January 5, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe                          

 

 

Lesson IV.D.2: Simeon Is Retained and the Others Released. (Gen. 42:18-24)                                      

 

 

 

Genesis 42:18-24 (KJV)

18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:

19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:

20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.

23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.

24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.

 


Introduction

 

This passage takes up where the previous one left off; it is a continuation of the meeting between Joseph, the great governor of Egypt, and his brothers upon their arrival in Egypt for the purpose of obtaining food for their families.  This occasion is fulfillment of the early dreams of Joseph (37:7), and it is the first of three journeys to Egypt by Joseph’s brothers, and each is more momentous than the previous

 

Since the ten brothers insisted that they were honest men, Joseph gave them an opportunity to prove it.  He ordered them to send one of their number to Canaan to bringing Benjamin to Egypt.  He would keep the other nine brothers in confinement until Benjamin arrived in Egypt to prove that their story was true.

 

But then Joseph changed the “test.” He would keep only one brother as security while all the others returned home to get Benjamin and bring him to Egypt.  Joseph wisely concluded that the men would eventually have to return to Egypt for more grain and would be forced to bring Benjamin with them or else go hungry.  Furthermore it was much safer for a group of men to travel than for only two men to make the journey and the men did have many sacks of grain to carry.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:

 

“And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live;”Why was Joseph so hard on his brethren? You can bet that it was not from a spirit of revenge or a desire to trample upon them now, since they had formerly trampled upon him; he was not that kind of person. It was to bring them to repentance. It was to get out of them an account of the state of their family, which he longed to know. If Joseph had spoke to them as a friend (or brother), they would have figured out who he was; therefore, He spoke as a judge.

“for I fear God:” It was very encouraging for them to hear Joseph say, “For I fear God”; it was as if he had said, ‘You may assure yourselves I will do you no wrong. I don’t dare because I know that, high as I am, there is one higher than I.’ The brothers would not have expected this from the seemingly harsh Egyptian prime minister.  They are being dealt with by one who fears God, but they are afraid because they don’t know what he is going to do.  But there is enough hope of fair treatment in those words to keep them from despairing. When we deal with those that “fear God,” we have reason to expect fair dealing. The fear of God will be a check upon those in power, to restrain them from abusing their power through oppression and tyranny.

Apparently in that day there were people other than just Jacob and his family who knew God.  They knew that the way to God was by sacrifice.  However, this sort of thing probably would not have excited the interest of these brethren.  Maybe it even made them a little suspicious of this man.  At least he gave a testimony for God.  I want you to know that Joseph never misses an opportunity to give a testimony for God.  Certainly he is giving one here.  He always gives God the Glory as the One who is directing his life.

 

19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:

 

Joseph was genuinely concerned about his family in Canaan and didn’t want them to starve.  At the same time, he wanted to see God’s promises fulfilled so he could be reconciled with his brothers and his father.  He had God’s assurance that all eleven brothers would eventually bow before him, but he wanted to motivate his brothers to act.  That’s why he kept Simeon as hostage.

 

20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.

 

“But bring your youngest brother unto me;”The “test” of bringing Benjamin to Egypt is actually a test of fraternal fidelity.  Joseph may have some lingering suspicion as to whether the brothers have done away with Benjamin, the other son of Rachel, as they imagine they have gotten rid of him.

“so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.”Why was Joseph so hard on his brethren?Over 20 years had passed since Joseph had last seen his brothers.  His harshness was almost certainly intended as a test of their character after so long a time. God in His providence sometimes seems harsh with those He loves, and speaks roughly to those with whom He will show great mercy.“And they did so” does not mean that they chose one of their number, but that they consented to that arrangement.  Joseph still had to make the choice of who it would be.

 

21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

 

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother,” and They begin to accuse themselves and each other for what they had done to Joseph, and then, out it came—their confession! The psychological success of Joseph’s strategy is confirmed by the fact that the accusation and the hostage-taking immediately trigger feelings of guilt over their behavior toward Joseph [conscience at work].  Conscience arouses in the brethren the fear that the day of reckoning, so long delayed, has come at last. The conscience brings to mind things done long ago.  This recollection came more than 20 years after the sin was committed.  Time will not wear out the guilt of sin, nor will it blot out the records stored in the conscience.  When the guilt of this sin of Joseph’s brethren was fresh, they made light of it, and sat down to eat bread; but now, 20 years later, their conscience accused them of it.  This shows the benefit of afflictions; they often prove to be the happy and effective means of awakening the conscience, and bringing sin to our remembrance (Job 13:26).  Of all their sins, that was it, the one which conscience now reproached them for.  Whenever we think we have been wronged, we ought to remember the wrong we have done to others (Ecclesiastics 7:21-22).

