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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 42

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 42:0


Joseph's Brothers Sent to EgyptJoseph's Brothers Go To EgyptJoseph's Brothers Journey to Egypt During the FamineJoseph's Brothers Go to Egypt to Buy GrainThe First Meeting Between Joseph and His Brothers
Genesis 42:1-5Genesis 42:1-5Genesis 42:1-5Genesis 42:1-4Genesis 42:1-4
Genesis 42:5-7aGenesis 42:5-7
Genesis 42:6-7Genesis 42:6-17Genesis 42:6-17
Genesis 42:7b
Genesis 42:8-17 Genesis 42:8-9Genesis 42:8-17
Genesis 42:10-11
Genesis 42:12
Genesis 42:13
Genesis 42:14-17
Genesis 42:18-25Genesis 42:18-24Genesis 42:18-25Genesis 42:18-20aGenesis 42:18-24
Genesis 42:20-21
Genesis 42:22-24
The Brothers Return to Canaan Joseph's Brothers Return to CanaanJacob's Sons Return to Canaan
Genesis 42:25-28 Genesis 42:25-28Genesis 42:25-28
Genesis 42:26-28 Genesis 42:26-28
Simeon is Held Hostage
Genesis 42:29-34Genesis 42:29-34Genesis 42:29-34Genesis 42:29-34Genesis 42:29-34
Genesis 42:35-38Genesis 42:35-38Genesis 42:35-38Genesis 42:35-36Genesis 42:35-36
Genesis 42:37Genesis 42:37-38
Genesis 42:38

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:1-5 1Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, "Why are you staring at one another?" 2He said, "Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die." 3Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4But Jacob did not send Joseph's brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, "I am afraid that harm may befall him." 5So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.

Genesis 42:1 "Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt" The VERB "see" is used twice in Genesis 42:1.

1. "Jacob saw," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERFECT

2. "Why are you staring at one another," Hithpael IMPERFECT

This same word is used of Pharaoh's dream (cf. Genesis 41:19, Genesis 41:22, Genesis 41:28) and by Joseph for Pharaoh to look for a discerning and wise man (cf. Genesis 41:33). This common VERB is used in this chapter several times (i.e., Genesis 42:1 [twice],7,9,12,21,27,35). Rashi says that he had a divine vision, but he probably saw that others in Canaan were purchasing grain from Pharaoh (cf. Genesis 47:14).

Genesis 42:2 Jacob commands his sons to go to Egypt to sustain (i.e., "live and not die") the family.

1. go down there, BDB 432, KB 434, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. buy some for us, BDB 991, KB 1404, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. so that we may live, BDB 310, KB 309, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense. The famine was pervasive and severe!

Genesis 42:3-4 Jacob still did not trust the brothers. They had somehow been a part of Joseph's death and he would not trust something similar to happen to Rachel's only remaining child, Benjamin.

Genesis 42:4 "that harm may befall him" The term "harm" (BDB 62) is rare (cf. Genesis 44:29; Exodus 21:22, Exodus 21:23) and implies a life-threatening accident. Jacob is fearful for the life of the only child of his beloved, deceased Rachel (i.e., Benjamin, Joseph's younger full brother). One wonders if Jacob thought he would be the leader of the family.

This VERB (BDB 896, II KB 1131m Qal PERFECT) is used in a negative sense here and in Leviticus 10:19; Deuteronomy 31:29; Job 4:14; Isaiah 51:19; Jeremiah 13:22; Jeremiah 44:23, and is usually translated "befall."

Genesis 42:5 "So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming" Some wonder why Jacob sent all of his sons (earlier he had divided his family for safety, cf. Genesis 32:22-32). It was possibly because (1) each individual could only buy so much grain or (2) that there was safety in numbers.

"for the famine was in the 1and of Canaan also" From history we know that famine periodically swept through this part of the world. It was caused by (1) lack of rain at the appropriate time; (2) too much rain or cold; (3) insects; or (4) blight, mildew. Canaan was dependant on regular natural cycles, but Egypt was dependant on the Nile (i.e., flooding).

Verses 6-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:6-7 6Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, "Where have you come from?" And they said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food."

Genesis 42:6 "And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground" Not only does this verse seem to fulfill Joseph's dream of Genesis 37:6-9, but also Genesis 43:28; and Genesis 44:14.

Genesis 42:7 "he recognized them" The VERB "regard, "recognize" (BDB 647, KB 699) is used twice in Genesis 42:7 (Hiphil IMPERFECT, Hithpael IMPERFECT) and twice in Genesis 42:8 (Hiphil IMPERFECT, Hiphil PERFECT). They were still bearded and dressed in the traditional garb of the nomadic tribes. On the other hand Joseph was clean shaven, finely dressed, in a place of authority, and he spoke Egyptian. All of these things disguised him well from his brothers.

"he recognized. . .he disguised" Both of these VERBS come from the same root, נכר.

