Genesis 42: Joseph Terrifies His Brothers in Egypt

eavesdropping listening ear spying whispering hard of hearingHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Ten of Jacob’s sons travel to Egypt for grain while Benjamin stays behind. Joseph recognizes his brothers, who do not recognize him, and accuses them of spying. Simeon remains in prison while his brothers return to Canaan to fetch Benjamin, which would prove they are from one family and not spies. The brothers are terrified when they find the money Joseph had taken from them in their sacks. Jacob does not allow Benjamin to travel to Egypt, lest he never return.

II. Photo

Joseph hears his brothers loud and clear: “[The brothers] did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter.” (v. 23)

III. Outline

1-25. Joseph terrifies his brothers

1-2. Jacob tells his sons to get grain in Egypt

3-5. Ten brothers go to Egypt, Benjamin stays behind due to his father’s fears

6-14. Joseph, who recognizes the brothers, accuses them of spying but they, who do not recognize him, deny it and assert they are of one father

15-16. Joseph demands one brother travel home and bring Benjamin as proof that they are not spies

17. Joseph puts the brothers in prison for three days

18-20. Joseph allows all but one to bring grain home on the condition they return with Benjamin

21. The brothers admit their guilt regarding Joseph and see it as a cause for their distress

22. Reuben chastizes the brothers for not listening to him

23-24a. Joseph, who understands Hebrew despite having an interpreter, weeps from what he hears

24b-25. Joseph imprisons Simeon and gives the other brothers grain and puts their money in their sacks

26-38. Nine brothers return to Jacob

26. Nine brothers leave Egypt

27-28. One brother realizes the money has been returned and all the brothers are terrified

29-34. The brothers recount their story to Jacob

35. The other brothers find their money and the entire family is frightened

36. Jacob laments his lot: he has lost Joseph, Simeon, and now they ask for Benjamin

37. Reuben offers to kill his own two sons if Benjamin is not returned

38. Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go

IV. Select Verses

7a: When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them.

8: Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

9a: Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them.

13: They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.”

21-24a: They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. He turned away from them and wept

36: And their father Jacob said to them, “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!”

37: Then Reuben said to his father, “You may 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 alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”

V. Comment

  • Although it is not made clear how fetching Benjamin will prove the brothers’ innocence, it appears that Joseph was making an excuse to see Benjamin. This was perhaps to make sure that Benjamin was not harmed, as Joseph himself was.
  • It is not clear why Joseph chose Simeon to stay behind in prison (v. 24). Similarly, it is not clear why “the one” brother who finds the money in verse 27 is not mentioned by name.
  • There are two difficulties in the narrative of this chapter. First, Joseph tells the brothers in verses 15-16 that only one of them is to fetch Benjamin while the rest sit in prison. He then throws the others in jail three days later in verse 17. Then, in verses 18-19 Joseph tells his brothers that all but one of them will go fetch Benjamin, and this is what happens as the story unfolds. While it is possible that Joseph changed his mind during those three days, perhaps because he wanted his father and brother to receive an abundance of grain as soon as possible, the text does not make this clear. Rather, there is an immediate break, which suggests that there may have been two versions of this story woven into one. The second difficulty stems from verse 25, which says that Joseph gave orders to return the money to each of the brothers. The problem is that we were not told that any money was taken. We are also not told why the brothers are so terrified of seeing their own money in their sacks. Perhaps this passage was another version of Genesis 44:1-13, when the brothers find Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s sack. In that case, there was legitimate reason for fear, for it seemed as if Benjamin stole Joseph’s royal cup.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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