And he turned away from them and wept. When he turned back and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and had him bound before their eyes.
The famine was part of God's plan to carry out his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13, 14
). But it is not merely a fact in the historical preparation for what he was bringing to pass; a link in the chain of events leading on to Christ. We must look upon it as part of a series of types foreshadowing gospel truths. The famine was a step towards the promised possession, and has its counterpart in the work of the Holy Spirit. It represents the spiritual want of man; conviction of sin (John 16:8
; cf. Romans 7:9
), leading to know the power of Christ's work (Matthew 18:11
I. The first step is CONSCIOUSNESS OF FAMINE; that a man's life is more than meat; more than a supply of bodily wants. It is realizing that he has wants beyond the present life; that in living for time he has been following a shadow. This knowledge is not natural to us. Bodily hunger soon makes itself felt, but the soul's need does not; and until it is known, the man may be "poor and blind and naked," and yet suppose that he is "rich and increased with goods."
II. WE CANNOT OF OURSELVES SUPPLY THAT WANT. Gradually we learn how great it is. We want to still the accusing voice of conscience; to find a plea that shall avail in judgment; to see clearly the way of life that we may not err therein. In vain we look one on another, seeking comfort in the good opinion of men, in their testimony to our upright life. In vain we try to satisfy ourselves, by promises to do better, or by offerings of our substance or of our work. In vain is it to seek rest in unbelief, or in the persuasion that in some way all will be right. The soul cannot thus find peace. There is a voice which at times will make itself heard - "all have sinned" - thou hast sinned.
III. GOD HAS PROVIDED BREAD. "I have heard that there is corn in Egypt" (cf. Romans 10:18), answers to the gospel telling of the bread of life. As to this we mark -
1. It was provided before the want arose (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). The gospel tells us of what has already been done, not of a gift to come into existence on certain conditions. The ransom of our souls has been paid. We have to believe and take (Revelation 22:17).
2. How faith works. They must go for that food which was ready for them. To take the bread of life must be a real earnest act, not a listless assent. The manna which was to be gathered, the brazen serpent to which the sick were to look, the command to the impotent "Rise, take up thy bed and walk," all show that it is not enough merely to wish, there must be the effort of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). This is a law of the spiritual kingdom. As natural laws regulate results within their, domain, so spiritual results must be sought in accordance with spiritual laws.
3. It is our Brother who has made provision for us. This is our confidence. He waits to reveal himself when in humility and emptiness we come to him, and to give us plenty (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). - M.
The circumstances of the case required such a behaviour from Joseph as ought not to be made a precedent, unless similar circumstances, or different circumstances of a very uncommon kind, render it advisable. It was not sufficient to satisfy Joseph that he heard his brethren sorely regret their conduct towards himself. In the judgment of charity, he hoped their repentance was sincere; but farther proofs of their sincerity were requisite, before he could place that confidence which he wished to do, in any professions they might have made. Parents are not to be blamed when they forgive their offending but penitent children, although they watch over them with anxious jealousy, lest they should not "bring forth fruits meet for repentance." The surgeon is not to be blamed although he give great pain to his patient, by incisions deeper than appear to ordinary beholders to be necessary. Joseph had too good reason to know the stubborn spirit of some of his brethren, and in particular of Simeon; and who knows but he had particular directions from God about the proper means for taming it? During the two or three days of his brethren's imprisonment, he had time to acknowledge the Lord in this important affair, and the Lord directed his steps. You must not be rash in passing judgment on men's conduct. "A tree," says our Lord, "is known by its fruit." And yet there are cases in which the fruit is to be judged of from the tree. If a good man does actions that are certainly bad, that charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, will not hinder you from assigning them that character which they deserve. But if actions are dubious, charity, which believeth all things, hopeth all things, forbids you to pronounce them bad till better evidence appear. "He bound Simeon before their eyes." This circumstance of Simeon's imprisonment puts us in mind of Nebuchadnezzar's cruelty to Zedekiah, king of Judah, whose sons he slew before their father's eyes, and then caused his eyes to be put out, that he might never behold another object. His intention was to double the calamities of the loss of sight, and of the murder of his children. But those actions may be not only different, but opposite in their nature, which present the same appearance when viewed with a careless eye. An enemy wounds that he may destroy, "but faithful are the wounds of a friend." All Joseph's brethren now with him, except Reuben, needed severe rebukes; and no reproofs of the tongue were so likely to subdue their haughty spirit, as the sight of the distress of their brother and companion in iniquity. But it is probable that Joseph's chief design in presenting this melancholy spectacle to their eyes was, that they might be excited to return more speedily with their younger brother, whom Joseph was impatient to see. The eye affects the heart. Envy hindered them from regarding the distress of Joseph in the pit; but it was to be hoped that they would compassionate the sufferings of that brother who had never offended them by his dreams, nor received from his father a coat of divers colours. We cannot pretend either to the power or to the wisdom of Joseph. We do not enjoy such intercourse with Heaven by immediate revelation as he frequently enjoyed; and therefore, it would be presumptuous in us to pretend to take such methods as he employed, to humble the spirits of those who have offended us. We have never met with usage that can be compared to the treatment which he had received from his brethren. We must not, however, hope to pass through life without trials to our patience and meekness. "Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among us? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom."
