Genesis 42:1-20


Verse 1-2, Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? {2} And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.

I.    How much time has gone by?

A.     There is really no way of telling.

1.       It is certainly true that it is under two years.

2.       In Gen. 45:6, Joseph tells his brothers that two years of famine have gone by and there are 5 years of famine yet to come.

B.     They lived from year to year, like people today live from payday to payday.

1.       They had raised a crop in past years, and had stored some of the crop, but now that storage has run out.

2.       This doesn't mean they didn't plan ahead, or that some people today don't plan ahead because they live from payday to payday.

a.      We need to note that some people live from payday to payday because they don't plan ahead.

b.      A little forethought will teach us that we need to put back a little for a rainy day.

c.      It is also true that we can't prepare for every eventuality that may come along.

3.       It means they didn't have the resources put back to sustain them through a prolonged period of no income.

C.     I think it is also good to note that the seven plenteous years was in Egypt only.

1.       Canaan did not enjoy the seven years of plenty like Egypt.

2.       They had a normal crop in each of these seven years.

3.       God is directing the affairs of Israel toward Egypt.

4.       He knows they will experience good and bad times in that land, but draws them that way on purpose.

5.       God also directs the affairs of this world toward a conclusion of His choice.

6.       Mankind may think they are in control of their own destiny, but it just isn't so.

7.       Eccl. 9:12 - man is like a fish caught in a net or a bird caught in a snare: time and chance happens to all.


II.    Jacob saw there was corn in Egypt.

A.     Notice the difference in the word "saw" in verse 1 and the word "heard" in verse 2.

1.       I believe this refers to Jacob first hearing about the grain in Egypt, checking on what he had heard, understanding that it was true, then using the word "saw" to denote that he was as sure as he could possibly be that the rumor was true.

2.       He probably heard from the visitors that were in Egypt.

3.       One thing for sure is that people will talk.

4.       When the visitors would go into the towns of Egypt and see the vast storehouses of grain, it would certainly be the "talk of the town".

B.     Why look ye on one another.

1.       This tells us that there wasn't any work to do.

2.       The sons of Israel would sit around looking at one another when they would normally be working the crop.

3.       Since there wasn't any rain, there wasn't any crop to work.

4.       They were spending endless days sitting around with one another.

5.       There is no doubt the idleness caused them to get on one another's nerves, and Jacob was probably the most nervous of all, for he was considered the head of the family.

C.     Note that Jacob made the decision to go to Egypt.

1.       This tells us about the family structure in that day.

2.       Jacob was the head of all these families, even though some of his children had married and had children of their own.

3.       The family did not forsake their family, but stayed together as a unit.

4.       The head of the family was the oldest member.

5.       It would be very good today if the younger people would recognize the authority of the older people.

6.       In the 60's and 70's, the young people said, "Don't trust anybody over 30", "Don't trust the establishment".

7.       Now those people are over 30 and they are the establishment.

8.       They don't say that anymore, but complain about the stupidity of the younger generation.


III.    Note the two types of depression.

A.     There is a depression where there is plenty of food, but no money.

1.       This is bad, but it is possible to live through it, for there is plenty to eat.

2.       There is no money to buy the extra's (running water, electricity, store bought clothes, cars, gas and oil, so forth).

B.     The next type of depression is where there is plenty of money, but nothing to eat.

1.       This is a very severe type of depression, for many people will starve to death.

2.       They have money to buy food, but there is no food to buy.

3.       Food prices will be very high.

4.       The depression in Genesis is this type of depression.

5.       II Kings 6:25 - There was a great famine in Samaria until a donkey's head was sold for 80 pieces of silver and a cab of dove's dung for 5 pieces of silver.   

a.      The donkey was an unclean animal, and would be eaten only as a last resort.  Its head would be the cheapest part.

b.      The dove's dung could be a sort of very coarse pulse (seed or grain), but it is very possible that the excrement of birds is spoken of.

c.      The cab of dove's dung.

1.)    This measure is not mentioned elsewhere in scripture.

