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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 43



Verses 1-14

Genesis 43:1-14

Go again, buy us a little food

Jacob under the pressure of want

His CHANGE OF RESOLUTION (Genesis 43:11-14).


1. His faith in God.

2. His honest principle.

3. It is no reflection on his piety that he changed his purpose.

Consistent with the unchanging truth of God, with the eternal law of righteousness, we must and ought to be; but not invariably consistent with ourselves; for our goodness is imperfect, and we are liable to mistake and error. Instead of adjusting our present conduct to our former habits and thoughts, we should act upon our present convictions, leaving the present and the past to reconcile themselves as they may. It is only by looking continually to God, and not to ourselves, that we can walk sure-footedly in the present life. (T. H. Leale.)

The second journey of Joseph’s brethren into Egypt


1. The resolve of Jacob to send at last his son Benjamin to Egypt. In this consent of Jacob we read a double instance of faith, faith in God and in man.

2. Jacob’s honesty (Genesis 43:12). 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 act of Jacob’s. It seems somewhat to savour of his disposition to mollify and appease his enemies by presents; as, when he dreaded the enmity of Esau, he sent presents to him, flattering him with the name of god. And if it be so, we find here that which tells, not of honesty, but of pliancy.

3. The change of Jacob’s resolution in permitting Benjamin to go. At first we might be inclined to charge him with inconsistency, but the circumstances were changed, and the only choice now left him was between famine for them all and the loss of one son.


1. The fear of Joseph’s brethren when invited to Joseph’s house. They came dreading some misfortune. They were suspicious of Joseph’s intentions. They could not but think that he wished to entrap them and make bondsmen of them. And this fear of theirs arose partly out of their own capability for a similar act of treachery. “Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.” It is the worst penalty of a deceitful and crooked disposition that it always dreads being overreached.

2. In the next place we observe the bowing down of the brethren before Joseph (Genesis 43:26). This was an exact fulfilment of one of his early dreams, when the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down before him. But Joseph was now changed; he had been too much saddened by misfortune, and was far too much accustomed to Egyptian homage, to find any real pleasure in this, from which he had formerly expected so much. For us this is a pregnant example of the illusiveness of human life. Now that his dream was fulfilled to the very letter, he could not enjoy it.

3. We next observe Joseph’s relief in the indirect utterance of his feelings. He asked, “Is your father yet alive, and your youngest brother?” &c. (Genesis 43:27).

4. The feast of brotherhood. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Lessons from Jacob’s behaviour at this crisis

1. Did he at length admit the necessity of making the sacrifice which he declared he would never make? Let us never be ashamed to retract any hasty and improper resolution which we have ever formed. And when we perceive how necessary it is to give up any idol, or any forbidden indulgence, let us not hesitate a moment to act upon our convictions. No delays are so dangerous as those which take place between the formation and the performance of a good resolution.

2. Again, we must not attempt to procure the favour of Him who sits upon the throne of grace by any present that we have to bring, or any payment that we have to make. While we are willing to part with everything for the sake of Christ, we are not to bring anything as the price of our salvation, or to offer anything that we have, or anything that we can do, to recommend us to His favour.

3. Again, let us never forget that the desire for His salvation, and the broken and contrite heart which He has promised to accept, must come from God. The preparation of the heart of man is from the Lord. We must bring our heart when we come into His presence, and it must be upright and contrite if we would see His face in peace. But He only, who requires such a heart as this, can produce it for us.

4. For here, observe, the importance of a praying spirit is especially to be seen in Jacob’s behaviour at this time. When he sent his sons away, it was with the humble and earnest petition--God Almighty give you favour before the man. Prayer ever was, and ever must be, the distinguishing mark of all the true sons of Jacob.

5. Lastly, Jacob at length determined to acquiesce in the appointments of Divine Providence, whatever they might be. So let every true penitent resolve to do, and he is certain eventually to be delivered out of all his fears. (C. Overton.)

Jacob’s prayer

1. The character under which the Lord is addressed--“God Almighty,” or God all-sufficient. This was the name under which Abraham was blessed, and which was used by Isaac in blessing Jacob. Doubtless Jacob, in putting up this prayer, thought of these covenant promises and blessings, and that it was the prayer of faith.

