Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 43 (J.) Joseph’s Brethren in Egypt. The second Visit
This chapter is taken from the J narrative, which the Compiler harmonizes with E in Genesis 43:14; Genesis 43:23. This and the following chapter form a continuous story, which falls into the following divisions:
Genesis 43:1-14. The resolve to return to Egypt.
15–34. The reception in Joseph’s house.
Genesis 44:1-17. The divining cup.
18–34. Judah’s Intercession.
And the famine was sore in the land.1–14. The Return to Egypt
2. Go again] That Jacob seems to forget about Simeon, is due to the change from the E to the J narrative.
And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.
And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.3. Judah] Judah is prominent throughout the J narrative. Cf. Genesis 43:8, Genesis 37:26, Genesis 44:14-34, Genesis 46:28.
except your brother be with you] Admission to Joseph’s presence and permission to buy corn were to depend on Benjamin’s accompanying them. The other two objects mentioned in Genesis 42:34, (1) to disprove the charge of being spies, and (2) to obtain the release of Simeon, are not mentioned.
If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food:
But if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.5. we will not go down] They know that corn must be got. They are forcing Jacob to give way. The J narrative is not cognisant of the Simeon incident.
And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?6. Israel] Observe the change from “Jacob” (Genesis 42:36) to “Israel” here and Genesis 43:8; Genesis 43:11. Jacob seems here for the first time to realize that Benjamin is a condition for the next journey to Egypt. It slowly dawns upon the old man that he must accept the conditions.
And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?7. The man asked straitly] The word “straitly” (i.e. “strictly, closely,” cf. Joshua 6:1), like “solemnly” in Genesis 43:3, simply emphasizes the force of the verb in Heb. Shakespeare, Rich. III, i. 3:
“His majesty hath straitly given in charge
That no man shall have private conference
… with his brother.”
This verse is evidently independent of Genesis 42:13 (E), where the information was voluntarily given by the brethren in proof of their sincerity.
And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:9. I will be surety] i.e. I will guarantee to bring him back. In Genesis 42:37 Reuben had been ready to pledge the lives of his two sons for Benjamin’s safety. Here Judah is ready to pledge his own life; see Genesis 44:32. The versions fairly reproduce the original: LXX ἐκδέχομαι αὐτόν; Lat. suscipio puerum.
let me bear the blame for ever] R.V. marg. gives the literal rendering I shall have sinned against thee for ever, LXX ἡμαρτηκὼς ἔσομαι, Lat. peccati reus ero. Compare the same idiom in Genesis 31:39, “I bare the loss,” and 1 Kings 1:21, “I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders” (Heb. sinners). The penalty will be proportioned to the failure.
For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.10. lingered] Judah implies that, if it had not been for their father’s feelings, by this time they would have gone down to Egypt, and returned.
And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:11. do this] Jacob yields, but, true to the character of a shrewd man of the world, he advises that the formidable Grand Vizier should be propitiated with a suitable present.
choice fruits] The Hebrew word, zimrah, occurs only in this passage in the Pent. (cf. Amos 5:23): LXX καρποί = “fruits”; Lat. optimi fructus. The meaning is probable, though only conjectural. Some think that it may be from the Hebrew root zmr, “to make melody,” cf. mizmôr, “a psalm”: hence Targ. Onkelos, “What is praiseworthy in the land.” It has been suggested that “the melody of the land” would mean “the produce of the land celebrated in song.” Cf. Jeremiah 51:41.
vessels] i.e. baggage, receptacles of various kinds, e.g. “sacks” (Genesis 42:25); cf. 1 Samuel 9:7.
balm] See Genesis 37:25.
honey] Possibly the material known in Syria and Palestine as dibs, which is the Arabian word for “grape juice boiled down to a syrup.” The Hebrew word d’bash, however, means real “honey,” and it is natural to suppose that a gift of real honey from the country would be a more acceptable offering to the Egyptian ruler. Cf. 1 Kings 14:3.
spicery and myrrh] See Genesis 37:25.
nuts] That is, pistachio nuts. The fruit of the pistacia vera, a rare tree in Palestine, regarded as a delicacy.
