June 20, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe                                      

 

Lesson IV.D.3: Their Return and Their Report to Jacob. (Gen. 42:25-38)


Genesis 42:25-38 (KJV)

 

25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.

28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?

29 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,

30 The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

31 And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:

32 We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.

33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:

34 And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.

35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

36 And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.

37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.

38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

 

 

Commentary

 

25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

 

“Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn,” which shows his personal interest in his family’s welfare. He definitely cared for his father and the relatives he hadn’t seen in over twenty years.

“And to restore every man's money into his sack” was Joseph’s instruction to his steward to put the money that his brothers had paid for corn into their sacks (luggage). The return of the silver is also associated with the brother’s guilt, for it repeats their receiving of silver from the Ishmaelites for the sale of Joseph as a slave. If the story reflects the reality of the Patriarchal period, the silver would be weights of silver, not coins, and the weighing out of silver in Abraham’s purchase of the burial site from the Hittites suggests that is what is to be imagined here. By returning their money, Joseph clearly shows the entire absence of revengeful feelings.

The money Joseph ordered placed in their sacks was also part of his plan to test his brothers and prepare them for their next trip to Egypt.

“And to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.” He just couldn’t take their money. So he not only gave them back their payment for the grain, but he gave them food for the trip home.

26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack's mouth.

 

They feel that this is the judgment of God upon them. Ordinarily it would have been good news and a wonderful thing to have your money returned to you! Let me ask you this: Wouldn’t you like to go down to your favorite supermarket to do your weekend grocery shopping, load up several of those great big carts and buy for your whole family; then wouldn’t you like to open up one of your grocery sacks at home and find that they had given you back all of the money you had paid for the groceries? Do you think that would be bad news to you? Especially, would it worry you if you learned that the grocer was giving this to you as a gift from him? Don’t we all agree that under ordinary circumstances that would be good news? We would actually take it as an encouragement.

Well, these men didn’t look at it that way. They already feel that they are in hot water with this hard-boiled ruler down there in Egypt who has made it so difficult for them. This only adds to their concern.

But there are some problems relating to the discovery of the money, for when one brother found the silver in his sack (42:27-28), all the men must have searched through their sacks and found the rest of the silver.  At least, that’s the story they told Joseph’s steward when they arrived in Egypt on their second visit. [“But as we were returning home, we stopped for the night and opened our sacks. Then we discovered that each man’s money—the exact amount paid—was in the top of his sack! Here it is; we have brought it back with us. (43:21)] But if that’s what happened, why did the brothers act surprised and frightened when they opened their sacks on arriving home?  (42:35)

To say that their explanation to the steward was merely a “condensed report” of what had happened is to accuse them of having very poor memories.  They specifically stated that it was at “the lodging place” (“the inn,” KJV), and not at home, that they discovered the money in the Sacks.  We assume that this statement is correct because they had no reason to lie to Joseph’s steward, the one man whose help they desperately needed.  And why lie when they were returning all the money?

What are the possible solutions?  Perhaps the steward put some of the money in the provision sacks and some in the grain sacks.  The money in the provision sacks was found when they camped for the night, but the rest of the money wasn’t discovered until they emptied the other sacks at home.  But the writer clearly stated that each man found all his money at the first stopping place (43:21; “the exact weight,” NIV), which means that the nine brothers had done a quick search immediately and found all the silver.

If that’s true, then perhaps the brothers replaced the money in the sacks with the intention of deceiving their father by acting surprised when the money was discovered at home.  But 42:35 is written as though their surprise and fear were genuine responses to finding the money.  And why deceive their father about the money?  They hadn’t stolen it, and they could take it back on their next trip.  Anyway, Jacob didn’t seem worried about it; his only comment was “perhaps it was a mistake” (43:12).

Whatever the explanation, the experience put fear and bewilderment into the hearts of the brothers (42:28).  They knew that they were innocent concerning the money, but could they convince the Egyptians?  Their lives could be in danger. [The brothers were terrified when they saw that they were being taken into Joseph’s house. “It’s because of the money someone put in our sacks last time we were here,” they said. “He plans to pretend that we stole it. Then he will seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.” (43:18)]

28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?

