Genesis 42
Genesis 42 Kingcomments Bible Studies


After the wisdom that Joseph shows toward Pharaoh in the previous chapter, we see in this chapter and the following chapters his wisdom toward his brothers. Throughout the whole event with Joseph we are not told anything about the fate of Jacob and his sons. It is as if the Spirit of God thus says: “After their crime, and now that Joseph is no longer among them, I have nothing more to say about them.”

It is the history of Israel after the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Israel is now “Lo-Ammi”, which means “not My people” (Hos 1:9). That is not to say that God has forgotten them and His promises to them. He waits until the favorable moment has come to take up the thread with them again. And all this happens in connection with the true Joseph, the Lord Jesus.

Ten Brothers Are Going to Buy Grain

There is a great difference in the way Joseph deals with the Egyptians who are hungry and how he deals with his brothers. The brothers are to blame for the rejection of their brother. Therefore a deep work of repentance must take place in them before they can receive the blessing. This also applies to the Jews in the future, just before the coming of the Lord Jesus. That repentance will be worked through what they experience in great tribulation.

For the brothers, repentance is worked through the way Joseph treats them. Just as the prodigal son is driven home by hunger (Lk 15:17-18), so the hunger drives the brothers to Joseph. They no longer have a special place among the peoples, for they are “among those who were coming” to buy grain. Yet the Spirit of God keeps their separate place they have for faith by speaking of “the sons of Israel” and not “the sons of Jacob”, which we would have understood.

In our lives too, God sometimes allows periods of ‘hunger’, trials, by which He wants to lead us to resort to the Lord Jesus or to return to Him. He wants Christ, the true Joseph, to have His true place in our lives.

Jacob doesn’t let Benjamin go with the brothers. He knows his sons. He may still have doubts about their story about Joseph. Maybe they will also sacrifice Benjamin to safeguard their own interests. Benjamin became his favorite son instead of Joseph, the remaining son of his favorite wife Rachel.

More than twenty years have passed since the brothers appeared before Joseph and bowed down before him, without recognizing him. The circumstances have changed completely. Joseph is the second most powerful man in Egypt after Pharaoh. The whole world depends on him for food.

Accused of Espionage

The brothers, who at first were so powerful and also ruthless toward Joseph, are now powerless at his feet. As soon as he sees them, he begins the work that is needed to put their hearts in the right attitude toward him. It is as with the Lord Jesus Who, in the consciousness of His dominion over all things, is about to wash the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:3-5).

Instead of putting his foot on them while they are kneeling before him – as they did with him – the wise Joseph treats them in love. At first his attitude does not look much like love (cf. Mk 7:24-30). Yet he deals in love with them. He has learned to accept everything from the hand of God (cf. Gen 45:7). Then there are no feelings of revenge. He sees them, knows them, and loves them.

He wants to see if they have changed inwardly, whether they are not just kneeling for the sake of the benefit. He is harsh, but not to take revenge. This is not difficult for him in his position, but Joseph is not like that. He is still morally far above them. Nor does he go to the opposite, by very generously forgetting everything that has been done to him. This does not really serve the brothers.

In the future God will also act in this way with Israel. He will not reveal Himself directly to them when they are in trouble. In the book of Psalms, we read that the remnant says that God is hiding Himself or His face (Psa 10:1; Psa 13:1b; Psa 88:14; Psa 89:46). God is looking in everything for a transformation more and more into His own image. He will work that transformation Himself. Then the past must be confessed. This is only possible if they understand what is wrong. Then there will be room for enjoyment of the blessing.

The brothers want to buy grain. They must also learn that there is something that is not for sale: grace. In their defense, they mention their honesty. While saying this, they do not realize that they are facing him who can prove the opposite. All that is needed for this is to name them his name. He doesn’t, because his work with them isn’t finished yet, it’s only just started. They must also learn that they have not shown much of their honesty in their dealings with Joseph and deceiving their father.

