Genesis 42:9
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.
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(9) Ye are spies.—This is the suspicion under which every traveller labours in the East; but in those days the whole Semitic race was especially looked upon in Egypt with distrust, and, as we saw in Genesis 12:15. a chain of fortresses had been built to protect the land from their incursions. Such an arrival, therefore, as that of Joseph’s brethren would be a matter of state, worthy of the attention of the highest officials; and probably they had themselves come prepared to be assailed with the accusation of having political objects in view in their visit.

The nakedness of the land.—That is, its defenceless condition, from the want of fortresses and garrisons. Egypt was chiefly assailable on the side of Palestine, and was often at war with the Hittites there. So also the Hyksos, who subdued Egypt, were Semites from Palestine, and thus there was reason for looking closely at visitors from that quarter.

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.

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. This he saith, not because they were so, or he thought them to be so, but that he might search out the truth of their affair, speaking too much like a courtier or politician.

The nakedness of the land, i.e. the weak parts of it, and where it may be best assaulted or surprised.

And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them,.... Their bowing and prostrating themselves before him brought to his remembrance his dreams of their sheaves making obeisance to his, and of the sun, moon, and eleven stars, doing the same to him, Genesis 37:7,

and said unto them, ye are spies; not believing they were, nor absolutely asserting that they were such; but this he said to try them, and what they would say for themselves, and in order to lead on to further discourse with them, and to get knowledge of his father and brother Benjamin, whether living or not: he dealt with them as a judge on the bench, when examining persons, whose charges have the nature of an interrogation, as this has: "ye are spies"; are ye not? surely ye must be, and unless you give a better account of yourselves, I must take you up as such:

to see the nakedness of the land ye are come: what parts of it are weakest, most defenceless, and less fortified, and most easy to break in at, and invade the land; and it was not without reason that the Egyptians might suspect the neighbouring nations round about them, being in distress, and hearing of corn in Egypt, of forming a design of coming upon them and taking away their corn by force, and might be the reason why foreigners that came to buy corn were brought before Joseph and examined by 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.
9. Ye are spies] The pretext for this sudden accusation lies in the constant exposure of the Egyptians, on their eastern border, to raids and attacks from nomad hordes of Asiatics. Joseph’s words are therefore quite natural. LXX κατάσκοποι, Lat. exploratores.

the nakedness of the land] Referring not to the desolation produced by the famine (as Targum of Onkelos), but to the weak and unprotected parts of the frontier: so the Lat. infirmiora terrae: the LXX τὰ ἴχνη τῆς χώρας = “the tracks (?) of the country,” is perplexing. Symm. τὰ κρυπτά.

Verse 9. - And Joseph remembered (i.e. the sight of his brethren prostrating themselves before him recalled to his mind) the dreams which he dreamed (or had dreamed) of them (vide Genesis 37:5) and said unto them, Ye are spies (literally, ye are spying, or going about, so as to find out, the verb רָגַל signifying to move the feet); to see the nakedness of the land - not its present impoverishment from the famine (Murphy), but is unprotected and unfortified state (Keil). Cf. urbs nuda praesidio (Cic., 'Att.,' 7:13); taurus nudatus defensoribus (Caes., 'Bell. Gall.,' 2:6); τεῖχος ἐυμνώθη (Homer, 'Iliad,' 12:399) - ye are come. The Egyptians were characteristically distrustful of strangers, - AEgyptii prae aliis gentibus diffi-dere solebant peregrinis (Rosenmüller), - whom they prevented, when possible, from penetrating into the interior of their country (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egyptians,' vol 1.p. 328, ed. 1878). In particular Joseph's suspicion of his Canaanitish brethren was perfectly natural, since Egypt was peculiarly open to attacks from Palestine (Herodotus, 3:5). Verss. 10-12. - And they said unto him. Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. "They were not filled with resentment at the imputation" cast upon them by Joseph; "or, ff they were angry, their pride was swallowed up by fear" (Lawson). We are all one man's sons; we are true men, i.e. upright, honest, viri bonae fidei (Rosenmüller), rather than εἰρηνικοὶ (LXX.), pacifici (Vulgate) - thy servants are no spies. It was altogether improbable that one man should send ten sons at the same time and to the same place on the perilous business of a spy, hence the simple mention of the fact that they were ten brethren was sufficient to establish their sincerity. Yet Joseph affected still to doubt them. And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come - assuming a harsh and almost violent demeanor hot out of heartless cruelty (Kalisch), but in order to hide the growing weakness of his heart (Candlish). Genesis 42:9As 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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