GENESIS 42:29 - 43:34

The story of Joseph’s treatment of his brothers and their ultimate reconciliation is the most detailed story in the entire book of Genesis. Indeed, it is one of the most detailed stories in the entire Bible. When we look at this simple fact in the light of the law of proportion, then this story takes on great significance.

This is a story of divine discipline. Discipline is inevitable in the life of the believer. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8).

This is a story of divine discipline, but it teaches us that such discipline often comes through the agency of God’s people. Joseph has been a witness to the sinful actions of his older brothers. They have been unrepentant throughout all of these intervening years. He now begins to take disciplinary action.

This discipline is not meant as a punishment, but to bring about a restoration. That is always the object of divine discipline. It is meant to bring us back into a right relationship with God.

Joseph’s brothers have broken their relationship with Joseph. Years have passed and now he is going to restore that relationship. But to do so, he will first have to bring them to the point where they are ready for relationship.

To this end, he is maneuvering the situation so that they will be forced to make a decision whether to hold to the unity and relationship of their family or to seek their own interests.

Known to his brothers only as the royal representative of the Pharaoh, Joseph has accused the sons of Jacob of being spies. To prove their innocence, they must return to Egypt with their youngest brother. But before they can do this, they must first gain permission from their father.

As the plot begins to thicken, we come to a section of Genesis that is fraught with emotion. There is the fear of the brothers of Joseph who know they have left one of their own in an Egyptian prison. There is the fear of Jacob who has already lost two sons and who can only get one back by risking a third. There will also be a time of weeping as Joseph confronts the unresolved hurts he has experienced.



29 When 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. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.’ 33 And 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. 34 But 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.’" (Genesis 42:29-34).

When the brothers arrive back in Canaan, are faced with the duty of explaining to their father why they have left one of their number behind. This is the second time they have had to come up with such an explanation. The first time was to cover up their sinful treatment of Joseph.

The first instance had been an attempt to cover up their dishonesty. Notice that in this second report there are numerous references to the accusation against their honesty.

Their Treatment of Joseph

Joseph’s Treatment of Them

They hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms (37:4).

The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us (42:30).

They resented Joseph because of the evil report he gave against them.

The man, the lord of the land... took us for spies of the country (42:30).

They threw Joseph into a pit.

Joseph had them thrown into prison.

They took Joseph out of the pit and sold him into slavery.

Joseph took them out of the prison and kept only Simeon as a hostage.

They went back and reported a lie to their father.

They were sent back to report the truth to their father.



35 Now 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. 36 And their 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."

37 Then 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."

38 But 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." (Genesis 42:35-38).

Jacob is made to understand that the only way he can regain his lost son Simeon is to put his youngest son Benjamin at risk. Instead of pondering the situation, we are given to understand that Jacob resolves to write off Simeon and permanently lost to him. He is treating Simeon as though he were already dead.

Reuben responds with a solemn oath. He will stake the lives of his own two sons upon the life of Benjamin. He is swearing an oath upon the heads of his own sons. He is saying, "If my oath does not come to pass and if Benjamin does not return, then may the lives of my own two sons be forfeit.

While such a promise was socially acceptable in that day and age, it is a rather pointless promise. Was such an action supposed to be an encouragement to Jacob? Would he feel any better if, learning that he has lost still another son, he had permission to put two of his grandchildren to death?

Jacob refuses the offer and he refuses to be comforted on the loss of his two sons. His resolve is that he shall not lose Benjamin, no matter what the cost.

It is striking to note that, what Jacob refused to do in risking His beloved son, God willingly did for us, not only sending His Son to earth, but allowing Him to go to the cross on our behalf.



1 Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 So 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."

3 Judah spoke to him, however, saying, "The man solemnly warned us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you do 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.’"

6 Then Israel said, "Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?" 7 But 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’'?"

8 And Judah 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. 9 I 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. 10 For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice." (Genesis 43:1-10).

Jacob’s resolve was soon confronted with the cold, hard fact of the continuing famine. We read that the famine was "severe" in the land -- literally, that it was "heavy". Jacob calls his sons to return to Egypt and to purchase bread. He is confronted by Judah who reminds his father that the prime minister of Egypt commanded their youngest brother to accompany them on their next trip to Egypt.