2. The mistake on which the prayer is founded, which yet was acceptable to God. He prayed for the turning of the man’s heart in a way of mercy; but the man’s heart did not need turning. Yet Jacob thought it did, and had no means of knowing otherwise. The truth of things may in some cases be o concealed from us, to render us more importunate; and this importunity, though it may appear at last to have been unnecessary, yet being right according as circumstances appeared at the time, God will approve of it, and we shall find our account in it.

3. The resignation with which he concludes: “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!” It is God’s usual way, in trying those whom He loves, to touch them in the tenderest part. Herein the trial consists. If there be one object round which the heart has entwined more than all others, that is it which is likely to be God’s rival, and of that we must be deprived. Yet if when it goes, we humbly resign it up into God’s hands, it is not unusual for Him to restore it to US, and that with more than double interest. (A. Fuller.)

The second visit to Egypt


1. The occasion of it. Continuance of the famine. How dreary the prospect. Barren earth. Languishing cattle. Dry river-beds. The heavens as brass.

2. The character of it. “Buy us a little food.”

II. JUDAH’S EXPOSTULATION. He at once assures his father that it is of no use except Benjamin goes too; and refuses to go without him, as a useless and perilous experiment.

III. THE BROTHERS’ MEETING. They once more set out for Egypt. In due time they stand in the presence of the great lord. Joseph sees and recognizes Benjamin. Commands that a banquet shall be prepared in his own house. This new kindness filled them with new fear. They thought they were being ensnared, and would be sold as bondmen. Yet they had done to Joseph the very thing they feared to receive at his hands. Having had no opportunity of speaking to Joseph, they explain to the steward. He encourages them. Tells them not to fear. Reminds them of God’s mercy. Joseph’s present is therefore prepared, and they await the issue. In all this see how a guilty conscience destroys enjoyment of happy circumstances. If a man is right within, all will be right without; if he be wrong, all will be wrong. Learn:

I. To be thankful for plenty.

II. To pity the distressed.

III. Sin brings its own punishment.

IV. The brothers’ meeting may remind us of our future meeting with our Elder Brother. (J. G. Gray.)

If thou wilt send our brother

A reasonable condition

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But let parents take heed that they provoke not their children to resist their commands, by enjoining that which is unjust, unreasonable, or impracticable. Judah was justifiable in making conditions with his own venerable father. But to object to the commands of a parent, without an urgent reason, is consistent neither with the law of Christ, nor with the law of nature. The command of Jacob was not simply to go to Egypt, but to go and fetch corn from Egypt. This was impracticable, unless Benjamin went along with his brethren. Every wise man will consider, when he undertakes a journey, or any great work, for what purpose it is designed, and how it may be executed, so as to answer the end. What man would have travelled all the way from the place where Jacob sojourned in Canaan to Egypt, to buy corn in the time of famine, without the prospect of being able to obtain it? What man will plough or sow his land, without the prospect of a crop? What wise man will undertake any religious employment, without the prospect of obtaining the wished advantage to be found in the service of God? If those who call themselves the children of light, were half as wise in their generation as the children of this world, when they wish to have the oil of grace, they would go to those who sell before the door is shut, and would not go without their Elder Brother, without whom no man can come to the Father with acceptance. It is said of the famous Themistocles, that when he fled for refuge to Admetus, king of Thessaly, he took the king’s infant son in his arms, and obtained what he requested. He had been told that this was the law of the court of Admetus. And this is the law of God’s house, that we cannot come with success to the throne of God’s grace, but in the name of Christ, the only mediator between God and sinful men. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

If it must be so now, do this

Jacob yields to persuasion

“A fool rageth, and is confident”; but a wise man will yield to reason, be it from a servant, from a son, from a wife, or from any other person, though inferior to himself, in station, in good sense, or in holiness. “Ye younger, be subject to the elder, yea, all of you be subject one to another; and be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:3). Here you have an illustration of the apostle’s precept, and the reason by which it is enforced. Jacob’s sons submitted to their father in going down to Egypt, and their father complied with them in sending Benjamin along with them; and God crowned their designs with success, and gave them wonderful displays of His favour in the event of their journey. How was Jacob persuaded to comply with a motion so adverse to his feelings? Not by Reuben’s, but by Judah’s solicitations. Judah addressed his father in words of wisdom and meekness, He set before him the absolute necessity of parting with Benjamin for a time, and the great comfort to be expected in the issue. Far was he from reproaching his father for his manifest partiality to this favourite son, but he gave him full assurance that his partiality should be gratified, if possible and necessary; for when Judah became surety for him, he, in effect, engaged to stand between him and every danger; and this promise he did not fail to perform. Complain not, young persons, of tyranny in your parents, when the truth probably is, that you have not learned to treat with due reverence the fathers of your flesh. Do they refuse to comply with your wishes? Can you say with uprightness, that your desires were such as ought to have been granted? And if this has been the case, have you showed due respect to them in expressing your desires? and have you borne, with a meek temper, those eruptions of passion which disagreeable circumstances may sometimes produce, even in the best men? You see in the instances before us, “that by much forbearing, a prince” and a father “may be persuaded, and that a soft answer breaketh the bone.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Conduct in emergency