 

 “And their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?” The clause, “and their heart failed them”has also been translated “they were dumfounded” and “their heart went out.”

When they say, “What is this that God hath done unto us?” they show for the first time their recognition of God. This is a kind of double dramatic irony. It is of course Joseph who has done this to them, but we are also invited to think of him as God’s instrument—an idea he himself will emphasize after he reveals himself to his brothers. Thus a double system of causation, human and divine, is brought to the fore.

We may wonder why they didn’t go back to Egypt immediately. What would you have done under the circumstances? I think they feared they would really be in hot-water had they gone back. Then this man would accuse them of stealing the money. They are not taking any chances. They are going on home, intending to bring the money back when they return.

29 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,

30 The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

31 And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:

32 We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.

33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:

34 And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.

When they reached home, they did not try to deceive their father, as they had done before. Instead, they accurately reported the great distress they had experienced in Egypt; how they had been treated with suspicion, and threatened, and forced to leave Simeon behind as a prisoner of the Egyptian government, until they returned, bring Benjamin with them. Who would have thought of this when they left home?  

In verses 31-34 there is the near-verbatim repetition of reported speech, as we have seen elsewhere. This is standard biblical practice, though more commonly there are subtly significant variations in the repetition. Here, the one notable change is that in addressing Jacob directly, they substitute “our father” (42:32) for “one man.”

“. . . Leave one of your brethren here with me” (42:33) . . . And bring your youngest brother unto me . . .” (42:34). This is the third test applied by Joseph.

“. . . And ye shall traffick in the land” (42:34). The meaning of the term “traffick” is “to go around,” and in a broader sense, “to engage in commerce.” Given the situation of going back and forth to Egypt to buy grain, the sense of trading seems more likely here.

35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

“. . . behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack . . .” When they arrive home, they tell old Jacob how they discovered that their money had been returned, but they didn’t accurately report the incident at the encampment. The difference was minor and probably reflects the splicing together of two variant recollections—unless one assumes that the brothers deliberately act out the discovery in the presence of their father in order to impress upon him how they are all at the mercy of a superior power.

“. . . and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.” This made a deep impression on their father, but it didn’t cause the reaction they expected—the very bundles of money that Joseph had returned to his father, frightened him. He seems to blame his sons—because he knew their characters, he feared they had provoked the Egyptians, and perhaps, forcibly, or fraudulently, brought home their money.

36 And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.

“And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children . . .”Poor old Jacob. He is not the cocky individual we once knew, nor is he quite the man of faith that we shall see a little later. But he is growing. He is not bragging now but is very pessimistic.He says, “All these things are against me.”

“ . . . Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” Jacob by linking Joseph and Simeon with the words “is not” teeters vaguely between two possibilities: either he gloomily assumes that Simeon is already as good as dead, or, despite the protestations of grief, he clings to the hope that Joseph, like Simeon, is absent, not dead. As for Benjamin, he believes that he would be in danger in Egypt. This brings him to the conclusion, “all these things are against me.” But eventually it proved otherwise, that all these things were really for him and were working together for his good and the good of his family; yet he thinks they are all against him. Through ignorance or mistake, and the weakness of our faith, we often suppose those things to be against us, which are really for us. We are afflicted in body, property, reputation, and relationships; and think all these things are against us, whereas these are really working for us and erecting a wealth of glory. He is at present resolved that Benjamin shall not go down to Egypt.

Their report to their father only succeeded in making the old man feel worse, especially when he heard the news about Simeon’s confinement and the future involvement of Benjamin.  The whole episode should have led Jacob and his sons to some heart-searching and confessing of sin, but apparently it didn’t.  It would have been a good time for them to seek the Lord and pray for His help and direction.  However, in spite of their failures, God was still at work and His purposes would be fulfilled.

