and defence of Christ’s Church below.

5. God Himself, speaking from the excellent glory, this morning, saith to each one of His servants here, “Do not sin against the child,” and I ask that if no other voice be heard, we may all bow before His glorious Majesty, and ask for grace to be willing and obedient.

Thirdly, having heard the message, WHAT THEN? Only two things.

1. Does not that exhortation startle some of the unconverted and unawakened here? I think if I were as you are, sir, if I had lived to be sixty years of age, and my son had died through drunkenness, or my daughter were at this time living a godless life, and I were unconverted, it would shoot a pang through my heart to think that I should have brought such misery upon them through my neglect of Divine things.

2. Does not this command of this morning press upon every Christian here, not alone upbraiding us, but as arousing our laggard energies, exciting us to something more of diligence and effort? Will you not roll away that reproach which I mentioned just now, which rests upon some of you, because there are schools without teachers? Parents, will you not pray for your children, and even to-day seek to hold up Jesus before them? Will we not all, God helping us, say within ourselves, that we will not longer sin against the child, but in Jesus’ name seek to gather His lambs and feed them for Him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Do not hurt the child


1. We may sin against a child first of all by spoiling him. If the peach trees and plum trees that are nailed to the garden walls by a hundred little pieces of cloth could but think and speak, they might very likely say to the gardener so busily at work with the hammer--“Why fasten us up like this, and forbid our beautiful branches from running on the ground or playing in the breeze. How unkind it is to put so many restraints upon us and leave us so little liberty; let us just for this season run over the wall, along by the wall, or away from the wall, or any way we please.” But the gardener, with a smile, would reply, “It is out of kindness I do it, not from mere caprice. Wait until the spring has glided into summer, and all thy branches are decked with snowy bloom. Wait until the summer has mellowed into autumn, and then when thy boughs are laden with fruit, which they never could have borne but for these restrictions, then you will see that all has been done for thy good and to make thy fruit the richer.” So, parents, out of very kindness to the child you must sometimes say, “No,” and place restrictions on him.

2. There is a second way in which you may sin against a child, the very reverse of that just mentioned, and it is by harshness.

3. A third way of sinning against a child is by bad example. It is Gilfillan who remarks that “any fault in a parent, any inconsistency, any disproportion between profession and practice, or precept and practice, falls upon the child’s eye with the force and precision of sunbeams on a daguerreotype plate.” On what other ground can you account for the awful proficiency in sin which you find in many a little one?

4. There is a fourth way of sinning against a child which I do not for a moment suppose is followed by any present. It is by selling a child for gain. Would that my Master might enable me to express in language strong enough the indignant thoughts that burn within my breast concerning this miserable traffic in children’s souls. Joseph is not the only child that has been sold for a few pieces of silver. Do you ask me what I mean and to what I refer? I answer to the thoughtless wicked practice of setting the child to any kind of work, and placing him amidst any kind of companionship so as to have the benefit of the few pence he may earn. Better starve without it than live by it, for it is nothing less than blood money.

5. Our next point is one that will, I doubt not, include many present. You may sin against the child by neglecting the means for its salvation.


1. Sin not against him, because he is a child. If you must sin against some one, sin against one of your own size and strength, but it is a dastardly thing and Cowardly to sin against a child. The little thing’s innocence ought to be its safeguard, and its very weakness should prove its protection.

2. Sin not against the child, because by so doing you may blast his whole life. You may with your foot so alter the course of that tiny little mountain rivulet that, instead of flowing gently down and widening as it goes until it glides through the smiling valley, refreshing thirsty man and beast, it leaps from rock to rock, from crag to crag, falling at last with hideous roar clown some black precipice. Oh, the fatal result of turning its course so near the spring.

3. Do not sin, moreover, against the child, because children are Christ’s favourites. He ever showed a peculiar sympathy with and care over children. (A. G. Brown.)

His blood is required

The heinousness of sin

From this, as well as from many other passages of Scripture, may be learnt the unpardonable nature of sin, and that even penitence itself cannot always protect us from the evils which vice naturally brings in its train. And this we see to be continually the case in the world around us. We often perceive that the consequences of one false step, one single error, can never be altogether averted, by any repentance or amendment on the part of the sinner. Suspicion and distrust still cling to him through life, haunting him at every step, and blasting all his prospects. This is the natural course of things; and what is the natural course of things but the will of God, making use of human instruments to manifest to the world His utter abhorrence of even the very appearance of evil. Let us not, then, deceive ourselves in supposing that because God has opened to us a hope of forgiveness, through the death of His Son, sin has thereby lost any of its blackness in His sight. Still less let us imitate the conduct of those who do evil that good may come, and who profanely imagine that God can be glorified by their iniquities. It is true that “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance”--but the joy arises from the unexpectedness and difficulty of his repentance, and not from his greater acceptableness in the sight of a holy God. Let it then be our earnest labour, from our earliest youth to our latest old age, to keep ourselves as much as possible undefiled in the way, and we shall still feel enough of our original frailty within us, to convince us that we are, after all, but unprofitable servants. Let the magnitude of the price which has been paid for our offences be a proof to us of the heinous nature of sin, and not an occasion of negligence. And let us learn, from the example before us, that guilt, though it may be retrieved, by repentance, from eternal punishment in the next world, will hardly ever escape from its evil consequences in this--that though the wound may be healed, yet the scar will still remain--and that though we may sin, like Reuben, from weakness rather than from vice, yet from us, like Reuben, will some bitter atonement for our transgression be hereafter required. (D. Charles.)


Although it was not certain that Joseph was dead, yet Reuben had too good reason to charge his brethren with blood-guiltiness. They were guilty of a bloody crime even in the eyes of men. No thanks were due to them for the care that Divine Providence took of him, any more than we owe thanks to the murderers of our Lord, because God brought Him again from the dead. We are accountable for those mischiefs that are the probable consequences of our wilful sins, as much as for the real consequences of them, if we had the same reason to dread them. When we repent of such sins, our grief on the whole will not be so painful as it would have been if God had not prevented the fatal effects which we had reason to dread; but the sin is the same, and the grief with which we ought to lament the sin is the same, only it is to be mingled with thankfulness and joy in that mercy which hath counteracted the natural effects of our misconduct. Two pair of combatants go forth to fight a duel. One kills his antagonist. Another fires his pistol with a view to kill his neighbour; but Divine Providence mercifully prevents the shedding of blood. He is no less a murderer in the eye of God than the other, and has the same reason to deplore his bloody purposes. But the other has an additional reason or bitter grief, because God hath suffered him to execute his bloody purpose, and to send into the other world a fellow-creature, who died in an act of wickedness like his own. You will all say, that whatever crimes are chargeable upon you, the guilt of blood is not in your skirts. Joseph’s brethren might probably have said the same thing. They do not say, We are guilty of our brother’s blood, but, We are guilty of turning a deaf ear to his mournful cries. Reuben, however, does not hesitate to charge them in direct terms with the guilt of blood; and we do not find that they had the courage to contradict him. They could not but see that their cruelty to Joseph had brought on, or might have brought on, his death. Isaiah tells the people of his own time, that their hands were full of blood (Isaiah 1:15). It is not to be supposed that the generality of the people were chargeable with that kind of murder which would have exposed them to an ignominous death by the laws of their country. But in the eyes of the great Judge, they were stained with blood in such a manner, that when they made many prayers with hands stretched out to His throne of mercy, He turned away His eyes from beholding them and His ears from hearing their supplication (Isaiah 1:15). (G. Lawson D. D.)

Verse 24

Genesis 42:24

He turned himself about from them and wept

Joseph’s feelings on seeing his brethren

After the lapse of twenty years, Joseph on seeing his brethren wept.

