Genesis 42 – Joseph Meets His Brothers in Egypt
A. The sons of Jacob come to Egypt.
1. (1-4) Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain.
When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” So Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.”
a. When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt: We have reason to believe (based on Genesis 45:11) that this happened in the first year of the famine. It didn’t take long for the big problems of the world to find their way to the home of Jacob. The famine was not only a world problem; it was a family problem for Jacob.
b. Why do you look at one another: Jacob noticed a strange expression among the brothers when Egypt was mentioned, because the brothers knew it was likely Joseph was sold as a slave there. Their conscience made them feel terrible any time Egypt was mentioned.
i. “The father has noted the look of perplexity in his sons’ faces… literally, the phrase means, ‘to look questioningly one at the other.’” (Leupold)
ii. “The word Egypt in their ears must have sounded like the word rope in the house of a man who has hanged himself.” (Barnhouse)
iii. Joseph’s brothers lived with a terrible secret for 20 years. They never talked about it, but it never left them. Any mention of Joseph or Egypt brought back the guilt. They needed to be set free from the power of their terrible secret.
c. Lest some calamity befall him: Because he lost Joseph some 20 years before, Jacob lived in constant fear that he would also lose Benjamin – the other son of his favorite wife, Rachel. He kept a close, protective eye on Benjamin.
d. Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin: In keeping with this attitude, he demanded Benjamin be left behind. Though he had 11 sons, only one was a son of his beloved and deceased wife Rachel, and Jacob felt he must protect him.
i. If Jacob only knew. If he could only trust the hand of God, which he could not see! In fact, the only reason there was grain in Egypt to provide for their needs was because God sent Joseph ahead of them all. God knew what He was doing.
ii. Famine is not a good thing, but God used it. God can and does use material need and lack in our life to get us to do things we normally would never do. Normally, the brothers would never go to Egypt; but need drove them to Egypt.
2. (5-6) The sons of Jacob bow down before Joseph.
And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.
a. Bowed down before him with their faces to the earth: They knew that in this time of famine, their lives literally depended on this Egyptian official; therefore, they paid him great respect by bowing.
b. With their faces to the earth: The following verses will tell us that Joseph remembered the dream he had some 20 years before, that his brothers would bow down to him (Genesis 37:5-8).
i. When Joseph’s brothers plotted murder against him and sold him into slavery, they did it with the specific intention to defeat his dreams (Genesis 37:19-20). Instead, by sending Joseph to Egypt, they provided the way the dreams would be fulfilled.
ii. The great and glorious truth of God’s providence is He can and does use the evil actions of man towards us to further His good plan. This never excuses man’s evil, but it means God’s wisdom and goodness are greater than man’s evil. Surely the wrath of man shall praise You (Psalm 76:10).
3. (7-8) Joseph recognizes his brothers.
Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.
a. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger: Joseph spoke through an interpreter (he did not yet want to reveal that he spoke Hebrew), and did not reveal his identity to his brothers, but treated them roughly instead.
i. Joseph did this guided by the Holy Spirit. Remember what they said of Joseph in Genesis 41:38: Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God? This wasn’t revenge or twisting the knife.
ii. It all could have been very different, but God planned it this way not only to save them from famine but to rightly restore relationship with Joseph.
b. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him: In this, Joseph is another picture of Jesus. Jesus sees who we are long before we see who He is. He recognizes you – and Jesus still loves you.
4. (9-17) Joseph interrogates his brothers and puts them into prison.
Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!” And they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. “We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies.” But he said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’ In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!” So he put them all together in prison three days.
a. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them: Joseph did not play games with his bothers. Some commentators believe that if it were up to Joseph, he would have revealed himself to his brothers right then and there. But God recalled the dreams to his mind and guided him to be an instrument for the correction and restoration of the brothers.
i. God can, and must, sometimes use ways we think are harsh to call us to go to where He wants us to be. We must never resent it, because it was the hardness of our hearts that demanded it. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word (Psalm 119:67).
b. One is no more: This was a lie and the brothers knew it. They had every reason to believe Joseph was not dead, but condemned to a life of slavery. Perhaps they had repeated the lie to themselves so often they came to believe it.
i. Saying Joseph was dead didn’t make him dead. Saying Jesus isn’t alive doesn’t make Him dead. Jesus is alive and among us.