And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight:12. double money] Jacob recommends a double restitution (Exodus 22:4) for the money that had been mysteriously returned, on the improbable supposition that the affair had been an “oversight.” LXX ἀγνόημα = “accidental error.” Cf. the sin done “unwittingly” in Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22; Numbers 22:24.
Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.14. God Almighty] Heb. El Shaddai. See note on Genesis 17:1. Unless inserted by the Compiler, this is the only occurrence of this Sacred Name in JE (see note on Genesis 49:23, which is earlier than JE). Jacob gives his parting blessing. Notice the emphasis on Benjamin’s name, and the reference to Simeon (E).
give you mercy] Cf. the parallel expression in Nehemiah 1:11. Lat. facial vobis eum placabilem gives the general meaning.
if I be bereaved] or, “according as I am bereaved.” Jacob is resigned, he is ready mournfully to acquiesce in the Divine will. His forebodings are gloomy. Cf. Genesis 42:36. His expectation of the worst result heightens the interest of the story, as the crisis is evidently approaching.
And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.15–34. The Reception in Joseph’s House
15. stood before Joseph] The story is condensed. The men on arrival in Egypt are required to present themselves for purposes of trade before Joseph.
And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon.16. the steward of his house] See Genesis 43:19 and Genesis 44:1; Genesis 44:4. The steward of Joseph’s house was the “major domo” of the establishment. Joseph himself had occupied that position. Cf. Genesis 39:5.
slay] The slaying of animals indicated a banquet. It was a sign of special honour. Meat food was not usual for the Bedouin. But it was probably regularly eaten by kings and their officials, and by dwellers in towns in Egypt.
at noon] Observe the hour for a banquet. In Palestine the chief meal was in the evening. Cf. Genesis 31:54; 1 Samuel 9:19.
And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men into Joseph's house.
And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph's house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses.18. seek occasion] Heb. roll himself upon us. Cf. Job 30:14. Joseph’s brethren suspect that this act of favour is part of a trap to put them off their guard, and then suddenly seize them on a false charge. Cf. LXX τοῦ συκοφαντῆσαι ἡμᾶς = “to bring false charges against us”; Lat. ut devolvat in nos calumniam. The special mention of the “asses” is a lifelike touch.
And they came near to the steward of Joseph's house, and they communed with him at the door of the house,19. at the door of the house] Before crossing the threshold they wished to explain their innocence about the money.
According to the old Hebrew law, a thief who failed to make restitution might be seized and sold for a slave (Exodus 22:3).
And said, O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food:20. Oh my lord] Cf. Genesis 44:18. The expression introduces an appeal. The word for “my lord” (adoni) is rendered by LXX κύριε, and by the Lat. domine. See Numbers 12:11; Jdg 6:13; 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 3:17; 1 Kings 3:26.
And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand.21. the lodging place) Cf. Genesis 42:27 (J).
every man’s money] According to E, every man’s bundle of money was found, when they emptied their sacks at their journey’s end. Cf. Genesis 42:35.
in full weight] Lit. “in its weight.” The money was not in coins, but in metal, probably bars, rings, or ingots, which had to be weighed.
And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we cannot tell who put our money in our sacks.
And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them.23. Peace be to you] A formula of encouragement and reassurance, as in Jdg 6:23; 1 Samuel 20:21; Daniel 10:19.
the God of your father] The steward reverently ascribes their good fortune to the influence of the God of their family, concerning whom he himself could have had no knowledge. Their God had put their money in their sacks. It was mysterious. Their payments had duly been made; he had received them. They were innocent. Joseph had evidently instructed his steward what to say.
I had your money] Lit. “your money came unto me.” The versions introduce a paraphrase. LXX τὸ ἀργύριον ὑμῶν εὐδοκιμοῦν ἀπέχω; Lat. pecuniam quam dedistis mihi probatam ego habeo.
he brought Simeon out] This clause harmonizes the narrative of J with that of E; see notes on Genesis 43:3; Genesis 43:5; Genesis 43:14.
And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.24. water] Cf. Genesis 18:4. The washing of the feet, before reclining at a meal, was customary in Palestine; cf. Luke 7:44, “I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet,” and 1 Timothy 5:10.
