1When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, "Why do you just keep looking at each other?" 2He continued, "I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die."
3Then ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5So Israel's sons were among those who went to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.
6Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph's brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. "Where do you come from?" he asked.
"From the land of Canaan," they replied, "to buy food."
8Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected."
10"No, my lord," they answered. "Your servants have come to buy food. 11We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies."
12"No!" he said to them. "You have come to see where our land is unprotected."
13But they replied, "Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more."
14Joseph said to them, "It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!" 17And he put them all in custody for three days.
18On the third day, Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die." This they proceeded to do.
21They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us."
22Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood." 23They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
24He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
25Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man's silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.
27At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28"My silver has been returned," he said to his brothers. "Here it is in my sack."
Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, "What is this that God has done to us?"
29When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30"The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31But we said to him, `We are honest men; we are not spies. 32We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.'
33"Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, `This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.'"
35As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man's sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
37Then Reuben said to his father, "You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back."
38But Jacob said, "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow."
Here we return to find out how things are going with Jacob and his sons. It has been some thirteen years since Joseph was sold into slavery. As we were told in the previous chapter: "[T]he famine was severe in all the world" (Gen. 41:57). Thus, Jacob and his sons were feeling the effects of the famine. At some point, "Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt" (vs. 1). Now, since his sons most likely got out and about more than Jacob did, they must have heard that there was grain in Egypt before Jacob did. So, Jacob wondered why his sons had not acted on this knowledge. He asked them: "Why do you just keep looking at each other?" (vs. 1). We might here make a conjecture that the reason Jacob's sons kept "looking at each other" (instead of going to Egypt to get food) is that the sons were afraid to go to the country where Joseph was sold into slavery. Perhaps they feared that they would in some way be called into account for their great sin.
Nevertheless, Jacob ordered them to action: "I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die" (vs. 2). So here, the amazing events that brought Jacob's sons face to face with Joseph were set in motion. On second thought, these events were set in motion by God long before that. The entire history of Joseph's life--his being sold into slavery, his false imprisonment, his interpretation of dreams, his exaltation in Egypt--contained the events that God used to bring his people to Egypt. Through the hindsight we have from Moses' narrative, we can clearly see God's hand in the events. What a great lesson in the workings of God's providence this passage is!
And so, ten of Jacob's sons set out for Egypt (vs. 3). "But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him" (vs. 4). It seems that Jacob suspected his sons of some sort of wrongdoing for the disappearance of Joseph. He did not want the same thing to happen to Benjamin, the last of his beloved Rachel's children.
At this time in Egypt, "Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people" (vs. 6). Joseph, as we have previously pointed out, was a model of the work ethic. No matter what his position--whether slave in Potiphar's house, prisoner in Pharaoh's jail, or second-in-command to Pharaoh--he always went about his work diligently and faithfully, and in so doing, he always gained the respect and admiration of his superiors. We are exhorted by Paul to have such a work ethic: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23-24). We see here that the duties of our profession--whether we be a plumber, a teacher, a police officer, an engineer, an manager of others--I say, the duties of our profession are part of our service to Christ. We should labor as diligently for our bosses at work as we would if we were working directly for our Lord Jesus Christ.
"So when Joseph's brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground" (vs. 6). This is a direct fulfillment of the dream that Joseph had so many years before. Recall that passage: "Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, `Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.' His brothers said to him, `Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?' And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said" (Gen. 37:5-8).
The fulfillment of Joseph's dream is evidence that God was in control from the beginning, that He was engineering the events all along. God gave Joseph those dreams so that we who read this account would know that God was engineering the events. Fulfilled prophecy is one of the chief evidences of Himself that God gives to us. The Lord Himself tells us this through Isaiah: "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do" (Isa. 46:9-11).
"As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them" (vs. 7). Interestingly, Joseph did not remember his dream right away when his brothers bowed in front of him, though he did recognize his brothers. And it seems that his remembrance of the dream caused Joseph to become even harsher with them: "Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, `You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected'" (vs. 9). Quite possibly, Joseph's remembrance of his dream also caused him to remember how cruel his brothers were to him. It was in large part because of Joseph's dreams that the brothers sold him into slavery. At that time, they were jealous of Joseph's dreams and hated the idea of Joseph being exalted over them. Ironically, it is the fulfillment of the dreams that leads to their salvation from the famine.
In this passage, and throughout the account of Joseph's life (as we have mentioned before in these studies), we find much typology that subtly prophesy Jesus' life and mission. Joseph's brothers in one sense are typical of the unsaved, with Joseph being typical of Jesus, their Savior. The brothers hated the idea of bowing to their savior, yet it is their bowing to him that would lead to their salvation. Likewise, unbelievers despise the Lordship of Christ. If you tell them that God has exalted Christ such that "every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:10-11), they bristle at the thought of bowing to Christ and confessing that He is Lord. Yet, it is their bowing to Him that would lead to their eternal salvation.