1. He acts prudently. He uses means of conciliation, and of bespeaking the good graces of the unknown ruler of Egypt.

2. He acts honestly. “The money that was brought again in your sacks, carry it again in your hands: peradventure it was an oversight.” There are not a few who, in similar circumstances, would have been disposed to regard such money as, according to their cant phraseology, a God-send; and who would have thought no more about the matter. Not so Jacob. Before he would regard the money as his, or have his sons regard it as theirs, he must be at the bottom of the matter--he must have it accounted for, how came it there--he must know whether they can keep it honestly. Thus let all Christian transactions be regulated by the principles of high honour and sterling unbending integrity.

3. He acts piously. “And God Almighty give you mercy before the man!” When a human heart requires to be softened, and inclined to favour where there is seeming hostility, it is ours to do what we can, and to leave the result, by prayer and supplication, in the hands of God--of “God Almighty.” How much more like himself does Jacob now appear; and how much more becoming an example does he set before his family!

4. He acts submissively. “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved!”

5. He acts affectionately. It may be truly said of Jacob, as a father, that “even his failings leaned to virtue’s side.” We can account for them from causes that are in themselves good. But the point to which my observation tends, as many of you may anticipate, is this. How come we to be so much in earnest in seeking to propitiate a fellow-creature to turn away his displeasure, and to conciliate his favour, in order to avoid what harm, and to ensure what good, he may have it in his power to do us; while we are so careless about averting the wrath and obtaining the grace of a higher than the highest of created powers?--of Him, whose wrath is so infinitely more to be deprecated, and whose grace is so infinitely more to be desired and sought, than those of all the agents of evil or of good combined, in the world or in the universe. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Carry down the man a present

Offerings by the little to the great (a harvest sermon for children)

An old man is sending off a company of his sons; they are going to visit a very great man, who is the governor of a great country. They have a proper awe of this man, because he is so great, but he has been very good to them, and their need compels them to go. So their father sends them off, and bids them by no means go empty-handed, but take with them a present for the man. Now your parents have sent you or brought you to church to-day to our Harvest Festival, not to visit some great earthly governor, but to God’s House, to meet God, and to Present your prayers through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of whom in His human life Joseph was in many ways a type; and I feel sure that your parents will have said to you, as Jacob said to his sons, “Take a present,” “a little of the best fruits of the land,” or their value in money. For even if it should be very little indeed that you can bring, I am sure they will have told you that that certainly should not be forgotten. Joseph in Egypt was a picture in some small degree of our Lord, who is Governor of all the earth, who says by the mouth of David, “the whole world is Mine, and all that is therein” (Psalms 50:12). He has no need of our corn, or of our fruits, or of our money: and yet He has commanded us to offer to Him. There follow close after, in this same Psalm, the words, “Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most Highest.” God ordered His people (Deuteronomy 26:1-19.) when they came into the land of Canaan to take at harvest-time a basket of the first-fruits, and give it into the hands of the priest before God’s altar, and say, “A Syrian ready to perish, was my father, and he went down into Egypt with a few--and became great and mighty.” So the people of Israel were to be reminded of this visit to Egypt and its consequences, for by “the Syrian, my father,” is meant Jacob. Let us look again at our picture, and see what it will teach us. Joseph, we may be quite sure, was pleased with the present, not for its value in itself, but because it showed that those who brought it wished well. But what pleased him most was the coming of his brethren themselves. He wanted them very much, especially the little one. And there was great joy when he had them all together, and made himself known and embraced them. Joseph is here again a type of our Blessed Lord. That which, above all, He desires, over and above the gifts which He welcomes, is the heart of the giver. St. Paul tells us exactly what it is He seeks--“not yours, but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14). “He is not ashamed to call us brethren” (Hebrews 2:11), though we have treated Him worse than Joseph’s brethren treated him; and though we may be us shabby and poor as probably Joseph’s brethren looked in his royal palace in Egypt, our Lord Jesus Christ will be ready with His kiss and embrace for us. And when I tell you that He seeks “not yours, but you,” I do not mean that He does not want your little offerings; He does for your sakes. What you can give, of course, is nothing to Him: but do not allow yourself to be tempted into saying, as grown-up people sometimes say when the harvest is not so plentiful, and they are poor, and “the times are hard,” that we must leave giving to those who are well off. Jacob and his sons were poor enough--there was a famine in the land--and yet they sent the rich governor of Egypt a present, and see what a blessing came out of it. I find, as I read my Bible, that it is “the poor of this world, rich in faith,” who become “heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5), through their faith and liberality. And our Lord has told us why it is He likes us to offer to Him of our little: He says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). He wants our hearts, and therefore He asks for our treasures. Let me give you an example. Only a few weeks ago I read a sad story in a newspaper. There were several young men, brothers, who went, I think, to Canada, and there worked very hard upon a farm out in the wilds, and earned a good deal of money. A man came to visit them, and persuaded them to trust him with their savings, saying that he would use it in the working of a mine which would yield them double their money in a short time. But one day they found out that this man was a rogue, and that he had spent all their money for nothing, and the news was so terrible a shock to them that they all went out of their minds. Their minds were all upon their money, and when that was lost they were lost. Learn, thin, as soon as you may, to lay up your treasure in heaven. Bring your little offerings to Jesus Christ,

