In responding Joseph’s request, the brothers now struggled with their father in bringing Benjamin to Egypt. The narrative mentioned the contrast between the brothers’ fear toward Joseph and Joseph’s yearning toward Benjamin. Here, the passage teaches us about the sacrifice of a father and of a brother for the sake of the survival of others.
Did You Know...?
- “The famine was severe” (43:1): The phrase can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “the famine grew strong.”
- “They had eaten up” (43:1): In Hebrew, the expression can literally be translated as “they had finished to eat up,” i.e. “entirely consumed.”
- “Solemnly warned” (43:3): In Hebrew grammar, the verb “warn” is duplicated or intensified. Thus, the solemn warning in the mentioned context is equivalent to a threat.
- “Deal so wrongfully” (43:6): The idiom in Greek-Septuagint can be literally translated as “being evil doers” or “being criminals.”
- “The man asked us pointedly” (43:7): The information regarding one’s country origin and one’s family member was equivalent to giving out one’s identity of one’s clan (Gen 12:1, 24:4, 7, 31:3, 13).
- “Our little ones” (43:8) is a term used in the Scriptures to refer to the vulnerable younger children who are prone to become prey by sword (Num 14:3), who are protected by their parents through their stay in the cities (Num 32:16; ) or fortified cities (Num 32:17) and who are being prayed for their safe journey (Ezra 8:21).
- Surety (43:9): The word “surety” in Hebrew can be used for several references. First, the word can refer to a guarantee for someone’s safety (Gen 43:9, 44:32; Prov 6:1, 11:15; Job 17:3) or as a guarantee of God for one’s safety (Isa 38:14; Psa 119:122). Second, the word can refer to an exchange or a barter of merchandise (Ezek 27:9). Lastly, the word can refer to a guarantee for a mortgage or a debt (Prov 17:18, 20:16, 22:26, 27:13; Neh 5:3;
2 Kgs 18:23).
- “Let me bear the blame forever” (43:9): The expression in Hebrew can be literally translated as “I will be a sinner all the days of my life.”
- Best fruits of the land (43:11): The phrase can literally be translated in Hebrew as “choice products of the land.” Furthermore, in the Scriptures, the expression “best fruits” can literally be translated as “music,” “praise” or “song of the land” and always paired with the word “strength” as in “the Lord is my strength and my song (best fruits)” (Ex 15:2; Isa 12:2; Psa 118:14).
- Balm (43:11): In Greek-Septuagint, the word can be literally translated as “resin of the pine.”
- Honey (43:11): According to rabbinic tradition, the reference here was to date syrup, or grape honey. It was prepared by boiling down new wine to a third or half. The mentioned honey was not the honey of bees, considering that Egypt abounded in this production of nature. [ref]
- Almonds (43:11) can be literally translated as “fruit[s] from the terebinth tree” in Greek-Septuagint. In Hebrew, the root of the word “almonds” literally means “to be sleepless.” The plant of the fruit does not seem to have been indigenous in Egypt, while it flourishes in Syria and Palestine. [ref]
- Oversight (43:12): The word can literally be translated in Hebrew as “a something caused to wander” or “to go astray.” In addition, the word in Greek-Septuagint can literally be translated as “sin committed unintentionally.”
- Mercy (43:14): In Hebrew, the word can be translated literally as “bowels,” “womb,” “compassion,” or “tender love.” The rabbinic tradition had considered that one’s inward parts could be regarded as the seat of the emotions. [ref]
- God Almighty (43:14): Apart from giving mercy (Gen 43:14), blessings (Gen 48:3, 49:25), and makes one to be fruitful (Gen 28:3, 35:11), the Scriptures also define the God Almighty as the One who requires one to be blameless (Gen 17:1), as the One who chastens (Job 5:17), and as the One who will deal bitterly (Ruth 1:20-21; Job 27:2).