Joseph persisted in insisting that the brothers were spies. We may well ask, "Why the charade? Why the harsh tone?" Was this merely Joseph's way of getting back at his brothers? I don't think this is the reason for Joseph's harshness. Revenge was very much not a part of Joseph's character. So then, if not for revenge, why the charade? In verses 14 through 16, we get a clue as to Joseph's motive: "Joseph said to them, `It is just as I told you: You are spies! And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!'" Joseph very much wanted to see his younger brother Benjamin. However, Joseph was not entirely sure that Benjamin would be safe in his brothers' hands. Joseph perceived that threatening the lives of the brothers was the best way to get them to bring Benjamin safely to him. After reinforcing his threat by keeping them in custody for three days, Joseph gave them a less harsh proposition: "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die" (vss. 18-20). Joseph tried to reassure them that he would hold up his side of the bargain by saying, "I fear God". Quite possibly Reuben took this to heart because, as we shall see later (see vs. 37), he was convinced that Benjamin would not be harmed by being brought to Egypt.
The brothers were astonished at the strange things that were happening to them in Egypt. They could think of only one explanation: "They said to one another, `Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us.'" (vs. 21). This is a striking example of the power of conscience, to have such a strong effect after so many years. The pangs of conscience do not go away on their own. Guilt, shame and the pangs of conscience are often the basis of aberrant psychological behavior, because of the crippling effect a guilty conscience can have on us. The world's remedy for a guilty conscience is to try to ignore it, to pretend that there is no such thing as guilt. They do this through psychology, as well as through redefining morality, in an attempt to decrease the sins that lead to their guilty feelings. But all this is ineffective because the conscience is God-given and is based on His law. Attempts to ignore one's conscience will be fruitless. Such attempts can only cover over a guilty conscience, not cleanse it. True cleansing of conscience comes only through "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, [that He may] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14). For the unbeliever, the way to cleanse a guilty conscience is to accept the gift of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, so that we may stand guiltless before God. For the believer,--yes, even a believer can be troubled by a guilty conscience because, sadly, we continue to sin even after coming to Christ--I say, for the believer, the way to cleanse a guilty conscience is to confess one's sins before God. John, by the Holy Spirit, has promised us: "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Guilt, shame, and pangs of conscience, far from being bad things, are gifts of God, spurring us to repent from sin and to turn to Him for forgiveness.
Joseph was touched by the work of their consciences: "He turned away from them and began to weep" (vs. 24). But Joseph realized that a guilty conscience does not necessarily imply that the sin has been repented from. Joseph realized that he must continue with his plan: "He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes" (vs. 24). Many commentators believe that the reason Joseph chose Simeon to be imprisoned was that Simeon was the ringleader in the selling of Joseph. We know that Simeon was a ruthless and violent man. He, with Levi, was the instigator in the slaughter of the Shechemites in retaliation for the defiling of Dinah (see Gen. 34:30). Also, later, when Jacob gives his sons his death-bed blessings, he has nothing good to say about Simeon (see Gen. 49:5-7). If Simeon was the ringleader, his imprisonment would have especially caused the rest of the brothers to see these events as retribution by God for the selling of Joseph.
In an attempt to bless their journey, "Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man's silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey" (vs. 25). But when the brothers discovered this, they were frightened that it would lead to punishment by Joseph (whom they only knew as Pharaoh's governor): "At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. `My silver has been returned,' he said to his brothers. `Here it is in my sack.' Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, `What is this that God has done to us?'" (vs. 27-28). Here again we see the detrimental effects of a guilty conscience. Their guilty consciences turned the blessing into a curse. As Solomon points out: "The wicked man flees though no one pursues" (Prov. 28:1).
Note, when they were trembling, they said: "What is this that God has done to us?" (vs. 28). Significantly, this is the first time that we have ever seen the brothers refer to God. This happens often. Men ignore God until they have something to blame Him for. They overlook all the blessings He has poured out upon them abundantly, but are quick to blame Him for the slightest affliction.
"When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them" (vs. 29). Jacob did not know what to think. He certainly didn't know whether he could believe this fantastic story that his sons were telling him. Jacob must have suspected foul play on the part of the brothers concerning Joseph, because he replied to them: "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin" (vs. 36). Then Jacob exclaims: "Everything is against me!" In this respect, how wrong he was! In reality, God was working these strange events to Jacob's good. Jacob was judging by appearances, instead of seeing things from a heavenly perspective. Perhaps this is why Moses reverts to using Jacob's old name "Jacob", rather than the new name that God had given him "Israel" (see Gen. 35:10). Jacob was acting like his old worldly self, rather than the new creation that God had made him. Brothers and sisters, see that you do not revert to your old self. As Paul exhorts: "[L]et us live up to what we have already attained" (Phil. 3:16).