Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt
1When Jacob learned there was food in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around here staring at each other? 2I hear there is grain in Egypt; go there and buy some for us so we don’t all starve to death.” 3So Joseph’s ten half brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt, 4but Jacob did not send Joseph’s full brother Benjamin with them, because he feared something might happen to him. 5So Israel’s sons were among those who went to Egypt to buy grain, for the famine in the land of Canaan was severe. # 42:5 Joseph’s ten brothers left for Egypt on a journey of eight to ten days to buy food for their very large families (see Gen. 46:26).
6Now Joseph was the governor of the land of Egypt, which meant he supervised the sale of grain to all the people. One day, Joseph’s ten brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces on the ground. # 42:6 Joseph was seventeen when he had his dreams. At the age of thirty, he was exalted over Egypt. About nine years later his brothers come to buy grain from him. After he had waited twenty-two years for the fulfillment of his prophetic dreams, here were his brothers bowing down before him. What a feeling that must have been! When his ten brothers came before him, he knew who they were, even though they didn’t recognize him. His dream was being fulfilled right before his eyes—almost. As they were bowing down before him, he counted them; there were only ten, not eleven. Where was the eleventh? Joseph needed a plan. 7As soon as Joseph saw them, he realized that they were his brothers! But he pretended he didn’t know them and spoke to them harshly: “Where do you come from?”
“From the land of Canaan,” they answered, “and we’re here to buy food.”
8Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they had no clue that it was Joseph speaking to them. 9Then at once, Joseph remembered the dreams he had about them bowing down before him! # 42:9 At that moment, Joseph had the choice of revealing his identity to his brothers or remaining in disguise. He chose the latter, for the wisdom of God was in him. He wanted to test them to see if they were repentant of their betrayal. From a human standpoint, Joseph would have been happy for an instant reconciliation with them, but Joseph was a man broken by God and was now prepared to deliver others. Joseph spoke and acted in such a way that their hearts would be revealed and exposed. Did Joseph wonder if they had done to Benjamin what they had done to him? It was not a spirit of revenge driving Joseph, but a true love for his brothers and for the ways of God. The tests Joseph took them through were designed by God to see what they had done and if they had come to repentance. See 2 Peter 3:9. Pausing, he said to them, “You are spies! You’ve come to see where our land is weak!” # 42:9 Or “to see the nakedness of the land.”
10His brothers replied, “No, master; we’ve come to buy food. 11We, your servants, are honest men; we’d never think of spying! We’re blood brothers, sons of one father.”
12Joseph interrupted, “No! You are spies who have come here to find our weakness!”
13“We are your servants,” they insisted. “We were twelve brothers, our youngest brother remained behind with our father, and one brother—well, he is no more.”
14Joseph said to them, “It’s just as I said; you are spies! 15And here is how I’ll test you: unless your younger brother comes and presents himself here before me, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you shall not depart from here! 16One of you must go and bring me your brother, while the rest of you will remain here in confinement. This way I will test your words to see if the story you have told me is true. If not, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17He placed them all in prison together for three days. # 42:17 Joseph put his brothers in confinement for three days, perhaps to let them know how he had suffered in prison for those many years—not to punish, but to prepare them. They could only conclude that God had confined them because of what they had done to Joseph.
Joseph Tests His Brothers
18On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do as I say and you will live. I am a man who respects God. 19If you are as honest as you say you are, then I will keep just one of your brothers here in confinement while the rest of you carry grain home for your starving families. 20You must return with your youngest brother so that I may verify your story, and that you may not die.” So they agreed to do so.
21With Joseph standing there, they began to speak among themselves, saying, “Look what’s happened to us! We’re being punished for what we did to Joseph long ago. We heard his cries of anguish and saw the agony of his soul when he begged us for mercy, but we turned a deaf ear. That’s why all this trouble has come upon us!”
22Then Reuben spoke up, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! So now we’re paying the price for his murder!” # 42:22 Or “Now comes the reckoning for his blood!” 23They had no clue that Joseph understood every word, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter.
24Deeply affected by what he heard, Joseph began to weep and hurriedly left their presence. After he had composed himself, he returned to them, and pointing to Simeon, said, “This one will remain here.” # 42:24 Joseph wanted to be sure they would return to Egypt. Simeon’s name means “he who hears.” By keeping Simeon, Joseph was showing them that they had “lost their hearing.” Also, Joseph was testing them to see if they would abandon Simeon as they had him. While in prison, Simeon would have lots of time on his hands to listen—and discern. Simeon was known for his cruelty (see Gen. 34:25; 49:5–7), and he might have been the one that led the way in their persecution of Joseph. Then he had him tied and bound while they all watched. 25Joseph then gave orders to have their bags filled with grain, to hide each man’s money back inside his sack, # 42:25 As the nine brothers left for Canaan, Joseph gave them sacks of grain for their journey. At his orders, his brothers’ money was replaced in their sacks of grain. Joseph paid for the grain himself, for he loved his brothers. His secret love paid their debt (see Isa. 55:1). They deserved no grain, they deserved no money, but mercy prevailed. The money in the sacks was also a part of Joseph’s wise plan to test his brothers. and to give them provisions for their journey home. After this was done for them, 26they loaded their donkeys with the bags of grain and departed.
Joseph’s Brothers Return to Canaan
27Later, they camped for the night, and as one of them # 42:27 The Midrash identifies him as Levi. See Targum Jonathan. opened his sack of grain to feed his donkey, he discovered that his money was there right on top of the grain! 28He shouted to his brothers, “My money! Look, someone put my money back in my sack!” Troubled and trembling, they said to each other, “What in the world has God done to us?”
29When they came to their father Jacob in Canaan, they told him the story of all that happened to them, saying, 30“The governor of Egypt spoke harshly to us and accused us of being spies. 31We told him, ‘We are not spies but honest men. 32We’re twelve brothers, sons of our father. Our youngest remained with our father in the land of Canaan, and one is no more.’ 33Then the man, the governor of Egypt, demanded, ‘By this test, I will discern if you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers with me, take the grain you need for your families, and be on your way. 34Return to me with your youngest brother, then I’ll know you are not spies, but men of integrity. Then I’ll release your brother back to you, and you’ll be free to trade in the land.’ ”
35As they each emptied their sacks of grain, each man found his money inside his sack! When they and their father saw their money returned to them, they were frightened. 36Their father Jacob said to his sons, “You have taken away my children! First, Joseph is gone, and now, Simeon! And now, you want to take Benjamin from me! Everything is against me!” # 42:36 And how many times have we said that everything is against us when, in fact, everything and every event is being woven together for our good because we love God (see Rom. 8:28)? See also Ps. 34:19; Isa. 41:10, 13.
37Then Reuben said, “Father, you may put my two sons # 42:37 Reuben had four sons, so the Hebrew implies “two of my sons.” to death if I fail to bring Benjamin back to you! Trust me—I will bring him back!”
38But Jacob replied, “I can’t let my son Benjamin go with you. For his brother is dead, and of Rachel’s sons, he alone is left. # 42:38 Jacob could not see how insensitive his remarks were. Reuben was a son, Judah was a son, Levi was a son, and so were all the others. Jacob spoke as if the other sons did not matter; Jacob continued to show favoritism. If he were to meet with disaster on your journey, I would die of grief! You will send my white hair and broken heart sorrowing down to the grave!” # 42:38 Or, in Hebrew, “Sheol.”
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Joseph’s Brothers Sent to Egypt
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?”
Simeon Is Held Hostage
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.’ ”
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.”
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