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6. The First Journey of Joseph’s Brethren to Egypt without Benjamin (42:1-38)

First of all, at this point the Joseph story requires further development. The next logical step in this development is the contact between the exalted slave brother and the needy brethren who appear before him as humble and suspected petitioners. A broader point of view needs to be regarded here. Left to themselves, the sons of Jacob, yielding to the effect of sin, would have drifted apart and have lost all true unity as a family group. Joseph by his discriminating direction cancels the effects of incipient sin and leads the brothers to oneness of heart and purpose. In so doing, he prepares them so that they are found ready to go down into Egypt and there as one group to uphold the best traditions of their family. But for this reconstructed unity Jacob’s family would have disintegrated in Egypt, would have lost its racial identity, and would have been absorbed by the Egyptians.

1-4. Now when Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons: Why do ye look at one another? He further said: See, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us there, that we may live and not die. So the brethren of Joseph went down—ten men—to buy grain in Egypt. But Benjamin, the brother of Joseph, Jacob did not send with his brethren, For, he said, lest harm befall him.

The scene seems to be laid in the time when news first reached Canaan that grain was being sold in 2.1043Egypt. The father and the sons apparently have not discussed this piece of news before. Besides, the entire family had arrived at the point where something had to be done about the famine. The father has noted the look of perplexity in his sons’ faces. Each has been looking at the other (ra’ah in the hithpael —"to look questioningly one at the other") waiting for the other to suggest the next move. It seems rather an exaggeration to think that all regarded Egypt with a certain apprehension as the land to which Joseph had been sold and to which none now cared to go for that very reason. The general perplexity at facing this strange issue was all that their faces reflected. Occasional thoughts of the possible fate of Joseph will also have arisen in their minds.

2. Wayyo’mer must here mean: "he further said." Father Jacob is a man of decision of character. He knows how to act in different situations and holds his position as head of so large a household firmly in hand. Since men had begun to go down to Egypt to buy grain, that was the best course to follow. He commands his sons to take this trip and to make the necessary purchases. It really was already an issue of life and death, for he says, "that we may live and not die." Shébher, "grain," derives its meaning from the root shabhar, "to break," either as that which is broken or threshed, or as that which breaks out or sprouts. We may think it strange that Jacob did not venture to go to Egypt in time of famine as Abraham had (12:10). But in the first place, in Egypt itself the famine was strong; and then, the household of Jacob together with servants and cattle constituted so immense a group as to render such a journey in a measure impracticable.

3. The Hebrew word order might be rendered by our colloquial idiom: "the brethren of Joseph went down ten men strong," for ’asarah, "ten," is 2.1044in apposition to the subject, or it may be regarded as a predicate noun. It is a bit unusual to have the numeral appear without the article after a definite noun (K, S. 334 u). Here "grain" —bar, which according to its root means "clean," i. e., the clean grain after the chaff has been removed.

4. Benjamin is not allowed to go along with his brothers. Jacob does not necessarily harbour even a dim suspicion of what the other ten might do to his present favourite, Benjamin. He merely guards Benjamin with an apprehensiveness that has grown out of his loss of Joseph. Luther rightly indicates that such an attitude on Jacob’s part is due to a lack of sufficient faith. But such weaknesses are everyday occurrences even in the lives of God’s saints.

5, 6. And the sons of Israel came to buy grain together with others that came; for the famine was in the land of Canaan. Now Joseph, he was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold grain to all the people of the land. Now the brethren of Joseph came and did obeisance before him with their faces to the ground.

We are made aware of the fact that many were bound for Egypt on the same mission as Jacob’s sons when we are told that these ten came "together with others that came." The Hebrew expression has it: "in the midst of the coming ones." There must have been a steady stream of purchasers coming from Canaan. For, as we are again reminded, "the famine was in the land of Canaan."

