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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 42

CHAP. XLII.

Jacob sends his sons into AEgypt to buy corn, but keeps Benjamin at home. Joseph knows his brethren, though they know not him. He pretends to think them spies, and commands them to bring Benjamin to him. They returned from AEgypt, and relate the matter to their father, who refuses to let Benjamin go down with them.

Verse 1

Genesis 42:1. When Jacob saw That is, was informed, had heard, as it is in the second verse. See Acts 7:12. He said, why do ye look one upon another? a phrase expressing great distress, and ignorance of the means of relief.

Verse 6

Genesis 42:6. Joseph was the governor שׁליט shalit, one who is appointed ruler, or governor: the Arabic word sultan comes from it.

And Joseph's brethren came Hence, it seems very probable, that the names of all those strangers who came to AEgypt were brought to Joseph, either that such of them as he thought fit might be introduced to him, or that by such means he might be informed of his father's family. Accordingly, as soon as his brethren arrived in the land, they were introduced to him, and unknowingly fulfilled his first dream, and that part of the second which related to themselves, and which must have strongly recurred to Joseph's remembrance (see Genesis 42:9.) when he saw them bowing down themselves before him, with their faces to the earth; which was the common method of salutation towards superiors in the eastern nations.

REFLECTIONS.—The famine now began to be sensibly felt in Canaan. That land of promise had hitherto in many instances proved a land of dearth to every succeeding patriarch. Note; It is good to have the creature embittered, that we may be led to look to a better country; that is, a heavenly. Jacob, understanding there was corn in AEgypt, reproves his sons for their delay and despondence, and hastens them on their journey. Note; When difficulties overtake us, we must not lie down and despond, nor waste the time in useless debate, but exert our most vigorous efforts for relief. At his command, all, except Benjamin, immediately set off, and, arriving safely, are introduced to the governor, before whom they bow with profound obeisance. And now the dreams begin to be accomplished. Note; God's counsels will take effect in their own time.

Verse 8

Genesis 42:8. They knew not him Every thing concurred to conceal Joseph from them; the alteration of his person; his dress; his state; and, above all, their having no apprehension of meeting him.

Verse 9

Genesis 42:9. Ye are spies This might be rendered, are ye spies? or, are ye not spies? are ye not come to spy out the nakedness of the land? by which means, the direct affirmation is removed. The nakedness of the land signifies, the weak, unfortified places of the country. Le Clerc observes, that what made Joseph's feigned suspicion the more plausible was, that they entered AEgypt by those parts where alone it is liable to be invaded; as Herodotus observes, lib. 3: cap. 4. and 5. where he gives an account of Cambyses' descent upon AEgypt.

Verse 11

Genesis 42:11. We are all one man's sons Their answer here was very pertinent; for it was not probable that a father would have sent his sons, and much less all of them, in one company, upon so dangerous an exploit; nor that one particular person, or family, would have formed a design against so capital a kingdom as that of AEgypt.

Verse 14

Genesis 42:14. That is it that I spake This confirms what I said, and gives me just grounds for suspicion that you really are spies: you pretend to have another brother; why then should your father not have sent all, as well as so many. Hereby ye shall be proved; this is the very point in which I will try you.

Verse 15

Genesis 42:15. By the life of Pharaoh This was a solemn protestation; as he valued the life and honour of his prince, he would do so and so. Judah explains it in this manner to his father, ch. Genesis 43:3. The man did solemnly protest unto us; and certainly Judah, who heard him, must best understand his meaning. Yet the protestation is not to be vindicated in Joseph. There can be no doubt, that it was customary among the heathens to swear, properly speaking, by the life or health of their kings and emperors, as the Jews did by their living God. Joseph used this phrase, the better to conceal himself from his brethren, and to make them think him an AEgyptian.

Verse 18

Genesis 42:18. For I fear God As much as to say, I am influenced by a religious principle, though you might not expect it, in my place and station; and, as so influenced, cannot be guilty either of injustice or cruelty; on which account I will treat you with as much lenity as the suspicions I have urged will admit, detaining only one of you, and suffering the rest to carry corn for your house, and to verify your own account of yourselves.

REFLECTIONS.—Little thought the sons of Jacob who this great man was. Joseph is now forgotten with his dreams; and if alive, never could they expect to find him there. But Joseph knew them, though unknown; and as he had hitherto, no doubt, been kept by Divine direction from sending to inform them of his estate, he will, by concealing it still, make the accomplishment of his dreams more remarkable. His rough address, and his imprecation, terrify them, but his deeds still more. Their deep humiliations before him restrain not his severity; they are bound, and committed to safe custody as spies, that they might recollect themselves in the house of their prison, and repent over their own inhuman conduct; while their exculpation also informed him of those circumstances of his family, which, without discovering himself, he could not else have inquired into. At the end of three days they are released, on condition of bringing down their younger brother, as a proof of their sincerity; and he gives the reason of this clemency, because he feared God. Note; (1.) Where a man fears God, he cannot be unmerciful or unkind. (2.) Harsh providences are often attended with blessed effects. Obstinate diseases call for strong medicine.

