When Joseph was the ruler of Egypt, the brothers of Joseph came from Canaan to Egypt for food. The chapter described how Joseph recognized his brothers and how he treated them harshly with the plan to bring Benjamin to Egypt. This lesson teaches us about a personal struggle between being angry at past ill-treatments with having the willingness to give someone a chance upon future repentance.
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- “Why do you look at one another” (42:1): The expression can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “why do you let yourselves being unconcerned (relaxed)” or literally be translated in Hebrew as “why do you make an outward show of being well supplied.”
- Calamity (42:4): In Hebrew, the word “calamity” occurs five times in the Old Testament. It is mentioned three times in Joseph’s story (Gen 42:4, 38, 44:29). The other two uses can literally be translated in Hebrew as “harm.” They are mentioned in the book of Exodus 21:22-23 to describe the physical injury against a pregnant mother’s unborn child.
- “He acted as a stranger”(42:7): The phrase literally can be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “he was distancing himself” or “he became hostile for himself from them.”
- “You are spies” (42:9): In this context, the foreigners entered Egypt from the northeast, which was the land’s most vulnerable border. Infiltrations into Egypt by Asians from Canaan to El-‘Arish were a recurrent phenomenon.
Thus, Joseph’s suspicion of his brothers from Canaan was natural, since Egypt was irregularly open to invasions from such area. [ref]
In Greek-Septuagint, the expression can literally be translated as “You have come to observe the footsteps of the land.”
- “The nakedness of the land” (42:9) In Hebrew, the sentence can be translated literally as “the exposed” or “the undefended parts of the land,” which means the discovery of any defects in its fortifications.
- “We are honest men“ (42:11) The saying in Greek-Septuagint literally means “we are peaceable” or “we are peaceful.”
- “You shall be tested” (42:15): The word “test” in the Scriptures can be used in several ways. Apart from the book of Genesis’ and the book of Jeremiah’s usage of that word to discern one’s truthfulness (Gen 42:15-16; Jer 6:27), the Scriptures also used the mentioned word to describe the test of the uprightness of the human minds and hearts by the Lord (Jer 11:20; Psa 7:9;
1 Chr 29:17). In addition, the word “test” is used as God’s refinement to one’s character to be pure like a gold which comes out of a furnace (Job 23:10; Zech 13:9; Prov 17:3).
- Encampment (42:27): The pastoral nomads did not stay in inns but in crude tent encampments. [ref]
- “Their hearts failed them” (42:28): In Greek-Septuagint, the saying literally means that “things seemed to make a little or no sense.” In addition, the saying can literally be translated in Hebrew as “their hearts fell” or “went out,” which means “they lost courage.”
- “They were afraid” (42:28): The phrase can be translated in Hebrew literally as “they came trembling, each man to his brother” or “they trembled each one to his brother.”
- “You have bereaved me” (42:36): The expression can be literally translated in Hebrew as “you have made childless of me.” The Scriptures describe several meanings of the word “bereavement” in Hebrew. First, the word can be used to refer to miscarriage for animals. For instance, the book of Genesis 31:38 and the book of Job 21:10 mentioned how female goats and cows could miscarry their young ones. Second, the word can refer to the barrenness or unfruitfulness of the land. For example, the writer of the book of
2nd Kings narrated how the ground was barren, unable to be planted, due to the bad water ( 2 Kgs 2:19, 21). In addition, the book of Malachi referred the word “bereavement” in Hebrew as a failure to bear the fruit of the vine (Mal 3:11). Third, the word alternatively means “childless,” as of parents losing their children. Consecutively, several books in the Scriptures described the word “bereavement” in Hebrew as a condition of losing children by means of sword or wild beasts or other calamities (Jer 15:7; Ezek 36:12-14; Hos 9:12, 14). In the context of Jacob’s life story, the word “bereavement” referred to the condition of losing children through certain calamities. First, upon learning of Joseph’s bloody tunic, Jacob mourned for him many days (Gen 37:34). Second, upon learning of Simeon’s absence, Jacob was bereaved (Gen 42:36). Thus, Jacob blamed the brothers for depriving him not only of his beloved son, Joseph, and his second son, Simeon; but Jacob also held the brothers responsible for wanting to take away Benjamin from his presence.
