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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Genesis 42

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Joseph Meets His Brothers in Egypt

A. The sons of Jacob come to Egypt.

1. (Gen 42:1-4) Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain.

When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” So Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.”

a. Why do you look at one another? Jacob noticed a strange expression among the brothers when Egypt was mentioned, because the brothers knew it was likely Joseph was sold as a slave there. Their conscience made them feel terrible any time Egypt was mentioned.

i. “The father has noted the look of perplexity in his son’s faces”…literally, the phrase means, “to look questioningly one at the other.” (Leupold)

ii. “The word Egypt in their ears must have sounded like the word rope in the house of a man who has hanged himself.” (Barnhouse)

iii. Joseph’s brothers lived with a terrible secret for 20 years. They never talked about it but it never left them. Any mention of Joseph or Egypt brought back the guilt. They needed to be set free from the power of their terrible secret.

b. Lest some calamity befall him: The impression we have of Jacob from this chapter is of a man who was bitter and pessimistic about everything. Because he lost Joseph some 20 years before, he lived in constant fear that he would also lose Benjamin.

c. Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin: In keeping with this attitude, he demanded Benjamin be left behind. Though he had 11 sons only one was a son of his beloved and deceased wife Rachel, and Jacob felt he must protect him.

i. If Jacob only knew. If he could only trust the hand of God which he could not see! In fact, the only reason there was grain in Egypt to provide for their needs was because God sent Joseph ahead of them all. God knew what He was doing.

ii. Famine is not a good thing, but God used it. God can and does use material need and lack in our life to get us to do things we normally would never do. Normally, the brothers would never go to Egypt; but need drove them to Egypt.

2. (Gen 42:5-6) The sons of Jacob bow down before Joseph.

And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.

a. Bowed down before him with their faces to the earth: They knew that in this time of famine, their lives literally depended on this Egyptian official. Therefore they paid him great respect by bowing.

b. With their faces to the earth: Obviously, this reminded Joseph of the dream he had some 20 years before, that his brothers would bow down to him (Genesis 37:5-8).

i. When Joseph’s brothers plotted murder against him and sold him into slavery they did it with the specific intention to defeat his dreams (Genesis 37:19-20). Instead, by sending Joseph to Egypt, they provided the way the dreams would be fulfilled.

ii. The great and glorious truth of God’s providence is He can and does use the evil actions of man towards us to further His good plan. This never excuses man’s evil, but it means God’s wisdom and goodness are greater than man’s evil. Surely the wrath of man shall praise You (Psalm 76:10).

3. (Gen 42:7-17) Joseph interrogates his brothers and puts them into prison.

Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!” And they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. “We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies.” But he said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’ In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!” So he put them all together in prison three days.

a. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger: Joseph spoke through an interpreter (he did not yet want to reveal that he speaks Hebrew) and did not reveal his identity to his brothers, but treated them roughly instead.

b. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them: Joseph did not play games with his brothers. Some commentators believe that if it were up to Joseph, he would have revealed himself to his brothers right then and there. But God recalled the dreams to his mind and guided him to be an instrument for the correction and restoration of the brothers.

i. God can, and must, sometimes use ways we think are harsh to call us to go to where He wants us to be. We must never resent it, because it was the hardness of our hearts that demanded it. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. (Psalm 119:67)

c. One is no more: This was a lie and the brothers knew it. They had every reason to believe Joseph was not dead, but living a horrible life of slavery. Perhaps they had repeated the lie to themselves so often they came to believe it.

4. (Gen 42:18-20) Joseph gives the terms for their release from prison.

Then Joseph said to them the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so.

a. Do this and live: After three days in an Egyptian prison, the brothers were ready to agree to whatever Joseph wanted them to do. They had been humbled, and would listen to Joseph’s demands.

b. I fear God: Joseph didn’t want his brothers to fear him as much as he wanted his brothers to trust him. If the brothers were wise enough to consider what this really meant, it would be a great comfort to them.

c. If you are honest men: Joseph’s demand was clear. They had to prove they were not spies by proving they were honest and that they told the truth about the brother back home. The brothers agreed to this (they did so) but only reluctantly, because they knew their father would never want to let Benjamin leave home.

