Genesis 42
Benson Commentary
Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
Genesis 42:1-2. When Jacob saw — That is, heard, as the word is used, Exodus 20:18; or saw the corn which his neighbours had bought there and brought home. Why look ye one upon another? — As careless and helpless persons, each one expecting relief from the other; but none offering either counsel or help for the subsistence of all. Go down thither — Masters of families must not only pray for daily bread for their families, but must, with care and industry, endeavour to provide it.

And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
Genesis 42:6. Joseph’s brethren came and bowed themselves before him — Some have inferred from this that the names of all the strangers that came to buy corn in Egypt were brought to Joseph and registered; and such persons or families as were any way remarkable, were brought before him. Thus his brethren would of course be introduced to him: but, in general, he undoubtedly sold the corn by deputies. With their faces to the earth — The common method of salutation in the eastern nations. Thus Joseph’s first dream was already fulfilled; their sheaves bowed to his sheaf.

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
Genesis 42:7. We may well wonder that Joseph, during the twenty years he had been in Egypt, especially during the last seven years that he had been in power there, never sent to his father to acquaint him with his circumstances; nay, it is strange that he, who so oft went through all the land of Egypt, never made a step to Canaan, to visit his aged father. When he was in the borders of Egypt that lay next to Canaan, perhaps it would not have been above three or four days’ journey for him in his chariot. It is a probable conjecture, that his whole management of himself in this affair was by special direction from Heaven, that the purpose of God, concerning Jacob and his family, might be accomplished. When Joseph’s brethren came, he knew them by many a good token, but they knew not him, little thinking to find him there.

And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
Genesis 42:9. He remembered the dreams — But they had forgotten them. The laying up of God’s oracles in our hearts will be of excellent use to us in all our conduct. Joseph had an eye to his dreams, which he knew to be divine, in his carriage toward his brethren, and aimed at the accomplishment of them, and the bringing his brethren to repentance; and both those points were gained.

And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.
We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.
And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.
And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:
Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
Genesis 42:15. By the life of Pharaoh — As sure as Pharaoh lives, or as I value the life of Pharaoh. A solemn protestation, as Judah, who heard it, and must have understood its meaning, explains it to his father, Genesis 43:3; The man did solemnly protest unto us. It seems, however, to have been the form of an oath in use among the Egyptians, as afterward the Romans used to swear by the name and life of their emperors. And it is no wonder that Joseph was carried by the stream of the general practice of the court, especially as the law of God concerning the appropriation of oaths unto God, that men are to swear only by his name, or are only to appeal to him for the truth of what they affirm, was not yet delivered.

Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.
And he put them all together into ward three days.
And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
Genesis 42:18. For I fear God — This was a very encouraging word unto them. It is as if he had said, You may assure yourselves I will do you no wrong; I dare not, for I know that, as high as I am, there is one higher than I. With those that fear God we have reason to expect fair dealing: the fear of God will be a check upon those that are in power, to restrain them from abusing their power to oppression and tyranny.

If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
Genesis 42:21. We are verily guilty — This is the just punishment of that wickedness which we committed against our brother. Though we could conceal it from men, we now see and feel it was known to God, who is reckoning with us for it. Thus the divine vengeance overtakes them, and conscience tortures them for a sin committed twenty years before, and their affliction, we may hope, brought them to repentance. We saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us — This particular is not mentioned in the history of this affair, recorded chap. 37., from which circumstance we learn, that the silence of Scripture concerning certain matters, is not a sufficient proof that they did not take place. We do not read that Joseph’s brethren were brought to feel this remorse of conscience, or made this confession to each other, during their three days of imprisonment; but now, when the matter was come to some issue, and they saw themselves still embarrassed, they began to relent. Perhaps Joseph’s mention of the fear of God, put them upon consideration, and extorted this reflection from them.

And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
Genesis 42:23. He spake by an interpreter — Joseph’s pretending not to understand their language was a wise piece of art, as by that means he discovered their real sentiments, as it appears they spoke to one another in their own language without reserve before him, probably when the interpreter was gone forth.

And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.
And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.
And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?
Genesis 42:28. Their heart failed them, and they were afraid — Their awakened consciences set their sins in order before them, made them afraid of every thing, and threw them into the utmost dismay and consternation. Saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us? — They knew that the Egyptians abhorred a Hebrew, (Genesis 43:32,) and therefore, since they could not expect to receive any kindness from them, they concluded that their money was put into their sacks with a design to pick a quarrel with them, and the rather, because the man, the lord of the land, had charged them as spies. Thus they construed every circumstance in this affair as the purpose of God to bring evil upon them, for their unnatural and cruel usage of their brother. When the events of Providence concerning us are surprising, it is good to inquire what it is that God has done, and is doing with us.

And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,
The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.
And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:
We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.
And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
Genesis 42:36. Me have ye bereaved of my children — Who can read Jacob’s lamentation here without being moved by it? He considers Simeon as already dead, being in the power of so rough a man as they described the lord of the country to be: he reflects on his former loss of Joseph, and he looks on Benjamin, the only remaining pledge of his beloved Rachel, as already taken from him. And what makes it the more moving is, that by his expressions it seems as if he thought his sons did not sympathize with him, and were little affected with these calamities. Nay, the unhappy father seems to have suspected that it was a plot of his sons to bereave him of Benjamin. All these things are against me — How ready have we all been to think and say the same amid disappointments, and afflictive dispensations of Providence, even at a time when all things, although in a mysterious way, were working together for our good!

And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
Genesis 42:37. Slay my two sons — This was a very rash and absurd proposal. What authority had Reuben to dispose of the lives of his children? And how could the murder of two grandchildren compensate Jacob for the loss of Benjamin? Besides, how did he know that Benjamin, if he went, would live to return, or that he should be able to restore him to his father? He ought, at least, to have said, “If the Lord will.” But he seems to have been little sensible of his dependance on Divine Providence.

And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
Genesis 42:38. My son shall not go down with you — Nothing can be more tender than this verse: it melts us while we read it, and is so expressive that it sets the venerable old patriarch full before our eyes. His brother is dead, and he is left alone — He plainly intimates a distrust of them, remembering that he never saw Joseph since he had been with them; therefore Benjamin should not go with them.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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Genesis 41
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