- “Gray hair” (42:38) can be used in different expression in Hebrew. First, the expression “gray hair” can literally be translated as “old age, full of days” (
1 Chr 29:28) or “white-hair” (Job 41:32). Second, the phrase can be used as an idiom, “bringing down the gray hair to the grave.” The mentioned idiom is referenced twice in the Scriptures—by Jacob when referring to his sorrow (Gen 42:38, 44:29, 31) and by David when giving instructions to Solomon ( 1 Kgs 2:6, 9).
- Grave (42:38) in Hebrew, the word is literally pronounced “Sheol” and can literally be translated as “grave” or “hell”—the underworld, the place where men descend at death (Deut 32:22; Isa 14:9; Gen 37:35; Job 7:9;
1 Kgs 2:6).
How did the words of Jacob in Gen 42:1 reflect his sons’ character?Hide Answer
The words of Jacob in Gen 42:1 reflected the character of his sons. Jacob’s phrase “why do you look at one another” showed how the sons had given up with the family’s current situation. Their food stock was depleted that Jacob commanded them to buy grain to maintain their livelihood (Gen 42:2). Despite the physical crisis in the family, none of the sons took the initiative to go to Egypt for grain until Jacob questioned and commanded them. In facing the severe famine (Gen 41:30-31, 57), the sons of Jacob were just “look[ing] at one another” and were numb with fear to act on the famine which befell upon their family, knowing that the problem had no solution.
Compare Jacob’s reaction in facing the famine in the land of Canaan with that of Abram’s and of Isaac’s. See also Gen 12:10 and 26:1-3.Hide Answer
When faced with the severe famine in the land of Canaan, Jacob reacted differently compared to his forefather, Abram, and his father, Isaac. During the severe famine, Abram “went down to Egypt to dwell there” (Gen 12:10). But with Isaac, during the “famine…in the land,” the LORD specifically told Isaac “not [to] go down to Egypt” (Gen 26:1-2). Instead, God commanded Isaac to dwell in Gerar, the settlement of Abimelech, king of the Philistines (Gen 26:3). Now with Jacob, he neither went down to Egypt nor moved to another land. Jacob commanded his sons to go down to Egypt to buy food because he had heard that “there was grain in Egypt” (Gen 42:1-2, 43:2).
How could the brothers of Joseph not recognize him?Hide Answer
The brothers of Joseph were not able to recognize Joseph because of several factors. First, Joseph’s physical form and age. Joseph was but a seventeen-year-old teenager when the brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites (Gen 37:1, 28). Now, in Gen 42, Joseph was thirty-seven years old (Gen 41:46, 53)—twenty years past from the last meeting with the brothers—was no longer a teenager in form but a mature adult man. Second, Joseph’s Egyptian culture and language. In Egypt, now Joseph was not only a ruler, a governor of Egypt, who was shaved (Gen 41:14) and was adorned in fine linen and a gold chain (Gen 41:42); but he was also speaking an Egyptian language with them through an interpreter (Gen 42:23), which strongly hid his Hebrew descent and his knowledge of a Hebrew language.
How did the accusation of Joseph toward his brothers in Gen 42:8-9 reflect the suppressed feelings and the struggle inside Joseph before the birth of his two sons?Hide Answer
The accusation of Joseph toward his brothers in Gen 42:8-9 reflected the suppressed feelings and the struggle inside Joseph before the birth of his two sons. His accusation toward the brothers was caused by Joseph’s suppressed feelings of anger, suspicion and curiosity over his brothers’ character. Joseph’s anger was triggered because the brothers were the main cause that Joseph was separated from his family for a long period of time (Gen 40:15, 41:51). Furthermore, Joseph’s suspicion was prompted due to Benjamin’s absence among the ten brothers who came to Egypt (Gen 42:11, 13). Lastly, Joseph’s curiosity was piqued after Joseph learned that Benjamin and his father were still alive back in the land of Canaan (Gen 42:13).