Why, he might have been vengeful! It is easy for us glibly to read the words, “Joseph turned himself about and wept.” But consider what the words might have been! We oftentimes see results, not processes. We do not see how men have had to bind themselves down, crucify themselves--hands, feet, head, and side--and undergo death in the presence of God, before they could look society in the face with anything like benignity and gentleness and forgiveness. What the words might have been! Joseph, when he saw his brethren, might have said, “Now I have you! Once you put me in a pit--I shall shake you over hell; once you sold me--I will imprison you and torture you day and night; you smote me with whips--I shall scourge you with scorpions! It shall be easier to go through a circle of fire than to escape my just and indignant vengeance to-day!” He might have said, “I shall operate upon the law, ‘A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye.’” That is the law of nature; that is elementary morality. It is not vengeance, it is not resentment; it is alphabetic justice--justice at its lowest point--incipient righteousness. It is not two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth; but an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a blow for a blow, a pit for a pit, selling for selling, and so on. A great many men are perfectly content with elementary morality and alphabetic justice. People don’t educate themselves from this kind of righteousness into Christian nobility of disposition. It is not a question of education; it is a question of sanctification. Few men can rise beyond mere justice. Many men find in mere justice all the moral satisfaction which their shallow natures require; they cannot see that mercy is the very highest point in justice, and that when a man stoops to forgive be becomes a prince and a king and a crowned ruler in the house and kingdom of God. It requires all that God can do to teach men this: That there is something higher than the law of retaliation, that forgiveness is better than resentment, and that to release men is oftentimes-if done from moral consideration and not from moral neglect--the highest form of Christian justice. But revenge is sweet! I am afraid that some of us like just a little revenge; not that we would ourselves personally and directly inflict it, but if our enemies could, somehow or another, be tripped up, and tumble half way at least into a pit, we should not feel that compunction and sorrow and distress of soul which, sentimentally, appears to be so very fine and beautiful. Nothing but God the Holy Ghost can train a man to this greatness of answering the memory of injury with tears, and accepting processes in which men only appear to have a part, as if God, after all, had been over-ruling and directing the whole scheme.. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The secret sorrows of men

“And Joseph turned himself about from them and wept.” Afterwards he left their presence and went into his chamber and wept. Think of the secret sorrows of men! The tears did not flow in the presence of the ten men. The tears were shed in secret. We do not know one another altogether, because there is a private life. There are secret experiences. Some of us are two men. Joseph was two men. He spake roughly unto his brethren. He put it on, he assumed roughness for the occasion. But if you had seen him when he had got away into his secret chamber, no woman ever shed hotter, bitterer tears than streamed from that man’s eyes. We do not know one another altogether. We come to false conclusions about each other’s character and disposition. Many a time we say about men, “They are very harsh, rough, abrupt”; not knowing that they have other days when their very souls are dissolved within them; that they can suffer more in one hour than shallower natures could endure in an eternity. Let us be hopeful about the very worst of men. Some men cannot cry in public. Some men are unfortunately afflicted with coarse, harsh voices, which get for them a reputation for austerity, unkindliness, ungeniality. Other men are gifted with fairness and openness of countenance, gentleness and tunefulness of voice. When they curse and swear it seems as though they were half praying, or just about to enter into some religious exercise. When they speak, when they smile, they get a reputation for being very amiable men, yet they do not know what amiability is. They have no secret life. They weep for reputation; they make their tears an investment for a paltry renown. We do not want all our history to be known. We are content for men to read a little of what they see on the outside, and they profoundly mistake that oftentimes. But the secret history, the inner room of life, what we are and what we do when we are alone, no man can ever tell--the dearest, truest, tenderest friend can never understand. Do not let us treat Joseph’s tears lightly. Under this feeling there are great moral principles and moral impulses. The man might have been stern, vengeful, resentful. Instead of that he is tender as a forgiving sister. When he looks he yearns, when he listens to their voices all the gladness and none of the bitterness of his old home comes back again on his soul. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Joseph’s emotion

The hearing of the bitter reflections made by his brethren, upon their barbarous treatment of himself, brought rivers of waters from Joseph’s eyes. Many passions, many unpleasant and many pleasant remembrances, struggled together in his mind. He tenderly sympathized with the distress of his brethren. He was grieved when he found it necessary to inflict such grief upon men so dear to him, after all they had done to ruin his comfort. He wept at the remembrance of that anguish which he had felt in the day of his calamity, and of the unavailing applications to his hard-hearted brethren, extorted by strong necessity and bitter anguish. He called to mind his afflictions and his misery, the wormwood and the gall; but he remembered also how the Lord had sent from above, and taken and drawn him out of many waters, and set him in a large place, and established his goings. Although Joseph was now exalted to glory and power, he was not in the place where all tears are wiped from every eye. We must in this world weep often, even for ourselves; we must often weep for our friends; but “they that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” He that “goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Joseph wished not that his brethren should see his tears. When he found he could not refrain, he turned himself from them and wept. Tears shed in secret are the truest indication of the heart. Jeremiah wept in secret places for the calamities coming upon his people, when the Lord’s flock was to be carried away captive. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Took from them Simeon, and bound him:--

Harsh steps sometimes necessary

The circumstances of the case required such a behaviour from Joseph as ought not to be made a precedent, unless similar circumstances, or different circumstances of a very uncommon kind, render it advisable. It was not sufficient to satisfy Joseph that he heard his brethren sorely regret their conduct towards himself. In the judgment of charity, he hoped their repentance was sincere; but farther proofs of their sincerity were requisite, before he could place that confidence which he wished to do, in any professions they might have made. Parents are not to be blamed when they forgive their offending but penitent children, although they watch over them with anxious jealousy, lest they should not “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” The surgeon is not to be blamed although he give great pain to his patient, by incisions deeper than appear to ordinary beholders to be necessary. Joseph had too good reason to know the stubborn spirit of some of his brethren, and in particular of Simeon; and who knows but he had particular directions from God about the proper means for taming it? During the two or three days of his brethren’s imprisonment, he had time to acknowledge the Lord in this important affair, and the Lord directed his steps. You must not be rash in passing judgment on men’s conduct. “A tree,” says our Lord, “is known by its fruit.” And yet there are cases in which the fruit is to be judged of from the tree. If a good man does actions that are certainly bad, that charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, will not hinder you from assigning them that character which they deserve. But if actions are dubious, charity, which believeth all things, hopeth all things, forbids you to pronounce them bad till better evidence appear. “He bound Simeon before their eyes.” This circumstance of Simeon’s imprisonment puts us in mind of Nebuchadnezzar’s cruelty to Zedekiah, king of Judah, whose sons he slew before their father’s eyes, and then caused his eyes to be put out, that he might never behold another object. His intention was to double the calamities of the loss of sight, and of the murder of his children. But those actions may be not only different, but opposite in their nature, which present the same appearance when viewed with a careless eye. An enemy wounds that he may destroy, “but faithful are the wounds of a friend.” All Joseph’s brethren now with him, except Reuben, needed severe rebukes; and no reproofs of the tongue were so likely to subdue their haughty spirit, as the sight of the distress of their brother and companion in iniquity. But it is probable that Joseph’s chief design in presenting this melancholy spectacle to their eyes was, that they might be excited to return more speedily with their younger brother, whom Joseph was impatient to see. The eye affects the heart. Envy hindered them from regarding the distress of Joseph in the pit; but it was to be hoped that they would compassionate the sufferings of that brother who had never offended them by his dreams, nor received from his father a coat of divers colours. We cannot pretend either to the power or to the wisdom of Joseph. We do not enjoy such intercourse with Heaven by immediate revelation as he frequently enjoyed; and therefore, it would be presumptuous in us to pretend to take such methods as he employed, to humble the spirits of those who have offended us. We have never met with usage that can be compared to the treatment which he had received from his brethren. We must not, however, hope to pass through life without trials to our patience and meekness. “Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among us? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Verses 25-28

Genesis 42:25-28

My money is restored; and lo, it is even in my sack: and their hearts failed them

The miseries of an awakened conscience





The money returned

THE RETURN. Affairs in Egypt strangely settled, they set out on their return. They have been treated with a perplexing mixture of kindness and harshness. They have provision for their journey; but they remember the prison, and the hostage they have left behind. What shall they say to their father? Once they returned without Joseph. He scarcely recovered from that blow. Now they are without Simeon, and must demand Benjamin. How great their perplexity! They thought of Joseph when in the presence of the lord of Egypt; do they think of him now? By the very road they were travelling they saw him borne away years before. They were enveloped in mystery. The old man at home among his hungry household, and their own children awaiting their return. Simeon’s children, too, to meet; and no father brought back to them.

THE DISCOVERY. Thus perplexed, and anxiously anticipating the result, they arrive at one of the inns, or khans, at which the caravans stopped to rest. An ass needs provender. A sack is opened. The money is discovered. Consternation. What can it all mean? Did they reflect on the money for which they had once sold a brother? Probably Joseph’s purchasers once lodged with their newly bought slave in that very inn, and talked of the sum they had given, as these men were now talking of the money they had found. This money boded no good. An unheard-of thing, that a seller should return the money. Joseph very likely returned the money to ensure their return; lest they might need food and not have money to buy it. A new thing to tell their father.