- Bereaved (43:14): The Scriptures mention several usages for the word “bereaved,” such as: miscarriage of animals (Gen 31:38; Job 21:10), barrenness of the land (
2 Kgs 2:19, 21; Mal 3:11), and childless through the means of wild beasts (Lev 26:22; Ezek 5:17), of sword (Deut 32:25; 1 Sam 15:33; Lam 1:20) or of other calamities (Gen 27:45; Hos 9:12; Jer 15:7).
- “The men were afraid” (43:18): The Scriptures describe several usages of the word “afraid,” such as: the fear toward God’s works or signs (Gen 20:8; Neh 6:16; Psa 65:8), the fear of the calamity which will befall (Gen 42:35; Ex 14:10;
2 Sam 12:18; Jon 1:5), the fear toward the LORD (Ex 14:31; Jon 1:16; Hag 1:12), the fear toward other gods ( 2 Kgs 17:7), and the fear toward persons of power, position, or strength (Ex 34:30; 1 Sam 7:7, 17:24; 2 Sam 10:19; 2 Kgs 10:4).
- “He may make a case against us” (43:18): The phrase can literally be translated as “he may roll himself upon us” or “he may assail us with overwhelming forces.”
- The door of the house” (43:19): The expression in Hebrew can literally be translated as “in the courtyard” or “in the opening of the house.”
- “O Sir” (43:20): Such an idiom can be translated in Hebrew literally as “I pray, my lord,”—a common expression used in the Scriptures to address a superior.
- “The God of your father” (43:23): The expression is widely used in the Scriptures, uttered by the Lord Himself (Gen 28:13), by the patriarchs (Gen 32:9, 49:25), by Joseph’s steward (Gen 43:23) and is also used by Joseph’s brothers later in Gen 50:17.
- Treasure (43:23): The word can be translated literally in Hebrew in several usages, such as: a concealed wealth (Isa 45:3), a storage of food (Jer 41:8), an idiom for seeking a wisdom like a treasure (Prov 2:4), and an idiom for longing death more than for treasure (Job 3:21).
- “I had your money” (43:23): In Hebrew, the expression can literally be translated as “your silver-money has come to me”—a legal formula of West Semitic traders confirming receipt of full payment and implying renunciation of any claim. [ref]
- “Is your father well?” (43:27): The phrase can be translated in Hebrew literally as “Is there peace to your father?”
- “His heart yearned”(43:30): In Hebrew, the idiom can literally be translated as “he had grown warm and tender of compassion.” Moreover, the phrase can literally be translated as “his entrails were being brought together“ in Greek-Septuagint. The Scriptures use the word “yearned” to refer to a mother’s feelings or compassion for her child (
1 Kgs 3:26). Likewise, the Lord uses the same word to depict His warm and tender compassionate feeling for His people (Hos 11:8).
- Abomination (43:32): The Greek historian, Herodotus, confirmed that the Egyptians would not use the utensils which had touched the flesh of a cow. Separation from foreigners prevented the Egyptians from being polluted by those who ate cows—an animal which was held in reverence in Egypt.
In addition, the Scriptures use the word “abomination” to denote morally or ritually repulsive acts against God. For example, the deeds of homosexuality (Lev 18:22), of sexual immorality (Ezek 22:11), of unclean food (Deut 14:3), of wickedness (Ezek 18:12), of serving other gods (Deut 17:2-4; Isa 41:24; Jer 2:5-7), and of marrying the daughter of foreign gods (Mal 2:11).
- “They sat before him” (43:33): The Egyptians sat at meals, seated round a circular table, and they never exhibited as reclining on couches. [ref]
- “The men looked in astonishment” (43:33): The Scriptures mention several usages of the word “astonishment.” First, “astonishment” in the sense of being in dismay toward the coming of the destruction of the LORD (Isa 13:6-8) or the anger of the LORD (Jer 4:5-9). Second, “astonishment” in the sense of being amazed to see the unbelievable wonder of God’s works (Hab 1:5). Third, “astonishment” in the sense of being dumbfounded to see the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice (Ecc 5:8). Fourth, “astonishment” in the sense of being surprised that one is able to know the concealed information (Gen 43:33).