In addition, Joseph’s allegation against his brothers reflected his past and personal struggle within to forgive his brothers. Though the Lord had made Joseph to forget all his toil and all his father’s house through the birth of his firstborn, Manasseh (Gen 41:51), the harsh treatments which the brothers did to Joseph in the past were physically and emotionally hurtful. The remembrance of his dreams (Gen 42:9) also stirred his past memories of despisableness (Gen 37:19), hatred (Gen 37:8), conspiracy (Gen 37:18), and betrayal (Gen 37:27) from his brothers.
How did the brothers reply Joseph in defending their innocence?Hide Answer
In defending their innocence, Joseph’s brothers gave several replies. First, they informed Joseph of their origin location and intention. They said they had travelled from the land of Canaan for the sole purpose of buying food (Gen 42:7). Second, they shared with Joseph the private information of their family condition. They were all sons of one man, totalling twelve brothers (Gen 42:13). Furthermore, they even told Joseph the whereabout of the youngest one and the one who was no more. Thus, explaining to Joseph why there were only ten of them in front of his presence.
Describe the test which Joseph proposed to his brothers.
What was the purpose of the proposed test by Joseph?
Compare the contrast between Joseph’s life suffering and his brothers’ imprisonment.Hide Answer
While his brothers’ were imprisoned for three days (Gen 42:17), Joseph suffered his imprisonment for two full years (Gen 41:1). Apart from the two-year imprisonment, Joseph had also suffered eleven years as one who “was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews” (Gen 37:2, 40:15, 41:1, 46).
In Gen 42:18-20, how was Joseph’s second proposal of test to his brothers differ from the first one?Hide Answer
Joseph’s second proposal of test to his brothers was different from the first one. In the first proposal, Joseph had insisted on sending one of the brothers to bring the youngest brother from Canaan (Gen 42:16). However, in the second proposal, Joseph let nine of the brothers go home to bring the youngest brother from Canaan (Gen 42:19). Moreover, in the second proposal, Joseph compassionately let the nine brothers carry grain for the famine of their houses (Gen 42:19)—an act which was absent in the first proposal (Gen 42:16). Lastly, Joseph’s second proposal was softer in tone compared to the first harsh one. In the second one, not only did Joseph give them guidance when he said, “Do this and live” (Gen 42:18), but he also comforted them when he said, “…and you shall not die” (Gen 42:20), easing their fear and confusion during their imprisonment.
In the Scriptures, there were several people who expressed their fear of God. First, the book of Exodus mentioned that the midwives of Israel in Egypt feared God (Ex 1:17, 21). Second, the book of Job narrated how Job feared God (Job 1:9). Third, the book of Nehemiah recounted that the prophet Nehemiah feared God (Neh 5:15). Fourth, the book of Nehemiah described that Hanani, the brother of the prophet Nehemiah, and Hananiah, the leader of the citadel, feared God more than many (Neh 7:2). Fifth, the book of
1st Chronicles mentioned how King David was afraid of God ( 1 Chr 13:12).
What was the significance of Joseph’s phrase “for I fear God” to the brothers? In terms of Joseph’s belief;Hide Answer
For the brothers, the phrase “for I fear God” reflected the belief of Joseph. For the Hebrews, the phrase “fear God” not only expressed the act of worshipping the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land (Jon 1:9), but the phrase also stated the act of keeping the commandments of God (Ecc 12:13). Therefore, in the eyes of the brothers, though Joseph was a foreign governor of Egypt, he worshipped and feared God and His laws.
In terms of Joseph’s morality and conduct;Hide Answer
For the brothers, the phrase “for I fear God” also reflected the morality and the godly conduct of Joseph. The book of Leviticus mentioned how the one who feared God ought not to do injustice in judgment (Lev 19:15). Furthermore, the book of Deuteronomy explained how the one who feared God should not oppress, especially to the weaker persons (Deut 25:18). In addition, the book of
2nd Samuel described how the one who feared God would rule justly ( 2 Sam 23:3). These Scriptural references give the readers an understanding about the morality and the conduct of the one who feared God. Thus, to the brothers, Joseph’s phrase “for I fear God” served as a comfort, knowing that the foreign governor of Egypt who previously had put them in prison (Gen 42:14-17) released them except for one and gave them “grain for the famine of [their] houses” out of the governor’s fear of God (Gen 42:18-20).
