Genesis 43:34
And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.
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(34) Messes.—A portion of food from that prepared for the chief is regarded in the East as a mark both of honour and friendship, and the largeness of Benjamin’s mess marked him out as the especial object of Joseph’s regard. The words literally are, “And the portion of Benjamin was great above the portions of all of them five hands,” that is, five times. It has been supposed that Joseph intended to try his brethren by this preference, and see if they were still envious. More probably it was dictated simply by his love.

They drank and were merry with him.—Heb., They drank and were drunken with him. The verb is that used of Noah in Genesis 9:21, but probably the rendering in Haggai 1:6, “and were filled with drink,” would give the right meaning. They lost all fear and suspicion, and gave themselves up to enjoyment.

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.

34. took and sent messes … Benjamin's mess was five times—In Egypt, as in other Oriental countries, there were, and are, two modes of paying attention to a guest whom the host wishes to honor—either by giving a choice piece from his own hand, or ordering it to be taken to the stranger. The degree of respect shown consists in the quantity, and while the ordinary rule of distinction is a double mess, it must have appeared a very distinguished mark of favor bestowed on Benjamin to have no less than five times any of his brethren.

they drank, and were merry with him—Hebrew, "drank freely" (same as So 5:1; Joh 2:10). In all these cases the idea of intemperance is excluded. The painful anxieties and cares of Joseph's brethren were dispelled, and they were at ease.

It was the ancient custom of Egypt and other countries in their feasts, that either all the meat, or at least some eminent parts and parcels of it, were not promiscuously set before all the guests, but peculiarly distributed by the master of the feast to the several guests, and that differently, according to his respect and affection to them, or to their several qualities. See 1 Samuel 1:5 9:22-24.

Five times so much as any of theirs; partly, because of his nearer relation and dearer affection to him; and partly, to observe whether this would raise that envy in them towards him, which was the occasion of their malicious enterprise against himself, that he might accordingly provide for his security.

Were merry: the Hebrew word oft signifies to be drunk, but ofttimes it is only to drink liberally, though not to drunkenness, as may appear from Song of Solomon 5:1 Haggai 1:6 John 2:10.

And he took and sent messes unto there from before him,.... The several dishes were brought before him, who cut them up, and sent to everyone their part and portion, as was usual in those times and countries, and afterwards elsewhere (e), for the master of the family or feast to divide the food into parts, and to give to every guest his part; and these were called, from their being sent, "missus", and from whence seems to be our English word "messes", here used:

but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs; which was done out of his great affection to him, being his own brother both by father and mother's side; and, as some think, to try his brethren, how they stood affected to Benjamin, and observe if this did not raise their envy to him, as his father's particular respect to him had raised it in them against himself; and that, if it should, he might provide for his safety, lest they should use him in like manner as they had used him. This undoubtedly was designed as a peculiar favour, and a mark of special honour and respect, it being usual for princes to send messes from their tables to such as they favoured; and particularly it was usual with the Egyptians for their kings to have double messes more than the rest, in honour of them, as Herodotus (f) relates: Benjamin's mess consisted either of five parts, or it was five times bigger than what was sent to the rest; not but that they had all what was sufficient; there was no want to any, but great plenty of everything for them all; nor was this designed Benjamin, that he should eat the larger quantity, only to show him distinguishing respect:

and they drank, and were merry with him; after dinner they drank wine liberally and plentifully, but not to excess and intemperance, yet so as to be cheerful and in good spirits; their fears being all dissipated by this generous entertainment they met with.

(e) Athenaei Deipnosophist. l. 1.((f) Erato, sive, l. 6. c. 57.

And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, {k} and were merry with him.

(k) Sometimes this word means to be drunken, but here it means that they had enough, and drank of the best wine.

34. he took and sent messes] R.V. marg. messes were taken. The word “mess” is used here in the sense of “portion” of food. Cf. 2 Samuel 11:8, “and there followed him a mess of meat from [marg. present from] the king.” The word “messmate” preserves the Old English use. Mess, food, Old Fr. mes (mets), Lat. missum, e.g.:

“At their savoury dinner set

Of herbs and other country messes.”

Milton, L’Allegro, 85.

five times] Lit. “five hands”; cf. Genesis 47:24. Attention has been called to the frequent use of the number “five” in Egyptian matters recorded in the O.T. Cf. Genesis 41:34, Genesis 45:22, Genesis 47:2; Genesis 47:24; Isaiah 19:18. Some have connected it with the five Egyptian planets.

If an explanation is at all required, counting on one’s fingers is presumably the origin of a natural preference for the use of the numbers “five” and “ten.”

were merry] Heb. drank largely. This expression need not be interpreted too literally. The men were “festive,” not necessarily “intoxicated,” as LXX ἐμεθύσθησαν; Lat. inebriati sunt.

Compare Song of Solomon 5:1, “drink abundantly”; Haggai 1:6, “ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink.”

For a special dish for the most honoured guest, cf. 1 Samuel 9:23-24.

Verse 34. - And he took and sent (literally, and he sent) messes - maseoth, from nasa, to take or lift up, i.e. things taken or lifted up, hence portions or gifts (2 Samuel 11:8) - unto them from before him (cf. 1 Samuel 9:23). The practice of thus honoring guests was also observed among other nations (vide 'Iliad,' 7:321). But Benjamin's mess (or portion) was five times so much as any of theirs - literally, exceeded the portions of all of them five hands, i.e. five times. Herodotus (6:57) mentions that among the Spartans the king received a double portion. The unusually large portion assigned to Benjamin was designed as an expression of his strong fraternal affection, and perhaps also as a test of his brethren to ascertain if they were now free from that spirit of envy which had prompted their former cruelty to him. And they drank, and were merry with him - literally, and drank largely with him. Though the verb שָׁכַר sometimes signifies to drink to the full (Haggai 1:6; Song of Solomon 5:1), and though intoxication was not unusual at Egyptian entertainments, there is no reason to suppose that either Joseph or his brethren were inebriated (Vulgate, Alford), or that more is meant than simply that their hearts became exhilarated "because their cares were dissipated by the kindness they were receiving, the presence of Simeon, and the attention paid to Benjamin" (Murphy).

Genesis 43:34The 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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