Genesis 43:32
And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
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(32) By himself . . . by themselves.—These caste distinctions were common in ancient times, and still exist in India. Joseph probably had his food served separately because of his high rank; but the word “abomination” shows that eating with foreigners was shunned by the Egyptians for religious considerations. Herodotus (ii. 41) says that the Greeks were equally the objects of their dislike, and that the use even of a Greek knife would render food, otherwise clean, polluted in the eyes of the Egyptians.

Genesis 43:32. That is an abomination to the Egyptians — The most generally received opinion has been, according to the paraphrases of Onkelos and Jonathan, that the reason of this was the Hebrews eating the animals which the Egyptians held sacred. To this must be added, however, that the Egyptians were addicted to such superstitious ceremonies in dressing and eating their victuals, that they could not endure to sit at table with persons of other nations. According to Herodotus, it was not only to the Hebrews that they had such an aversion, for he assures us they would not use the pots or knives of the Grecians about their food, lest these utensils should have been defiled with cutting or containing the flesh of those animals which they accounted sacred. There is some reason, notwithstanding, to think that these superstitions had not begun to prevail in Joseph’s days, and that the cause of this abhorrence must be sought for in the difference of the civil rather than the religious manners of the two nations.

43:26-34 Observe the great respect Joseph's brethren paid to him. Thus were Joseph's dreams more and more fulfilled. Joseph showed great kindness to them. He treated them nobly; but see here the early distance between Jews and gentiles. In a day of famine, it is enough to be fed; but they were feasted. Their cares and fears were now over, and they ate their bread with joy, reckoning they were upon good terms with the lord of the land. If God accept our works, our present, we have reason to be cheerful. Joseph showed special regard for Benjamin, that he might try whether his brethren would envy him. It must be our rule, to be content with what we have, and not to grieve at what others have. Thus Jesus shows those whom he loves, more and more of their need. He makes them see that he is their only refuge from destruction. He overcomes their unwillingness, and brings them to himself. Then, as he sees good, he gives them some taste of his love, and welcomes them to the provisions of his house, as an earnest of what he further intends for them.They are now entertained by Joseph. They brought the present, and made a lowly obeisance before him. "They bent the head." See Genesis 24:26. "God be gracious unto thee, my son." His kind treatment of Benjamin, on whose presence he had so much insisted, was calculated to reassure the brothers. The latter was born in his thirteenth year, and therefore, he was entitled to assume the paternal style in regard to him. Joseph still appeals with a natural and unconstrained reverence to his own God. "And Joseph hastened away." The little touch of tenderness he had involuntarily thrown into his address to Benjamin, is too much for his feelings, which yearn toward his brother, and he is obliged to retreat to his chamber to conceal his tears and compose his countenance. "They set for him by himself." As the governor, or as connected by affinity with the priestly caste, Joseph does not eat with the other Egyptians. The Egyptians cannot eat with the Hebrews. "That is an abomination to the Mizrites." For the Hebrews partook of the flesh of kine, both male and female.

But Herodotus informs us (ii. 41), that "male kine, if clean, are used by the Egyptians, but the females they are not allowed to sacrifice, since they are sacred to Isis." And he adds that "a native of Egypt will not kiss a Greek, use his knife, his spit, or his cauldron, or taste the flesh cut with a Greek knife." They considered all foreigners unclean, and therefore, refused to eat with them (see Rawlinson's Herodotus on p. q.). They sat in his presence; arranged according to the order of their birth, to their great amazement. Egypt was to them a land of wonders, and Egypt's sultan a man of wonder. "Benjamin's mess." The honored guest was distinguished by a larger or daintier portion of the fare (1 Samuel 9:23-24; Homer, ii. 7,321). A double portion was assigned to the Spartan kings. The fivefold division was prominent in Egyptian affairs Genesis 41:34; Genesis 45:22; Genesis 47:2, Genesis 47:24, Genesis 47:26. "And were merry." They drank freely, so as to be exhilarated, because their cares were dissipated by the kindness they were receiving, the presence of Simon, and the attention paid to Benjamin.

- The Ten Brothers Were Tested

Joseph has had the satisfaction of seeing his brother Benjamin safe and well. He has heard his brothers acknowledging their guilt concerning himself. He resolves to put their attachment to Benjamin, and the genuineness of their change of disposition, to a test that will at the same time expose Benjamin to no hazard.

32. Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination—The prejudice probably arose from the detestation in which, from the oppressions of the shepherd-kings, the nation held all of that occupation. They set on for him by himself; partly because the dignity of his place, and the custom of princes, required this state; and partly for the reason here following.