How does Joseph’s phrase “for I fear God” serve as an example about belief and conduct for us today?Hide Answer
Joseph’s phrase “for I fear God” serves as an example for us today about the balance between belief and conduct, just like the book of James explains to us that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:26). Similarly, when we profess to fear God, we ought to keep God’s commandments (Ecc 12:13). In addition, we must perform godly conducts in our daily life, such as doing justice (Lev 19:15) and not oppressing the weak (Deut 25:18). Thus, we put into practice the commandments of God into our daily life and our relationship with other people.
Why did the brothers feel truly guilty concerning their brother, Joseph?Hide Answer
The brothers felt truly guilty concerning their brother, Joseph because they remembered the anguish of Joseph’s soul in the past. At that time, Joseph pleaded with them for his freedom but they would not listen to him (Gen 42:21). Moreover, they felt truly guilty after they experienced the distress with the Egyptian governor’s accusation against them (Gen 42:19-20).
Describe how the Scriptures view the causes of guilt and what action followed after it? See also Ezra 10:19.Hide Answer
The Scriptures gave us descriptions concerning the causes of guilt and the action followed after it. The book of Genesis 42 explained how the guilt of the brothers were caused by their pricked conscience—the feeling of remorse from remembering the anguish of Joseph’s soul (Gen 42:21). In addition, the prophet Ezra described how a remorse from guilt was followed by presenting a trespass offering (Ezra 10:19).
What was the significance of the phrase “his blood is now required of us”? See also Gen 9:5-6.Hide Answer
The phrase which Reuben uttered “his blood [was] now required of us,” reflected that the brothers had considered Joseph “[was] no more” (Gen 42:13). Thus, the phrase revealed that the brothers were indeed acquainted with God’s demand of lifeblood. The book of Genesis 9:5-6 explained that God would require the life of man and “whoever [shed a] man’s blood, by man his blood [should] be shed.” Although the brothers did not literally put their hands upon their own “brother and flesh” (Gen 37:26), by conscience they all knew that the absence of Joseph was caused by the work of their hands and Joseph’s lifeblood demand was now upon them.
Why did Joseph turn away from the brothers and wept?Hide Answer
The book of Genesis recounted that Joseph turned away from the brothers and he wept, after the brothers confessed their deeds (Gen 42:21-22). Joseph turned away from his brothers because he still wanted to conceal his identity as their brother who was “no more.” Joseph did not want them to know that he understood every single word which they had spoken to each other in Hebrew (Gen 42:21-23). Furthermore, Joseph wept because he now could see how remorseful they were at their past sins (Gen 42:21-22). They had acknowledged their past sins and knew that the lifeblood demand from God was coming to them through the distress they were experiencing in Egypt.
The brothers’ example in Gen 42:21-22 serves as a teaching about repentance. First, the brothers remembered their sins against Joseph, their brother. The writer of the book of Revelation admonishes us to remember from “where [we] have fallen” (Rev 2:5). Only when we have realized our wrongdoings and our sins would we be able to take the first step into repentance. According to the Scriptures, while not acknowledging our sins is considered as an act of haughtiness (Zeph 3:11); the willingness to recognize our sins is considered as an act of humility (Isa 66:2). Second, the brothers were distressed by their guilt. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds how “godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted” (
2 Cor 7:10). According to the apostle Paul, the godly sorrow will produce diligence ( 2 Cor 7:11)—to correct and to improve one’s mistake—and the fear of God ( 2 Cor 7:11)—the fear of God’s punishment and judgment.
Why did Joseph pick Simeon to be the one who was to be confined in prison?Hide Answer
The book of Genesis 42:24 narrated that Joseph “took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.” After overhearing that Reuben reprimanded them of their past sins (Gen 42:22), Joseph took the second son in line (Gen 29:33). In addition, the taking of Simeon was supported by the fact that Simeon was one of the cruel brothers who had slaughtered the Shechemites in the past (Gen 34:13, 25, 49:5-7) and had infuriated their father, Jacob (Gen 34:30).