It was all too much for Jacob.  “It is always me that you bereave,” he cried, thus hinting that he suspected his sons were behind Joseph’s mysterious disappearance.  “All these things are against me!” was a valid statement from a human point of view, but from God’s perspective, everything that was happening was working for Jacob’s good and not for his harm [“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)]

It’s sad to see Jacob again expressing his special love for Joseph and Benjamin, something that must have hurt the other sons.  Hadn’t the ten boys made the difficult trip to Egypt to help preserve the family?  Was it their fault that the Egyptian officer asked too many personal questions, called them spies, and took Simeon hostage?  Were they responsible for the return of the money?  Jacob could have been more understanding, but he was still grieving the loss of Joseph, [His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep” (Genesis 37:36)] and the loss of Simeon and the possible loss of Benjamin were more than he could bear.

37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.

 

“And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee . . .” Ruben, as usual, means well but stumbles in the execution: to a father obsessed with the loss of sons, he offers the prospect of killing two grandsons. I can imagine that Jacob thought something like this; “Stupid firstborn! Are they your sons and not my sons?” This is not the only time in the story when we sense that Ruben’s claim to preeminence among the brothers as firstborn is dubious, and he will be displaced by Judah, the forth-born.

Considering that Reuben was out of favor with his father [“While he was living there, Reuben had intercourse with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Jacob soon heard about it.” (35:22)], Reuben should have kept quiet, but perhaps he felt obligated to act like a leader since he was Jacob’s firstborn son.  His suggestion was ridiculous.  What right did he have to offer his sons lives as compensation for the loss of Benjamin?  Did he discuss this idea with his wife and sons?  Furthermore, how would the death of two innocent boys offset the loss of one of Jacob’s two favorite sons?  Was Ruben offering to sacrifice one son for Joseph and one for Benjamin?  How would this make matters better in the home? 

“. . . deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.” Ruben gives his word to bring Benjamin back to him “safe and sound;” but he doesn’t add “if it’s the Lord’s will,” or even “baring the common disasters of travelers.”

38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

 

“And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone . . .” The extravagant insensitivity of Jacob’s paternal favoritism continues to be breathtaking. He speaks of Benjamin as “my son” almost as if the ones he is addressing were not his sons. This unconscious disavowal of the ten sons is sharpened when Jacob says, “he alone remains,” failing to add “from his mother.”

Jacob’s life was wrapped up in this boy Benjamin. You see, Joseph was his favorite, because he was the firstborn of his lovely Rachael. Now Joseph is gone which is heartbreak to him. Now he faces the chance that he may lose this other son of Rachael, and he says if this takes place he will die. Very candidly, he would have. His life was absolutely tied up in the life of Benjamin. He is the son of his right hand. He is the walking stick for Jacob. Jacob leans on him. That is what he has been doing these past years; so Jacob says he will not let him go down to Egypt. In the mean time, poor Simeon is down there cooling his heels in jail!

Jacob would have nothing to do with Ruben’s suggestion or with any suggestion that threatened Benjamin’s safety.  The statement “he is left alone” means “Benjamin alone is left of Rachel’s two sons.” It was another selfish statement from Jacob that made the other sons feel they were second class members of the family.  Benjamin must be protected even if the whole family starves!  A crisis doesn’t make a man; it shows what a man is made of.  Jacob was revealing his true affections, just as he had done when he had met Esau [“He put the servant wives and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last.” (33:2)] 

“. . . if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” The historic refrain of descending in sorrow to Sheol, the underworld, is one Jacob first recited when he was handed Jacob’s blood-soaked tunic. “If mischief (harm) befall him”is an expression first expressed by Jacob in a monologue (42:4) that took place within his mind and now it is repeated in actual speech to his sons. Jacob is of course fearful of another dreadful accident like the one in which he believes Joseph was torn to pieces by a wild beast. There is, then, an ironic disparity between Jacob’s sense of a world of unpredictable dangers threatening his beloved son and Joseph’s providential manipulation of events, of which his father and his brothers were unaware.

Jacob plainly intimates distrust of his sons after remembering that he never saw Joseph again since he had been with them; therefore, he said, “My son shall not go down with you . . .,” for should I lose him too, it would “. . . bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”

 

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