6. We are now told how Joseph’s work at this time resulted in his coming into contact with his brethren. He acted in a double capacity, as the double hu’ indicates (K. S. 340 e). He was both "governor" (shallit —or "vizier" or even "sultan"), in fact, "the governor," and also the one who "sold grain to all the people of the land." He personally managed the 2.1045sale of grain in every detail with such care that he could well be said to have done all the selling himself. Mashbir —"causing to sell," a participle serving as the predicate (K. S. 409 a). Yet all this may be construed to mean that he superintended all selling and was at hand particularly to give personal attention to all extraordinary cases, especially those that had to do with the sale of grain to foreigners. It does not seem farfetched to us to suppose that Joseph planned to be at hand when grain was disposed of to men from Canaan in expectation of actually encountering his brethren. So it actually came to pass of a day that Joseph’s brethren "came and did obeisance before him with their faces to the ground." "Did obeisance" is the same verb as that found 37:7. "With their faces to the ground" is a modal accusative (K. S. 402 h). Some trace xalativ, the name of the first Hyksos king, (Josephus, Cont. Ap.22Whiston’s translation of the Works of Flavius Josephus —(Hartford, 1916) p. 888.) to shallit. The connection is doubtful.

7-9. And Joseph saw his brethren and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger toward them and spoke harshly with them, and said to them: Where do you come from? And they said: From the land of Canaan to buy food. Now Joseph recognized his brethren, but they on their part did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed in reference to them, and he said to them: Spies ye are; to see the nakedness of the land have ye come.

So it was providentially ordered that Joseph was actually present when his brethren stepped in. The scene which he had actually visualized many times before was now transpiring. There could be little difficulty about "recognizing" them. They were full 2.1046their ears: "Where do you come from?" They attempt to disarm suspicion by giving more information than was asked: they state what their homeland is as well as what their purpose is: "From the land of Canaan to buy food." Surely, theirs was a harmless purpose. Dozens of such purchasers were appearing daily.

8. Here another point is definitely settled. The verse might well have been rendered: "Though Joseph recognized his brethren, they on their part did not recognize him." His side of the matter was discussed above. Their side is this: Joseph may have altered somewhat in appearance since the immaturity of his seventeenth year. High position held for some time puts a decided stamp upon a man’s personality. Also it would never have occurred to the brethren to look for Joseph as the incumbent of such a position. Add to that the disguise effected by the distinctive Egyptian garb, which surely bore a stamp all its own. Then consider the contrast between the bearded Israelite and the clean-shaven Egyptian. Top all this off with the harsh official tone of the foreign language and the disguise is perfect.

9. The statement that "Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed in reference to them" (lahem —dative of reference) indicates that as they lay before him with their faces to the ground the memory of his dreams came strongly upon him. The guiding hand of Providence will have been very manifest to him at that remembrance. His seeming harshness therefore flows out of his higher purpose when he says: "Spies ye are." Apparently, espionage of nation upon nation was not so uncommon in those early days, when the Asiatics and the Egyptians already clashed rather frequently. "The nakedness of the land" would be the bare or exposed places, as our own idiom and that of many other languages 2.1048also represent the case. Furthermore, a very definite suspicion had to seize upon Joseph from the very moment he saw but ten brethren. Where was the eleventh? It was easy enough to understand why the father should have sent a big delegation of men—they were to bring back as ample a store as possible. Ten men could surely secure more than one or two. But if ten, where was the eleventh? Benjamin might have become the father’s favourite after Joseph’s disappearance. Men who had not stopped short at what was practically murder in the first instance might have been less reluctant about disposing of the second favourite. Besides, as Luther develops at length, Joseph’s dealings with his brethren were analogous to those of God when he deals with sinners who are to be led to repentance. Dods offers the key to the situation in the words: "Joseph was, of course, well aware that in the analysis of character the most potent elements are only brought into clear view, when the test of severe trouble is applied, and when men are thrown out of all conventional modes of thinking and speaking."

10-13. But they said to him: No, my lord; but thy servants have come to buy food. We all, we are sons of one man; we are honest men; thy servants have never been spies. But he said to them: No; but the nakedness of the land, that is what you have come to see. But they said: Thy servants are twelve in number; we are brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, see, the youngest is with his father this day, and the other is no more.

