Genesis 42:13
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.
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42:7-20 Joseph was hard upon his brethren, not from a spirit of revenge, but to bring them to repentance. Not seeing his brother Benjamin, he suspected that they had made away with him, and he gave them occasion to speak of their father and brother. God, in his providence, sometimes seems harsh with those he loves, and speaks roughly to those for whom yet he has great mercy in store. Joseph settled at last, that one of them should be left, and the rest go home and fetch Benjamin. It was a very encouraging word he said to them, I fear God; as if he had said, You may be assured I will do you no wrong; I dare not, for I know there is one higher than I. With those that fear God, we may expect fair dealing.The ten brothers meet with a rough reception from the lord of the land. "The governor" - the sultan. This, we see, is a title of great antiquity in Egypt or Arabia. Joseph presided over the cornmarket of the kingdom. "Bowed down to him with their faces to the earth." Well might Joseph think of those never-to-be-forgotten dreams in which the sheaves and stars bowed down to him. "And knew them." How could he fail to remember the ten full-grown men of his early days, when they came before him with all their peculiarities of feature, attitude, and mother tongue. "And he made himself strange unto them." All that we know of Joseph's character heretofore, and throughout this whole affair, goes to prove that his object in all his seemingly harsh treatment was to get at their hearts, to test their affection toward Benjamin, and to bring them to repent of their unkindness to himself.

"They knew not him." Twenty years make a great change in a youth of seventeen. And besides, with his beard and head shaven, his Egyptian attire, his foreign tongue, and his exalted position, who could have recognized the stripling whom, twenty years ago, they had sold as a slave? "Spies are ye." This was to put a color of justice on their detention. To see the nakedness of the land, not its unfortified frontier, which is a more recent idea, but its present impoverishment from the famine. "Sons of one man are we." It was not likely that ten sons of one man would be sent on the hazardous duty of spies. "And behold the youngest is with our father this day." It is intensely interesting to Joseph to hear that his father and full brother are still living. "And one is not." Time has assuaged all their bitter feelings, both of exasperation against Joseph and of remorse for their unbrotherly conduct. This little sentence, however, cannot be uttered by them, or heard by Joseph, without emotion. "By the life of Pharaoh." Joseph speaks in character, and uses an Egyptian asseveration. "Send one of you." This proposal is enough to strike terror into their hearts. The return of one would be a heavy, perhaps a fatal blow to their father. And how can one brave the perils of the way? They cannot bring themselves to concur in this plan. Sooner will they all go to prison, as accordingly they do. Joseph is not without a strong conviction of incumbent duty in all this. He knows he has been put in the position of lord over his brethren in the foreordination of God, and he feels bound to make this authority a reality for their moral good.

9-14. Ye are spies—This is a suspicion entertained regarding strangers in all Eastern countries down to the present day. Joseph, however, who was well aware that his brethren were not spies, has been charged with cruel dissimulation, with a deliberate violation of what he knew to be the truth, in imputing to them such a character. But it must be remembered that he was sustaining the part of a ruler; and, in fact, acting on the very principle sanctioned by many of the sacred writers, and our Lord Himself, who spoke parables (fictitious stories) to promote a good end. i.e. Is dead, as that phrase often signifies both in Scripture, as Genesis 37:30 44:20 Jeremiah 31:15 Matthew 2:17,18, and in other authors, as Homer, Euripides, &c. They concluded with great probability that he was dead, Genesis 44:20, because for twenty years together they had heard nothing, either of him or from him; which may seem strange, considering the nearness of Egypt and Canaan: but this came to pass partly from his own long imprisonment, and afterwards from his great and high employment; partly, from his lothness to bring so much mischief to his father and brethren, as the discovery of his case might have produced; and principally, from the overruling providence of God, which for its own glorious design disposed of Joseph’s mind and affairs, so that he either did not send to his father’s house, or that the messages were intercepted, there being not then those conveniencies for mutual correspondencies which now there are. And it is not improbable that Joseph might be further acquainted with the mind of God in this matter by dreams, which may seem to have been familiarly afforded to him, together with the interpretation of them. See Genesis 40:8 41:16.

And they said, thy servants are twelve brethren,.... Or rather, "were twelve", since one afterwards is said not to be:

the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; of Jacob, who dwelt there; this is said with the same view as before, to show the improbability of their being spies:

and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father: meaning Benjamin, whom Joseph was eager to hear of, and no doubt was glad to hear he was alive, and his father also, and that they were both together in the land of Canaan:

and one is not; is not in the land of the living, is dead; for so they thought Joseph was, who is the person intended, as appears from what both Reuben and Judah afterwards say, Genesis 42:22; and yet he was before them, and was the person they were speaking to: this must be very striking and affecting to Joseph, who knew full well they meant himself.

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.
13. We … twelve brethren] In this verse, as in Genesis 42:32, it appears that Joseph’s brethren proffer this information of their own accord, in order to convince the ruler that they were simple private persons. According to J (Genesis 43:7, Genesis 44:19), Joseph extracted the information by direct questioning.

one is not] See Genesis 37:30.