THE FAMILY CONSTERNATION. They arrive at home. The first greetings over, inquiries are made. Where is Simeon? They relate the history of their adventures and Simeon’s detention. While they relate this strange history they open their sacks. A new discovery. All the money returned! Fear seizes the whole family. It is a new thing in the story of trade. May have been regarded by them as a pretext for the Egyptians coming and carrying them all away into captivity. Jacob especially filled with dread. He has now lost two sons, and sees in the returned money a new occasion of alarm. “All these things are against me.” But they were all for him, because a son was in it all. “All things shall work together for the good of them who love God,” because another Son--Jesus Christ--is concerned in our welfare. Learn:

Past sins cast their shadow on the present, and overcast the future.

The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth.

Conscience converts things strange into things ominous.

Our ignorance of Divine plans causes us to charge God foolishly.

No money needed to procure the bread of life. “In my hand no price I bring.” Jesus Christ is an “unspeakable GIFT.” (J. C. Gray.)

A sorrowful company

“They said one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?” They all spoke the same language of despondency. None of them, as far as we find, administered any comfort to his companions. It is an unhappy thing, when, in a company of men, not one is found who can speak a word in season, for advice or consolation to his companions in trouble. It is reported, that in a time of persecution, some faithful ministers met together to deliberate about their duty. All of them for a time were silent, or if anything was said, it tended only to increase the general dejection. At last they all recovered their spirits, at hearing one of their number say, “We are all immortal till our work is done.” These few words gave effect to a truth, which they already knew, that their days were numbered by a Divine decree, and that it was not in the power of all the men on earth to cut them off from the land of the living a moment before the time appointed by the wisdom and love of that God whom they served. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The money found in the sack

1. See how sin pursues the sinner. Like an enemy that he cannot shake off, ready at any moment to accuse and torment. And it will do more against him hereafter, unless taken away.

2. Observe the fear of these men. They were bold, hard men; yet see how their heart fails them. Whom do they fear? The stern Egyptian ruler? No. Their own thoughts, their own secret, their own sin. Nothing makes men so fearful as an evil conscience.

3. But their thoughts turned not to their sin alone, but to God. They saw His hand in what befell them. This, as far as it went, was a wholesome thought. What they said was quite true; it was God that was dealing with them. It was well that they should feel it. (F. Bourdillon.)

Verses 29-35

Genesis 42:29-35

They came unto Jacob



Providence carrieth guilty souls in, through, and out of temporal dangers at His will.

2. Gracious fathers are gratified sometimes from God by safe return of sinful children.

3. Reason will instruct men to declare all events of Providence furthering, or hindering in the way (Genesis 42:29).

4. In relation of providential events truth must be declared; yet no need of telling all.

5. In relating providences, evil men are willing to hide sins which caused them.

6. It concerns suspected, and accused persons to declare what is required for their purgation. Upon this these sons of Jacob make this narration of themselves and others (Genesis 42:30-34). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Providence ordereth to creatures strange things at home, as well as abroad.

2. God ordereth good in events to men, which they are apt to think bad.

3. Mistakes of Providence may make men fear where no cause is (Genesis 42:35). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Money causing fear

Gold and silver are bright metals. They dazzle the eye of the greater part of mankind. Achan saw a gold wedge, and, in defiance of an awful curse, took it to his tent. Yet when Jacob and his sons saw heaps of money in the mouths of their sacks, they were terrified as if they had seen a serpent. For what reason were they afraid at a sight so generally desired? They thought that this money was a snare laid for their lives. And have not many rich men still greater reason to tremble when they look at their gold and silver? All money unjustly got, or unrighteously or unmercifully kept, is a snare to the possessor, and will rise up to witness against him in the day of accounts. Such riches are corrupted and cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against the owners, and eat their flesh as it were fire. But Jacob and his sons had no good reason to be afraid when they saw the money. It came not from an artful knave, but from a kind son and brother, who was tenderly solicitous about his father and brethren, that they should not come to poverty. Our fears often proceed from our ignorance and mistake. We are afraid of those evils that will never come, and stand in no fear of those that will come. Happy are they who can commit all their affairs to Him who knows everything that shall befall us. Jacob’s sons were afraid at the inn, when they were told of money in one of their sacks. But the fears which they had endeavoured to forget were awakened anew at the opening of all their sacks. Every little circumstance heightens the distress of minds already dejected; and therefore, in dangerous circumstances, it is necessary to our peace and happiness to have our minds fortified with the consolations of God. “The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a lion.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Verse 36

Genesis 42:36

All these things are against me

The conflict of life

So spoke the patriarch Jacob when Joseph had been made away with, Simeon was detained in Egypt, Benjamin threatened, and his remaining sons were suspected by him and distrusted; when at his door was a grievous famine, enemies or strangers round about, evil in prospect, and in the past a number of sad remembrances.

Thus did Almighty God remind His people that the world was not their rest.

In Jacob is prefigured the Christian. What he said in dejection of mind, the Christian must say, not in dejection, not in complaint or impatience, but calmly, as if confessing a doctrine--“‘All these things are against me,’ but it is my portion; they are against me, that I may fight with and overcome them.” If there were no enemy, there could be no conflict; were there no trouble, there could be no faith; were there no trial, there could be no love; were there no fear, there could be no hope.

To passages like these it is natural to object, that they do not belong to the present time, that so far from Christians being in trouble because they are Christians, it is those who are not Christians who are under persecution. The answer is that affliction, hardship and distress are the Christian’s portion, both promised and bestowed, though at first sight they seem not to be. If Christians are in prosperity, not in adversity, it is because, by disobedience, they have forfeited the promise and privilege of affliction.

Take up thy portion then, Christian soul, and weigh it well, and learn to love it. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

The increasing troubles of Jacob’s old age


1. The strange perplexity into which his sons had been brought.

2. The opening again of an old wound (Genesis 42:32).

3. The loss of all earthly hope.


1. Querulousness and despondency.

2. Want of strong faith in God. (T. H. Leale.)

Mistaking God’s providences

There is nothing more characteristic or more striking in the nature of man than the alternations often very rapid--to which he is subject of seasons of self-confidence and gloom.


1. Human nature in similar circumstances is continually making it. I might go further, and say that human nature, even after it has been strengthened and elevated by Christianity, is still continually prone to pass this judgment upon the providence of God. When lately the edifice of fortune, which perhaps long years of energy and honesty had piled, was in an instant stricken as by a bolt from heaven, and fell crumbling around you, leaving you all unsheltered in a cold, unpitying world, could you see a proof of infinite tenderness, a sign of happiness, in the smoking ruins at your feet?

2. Human nature cannot by itself do otherwise than give this answer. There is, and can be found, no comfort, no strengthening, for man in mere nature, and man himself has an instinctive consciousness of this. The highest effort of philosophy, strictly so called, was simply to harden man--to cure his wounded sensibilities by first destroying them. Christianity alone can lay open to man’s tearful gaze the vision of two worlds, and, pouring its sustaining, enlightening influences into his soul, enable him to apprehend the truth that “the sufferings,” &c. (Romans 8:18).

AIDS TO FAITH FURNISHED BY REASON AND EXPERIENCE. Are there not considerations furnished to us from these sources which should lead us to regard all God’s dealings with us, even those which seem to us the heaviest and darkest, as not really against us, but for us?

1. We should be led to this conclusion by the consideration of God’s character. “God is love,” and “I, the Lord, change not.”

2. We should be led to this conclusion by the consideration of our own present ignorance in all things. What can we see of the outgoings of the All-wise and the All-good other than the veriest hem of His garment? We see a few isolated facts, but the hidden connections, the far reaching purposes, the eternal consequences of the mighty plan are entirely covered up from our eyes. You have sometimes seen from a hill-side, a valley over the undulating floor of which there has been laid out a heavy mantle of mist. The spires of the churches rise above it. Here and there you seem to catch the glistening of a roof or of a vane. Here and there a higher house, or some little eminence, or some tree-tops islanded in vapour, are beheld. But the lower and connecting objects--the linking line of the roads, the plan and foundation of the whole--are completely hidden from our gaze. And this is just the view which is permitted to us of the providence of God. We see a few isolated facts, and that is all. How absurd then, in reason, to attempt to determine the character of the Divine dealings with us upon such a view! How unjust are we when we do so to our God!