2.)    According to Rabbinical writers it was the smallest of all the dry measures in use among the Jews, being the sixth part of a seah, which was the third part of an ephah.  If it was about equal to two of our quarts, the fourth part of a cab would be about a pint.

3.)    Thompson Chain Reference Bible, #3535 shows 1 cab as 2.8333 pint.  Therefore a fourth part of a cab would be about « pint of dove's dung.

d.      The price of 80 pieces of silver for a donkey's head and 5 pieces of silver for a « pint of dove's dung is a very high price.

1.)    The exact monetary value of 80 pieces of silver, and 5 pieces of silver I cannot determine, but the comparison with the price paid for Joseph and Christ should at least tell us the price for a donkey's head and a « pint of dove's dung was very high.

2.)    Joseph was sold as a slave for 20 pieces of silver and Christ was sold for 30 pieces of silver.

C.     The situation for Jacob and his family was very bad.

1.       They were at the point of starvation unless they got food from someplace.

2.       It must be remarked that they did have enough food to last until a trip could be made to Egypt and back.

3.       There would be enough food for all the people, plus the flocks and herds.

4.       Evidently, there was also a shortage of water, for this caused the famine, but there seemed to be enough water for the people and animals; at least for the present.


Verse 3-5, And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt. {4} But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him. {5} And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

I.    The sons of Jacob go into Egypt to buy food.

A.     Jacob sent ten sons to Egypt.

1.       He could have sent just one son.

a.      They probably discussed who should go, and determined that it was best for all of them to go.

b.      They didn't know what kind of danger they would run into on the trip, or in Egypt.

2.       It is also possible that they thought they could get more food if all of them went.

a.      According to Genesis 46:26, there were 66 people in the family, not counting the wives of Jacob's sons.

b.      It would be more likely that the Egyptians would understand why they needed so much food if they would see several people.

3.       Each son was responsible for his own family, so each son would go and personally get the food necessary for his own family.

a.      They could have sent a servant for the food, similar to Abraham who sent a servant to get a wife for Isaac.

b.      The servants could have got the food, but God worked so Joseph would recognize his brothers and they would eventually go to Egypt to live.

B.     Benjamin didn't go.

1.       Jacob was afraid something would happen to him.

2.       The word "peradventure" means "it just might be".

3.       You would think that Jacob would think that his 10 older sons could keep Benjamin safe.

a.      It just might be that Jacob was afraid to trust Benjamin to his 10 older sons.

b.      It just might be that after Joseph disappeared, Jacob thought on what had happened, and saw the countenance of his 10 sons, and speculated they knew more about Joseph's disappearance than they told him.

4.       It just might be that Jacob was afraid Benjamin couldn't make the trip, because they had to go through the northern part of the Desert of Shur.


II.    Those from Canaan going into Egypt to buy food.

A.     Note the word "among".

1.       Evidently, there were many others from Canaan that went into Egypt to buy food.

2.       If the brothers hadn't had such a guilty conscience, they could have used this fact as proof they weren't spies.

B.     The famine was in Canaan.

1.       The famine in Egypt was caused because the River Nile didn't get the water necessary for an overflow.

a.      It should be noted that the Nile River overflowed because of the heavy rains in Abyssinia, and to the steady volume of water from the White Nile, which carried the melted snow from the mountains of Central Africa.

b.      When the overflow didn't happen, it was because there wasn't heavy rains in Abyssinia or snow in the mountains.

2.       This indicates a wide spread drought, which included Canaan.


Verse 6-8, And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. {7} And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. {8} And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.

I.    Joseph was the governor over the land.

A.     Joseph was not the "head man", for Pharaoh retained that position.

B.     Joseph was in charge of selling food.

1.       There is no doubt that Joseph had various people under him which could also sell food, for he couldn't be in all the cities at once.

2.       It seems reasonable to assume that any person not a citizen of Egypt would have to go to a certain place to get an "okay" to purchase food.

3.       If this is the correct procedure, Joseph probably made sure he was at that place.

4.       He would use the excuse that he was protecting the nation of Egypt from foreign armies, while in truth, he was watching for his brothers.


