Genesis 42


Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy corn, 1-3;

but refuses to permit Benjamin to go, 4.

They arrive in Egypt, and bow themselves before Joseph, 5, 6.

He treats them roughly and calls them spies, 7-10.

They defend themselves and give an account of their family, 11-13.

He appears unmoved, and puts them all in prison for three

days, 14-17.

On the third day he releases them on condition of their

bringing Benjamin, 18-20.

Being convicted by their consciences, they reproach themselves

with their cruelty to their brother Joseph, and consider

themselves under the displeasure of God, 21-23.

Joseph is greatly affected, detains Simeon as a pledge for

Benjamin, orders their sacks to be filled with corn, and the

purchase money to be put in each man's sack, 24, 25.

When one of them is going to give his ass provender he discovers

his money in the mouth of his sack, at which they are greatly

alarmed, 26-28.

They come to their father in Canaan, and relate what happened

to them in their journey, 29-34.

On emptying their sacks, each man's money is found in his sack's

mouth, which causes alarm both to them and their father, 35.

Jacob deplores the loss of Joseph and Simeon, and refuses to let

Benjamin go, though Reuben offers his two sons as pledges for his

safety, 36-38.


Verse 1. Jacob saw that there was corn] That is, Jacob heard

from the report of others that there was plenty in Egypt. The

operations of one sense, in Hebrew, are often put for those of

another. Before agriculture was properly known and practised,

famines were frequent; Canaan seems to have been peculiarly vexed

by them. There was one in this land in the time of Abraham,

Ge 12:10; another in the days of Isaac, Ge 26:1; and now a

third in the time of Jacob. To this St. Stephen alludes,

Ac 7:11: there was

great affliction, and our fathers found no sustenance.

Verse 6. Joseph was the governor] shallit, an

intendant, a protector, from skalat, to be over as a

protector; hence shelatim, shields, or arms for

protection and defence, 2Sa 8:7; and

shilton, power and authority, Ec 8:4,8; and hence the Arabic

[Arabic] sultan, a lord, prince, or king, from [Arabic]

salata, he obtained and exercised dominion, he ruled. Was it

not from this very circumstance, Joseph being shallit, that all

the Mohammedan governors of Egypt, &c., took the title of sultan?

Bowed down themselves before him] Thus fulfilling the prophetic

dream, Ge 37:7,8, which they had taken every precaution to render

null and void. But there is neither might nor counsel against the


Verse 9. Ye are spies] meraggelim attem, ye are

footmen, trampers about, footpads, vagabonds, lying in wait for

the property of others; persons who, under the pretence of wishing

to buy corn, desire only to find out whether the land be so

defenceless that the tribes to which ye belong (see Ge 42:11) may

attack it successfully, drive out the inhabitants, and settle in

it themselves; or, having plundered it, retire to their deserts.

This is a frequent custom among the Arabs to the present day.

Thus Joseph spake roughly to them merely to cover that warmth of

affection which he felt towards them; and that being thus brought,

apparently, into straits and dangerous circumstances, their

consciences might be awakened to reflect on and abhor their own


Verse 11. We are all one man's sons] We do not belong to

different tribes, and it is not likely that one family would

make a hostile attempt upon a whole kingdom. This seems to be the

very ground that Joseph took, viz., that they were persons

belonging to different tribes. Against this particularly they set

up their defence, asserting that they all belonged to one family;

and it is on the proof of this that Joseph puts them, Ge 42:15,

in obliging them to leave one as a hostage, and insisting on their

bringing their remaining brother; so that he took exactly the same

precautions to detect them as if he had had no acquaintance with

them, and had every reason to be suspicious.

Verse 13. One is not.] An elliptical sentence, One is not


Verse 15. By the life of Pharaoh] chey Pharaoh, Pharaoh

liveth. As if he had said, As surely as the king of Egypt lives,

so surely shall ye not go hence unless your brother come hither.