3. We should be led to a patient submission to God’s will, and a belief that even His severest visitations are the effects and evidences of His love, from a consideration of the present moral effects of trial and suffering manifested to us by experience.

(1) This discipline is generally necessary to break off our connections with this world and to fix them on heaven. We should want no better rest if all were peace here. We should want no deeper joy if no blackness of affliction ever rested on our earthly path.

(2) Only thus can the highest style of character be formed. Affliction gives balance to the character, softens the asperities of nature, gives tone and depth to all our emotions, and places us nearer to the Son of Man, who was also the Son of God.

Concluding lessons:

1. Contentment. This a day of great hopes, desires, endeavours, and disappointments.

2. Trust in God (Job 13:15). (W. Rudder, D. D.)

A faithless lament

ATHEISTIC. He makes no mention of God. For the moment he has forgotten how the Lord had led him at first to Laban’s house, and had given him prosperity during his twenty-one years’ sojourn in Padan-aram; how He had cared for him when he left his father-in-law; how He had mollified for him the anger of Esau; how He had blessed him at Penuel after the night-long wrestling; and how He had protected him at the time when the violence of some of his sons might have drawn upon him the vengeance of the Shechemites. Now God was in this new trial as much and as really as He was in these old ones, and if Jacob had remembered that, he would not have spoken as he did. We shall see, indeed, that after a while, when his sons were bidding him farewell on their departure for Egypt for ore food, he came back to his old trustfulness, and offered for them this prayer: “God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” But at the first, when the full shadow of his trouble passed over him, God was to him, for the moment, eclipsed, and that only made his trial heavier.

UNTRUE. All these things were not against him. They were really working together for his good. They were onward steps in that process by which he was to recover his long-lost won, and was to have conferred upon him those years of happiness that, as we read the history, seem to us to be like the Sabbath of his early life, which, after the labour and sorrow of the week, he was enabled to spend in rest, in thankfulness, and in joy. How he would blame himself for these hasty words in those latter days, when he went to see Joseph in his palace, and took his grandsons between his knees; and I can imagine him saying to the God of his fathers, after all the riddle of his life had been unfolded to him, “Now I know the thoughts of Thy heart towards me, and I bless Thee that they were thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give me this delightful end.”

1. Now, from this analysis of Jacob’s experience, we may learn, in the first place, that God is in all the events of our lives. Many of us are ready enough to admit that He is in the prosperous things, but when trouble comes upon us we attribute that solely to others, and “n that way we lose the comfort which otherwise me might have enjoyed under its endurance. The mercies of a lifetime are often ignored by us under the bitterness of a single trial; and God, who has been our friend for years, is forgotten altogether, while we passionately condemn some others as the authors of our affliction. But we shall never find consolation that way. The first thing we ought to say regarding every trial is, “It is the Lord.” If, instead of turning on his sons, Jacob had only turned to his God, he would have been sustained; and we may be sure of this, that trouble never yet overwhelmed a man so long as he could see God in it.

2. Then, again, from our analysis of Jacob’s case, we ought to learn to pass no sentence of condemnation on God’s work until it is completed. “Judge nothing before the time.” We must not argue, from the pain of a part of the process, that there is evil intended to us in the result of the whole. The surgeon has a stern aspect, and apparently an unfeeling hand, when he cuts into the diseased organ or amputates the broken limb, but he is working towards healing all the time. And so it is with God and the discipline of His children. Wait until He finish His work before you condemn it.

3. Finally, if these two things be true, that God is in our trials, and that the outcome of them all under His supervision will be good, we may surely stay ourselves in trouble by earnest prayer. “Is any among you afflicted, let him pray.” We have to deal with no blind, remorseless law. The Lord Jesus has taught us to say, “Our Father,” and when we enter fully into the meaning of these words, and recognize clearly that His providence is universal, we shall have no difficulty in saying “Thy will be done”; for the Father’s will is always love to His own children. That will sustain us while we are on earth. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The smiling face behind the frowning providence


WE HAVE THE EVIDENCE OF GOD’S LOVE TO US IN THE DEATH OF HIS SON ON OUR BEHALF. We may, therefore, rest satisfied that He will not harm us by any of the events of His providence. There are not TWO GODS, one of providence, and one of grace.

WE HAVE THE TESTIMONY OF MANY OF GOD’S PEOPLE TO THE FACT THAT THOSE THINGS WHICH WERE APPARENTLY HARDEST IN THEIR LOTS, WERE AFTER ALL MOST BLESSED TO THEM. It is easy to see how that was the case in the history of Jacob which has been before us. But it is equally conspicuous in the history of Abraham. But it has been the same with all God’s saints. The head-waters which have fed the main tributaries to their character, have been away up in some lonely tam of trial among the mountains, where their souls were sore pressed by the affliction that came upon them.

YOU MAY FIND FROM YOUR OWN PAST EXPERIENCE THAT YOUR TRIALS WILL END IN YOUR SPIRITUAL PROFIT. You are different from any disciples of Jesus whom I have ever known, if you be not ready to say that the greatest starts your spiritual growth has taken have been occasioned by trial. In the early spring-time, after the seed has been put into the ground, and has begun to sprout out of the earth, there come those cloudy, close, damp, steamy days, which we all know so well and dislike so much. The sun is rarely visible; the heat is more oppressive and relaxing than in the dog-days; and everybody is uncomfortable. We would rather have a pelting rain for a few hours and be done with it, or we would infinitely prefer the cloudless sky and blazing sun of midsummer. Yes, but then these are the “fine growing days” which the farmer loves, when things seem to be shooting up from the earth with such rapidity that you almost think you can see them moving. So, the “fine growing days” of the soul are not its most agreeable ones. They are the close, damp, depressing ones, in which, as with Paul and his fellow-passengers in the storm, no sun appears by day, and no star visible by night. Or, to illustrate it yet in another way: There is a shuddering dread comes over one as he sees the lightning leap from the cloud, and light up the midnight gloom with its glare; but if the flash reveal to us that we are standing on the edge of a precipice over which we are in danger of falling, we will welcome it in spite of our alarm, and thank God for the providence that sent it just then. Now, it is so sometimes that trial has come to us, and we have forgotten the forked fury of the flaming thunderbolt in our gratitude for the warning which it gave so timely. Who has not known of such times in his history? and with such experiences behind us, how can we permit ourselves to say of any circumstances, however untoward they may seem, “All these things are against us”? Take to yourselves the support which these considerations are fitted to supply. If I have spoken truly, then--

1. No matter what your trials may be, you may be at peace. You are in God’s hands. Where could you be better? Where would you be rather?

2. You may see new reason for patience. “Judge nothing before the time.” Let God finish His work, and when you can look back upon the beginning from the end, you will not need anyone to vindicate His ways to you.

3. You may surely stay yourselves by earnest prayer. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)



1. His affection for Joseph and Benjamin made him unreasonable to his other sons.

2. Under the predominant influence of his parental solicitudes, Jacob forgot for the time the hand of his God. “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.” Things may often be set in a more striking light by means of contrast. And Jacob not only overlooked the hand of God; he manifested criminal distrust of the faithfulness and goodness of the God of the covenant; distrust of that word which he had never yet known to fail, and of that ever-watchful care to which heretofore he had been so deeply indebted: “All these things are against me.” Many a time had the Lord appeared to Jacob. Many an assurance had He given him of His love and care.

THAT THERE IS GREAT DANGER, ON THE PART OF CREATURES, IN FORMING HASTY CONCLUSIONS RESPECTING ANY PARTS OF THE DIVINE ADMINISTRATION. How ignorant and short-sighted was the good old saint! He saw not--and who does?--“what a day was to bring forth.” The mission of Benjamin was to be the release of Simeon. Benjamin was to be made happy in the meeting of his own maternal brother. And Jacob himself was to get tidings of his long-lost boy, that would be the renewing of the youth of his aged spirit. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

All these things--a sermon with three texts

The patriarch must needs use the expression, “ALL THESE THINGS.” He had gone through the catalogue: there were but three items at the most, and yet nothing narrower than “All these things are against me” will suit him. “All these things,” indeed! And what a little “all” compared with the benefits of God! What an insignificant “all” compared with the sufferings of our covenant Head! What a trifling “all” compared with the amazing weight of glory which shall soon be revealed in us!