Jacob responds with blame. He blames his sons for not having lied to the Egyptians. He is, in effect, blaming them for not having been as deceptive as he has been.

Judah does not respond to the charge. Instead, he points out the need for Jacob to give way and to allow Benjamin to go on the journey. Furthermore, Judah resolves to take personal responsibility for the young man. He says in effect, "If you need to blame someone, then I will allow you to blame me if I do not make good on my promise to bring back Benjamin."

Judah’s response is striking. He does not try to defend himself. He does not share the blame. He instead takes responsibility. He is following in the way of the One who will be from the tribe of Judah.



Son of Jacob

Descendant of Judah

Does not respond to the charge

Was silent before His accusers

Takes responsibility for the welfare of Benjamin

Takes responsibility for the welfare of His people

Gives permission for Jacob to blame him for Benjamin’s misfortune.

Took our blame upon Himself on the cross.



11 Then 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. 12 And take 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. 13 Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; 14 and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." (Genesis 43:11-13).

Jacob finally submits to the inevitable as he realizes that the alternative to risking the life of Benjamin is that they all die of starvation, including Benjamin. Having come to this difficult decision, he set out to offer instructions that are designed to gain the favor of the Egyptians.

Is this merely wisdom in dealing with the unknown? Or is this a picture of the old Jacob trying to manipulate others into doing what he wants? I’m not really certain. That is the problem with manipulation -- even when you begin to do things for the right reason, how can anyone tell there is a difference?

On the other hand, Jacob also recognizes the need for the Lord’s protection: May God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin (43:14). Jacob’s words remind us that the Lord is Master of men’s hearts.



15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, "Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon." 17 So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph's house.

18 Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph's house; and they said, "It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys." (Genesis 43:15-18).

The brothers make the long trip back to Egypt. They have the silver for the needed grain; they have Benjamin; and before they know it, they are once again standing before Joseph. The meeting is fraught with expectancy. They are fearing the worst. Will they be met with more suspicion and accusations? Will the receive the necessary provisions? They do not know what to expect, but one thing I am certain they did not expect was an invitation to dinner.

Eating a meal with someone in that culture meant that you at peace with the person with whom you were eating. It was a guarantee of safety. That is why the messianic prophecy that "my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" is so striking (Psalm 41:9).

As we look at this meal, we are reminded how the Father has spread out a meal for us. Like the brothers of Joseph, we are also undeserving. We come only because of the grace of the Giver of the meal.

The Brothers’ Treatment of Joseph

Joseph’s Treatment of his Brothers

They had killed an animal to use its blood as a ruse to deceive their father into thinking Joseph was dead

He ordered an animal killed and made ready for a meal for his brothers

They threw him into a pit and then sat down to eat

He invited them into his home to eat dinner with him

They had sold him into slavery

He has made them into honored guests

This is a picture of grace. Yet grace given does not necessarily mean that grace is understood or accepted. Joseph had graciously invited them to a dinner that they did not earn and which they did not deserve. But the brothers are waiting for something bad to happen. They are certain this is merely a ruse and that there are sinister motives behind this offer.

I have noticed that this is often the way of sin. Deceptive people always think that someone is out to deceive them. Judgmental people always think that others are judging them. People with evil motives always suspect the worst in others. Shakespeare said it this way: "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind" (Henry IV).

I am not saying that we ought to be gullible, but the Bible warns us against judging the motives of people. By contrast, Paul reminds us that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (13:7).



19 So they came near to Joseph's house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, 20 and said, "Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, 21 and it came about when we came to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. 22 We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks."

23 And he said, "Be at ease, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money." Then he brought Simeon out to them. (Genesis 43:19-23).

The brothers seek to explain the circumstances to the steward of Joseph’s house. But we shall see in verse 23 that no explanation is required. Have you ever done that? Have you ever tried to give the reasons or the mitigating circumstances for a particular situation, only to find that no explanation was needed?

When we come to the Lord and confess our sins before Him, we find that no further explanation is needed. We don’t have to try to make excuses or offer mitigating circumstances. He knows the truth. When we admit our sinfulness and our helplessness, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In the case of the brothers, they are told that no explanation is needed because their silver was deliberately returned to them. Who returned it? They are told that it was God who returned it.