II.    The brothers bow themselves to the ground.

A.     The dream Joseph dreamed 15 years ago has come true.

B.     The brothers didn't intend to fulfill the prophecy of God, but they did anyway.

1.       If the brothers had treated Joseph differently 15 years ago, the dream would still have come true, but the circumstances would have been different, and the brothers would have had peace.

2.       The way the fulfillment of the dream comes, the brothers have no peace.

a.      They are going to have to confess to their father what really happened to Joseph.  They just don't know it yet.

b.      Genesis 50:15 - The brothers lived in misery until Jacob died, then they were afraid Joseph would hate them and get vengeance on them.

C.     Verse 9 - Joseph remembered the dream and its interpretation.

D.     They bowed with their faces to the ground.

1.       They are not worshipping Joseph, but recognizing his position.

2.       The position they assume shows their complete trust in him, for they are not in a position to protect themselves, or to see an attack coming.


III.    Why did Joseph speak roughly to his brothers?

A.     Some people would say it was because he hadn't forgiven them.

1.       I don't believe this is true, for the entire context of this story pictures Joseph as a very forgiving person.

2.       We must remember, that as far as the Bible is concerned, Joseph never told anybody that his brothers sold him into slavery.

B.     I personally believe that Joseph wants to see if his brothers have repented of the evil of selling him into slavery.

1.       He puts them in ward (jail).

a.      This will give them time to think what is like to be in jail, helpless to help themselves.

b.      When he bound Simeon before their eyes, he was trying to find out if they would leave this brother bound, like they left him bound.

c.      If they didn't return for Simeon, Joseph would know they hadn't changed.

d.      If they came back for him, it would be an indication they had changed for the better.

2.       Joseph puts the money in their bags to see if they are honest.


IV.    Whence come ye?

A.     Joseph questions his brothers as a stranger would question them.

1.       Joseph takes nothing for granted.

2.       It is also possible that Jacob has moved to another place.

3.       If they have moved, Joseph wants to know where they are living now.

B.     The answer.

1.       The brothers answer more than is asked.

2.       They tell they are from the land of Canaan, then add their purpose in coming to Egypt is to buy food.

3.       This answer reveals their nervousness.  When a person is nervous, they will usually talk more than necessary.


V.    Verse 8 - Why Joseph was not recognized.

A.     The brothers did not expect to see Joseph.

1.       It is likely they knew Joseph was in Egypt, but they expected to find him in the position of a slave, not a master.

2.       They would expect Joseph the slave to recognize them, and rush up to them, begging them to help him.

B.     Genesis 41:42 - He was dressed in the clothing of the Egyptians.

1.       There was a difference in the dress of the Joseph and the other Egyptians.

2.       Joseph was probably smooth shaven while the brothers wore beards.

C.     Genesis 42:23 - Joseph spoke to them through an interpreter.

D.     Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery.  His brothers were in their mid twenties.

1.       There are some physical changes that take place as a person matures.

2.       There is very little physical change in a person already in adulthood.

3.       Joseph was able to recognize his brothers because they hadn't changed that much.

4.       At the same time, his brothers didn't recognize Joseph, because he had changed more.


Verse 9-13, And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. {10} And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. {11} We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies. {12} And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. {13} And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.

I.    Joseph remembered the dreams.  See the comments on verse 6.


II.    Joseph accused them of being spies.

A.     It is absolutely imperative that a nation make provision defend itself, even in a time of peace.

1.       Egypt is a very strong nation at this time, but they haven't "sent their armies home".

2.       The very best way to ensure peace in any nation is to have the best army they can have.  (The best defense is a good offense.)

3.       During a time of peace, many people think a nation ought to disband their armies, and get rid of many of their weapons.  This is not a good thing to do, for the enemy will build up their armies and attack.

B.     I don't think Joseph is out of line to keep a watch on the many people coming to Egypt for food.

1.       This would be a good time for an enemy to take over Egypt.

2.       They are a very wealthy nation, and if an enemy could take them over, they would be wealthy.

3.       Joseph uses the word "nakedness" to mean "you've come to see the circumstances of the nation for an opportunity to invade it".