Our first text is THE EXCLAMATION OF UNBELIEF: “All these things are against me.”

1. In Jacob’s case it was a very plausible verdict. Yet plausible as was the old man’s mournful conclusion, it was not correct; and hence let us learn to forbear rash judgment, and never in any case conclude against the faithfulness of the Lord.

2. Jacob’s exclamation was most evidently exaggerated--exaggerated in the term he used, “All these things,” for there were but three evils at the most; exaggerated, too, in most of the statements. You would suppose, from the patriarch’s language, that beyond all doubt, Simeon had fallen a victim in Egypt, and that Benjamin was demanded with a view to his instant execution; but where was evidence to support this assertion? We frequently talk of our sorrows in language larger than the truth would warrant. We write ourselves down as peers in the realms of misery, whereas we do but bear the common burdens of ordinary men.

3. The exclamation of Jacob was also as bitter as it was exaggerated. It led him to make a speech which (however accidentally true), with his information as to his sons, was ungenerous, and even worse. He said, “Me ye have bereaved of my children.” Now, if he really believed that Joseph was torn of beasts, as he appears to have done, he had no right to assail the brethren with a charge of murder; for it was little else. In the case of Simeon, the brethren were perfectly innocent; they had nothing whatever to do with Simeon’s being bound, it was wrong to accuse them so harshly. In the taking away of Benjamin, though there may have been a jealousy against him as aforetime against Joseph, yet most certainly the brethren were not to blame.

4. Observe that this speech was rather carnal than spiritual. You see more of human affections than of grace-wrought faith; more of the calculator than the believer; more of Jacob than of Israel. Jacob is more the man and less the man of God than we might have expected him to have been. See how he dwells upon his bereavements 1 Notice, in the case before us, the patriarch’s unbelieving observation was quite unwarranted by his past history. Could Jacob think of Bethel, and yet say, “All these things are against me”? Could he forget Penuel, and the place where he wrestled and prevailed at the brook Jabbok?

5. Still keeping to Jacob’s exclamation, let me observe that it was altogether erroneous. Not a syllable that he spoke was absolutely true. “Joseph is not.” And yet, poor Jacob, Joseph is. Thou thinkest the beasts have devoured him, but he is ruler over all the land of Egypt, and thou shalt kiss his cheeks ere long. “Simeon is not”; wrong again, good father, for Simeon is alive, though for his good, to cool his hot and headlong spirit, Joseph has laid him by the heels a little. And as to Benjamin, whom thou sayest they wish to take away, he is to go and see his brother Joseph, who longs to embrace him, and will return him to thee in peace. Not one of all these things is against thee. Our best days have been those which we thought our worst. Probably we are never so much in prosperity as when plunged in adversity. No summer days contribute so much to the healthy growth of our souls as those sharp wintry nights which are so trying to us. We fear that we are being destroyed, and our inner life is at that moment being most effectually preserved.

6. Being wrong in judgment, the good old man was led to unwise acting and speaking, for he said, “My son shall not go down with you.” The unbelieving generally do stupid things. We conclude that God is against us, and then we act in such a way as to bring troubles upon ourselves which otherwise would not have come.

7. And notice, once more, that good old Jacob lived to find in actual experience that he had been wrong from beginning to end. We do not all live to see what fools we have been, but Jacob did.

Turn now to the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, and the sixteenth verse, where you have THE PHILOSOPHY OF EXPERIENCE: “O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit.” Unbelief saith, “All these things are against me”; enlightened experience saith, “In all these things is the life of my spirit.” The passage is taken from the prayer of Hezekiah after he was raised from his sick bed.

1. Our spirits, under God, live by passing through the sorrows of the present; for first, let me remind you, that by these trials and afflictions we live, because they are medicinal. There are spiritual diseases which would corrupt our spirit if not checked, kept down, and destroyed as to their reigning power by the daily cross which the Lord lays upon our shoulders. Just as the fever must be held in check by the bitter draught of quinine, so must the bitter cup of affliction rebuke our rising pride and worldliness.

2. Afflictions, again, are stimulative. We are all apt to grow slothful. There is an old story in the Greek annals, of a soldier under Antigonus who had a disease about him, an extremely painful one, likely to bring him soon to the grave. Always first in the ranks was this soldier, and in the hottest part of the fray; he was always to be seen leading the van, the bravest of the brave, because his pain prompted him to fight that he might forget it; and he feared not death because he knew that in any case he had not long to live. Antigonus, who greatly admired the valour of his soldier, finding out that he suffered from a disease, had him cured by one of the most eminent physicians of the day, but alas! from that moment the warrior was absent from the front of the battle. He now sought his ease, for, as he remarked to his companions, he had something worth living for--health, home, family, and other comforts, and he would not risk his life now as aforetime. So when our troubles are many, we are made courageous in serving our God, we feel that we have nothing to live for in this world, and we are driven by hope of the world to come, to exhibit zeal, self-denial, and industry; but how often is it otherwise in better times? for then the joys and pleasures of this world make it hard for us to remember the world to come, and we sink into inglorious ease.

3. Our troubles are a great educational process. We are at school now, and are not yet fully instructed.

4. So, too, trials and tribulations are the life of our spirit, because they are preparative for that higher life in which the spirit shall truly live. This is the place for washing our robes--yonder is the place for wearing them; this is the place for tuning our hearts, and discord is inevitable to that work; but yonder is the abode of unbroken harmony.

I close with my third text, and I think you may almost guess it, it tells of THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH. Turn now to the eighth chapter of Romans, and the thirty-seventh verse: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” “All these things are against us.” Very well, we could not conquer them if they were not against us; but they are the life of our spirit--and as Samson found honey in the lion, so we, though these things roar upon us, shall find food within them. Trials threaten our death, but they promote our life. I want you to be sure to notice the uniform expression, “All these things are against me.” “In all these things is the life of my spirit,” and now, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” The list is just as comprehensive in the best text as in the worst. Nay, poor Jacob’s “All these things” only referred to three; but look at Paul’s list: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword--the list is longer, darker, blacker, fiercer, sterner, but still we triumph--“In all these things we are more than conquerors.” Observe then, that the believing Christian enjoys present triumph over all his troubles. What does Paul mean by saying that believers are “more than conquerors”? Is it not this, that with the conqueror there is a time when his triumph is in jeopardy? But it is never so with the believer; he grasps the victory at once by an act of faith. No “ifs,” “buts,” “per-adventures,” for him. He is conqueror at once, for God is on his side. But see how this last text of mine opens up the great source of comfort. “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Did you notice, Jacob said nothing about Him that loved us? No, he could not have been unbelieving if he had thought of Him; and the life of our spirit in trouble very much lies in remembering Him that loved us. It is through Him we conquer because He has conquered. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A mistaken conclusion

GOD’S DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE, EVEN WHEN HE IS WORKING THEIR DELIVERANCE, AND DESIGNING THEIR GOOD, ARE OFTEN DARK AND INTRICATE, SEEMING TO MAKE MORE AGAINST THEM THAN FOR THEM. Thus it was with Jacob now. God designed the preservation of him and his family in Egypt, by Joseph’s advancement there; but how unlikely was the method He took in order to it?


1. This proceeds from their weakness of faith, as to God’s wisdom and power, faithfulness and love.

2. A saint is apt to say of what befalls him, all these things are against me, as looking to Providence, and judging by it abstracted from His promise.

3. A child of God may say of what befalls him, all these things are against me, judging by sense.

4. What a saint thus speaks, ‘tie as looking down to the present world, and his interest in it.

5. Saints may say of God’s dealings, they are against them, as speaking through rashness, and viewing only a part of his work, and not staying to the end.

6. Saints, under the trials they meet with, may be tempted to say, all these things are against us, as not duly attending to the method of God’s dealing with His people, and their own and others’ experience of the happy purposes He has served by it.


1. From God’s relation to them. He is their God in covenant, their tender Father, and so in a peculiar manner concerned about them.

2. From His love to them.

3. From His express promises (Isaiah 43:1-2).


1. For His own glory (John 11:4) In God’s delivering us when we are at the end of our thoughts and hopes, and when ready to give up all for lost, then He appears in His glory, a God powerful, wise, merciful, and faithful indeed.