1. recognized, BDB 647, KB 699, Hiphil IMPERFECT, cf. Genesis 27:23; Genesis 37:33; Genesis 38:25, Genesis 38:26; Genesis 42:7, Genesis 42:8 (twice); Deuteronomy 33:9

2. disguised (lit. "treat as a stranger"), BDB 649, KB 699, Hithpael IMPERFECT, cf. 1 Kings 14:5, 1 Kings 14:6

It is uncertain if there are two separate Hebrew roots or two usages.

NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB“harshly" NKJV“roughly" LXX"hard words" AB"sternly"

The adjective (BDB 904) means "hard," or "severe." It is used in 1 Samuel 25:3 to describe Nabal's personality. Here it describes the tone of Joseph's voice (cf. 1 Samuel 20:10), as well as the content of his accusations (i.e., they were spies).

Verses 8-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:8-17 8But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. 9Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, "You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land." 10Then they said to him, "No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies." 12Yet he said to them, "No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!" 13But they said, "Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive." 14Joseph said to them, "It is as I said to you, you are spies; 15by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! 16Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies." 17So he put them all together in prison for three days.

Genesis 42:9 "Joseph remembered the dreams" This refers to chapter 37. Joseph had named his first son Manasseh ("making to forget"), but the memories of his brothers' betrayal came flooding back.

"You are spies" The rabbis say that Jacob told his sons to enter the city by different gates and that Joseph observed this and used it to accuse them of being spies (BDB 920, KB 1183, Piel PARTICIPLE, cf. Joshua 2:1; Joshua 6:22-23; 1 Samuel 26:4). He did this in order to test their motives and character.

NASB“the undefended parts of the land" NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA"the nakedness of the land" TEV“where the country is weak" NJB“the country's weak points" LXX"the marks (i.e., scrutinize the tracks) of the land" REB"the weak points of our defences"

This term (BDB 788) is literally "naked" (cf. Genesis 9:22-23) or "bare." The sense here (determined by the context) is the area of Egypt without forts or military guards. It is a false accusation to test Jacob's children.

Genesis 42:11 "we are honest men" "Honest" (BDB 467 II, cf. Genesis 42:11, Genesis 42:19, Genesis 42:31, Genesis 42:34) is used in the sense of irony of what they had earlier done to Joseph. They appeared as upright, forthright men, but they had acted in evil ways (cf. Genesis 34,37).

Genesis 42:13 "the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive" The last phrase is obviously referring to Joseph. It is ironical that they are speaking this to his face without knowing who he was.

Genesis 42:15 "by the life of Pharaoh" Many commentators have criticized Joseph for taking this oath twice. It fits his disguise! He is obviously not using it in a theological sense. However, it is a reference to the Egyptian tradition that Pharaoh was the son of the sun god, Re. This very oath has been found on Egyptian monuments.

Genesis 42:16 Joseph makes several commands and demands.

1. send one of you, BDB 1018, KB 1511, QAL IMPERATIVE

2. that he may get your brother, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

3. while you remain in prison, BDB 63, KB 75, Niphal IMPERATIVE

4. that your words be tested, BDB 103, KB 119, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

Genesis 42:17 "So he put them all in the prison for three days" Apparently Joseph wanted them to experience some of the agony that he had gone through at their expense.

Verses 18-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:18-25 18Now Joseph said to them on the third day, "Do this and live, for I fear God: 19if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, 20and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die." And they did so. 21Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us." 22Reuben answered them, saying, "Did I not tell you, 'Do not sin against the boy'; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood." 23They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. 24He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man's money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them.

Genesis 42:18-20 Joseph's commands and demands continue.

1. do this, Genesis 42:18, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. live, Genesis 42:18, BDB 310, KB 309, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. let one of your brothers be confined, Genesis 42:19, BDB 63, KB 75, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

4. go, Genesis 42:19, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE

5. carry grain, Genesis 42:19, BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

6. bring your brother to me, Genesis 42:20, BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

7. so your words may be verified, Genesis 42:20, BDB 52, KB 63, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

Genesis 42:18 "for I fear God" This phrase could relate to Joseph's oaths in Pharaoh's name (cf. Genesis 42:15, Genesis 42:16) or to his fear of the divine in general related to his charges against these ten men. Joseph is asserting, in a roundabout way, his integrity and spirituality (cf. Genesis 20:11). He did fear/revere Elohim.

Genesis 42:20 "verified" See Special Topic at Genesis 15:6 (II. A). This word is from the root "believe," "trust," see Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT.

Genesis 42:21 "They said to each other, 'we are truly guilty concerning our brother'" They felt that God was punishing them because of their sin against Joseph. This is obvious from Genesis 42:21, Genesis 42:22, Genesis 42:28 and Genesis 44:16. There is a sense that we reap what we sow (cf. Job 34:11; Psalms 28:4; Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 32:19; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12). However, there is also another biblical truth that God does not deal with us according to our sins (cf. Psalms 103:10). We do not receive temporal punishment for all of our sins, or we would all be dead and yet there are occasions when God does do this.

