February 2, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

 

Topic # D: VISITS OF JOSEPH'S BROTHERS. Gen. 42:1-45:28                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

Lesson IV.D.4: The Brothers Are Sent Again. (Genesis 43:1-14)                                     

 

 

Genesis 43:1-14 (KJV)

 

1 And the famine was sore in the land.

2 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.

3 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.

4 If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food:

5 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.

6 And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?

7 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?

8 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.

9 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:

10 For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.

11 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:

12 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:

13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:

14 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.

 


Introduction

 

This chapter informs us how that the famine continued in the land of Canaan, and the corn that Jacob's family had from Egypt being consumed, Jacob pressed his sons to go down for more, which they refused to do, unless Benjamin was sent with them, for whose safety Judah offered to become a surety, Genesis 43:1; Jacob with reluctance was prevailed upon to let him go, and dismissed them with a present to the governor of Egypt, and with double money to buy corn with, and with his blessing upon them, Genesis 43:11; upon which they set out for Egypt;

 

 

Commentary

 

1 And the famine was sore in the land.

In this chapter is recorded the second journey of the sons of Jacob into Egypt, when the earlier supply of provision had been exhausted.

The famine was severe. The pressure began to be felt by Old Jacob to do something to save his family from starvation. The twelve households had, after some time, consumed all the corn they had purchased, and the famine still held the people of Canaan in its grip. Jacob knows what they need to do; he directs them to return to Egypt and purchase more food. This lesson gives us the conversation between Jacob and his son Judah in which Judah is finally able to convince his father to let Benjamin, his youngest son, accompany him and his brothers on the return trip to Egypt.

Very few Americans alive today have ever experienced famine. You would probably have to find someone who lived through the dust bowl and depression era of the 1920’s and 1930’s to find out what it was like.

2 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 it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt.” Jacob had a lot of mouths to feed [about 300 at this time], for there were many children, grandchildren, and servants, and what nine men could bring with them on an unspecified number of asses must have been consumed in short order, but we are not told how long that took. No doubt they lived sparingly on it during this time of scarcity in order to make it last as long as they could. And perhaps only he, his children and grandchildren had the luxury of eating it; the servants might have lived on a meager source of such foods as acorns, herbs, and roots; and we should not think that all this corn was eaten up and that there was none left. There must have been some remaining, or how would Jacob, and his sons' wives and children be supported until the return of his sons from Egypt with a fresh supply of provisions? It is probably safe to say that the land of Canaan produced some corn, but not enough to feed the people; and it is certain there were other fruits which were gathered for food (see verse 11).

“Their father said, go again, buy us a little food,” just enough for him, and them, and theirs. Jacob, no doubt was hoping that the famine would be over quickly, and therefore he orders them to go once more to Egypt, and buy some provisions. They made no proposal for them to go, since it is highly probable that they determined they would not go, since Jacob had resolved that Benjamin should not go, so they waited for their father to permit them to take Benjamin with them, which he did not do until necessity forced him.

This was, indeed, a severe trial for holy Jacob, whom God had undertaken the care of. It is unthinkable that he and his family would almost perish through hunger; for he might seriously doubt that remarkable promise, ‘I am God Almighty, grow and multiply: I will bless thee.’

3 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.

“And Judah spake unto him.” Reuben didn’t speak up because he had offended his father (Genesis 42:36), Simeon the next oldest was now in Egypt (Genesis 42:24). Simon and Levi had also grieved their father by the treacherous slaughter of the Shechemites (Genesis 34:25). Judah being next, and with the consent of his brethren, undertakes the handling of the affair with Jacob; for he had a better relationship with his father, as well as authority among his brethren, and was a practical man, and could speak well.

“Saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face.” He did not know that Joseph said this because he didn’t, as yet, recognize the brother they had sold into slavery. So he calls him “The man,” not to show contempt, or speak spitefully of him, for the reverse was true; he thought of him as the great man, the honorable man, the governor of Egypt.

Judah seems to fabricate something, for the purpose of extorting from his father what he knew he would not freely grant; and it is likely that to this point there had been a lot said on both sides, which Moses, according to his custom, has not shared with us. And since Joseph was so eager to see his brother Benjamin, it is not surprising that he would have tried so hard, and in every possible way, to bring it about. This however deserves to be noted, that Moses relates the long discussion which Jacob had with his sons, in order that we may know how very difficult it was to allow his son Benjamin to be torn away from him.