5. (18-20) Joseph gives the terms for their release from prison.
Then Joseph said to them the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so.
a. Do this and live: After three days in an Egyptian prison, the brothers were ready to agree to whatever Joseph wanted them to do. They had been humbled, and would listen to Joseph’s demands. He had the words of life.
b. I fear God: Joseph didn’t want his brothers to fear him as much as he wanted his brothers to trust him. If the brothers were wise enough to consider what this really meant, it would be a great comfort to them.
c. If you are honest men: Joseph’s demand was clear. They had to prove they were not spies by proving they were honest and that they told the truth about the brother back home. The brothers agreed to this (they did so) but only reluctantly, because they knew their father would never want to let Benjamin leave home.
6. (21-24) The guilty conscience of Joseph’s brothers at work.
Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.” But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept. Then he returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.
a. We are truly guilty concerning our brother: Their guilty conscience told them this complicated mess was because of the way they treated Joseph before. This was a good sign. The quickness with which they associated these events with their sin against Joseph meant they often remembered that sin.
i. There was not a completely logical connection between their current situation and their previous treatment of Joseph, but a guilty conscience sees every trouble as sin’s penalty.
ii. The United States government has something called the Federal Conscience Fund, which collects money people send in because they know they cheated the government in some way. People have sent in money because they took army blankets for souvenirs, for cheating on postage, or on income tax. But our consciences are notoriously weak or corrupt. One man wrote the IRS and said, “I cheated on my taxes and can’t sleep at night. Here is a check for $100. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest I owe.”
b. Therefore this distress has come upon us: In these words, we hear the conscience of the brothers at work. Some describe the conscience as the sundial of the soul. It tells time well enough when there is light, but in darkness it is of no use. At night, you can shine a flashlight on a sundial and make it read any time you want it to. When the sunlight of God’s word shines on our conscience, it is reliable and trustworthy; apart from that, it isn’t always reliable.
i. Otherwise, our conscience can be like a circus-trained poodle. Whistle once, it stands up. Whistle twice, it rolls over. Whistle a third time, and it plays dead.
c. He turned himself away from them and wept: Joseph was overcome with emotion as he saw and understood this work of God in the conscience of his brothers. God had to do a deep work in the hearts of these brothers for the relationship to be reconciled.
i. There could be no quick and easy, “We are sorry, Joseph!” in this situation. God guided events so the brothers saw their sin clearly and repented completely before Joseph was revealed and relationship was restored.
ii. Yet even before the restoration, Joseph did not allow himself to be bound by bitterness and hatred. He still loved his brothers and wanted to be with them (he returned to them again, and talked with them). He wasn’t happy about their misery, but knew in some way it was necessary.
d. He took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes: In a vivid and memorable scene, Joseph bound Simeon and kept him as a prisoner to guarantee the return of the brothers with Benjamin. Simeon was not mentioned as having a prominent role in the selling of Joseph, as both Reuben and Judah were (Genesis 37:21-28), so we don’t know exactly why Simeon was chosen. Perhaps he volunteered.
B. Jacob’s sons return home to Canaan.
1. (25-26) Joseph returns the money the brothers paid for the grain.
Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them. So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there.
a. Joseph gave a command: The events that follow were not an accident nor a mistake, but something that Joseph commanded. Whether he was aware of it or not, God guided this spirit-filled man (Genesis 41:38) to do some strange things that would bring about true repentance and reconciliation with the brothers.
i. God was working His plan through Joseph. This wasn’t just as if Joseph was playing practical jokes on his brothers or just trying to make life difficult. We don’t know how much he sensed it, but this was all guided by God.
b. To restore every man’s money to his sack: This was an unexpected and wonderful blessing. The grain had to be expensive, and Joseph put their money back in the sacks of grain appointed for each brother.
c. And to give them provisions for the journey: Joseph gave them more than their money back; he also gave them what they needed for the journey. He took care of them from beginning to end.
i. The money was hidden and would only be discovered later. We can assume that the provisions were given immediately and openly (otherwise they would not have been of much good). Joseph gave them what they needed to get by, but also much treasure beyond.
ii. Joseph did this for his brothers before they were reconciled to him. They had yet to repent or ask forgiveness – yet He loved them and cared for them. He gave to them and they didn’t even know it!
iii. In the same way, Jesus gives us unexpected, undeserved blessings. Some are obvious and up front, and some are hidden to be discovered later – but He gives to us even before we were reconciled to Him.