By comparing Jacob’s two instructions, one could sense the difference in tone. In Gen 42:1-2, Jacob reprimanded his sons’ lack of initiative toward the family’s situation and firmly sent them to Egypt to buy food. But in Gen 43:2, Jacob’s tone of instruction to his sons softened. The difference in tone between the two instructions was caused by Jacob’s realization of his inconsistency over the Egyptian governor’s term. When his sons came back with food and a demand from the Egyptian governor that they bring Benjamin the next time, Jacob objected vehemently (Gen 42:38). However, now that the family had eaten up all the food (Gen 43:1), Jacob had to go back on his words by telling his sons to buy food again (Gen 43:2).
Why did Judah now become a spokesman instead of Reuben, the firstborn?Hide Answer
Now Judah became the spokesman instead of Reuben, the firstborn, for several reasons. First, Reuben had bad standings with his father, causing Reuben’s influence to be exhausted. Previously, Reuben as the firstborn, had failed to protect his younger brother, Joseph, from the harmful conspiracy of the brothers and caused his father to mourn tremendously (Gen 37:29-35). Later in Gen 42, Reuben failed to bring back Simeon, one of his brothers, and again caused his father to be bereaved (Gen 42:36). Having failed twice to protect two of his brothers, Reuben and his surety to bring back Benjamin, the youngest brother, was instantly rejected by his father (Gen 42:38). Not to mention that previously Reuben had also betrayed his father’s trust by laying with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Gen 35:22) and thus, had uncovered his father’s nakedness (Lev 18:8).
Furthermore, Simeon—the second son of Jacob—was in the Egyptian’s custody at that time (Gen 42:24). But Levi, the third son of Jacob, was silent upon the matter of how to face the Egyptian governor’s term (Gen 43). Besides, both Simeon and Levi were known for causing their father to be troubled and obnoxious (Gen 34:30) when they killed all the men of the Shechemites and plundered all their wealth (Gen 34:25-29).
With those reasons above, Judah—the fourth son of Jacob—stepped up and became the spokesman to discuss with Jacob in regards to the Egyptian governor’s term of returning back to Egypt.
How was Judah’s plea different compared to Reuben’s? Reuben’s plea;Hide Answer
Reuben’s plea was different from Judah’s in regards to timing and content. First, Reuben pleaded to bring back Benjamin at the wrong time. Reuben pleaded with his father about Benjamin when Simeon had just been taken into the Egyptian’s custody (Gen 42:36), increasing his father’s fear even more of losing another one of his children. In addition, Reuben pleaded with his father about bringing back Benjamin to Egypt when the brothers had just brought back the food supply (Gen 42:35), giving no urgency for Jacob to send them back to purchase more food supply. Second, Reuben pleaded with Jacob by exchanging Benjamin’s safety with the life of his two sons (Gen 42:37). Reuben’s decision to give up the life of his two sons instead of his own life revealed how Reuben valued and prioritized his own life more than others. Such a character was previously reflected when Reuben let Simeon to be imprisoned as a guarantee instead of letting himself to be the guarantee.
Judah’s plea;Hide Answer
Judah’s plea was different from Reuben’s. In regards to timing, Judah made the plea at the moment when all the grain had been eaten up and when Jacob had requested them to buy a little food (Gen 43:1). In this desperate situation, Jacob had no other choice but to consider the demand of the Egyptian governor (Gen 43:3-11). Moreover, in regards to the plea’s content, Judah made his own life to be the surety for Benjamin’s safety (Gen 43:9). Instead of making his sons to be the surety for Benjamin, Judah sacrificed his life as a pledge. Furthermore, Judah committed that he would bear the blame forever if something happened to Benjamin (Gen 43:9). Though Judah did not know what the Egyptian governor would do with Benjamin, Judah was still willing to place his own life in exchange of Benjamin’s and to take the risk of bearing the blame forever.
