We are nearing the end of our study on Genesis with the transitional story of Joseph. Aside from the up-close view of this man and his response to trials and suffering as well as incredible success and blessings, this story also serves as a bridge linking the movement of Jacob's family from Canaan to Egypt.
So far we have seen Joseph wrongly accused and imprisoned and then released in order to give dream interpretations to the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh's dreams predicted that Egypt would have a cycle of seven abundant years followed by seven years of famine.
As his reward for correctly interpreting the dreams, the king makes Joseph second in command and charges him to carry out the plan to establish a system of storage plants to prepare for the famine during the years of plenty.
In the next few chapters we will read the story of Joseph's confrontation with his brothers as they, during the period of famine, journey to Egypt to purchase the grain stored there by Joseph.
First Trip to Egypt – Chapter 42
The scene reverts back to Canaan with Jacob and the brothers. Twenty years goes by since the deception, thirteen in Potiphar's house and seven years supervising the grain storage. Jacob is still alive and leading his family, and the ten brothers remain with their awful secret of twenty years.
1Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, "Why are you staring at one another?" 2He said, "Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die." 3Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4But Jacob did not send Joseph's brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, "I am afraid that harm may befall him."
- Genesis 42:1-4
The famine spreads beyond Egypt to where Jacob and his sons are living in Canaan. Others were going down to buy grain but Jacob's sons were reluctant to head towards Egypt. They were afraid of going to where they had sent Joseph. Maybe they would meet him or meet some kind of similar fate. Jacob pushes them to go (they are not slaves who would not be received by the Egyptians) but he does not send Benjamin his youngest.
The last time he sent one of Rachel's sons, he disappeared, and he is not going to take any chances with his only remaining child of the woman he loved first.
5So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.
6Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, "Where have you come from?" And they said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food."
8But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. 9Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, "You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land."
There were many caravans on food buying missions and apparently each were screened by Joseph to make sure of two things:
- The amount sold would not undermine their own personal supplies.
- That foreign invaders, envious of Egypt's wealth, would not infiltrate in order to topple the country and seize the grain. Joseph acted like the chief of Immigration and CIA to screen all those coming and going.
The brothers do not recognize him (he left at 17, now he is about 37-38) and dressed like an Egyptian ruler. He recognizes (may have even anticipated) them as they come before him but he purposefully uses an interpreter and speaks harshly to them to throw them off balance. He even accuses them of spying.
As they bowed to him in submission and respect, he is reminded of his dream as a young man and how God has made this dream a reality. It is not a question of vanity now, but an example of God's great power.
10Then they said to him, "No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies." 12Yet he said to them, "No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!" 13But they said, "Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive." 14Joseph said to them, "It is as I said to you, you are spies; 15by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! 16Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies." 17So he put them all together in prison for three days.
Joseph continues to pump information from them by his accusations. Their defense is that they are all brothers (no king would send ten brothers to spy, especially his own sons). They also mention Benjamin at home (who was Joseph's full natural brother) as well as Joseph himself saying he was dead.
Joseph now knows that his brothers and father are alive and all the family is intact the way it was when he left it twenty years before. He continues to accuse them of spying and puts them in jail demanding that they produce their younger brother in order to prove their story. Their time in jail with the possibility of remaining there indefinitely may have seemed like a proper justice for what they had done to Joseph.
18Now Joseph said to them on the third day, "Do this and live, for I fear God: 19if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, 20and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die." And they did so. 21Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us." 22Reuben answered them, saying, "Did I not tell you, 'Do not sin against the boy'; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood." 23They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.
An interesting episode develops as the brothers are released from prison and Joseph requires only one of them to remain as hostage. They discuss their sin against Joseph thinking that God was now punishing them for it in an appropriate way. (This is the only time in Genesis where sinners acknowledge the guilt and responsibility of their sins.)
Joseph can understand their conversations of course but they don't realize this because he spoke through an interpreter. Reuben defends some of his actions but says that this is God's punishment which they deserve. They can go but must leave one behind, if they return they must bring Benjamin with them.
24He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man's money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them.
26So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there.
Joseph overhears their acknowledgement of sin and resignation to punishment and is overcome with grief, joy and emotion bottled up for twenty years.
- Angry and resentful at their treatment
- Joy at seeing his family
- Relief that through their confession their souls would be spared by God
He keeps Simeon as hostage. Reuben was not responsible for the act as he tried to stop them. Simeon as second oldest and with a violent nature (he killed those who raped Dinah) was probably the leader in the affair. Keeping Simeon must have had an impact on the others and Simeon himself since he knew full well his responsibility in the affair.
27As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28Then he said to his brothers, "My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack." And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, "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, saying, 30"The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. 31But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies. 32We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.' 33The man, the lord of the land, said to us, 'By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. 34But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.'"
35Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. 36Their father Jacob said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me." 37Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you." 38But Jacob said, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow."
At the beginning they only thought one bag of money was with their grain but upon returning home they discover that all the money was with the grain thus opening them up to theft charges when they returned. Of course Joseph knew that they would return, not only for Simeon but he knew that the famine would go on and they would have to return or starve.
Jacob accuses them of losing two of his sons and declares that if he loses Benjamin too all will be lost. He, of course, is thinking also about God's promise and its fulfillment through his sons.
Reuben shows some character and leadership here by promising to bring back everyone safely on the heads of his children but Jacob refuses and the matter remains this way for a while.
Note that neither Jacob nor his sons go to God for help or direction in this matter but simply worry and blame each other and themselves for this predicament.
The Second Trip to Egypt – Chapter 43
Simeon languishes in an Egyptian jail and the family in Canaan is paralyzed by fear of what will happen to them if they return. Everything is in a stalemate until God breaks the tie.