“in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” The pointing finger was doing its work.  They were still blind as to who Joseph really was, but they were now thoroughly awakened to their appalling guilt concerning him.  They would now mention his name, at least among themselves, and admit what they had done.

The brothers had steeled their hearts when selling Joseph to the Midianites (37:28-29), but they could not forget the fervent pleading and terror filled voice of the teenager dragged away as a slave from home. Without knowing that Joseph could understand them, they discussed his plans and tears and their own hardness of heart. Reuben didn’t help things when he recalled that he said to his brothers, “Do not sin against the child” (42:22); but unwittingly he informed Joseph of his kindness in trying to rescue his helpless brother (37:21-22).  But now Reuben was sure that Joseph was dead and that divine judgment was eminent, for he said, in effect, ‘Now comes the reckoning for his blood’ (42:22)

Notably, it is only now, not in the original report, (37:23-24) that we learn that Joseph pleaded with them when they cast him into the pit, a remarkable instance of withheld narrative exposition.  Reuben, who tried to save him, now becomes the chief spokesman for their collective guilt.

 

22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.

 

“And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear?”They feel that what is happening to them is the vengeance of God upon them for the way they treated Joseph.

Ruben alone remembered that he had been an advocate for his brother, and that thought was comforting, for he had done what he could to prevent the others from doing great harm to Joseph. Sin is always made worse when it is done in spite of warnings against doing it. When we come to share with others their calamities, it will be a comfort, if we have the testimony of our consciences that we did not share in their iniquities, but instead witnessed against them.

“therefore, behold, also his blood is required.”This declaration referred to the death penalty (9:5).

 

23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.

 

And they, not knowing that he understood their Hebrew tongue, spoke freely. They say that this evil thing is coming upon them because of the evil they had done to Joseph.  They are really repentant now.  Joseph hears every bit of it, and he is moved toward them.  He would love to walk up to them, throw his arms around each one of them, and call them “brother.” But he dares not do it because he would never get Benjamin here.

24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.

 

 

“And he turned himself about from them, and but wept;”Joseph held his emotions in check until he could leave their presence, and then his tears flowed uncontrollably. This is the first of three times that Joseph is moved to tears by his brothers, and each time his sadness builds in a clear crescendo pattern.  What makes a person weep is a good test of character.

Though his reason told him to continue being a stranger to them, because, they were not yet humbled enough; his natural affection said just the opposite, for he was a man with a tender spirit. Joseph wanted to let them know who he was then and there, but he was too wise for that. They were not yet ready to see him, in his glory, for who he was. They needed to experience more severe adversity so their sluggish consciences might be further aroused. To accomplish that, we are told in the last part of the verse that Joseph . . .

“. . . returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.”He concluded at last, that one of them should remain with him as a hostage, and the rest should go home and fetch Benjamin.Joseph chose Simeon, the cruelest of them all, and whisked him away.  It could have happened while Joseph was out of the room that his brothers chose Simeon to stay, and Joseph accepted that choice.  They may have chosen Simeon simply because Reuben was the acknowledged leader of the group.

Scripture does not say why Joseph chooses to imprisoned Simeon rather than any of the other brothers.  Perhaps the reason is in the brother’s discussion of their guilt in having sold Joseph into slavery.  In that discussion, Joseph learns for the first time that Reuben, the oldest son of the family, had kept the other brothers from killing Joseph.  If Joseph had intended to imprison the oldest brother, he may have had a change of heart.  Simeon being the second oldest, would have been the one responsible for their collective wickedness.

There is a good chance that Simeon had been the ringleader in throwing Joseph into the pit, where his intention was to kill him.  Simeon had been the leader in the slaughter of the Shechemites. In Jacob’s final words to his sons, he refers only to Simeon’s violence and anger (49:5-7).  By putting Simeon in prison, Joseph may have intended to eliminate Simeon’s influence on the others during the return journey, or perhaps he hoped that the time in prison would break Simeon’s hard heart.  Simeon needed special discipline, and, moreover, his sufferings would speak to his brethren. At the very least, Joseph chooses to keep him as leverage and to see if his brothers are willing to desert Simeon as they had him.

When I think of the way Joseph behaved toward his brothers, the verse that comes to mind is Romans 11:22: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.” Joseph was certainly kind to his brothers in spite of the severity of his speech and some of his actions, and what he did was for their good.  His motivation was love and his purpose was to bring them to repentance and reconciliation.  We need to remember this the next time we think God is treating us unjustly.

 

 

 

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