Just as Judah had offered to sacrifice himself in exchange for Benjamin’s safety in Gen 43:9, the letter of
explained how Christ had died on the cross for the sake of our sins—exchanging His life on the cross for the sake of our eternal life. In addition, the book of Genesis 43:9 mentioned how Judah was committed to bearing the blame forever if something were to happen to Benjamin. Similarly, the letter of described that the Lord Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree in order for us to live in righteousness.
How did these people react differently toward the phrase “live and not die”? Jacob;Hide Answer
For Jacob, the phrase “live and not die” was referring to his family’s survival (Gen 42:2). In order for his family to continue to live and not die, Jacob must let Benjamin go to Egypt with the brothers (Gen 42:36). But Jacob’s soul was deeply attached to Benjamin (Gen 44:20-22) that any misfortune against Benjamin would bring down Jacob’s “gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (Gen 42:38). Though Jacob valued the survival of his family and grandchildren, his action spoke otherwise. By holding back Benjamin, Jacob purposely prolonged the brothers’ return to Egypt to purchase more food (Gen 43:10). Such a decision revealed that Jacob valued his feeling and attachment toward Benjamin, his favorite son, more than the survival of his whole family and grandchildren.
For Reuben, the phrase “live and not die” was referring to his own survival as a firstborn son. When Jacob sent Reuben and the brothers to Egypt for their family to “live and not die,” Reuben failed to bring back Simeon and thus, causing his father to be bereaved (Gen 42:36). Moreover, when bargaining with Jacob concerning Benjamin, instead of guaranteeing himself, Reuben placed his two sons as guarantee (Gen 42:37). Reuben’s hesitation to be a substitute for Simeon in custody and his unwillingness to be a surety for Benjamin’s safety showed how he valued his own survival above all. Through the survival of his life, Reuben viewed that his path to be the receiver of a double portion inheritance (Deut 21:17) was solidified.
For Judah, the phrase “live and not die” was referring to the survival of his father, his brothers and the little ones (Gen 43:8). When bargaining with his father, Jacob, Judah was willing to pledge his life as a surety for Benjamin’s safety (Gen 43:9). Thus, in the event that Benjamin would be captured as a slave, Judah was committed to sacrifice himself as a substitute for Benjamin and willing to be a slave under the Egyptian-governor (Gen 44:33). In order that his father may continue to live (Gen 44:34), all the brothers and the little ones may continue to live, Judah held nothing back for himself but gave everything up including his life, his freedom and his dignity.
By comparing Judah’s words in Gen 37:26-27 with the ones in Gen 43:8-9, we can notice changes of character within Judah. In Gen 37:26, Judah initiated the idea of exchanging his brother, Joseph, for a profit by selling him to the Ishmaelites. Here, not only did Judah had no sympathy toward his brother’s distress, he also took an advantage of his brother’s misery for the sake of silver money. Furthermore, Judah influenced and misled his brothers to commit the wrongdoing against Joseph.
But in Gen 43:8-9, Judah comforted his father by making himself to be surety for Benjamin’s life and Judah was willing to bear the blame forever if he failed to bring Benjamin back to his father. At this moment, one could notice the changes of Judah’s character, from one who lacked sympathy toward the misery of others to the one who cared so much for the livelihood of his whole family. Instead of taking advantage of others’ calamity, Judah was now willing to sacrifice himself for the interest of others. Moreover, he no longer misled others into wrongdoings but he became an inspiration and an example to emulate in regards to justice and righteousness.