1Now the famine was severe in the land. 2So it came about when they had finished eating the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, "Go back, buy us a little food." 3Judah spoke to him, however, saying, "The man solemnly warned us, 'You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.' 4If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, 'You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.'"
- Genesis 43:1-5
As Joseph predicted, the famine persevered and their hope of riding out the storm and their supplies does not work. They are out of food and must take action.
We note here the ascendancy of Judah into a leadership role in the family. Reuben had good intentions but was weak willed and fearful. Simeon was decisive but violent and hardhearted (refused to hear Joseph's appeal for mercy). Levi was violent and quick tempered. This left the opening for Judah to demonstrate caring and courageous leadership.
6Then Israel said, "Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?" 7But they said, "The man questioned particularly about us and our relatives, saying, 'Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?' So we answered his questions. Could we possibly know that he would say, 'Bring your brother down'?" 8Judah said to his father Israel, "Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. 9I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever. 10For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice."
Jacob argues with his sons some more but Judah finally convinces him of the need to return with Benjamin.
Note some changes: the Bible begins to refer to Jacob as Israel again. Not since the death of Joseph and Jacob's depression and loss of faith had he been referred to by this God given name. Now that his faith is reviving and he is forced to trust in God, he is called by his divinely appointed name.
Also note the great parallel between Judah's plan and offer and the ultimate plan and offer of the savior who would come through his genealogy. He was offering himself as a ransom for the safety of the others if anything went wrong. This prefigures Jesus' offer of Himself for everything that has gone wrong in our lives. The point is that if there was trouble one would have to pay and Judah was willing to offer himself as the payment to save his family. Because Jesus is perfect and eternal, His sacrifice pays for everyone and it pays forever.
11Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. 12Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake. 13Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; 14and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved."
Israel's faith is now kindled again: he prepares gifts to appease the Egyptian like he did for Esau; he doubles the money to pay back what they owed.
- They sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver.
- They returned to Egypt with 20 bundles of silver (two times ten brothers).
Israel accepts the fact that the matter is now in God's hands. Through this experience God is ministering to everyone in the family concerning trust, repentance, leadership and faith.
Then follows a long section describing their (3 week trip) return and reunion with Joseph (verses 15-23). They still do not know who he is but when Joseph sees Benjamin he is assured that a reconciliation is possible because they were not lying about his brother.
The brothers are invited to eat with Joseph and Simeon who has been released. They are still suspicious thinking that Joseph just wants to lure them into a trap in order to rob them.
There is also a section that describes how Joseph's servant tells them that their God had placed the money in their sacks and there was nothing to worry about.
This shows that Joseph must have converted the slave but the brothers were so fearful and confused that they did not notice it.
24Then the man brought the men into Joseph's house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. 25So they prepared the present for Joseph's coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there.
26When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him. 27Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, "Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?" 28They said, "Your servant our father is well; he is still alive." They bowed down in homage. 29As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, he said, "Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?" And he said, "May God be gracious to you, my son." 30Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. 31Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, "Serve the meal."
Joseph gets more information from them and receives their gifts and respect but is overcome with emotion when he sees his own younger brother. After weeping alone, he begins the meal.
32So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. 33Now they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. 34He took portions to them from his own table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
Egyptians by custom were racially exclusive. There were three tables:
- For the Hebrews
- For the Egyptian guests
- For Joseph himself
The odds of getting the eleven in the right numerical order were 40 million to one and so they were impressed. The extra food for Benjamin was not five times as much total food but five times more often was a special food taster from Joseph's table sent as a way of honoring a certain person. What had begun this entire affair was these brothers' jealousy and resentment of Joseph their half-brother. Joseph, by honoring Benjamin, wanted to see if any of that resentment and jealousy remained.
The Bible says that they enjoyed their meal with happiness, so obviously they were not bothered by Joseph's kindness to Benjamin.
1. Sin will find you out eventually
How could these men think that with God watching they could commit this sin and it would go unnoticed and unpunished? We need to avoid sin because it will always come to light; and when we do sin and we know we have, we need to deal with it by asking for forgiveness and doing the right thing before we are either embarrassed by it or judged for it. Note how their prosperity and faith diminished as they hid their sins for twenty years and were judged for it.
2. No pain, no gain
Bad is bad. Pain hurts. Death brings grief. But sometimes out of these comes some good. We should do all we can to alleviate pain, avoid evil and process our grief but sometimes the negative things are necessary to produce positive things. In the process of spiritual growth there is often a necessary period of pain in order to produce a new direction, a new dimension or a new element of spirituality in our lives.
3. Leaders carry the heavy end
Judah only gained leadership when he was willing to offer not his children (like Reuben) but himself. Leaders in every area of the church or home or business etc. are leaders because they are willing to make the tough decisions, do the dirty jobs, maintain a heavy load of responsibility while remaining faithful and loving. The reason we give them honor, prayer, respect and obedience is because they are willing and able to carry a heavier load then we are.
4. Do all you can and leave the rest to God
Jacob gave a great example of a living, working faith. He used all of his available resources to influence the outcome but he recognized and accepted that the final outcome did rest with God. We need to find that balance. Not simply wait for signs and coincidences to decide everything. Not think we can do it all. Act in a way where we use our God given talents and resources to do our best and trust that God will bless and use us to accomplish His purpose.
- Summarize the events leading up to Jacob's sons traveling to Egypt and discuss observations from the events.
- Why would Jacob hold back Benjamin when he sent his other sons to Egypt?
- What is significant about Reuben's charge that they were being punished for their treatment of Joseph? (Genesis 42:21-23)
- How does holding Simeon in prison as a hostage relate to Joseph's treatment?
- Summarize the events that required Jacob's sons to return to Egypt and discuss their significance. (Genesis 42:39-44:34)
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?