All Jacob’s sons can do is faithfully to reiterate their story. One claim of theirs carries particular weight—"we are sons of one man." There may have been even a measure of physical resemblance to make this claim more apparent. But if they had been sent 2.1049few charitable assumptions. Perhaps even "the youngest is with his father this day" might not have been as harmless a statement as it seemed on the surface. Joseph did not dare take anything for granted. For the present the brothers must have a dose of their own medicine. As they once had refused to listen to a brother’s plea, so now their pleas must be rudely rejected. The independent lo’ (v. 10) — "No" (K. S. 352 f). Strack remarks that the briefer form for "we," nachnû (v. 11), occurs in but five more instances.

14-17. And Joseph said to them: It is just as I have been saying to you—Ye are spies. By this shall ye be put to the test, as surely as Pharaoh lives: You shall surely not go out from here except your youngest brother come here. Send one of your number and let him bring your brother, but as for you, ye shall be bound; and so your words shall be put to the test, whether ye are speaking the truth. If not, as surely as Pharaoh lives, ye are spies. So he confined them in prison three days.

Joseph’s attitude has been well described by Skinner as "well-feigned official obstinacy." He keeps repeating after the manner of officers who put a man through the third degree, "ye are spies." First he makes the exorbitant demand that all except one must remain bound in Egypt until this one has gone home and brought the youngest along—a very unreasonable request. What would hinder this obstinate man from seizing the youngest brother also and thus hold all bound? Consequently, in any case, their hopes of freedom were slim. Yet it is quite true that the return of the messenger with the younger brother would constitute a fair test of the veracity of their claims. But even so, this unreasonable official might refuse to see the case from this angle.

2.1051The question is here raised whether Joseph did wrong in using the oath, "as surely as Pharaoh lives." Calvin cannot condone the oath. Luther finds nothing wrong about it. Apparently, a similar oath was in use in Israel at a later date, an oath by the life of the king, used in addressing the king: 1 Sam. 17:55; 2 Sam. 11:11; Heb. 6:16 countenances swearing "by the greater." Without a doubt, Joseph calculated to give his words as distinctive an Egyptian cast as possible. But as for himself, he will in the oath have remembered the Almighty and thus, though mentioning a ruler whom God acknowledged, he thought of the God that avenges false oaths. Joseph, however, does not swear that he will detain his brothers, as Luther construes the case; but that the brothers shall be put to the test. His second claim is hypothetically true: if a younger brother cannot be produced, then under the circumstances they would be spies. We are unable to depart in v. 16 from the original Jewish division of the verse and to take the "or not," we’im lo’, as belonging to the preceding clause. That would make Joseph use an insincere or idle oath: "as surely as Pharaoh lives, ye are spies," when he well knew they were not spies. The Jewish punctuation and our translation (also Luther, A.V., and A.R.V.) make the statement hypothetical and the oath permissible.

There was a very appropriate strategy as well as psychology about this imprisonment. The strategy involved what Dods has stated thus: "So new an experience to these free dwellers in tents as imprisonment under grim Egyptian guards worked wonders in them." The psychological reaction was bound to be a comparison between what their imprisoned brother must have suffered and what they are suffering now. The more or less dormant conscience was bound to awaken at this point. On chey phar’oh2.1052(v. 15) see G. K. 93 aa. The interrogative has pathach (v. 16) before a laryngeal (G. K. 100m).

18-20. And Joseph said to them on the third day: Do this and live— for I am a man wont to fear the Deity—if ye are honest men, one of your brothers may remain bound in your prison, but ye may go and carry home grain to meet the need of your households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me. So shall your words be proved reliable and ye shall not die. And they did so.

Joseph cannot persuade himself to make his father’s household suffer in working out this plan of the regeneration of his brethren. Three days are deemed sufficient to start their conscience working. At the same time Joseph needed at least so much time to think through his own course of procedure. In making his modified proposal to them —one stays; the rest go home he represents himself as "a man wont to fear (present participle yare’) the Deity." Joseph naturally uses ’elohim at this point, which, coming from the mouth of a man seemingly a Gentile, can mean no more than "Deity." In days of old it was already recognized that a proper relation to God brought about considerate treatment of men. The original fear of God, more or less a tradition among the nations of earliest antiquity, had not yet entirely died out in these days.