2. This God does, for the trial and discovery of His people.

(1) In their corruption: that they may be more sensible of it, and humbled under it.

(2) For the discovery of their graces: either as to their weakness, that they may be labouring after improvement; or as to their strength, that this may appear to His honour and their own comfort.

(3) To quicken and make them the more earnest in prayer to Him.

(4) To sweeten and endear the mercy He vouchsafes them, after all their doubtings and fears of the contrary.

(5) God heightens the difficulties that seem to stand in the way of mercy before us, that we may be enlarged in our thanksgivings for it afterwards.


1. Take heed of judging God’s purposes of grace by the external dispensations which make way to bring them into effect.

2. Beg that faith may not fail when all things of sense seem dark and dismal.

3. Beware of entertaining narrow thoughts of God in the deepest distress. Believe Him always the same, whatever changes you meet with.

4. Listen not to what flesh, and sense, or Satan would suggest, derogatory to the power and faithfulness of God.

5. Be assured that all God’s providences are accomplishing His promises, though you see not how this will be brought about.

6. Whilst you are so apt to say on earth, that all these things are against me, with the greater earnestness press on towards heaven. And in the light of that world, you will be fully satisfied how all things in the issue were for you, and that all your tears did but prepare you, with the greater relish to enter into that presence of God, where there is fulness of joy, and where there are pleasures for evermore. (D. Wilcox.)

Jacob’s complaint

1. That men may be brought by very different ways to think that all things are against them. Jacob was brought to despond by the simple pressure of adverse circumstances. It was the loss of his children that made him utter the words of my text. Joseph and Simeon were gone. Benjamin was apparently to go next. It was indeed too much for a father’s heart. But I wish you to observe, that it had in it nothing of the bitterness of sin. I do not say that Jacob’s adversity might not be connected with the faults of his early life. Most probably the judgment of God it was. But I mean that his sorrows were not of a kind to bring his sins to remembrance. I think if the sons of Jacob had said, “all these things are against us,” they would have had much more reason for uttering these words than had their father. Depend upon it, it is when our faults have brought us into trouble--when our punishment is the legitimate child of our sins--it is then that we have most reason for believing and for saying, that “the hand of the Lord is against us.” And yet I would have you observe, that even in the ease of Joseph’s brethren, who were now in his power, and locked by his command in prison, it was not true that all things were against them. Little as they might deserve it, God’s hand was over them for good. Thus they were on the eve of prosperity; for, however strange it may seem, still it was certainly true, that the sin of these men against their brother was not only the means of their own prosperity, but was likewise a link in the grand chain of God’s providential dealings with the whole race of mankind.

2. Every one knows how frequently he is wrong in his forebodings of evil--how circumstances of evil which he feared would prove fatal to hishappiness have turned out entirely different from that which he feared--how often has it been the jaundice of his own eyes, and no defect of the light of heaven, which has made all around him wear a melancholy tint. And, therefore, upon mere general grounds, we strongly condemn those who are always faint hearted, and those who magnify disasters and difficulties in fancying that all things are against them.

3. But I have showed you that there is a divinely appointed way of viewing the circumstances in which we find ourselves placed, so that, by the help of this, we may foresee that they are really for us, when they seem to be against us. Yes, there is such a divinely appointed mode, and if I can only help some of you to look on your condition here upon earth, in that way which God has revealed and has made palpable through His most blessed Son, I shall feel sure that I have not spoken to you in vain. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God? Then, if you do, you will find it impossible to prove that in any condition of life all things can be against you. You will feel an assurance which nothing on earth or hell can shake, that God Himself is for you. Let me take two or three cases by way of example. In the first place, let us take a case of poverty. I suppose that there is nothing so likely to make a man say to himself that all things are against him, as being poor. Jesus Christ was a poor man too. You cannot be so poor as He. What honest man is there without a home? But again, there is a much worse enemy to be found in this world than poverty, and in sight of this enemy, I do not wonder that a person who remembers our Lord’s words concerning the narrow road of life, and the broad road of destruction, should sometimes be dismayed. I allude to the fact, that every condition of life, and every period of life, is full of temptation to go astray from the ways of God and of heaven. Christ, by whose name we are called, and whose soldiers we are, condescended to be tempted himself. But again, a man may be brought to the conclusion that all things are against him by the same kind of painful experience as that which made Jacob utter the words of the text. It was the hand of God taking away what was dearest to the heart that made Jacob groan with a sense of the deepest misery. I do not think we need inquire whether Jacob was or was not excusable for uttering this lamentation. God was the judge of this. But we may well remark, that myriads of persons since then have been afflicted in the same manner, and many have given way to the same lament. He who believes on Jesus Christ must never say, under the weight of any affliction, “all these things are against me,” because, under the weight of those sorrows which were put upon Christ, He never uttered such words. Once more, let me allude to that moment in every human life which brings a man into immediate contact with the unseen world. Let me speak of death, that one only event which is certain to every one present. It is well for us, while we are in health, and have the use of our faculties, to consider what impression will be made on us when we feel our strength decaying, and are assured either by age or sickness, that our work will soon be done. It is a terrible thing for a man, then, to feel that all is against him; and, no doubt, this feeling does often give rise to very happy results; but, I believe, that this is not the usual result. Certainly, according to my own experience, it is far from being so. I think that, in general, they who have not found out how much there is against them during their life, and how much has to be done in order to cut through the obstacles which stand between their souls and God--I think that they do not find this out in death. They who have lived carelessly, generally die carelessly too. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

The methods of Divine Providence

He thought everything was against him. But we know that he was wrong. All was for him, both temporally and spiritually. Jacob’s exclamation was caused by ignorance.

I notice THAT GOD WORKS THROUGH SECONDARY INSTRUMENTS. The fore-determined purpose was to provide for Jacob and for his race; and we know that this purpose was accomplished. Jacob spent his declining years in peace and plenty beneath the shadow of his son’s greatness. So also was the race secure from the incessant wars and dangers of Canaan. In the land of Goshen they grew into a nation, till, through the agency of the Egyptian king, God sent them forth upon their destiny a great and conquering people. Bat think, how many links in the chain of events there were to bring about this result, how many secondary causes were at work l The silent order of nature, the bad passions of man the apparent accidents of travel, the vain visions of the night, all concurred--but why? Was it some happy accident alone that blended them all together? Do great results spring out of blind causes? or do the accidents of a world of chance accomplish the promises of a God of truth? Surely not? They all concurred because God was in them all, through them all, over them all.

I notice THE COMPLEXITY AND REACH OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT, EXTENDING SO FAR AND INVOLVING SO MUCH AS TO BE WHOLLY BEYOND OUR POWER TO UNDERSTAND IT. Surely none but God can measure God. If He be not beyond our reach and understanding, He cannot be God. We know only that which is before our eyes, and can not measure Him or His doings.

But, lastly, LET US LEARN TO HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE LOVE OF GOD AND THE FULFILMENT OF ALL HIS GRACIOUS PURPOSES TOWARDS US. If the blinded eye of the flesh indeed there may seem darkness and trouble on every side of us, our wishes thwarted, our hopes destroyed, our loved ones taken away--every comfort wrecked, till the heart cries out, I have nothing left to live for--yet when that time of bitterness comes to us, let us not forget the promise, “All things work together for good to them that love God” the exact meaning is “all things are working together for good,” at this very moment, when the anguish is in thine heart, and the complaint is yet quivering upon thy lips. (E. Garbett, M. A.)

Man’s ignorance of God’s providence

The plan of our lives is hidden from us, it is only worked out step by step, and we who see a part only and out he whole of which it is the part, grow frightened and perplexed; we are like those who are led along blind-folded by others, and fear to plant our steps firmly on the ground before us; we are as travellers in a strange land who have received directions to take a road which seems unlikely to lead to our destination. God leads His own by a way that they know not, and we, ignorant as we are of the ways of His providence, too often take alarm, and refuse to place implicit trust in our Heavenly Guide; faith refuses to pierce the veil of sense, and we are ready to sit down by the wayside in despair at the very moment when the towers of the heavenly city are ready to burst upon our view. Now, why does God thus deal with us?

1. It is for the trial of our faith.

2. And do not the secret ways of God’s providence illustrate brightly His Divine power? He works indeed by means, but His independence of them is shown by the unexpected way in which He orders and employs them.