Describe the similarities between Jacob giving present to Esau with Jacob giving present to the Egyptian governor. The purpose of the present;Hide Answer
There was a similarity between Jacob’s present to Esau and his present to the Egyptian governor. In the book of Genesis 32:13-15, Jacob prepared several successive droves of livestock consisting of female goats, male goats, ewes, rams, milk camels, colts, cows, bulls, donkeys and foals to Esau with the hope that Esau would accept them (Gen 32:5, 20) and would preserve his life and the life of his family. Similarly, in the book of Genesis 43:11, Jacob told his sons to prepare for the best fruits, a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds with the hope that the governor would receive them and would spare the life of Benjamin, the life of Simeon and the rest of the sons.
The prayer after the present’s preparation;Hide Answer
After Jacob had sent messengers bringing his present for Esau, Jacob prayed to the Lord (Gen 32:9-12). In his prayer, Jacob pleaded with the Lord for His mercy and deliverance from Esau. Likewise, in Gen 43:14, after Jacob had told his sons to prepare the present, Jacob prayed that the God Almighty would give mercy in his sons’ journey—the mercy to release both his sons, Simeon and Benjamin.
From both instances of the prayer in Gen 32:9-12 and in Gen 43:14, we can learn to request on God’s mercy for the difficulties ahead. First, Jacob emphasized that he was not worthy of the mercy of God (Gen 32:10). Though Jacob pursued the blessing of God by his own way (Gen 27:18-19), the Lord still mercifully guided and blessed Jacob through his life. Likewise, in the letter of
1st Corinthians, the apostle Paul also had an attitude of unworthiness toward the mercy of the Lord ( 1 Cor 15:9). The apostle Paul realized how he had persecuted the church of God in the past, yet now the Lord even chose him as His apostle. Therefore, instead of taking the mercy of the Lord for granted, we ought to realize how unworthy we are as sinners to accept His grace and mercy. As sinners we used to rebel against His statutes, but with His abundant love and mercy, He guided us to be His disciples.
In addition, from Jacob’s prayers we can learn to rely on God’s mercy during our difficulties. In the fear for his life and the life of his family against the coming of Esau and his four hundred men (Gen 32:6), Jacob relied on God’s mercy for deliverance. Later, in his bereavement of the possibility of losing his beloved son, Jacob knew the limitation of the human strength and thus, in total submission to the Lord, accepted the worst possible outcome and completely relied on God’s mercy (Gen 43:14). From the examples of Jacob, we are reminded of the limitation of human effort, strength and wisdom to solve certain difficulties. Therefore, instead of selfishly and stubbornly forcing our way and our strength through the problems, we ought to rely completely on God’s mercy, acknowledging His power and letting Him give us a way out.
What were the function of each of the commands which were given by Jacob to his sons? The present;
The double money;Hide Answer
Jacob commanded his sons to bring double money (Gen 43:12). One was for the returned money in the mouth of their sacks (Gen 42:35, 43:21) and the other one was to purchase a new batch of food supply (Gen 43:22). Thus, the double money was brought to compensate for the oversight of the Egyptians.
The young brother;
The book of Genesis mentioned how Rebekah was bereaved of her two sons, Esau and Jacob (Gen 27:43-45). Initially, Rebekah was bereaved because her elder son, Esau, wanted to kill his brother Jacob, the younger son of Rebekah (Gen 27:41-42). Furthermore, Rebekah was bereaved because she had to send Jacob away from her presence to Haran to escape from Esau’s anger (Gen 27:43-44). At the end, the Scriptures did not record whether Rebekah was still alive to see her two sons reunited when they were gathered to bury their father, Isaac (Gen 35:27-29).
Jacob’s bereavement;Hide Answer
The book of Genesis described how Jacob was bereaved several times. First, Jacob mourned for Joseph many days, assuming that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast (Gen 37:33-35). Second, Jacob was bereaved when the brothers came back without Simeon, adding to the loss of yet another son (Gen 42:36). Third, Jacob was bereaved when he had no choice but to let Benjamin go with the brothers to Egypt to fulfill the required term from the governor (Gen 43:14). Unlike Rebekah, the book of Genesis did mention how Jacob would reunite with all his sons (Gen 46:30, 49:1).