5. (Gen 42:21-24) The guilty conscience of Joseph’s brothers at work.

Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.” But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept. Then he returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.

a. We are truly guilty concerning our brother: They thought this complicated mess was before them because of the way they treated Joseph before, and their conscience was pricked. This was a good sign. The quickness with which they associated these events with their sin against Joseph probably meant they often remembered that sin.

i. There was not a completely logical connection between their current situation and their previous treatment of Joseph, but a guilty conscience sees every trouble as sin’s penalty.

ii. The United States government has something called the Federal Conscience Fund, which collects money people send in because they know they cheated the government in some way. People have sent in money because they took army blankets for souvenirs, for cheating on postage, or on income tax. But our consciences are notoriously weak or corrupt. One man wrote the IRS and said, “I cheated on my taxes and can’t sleep at night. Here is a check for $100. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest I owe.”

b. Therefore this distress has come upon us: In these words we hear the conscience of the brothers at work. Some describe the conscience as the sundial of the soul. It tells time well enough when there is light, but in darkness it is of no use. At night, you can shine a flashlight on a sundial and make it read any time you want it to. When the sunlight of God’s word shines on our conscience, it is reliable and trustworthy; apart from that, it isn’t always reliable.

i. Otherwise, our conscience can be like a circus-trained poodle. Whistle once, it stands up. Whistle twice, it rolls over. Whistle a third time, and it plays dead.

c. He turned himself away from them and wept: Joseph was overcome with emotion as he saw and understood this work of God in the conscience of his brothers. God had to do a deep work in the hearts of these brothers for the relationship to be reconciled.

i. There could be no quick and easy “We are sorry, Joseph!” in this situation. God guided events so the brothers saw their sin clearly and repented completely before Joseph was revealed and relationship was restored.

ii. Yet even before the restoration, Joseph did not allow himself to be bound by bitterness and hatred. He still loved his brothers and wanted to be with them (he returned to them again, and talked with them).

d. He took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes: Joseph retained Simeon as a prisoner to guarantee the return of the brothers with Benjamin. Simeon was not mentioned as having a prominent role in the selling of Joseph, as both Reuben and Judah were (Genesis 37:21-28), so we don’t know exactly why Simeon was chosen. Perhaps he volunteered.

B. Jacob’s sons return home to Canaan.

1. (Gen 42:25-28) The brothers find their money returned.

Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them. So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there. But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack. So he said to his brothers, “My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”

a. Their hearts failed them and they were afraid: They were terrified because they were already suspected as spies. Now they could also be accused as thieves.

b. What is this that God has done to us? The guilty consciences of the brothers were hard at work, bringing every adversity back to God.

2. (Gen 42:29-35) They return to Jacob and tell him the story.

Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: “The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’ “ Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

a. We are honest men: The same brothers lied to their father some twenty years before, saying that Joseph was killed by a wild animal when they sold him to slave-traders.

b. One is no more: The brothers repeated the lie again, and would be proven dramatically wrong.

3. (Gen 42:36) Jacob’s reaction: All these things are against me.

And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”

a. You have bereaved me: Jacob obviously lost his trust in the ability of God to do more than he could see or understand. Jacob could not rest in faith, trusting God to take care of the things that he did not know.

i. Jacob’s heart sang this song: No one loves me, this I know. My misfortunes tell me so.

b. All these things are against me: There was a sobering contrast between Jacob and Joseph. Joseph had far worse circumstances, but he never took the attitude all these things are against me.

i. The motto of too many Christians is all these things are against me. Instead, our motto should be Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

4. (Gen 42:37-38) Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go back to Egypt with them.

Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.”

a. Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you: Reuben did the best he could, making the dramatic gesture to allow Jacob to take Reuben’s own two sons as surety, but Jacob would have none of it. He would not allow Benjamin to go to Egypt.

b. My son shall not go down with you: Apparently, Jacob didn’t think too much of Simeon. It didn’t matter to him that Simeon might spend the rest of his life in an Egyptian jail.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Revelation 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Exodus 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Genesis 41 ← Prior Chapter
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