The turning point in the discussion may have arrived when Judah quoted the governor (Joseph) as “saying, Ye shall not see my face,” meaning that the brothers would not be accepted unless Benjamin was with them, would not be admitted to come near him, or deal with him, and purchase any corn from him.

“Except your brother be with you”; their youngest brother Benjamin.

4 If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food:

Judah now uses all the arguments the case would allow, to persuade his father to allow Benjamin to go with them.

“If thou wilt send our brother with us.” that is, order Benjamin to go with us, and put him under our care.

“We will go down and buy thee food”; signifying, on the above condition, that they were ready and willing to take a journey into Egypt, and buy provisions for him and his family, otherwise not.

5 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.

“But if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down.” It isn’t that they were not doing their duty, and they didn’t say it from a spirit of rebellion and disobedience to their father, or out of stubbornness and obstinacy. They said it because they did not dare go down to Egypt without Benjamin, nor could they go there safety; they might expect to be arrested as spies, and put to death as they were threatened; and besides, it would be in vain, and serve no purpose, since there was no likelihood of succeeding, or of getting any provisions.

“For the man said unto us, ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.” Judah repeated himself both to confirm the truth of it, and to clear them from any charge of unfaithfulness.

6 And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother??

“And Israel said,” in answer to the explanation given by Judah: “Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me”; the meaning being that Judah and his brothers had done that which brought so much evil upon him, gave him so much grief and trouble, and threw him into such perplexity and distress, that he did not know what to do, or what course to take.

“As to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?” Jacob thought he had done this imprudently and unadvisedly—told the governor he had a brother—and that there was no need to say it; for, had it not been done, he would not have this anxiety he was now experiencing, and the trouble he feared would follow.

7 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?

“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?” These questions do not come out in the previous narrative, on account of its brevity. But how incisive they are, and how true to Joseph's longing! They explain how it was that these particulars came out in the replies of the brothers to Joseph. In Genesis 42:13 they appear rather as volunteering a statement of their family relations than as having it wrung out of them by cross-examination. But really this narration must be taken as explaining and supplementing the former—“And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.” Accused of being spies, they would naturally give an account of themselves, and Joseph, anxious to know about his father and brother would certainly put numerous questions to them concerning their home and family. And they would answer them fully and frankly, little suspecting who was the questioner, and what was his real reason for exacting Benjamin’s presence in proof of their trustworthiness.

“And we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?”

8 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.

“And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go.” Judah, on account of his age, good sense, and repentant demeanorfor his youthful indiscretions, was greatly beloved and respected by his father, and, on this occasion, was likely to have the greatest influence in persuading him. Judah probably had a plan at this stage of the discussion; Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go,” directly to Egypt for corn, he said. Benjamin was the youngest brother, though he was now between twenty and thirty-two years of age, and had a family of his own, according to (Genesis 46:21). The word “lad” in Judah’s mouth is a term of affection, and it is well-suited to a youth of this age. [Shechem in Genesis 34:19 is called a lad in the Hebrew.]  The assertion, therefore, that Benjamin is represented here as a mere boy, is refuted by the use of the word in the Hebrew.

“That we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.” He argues, that if Benjamin went with them down to Egypt for corn, there was a possibility, even a probability that they would all live, including Benjamin. But if not, they would all die eventually, and therefore it was most prudent and advisable, for the sake of all their lives—“both we, and thou, and also our little ones” [rendered by some as “our households”]and for the sake of Benjamin, for whom Jacob was so particularly concerned about letting him go with them to Egypt to purchase corn, since he was very likely to die if they did not go, and he could die if he did go; and there was a great likelihood, if not a certainty, he would not; at least Judah was confident he would not, as appears by what follows. It’s an argument drawn from self-preservation, what some have termed the first law of nature. Perhaps he restated his argument for emphasis, ‘By your keeping Benjamin we are prevented from going to Egypt; if we do not go to Egypt we shall get no corn; if we get no corn we shall all perish by famine; even Benjamin himself, who otherwise might live, must perish, along with you and the whole family.

9 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:

Judah spoke to him, saying. “I will be surety (security) for him.” Though hunger was becoming critical, Jacob nevertheless insisted on keeping Benjamin with him, arguing his position just as forcefully as if he were striving for the salvation of his whole family. Once, again, we may speculate that he suspected his sons of a wicked conspiracy; and under this cloud of suspicion Judah offers himself as a “surety,” but he does not promise anything which was not for the sake of clearing himself and his brethren. He insists on placing Benjamin under his care and protection, with this one stipulation, that if any injury should occur to Benjamin, he would bear the punishment and the blame. From the example of Jacob let us learn patient endurance; should the Lord compel us, by pressure of circumstances, to do anything contrary to the inclination of our own minds we must obey the Lord; Jacob sends away his son, as if he were delivering him into the hands of an executioner.