The injunction laid upon the brethren is made sufficiently serious by the reminder: if your youngest brother is brought, "ye shall not die." Their life is practically to be regarded as hanging in the balance. The summary statement "and they did so," includes what is developed in the verses following to v. 26, The expression ra’abhon battêkhem —literally: "the hunger of your homes," signifies: that which can remove the hunger from your homes, or "to meet the need of your households." See K. S. 336 e.

2.105321-24. And they said one to another: Verily, we are guilty in reference to our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not listen. Therefore has this distress now come upon us. And Reuben answered them and said: Did I not say to you, Don’t sin against the lad, and ye would not listen. And as far as his blood is concerned, behold, it is being required. And they knew not that Joseph heard, for there was an interpreter between them. And Joseph turned away from them and wept. Then he returned to them and spoke with them, and took one of their number, Simeon, and had him bound in their sight.

Whatever they may have said in prison, how at least they speak in terms of their guilt in the matter of Joseph. Their conscience has awakened mightily during these three days. They feel that a just retribution has come upon them, and are apparently all of one mind in regard to the matter. They admit guilt, the "only acknowledgment of sin in the book of Genesis" (Inglis; quoted by Whitelaw). They find it to be just compensation—"because we saw the distress of his soul—and would not listen. Therefore has this distress now come upon us." Reuben comes to the forefront with a dire, "I told you so" —he gets some satisfaction from the fact that he had warned them, though he now makes his warning stronger than it then was (37:22). Now he rubs it in on himself as well as upon them that "his blood is being required" —nidhrash ="sought out." We should say: Satisfaction for his blood is being demanded. Nothing was farther from their thoughts in their self-accusations and recriminations than the thought that Joseph might understand. For Joseph had wisely throughout these proceedings availed himself of an interpreter, melîts —from lûts or lîts, "to 2.1054mock," for speaking a strange language sounded like mockery. When Joseph "turned away" this seems to signify that he momentarily left the room, for later "he returned." Simeon is singled out to be held bound. It might have been Reuben, the firstborn, but he had half acquitted himself by preventing more serious steps. Simeon seemed to stand in need of a special measure of corrective treatment. He was among the most cruel of the brethren; cf. 34:25; 49:5-7. To make the matter a bit more impressive Joseph lets Simeon be bound "in their sight."

25. And Joseph gave orders and they filled the receptacles with grain and they restored each man’s money to his sack and gave them provisions for their journey. Thus was done for them.

At this point Joseph does what he normally longed to do for his family; he gave them ample stores of grain, restored their money, and furnished provisions for the journey. As far as his brothers were concerned, he well knew that this kindness would only cause consternation and perplexity, but that, he recognized, was good for them. Yemal’û has no dagesh forte in the "l"; cf. G. K. 20 m. Bar is accusative of material with verbs of filling and the like (G. K. 117 z). Ya’as is impersonal, therefore to be rendered as a passive (K. S. 324 d; G. K. 144 h).

26-28. Then they loaded their asses with their grain and departed. And a certain one opened his sack to give fodder to his ass at the lodging place, and he saw his money and, lo, it was in the mouth of his sack. And he said to his brother: My money has been restored to me, and, see, it is also in my sack! And their heart failed them, and in fear they turned one to another, saying: What is this that God has done to us?

The Egyptians give them the desired grain; the sons of Jacob must load it on their own beasts. At 2.1055of them, not in the wildest flight of their fancy. But with consciences so badly alarmed as theirs were, and nerves as jittery, even one such sack seemed to spell calamity. Mindful of God’s just punishment, they feel that somehow God had a hand in what was befalling them. This was not superstition. The training of their youth received at the hand of a godly father was reasserting itself. "In fear they turned to one another" reads in Hebrew: "they trembled a man toward his brother" —a pregnant construction with ’el (K. S. 213 a). "Their heart failed them," according to the Hebrew idiom —"their heart went out." Here especially critical ingenuity displays itself: it finds it unthinkable that either E or J could be so clever as to use both "sack" and "bag," i. e., ’amta’chath and saq; and they invent the opening of all bags at the lodging place in order to make J’s account differ materially from E’s, who has the rest open their bags after they arrive home. All unwarranted devices that are unworthy of the scholars that make them.