And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.25. the present] Cf. Genesis 43:11.
against Joseph came] i.e. so as to be ready when Joseph arrived. For this use of “against” = “in readiness for the time when,” cf. 2 Kings 16:12, “So did Urijah the priest make it against king Ahaz came from Damascus.”
eat bread] A good instance of the use of this phrase in the sense of “to take a meal,” cf. Genesis 43:16, Genesis 31:54, Genesis 37:25.
And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.26. bowed down themselves] A second fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams: see Genesis 42:6, Genesis 44:14; cf. Genesis 37:5-11.
And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?27. of their welfare] Lit. “as to their peace.”
Is your father well] Lit. “is there peace [to] your father.” 2 Samuel 20:9, “Is it well with thee,” lit. = “Art thou peace, my brother?” Psalm 120:7, “I am [for] peace.” The word shâlôm in these passages is a substantive, i.e. “peace,” “health,” “welfare”: cf. Genesis 29:6, Genesis 37:4.
And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.29. his mother’s son] The words are added to augment the pathos of the situation. Joseph and Benjamin are the only two children of Rachel, the favourite wife of Jacob.
God be gracious] Joseph, in his dignified greeting of benediction, is made to use the word Elohim in its general sense of “the Divine Being,” as it would be used by an Egyptian. Cf. Genesis 39:9. The Sacred Name, Jehovah, is avoided.
my son] Indicating the great disparity of age between Joseph and Benjamin. Possibly J regarded Benjamin as having been born since Joseph’s disappearance.
And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.30. his bowels did yearn] For this phrase denoting strong feelings cf. 1 Kings 3:26; Jeremiah 31:20. Joseph’s emotion is recorded here, as in Genesis 42:24, in proof of his tenderness and sympathy. The same simplicity may be found in the description of Homeric heroes.
And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.31. he refrained himself] Joseph’s effort of self-constraint broke down in Genesis 45:1.
Set on bread] As we should say, “serve up dinner.”
And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.32. because the Egyptians … with the Hebrews] Egyptian exclusiveness was proverbial. Their priests were not allowed to eat or drink anything that had come from a foreign country (Porph. iv. 7). Herodotus (ii. 41) mentions that no Egyptian would use any utensil belonging to a Greek. It is noticeable in this passage that Joseph did not eat with the Egyptians. The natural reason for this is not, as some have supposed, because Joseph was a member of the family of a priest (Genesis 41:45), or even because he was a Hebrew, but on account of his position as the Grand Vizier.
an abomination] The technical term expressing that which was abhorrent and a source of ceremonial pollution. Cf. Genesis 46:34; Exodus 8:26. LXX βδέλυγμα; Lat. profanum.
And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.33. marvelled] The men were mystified by their arrangement in order of birth. It suggested magic. It was one of the uncanny things that they could not account for.
And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.34. he took and sent messes] R.V. marg. messes were taken. The word “mess” is used here in the sense of “portion” of food. Cf. 2 Samuel 11:8, “and there followed him a mess of meat from [marg. present from] the king.” The word “messmate” preserves the Old English use. Mess, food, Old Fr. mes (mets), Lat. missum, e.g.:
“At their savoury dinner set
Of herbs and other country messes.”
Milton, L’Allegro, 85.
five times] Lit. “five hands”; cf. Genesis 47:24. Attention has been called to the frequent use of the number “five” in Egyptian matters recorded in the O.T. Cf. Genesis 41:34, Genesis 45:22, Genesis 47:2; Genesis 47:24; Isaiah 19:18. Some have connected it with the five Egyptian planets.
If an explanation is at all required, counting on one’s fingers is presumably the origin of a natural preference for the use of the numbers “five” and “ten.”
were merry] Heb. drank largely. This expression need not be interpreted too literally. The men were “festive,” not necessarily “intoxicated,” as LXX ἐμεθύσθησαν; Lat. inebriati sunt.
Compare Song of Solomon 5:1, “drink abundantly”; Haggai 1:6, “ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink.”
For a special dish for the most honoured guest, cf. 1 Samuel 9:23-24.