Contrast the different reactions, assumptions and emotions experienced between the brothers with the Egyptian governor. The brothers;Hide Answer
When the brothers were brought into the house of Joseph, they began to assume the worst possible things that could happened to them. They assumed that Joseph and his men would make a case against them, seize them and take them as slaves with their donkeys (Gen 43:18). Their assumptions were fueled by their guilt concerning their brother, Joseph (Gen 42:21), and by their fear of the Egyptian governor (Gen 43:18) and their fear of retribution from the Lord for their blood requirement (Gen 42:21-22, 28).
The Egyptian governor;Hide Answer
When Joseph saw that Benjamin was with the brothers, Joseph’s reaction toward them changed. Now, Joseph told the steward of his house to take the men into his home, to slaughter an animal for them, to make ready for the feast, and to prepare the men for dining with Joseph at noon (Gen 43:16). Joseph’s reaction to invite them to dine was the result of his yearning for Benjamin, his little brother (Gen 43:30).
Have you ever assumed wrongly of someone? What do you think might have driven such faulty assumptions?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
In Gen 43:19-22, how did the brothers plead their case to the steward of Joseph’s house? That they were but customers of the grain;Hide Answer
At the door of the house, the brothers pleaded their case to the steward of Joseph’s house. In Gen 43:19, the brothers emphasized that they were customers of the Egyptian governor. They went to Egypt the first time to buy food (Gen 43:20). The emphasis was to show to the steward that they were not spies, even though they had been accused by the Egyptian governor.
That they were but victims of an oversight;Hide Answer
The brothers continued to plead further that they were but victims of an oversight. When the brothers found out that each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, they brought it back in full weight (Gen 43:21). In other words, they had come to return the money in full amount. Furthermore, they stressed that they had no knowledge of the one who was responsible for putting the money back into their sacks (Gen 43:22). Therefore, they were clarifying the situation that the money in their sack was not stolen money. Assuming that such an event was an oversight, they now brought double money—one was to be returned in full amount and the other one was to buy more food for themselves.
How many times did the brothers “bow down” to Joseph in this passage? What was the significance of such an event for Joseph?Hide Answer
In this passage, the brothers bowed down to Joseph two times (Gen 43:26, 28). For Joseph, the bowing down and the prostrating of the brothers signified the fulfilment of his second dream (Gen 45:4-8), especially the part when the eleven stars bowed down to Joseph (Gen 37:9). It was fulfilled at that moment, when the eleven brothers, now including Benjamin, came to Joseph’s house and bowed down to Joseph, the Egyptian governor.
It was interesting to note that the bread had played a contrasting relationship between Joseph’s life and the brothers’ life. On one hand, in the book of Genesis 37:25, the meal (literally translated as “bread” in Hebrew) signified how the brothers were selfish, thinking only of their need for hunger and ignoring the plea and the anguish of Joseph in the pit (Gen 42:21). On the other hand, the serving of the bread in Gen 43:31 signified how Joseph began to gradually accept his brothers, despite their previous ill-treatment toward him (Gen 37:18-24, 28). Unlike the brothers who ate the bread out of their selfishness during Joseph’s agony and anguish inside the pit and who ignored him, Joseph served the brothers bread inside his house out of his yearning and gradual acceptance during the brothers’ worriness and fearfulness of being captured as slaves.
What caused the brothers to look in astonishment at one another?Hide Answer
The brothers looked in astonishment at one another because of the seating arrangement and the portion of the serving. The brothers were astonished that the Egyptian governor had arranged their seating from the firstborn—according to his birthright—to the youngest—according to his youth (Gen 43:33). In addition, the Egyptian governor gave the portion to Benjamin—the youngest and the most beloved son of Jacob—five times as much as the brothers (Gen 43:34). The brothers were astonished because such a unique arrangement could only be performed by someone who knew the exact detail of their family information, which had never been disclosed to the Egyptian governor before.