What caused the brothers’ hearts to fail and why did they feel afraid?Hide Answer
After one of the brothers opened up the sack and saw his money, the brothers’ hearts failed them and they were afraid (Gen 42:28). At this time, not only did the brothers bear the burden to prove to Joseph that they were not spies; but now they also had to clear up their names from the accusation of theft, considering that the money to purchase the grain was back in their sack.
In Gen 37:27-28, while the brothers sold Joseph in exchange for twenty shekels of silver for their own profit, Joseph restored “every man’s money to his sack” including “provisions for their journey” in Gen 42:25. From this contrast, we learn that while the brothers have focused on their own interest and mistreated their young brother; Joseph, deep in his heart—despite of the brothers’ past ill treatment toward him—still cared for his brothers and family by giving them money and provisions. The action of Joseph was in accordance with Christ’s spirit of forgiveness. The writer of the letter of John expresses that if we confess our sins, the Lord God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (
1 Jn 1:9). After hearing of the brothers’ confessions of sins, Joseph was touched by their regret and he wept. The passage in Gen 42:25-26 reflected how Joseph began to open up his heart for forgiveness towards his brothers.
From Gen 42:29-34, what fact did the brothers omit from their story to their father? Why did they omit this?Hide Answer
When the brothers shared with their father about what had happened in Egypt, they omitted the fact that they had been imprisoned all together for three days by the governor of Egypt (Gen 42:17). They left out this fact because they did not want to make their father worry even more. Though the brothers were able to go back with food, they came home with two burdens: The absence of Simeon among them and the duty to bring Benjamin with them to Egypt. Jacob, their father, was bereaved already when faced with those two burdens (Gen 42:36).
The brothers purposely omitted the fact of their imprisonment with the hope that their father Jacob would let them bring Benjamin back to the Egyptian governor to prove their innocence, to release Simeon their brother and to receive the freedom of trading in the Egyptian land (Gen 42:33).
How were “all [those] things” of the brothers against Jacob?Hide Answer
After the brothers had told Jacob about the Egyptian governor’s demand to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, Jacob refused and said to the brothers,”All these things are against me” (Gen 42:36). Jacob had considered that all of the brothers’ deeds were but a burden to him. He felt they were to blame for the loss of Joseph and Simeon.
Initially, the brothers had made Joseph, the beloved son, to be “no more” (Gen 42:36). One day, many years ago, Jacob had sent Joseph to see whether the brothers were well (Gen 37:14). But the brothers came back reporting and bringing the bloody tunic of Joseph, with the absence of Joseph himself (Gen 37:31-33). Jacob could not help himself but to regret sending over Joseph to see the brothers.
Next, the brothers had made Simeon, the second son, to be “no more” (Gen 42:36). When Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain, he never thought that Simeon would be imprisoned in Egypt (Gen 42:33). Seeing the absence of Simeon from among his sons and hearing the bad report from his sons concerning what had happened in Egypt, Jacob was reminded of the calamity which had fallen on Joseph, and he was afraid that a similar event would befall his other children.
Lastly, the brothers now wanted to take Benjamin away from Jacob (Gen 42:36). Considering that Joseph and Simeon were “no more” under the brothers’ responsibility, the brothers’ request to take Benjamin was viewed by Jacob as an unfavorable one. Thus, Jacob said that all those things—the deeds and the requests of the brothers which would cause Jacob to lose more of his children—were against him.
By comparing Gen 37:21-32 with Gen 42:37, the readers can learn how Reuben showed different actions toward Joseph. In Gen 37:21-32, though Reuben delivered Joseph from the murder plot of the brothers, he was infirm with them. Reuben dared not save Joseph openly from the brothers. Instead, he wanted to wait until the opportune time to bring Joseph back to his father, Jacob (Gen 37:22, 29-30). Furthermore, Reuben was at fault in joining to conspire against their father, Jacob, in regards of the truth of Joseph’s condition (Gen 37:31-32). In responding to the lie which the brothers had schemed, Reuben neither reprimanded them for such an evil deed nor prevented them to lie against their father.