III.    Verse 10,11 - The brothers reply.

A.     They answer again that they have come to buy food.

1.       They call themselves the servants of Joseph.

2.       This is recognizing the master, servant relationship.

B.     The brothers could have told Joseph they were just doing like all the other people from Canaan were doing.

1.       They were nervous and didn't think of that.

2.       What is so odd, is that they never did think of it!

C.     They, once again, answer more than is asked.

1.       They confess they are all of one family.

2.       They confess they are true men, that is; honest, hard working family men caught up in the famine.


IV.    Verse 12 - Joseph's reply.

A.     Joseph only repeats what he has already said.

B.     Joseph is speaking through the interpreter, and appears cool, calm, and collected to the nervous brothers.


V.    Verse 13 - The brothers tell all.

A.     They say again that they are brothers, but add that there are twelve sons in all.

B.     The location of the sons.

1.       Ten of the brothers are here.

2.       The youngest brother is at home, in Canaan, with the dad.

3.       One of the sons is dead.

a.      These ten brothers know Joseph was sold into slavery.

b.      They don't know if he is dead or alive.

c.      It seems the simplest explanation is to say he is dead.

d.      It may be that the brothers have convinced themselves that Joseph is dead.  It really doesn't matter at this point whether they believe he is dead or not.  What does matter is that they still have guilt about selling him into slavery.  See verse 21,22.


Verse 14-20, And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies: {15} Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. {16} Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.  And he put them all together into ward three days. {18} And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: {19} If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: {20} But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

I.    Joseph's preliminary judgment.

A.     Joseph still says they are spies.

B.     Bringing the youngest brother will prove their innocence.

1.       I don't understand how bringing the younger brother will prove their innocence.

2.       If these men are real spies, they could simply go back to their army, chose a young man, and bring him before Joseph, claiming him as their youngest brother.

3.       Joseph's purpose in asking for the younger brother is to see their attitude toward Benjamin is better than their attitude toward him.

C.     Joseph proposes that one brother returns for the youngest brother, leaving the other nine brothers in jail.

1.       His purpose in this could have been to see if they would get into a big argument trying to decide who would go home.

2.       This would reveal their attitude toward each other.

3.       If each man wanted to go home, leaving the others behind, it would prove they were just as selfish as they used to be.

D.     The reaction of the brothers to this proposition.

1.       They said nothing at all, either for or against.

2.       Their silence suggested agreement.

3.       They were probably so shocked they didn't think to tell Joseph they could get any young man to pretend to be their youngest brother.

4.       If they thought about it, they were probably afraid to say it.

E.      Verse 17 - They submitted to being put in ward (jail) for three days.

1.       They might have agreed to a three day sentence in ward to think things over.

2.       They might have been put in ward for an indefinite time.

3.       The Bible doesn't say.

4.       The Bible does say that Joseph presented another plan on the third day.


II.    Verse 18-20 - Joseph's secondary judgment.

A.     This do and live.  Joseph doesn't want his brothers to worry about being killed.

B.     Joseph says he fears God.

1.       The word he uses is not "Yahweh", the Hebrew Jehovah; but "Elohim", the God of creation.

2.       Joseph is not compromising his belief in Jehovah, but is wisely presenting his belief in a God his brothers would accept an Egyptian as believing.

3.       Genesis 42:28 - The brothers use the word "Elohim" instead of the word "Yahweh".

4.       Genesis 43:14 - Jacob uses the word "Yahweh" when he send Benjamin with his other sons to Egypt.

C.     Joseph's proposition is to keep one brother, and send the rest back home with food.  They are to return with the youngest brother.

1.       The proposition is based on a mutual trust, if they are true men.

2.       There was evidently no discussion about who would remain in jail.

D.     "And they did so."

1.       The brothers readily agreed.

2.       Of course, they really didn't have a choice.

3.       Unless they wanted nine of the brothers to stay in prison and one brother to return home.

4.       It would be much safer if nine brothers made the trip rather than one brother.

5.       If they chose not to accept Joseph's proposition, there was a chance they would die.