He turned himself about from them and wept.
After the lapse of twenty years, Joseph on seeing his brethren wept. Why, he might have been vengeful! It is easy for us glibly to read the words, "Joseph turned himself about and wept." But consider what the words might have been! We oftentimes see results, not processes. We do not see how men have had to bind themselves down, crucify themselves — hands, feet, head, and side — and undergo death in the presence of God, before they could look society in the face with anything like benignity and gentleness and forgiveness. What the words might have been! Joseph, when he saw his brethren, might have said, "Now I have you! Once you put me in a pit — I shall shake you over hell; once you sold me — I will imprison you and torture you day and night; you smote me with whips — I shall scourge you with scorpions! It shall be easier to go through a circle of fire than to escape my just and indignant
vengeance to-day!" He might have said, "I shall operate upon the law, 'A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye.'" That is the law of nature; that is elementary morality. It is not vengeance, it is not resentment; it is alphabetic justice — justice at its lowest point — incipient righteousness. It is not two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth; but an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a blow for a blow, a pit for a pit, selling for selling, and so on. A great many men are perfectly content with elementary morality and alphabetic justice. People don't educate themselves from this kind of righteousness into Christian nobility of disposition. It is not a question of education; it is a question of sanctification. Few men can rise beyond mere justice. Many men find in mere justice all the moral satisfaction which their shallow natures require; they cannot see that mercy is the very highest point in justice, and that when a man stoops to forgive be becomes a prince and a king and a crowned ruler in the house and kingdom of God. It requires all that God can do to teach men this: That there is something higher than the law of retaliation, that forgiveness is better than resentment, and that to release men is oftentimes-if done from moral consideration and not from moral neglect — the highest form of Christian justice. But revenge is sweet! I am afraid that some of us like just a little revenge; not that we would ourselves personally and directly inflict it, but if our enemies could, somehow or another, be tripped up, and tumble half way at least into a pit, we should not feel that compunction and sorrow and distress of soul which, sentimentally, appears to be so very fine and beautiful. Nothing but God the Holy Ghost can train a man to this greatness of answering the memory of injury with tears, and accepting processes in which men only appear to have a part, as if God, after all, had been over-ruling and directing the whole scheme..
"And Joseph turned himself about from them and wept." Afterwards he left their presence and went into his chamber and wept. Think of the secret sorrows of men! The tears did not flow in the presence of the ten men. The tears were shed in secret. We do not know one another altogether, because there is a private life. There are secret experiences. Some of us are two men. Joseph was two men. He spake roughly unto his brethren. He put it on, he assumed roughness for the occasion. But if you had seen him when he had got away into his secret chamber, no woman ever shed hotter, bitterer tears than streamed from that man's eyes. We do not know one another altogether. We come to false conclusions about each other's character and disposition. Many a time we say about men, "They are very harsh, rough, abrupt"; not knowing that they have other days when their very souls are dissolved within them; that they can suffer more in one hour than shallower natures could endure in an eternity. Let us be hopeful about the very worst of men. Some men cannot cry in public. Some men are unfortunately afflicted with coarse, harsh voices, which get for them a reputation for austerity, unkindliness, ungeniality. Other men are gifted with fairness and openness of countenance, gentleness and tunefulness of voice. When they curse and swear it seems as though they were half praying, or just about to enter into some religious exercise. When they speak, when they smile, they get a reputation for being very amiable men, yet they do not know what amiability is. They have no secret life. They weep for reputation; they make their tears an investment for a paltry renown. We do not want all our history to be known. We are content for men to read a little of what they see on the outside, and they profoundly mistake that oftentimes. But the secret history, the inner room of life, what we are and what we do when we are alone, no man can ever tell — the dearest, truest, tenderest friend can never understand. Do not let us treat Joseph's tears lightly. Under this feeling there are great moral principles and moral impulses. The man might have been stern, vengeful, resentful. Instead of that he is tender as a forgiving sister. When he looks he yearns, when he listens to their voices all the gladness and none of the bitterness of his old home comes back again on his soul.
The hearing of the bitter reflections made by his brethren, upon their barbarous treatment of himself, brought rivers of waters from Joseph's eyes. Many passions, many unpleasant and many pleasant remembrances, struggled together in his mind. He tenderly sympathized with the distress of his brethren. He was grieved when he found it necessary to inflict such grief upon men so dear to him, after all they had done to ruin his comfort. He wept at the remembrance of that anguish which he had felt in the day of his calamity, and of the unavailing applications to his hard-hearted brethren, extorted by strong necessity and bitter anguish. He called to mind his afflictions and his misery, the wormwood and the gall; but he remembered also how the Lord had sent from above, and taken and drawn him out of many waters, and set him in a large place, and established his goings. Although Joseph was now exalted to glory and power, he was not in the place where all tears are wiped from every eye. We must in this world weep often, even for ourselves; we must often weep for our friends; but "they that sow in tears shall reap in joy." He that "goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Joseph wished not that his brethren should see his tears. When he found he could not refrain, he turned himself from them and wept. Tears shed in secret are the truest indication of the heart. Jeremiah wept in secret places for the calamities coming upon his people, when the Lord's flock was to be carried away captive.
Took from them Simeon, and bound him: —
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