Genesis 42:15
Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
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(15) By the life of Pharaoh.—It was common in ancient times to swear by the king’s life (see 1Samuel 17:55; 2Samuel 14:19 ), and even by the life of Jehovah (2Samuel 15:21; 2Kings 2:2; 2Kings 2:4; 2Kings 2:6). It is only in the stricter morality of the Gospel that such oaths are forbidden (Matthew 5:33-37).

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.

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.

15. By the life of Pharaoh—It is a very common practice in Western Asia to swear by the life of the king. Joseph spoke in the style of an Egyptian and perhaps did not think there was any evil in it. But we are taught to regard all such expressions in the light of an oath (Mt 5:34; Jas 5:12). By the life of Pharaoh, as sure as Pharaoh lives. It seems to be the form of an oath in use among the Egyptians, as afterwards the Romans used to swear by the name, genius, health, and life of their emperors. Compare 1 Samuel 1:26 17:55 2 Kings 2:2 Ezekiel 33:11. And it is not strange that Joseph through human infirmity was carried by the stream of the general practice of the court, especially when the law of God was not yet delivered concerning the appropriation of oaths unto God.

Hereby ye shall be proved,.... Whether spies, or not, namely, by producing their youngest brother, said to be at home with his father:

by the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither: the phrase, "by the life of Pharaoh", seems to be the form of an oath, as it was common with many nations, especially with the Scythians, who used to swear by the royal throne (a), and the Romans, in later times, by the life, health, and genius of their emperor; and this custom of swearing by the life of their king, or by his head, continued with the Egyptians, as Aben Ezra says, unto his times; though some take this to be a wish or prayer for the life of Pharaoh, and render it, "may Pharaoh live" (b), or, at most, but a strong asseveration, that as dear as the life of Pharaoh was to him, so surely they should not stir from the place where they were, unless their youngest brother Benjamin was brought thither.

(a) Herodot. Melpomene, sive, l. 4. c. 68. (b) "vivat Parhoh", Montanus, Junius & Tremellius; so Ainsworth and Lightfoot.

Hereby ye shall be proved: {d} By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.

(d) The Egyptians who were idolaters, used to swear by their king's life: but God forbids swearing by anyone but him: yet Joseph dwelling among the wicked was corrupted by them.

15. by the life of Pharaoh] An Egyptian form of oath, in the sense of “as sure as Pharaoh is alive to punish, or avenge.” Dillmann says, “the oath is very suitable here, as the Egyptians honoured their kings, ὡς πρὸς ἀλήθειαν ὄντας θεούς (Diod. i. 90),” i.e. as truly divine. The oath by the life of the king is found in an Egyptian inscription of the 20th century b.c.

Genesis 42:15As 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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