Genesis 42:1-4 With the exception of Genesis 38 we have no idea what has been happening to the sons of Israel. For over twenty years they were keeping the lie of what they did to their brother Joseph to themselves. No doubt they must have wondered and also reckoned that sooner or later their actions would be judged by God. More than likely their lives were already under God’s judgment, this seems the case in Judah’s life with the loss of two of his sons.
Their father continued to grieve over the loss of his favorite son. The famine was taking its toll on the family of Jacob when word reaches Israel that Egypt has grain. Caravans must have been passing through Israel on their way to buy grain in Egypt. It was no doubt apparent that they too needed to go and buy grain but the brothers did not want to have to go down to the country where Joseph was.
Genesis 42:5-9 – Taking a caravan of animals that would carry the purchased goods of Egypt the 10 brothers set off. There were probably scores of caravans heading to Egypt to buy food because of the famine. Evidently all grain purchases had to be approved initially by Joseph. It seems that this and other actions were taken in order to avoid spying by enemy lands. Perhaps Joseph anticipated that his brothers might be arriving to purchase grain since the famine was in their land as well.
Still another reason for anticipating their arrival was the remembrance of his dreams which he shared with his brothers and father. When they arrived he recognized them but they did not recognize him. His dress, his position, and his demeanor all had changed, while his brothers probably had changed little. When they last saw him he was 17 years old and now he is 38. He spoke the language of Egypt fluently, and his brothers did not understand the language at all.
He communicated with them through a communicator. Since Joseph was placed in the position he was in, all who came before him had to bow before him, thus fulfilling Joseph’s dream. Concerned about the fate of both his brother and his father, he chose not to reveal himself just yet to his brothers. He wanted time to determine if their hearts had changed since he was last with them.
He acted with suspicion and treated them harshly placing their motives for coming to Egypt under suspicion. He accused them of being spies, thus putting them on the defense to see how they would react under pressure, would they fend for themselves or would they stick together. Would they protect their father and youngest brother, or under the strain would they betray him as well.
Genesis 42:10-13 – The brothers defend themselves in this accusation by Joseph by sharing much about their personal lives. The fact that they are brothers should help the king believe that they are not spies for it is rare that brothers should be sent together on a spy mission. They shared that one brother was back home and one was no more. They probably had shared with people and their father so many times concerning the loss of Joseph that this response was the standard one. Joseph continued to put the pressure on to see what their responses would be.
Genesis 42:14-17 – Joseph’s chief concern was for the welfare of his brother who was not with them. Did they resent Benjamin in the same way that they resented him? They had lied declaring that Joseph was dead; perhaps they were lying about the fate of their brother Benjamin. Without confronting and confessing to the truth of things, reconciliation is impossible. Jacob demands a test of them to determine their truthfulness and their attitude toward their younger brother.
He orders them to return to the land of Israel and bring back their brother, until such proof is furnished, Joseph will imprison them treating them as spies. Perhaps by ignoring their pleas and imprisoning them he was giving them a taste of what he experienced from them. They must have really been despondent considering that even if they did bring Benjamin what would prevent such an unreasonable and unpleasant man from harming Benjamin once he was in his presence.
Genesis 42:18-23 – After three days in prison, Joseph called for them again and told them that they all didn’t have to remain in prison. He probably realized that holding them any longer would cause his father to worry about them. He must have startled them by confessing that his actions were undertaken in response to his fear of God. Only one of them would have to remain behind while the rest returned to their father to bring their brother to Egypt to prove that their words were true.
They not only would be released but they would be sent away with the food and grain that they came for in the first place.Joseph knew they would be back even if they would not return for their brother because he knew how long the famine would last. They knew that when they returned they had better have Benjamin with them or they would indeed be considered as spies.
(Genesis 42:21) These actions caused them to think that this was judgment from God for their actions to Joseph consider Galatians 6:7. It is important to note that of all the sins that have so far been committed by God’s people and others in the book of Genesis this is the first time that confession occurs. Rather than be angry and bitter toward the governor who has placed them in prison they recognize that they are there because of their own sins.
Genesis 42:24-26 – It was this confession and the words of Reuben that began to move Joseph so profoundly. He was beginning to see real life in his brothers and a way of reconciliation. He was overcome with emotion and left the room until he was composed.
Still he had to carry his plan through in order to be sure of their changed heart. They had no idea that Joseph understood every word that they were saying since he used an interpreter in his discussions with them. Reuben’s confession made him realize that the likely ringleader of his betrayal to the Egyptians was the work of Simeon who Reuben was talking to.
He had the guards take Simeon back to prison; perhaps his brutal nature would be softened as he remained in prison. We can only speculate what the thoughts of the brothers were as to why Simeon was chosen to remain in prison rather than Reuben or the others. Joseph then gave the order for them to receive grain and be sent on their way. He told his servants to return their money which probably would cause them great concern when they realized that they weren’t charged for the grain.
Genesis 42:27-35 – Sometime on the way back home one of the sacks was opened to feed the animals and they discovered money. They were all greatly worried that they would be in deeper trouble. Again they were convicted that this was happening by the hand of God.
They were certain they would be accused of not paying for the grain. When they arrived at home they told their father the whole story including the demand to see Benjamin when they appear before the governor. After sharing the story with their father they unload all the sacks and discover that not just one person’s money was still with them but all the money somehow was still with them. This meant that all of them would be accused of stealing. This news caused Jacob as well to become greatly alarmed.
Genesis 42:36-38 – Joseph continues to test his brothers to see if they have changed their treacherous ways. It’s one thing to believe that God has sovereignly overseen your trials and another to entrust yourself or loved ones to evil people. What Joseph is doing here is determining if his brothers can still be transformed by God or if they have become too hardened. When the brothers return to their father Jacob and explain the situation Jacob accuses his sons of being responsible for the loss of two of his children, Joseph and Simeon.
They now are asking to take Benjamin to Egypt and risk his life as well. In Jacob’s mind if they return to Egypt they will be accused of theft because all their money was returned to them in their sacks. They have no idea why the money was returned, but their main concern was once again being accused of theft. If this would happen then Jacob would lose his entire family, and God’s promises to him would surely be undone. Is it any wonder that Jacob was so upset?
Jacob however was a man who likes to be in control, and God had to teach him the importance of allowing Him to be in control of his life. Jacob thought everything was against him, but in reality everything was happening just as the Lord would have it. All things were working for good and not evil. Reuben’s response to his father’s fears was to foolishly try to comfort him by offering his children’s lives in exchange for any harm that might happen to his brothers.
Jacob would hardly find comfort in the killing of his grandson’s should anything happen to his own sons. Jacob refused to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt. His grief over the loss of Joseph was so great that the only visible testimony of his beloved Rachel was Benjamin, and if anything would happen to him life would be unbearable. The process of repentance had begun to manifest itself with the brothers in Egypt but there was still much that had to be dealt with before God could use them to be the patriarchs that they would become.
They would need to face Joseph confessing their sins to him and receive his forgiveness in order to be restored to him and to God. Remember the Lord’s Prayer has conditional aspects to it – forgive us as we forgive. This face to face encounter was being arranged by God through this famine. This disaster was really a great blessing in disguise forcing them to deal with issues that they would otherwise avoid.