29-34. And they came to Jacob, their father, to the land of Canaan and they told him all that had befallen them, saying: The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us, and treated us as if we were spying upon the land. But we said to him: We are honest men; we have never been spies. Twelve in number we are, brothers, sons of our father, the one is no more, and the youngest is this day with his father in the land of Canaan. And the man, the lord of the land, said to us: By this I shall know whether ye are honest—leave one of your brothers with me and take what meets the need of your households and go; and ye shall bring your youngest brother to me; so shall I know that ye are not spies but are honest men; so shall I 2.1057give your brother back to you, and ye may go about in the land.

This report covers what the preceding verses record. Joseph is designated as "the lord (’adhoney —plural of potentiality) of the land." It is rather significant that they omit to tell their father of the disgrace of spending three days in prison. Neither do they inform him that Simeon was left behind bound. That, of course, he discovered for himself.

35-38. And it came to pass when they emptied their sacks that, behold, each man had the bundle of his money in his sack; and when they saw the bundles of their money, they as well as their father grew afraid. And Jacob, their father, said to them: Me have ye made childless—Joseph is no more; Simeon is no more; and ye would take Benjamin also? on me are all these things fallen. And Reuben said to his father: You may slay my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will return him to you. But he said: My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead and he alone is left. Should a mishap befall him on the way which you go, ye shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the afterworld.

The first report of his sons was borne with relative equanimity by old father Jacob. But now an added disturbance arises, which, because it seems so utterly inexplicable, seems all the more dire a threat. All the brethren discover their "bundles of money" (tserorôth kaspêhem —a kind of double plural: "bundles of money" —K. S. 267 b) in their sacks. This puts them all on the defensive and requires an explanation they cannot furnish and lays every man of them open to serious charges. Now even the father’s sober courage fails him. He sees all his sons 2.1058in danger. He foresees the direst outcome. Though it is unreasonable grief and fear that speak, yet the father hits closer to the truth than he guessed when he charges his sons with being the ones who were making him childless. How the sons must have winced at the charge, wondering how much their father actually guessed! How their already sensitive conscience must have smarted still more! Jacob anticipates losing at least three sons: Joseph, Simeon, Benjamin.

37. Now Reuben seeks to make good at least his share of the original wrong by a rather extravagant offer, which has been described as bearing the marks rather "or a crude heroism than of any common sense" (Lange). Luther charges Reuben with speaking without rhyme or reason: Also hat Ruben allenVerstand und gemeinen Witz oder Vernunft verloren. Tamîth is permissive rather than imperative: "you may stay." But why should the murder of grandchildren compensate for the loss of a son? For the present the father’s refusal is categorical (v. 38): "My son shall not go down with you." Here it appears how deeply and how long he had grieved over the loss of Joseph. The sons of the favourite wife had been unusually dear to Jacob. After a life that had been marked by many severe buffetings of adversity Jacob feels he simply could not endure another major blow. This would bring his "gray hair" (sebhah —by metonomy—him as an aged man) with sorrow to the afterworld, i. e., to Sheol. Now She’ol in earlier Hebrew literature is the common place of abode for all the departed and is, therefore, as vague as "afterworld" or "grave." It asserts nothing about the state of the departed who have gone there. Much later it becomes the term that describes the abode of the wicked. Much has been imputed to the term without good grounds. It involves no thought such as Procksch 2.1059injects into it when he says: "He that departs to the realm of the dead full of grief rests there in eternal shadowy grief," and cites as proof Job 14:22. What Job said in his most grievous temptation does not reflect the normal belief of the saints of old. Job spoke while under the shadow of doubt, and his word hardly counts as a dogmatic proof passage, a sedes doctrinae. Jacob, therefore expresses only this thought: My last days, should Benjamin die, will be steeped in great grief under the load of which I shall die—not a very cheerful prospect.


Though the entire chapter makes a long text, its interest is sustained and so will carry the preacher past that difficulty. Two approaches strike us as feasible. Either, one may think in terms of the brothers who thought they had executed the perfect crime. From this angle the word is fulfilled which says: "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). Or else, one may think in terms of Joseph and his magnanimous conduct toward his brethren. Then the treatment will yield some such approach as that suggested by the word: "Recompense to no man evil for evil" (Rom. 12:17).

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