· There is extra in the sack.
· Jesus gave to us and we didn’t even know it.
· Jesus has gifts for us now and we don’t even know it.
2. (27-28) The brothers find their money returned.
But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack. So he said to his brothers, “My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”
a. He saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack: This was a tremendous shock to the brothers. We aren’t told which one it was, but it was one of the nine (remember, Simeon was imprisoned). The last thing they expected to see was their money returned.
i. This was a test – not from Joseph – but from God. What would they do with the money? What would be revealed about their heart?
· The deceptive heart would hide it.
· The lying heart would make up a story about it.
· The proud heart would think it deserved it.
· The superficial heart would think nothing of it.
ii. We are tested by what Jesus gives to us – and Jesus tests the heart. What we do is important, but God goes deeper than the action itself and wants to develop not only our behavior, but also our character.
b. Their hearts failed them and they were afraid: This was strange. It was as if they had just won the lottery, but they weren’t happy at all. Instead, they were afraid. They were so afraid that their hearts failed them and they had to talk to each other about it.
· They were afraid, and they only knew part of it. they only discovered the money in one brother’s sack. We don’t know why they didn’t immediately check the other sacks, but they did not.
· They were afraid, because they were already suspected as spies. Now, they could also be accused as thieves.
· They were afraid, because of their guilty consciences.
c. What is this that God has done to us: Their consciences were under such great bondage that they even regarded something good as punishment from God. A guilty conscience doesn’t even know how to handle gifts from God.
i. Until we are reconciled with Jesus, we usually don’t know what to do with God’s gifts.
3. (29-34) The brothers return to their father Jacob and tell him the story.
Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: “The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’”
a. Then they went to Jacob their father: Think of what the rest of that journey was like. For several days as they traveled, many things weighed on their mind.
· How do we explain Simeon is not with us?
· How do we explain that we have both the grain and the money?
· How do we explain that we have to go back to Egypt and bring Benjamin?
b. Told him all that had happened to them: When the brothers finally made it home, they told their father Jacob the truth. The last time they came back missing one of the brothers, they told a lie, making up a story about Joseph being attacked by a wild animal. They even had his bloody coat of many colors to give false evidence to their lie.
i. The fact that they told the truth here was a small step but a good step. Good things often start small.
c. We are honest men: They mostly told the truth. They could say, we are honest men in regard to their dealings with the mysterious Egyptian, the man who is the lord of the land. But they were not honest men when they lied about Joseph’s death 20 years before. They were still lying about it: one is no more.
i. Joseph knew they were not honest men. He didn’t know the exact lie they told Jacob to explain Joseph’s disappearance, but he knew they must have lied in some way. Joseph knew who they were, but he also knew what they could become.
ii. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows you, but He also knows what you can become.
4. (35) The brothers discover that each man’s money was returned.
Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
a. Surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack: They had no idea this would happen. If anything, this surprised them more than when they found the bundle of money in the one sack. There was more than they ever thought.
i. Jesus has given you more than you know, and you will discover it piece by piece. Keep going, keep growing in your life with Jesus.
b. Each man’s bundle of money was in his sack: Joseph gave them the bread of life, but He absolutely refused any payment. Their money was no good.
i. You can’t buy the bread of life. Jesus refused any payment. We give out of gratitude because we have received; we don’t give as if we could buy from Jesus.
c. They were afraid: What were they afraid of?
· They were afraid of receiving what they did not earn. Grace tests us all.
· They were afraid of their own conscience.
· They were afraid of Joseph – the great man they couldn’t figure out. In a sense, they had to fear Joseph before they could be reconciled to him.
5. (36) Jacob’s reaction: All these things are against me.
And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”
a. You have bereaved me: Jacob spoke more truth than he knew. He said that his sons had bereaved him, that it was their fault that Joseph and Simeon were gone. He instinctively knew the truth, even when he couldn’t prove it.
b. Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more: This tortured Jacob, yet these statements were not true. Not only was Joseph alive, but Jacob would see him soon and Joseph would rescue their whole family.
i. We don’t blame Jacob for believing that Joseph was dead; he had been told a cunning lie. Yet this shows the power of a lie believed.
ii. When we believe lies – whether it is our fault or not – the lie has power over us. This is why we should learn and love and cherish God’s truth.
