Jacob's Sons' First Trip to Egypt [Genesis 42 Study]

Genesis 42-43 describes the reunion of Joseph and his 10 brothers. Genesis 42 continues the story line of Jacob’s family from Genesis 37.

Jacob's Sons' First Trip to Egypt [Genesis 42 Study]
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Genesis 42-43 describes the reunion of Joseph and his 10 brothers. Chapters 39-41 served as an interlude to describe the changes that take place in Joseph’s life over the last 20-22 years. But it seems that Jacob’s family appear unchanged in that same time interval. Genesis 42 continues the story line of Jacob’s family from Genesis 37.

Genesis 42 Outline

  • Joseph’s Brothers Sent to Egypt (v.1-5)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Held Custody (v.6-17)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Sent Back to Canaan (v.18-28)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Bereave Jacob (v.29-38)

1. Joseph’s Brothers Sent to Egypt

Gen. 42:1   When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

  • Jacob learns that there was grain for sale in Egypt. Seeing a possible solution to their problem of starvation because of the severe famine, Jacob speaks out as the patriarch.
  • Jacob’s sons were idled since there was no grass for their sheep to graze. Their livestock were likely dying of starvation, but the sons took no action.
  • So Jacob rebukes his sons for their inaction and commands them to go to Egypt to purchase grain so the family can survive.
  • Jacob sends all 10 older brothers, but he did not send Benjamin. The text stated that Jacob feared that harm may come to Benjamin, Jacob’s only other son through Rachel, his beloved wife. Remember that Jacob had worked for his father in law for 14 years to marry the love of his life, Rachel.
    • Rachel had been barren for a long time, but she finally had Joseph. She then died during the childbirth of her second son, Benjamin.
  • So Joseph’s only full brother was Benjamin. His other 10 brothers were actually his half-brothers.
    • Having lost Joseph, Jacob appeared to have shifted his favoritism from Joseph to Benjamin. To lose his only other son from his beloved Rachel would have been too much for Jacob to bear. So Jacob wanted to protect Benjamin, and he sends his other 10 sons to Egypt.
  • The narrator reiterates that the famine had affected the land of Canaan, so the sons of Jacob had no choice but to come to Egypt to buy grain like the other surrounding people.

2. Joseph’s Brothers Held Custody

Gen. 42:6   Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. 7 Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” 8 And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 9 And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.” Gen. 42:12   He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” 13 And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. 15 By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days.

  • v.6 reiterates that Joseph was the governor, delegated by Pharaoh to rule over Egypt. He was the one who was responsible for selling the grain the all the people of the land.
  • Then the moment happened. Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down with their faces to the ground before Joseph.
    • We now see the beginnings of the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams where his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Joseph’s and where the sun, moon, and stars in the sky bowed low to him. (Genesis 37:5-11)
    • But the brothers, as they were bowing down to Joseph, did not know the prime minister of Egypt was in fact their brother.
    • How could Joseph’s brothers not recognize Joseph? Well, over 20 years have past. Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold to slavery, and now he was in his late 30s or early 40s. Joseph was adorned with Egyptian linen and jewelry, and he was clean shaven.
    • And you will notice that throughout these next few chapters that Joseph is careful not to speak. By not speaking directly to his brothers in his native Hebrew dialect and communicating using the Egyptian language through an interpreter, Joseph was able to conceal his true identity.
  • Imagine 22 years later, seeing your family for the first time. What mixed emotions Joseph must have felt.
    • Surprise - could Joseph, in the midst of the greatest domestic catastrophe of his time, have anticipate this moment.
    • Resentment - Joseph would have remembered the callous indifference the brothers showed him while he was screaming for help while being trafficked by his brothers to the Midianite traders as sold property.
    • Awe - Joseph must have remembered his two divine dreams fulfilled in this scene. What awe he would have felt to see God’s invisible hand of providence at work.
  • So we see here that Joseph immediately recognized his brothers even though it’s been over 20 years. Yet his brothers did not recognize him.
  • What we see coming next is Joseph playing a shrewd game with his brothers for the purpose of corrective discipline and restoration.
    • Remember when Adam and Eve had sinned. God was calling out to them, “Where are you?” and almost feigning ignorance that he did not know where Adam was and what he had done.
    • Parents may do the same thing with their children, feign greater anger or disappointment with their children for pedagogical purposes that might lead their children to repentance.
    • What we see coming next is Joseph scheming to both test and correct his brothers to lead them to repentance so there might be restoration and reconciliation.
    • You see, if Joseph had disclosed himself as the person in charge of the food supply, his brothers would have groveled for forgiveness. But that would not reveal to Joseph what was their true character. Joseph needed to determine if his brothers were repentant for their sin against him.
  • So Joseph had several goals when he saw his brothers.
    • First, he wanted to know the state of his father Jacob.
    • Second, he wanted to know the state of his brother Benjamin.
    • Third, he wants to see his brothers’ true character to see if repentance and restoration was possible.
  • How we know that Joseph still loves his brothers. We’ll later see Joseph intermittently excuse himself to another room to weep over his brothers and family.
  • But to start, Joseph purposely acts as a stranger and speaks roughly to them saying, “Where do you come from?”
  • Joseph then accuses his brothers of being spies, and this would have been a reasonable conclusion made by the prime minister of Egypt.
    • Normally, you would assume one family representative was sufficient to buy food for the family. But instead, they came as a group of 10 men.
  • Joseph’s brother then discloses important information to Joseph, reporting that Benjamin was still alive and well. By explaining to Joseph that Benjamin was still with his father, the brothers revealed that Jacob was still alive also. They also revealed that they had thought that Joseph had died
    • Without much effort, Joseph accomplished his first two goals to know the wellbeing of his father Jacob and brother Benjamin.
  • To accomplish his third goal to gauge his brothers’ character, Joseph engineers a test. He would keep his brothers in prison but allow one to return to Canaan to bring back Benjamin. Should the one brother brings back the youngest brother, all the brothers will be exonerated.
  • So Joseph keeps all the brothers in prison for three days to think about this proposal.