But in Gen 42:37, Reuben showed a different side of himself. Now, he bravely took the initiative to sacrifice his two sons in exchange for Benjamin’s safety. In addition, he firmly guaranteed Jacob that he would take full responsibility of Benjamin’s well-being and he would bring him back home to Jacob. Lastly, Reuben was willing to take a lead over his brothers and was not hesitant in reminding his brothers of their past sins (Gen 37:21).
From Reuben’s commendable acts in Gen 42:21 and 37, we can learn the teaching about sacrifice and standing up for righteousness. To guarantee Benjamin’s safety, Reuben was willing to sacrifice his two sons in exchange of Benjamin’s failure to return to Jacob (Gen 42:37). The apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians reminds us that “nothing [should] be done through selfish ambition” and let us also look out “for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). In the past, Reuben selfishly chose to conspire along with his brothers concerning Joseph’s true condition. But now, he selflessly looked out for the safety of Benjamin and the concern of his aged-father. Likewise, in our life of servitude, not only do we need to sacrifice our time, energy and money for the sake of certain church works; but we also need to bravely take the initiative to act on the work of servitude itself—instead of being a bystander toward the work.
Moreover, in Gen 42:21, Reuben was willing to stand up against his brothers. Previously he went along with their conspiracy plan to lie to their father, but now he openly rebuked their past sins. The letter of Galatians once mentioned how the apostle Paul bravely stood up against the apostle Peter who committed a wrongdoing (Gal 2:11, 14). Therefore, just as Reuben was willing to stand against the majority to uphold the truth, we ought to be brave in standing up against the wrongful majority. Similarly, in our workplace and even at church, we ought to stand up for the truth, being straightforward to the ones who are at fault and politely and truthfully remind them of their wrongdoings—instead of hiding behind our comfort zone to selfishly protect our own interest.
What was the significance of Jacob’s phrase “my son” in Gen 42:38?Hide Answer
The phrase “my son” which referred to Benjamin revealed how Jacob was still playing favoritism over his sons (Gen 42:38). Through his words, Jacob emphasized that Benjamin was alone and had only one brother, Joseph, who was dead. Jacob spoke as if the other ten sons were not the equal brothers for Benjamin. Moreover, Jacob’s words of bereavement showed how much he highly valued Benjamin over his other sons.
How did the brothers’ respond to Jacob’s phrase “my son”?Hide Answer
From the perspective of the brothers, Jacob’s phrase “my son” showed how they were still discriminated by their own father. Just as Jacob had favored Joseph over them in the past, now Jacob favored Benjamin over them (Gen 42:38). Even though the brothers received the repeated discrimination from their father, they were now willing to accept him the way he was. At the end, Judah was even willing to protect Benjamin for the sake of Jacob by taking Benjamin’s punishment for himself (Gen 42:37, 43:8, 9, 44:30-34).
Why did Jacob refuse to let Benjamin go with the brothers?Hide Answer
Jacob refused to let Benjamin go with the brothers to Egypt because Benjamin was the only son left (Gen 42:38) of Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved (Gen 29:18, 30). After Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen 35:16-20), Jacob only had Joseph and Benjamin as a remembrance of his beloved wife. Now, Joseph was presumed dead and Benjamin was the only tangible memory left of Rachel. For Jacob, giving up Benjamin was like giving up the only remembrance of Rachel in Jacob’s life.
In addition, Jacob did not want Benjamin to go down with his brothers to Egypt because of his close attachment with him. Jacob warned the brothers that if calamity should befall Benjamin, then Jacob’s gray hair would be brought down “with sorrow to the grave” (Gen 42:38). The book of Genesis described how Jacob loved Joseph so much that he refused to be comforted for many days after learning of Joseph’s disappearance (Gen 37:34-35). With the absence of his favored son, Joseph, now Jacob’s soul clung to Benjamin, the brother of the favored deceased son and the son of his beloved wife, Rachel. Taking Benjamin away from the presence of Jacob would mean adding more grievous sorrow to the aged and gray-haired Jacob. Thus, Jacob was adamant in refusing to let Benjamin go with the brothers to Egypt.