“And what He most desireth, Your humble, thankful hearts.”

(Archibald Day, M. A.)

Verses 1-34


Genesis 42:1-38; Genesis 43:1-34; Genesis 44:1-34

"Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good."- Genesis 50:19-20.

THE purpose of God to bring Israel into Egypt was accomplished by the unconscious agency of Joseph’s natural affection for his kindred. Tenderness towards home is usually increased by residence in a foreign land; for absence, like a little death, sheds a halo round those separated from us. But Joseph could not as yet either revisit his old home or invite his father’s family into Egypt. Even, indeed, when his brothers first appeared before him, he seems to have had no immediate intention of inviting them as a family to settle in the country of his adoption, or even to visit it. If he had cherished any such purpose or desire he might have sent down wagons at once, as he at last did, to bring his father’s household out of Canaan. Why, then, did he proceed so cautiously? Whence this mystery, and disguise, and circuitous compassing of his end? What intervened between the first and last visit of his brethren to make it seem advisable to disclose himself and invite them? Manifestly there had intervened enough to give Joseph insight into the state of mind his brethren were in, enough to satisfy him they were not the men they had been, and that it was safe to ask them and would be pleasant to have them with him in Egypt. Fully alive to the elements of disorder and violence that once existed among them, and having had no opportunity of ascertaining whether they were now altered, there was no course open but that which he adopted of endeavouring in some unobserved way to discover whether twenty years had wrought any change in them.

For effecting this object he fell on the expedient of imprisoning them, on pretence of their being spies. This served the double purpose of detaining them until he should have made up his mind as to the best means of dealing with them, and of securing their retention under his eye until some display of character might sufficiently certify him of their state of mind. Possibly he adopted this expedient also because it was likely deeply to move them, so that they might be expected to exhibit not such superficial feelings as might have been elicited had he set them down to a banquet and entered into conversation with them over their wine, but such as men are surprised to find in themselves, and know nothing of in their lighter hours. Joseph was, of course, well aware that in the analysis of character the most potent elements are only brought into clear view when the test of severe trouble is applied, and when men are thrown out of all conventional modes of thinking and speaking.

The display of character which Joseph awaited he speedily obtained. For so new an experience to these free dwellers in tents as imprisonment under grim Egyptian guards worked wonders in them. Men who have experienced such treatment aver that nothing more effectually tames and breaks the spirit: it is not the being confined for a definite time with the certainty of release in the end, but the being shut up at the caprice of another on a false and absurd accusation; the being cooped up at the will of a stranger in a foreign country, uncertain and hopeless of release. To Joseph’s brethren so sudden and great a calamity seemed explicable only on the theory that it was retribution for the great crime of their life. The uneasy feeling which each of them had hidden in his own conscience, and which the lapse of twenty years had not materially alleviated, finds expression: "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." The similarity of their position to that in which they had placed their brother stimulates and assists their conscience. Joseph, in the anguish of his soul, had protested his innocence, but they had not listened; and now their own protestations are treated as idle wind by this Egyptian. Their own feelings, representing to them what they had caused Joseph to suffer, stir a keener sense of their guilt than they seem ever before to have reached. Under this new light they see their sin more clearly, and are humbled by the distress into which it has brought them.

