Genesis 43:33
And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.
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(33) They sat.—The Egyptians are always represented on the monuments as sitting at their meals. For the Hebrew custom see Note on Genesis 27:19. The brethren, on finding themselves placed according to their age, must have supposed that Joseph possessed powers of divination, especially as the giving of due precedence was and is looked upon in the East as a matter of high importance.

Genesis 43:33. The men marvelled one at another — They were greatly surprised how he should know their respective ages, so as to place them, or cause them to sit down, exactly according to their seniority, as if he could certainly divine. Some, indeed, think they placed themselves so, according to their custom; but if so, why should particular notice be taken of it? And why should they marvel at it? This was, as it were, a preparative to the discovery of himself.

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. The youngest according to his youth; being so placed either by Joseph’s appointment; or rather by their own choice, and according to their custom; by which the elder, though the handmaidens’ children, took place of the younger, who by that order were taught what veneration they owe to the aged, and how great a sin it is, though very customary, in young men to despise those whom they should reverence.

The men, not the Egyptians, but the Hebrews, the men last spoken of,

marvelled; either at the matter and manner of the feasts and entertainments of the Egyptians; or rather, at the singular honour which Joseph did to them above all others, the reason whereof they could not conceive, and therefore marvelled at it.

And they sat before him,.... At a table, so placed that they were in his sight, and he had a full view of them:

the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth; everyone according to his age, Reuben, the firstborn, first, and so on to Benjamin the youngest: thus they placed themselves as they used to be in their father's family, or they were so placed by Joseph; and if this was the case, it may be a reason, and a principal one, of what follows:

and the men marvelled one at another; not the Egyptians, the guests of Joseph, seeing eleven brethren placed in this manner, and these being Hebrews, taken so much notice of; but Joseph's brethren, who either wondered at the manner of their being seated so regular, according to their age; or at the honour done them to dine with the governor, and at the grandeur of the entertainment, and at the separate manner in which the governor, and the nobles of Egypt, sat at meals; or at what follows.

And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marveled one at another.
33. marvelled] The men were mystified by their arrangement in order of birth. It suggested magic. It was one of the uncanny things that they could not account for.

Verse 33. - And they sat before him, - that the Egyptians sat at meals is in exact accordance With the representations on the monuments, in which they are never exhibited as reposing on couches, but always as seated round a circular table resembling the mono-podium of the Romans (vide Wilkinson, 'Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 2. pp. 40, 41, with Dr. Bitch's note; Hengetenberg's 'Egypt and the Books of Moses,' Genesis 1. p. 38) - the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marveled one at another - probably thinking that Joseph must have been supernaturally enlightened to discover so exactly the ages of strangers. Genesis 43:33The brothers sat in front of Joseph, "the first-born according to his birthright, and the smallest (youngest) according to his smallness (youth);" i.e., the places were arranged for them according to their ages, so that they looked at one another with astonishment, since this arrangement necessarily impressed them with the idea that this great man had been supernaturally enlightened as to their family affairs. To do them honour, they brought (ישּׂא, Ges. 137, 3) them dishes from Joseph, i.e., from his table; and to show especial honour to Benjamin, his portion was five times larger than that of any of the others (ידות lit., hands, grasps, as in Genesis 47:24; 2 Kings 11:7). The custom is met with elsewhere of showing respect to distinguished guests by giving them the largest and best pieces (1 Samuel 9:23-24; Homer, Il. 7, 321; 8, 162, etc.), by double portions (e.g., the kings among the Spartans, Herod. 6, 57), and even by fourfold portions in the case of the Archons among the Cretans (Heraclid. polit., 3). But among the Egyptians the number 5 appears to have been preferred to any other (cf. Genesis 41:34; Genesis 45:22; Genesis 47:2, Genesis 47:24; Isaiah 19:18). By this partiality Joseph intended, with a view to his further plans, to draw out his brethren to show their real feelings towards Benjamin, that he might see whether they would envy and hate him on account of this distinction, as they had formerly envied him his long coat with sleeves, and hated him because he was his father's favourite (Genesis 37:3-4). This honourable treatment and entertainment banished all their anxiety and fear. "They drank, and drank largely with him," i.e., they were perfectly satisfied with what they ate and drank; not, they were intoxicated (cf. Haggai 1:9).
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