3. And, lastly, do we not gather the oft-required lesson of increased confidence in Him, who is our God and our all? (S. W. Skeffington, M. A.)

Take a comprehensive view of God’s dealings with us

A child might say to a geographer, “You talk about the earth being round I Look on this great crag; look on that deep dell; look on yonder great mountain, and the valley at its feet, and yet you talk about the earth being round.” The geographer would have an instant answer for the child; his view is comprehensive; he does not look at the surface of the world in mere detail; he does not deal with inches, and feet, and yards; he sees a larger world than the child has had time to grasp. He explains what he means by the expression, “The earth is a globe,” and justifies his strange statement. And so it is with God’s wonderful dealings towards us: there are great rocks and barren deserts, deep, dank, dark pits, and defiles, and glens, and dells, rugged places that we cannot smooth over at all, and yet when He comes to say to us at the end of the journey, “Now look back; there is the way I have brought you,” we shall be enabled to say, “Thou hast gone before us, and made our way straight.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Magnifying our troubles

Being once surrounded by a dense mist on the Styhead Pass in the Lake District, we felt ourselves to be transported into a world of mystery, where everything was swollen to a size and appearance more vast, more terrible than is usual on this sober planet. A little mountain tarn, scarcely larger than a farmer’s horse-pond, expanded into a great lake, whose distant shores were leagues beyond the reach of our poor optics; and as we descended into the valley of Wastwater, the rocks rose on one side like the battlements of heaven, and the descent on the other hand looked like the dreadful lips of a yawning abyss; and yet when one looked back again in the morning’s clear light there was nothing very dangerous in the pathway, or terrible in the rocks. The road was a safe though sharp descent, devoid of terrors to ordinary mountain-climbers. In the distance through the fog the shepherd “stalks gigantic,” and his sheep are full-grown lions. Into such blunders do we fall in our life-pilgrimage: a little trouble in the distance is, through our mistiness, magnified into a crushing adversity. We see a lion in the way, although it is written that no ravenous beast shall go up thereon. A puny foe is swollen into a Goliath, and the river of death widens into a shoreless sea. Come, heavenly wind, and blow the mist away: and then the foe will be despised, and the bright shores on the other side of the river will stand out clear in the light of faith. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Jacob’s wrong view of life

An old man, who does not know what he is talking about! What does the oldest and best man amongst us know about life? Jacob is writing a list of his grievances and misfortunes and distresses, and God’s angels are looking down upon him and saying, That the whole statement, though one of what men call facts, is all a mistake from beginning to end. Think of man writing his life, and of God’s writing the same life in a parallel column! Now old Israel is perfectly correct, so far as the story is known to himself. Jacob their father said, “Me have ye bereaved of my children.” That is right. “Joseph is not.” That is perfectly true, so far as Jacob is concerned, so far as his information extends. “And Simeon is not.” That also is literally correct, so far as the absence of Simeon may be regarded. “And ye will take Benjamin away.” Precisely so, that is the very thing they have in view. “All these things are against me.” It is exactly the same with us to-day. Men don’t know what they say when they use words. They don’t know the full meaning of their own expressions. They will always snatch at first appearances and pronounce judgment upon incomplete processes. Every day I afflict myself with just the same rod. I know what a fool I am for doing so, and yet I shall do it again to-morrow. There comes into a man’s heart a kind of grim comfort when he has scourged himself well; when he knows all the while that ten thousand errors are accusing him of a repetition of his folly. There are men who don’t know their own family circumstances, yet they have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon the infinite I Some men are very familiar with the infinite, and have a wonderful notion of their power of managing God’s concerns. We seem at home when we go from home. Here is an old man saying, “Joseph is not, Simeon is not, Benjamin is to be taken away. All these things are against me.” Yet we who have been in a similar position, though the circumstances have been varied, have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon God’s way in the world, God’s government, God’s purposes. Why don’t we learn from our ignorance? Why don’t we read the book of our own folly, and learn that we know nothing, being children of yesterday? We cannot rise to that great refinement of learning, it would appear. Every day we repeat our follies. It is but a man here and there who has a claim to a reputation for religious wisdom. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Me have ye bereaved of my children

The words before us are the expressions of that peevishness and dejection which are ready to find place in the heart even of a good man in a day of darkness. “Me have ye bereaved of my children: all these things are against me” We ought, however, to remember, that words expressive of the passionate working of the mind, ought always to be understood with a limitation of their import. When Jacob says that he was bereaved of his children, the meaning is, that he was bereaved of two or three of them. When he speaks of his sons then present, as if they had bereaved him of his children, he does not mean that they had murdered them, or sold them into a strange land. He means, that by their unwise conduct they had some agency in bringing the calamity upon them. If they had not rambled about with their flocks from one place to another, Joseph might not have met those wild beasts that tore him in pieces. If they had not, by some imprudent conduct, excited suspicion in the mind of the hard-hearted governor of Egypt, Simeon would not have been kept in prison. If they had not spoken to the governor about their younger brother, he might still have been left with himself when they returned to buy more corn. Jacob, however, spoke more truth than he knew in these words, “Me have ye bereaved of my children.” They had sold Joseph into Egypt, and Simeon’s imprisonment was the consequence of that criminal conduct. But as we have no reason to think that Jacob suspected them to be guilty, his words are to be considered as an angry reflection, which the distress of his mind drew from his lips rather than his heart. When your minds are disturbed be watchful over your tongue. Beware of ill-natured reflections on your children, your servants, or any that are under your power. But, on the other side, let not children or servants be surprised or angry when unjust reflections are uttered or glanced at them by their parents or masters, when grief rather than reason has the direction of their tongues. We must all bear something from our fellow-mortals, and we all make some of our neighbours bear something from us that might be spared. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Joseph is not, and Simeon is not

More is said than meant, and more was meant than what was true, in these words. The patriarch knew that Simeon was not dead, so far as this information reached, but he was almost given over as a dead man by his father. Yet he had not any strong reason to do it. Perhaps the money came by some oversight into the mouth of the sacks. Probably that hard man, who was Lord of Egypt, did not intend to put Simeon to death; or if he did, his heart might yet be softened by the God of Jacob. We make our burdens heavier than they ought to be, by adding to them the weight of our own gloomy apprehensions; or we represent them heavier than we feel them to be, by words that convey more meaning than they ought. Surely the troubles laid upon us are heavy enough to be borne. Why should we court unhappiness, and yet complain of it? (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Joseph is not, and Simeon is not

A certain good woman, in a time of persecution, heard that one of her sons was killed in the field by the enemy. “Which of my sons?” said she. “The eldest,” said the informer. “God be thanked,” replied she, “he was the fittest to die. My other children will have some more time for preparation, and needed it more than their brother.” Yet Jacob was more grieved for the loss of Joseph, than for the loss of Simeon, although Joseph was sanctified in his early years; and Simeon, for anything we can learn, and yet given little evidence of piety. But it must be remembered that Jacob was only afraid that Simeon might die. Joseph was, in his apprehension, already dead. I believe that a good man, were it referred to his choice which of his children he must lose, would refer it to his Maker; but it would be his deliberate wish, that, if God pleased, He would remove to the other world that member of his family who was fittest for it, though much the dearest to himself. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

And ye will take Benjamin away

True; they would take him away to Egypt, but not out of the world. To go a long journey was a very different thing from dying. He might be exposed to danger from the artifices of the unfeeling lord of Egypt. But will such a good man as Jacob make himself and his house miserable because a favourite son may be lost, when he was not exposed to greater danger than his brethren? Even those who are eminent fearers of God, are too often deprived of a great part of that happiness which they might enjoy, by the infirmity of their faith. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

The days of bereavement

1. The great object of religious discipline in this world is to prepare for the perfect happiness of a future existence. This is a fact too much lost sight of. Many, and especially young and inexperienced Christians, expect that the commencement of a religious life is to be a deliverance from those cares and sorrows, by the pressure of which they were perhaps first drawn to seek the Lord. Rut the great object of religion is to fit a guilty, polluted, lost creature, for the presence of God in a world of eternal happiness. But as the gift of inspired religion is rather a means of preparing the soul for the future life, than a provision of comfort for this, we remark--

2. Religion does not prevent the occurrence of those afflictions which are the common lot of mankind.

3. That if religion, or a real and religious connection with God, increases our afflictions, it sanctifies them. Though deeper afflictions do come upon the child of God, they are not the capricious severities of a hard master.

