Genesis 42:7
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.
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(7) Joseph . . . spake roughly unto them.—Joseph has been accused of harshness in his treatment of his brethren, and still more so of his father in forcing him to send away Benjamin. The latter was, no doubt, the result of his great longing to see his only brother, and he may not have known how dear he was to Jacob, or have reflected upon the pain which his father would feel in parting with him. Still it was but a temporary separation, to prepare for a happy re-union. As regards his half-brethren, Joseph was obliged to prove them, and he did nothing to them which they did not richly deserve. From the first he probably wished to have his father and Benjamin to dwell with him, and share his good fortune; but if his brethren were still the cruel and heartless wretches which they had shown themselves to have been in their conduct to him twenty years before, we may well suppose that he would justly have left them to their fate. Possibly his first emotion towards them was one of indignation, but it melted away, when, even in but one of them, he saw proof that they were not entirely destitute of better feeling (see Genesis 42:22; Genesis 42:24).

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.

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.

7, 8. Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, … but they knew not him—This is not strange. They were full-grown men—he was but a lad at parting. They were in their usual garb—he was in his official robes. They never dreamt of him as governor of Egypt, while he had been expecting them. They had but one face; he had ten persons to judge by.

made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly—It would be an injustice to Joseph's character to suppose that this stern manner was prompted by any vindictive feelings—he never indulged any resentment against others who had injured him. But he spoke in the authoritative tone of the governor in order to elicit some much-longed-for information respecting the state of his father's family, as well as to bring his brethren, by their own humiliation and distress, to a sense of the evils they had done to him.

He spake roughly unto them; partly, to bring their sin to remembrance; partly, to get the knowledge of the true state of his father and family; and partly, to further the following design, and make way for his and their greater happiness.

And Joseph saw his brethren,.... Among those that came to buy corn, and when they prostrated themselves before him:

and he knew them; some of them being at man's estate, and their beards grown when they sold him, and their habits and dress now being much the same it was then, and by them he knew the younger:

but made himself strange unto them; took no notice of them as his relations, but carried himself to them as he did to other foreigners, and yet more strangely:

and spake roughly unto them; or hard (z) things or words; put on a stern countenance, and spoke with a high tone and in a rough surly manner to them:

and he said unto them, whence come ye? who are ye? of what country are ye? what is your business here?

and they said, from the land of Canaan to buy food; which they could not get in Canaan, the famine being there so great.

(z) "dura", Pagninus, Montanus, Drusius, Piscator, Schmidt.

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but {c} 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.

(c) This concealing is not to be followed, nor any actions of the father's not approved by God's word.

7. knew them] Joseph at once recognized his brethren. They did not recognize him. From a boy he had become a man; they were grown men when they sold him, and were comparatively unaltered. He in stature, dress, hair, and ornament must have been wholly changed from the rough shepherd lad of Canaan. According to E (Genesis 41:1; Genesis 41:47) more than nine years, according to P (Genesis 37:2, Genesis 41:46) more than twenty years had elapsed, since he had been separated from his home in Canaan.

made himself strange] In order to account for Joseph’s treatment of his brethren, the two most common explanations have been that he sought (1) to prove them, and (2) to punish them. His motives were, doubtless, mixed. The welfare of his father and of his own brother is uppermost in his thoughts. As he does not see them, he doubts whether the brethren who had treated him so shamefully will have maintained any regard for the life of his aged father or his young brother. He assumes a tone of harshness which he does not feel; and suffers a vein of generous hospitality and munificence to mingle with severity in the treatment of his brethren, so as to add to their mystification and confusion.

Verse 7. - And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but (literally, and) made himself strange unto them. The root נָכַר, to be marked, signed, by indentation, hence to be foreign (Furst), or simply to be strange (Gesenius), in the Hiphil signifies to press strongly into a thing (Furst), to look at a thing as strange (Gesenius), or to recognize, and in the Hithpael has the sense of representing one's self as strange, i.e. of feigning one's self to be a foreigner. And spake roughly unto them - literally, spake hard things unto them; not from a feeling of revenge which still struggled in his breast with his brotherly affection (Kurtz), or in a spirit of duplicity (Kaliseh), but in order to get at their hearts, and discover the exact state of mind in which they then were with regard to himself and Benjamin, whose absence it is apparent had arrested his attention, and perhaps roused his suspicions (Keil, Murphy, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary' And he said unto them, - speaking through an interpreter (ver. 23) - Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan (adding, as if they feared Joseph's suspicions, and wished to deprecate his anger) to buy food (i.e. corn for food). Genesis 42:7Joseph recognised his brothers at once; but they could not recognise a brother who had not been seen for 20 years, and who, moreover, had not only become thoroughly Egyptianized, but had risen to be a great lord. And he acted as a foreigner (יתנכּר) towards them, speaking harshly, and asking them whence they had come. In Genesis 42:7, according to a truly Semitic style of narrative, we have a condensation of what is more circumstantially related in Genesis 42:8-17.
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