Verse 21

Genesis 42:21. They said one to another Nothing can more strongly or beautifully picture to us the power of conscience, and the utility of affliction to awaken that power, than this conversation, and these mutual reproaches. We see, in their representation, the little innocent Joseph stretching out his tender hands, and pleading to them for mercy, while they, full of sarcastic envy and savage barbarity, consign him to destruction; we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear. This circumstance is omitted in the 37th chapter, which shews us that the sacred writers do not relate every particular.

Verse 23

Genesis 42:23. Spake unto them by an interpreter Not only to keep up an air of majesty, and to strike an awe upon his brethren, but to prevent his being discovered.

Verse 24

Genesis 42:24. Turned himself about from them, and wept If the conduct of Joseph's brethren presents us with a striking proof of the power of conscience, Joseph himself affords us as striking a proof of the power of nature: affected at their confusion and distress, all the tenderness of the brother filled his heart, and drew tears from his eyes. Severe as he seemed to them in outward behaviour, his soul and his affections were full of kindness towards them. His looks, his mien, his voice, his dress, were those of a stranger; but his heart was that of a brother.

He—took—Simeon, and bound him The Rabbis and Philo affirm, that Joseph determined to retain Simeon rather than any other, because he threw Joseph into the pit. The tradition is not improbable; it is certain, that Reuben was desirous to save Joseph, and Judah inclined to favour him; so that if Simeon had joined with them, their authority might have prevailed to deliver him. We may add to this, that Simeon was a violent man, as the affair of the Sechemites proves; and that Joseph thought it best to detain him, as it would least afflict his father, and prevent any obstacle to his desire of embracing his brother Benjamin. Having gained what information he wanted concerning his father and Benjamin, he now hastens their departure.

Verse 26

Genesis 42:26. They laded their asses Some have inferred from this and the following verse, that they had only ten asses with them, an ass to each man: but the expression would lead one as much to believe, that they had only ten sacks, a sack on each ass, which would have been so small a quantity as would not have supplied their asses with provender during their journey into Canaan. It is most likely they had several other beasts of burden as well as servants in their train; and that they were supplied with corn sufficient to answer all the present necessities of their families, which, we are to remember, were very numerous. It may, perhaps, be worth remarking, that the word rendered sacks at the beginning of the 25th verse, to fill their sacks with corn, is different from that rendered sack in the next clause and the following verses. The first might be rendered their vessels כליהם keliem, and may refer to some larger chests, or something of that kind, in which the chief part of their corn was deposited; while that which was put in sacks, שׂקו sakko, might be only for the use of their cattle on the road. It should here be remembered, that in those days there were no inns, as indeed at present there are not in those countries; so that travellers are obliged to carry their own provisions.

Verse 28

Genesis 42:28. Their heart failed them In the strong Hebrew idiom, their heart went out, or left their body: strong conscience was at work; they were afraid where no fear was: What is this that God hath done unto us? say they. It is the nature of awakened guilt to be particularly full of apprehensions of God's justice and vengeance: they expected nothing less, than that the providence of God was about to make this extraordinary event a means of that punishment, which they were conscious that they justly deserved for their treatment of Joseph. In Gen 42:35 they were afraid, refers to Jacob also, as well as his sons.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. The reflections which the ten sons of Jacob make on their past conduct. For twenty years they seem to have forgotten it, or stifled the remembrance; but now conscience does her office, and in their distress they acknowledge the justice of God's hand in thus overtaking them. If they were so unrelenting to a brother, what may they not apprehend from a heathen stranger? Reuben reminds them of his entreaty for the child; a fresh reproach to their cruelty, though a comfort to his own conscience. Note; (1.) It is a needful stroke, which awakens the conscience to a remembrance of sin. (2.) When we share with others in calamity, it is a great support to be clear of their guilt. Little did they imagine how nearly he was interested before whom they spoke; little were they apprehensive that the AEgyptian governor, who spake by an interpreter, understood their language; while he, unable to restrain, yet willing to conceal the falling tear, turns aside, to discharge the tender meltings of an affectionate heart. Are such the tender mercies of a man? What then are the compassions of our God towards repenting sinners!

2. Simeon is bound for a hostage till their return, and they dismissed with their lading. But how great their astonishment, when one, on opening his sack, finds the purchase-money returned! Guilt immediately awakens their fears, and they tremble with the apprehensions that God is now about to visit them for their sins. They who sold their own brother unjustly for twenty pieces of silver, may well fear, lest judgment overtake them as thieves. Note; A guilty conscience is subject to perpetual alarms.

Verse 37

Genesis 42:37. Reuben spake unto his father Reuben's expressions seem to denote a suspicion of his sons in Jacob; and, however rapid and passionate they may be, they indicate, at least, something good in Reuben; a sanguine and earnest disposition to please his father; a just confidence in his own intentions, as well as in Joseph.

Verse 38

Genesis 42:38. My son shall not Nothing can be more tender and picturesque than these words of the venerable old patriarch. Full of affection for his beloved Rachel, he cannot think of parting with Benjamin, the only remaining pledge of their love, now that Joseph, as he supposes, is no more. We seem to behold the grey-headed venerable father pleading with his sons; the beloved Benjamin standing by his side; impatient sorrow in their countenances, and in his all the bleeding anxiety of paternal love. It will be difficult, I believe, to find in any author, ancient or modern, a more exquisite picture.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 42". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-42.html. 1801-1803.