Verse 13. - And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest - literally, the little one (cf. Genesis 9:24) - is this day with our father, and one - literally, the one, i.e. the other one, ὁ δὲ ἕτερος (LXX.) - is not - i.e. is dead (cf. Genesis 5:24; Genesis 37:30) - in which statement have been seen a sufficient proof that Joseph's brethren had not yet truly repented of their cruelty towards him (Keil); an evidence that time had assuaged all their bitter feelings, both of exasperation against Joseph and of remorse for their unbrotherly conduct (Murphy); a suppression of the truth (Words. worth), if not a direct falsehood (Lawson), since they wished it to be understood that their younger brother was dead, while of that they had no evidence beyond their own cunningly-invented lie (Genesis 37:20) and their own probable surmisings. But in point of fact the inference was natural and reasonable that Joseph was no more, since twenty years had elapsed without any tidings of his welfare, and there was no absolute necessity requiring them to explain to the Egyptian governor all the particulars of their early life. Yet the circumstance that their assertion regarding himself was incorrect may have tended to awaken his suspicions concerning Benjamin. Genesis 42:13As the sight of his brethren bowing before him with the deepest reverence reminded Joseph of his early dreams of the sheaves and stars, which had so increased the hatred of his brethren towards him as to lead to a proposal to kill him, and an actual sale, he said to them, "Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land (i.e., the unfortified parts of the kingdom which would be easily accessible to a foe) ye are come;" and persisted in this charge notwithstanding their reply, "nay, my lord, but (ו see Ges. 155, 1b) to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man's sons (נחנוּ for אנחנוּ, only in Exodus 16:7-8; Numbers 32:32; 2 Samuel 17:12; Lamentations 3:42): honest (כּנים) are we; thy servants are no spies." Cum exploratio sit delictum capitale, non est verisimile; quod pater tot filios uno tempore vitae periculo expositurus sit (J. Gerhard). But as their assertion failed to make any impression upon the Egyptian lord, they told him still more particularly about their family (Genesis 42:13.): "Twelve are thy servants, brothers are we, sons of a man in the land of Canaan; and behold the youngest is now with our father, and one is no more (אימנּוּ as in Genesis 5:24). Joseph then replied, "That is it (הוּא neut. like Genesis 20:16) that I spake unto you, saying ye are spies. By this shall ye be proved: By the life of Pharaoh! ye shall not (אם, like Genesis 14:23) go hence, unless your youngest brother come hither. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother; but he shall be in bonds, and your words shall be proved, whether there be truth in you or not. By the life of Pharaoh! ye are truly spies!" He then had them put into custody for three days. By the coming of the youngest brother, Joseph wanted to test their assertion, not because he thought it possible that he might not be living with them, and they might have treated him as they did Joseph (Kn.), but because he wished to discover their feelings towards Benjamin, and see what affection they had for this son of Rachel, who had taken Joseph's place as his father's favourite. And with his harsh mode of addressing them, Joseph had no intention whatever to administer to his brethren "a just punishment for their wickedness towards him," for his heart could not have stooped to such mean revenge; but he wanted to probe thoroughly the feelings of their hearts, "whether they felt that they deserved the punishment of God for the sin they had committed," and how they felt towards their aged father and their youngest brother.

(Note: Joseph nihil aliud agit quam ut revelet peccatum fratrum hoc durissimo opere et sermone. Descendunt enim in Aegyptum una cum aliis emtum frumentum, securi et negligentes tam atrocis delicti, cujus sibi erant conscii, quasi nihil unquam deliguissent contra patrem decrepitum aut fratrem innocentem, cogitant Joseph jam diu exemtum esse rebus humanis, patrem vero rerum omnium ignarum esse. Quid ad nos? Non agunt poenitentiam. Hi silices et adamantes frangendi et conterendi sunt ac aperiendi oculi eorum, ut videant atrocitatem sceleris sui, idque ubi perfecit Joseph statim verbis et gestibus humaniorem se praebet eosque honorifice tractat. - Haec igitur atrocitas scelerum movit Joseph ad explorandos animos fratrum accuratius, ita ut non solum priorum delictorum sed et cogitationum pravarum memoriam renovaret, ac fuit sane inquisitio satis ingrata et acerba et tamen ab animo placidissimo profecta. Ego durius eos tractassem. Sed haec acerbitas, quam prae se fert, non pertinet ad vindicandum injuriam sed ad salutarem eorum poenitentiam, ut humilientur. Luther.)

Even in the fact that he did not send the one away directly to fetch Benjamin, and merely detain the rest, but put the whole ten in prison, and afterwards modified his threat (Genesis 42:18.), there was no indecision as to the manner in which he should behave towards them - no "wavering between thoughts of wrath and revenge on the one hand, and forgiving love and meekness on the other;" but he hoped by imprisoning them to make his brethren feel the earnestness of his words, and to give them time for reflection, as the curt "is no more" with which they had alluded to Joseph's removal was a sufficient proof that they had not yet truly repented of the deed.

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