Here therefore is no oath; it is just what they themselves make it

in their report to their father, Ge 43:3:

the man did solemnly protest unto us; and our translators should

not have put it in the form of an oath, especially as the original

not only will bear another version, but is absolutely repugnant to

this in our sense of the word.

Verse 18. I fear God] eth haelohim ani yare,

literally translated the passage runs thus, I also fear the gods;

but the emphatic ha is probably added by Joseph, both here and

in his conversation with Pharaoh, the more particularly to point

out the eminence and perfection of the Supreme Being as

contradistinguished from the gods of Egypt. He seems to say to

his brethren, I am a worshipper of the true God, and ye have

nothing to fear.

Verse 21. We are verily guilty] How finely are the office and

influence of conscience exemplified in these words! It was about

twenty-two years since they had sold their brother, and probably

their conscience had been lulled asleep to the present hour. God

combines and brings about those favourable circumstances which

produce attention and reflection, and give weight to the

expostulations of conscience. How necessary to hear its voice in

time, for here it may be the instrument of salvation; but if not

heard in this world, it must be heard in the next; and there, in

association with the unquenchable fire, it will be the never-dying

worm. Reader, has not thy sin as yet found thee out? Pray to

God to take away the veil from thy heart, and give thee that deep

sense of guilt which shall oblige thee to flee for refuge to the

hope which is set before thee in the Gospel of Christ.

Verse 23. For he spake unto them by an interpreter.] Either

there was a very great difference between the two languages as

then spoken, or Joseph, to prevent all suspicion, might affect

to be ignorant of both. We have many evidences in this book that

the Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, and Syrians, could understand

each other in a general way, though there are also proofs that

there was a considerable difference between their dialects.

Verse 24. Took-Simeon and bound him before their eyes.] This

was retaliation, if, as the rabbins suppose, it was Simeon who

bound Joseph, and put him into the pit. A recollection of this

circumstance must exceedingly deepen the sense he had of his


Verse 25. Commanded to fill their sacks] keleyhem, their

vessels; probably large woollen bags, or baskets lined with

leather, which, as Sir John Chardin says, are still in use through

all Asia, and are called tambellet; they are covered with leather,

the better to resist the wet, and to prevent dirt and sand from

mixing with the grain. These vessels, of whatever sort, must have

been different from those called sak in the twenty-seventh

and following verses, which was probably only a small sack or bag,

in which each had reserved a sufficiency of corn for his ass

during the journey; the larger vessels or bags serving to hold the

wheat or rice they had brought, and their own packages. The

reader will at once see that the English word sack is plainly

derived from the Hebrew.

Verse 26. They laded their asses] Amounting, no doubt, to

several scores, if not hundreds, else they could not have brought

a sufficiency of corn for the support of so large a family as that

of Jacob.

Verse 27. One of them opened his sack] From Ge 42:35 we learn

that each of the ten brethren on emptying his sack when he

returned found his money in it; can we suppose that this was not

discovered by them all before? It seems not; and the reason was

probably this: the money was put in the mouth of the sack of one

only, in the sacks of the others it was placed at or near to the

bottom; hence only one discovered it on the road, the rest found

it when they came to empty their sacks at their father's house.

In the inn] bammalon, from lan, to lodge,

stay, remain, &c. The place at which they stopped to bait or rest

themselves and their asses. Our word inn gives us a false idea

here; there were no such places of entertainment at that time in

the desert over which they had to pass, nor are there any to the

present day. Travellers generally endeavour to reach a well, where

they fill their girbahs, or leathern bottles, with fresh water,

and having clogged their camels, asses, &c., permit them to crop

any little verdure there may be in the place, keeping watch over

them by turns. This is all we are to understand by the malon or

inn in the text, for even caravanseries were not then in use,

which are generally no more than four walls perfectly exposed, the

place being open at the top.

Verse 28. Their heart failed them] valyetse libbam,

their heart went out. This refers to that spasmodic affection

which is felt in the breast at any sudden alarm or fright. Among

the common people in our own country we find an expression exactly

similar, "My heart was ready to leap out at my mouth," used on

similar occasions.

