Genesis Chapter 42
Seeking Relief from Famine
Jacob, Joseph's father, learned that Egypt was selling grain and he said to his sons, "Why do you look at one another?" (vs. 1) So, he told them to go buy grain so they could live, the famine had reached Canaan. 10 of Joseph's brothers then went down to Egypt to buy grain; Jacob didn't send Benjamin because he feared harm would come upon him (vs. 4).
Joseph & His Brothers
Joseph was the governor, and his brothers came and bowed with their faces to the ground before him (vs. 6). He recognized them, but treated them like strangers speaking roughly asking where they were from (vs. 7). They didn't recognize him. At this point he remembered the dreams he dreamed of them, and accused them of being spies (vs.9), but they claimed to be honest men, and not spies (vs. 10). They then described where they were from, and how they had left their youngest brother with their father, and that their other brother is no more (vs. 13).
Joseph Tests His Brothers
Joseph accused them again of being spies, and tested them, he swears on Pharaoh's life that they cannot leave his presence unless their youngest brother comes (vs. 14-15). He said to send one to bring their brother while they are all confined, and he put them in custody for 3 days (vs. 17).
On the 3rd day Joseph said if they did what he said, they'd live because he fears God (vs. 18). He then let them all take grain to their household, but kept only one brother in custody, but they still must bring their youngest brother back to Joseph, otherwise they would die. So they agreed. They then said to each other that they were guilty regarding their brother Joseph, and that because of what they did to him is why this current distress has come upon them (vs. 21).
His brother, Reuben spoke up and said, "Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." (vs. 22) They didn't realize that Joseph understood them while they were talking, for there was an interpreter between them. Joseph then turned away from them and wept (vs. 24), then returned and spoke to them. He took Simeon from them and bound him before them, and he gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every mans money in his sack, and give them provisions for the trip.
The brothers then loaded their donkeys with grain and left, and one brother opened his sack to give his donkey food where they were staying on the way, and saw money in the mouth of the sack. He told his brothers, and their "hearts failed them," and they were trembling, and they said, "What is this that God has done to us?" (vs. 28)
Arriving in Canaan to Jacob
When they arrived back in Canaan they told Jacob what had happened with Joseph, the test, and everything. Then as they emptied their sacks every man's money was there, and they were all afraid (vs. 35). Jacob then told them how they had bereaved him of his children: Joseph and now Simeon, and that they would now take Benjamin.
Reuben then said, "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." (vs. 37) Jacob responded, "My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol." (vs. 38)
Reflections on Genesis 42
God is at work among the nations, and here we see that God is using Egypt, and particularly a Hebrew in Egypt - Joseph, to save His covenant people in fulfillment of promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
First, we see Jacob say to his sons, something to the effect, "Don't just stand there and stare at each other, go get food from Egypt so we don't die." I don't want to read more into that then what the text allows, but you get the sense that Jacob's sons are lazy and clueless when it comes to having knowledge and a drive to provide for their family. So, at the direction of Jacob they go to Egypt.
Second, we see something of the affect and use of a guilty conscience. Joseph's brothers immediately attribute their difficulties to their sin against Joseph (it may be triggered because Joseph said he fears God). 13 years have passed, and their guilty consciences seem to be continually dogging them. They know they have sinned, and not only against Joseph, but their sin was primarily against God, "What is this that God has done to us?" (vs. 28) The text doesn't let us know if they are saying this in an accusative fashion or if it's just a recognition of the truth of their situation. The only way we can take this is that they are acknowledging God's sovereign control over all things. God has done this. They were responsible for their actions. After all, they chose to betray their brother, they chose to sell him before Reuben could save him, they chose to lie, smearing blood on and ripping up Joseph's coat. They chose to lie to their Father. They know though that God saw all of that, and they seem to be admitting that they are accountable to none other than Yahweh. What a terrible thought in the face of sin. If we're honest we have to admit that we've done wrong before God too. If we should be identifying with anyone in this passage it probably should be Joseph's brothers. Praise God that through faith in Jesus Christ we can be cleansed of our shame and guilt. We can be infused with the righteousness of Christ by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Third, should we test people when they sin against us like Joseph does here? Probably not. This is a specific salvation historic event. That said, it's not such a bad thing for people to feel the gravity of their sin. If we think but lightly of our sin we will likely think lightly of our Savior. God used Joseph's hiding of his identity to work reconciliation in the covenant family here. Whether or not they thought of their sin against Joseph, and primarily against God, every day for the last 13 years, they certainly were thinking of it this day. And in God's graciousness through Joseph, He let's them contemplate this for a while. The bondage of their brother reminds them of what they deserve, the reliance they have on another - namely, Joseph's mercy - reminds them that they must be humble because they are not the sovereign judge of men. After all is said and done, they are humbled to realize that they are not the great men that their pride and egos would deceive them to be. I'm not saying we should test people like this when they sin against us, but it is not wrong to let people consider their guilt and shame. That said, don't forget to show them how they can be saved. Not salvation from a famine, slavery, etc., but salvation from sin - salvation from the wrath of God. God's perfect justice and mercy meet at the cross, help people to be rid of their shame and guilt there, at the cross. Joseph's encounter with his brothers points us to Jesus. Joseph's particular test was specific to this event in salvation history, but it's helpful and useful for us to know something of the wretchedness and evil that we must be redeemed from too.
In the face of a worldwide famine God is preserving the line through whom He will bring Christ into the world. I think Bruce Waltke's paragraph on this chapter is helpful. So, I'll end this post with it:
"God, through the famine, initiates the saving process by forcing the family to confront their past and each other. Joseph's harshness also helps to heal the fracture and to restore the family to God. Simeon's detention in Egypt reminds the ten brothers of how they treated Joseph, and for the first time they recognize the Moral Governor of the universe at work in their lives. Their consciences are awakened to confess their guilt (42:21-24) and to fear God (42:28). They take responsibility to retrieve Simeon from prison (42:19, 24) and to protect Benjamin from harm (42:37; See 43:1-45:28). Upon their return they show sensitivity to their father's emotions, and loyalty that unite a family are now being fashioned. Through the famine Joseph comes to rule over Egypt and the sons of Israel become worhty to becalled the people of God. Both God's famine and Joseph's harsh speech confront the brothers with life and death (42:2, 18, 20). Through these severe mercies the fractured family is being healed."
Waltke, Bruce Genesis a Commentary With Cathi J. Fredricks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 550.