“Of my hand shalt thou require him”;I will be responsible for him.

“If I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever,” that is, blame for persuading his father to let Benjamin go with him. He said all this to show that he would take excellent care of him, and the confidence he had that nothing evil would happen to him, and that he would be safe and sound when they returned was grounded in the assurance that Joseph had given, that they would not die if they brought their brother with them—“But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die” (Genesis 42:20). But perhaps Judah might be under a special impulse of divine Providence, which directed him to say these things: and it may be added, that Jacob also might be under a divine impulse, which influenced him to abide by what Judah said, or otherwise his offer to be a surety would avail very little.

‘If I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me have sinned against thee all my days’; that is, let me bear the blame, and of course the penalty of having sinned against thee in so tender a point. Both Judah and his father knew that this was a matter that touched the interest of the former very deeply. Reuben was bearing the blame of for a grievous sin, and had no hope of the birthright. Simon and Levi were also bearing blame, and, besides, they lacked the natural right, which belonged only to Reuben. Judah came next, and a failure in securing the safe return of Benjamin might set him also aside. He undertakes to run this risk.This is much manlier and therefore more persuasive than Reuben’s talk about pledging the lives of his children. For it was real, nor would it be a slight matter to stand in his father’s presence all the rest of his life as one guilty of a grievous crime.

“Then let me bear the blame for ever”let me bear the guilt, and shame, and punishment due to so great an offender—Judah’s conscience had smitten him lately for what he had done a great while ago against Joseph; and as an evidence of the truth of his repentance, he is ready to provide, as far as a man could do it, for Benjamin’s security. Though he didn’t know how he could recover Joseph, Judah hoped that this restitution of Benjamin would make some amends for the irreparable injury he had done him.

10 For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.

“For except we had lingered,” or rather, delayed going down to Egypt, due to the objections raised by Jacob when the suggestion was made to send Benjamin to Egypt with his brothers.

“Surely now we had returned this second time”; they were wasting a lot of valuable time, because, if they would have made their journey to Egypt, when they should have they would have returned with the corn by now, and their brother Benjamin too; so by these delays they were not only losing time, but were creating distress for themselves and their families due to the lack of corn.

11 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:

“And their father Israel said unto them.” At this point,being in some degree convinced by Judah’s logic, and in part at least resigned to let Benjamin go with them, there being nothing else that could be done, he perceived that unless he consented to it, he, his children, and grandchildren, would likely starve.

“If it must be so now, do this,” take your brother; if nothing else will do, then Benjamin must go; he had been reluctant to send him and expose him to the perils of the journey, but if no corn can be had unless we accept the governor’s terms, he advises them to do as follows: [It is our duty to alter our resolutions when our wisdom says it is best to do so: constancy is a virtue, but obstinacy is not: it is God’s prerogative to make unchangeable resolutions.]

Jacob at length reluctantly sends Benjamin with them. He employs all means, as is usual with him, of securing a favorable result.

“Take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels (“containers,” pots, bowls); the vessels were packed in their sacks which they used to bring back their corn in. Though the fruits which Moses lists were, for the most part, not very precious, because the condition of holy Jacob was not such that he could send any royal present; yet, he would send the best he had, for he wished to appease Joseph.

Two remarks must be made concerning this present; the first is that it proves that though there was not rain enough in Palestine to bring the corn to perfection, yet there was a small supply, which was sufficient to maintain a certain amount of vegetation; had there not been, Jacob could not have kept his cattle alive (Genesis 47:1). And next, the smallness of the present does not mean that Jacob had little respect for the greatness of the king of Egypt, but that there was a scarcity even of these fruits. Probably the trade in them had ceased, and therefore even a moderate quantity would be welcome.

 “And carry down the man a present.” From the very earliest times presents were used as means of introduction to great men. This is particularly mentioned by Solomon: “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men” (Proverbs 18:16). But what was the present brought to Joseph on this occasion? After all the labor of commentators, we are obliged to be contented with probabilities and conjecture. According to our translation (KJV), the gifts were balm, honey, spices, myrrh, nuts, and almonds.

The great man was the governor of Egypt, whose name was not known to Jacob and his children; if only he had known it was his son Joseph. This was an important present, for with it he hoped to procure his friendship, purchase the corn he so desperately needed, release Simeon, and send back Benjamin with them. The present consisted of the following things:

“A little balm,” or rosin, of which there was a great quantity in and about Gilead. Balm is supposed to signify resin in general, or some kind of gum obtained from trees.