When Joseph sees this, his heart warms to them. He may not yet be quite sure of them. A prison-repentance is perhaps scarcely to be trusted. He sees they would for the moment deal differently with him had they the opportunity, and would welcome no one more heartily than himself, whose coming among them had once so exasperated them. Himself keen in his affections, he is deeply moved, and his eyes fill with tears as he witnesses their emotion and grief on his account. Fain would he relieve them from their remorse and apprehension-why, then, does he forbear? Why does he not at this juncture disclose himself? It has been satisfactorily proved that his brethren counted their sale of him the great crime of their life. Their imprisonment has elicited evidence that that crime had taken in their conscience the capital place, the place which a man finds some one sin or series of sins will take, to follow him with its appropriate curse, and hang over his future like a cloud-a sin of which he thinks when any strange thing happens to him, and to which he traces all disaster-a sin so iniquitous that it seems capable of producing any results however grievous, and to which he has so given himself that his life seems to be concentrated there, and he cannot but connect with it all the greater ills that happen to him. Was not this, then, security enough that they would never again perpetrate a crime of like atrocity? Every man who has almost at all observed the history of sin in himself, will say that most certainly it was quite insufficient security against their ever again doing the like. Evidence that a man is conscious of his sin, and, while suffering from its consequences, feels deeply its guilt, is not evidence that his character is altered.

And because we believe men so much more readily than God, and think that they do not require, for form’s sake, such needless pledges of a changed character as God seems to demand, it is worth observing that Joseph, moved as he was even to tears, felt that common prudence. forbade him to commit himself to his brethren without further evidence of their disposition. They had distinctly acknowledged their guilt, and in his hearing had admitted that the great calamity that had befallen them was no more than they deserved; yet Joseph, judging merely as an intelligent man who had worldly interests depending on his judgment, could not discern enough here to justify him in supposing that his brethren were changed men. And it might sometimes serve to expose the insufficiency of our repentance were clear-seeing men the judges of it, and did they express their opinion of its trustworthiness. We may think that God is needlessly exacting when He requires evidence not only of a changed mind about past sin, but also of such a mind being now in us as will preserve us from future sin; but the truth is, that no man whose common worldly interests were at stake would commit himself to us on any less evidence. God, then, meaning to bring the house of Israel into Egypt in order to make progress in the Divine education He was giving to them, could not introduce them into that land in a state of mind which would negative all the discipline they were there to receive.

These men then had to give evidence that they not only saw, and in some sense repented of, their sin, but also that they had got rid of the evil passion which had led to it. This is what God means by repentance. Our sins are in general not so microscopic that it requires very keen spiritual discernment to perceive them. But to be quite aware of our sin, and to acknowledge it, is not to repent of it. Everything falls short of thorough repentance which does not prevent us from committing the sin anew. We do not so much desire to be accurately informed about our past sins, and to get right views of our past selves; we wish to be no longer sinners, we wish to pass through some process by which we may be separated from that in us which has led us into sin. Such a process there is, for these men passed through it.

The test which revealed the thoroughness of his brothers’ repentance was unintentionally applied by Joseph. When he hid his cup in Benjamin’s sack, all that he intended was to furnish a pretext for detaining Benjamin, and so gratifying his own affection. But, to his astonishment, his trick effected far more than he intended; for the brothers, recognising now their brotherhood, circled round Benjamin, and, to a man, resolved to go back with him to Egypt. We cannot argue from this that Joseph had misapprehended the state of mind in which his brothers were, and in his judgment of them had been either too timorous or too severe; nor need we suppose that he was hampered by his relations to Pharaoh, and therefore unwilling to connect himself too closely with men of whom he might be safer to be rid; because it was this very peril of Benjamin’s that matured their brotherly affection. They themselves could not have anticipated that they would make such a sacrifice for Benjamin. But throughout their dealings with this mysterious Egyptian, they felt themselves under a spell, and were being gradually, though perhaps unconsciously, softened, and in order to complete the change passing upon them, they but required some such incident as this of Benjamin’s arrest. This incident seemed by some strange fatality to threaten them with a renewed perpetration of the very crime they had committed against Rachel’s other son. It threatened to force them to become again the instrument of bereaving their father of his darling child, and bring about that very calamity which they had pledged themselves should never happen. It was an incident, therefore, which, more than any other, was likely to call out their family love.

