Genesis 42:17
And he put them all together into ward three days.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

17-24. put them … into ward three days—Their confinement had been designed to bring them to salutary reflection. And this object was attained, for they looked upon the retributive justice of God as now pursuing them in that foreign land. The drift of their conversation is one of the most striking instances on record of the power of conscience [Ge 42:21, 22]. No text from Poole on this verse. And he put them all together into ward three days. In order to consult together, and agree who should be sent to fetch their brother; and which it seems probable in this length of time they could not agree upon, no one caring to be the bringer of such evil tidings to their father. And he put them all together into ward three days.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. put them … into ward] i.e. “in charge, or safe keeping”; as in Genesis 40:3. Not “in prison,” as in Genesis 39:20. Joseph’s treatment sounds to us harsh and cruel. Arbitrary confinement, however, was, and is, only too common in the East. The brethren would be a prey to the sickening dread either of being brought out only to be executed, or of being prevented from returning to their homes.

Joseph himself had endured a long experience of captive life in Egypt.Verse 17. - And he put them all together into ward (literally, and he assembled them into prison) three days. Ostensibly in consequence of their unwillingness to agree to his proposal, but in reality to give them an experience of the suffering which they had inflicted on him, their brother, and so to awaken in their hearts a feeling of repentance. Yet the clemency of Joseph appears in this, that whereas he had lain three long years in prison as the result of their inhumanity towards him, he only inflicts on them a confinement of three days. As 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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