3. Joseph’s Brothers Sent Back to Canaan

Gen. 42:18   On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. Gen. 42:26   Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

  • After three days, Joseph has had more time to think about his scheme. To see if his brothers have changed, Joseph’s test would ultimately Benjamin to come to Egypt. Benjamin’s return to Egypt with his brothers was the primary goal.
  • So instead of just sending one brother back to Canaan, Joseph decides to send 9 of his 10 half-brothers back. He would keep one brother in custody. Perhaps he had second thoughts that detaining 9 of his 10 brothers leave his father devastated.
  • He commands the brothers to return with Benjamin. If they return with Benjamin and prove their veracity, they will be spared. Otherwise, Joseph threatens their lives based on his accusation of them being spies.
  • So Joseph allowed the brothers to purchase and bring food back to Canaan, but he knew this famine will last another 5 years, so they will need to return eventually for more food.
  • Notice the brothers’ response.
    • They immediately connote this situation with their guilt concerning Joseph. This is the first time in the Genesis narrative where it is revealed that Joseph’s brothers felt guilt for their sin against Joseph.
    • They still remember Joseph’s distress when they bound him and sold him to the Midianite traders. They remember ignoring Joseph while his plead to his brothers for mercy. “That is why this distress has come upon us,” they said.
    • These additional details of Joseph’s anguish were not given in the Genesis 37 account.
    • Joseph overhears all of his brother’s conversation. All was visible to Joseph.
    • v.24 states that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”
  • The Genesis narrative never describes Joseph breaking down when he was sold to slavery. Never did Joseph lose control of his emotions in Potiphar’s house or while in prison. But hearing his brother’s expressions of guilt and remorse broke Joseph. Envisioning the possibility of repentance and restoration overwhelmed Joseph with emotion.
  • Once Joseph had recomposed himself, he purposely takes Simeon and bound him before their eyes. This was analogous to Joseph being bound by his brothers when he was seventeen.
    • I said Joseph’s main test required the return of Benjamin. The smaller test was taking Simeon captive and seeing for how long the brothers would abandon Simeon.
  • Joseph gave another order. He asked his servants to fill the brothers’ bags with food, but he also ordered them to return every man’s money.
  • The trip from Canaan to Egypt was at least 250 km (150 miles), so the return to Canaan likely took at least several days.
  • And it was while they were returning home that one of the brothers realized that his money had remained with him.
    • And notice the brother’s response. “What is this that God has done to us?”
    • If they were truly honest men, they would have probably returned back to Egypt. But perhaps they were almost back to Canaan already, so it made more sense to complete the trip to Canaan first.
    • What we do know for sure is that the brothers were gripped with fear knowing that proving their innocence to the prime minister just got a lot harder.

Joseph’s Brothers Bereave Jacob

Gen. 42:29   When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’” Gen. 42:35   As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “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.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”