Many people boast of their honesty or piety or compassion, but they do not realize that they are guilty of the death of the Son of God. The brothers say of Joseph: “One is no longer alive” (Gen 42:13). As for them, Joseph is gone forever.

The Test

Only by bringing Benjamin to Joseph they can prove that they are honest people. Joseph and Benjamin belong together. Prophetically this points forward to the acceptance by Israel of the Lord Jesus, not only as Benjamin, but as Joseph, the picture of Him as the one they rejected, and Benjamin, a picture of Him in His reign in power.

Joseph decides to put them in the jail. He makes them feel a bit of what he has been through. He was innocent there, they are rightly there. Yet they only experience a fraction of it. There they can also think about their fate for three days (Job 36:8-9). When they get out, they are told how they can prove the accuracy of their statements.

To bring his brothers to a sincere confession of guilt, Joseph deals with them in different ways. Sometimes he uses severity, sometimes goodness; sometimes he threatens them, sometimes he encourages them; sometimes he accuses them, sometimes he makes a feast for them. This is not arbitrariness, but actions of great wisdom. This is how the Lord works with us when He wants to reach our heart and conscience.

The accusation of espionage, which Joseph makes four times (Gen 42:9; 12; 14; 16), is not right. The brothers are no spies. Joseph, however, is concerned with their reaction to this. Their response to this accusation shows that they no longer intend to defend themselves. They notice that God is dealing with them. Instead of getting upset about injustice being done to us, we should ask ourselves more what God has to say to us with this. Do we have an eye for God’s hand in our lives?

Awareness of Guilt

The treatment they undergo brings the event with Joseph back to their remembrance. There may be events in our lives that forcefully remind us of things we have done that have not yet been cleared up, or which we remember with shame and are humiliated by (cf. 1Kgs 17:18). The awareness of guilt begins to awaken. The jail has done its work. They say: “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother” (Gen 42:21).

When Joseph hears how they speak about it, he must weep (Gen 42:24). He will do this several times in the following chapters (Gen 43:30; Gen 45:2; 14; Gen 46:29; Gen 50:1; 17). It shows how much the Lord Jesus is moved by the development someone experiences to come to terms with Him. As said, the work in their hearts has only just begun; more needs to be done about it. Simeon is bound. Will they come back because of him?

The Money in the Bag

Joseph has not yet made himself known. Yet the money in the bag is proof of his grace. This proof of grace is not experienced by them as such. It places them in the presence of God. However, it does not give a feeling of gratitude, but of fear and doubt. They discover that God is acting with them.

Joseph’s goodness is meant to make them happy, but a guilty conscience has no joy. Grace scares them. It proves that they do not yet know God well. But God is with them on the way, that they may know Him as Giver.

Back to Jacob with Report

Back at Jacob’s they give an honest report. In any case, they no longer try to deceive their father. They realize that they do not control events themselves. That is a lesson the Lord wants to teach us too. There may be certain circumstances in our lives that we do not know how to deal with, that we cannot influence and can only face honestly.

Benjamin Shall Not Go down

Then it turns out that all of them have received the money back in their sacks. The brothers’ fear increases (Gen 42:28). Jacob is also overcome by fear. In the words “you have bereaved me of my children”, it is also heard that Jacob suspects that the brothers had a hand in the disappearance of Joseph. There is no rest with him about what happened to Joseph.

Jacob cannot (yet) speak the language of faith: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom 8:28). He experiences it all as against him. He only sees what he has already lost (Joseph, Simeon) and also what he is about to lose (Benjamin). Reuben is a picture of the people of Israel as they are now, in their present state, a people who sacrifice their own sons and believe they will not lose ‘Benjamin’ (the Messiah) as a result.

Jacob is not willing to give up Benjamin. As long as this is the case, Joseph cannot make himself known. As long as we are not willing to give up everything, God cannot reveal Himself to us.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

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