“And a little honey.” The land of Canaan in general is called a land flowing with milk and honey; and some parts of it were famous for it, and we know that honey was plentiful in Palestine. Both the honey made by bees and date honey were common in Egypt, many suppose that this was grape-honey, prepared by boiling down the juice of ripe grapes to a third of its original quantity. Hebron is famous for its preparation, and even in modern times three hundred camel loads used to be exported annually into Egypt. Diluted with water it forms a very tasteful drink and it is also largely eaten with bread, as we eat butter.

“Spices.” Spices is supposed to mean gum storax, which might be very valuable on account of its qualities as a perfume.

“And myrrh.” The liquor called “stacte” that drops from the myrrh tree. Also ointment made of myrrh.

“Nuts.” Nuts, and the oil of nuts. These are supposed to be pistachio nuts, from the pistacia vera, a tree resembling the terebinth, a native of Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine.

“And almonds.” Almonds may be the only item in the list of which we know anything about with certainty. It is generally thought that the land of Canaan produces the best almonds in the east; and on this account they might be deemed a very acceptable present for the governor of Egypt.

12 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:

Jacob said to his sons, “And take double money in your hand,” or rather, twice the amount they carried with them before. There are three possible reasons for this: first, to buy more grain than they bought the first trip; second, because the scarcity of corn has continued and had even got worse the priced had gone up; and third, there is a chance they will have to pay a ransom for Simeon, or they may be charged with nonpayment for the corn they purchased before. I think what we have here is a sum of money equal to “twice the amount they took the first time” plus “they are planning to return that which was found in their sacks,” and that equals a sum of money “three times the amount they took the first time.”

 “And the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight.”There is an application here for us!  The Holy Spirit, by the hand of Moses says, We are bound not only to return that which is ours unjustly, but also that which is ours by the oversight or mistake of others.

But there is another way of looking at this instruction of Jacob's. It seems somewhat to have the aroma of his inclination to appease his enemies through presents; as, when he dreaded the hostility of Esau, he sent presents to him, flattering him with the name of god. And if this is true, we find here that which speaks, not of honesty, but of appeasement.

“Peradventure it was an oversight”; a mistake by the governor, or by those under him who participated in the sale of the corn, and receiving money for it, or of Jacob's sons; he could not tell which it was, but some way or other he supposed a mistake was made.

13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:

“Take also your brother,” i.e., their brother Benjamin, thus committing him into their hands and to their care, and declaring his consent and willingness that he should go with them.

“And arise, go again to the man,” i.e., the governor of Egypt, to buy corn of him.

14 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.

“And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin.” “God Almighty,Heb., El Shaddai, is the name by which Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17:1) was renewed to Jacob (Genesis 35:11). He has the hearts of all men in his hands; kings, princes, governors, even those who are the most cruel and hardhearted, rough and severe in their nature and character, and “the man” (“the governor,” Joseph) was represented as such a man by the brothers, since he had spoke roughly to them, and treated them harshly. Jacob had formerly turned an angry brother into a kind one with a present and a prayer, and here he commits himself to the same tried method. Those that would find mercy with men must seek it from God.  Jacob therefore sent him a present (43:11) to lessen his irritation with them, and now he offers up a prayer to God, and dismisses his sons with his good wishes for them: that God would incline the heart of the governor to show kindness to them, and let them have corn, and not do them any harm, that he would send away your other brother and Benjamin; release Simeon, and send him and Benjamin away.

 “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved”—if I must part with them, one after another, I accept it, and say, The will of the Lord be done.’ He said, not as utterly despairing of their return, but as expressive of his patient submission to the divine will, be it as it may be.

Jacob may seem here to be inconsistent; for, if the prayer which Moses has just related, was the effect of faith, he ought to have been calmer; and, at least, to have given an opportunity for the manifestation of the grace of God. But he appears to cut himself off from every source of confidence, when he supposes that nothing is left for him but bereavement. It is like the speech of a man in despair, "I shall remain bereaved." As if he had actually prayed in vain; or had pretended that the remedy was in the hand of God. If, however, we observe to whom his speech was directed, the solution is easy. Undoubtedly, he stood firmly on the promise which had been given to him, and therefore he would hope for some fruit from his prayers; yet he wished deeply that his sons would take better care of their brother. For it was with great difficulty that he entrusted Benjamin to their protection.

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