  • In the Genesis narrative, the author uses the literal device of recapitulation to retell details of the story.
    • Back in Genesis 41, you will recall that the 3rd person omniscient narrator described Pharoah’s two dreams.
    • But later in that same chapter, the narrator describes Pharaoh retelling his two dreams to Joseph. And it’s in this recapitulation that we gain additional detail and insight. We see how disturbed Pharaoh was by his two dreams.
    • When Moses wrote the Pentateuch, writing space was a premium. So when there is the use of recapitulation, there is a purpose. Often, the purpose is to place emphasis.
  • Here in the last section of the chapter, the brothers report back to Jacob what had happened during their first visit to Egypt.
    • In this recapitulation, the brothers were careful to leave out the negatives and paint the most positive picture possible.
      • They did not tell Jacob they were imprisoned for three days.
      • They did not initially share about the money that was found in one of their sacks.
    • They shared that the prime minister spoke roughly to them and accused them of being spies.
    • They told Jacob that they had disclosed that Benjamin was left alone with their father, and Joseph was no more.
    • They told Jacob the prime minister asked that to prove that they were not spies, they needed to bring Benjamin back to prove the veracity of their story.
      • What Joseph actually said was that they needed to return with Benjamin so “they shall live and not die.”
    • Simeon remained captive in Egypt, and only a return trip with Benjamin will exonerate the brothers.
  • And notice the additional detail in verse 35: “Every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid.”
    • You would think that if one of the brothers has found his money in his sack, that the other brothers would have looked also at their own sacks. But the text remains silent.
    • All we know is that when they had returned home, the truth was revealed to Jacob, perhaps involuntarily. All their money was still with them.
    • I remember one time my family walked out of the restaurant when the waitress accosted me being I had not place my signature on the credit card receipt. Imagine purchasing months of food for a household of 70 people and not paying for those supplies.
  • Listen as I read Joseph’s response: “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.”
    • Jacob has still not forgiven his brothers for returning without Joseph.
    • Jacob had every reason to believe Simeon would have been executed when the prime minister had found out that these brothers had taken all the food supplies without paying.
    • There was absolutely no way Jacob was going to let his sons take Benjamin and risk his life.
  • Let’s pause for one minute.
    • Realize that every conclusion that Jacob had made was based on logical deduction of the information that he had been provided. And yet every one of Jacob’s conclusions was false.
    • Jacob’s empirical analysis is completely wrong. It could not be further from the truth.
    • “Joseph is no more.” Jacob had been given forensic evidence that Joseph had been killed, so Jacob assumed Joseph was no more. But not only was Joseph still alive, he was Egypt’s prime minister.
    • “Simeon is no more.” When Jacob saw that his sons had returned without paying for the food, he had to assume Simeon would have been executed. And yet not only was Simeon still alive, he was never more safe and secure than now under the protection of Joseph.
    • “All this has come against me.” Everything is against me, thought Jacob.
      • But Jacob didn’t get to read Paul write that “all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
    • At the moment Jacob cries out, ‘everything is against me,’ never had more been orchestrated by the invisible hand of God for his blessing.
    • In short time, his entire family will be saved from this famine.
  • Then Reuben tells his father to let him go back with Benjamin, and if Benjamin does not return unharmed, he asks Jacob to kill his two sons, Jacob’s grandsons.
    • Jacob quickly passes up on that offer.
    • Joseph is dead, and Benjamin is Jacob’s only son remaining from Rachel.
    • The first time Jacob’s sons returned without Joseph.
    • The second time Jacob’s son returned without Simeon.
    • Jacob could not risk Benjamin.
    • If anything happens to Benjamin, Jacob will be in so much despair that he would be able to live.
  • Jacob probably thought that the grain his sons had acquired will outlast the famine. But he did not have the knowledge that the famine was going to last another 5 years, and it was going to get more severe.
    • So Jacob’s obstinence was fueled by hope that they may survive without a second return to Egypt.
    • But as we’ll see next time, this will not be the case. And Jacob will need to chance his mind for the survival of his entire family.

Bible Studies on the Story of Joseph

  1. Introduction to the Joseph Narrative in Genesis
  2. Joseph the Dreamer (Genesis 37:2–11)
  3. Joseph Sold to Slavery (Genesis 37:12–36)
  4. Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
  5. Joseph Tempted by Potiphar's Wife (Genesis 39)
  6. God Remembers Joseph in Prison (Genesis 40)
  7. Pharoah's Dreams Interpreted (Genesis 41:1–36)
  8. Joseph Made Prime Minister (Genesis 41:37–57)
  9. Jacob's Sons' First Trip to Egypt (Genesis 42)
  10. Jacob Accepts Judah's Guarantee (Genesis 43:1–14)
  11. Joseph Reunites with Benjamin (Genesis 43:15–34)
  12. Joseph Plants His Silver Cup (Genesis 44:1–17)
  13. Judah's Plea for Benjamin (Genesis 44:18–34)
  14. Judah Becomes Surety for Benjamin (Genesis 44)
  15. A Portrait of Forgiveness (Genesis 45:1–8)
  16. It Is Enough (Genesis 45:9–28)
  17. Prepared to Die (Genesis 46)
  18. God Rescues Egypt (Genesis 47:1–26)
  19. "God Will Be With You" (Genesis 47:27–48:22)
  20. Lion of Judah: When All Is Said and Done (Genesis 49)
  21. God Meant It For Good (Genesis 50)