What is this that God hath done unto us?] Their guilty

consciences, now thoroughly awakened, were in continual alarms;

they felt that they deserved God's curse, and every occurrence

served to confirm and increase their suspicions.

Verse 35. As they emptied their sacks] See Clarke on Ge 42:27.

Verse 36. All these things are against me.] alai

hayu cullanah; literally, All these things are upon me. Not badly

translated by the Vulgate, In me haec omnia mala reciderunt, "All

these evils fall back upon me." They lie upon me as heavy loads,

hastening my death; they are more than I can bear.

Verse 37. Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee] What a

strange proposal made by a son to his father, concerning his

grandchildren! But they show the honesty and affection of

Reuben's heart; he felt deeply for his father's distress, and was

determined to risk and hazard every thing in order to relieve and

comfort him. There is scarcely a transaction in which Reuben is

concerned that does not serve to set his character in an amiable

point of view, except the single instance mentioned Ge 35:22, and

which for the sake of decency and piety we should wish to

understand as the Targumists have explained it. See the notes.

Verse 38. He is left alone] That is, Benjamin is the only

remaining son of Rachel; for he supposed Joseph, who was the other

son, to be dead.

Shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow] Here he keeps up

the idea of the oppressive burden mentioned Ge 42:36, to which

every occurrence was adding an additional weight, so that he felt

it impossible to support it any longer.

The following observations of Dr. Dodd on this verse are very

appropriate and judicious: "Nothing can be more tender and

picturesque than the words of the venerable patriarch. Full of

affection for his beloved Rachel, he cannot think of parting with

Benjamin, the only remaining pledge of that love, now Joseph, as

he supposes, is no more. We seem to behold the gray-headed,

venerable father pleading with his sons, the beloved Benjamin

standing by his side, impatient sorrow in their countenances, and

in his all the bleeding anxiety of paternal love. It will be

difficult to find in any author, ancient or modern, a more

exquisite picture."

1. THERE is one doctrine relative to the economy of Divine

Providence little heeded among men; I mean the doctrine of

restitution. When a man has done wrong to his neighbour,

though, on his repentance, and faith in our Lord Jesus, God

forgives him his sin, yet he requires him to make restitution to

the person injured, if it lie in the compass of his power. If he

do not, God will take care to exact it in the course of his

providence. Such respect has he for the dictates of infinite

justice that nothing of this kind shall pass unnoticed. Several

instances of this have already occurred in this history, and we

shall see several more. No man should expect mercy at the hand of

God who, having wronged his neighbour, refuses, when he has it in

his power, to make restitution. Were he to weep tears of blood,

both the justice and mercy of God would shut out his prayer, if he

made not his neighbour amends for the injury he may have done him.

The mercy of God, through the blood of the cross, can alone

pardon his guilt; but no dishonest man can expect this; and he is

a dishonest man who illegally holds the property of another in his

hand. The unnatural brethren who sold their brother are now about

to be captivated themselves; and the binder himself is bound in

his turn: and though a kind Providence permits not the evil to

fall upon them, yet, while apprehending it, they feel all its

reality, conscience supplying the lack of prison, jailer, and


2. The ways of Providence are often to us dark and perplexed, so

that we are ready to imagine that good can never result from what

appears to us to be directly contrary to our interest; and we are

often tempted to think that those very providential dealings of

God, which have for their object our present and eternal welfare,

are rather proofs of his displeasure, or evidences of his

vindictive judgment. All these things are against me, said poor

desponding Jacob; whereas, instead of being against him, all these

things were for him; and by all these means was the merciful God

working for the preservation of himself and his family, and the

fulfillment of his ancient promise, that the posterity of Abraham

should be as the stars of heaven for multitude. How strange is

it that our faith, after so many evidences of his goodness, should

still be so weak; and that our opinion of him should be so

imperfect, that we can never trust in him but while he is under

our own eye! If we see him producing good, we can believe that he

is doing so, and this is all. If we believe not, he abides

faithful; but our unbelief must make our own way extremely

perplexing and difficult.

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