· God has forsaken me – if believed, that lie has power.
· I’m beyond hope – if believed, that lie has power.
· I can never confess my sin – if believed, that lie has power.
· I’m worthless – if believed, that lie has power.
c. And you want to take Benjamin: Large in his mind was the fear he would lose more. Since he lost Joseph, Jacob lived to protect himself from further devastating loss.
d. All these things are against me: This summarized Jacob’s outlook on life. Everything was against him. He had no happiness in the present and no hope for the future. He woke up and went to bed thinking, all these things are against me.
· Jacob was God’s chosen and still said, all these things are against me.
· Jacob was healthy and still said, all these things are against me.
· Jacob was a wealthy man and still said, all these things are against me.
i. At the very moment Jacob felt all these things are against me, God was working out His plan. There was a plan in all this, even when Jacob couldn’t see it or feel it. “If you drink of the river of affliction near its outfall, it is brackish and offensive to the taste, but if you will trace it to its source, where it rises at the foot of the throne of God, you will find its waters to be sweet and health-giving” (Spurgeon).
ii. The plan was not only good for Jacob and his family but would impact all history. God was working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).
· If Joseph’s family wasn’t messed up and weird, his brothers would never have sold him as a slave.
· If Joseph’s brothers never sold him as a slave, then Joseph would never have gone to Egypt.
· If Joseph never went to Egypt, he would never have been sold to Potiphar.
· If Joseph was never sold to Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife would never have falsely accused him of rape.
· If Potiphar’s wife never falsely accused Joseph of rape, then Joseph would never have been put in prison.
· If Joseph was never put in prison, he would have never met the baker and butler of Pharaoh.
· If Joseph never met the baker and butler of Pharaoh, he would have never interpreted their dreams.
· If Joseph never interpreted their dreams, he would have never interpreted Pharaoh’s dream.
· If Joseph never interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he never would have become prime minister, second in Egypt only to Pharaoh.
· If Joseph never became prime minister, he never would have wisely prepared for the terrible famine to come.
· If Joseph never wisely prepared for the terrible famine, then his family back in Canaan would have died in the famine.
· If Joseph’s family back in Canaan died in the famine, then the Messiah could not have come from a dead family.
· If the Messiah did not come forth, then Jesus never came.
· If Jesus never came, then we are all dead in our sins and without hope in this world.
· We are grateful for God’s great and wise plan.
iii. In all this, there is a sobering contrast between Jacob and Joseph. Joseph had far worse circumstances, but he never took the attitude all these things are against me.
iv. The motto of too many Christians is all these things are against me. Instead, our motto should be Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
v. We note that Romans 8:28 says, God works all things together for good. Any one thing in isolation may not be good. God isn’t saying that every individual thing is good, but that God can and will work everything together for good for His people.
6. (37) Reuben’s dramatic offer.
Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.”
a. Then Reuben spoke to his father: This was Reuben, the firstborn. He was the one who disgraced the family with incest (Genesis 35:22). He was the one who did too little too late to rescue Joseph before they sold him as a slave.
b. Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you: In a dramatic gesture, Reuben was willing to lay down his own sons to give assurance to Jacob in his despair.
i. What Reuben did as a dramatic gesture, God did in fact. God gave His own Son to deliver us and to rescue us in our despair.
7. (38) Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go back to Egypt with them.
But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.”
a. My son shall not go down with you: Not only did Jacob insist that Benjamin would never leave the house, but he also spoke as if he only had one son.
i. Apparently, Jacob didn’t think too much of Simeon. It didn’t matter to him that Simeon might spend the rest of his life in an Egyptian jail.
ii. Many years before, God wrestled with Jacob and overcame him. Jacob was left with a limp as a reminder of that experience. Still, my son shall not go down with you shows that the wrestling was not yet over. There was still more to do, and more of Jacob to yield to God.
b. If any calamity should befall him: At this point, Jacob could not bear to trust God again. He lived protecting himself against future pain. God was about to bring Jacob good news – greater than he had ever hoped:
· The beloved son you believed was dead is really alive.
· The living son has been exalted to the highest place.
· The living son gives the bread of life.
· The living son is the savior of the world.
· The living son means you can trust God again.
· The living son gives hope to the hopeless.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission