Commentary on Genesis 43

Last updated: December 10, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1Now the famine was severe in the land. 2And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” 3But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.'” 6Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” 8And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

11Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

15So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

26When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for 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 controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

Notes

2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.”

Has he forgotten the ultimatum of “the man” in Egypt and the terms he laid down for a return visit to Egypt? If he remembered them, then he has consciously ignored them for one reason or other. If he really did forget them, then the brothers must have brought home an ample supply of provisions, large enough to last for a good while, long enough for Jacob to forget that conversation with his sons. Then again, perhaps he hopes his sons have a short memory, and that they will take off for Egypt without Benjamin.1

7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”

It is clear from 44:19 that Joseph did ask the specific questions mentioned here, therefore we should read 42:11, 13 as an abbreviated account. The brothers are not lying in this verse.

11-14 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

It seems strange to be talking about the best products of the land in a time of famine. Whence come these products? There is a shortage of corn (v. 2), but nuts and some resinous material seem readily available. The brothers’ traveling down to Egypt recalls an earlier group (the Ishmaelites) traveling down to Egypt with much the same products (gum, balm, and myrrh). Missing from the first caravan was the honey and the nuts.2

18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.”

The brothers imagine the worst when brought to Joseph’s residence (v. 18). The aggression they envision is described in three consecutive actions, “attack . . . overpower . . . take.” Among their ruminations about the returned silver, they may have considered the possibility that it was not a mistake as their father had hoped (v. 12) but a deliberate pretense for robbery. “Frightened” described the same reaction of the brothers and Jacob to the discovery of the money in their sacks (42:35). Although they had appeared with Benjamin according to the Egyptian’s request, they believed the unexplained money in their sacks would lead to their enslavement anyway (cf. also 44:9). It was not an unwarranted fear, for an attack in the privacy of a dining hall had the advantage of surprise (e.g., 2 Sam 13:28).3

It never dawns on the brothers that Joseph has enough authority to have them arrested on the spot without having to resort to a dinner invitation. It does not take much imagination to see that what the brothers fear might happen to them at the hands of Joseph – he wants to overpower us and seize us, and take us into slavery – is precisely what they once did to Joseph.4

23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward’s reply, while reassuring the brothers who did not know where the money came from, disconcerts the reader, who does know that the steward put the money in their bags. His comment, “Your god . . . must have put treasure in your sacks,” while putting the brothers off the track of the human agent, does though express an important theological idea of the narrative, that God’s plans are worked out through human agents, as Joseph will say shortly to his brothers, “You sold me here, because God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). Here (cf. 41:38-39) even an Egyptian is portrayed as acknowledging the overarching control of human affairs by divine providence.5

26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground.

Now that Benjamin is present, Joseph’s dreams about his eleven brothers bowing down to him have been fulfilled (37:9).

27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?”

If the reference in v. 26 to the brothers bowing before Joseph (and also 42:6) recalls the emphasis on bowing in Joseph’s earlier dreams (37:7, 9, 10), so does the frequent use of the word salom in both Joseph’s inquiry and their response recall something from ch. 37. There, because they saw their father doting on Joseph, the brothers could not speak peaceably to Joseph (37:4). A few verses later (37:14) Jacob sent Joseph to see if it was well (‘et-salom) with his brothers and with their flocks. Earlier the brothers could not speak to each other in peace, but now when they speak to each other there is “a veritable burst of saloms.”6

28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.

Using a polite form of address, the brothers identify Jacob to Joseph as your servant. But how can this be when they are miles apart, live in different countries, speak different languages, and have never met? This title is a gesture by the brothers to identify themselves as those favorably disposed toward and dependent on Joseph. Even their father assumes that posture.7

29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!”

Joseph blesses Benjamin. “If jealousy towards Benjamin had existed among the brothers, this special goodwill by so powerful a figure as the lord of the land would have surely chafed the men. The later arrest of Benjamin for the theft of the cup would have been viewed as a great boon to spiteful rivals.”8

32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

The meal is served to three different groups: Joseph, the brothers, and Joseph’s Egyptian colleagues. But they cannot be that far apart, for Joseph is close enough to them to “pass” food to them (v. 34). Still, cultic taboos forbade Egyptians eating with Hebrews. They will sell and share food with Hebrews, but will not share a table with Hebrews. For a second time Joseph is separated from his brothers at meal time (see 37:25 for the first). But he is no helpless occupant of an empty cistern this time. At the first meal separation he was the victim. Here he is the victor. At least he does not deprive his brothers of food, as they once deprived him.9

33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement.

The brothers are presumably amazed because Joseph was able to seat them by age without consulting them.

34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

Joseph gives Benjamin preferential treatment just as Jacob had given Joseph preferential treatment. He is testing his brothers to see if they will respond with jealousy. The brothers have a chance to act on that jealousy in the next chapter when Benjamin is caught with the silver cup in his sack.

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary 2. Thomas Nelson, 1994.

1Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 540.

2Ibid., 544.

3Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 789.

4Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 549.

5Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 422.

6Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 554.

7Ibid.

8Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 791.

9Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 555.

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