Genesis 42:22 "Reuben answered them saying, 'Did I not tell you, "Do not sin against the boy"; and you would not listen'" This is probably the first time that Joseph had ever heard that Reuben had tried to defend him (cf. Genesis 37:22-24). Now these brothers believed that Joseph's innocent blood was crying out for vengeance as Abel's blood did against his brother in Genesis 4:0.

Genesis 42:23 "They did not know, however, that Joseph understood for there was an interpreter between them" They were speaking Hebrew; Joseph apparently only spoke Egyptian through an interpreter. Again, this was part of the disguise until he was able to ascertain whether his brothers had overcome the biases which caused them to sin against him over twenty years earlier.

This Hebrew VERB translated "there was an interpreter" (BDB 539, KB 529, Hiphil PARTICIPLE) usually denotes scorn or mockery. In the Hiphil stem it denotes

1. derision, Job 16:20; Psalms 119:51

2. interpreter, here an envoy, 2 Chronicles 32:31

All of the uses of this VERB in the OT occur in a negative context (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 799).

Genesis 42:24 "wept" Joseph was apparently a sensitive man (cf. Genesis 43:30; Genesis 45:14, Genesis 45:15).

"he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes" Obviously Reuben, the firstborn, was the leader of the group and had apparently tried to help Joseph, so the obvious choice was Simeon. He was the second born and many commentators believe that fierce anger seen in his destruction of the men of Shechem (cf. Genesis 34:0) may have involved him in the original plot to hurt Joseph.

Verses 26-28

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:26-28 26So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there. 27As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28Then he said to his brothers, "My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack." And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, "What is this that God has done to us?"

Genesis 42:25-29 The nine brothers were afraid that this would jeopardize Simeon's release. The level of their concern is expressed in

1. their hearts sank, Genesis 42:28 (lit. "their hearts went out from them"), BDB 422, KB 425, Qal IMPERFECT

2. they turned trembling to one another, Genesis 42:28, BDB 353, KB 350, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Genesis 27:33; 1 Samuel 16:4; 1 Samuel 21:1; 1 Kings 1:49

Genesis 42:27 "sack" There are two different Hebrew terms translated "sack" in this verse.

1. "sack" (BDB 974), which is a common term for "sackcloth" (used here)

2. "sack" (BDB 607), which is found only in this account about Joseph and his brothers. It refers to a sack carrying grain.

The answer for the use of the two terms may be that one refers to a money pouch (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 843) and the other a sack for grain (cf. James W. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 49).

Genesis 42:28 "What is this that God has done to us" They still were feeling the divine judgment for their actions against Joseph.

Verses 29-34

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:29-34 29When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30"The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. 31But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies. 32We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.' 33The man, the lord of the land, said to us, 'By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. 34But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.'"

Genesis 42:29-34 The nine brothers relate to their father, Jacob, all that happened in Egypt.

Genesis 42:34 "you may trade in the land" This VERB (BDB 695, KB 749, Qal IMPERFECT) is translated "trade" (cf. Genesis 23:16), but its use in Genesis 34:10 implies a meaning of "travel about freely." It is possible that it refers specifically to returning to Egypt for more grain when necessary (cf. Genesis 43:2).

Verses 35-38

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 42:35-38 35Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. 36Their father Jacob said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me." 37Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you." 38But Jacob said, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow."

Genesis 42:35-38 The family discusses the situation and what to do. They decide to do nothing for the moment.

Genesis 42:35 The difference between Genesis 42:27 and Genesis 42:35 is "one" of them in Genesis 42:27 and "they" in Genesis 42:35. This is not a doublet, but an intensification of the problem that had frightened them earlier (cf. Genesis 42:28).

Genesis 42:36 "You have bereaved me of my children; Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me" Notice that Jacob takes the occurrences as a personal affront. There seems to be an implied accusation that the brothers were somehow involved in the loss of Joseph.

Genesis 42:37 "Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying" This is really a dumb offer! Why would Jacob, because of the loss of his sons, kill his grandsons?! It was an attempt by Reuben to assure his father, but it did quite the opposite. Jacob would wait until (1) Judah's offer in Genesis 43:8-9 and (2) the reality of no food to finally allow Benjamin to go with them.

Genesis 42:38 "Sheol" This is the OT term used for the place of the dead. The doctrine of the afterlife is somewhat veiled in the OT, but it is obvious that they believed in an afterlife where families were together.

It is true that it was a shadowy, joyless state, but a conscious state nonetheless. The term Sheol is translated by the term Hades in the NT. Apparently all human beings went to this holding place of the dead. For that reason the rabbis speculate that there is a righteous part and a wicked part of Hades. See Special Topic at Genesis 15:15. See Special Topic: The Dead, Where Are They? (Sheol/Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Joseph hide his identity?

2. Why did Joseph speak harshly to his brothers and accuse them of spying?

3. From this chapter what makes us think Jacob suspected something about Joseph's death?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 42". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-42.html. 2021.
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