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Genesis 42



Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt (42:1–38)

1–5 The preceding chapter has recorded Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. In this chapter we discover God’s purpose in raising Joseph to such power: it was to eventually bring his family to Egypt and to preserve them as a nation (Genesis 45:7).

Jacob’s family was facing starvation in Canaan, and so when Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent his sons to buy some—“so that we may live and not die” (verse 2). Later Joseph was to echo that thought: “. . . it was to save lives that God sent me to Egypt” (Genesis 45:5). On a human level, Joseph was a savior—a role later fulfilled on a spiritual level by Jesus Christ.

Jacob sent only ten of his sons to Egypt; he kept his youngest son Benjamin at home. Benjamin was the only remaining child (so Jacob thought) of his beloved wife Rachel, and he couldn’t bear the thought of any harm coming to him in Egypt.

6–8 So ten of Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt and went to see Joseph, who managed all grain sales in the land. And they bowed down to him (verse 6), thereby unwittingly fulfilling the two dreams Joseph had had as a teenager back in Canaan (Genesis 37:5–7,9).

Joseph could easily recognize his brothers, but they couldn’t recognize him. Twenty-two years had passed; Joseph was in Egyptian dress and spoke to them through an interpreter. They could never have imagined that this ruler of Egypt was their little brother Joseph!

9 Then Joseph remembered his dreams about his brothers. He realized that God had brought them to Egypt. And suddenly he became very harsh with them: “You are spies!” We are not told at first why Joseph treated his brothers so harshly, but it was the memory of the dreams that motivated him and not a desire for revenge.

10–17 Joseph knew his brothers were not spies. But he recalled that according to his second dream eleven stars would bow down to him (Genesis 37:9); yet only ten brothers had come and bowed down. Joseph must have concluded that God intended that Benjamin come also. In addition, Joseph surely longed to see his one full brother, all the rest being half-brothers. So Joseph formed a plan to compel his brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt. His first idea was to send one brother back to Canaan to fetch Benjamin and to imprison the others.

18–20 After the brothers had been in prison for three days, Joseph decided on a less severe plan: he would keep only Simeon in custody; the others could return to Canaan with the grain they had purchased. After that, they were to return with Benjamin; otherwise, Simeon would be kept in prison.

21–24 Joseph not only wanted to see Benjamin; he also wanted to see what was in the hearts of his brothers. And he found out. In Joseph’s hearing, they acknowledged to each other their sin against him more than twenty years earlier; their hearts were softened when they remembered the young Joseph’s distress as he was being sold into slavery. And they felt they were being justly punished for their crime (Galatians 6:7). Reuben reminded the others that he had tried to save Joseph (Genesis 37:21–22); now they would have to give an accounting for his blood (verse 22). Since they all believed Joseph to be dead, they no doubt feared that their punishment would be great: “an eye for an eye”; a life for a life (Exodus 21:24).

Although Joseph pretended not to understand his brothers conversation (he had been using an interpreter), he of course understood every word they were saying. And as their hearts began to soften, so too did Joseph’s heart. And he began to weep (verse 24). But he hid his feelings from his brothers; he selected Simeon to remain in prison and ordered him to be bound.

25–28 Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph had returned the silver which each one had given in payment for the grain. One brother discovered his silver in his grain sack on the journey home (verse 27). He couldn’t understand how it got there, but all the brothers recognized that God was dealing with them in some way.

29–34 The brothers then recounted to their father what had happened to them in Egypt. Once again they had to explain to Jacob how they had lost one of his sons, Simeon. This time, at least, they told the truth.

35–36 Then they opened their grain sacks and discovered that each brother’s silver had been returned. Again they were frightened. If they returned to Egypt, might they not be accused of having stolen the silver?

But Jacob, looking at the silver, may have thought that they had sold Simeon into slavery. He immediately lamented that he was losing his children: first Joseph, now Simeon, and soon Benjamin! “Everything is against me!” he cried (verse 36). How wrong he was: all these things were working for him, not against him.

37–38 However, Jacob refused to let Benjamin go to Egypt. Benjamin had replaced Joseph in their father’s affection. If Jacob lost him, he knew he would die of sorrow. He couldn’t yet comprehend God’s plan.