We are tempted to think that the steward is stretching the truth. After all, he is the one who returned the money and he did so at Joseph’s orders. On the other hand, we know that every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:17).



24 Then the man brought the men into Joseph's house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. 25 So they prepared the present for Joseph's coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there.(Genesis 43:24-25).

The brothers have come to Joseph’s house fearing the worst. Would they again be accused of being spies? Would they be charged with theft over the silver that had been returned to them? Were they all to be imprisoned or worse?

Instead, they are treated as honored guests. Their feet are washed. Their donkeys are fed. They are invited to a meal. The scene is similar to that described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son. Where they looked for hostility, there is a homecoming.



26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him.

27 Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, "Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?" 28 And they said, "Your servant our father is well; he is still alive." And they bowed down in homage.

29 As 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." 30 And Joseph 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. (Genesis 43:26-30).

It is a dramatic moment. Joseph arrives at his home and the brothers come into his presence and they bow down to the ground before him. Joseph must have felt a sense of deja vu, for he had already experienced this before in a dream. Now the dream is being fulfilled, though the brothers are unaware of this.

He questions them about the welfare of their father and they report that Jacob is in good health. Then they bow down again before Joseph. Twice in the space of two verses we see the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream of his brothers bowing before him.

Then his attention focuses upon Benjamin. This is his younger brother. This is the son of Joseph’s mother, Rachel. It was at his birth that their mother died. He has become the new favored son.

The emotion becomes too much for Joseph. He can no longer contain himself and he leaves the table so that his brothers will not be able to see his weeping.



31 Then he washed his face, and came out; and he controlled himself and said, "Serve the meal." 32 So 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.

33 Now they were seated before him, the first-born according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. 34 And he 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. (Genesis 43:31-34).

Once he is composed, Joseph returns to the presence of his brothers and the meal is served. The seating arrangements strike us as unusual, but that is because we are unfamiliar with the culture and customs of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were the ultimate segregationalists. Egyptians did not eat at the same table with Hebrews or with any sort of Semitic peoples any more than you would sit at a table with your dog. To do so would be considered unsanitary and the Egyptians had a high regard for sanitation sensibilities.

There were apparently three tables set up.

As the brothers were seated, they noticed something about the seating arrangement. They had been seated in accordance to their age. Reuben was seated at one end of the table and Benjamin was seated at the other end and the intervening brothers were all seated in the exact order of their ages. What made it unusual is that they had not told Joseph or anyone else their ages.

Neither was this the only unusual aspect to this dinner.

We are told that Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs (43:34). He was given the favored portions. His plate was bigger and the portions on his plate were piled higher.

This was evidently not by chance. It was deliberate. Why? Why did Joseph order Benjamin to be favored in such a way? I think there are three reasons.

  1. This was a measure of Joseph’s love for his youngest brother. This was the only brother who had not been involved in the plot to sell him into slavery. This was the son of his departed mother. This was his baby brother and Joseph delighted in giving him the multiplied portion.
  2. This was test for the older brothers. Joseph had already seen how they had responded to their father’s favoritism so many years earlier. They had responded with jealousy and hatred. Had they changed or would they demonstrate the same sort of jealousy toward Benjamin?
  3. They are going to be brought to repentance and to redemption. They will be placed into a situation in which history will repeat itself. Once again, they will be presented with a favored younger brother. Once again, they will have the opportunity to determine his fate. Only this time, there will be a difference. This time they will be presented with the opportunity, not merely for neutrality, but to actually take positive action in the defense of their younger brother.

We have been invited to dine with the One who knows us intimately. It is a measure of His gracious love toward us. But it also calls for a response on our part that goes beyond the mere partaking of a meal. It calls us to extend that same love and grace and mercy to others; even to those whom we might be inclined to see through the eyes of jealousy; even to a favored younger sibling.

How can we accomplish this? How can we set aside those feelings of dislike for someone who rubs us the wrong way? It is only by remembering what our older brother has done for us. We have an older brother who set aside His glory to serve us and even to die on our behalf. And then He calls us to do the same for others.

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