That is an abomination unto the Egyptians; not so much from their pride and disdain of other people, as from their superstition and idolatry; partly because they worshipped the creatures which the Hebrews and others did commonly eat; and partly because of some peculiar rites and customs which they had in the dressing and ordering of their diet. Whence Herodotus affirms, that the Egyptians would not use the pots nor knives of the Grecians about their food. Compare Genesis 46:34. See there, Exodus 8:26.

And they set on for him by himself,.... A table was placed and provisions set upon it in one part of the room for Joseph by himself; which was done either because he was an Hebrew, and the Egyptians might not eat with him, nor he with them; or rather for the sake of grandeur, he being the next man in the kingdom to Pharaoh:

and for them by themselves; another table was placed and spread for Joseph's brethren by themselves, the reason of which is after given:

and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves; a third table was laid for such Egyptian noblemen and others, who were at this time Joseph's guests, or used to dine with him:

because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians; the reason of which, as given by the Targums of Onkelos and, Jonathan, is, because the creatures the Egyptians worshipped the Hebrews eat; but it is a question whether such creatures as oxen, sheep, goats, &c. which were eaten by the Hebrews, were so early worshipped by the Egyptians; though they were in later times, and particularly the Apis or ox, which is supposed by many to be worshipped on the account of Joseph, and so after his time; rather the abhorrence the Egyptians had the Hebrews in was on account of their being shepherds, on a political account, they having before this time suffered much by the insurrections and rebellions of such sort of persons among themselves, who set up a kingdom and kings of their own, called the "Hycsi", or pastor kings: or else this difference made between the Egyptians and Hebrews at eating, was not on account of what they did eat, as of the certain rites and customs the Egyptians had peculiar to themselves in dressing their food, and eating it; and therefore would not eat with any of another nation; so that this was not any particular distaste they had to the Hebrews, but was their usage towards men of all nations; for so Herodotus says (c), that"no Egyptian, man or woman, might kiss the month of a Greek, or use a knife, or spit, or pot;''that is, a knife a Greek had cut anything with, or a spit he had roasted meat on, or a pot he had boiled it in; and adds,"nor might taste of the flesh of an ox, cut with the knife of a Greek.''And indeed they would not eat nor converse with any of another religion (d), be they who they would.

(c) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 41. (d) Chaeremon apud Porphyr. de abstinentia, l. 4. sect. 6.

And they {h} set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an {i} abomination unto the Egyptians.

(h) To signify his dignity.

(i) The nature of the superstitions is to condemn all others in respect to themselves.

32. because the Egyptians … with the Hebrews] Egyptian exclusiveness was proverbial. Their priests were not allowed to eat or drink anything that had come from a foreign country (Porph. iv. 7). Herodotus (ii. 41) mentions that no Egyptian would use any utensil belonging to a Greek. It is noticeable in this passage that Joseph did not eat with the Egyptians. The natural reason for this is not, as some have supposed, because Joseph was a member of the family of a priest (Genesis 41:45), or even because he was a Hebrew, but on account of his position as the Grand Vizier.

an abomination] The technical term expressing that which was abhorrent and a source of ceremonial pollution. Cf. Genesis 46:34; Exodus 8:26. LXX βδέλυγμα; Lat. profanum.

Verse 32. - And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves. "Joseph eats apart from his brethren, keeping strictly to the Egyptian mode; and the history does not omit to remark that in this point he adhered to the custom of the country" (Havernick, 21). Because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews. Herodotus (2:41) affirms that the Egyptians would neither use the knife, spit, or basin of a Grecian, nor taste the flesh of a clean cow if it happened to be cut with a Grecian knife. For that is an abomination unto the Egyptians. The reason for this separation from foreigners being that they dreaded being polluted by such as killed and ate cows, which animals were held in high veneration in Egypt. Genesis 43:32Separate tables were prepared for him, for his brethren, and for the Egyptians who dined with them. This was required by the Egyptian spirit of caste, which neither allowed Joseph, as minister of state and a member of the priestly order, to eat along with Egyptians who were below him, nor the latter along with the Hebrews as foreigners. "They cannot (i.e., may not) eat (cf. Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 16:5; Deuteronomy 17:15). For this was an abomination to the Egyptians." The Hebrews and others, for example, slaughtered and ate animals, even female animals, which were regarded by the Egyptians as sacred; so that, according to Herod. ii. 41, no Egyptian would use the knife, or fork, or saucepan of a Greek, nor would any eat of the flesh of a clean animal which had been cut up with a Grecian knife (cf. Exodus 8:22).
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