(1) They are sanctified by our Divine Master to the increase of faith.

(2) Again, the afflictions of the saints are appointed as a means of setting their affections on the things above.

(3) God sanctifies affliction to the increase of obedience. Entire submission to God is a difficult lesson.

(4) But observe that the years of later life are often more especially marked by correction and afflictive discipline. It is partly owing to natural causes. The natural progress of events and relationships serves for a time to increase our hold upon this present scene, and to open to us new sources of earthly enjoyment. But though we conceive that these things are adding to our happiness, and are consequently anxious to increase them, they are so many additional points at which we are accessible to affliction; and then, at last, the time comes, when we feel that schemes and plans will fail, and unexpected misfortunes will arise. The happiness on which we calculated ends in disappointment, Life is, in this respect, like a tree, which in its progress to maturity sustains, and soon recovers an injury, by the energy of the vegetative principle; but after it has spread to its widest extent, both in the root and the branch, and the day of maturity is gone by, it is more widely exposed to injuries than ever--and every day less fitted to repair them. But it is of Divine appointment also that afflictions crowd upon the decline of life. We see it in the history of the saints--in Jacob and Eli and David. We see it every day around us. There is much to be done in the heart, which remains long undone; and life glides away, and grey hairs are upon us, before we are prepared to submit to the needful discipline. And yet the work must be done. God therefore hastens His work of sanctification, and often, very often, sustains and sanctifies the soul of His faithful pilgrim under an accumulation of suffering, which once would have appeared absolutely insupportable: “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and Rachel is not, and ye will take Benjamin away.”

(5) But observe, the believer sometimes, in the crisis of affliction, loses sight of the great object of afflictive discipline, and receives it in a wrong spirit. The spirit of resistance shown strongly in the case of Jacob. In the bitterness of his sorrow, he exclaimed, “All these things are against me.” It was the language of passion, of momentary rebellion. In these few words Jacob was guilty of a forgetfulness of the former faithfulness and love of his Almighty Friend--“All these things are against me.” Jacob was guilty of an aggravation of the causes of his sorrow. It is difficult in the time of recent affliction to take a deliberate view of the afflictive circumstances; but it is unwarrantable in a complaining spirit to exaggerate them. “Simeon is not.” Why should Jacob suppose so? Jacob was guilty here also of a premature decision of the whole case, without reference to the Divine power. He had seen his former trials terminating to the welfare of his own soul, and to the glory of God. Jacob was guilty of a decline from the practical conviction of his unworthiness, which formerly he strongly felt.

(6) But observe, such afflictive dispensations issue in the vindication of God’s dealings with His people, and in their advancement in grace and holiness. But see how the development of the dispensation vindicates the gracious providence of God. Of the three sons who were the subject of the Patriarch’s grief, Joseph was already exalted to an honourable station, Simeon was safe under his brother’s roof, and Benjamin was in this very matter the object of his brother’s peculiar solicitude; and the whole family bad been so specially the object of Divine protection. Such visitations issue in the superior sanctification of God’s people. We must not look at the fretful repining of Jacob, without noticing the settled composure with which he meets the severity of the trial when it must be endured. Nothing can be more interesting than the spirit of submission with which he addresses himself at last to this distressing sacrifice, “If it must be so now, do this. Take of the best fruits of the land, and carry down the man a present.” Certainly, Christians in general must not expect a conclusion to their trials so marvellous as this; but, at the same time, God is infinitely wise in the choice of the facts by which our faith is to be strengthened and encouraged; and He would not have put upon the record a history so remarkable, if He did not mean us to gather from it how much we may expect from His gracious providence, as the issue of those trials in which we bend with meekness to His will. (E. Craig.)


In a fit of dejection Dean Hook once wrote: “My life has been a failure. I have done many things tolerably; but nothing well. As a parish priest, as a preacher, and now as a writer, I am quite aware that I have failed, and the more so because my friends contradict the assertion.” (One Thousand New Illustrations.)

Providence in heathen politics

In the early history of Burmese missions, a young Burman of superior rank became a convert. His sister was a maid of honour to the queen, and being greatly distressed at his change of religion, and thinking if she could separate him from the missionary he would soon forget the foreign ideas, she obtained for him an appointment, which he was obliged to accept, as governor of a distant province. He had not been long at his new post, when some Karens were brought before him accused of worshipping a strange God. “What God?” he asked. “They call Him the eternal God,” was the reply. A few questions satisfied the young governor that he had fellow-Christians before him. To the great surprise of the accusers he ordered the prisoners to be dismissed. (Fifteen Hundred Illustrations.)

A token of God’s favour in adverse providences

Mr. Newton had a very happy talent of administering reproof. Hearing that a person, in whose welfare he was greatly interested, had met with peculiar success in business, and was deeply immersed in worldly engagements, the first time he called on him, which was usually once a month, he took him by the hand, and drawing him on one side into the counting-house, told him his apprehensions of his spiritual welfare. His friend, without making any reply, called down his partner in life, who came with her eyes suffused with tears, and unable to speak. Inquiring the cause he was told she had just been sent for to one of her children that was out at nurse, and supposed to be in dying circumstances. Clasping her hands immediately in his, Mr. Newton cried, “God be thanked, He has not forsaken you! I do not wish your babe to suffer, but I am happy to find He gives you this token of His favour.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotes.)

Verse 37

Genesis 42:37

Slay my two sons

An unlawful mode of speaking

I will give you leave to take away my life, unless I do this or that.

Such modes of speaking as this do not become the mouths of the disciples of our Redeemer. How do we know what we shall be able to do a day or an hour hence? We ought to say, If we live, and the Lord will, we shall do this or that; “for a man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” When men use this language their words are not to be understood in their literal sense. They are only strong assertions, tinctured with a profane levity of mind. Death ought not to be made a by-word. It will be found a serious thing to die when death comes, if it is not habitually esteemed a serious matter by us, whilst we are living in prosperity and health. “By the life of Pharaoh, ye are spies,” said Joseph to his brethren. Reuben engages, by the life of his two sons, that he will bring Benjamin in safety to his father, if his father would trust the young man to his care. Surely Reuben might have learned o avoid such strong asseverations about things of this sort. It was his wish to bring Joseph home to his father, and yet he could not persuade his brethren to comply with his intentions. It was his desire to bring Simeon safe to his father, and yet he was compelled to leave him in Egypt. He had reason to hope that his brethren would not treat Benjamin as they had treated Joseph. He had reason to hope that the lord of Egypt would keep his promise. But was he so sure of both these things, and of meeting with no bad accident in the course of his journeyings, that he could warrantably pledge the life of his two sons for Benjamin’s happy return? He knew that Jacob would not take him at his word. But what if God should, by some untoward event, make him sensible that he had spoken amiss? (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Verse 38

Genesis 42:38

Bring down my gray hairs with sorrow

Graceless children

Some graceless children despise their fathers and their mothers when they are old, and when their grey hairs claim reverence or compassion.

If we must bow before the man of hoary hairs, although he is a stranger, what reverence do we owe to our own parents, when the respect due to age is added to the claims of parental relation! Those children that load the grey heads of their parents with crushing sorrows, are worse than common murderers. Yet, let not parents, by their own frowardness, kill themselves with grief, and load their children with the blame due to themselves. The aged ought to remember that their infirmities may dispose them to make their burdens heavier than God or men have made them. And when we torment ourselves we are too ready to transfer our own folly to the account of others. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

A faithless exclamation

Why should Jacob die with grief, if Benjamin should be lost? Is Benjamin his God, his life, his exceeding joy? “The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock of Israel.” He is the Rock of ages. God had made desolate all Job’s company, and his hope had He removed like a tree; but Job knew that his Redeemer lived. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; but the Word of the Lord shall stand for ever.” And whilst the Word stands, those whose trust is placed on it are safe. They may, through the prevalence of unbelief, and of earthly affections, speak unadvisedly with their lips; hut the Lord will make them sensible of their folly, and enable them to commit their affairs into His hand, and to east all their cares upon Him who cares for all His people. We shall soon hear Jacob saying, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved”; and on his death-bed he says, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!” (G. Lawson, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 42". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-42.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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