The scene lives in every one’s memory. They were going gladly back to their own country with corn enough for their children, proud of their entertainment by the lord of Egypt; anticipating their father’s exultation when he heard how generously they had been treated and when he saw Benjamin safely restored, feeling that in bringing him back they almost compensated for having bereaved him of Joseph. Simeon is revelling in the free air that blew from Canaan and brought with it the scents of his native land, and breaks into the old songs that the strait confinement of his prison had so long silenced-all of them together rejoicing in a scarcely hoped-for success; when suddenly, ere the first elation is spent, they are startled to see the hasty approach of the Egyptian messenger, and to hear the stern summons that brought them to a halt, and boded all ill. The few words of the just Egyptian, and his calm, explicit judgment, "Ye have done evil in so doing," pierce them like a keen blade-that they should be suspected of robbing one who had dealt so generously with them; that all Israel should be put to shame in the sight of the stranger! But they begin to feel relief as one brother after another steps forward with the boldness of innocence; and as sack after sack is emptied, shaken, and flung aside, they already eye the steward with the bright air of triumph; when, as the very last sack is emptied, and as all breathlessly stand round, amid the quick rustle of the corn, the sharp rattle of metal strikes on their ear, and the gleam of silver dazzles their eyes as the cup rolls out in the sunshine. This, then, is the brother of whom their father was so careful that he dared not suffer him out of his sight! This is the precious youth whose life was of more value than the lives of all the brethren, and to keep whom a few months longer in his father’s sight Simeon had been left to rot in a dungeon! This is how he repays the anxiety of the family and their love, and this is how he repays the extraordinary favour of Joseph! By one rash childish act had this fondled youth, to all appearance, brought upon the house of Israel irretrievable disgrace, if not complete extinction. Had these men been of their old temper, their knives had very speedily proved that their contempt for the deed was as great as the Egyptian’s; by violence towards Benjamin they might have cleared themselves of all suspicion of complicity; or, at the best, they might-have considered themselves to be acting in a fair and even lenient manner if they had surrendered the culprit to the steward, and once again carried back to their father a tale of blood. But they were under the spell of their old sin. In all disaster, however innocent they now were, they saw the retribution of their old iniquity; they seem scarcely to consider whether Benjamin was innocent or guilty, but as humbled, God-smitten men, "they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city."

Thus Joseph in seeking to gain one brother found eleven-for now there could be no doubt that they were very different men from those. brethren who had so heartlessly sold into slavery their father’s favourite-men now with really brotherly feelings, by penitence and regard for their father so wrought together into one family, that this calamity, intended to fall only on one of their number, did in falling on him fall on them all. So far from wishing now to rid themselves of Rachel’s son and their father’s favourite, who had been put by their father in so prominent a place in his affection, they will not even give him up to suffer what seemed the just punishment of his theft, do not even reproach him with having brought them all into disgrace and difficulty, but, as humbled men who knew they had greater sins of their own to answer for, went quietly back to Egypt, determined to see their younger brother through his misfortune or to share his bondage with him. Had these men not been thoroughly changed, thoroughly convinced that at all costs upright dealing and brotherly love should continue; had they not possessed that first and last of Christian virtues, love to their brother, then nothing could so certainly have revealed their want of it as this apparent theft of Benjamin’s. It seemed in itself a very likely thing that a lad accustomed to plain modes of life, and whose character it was to "ravin as a wolf," should, when suddenly introduced to the gorgeous Egyptian banqueting-house with all its sumptuous furnishings, have coveted some choice specimen of Egyptian art, to carry home to his father as proof that he could not only bring himself back in safety, but scorned to come back from any expedition empty-handed. It was not unlikely either that, with his mother’s own superstition, he might have conceived the bold design of robbing this Egyptian, so mysterious and so powerful, according to his brothers’ account, and of breaking that spell which he had thrown over them: he may thus have. conceived the idea of achieving for himself a reputation in the family, and of once for all redeeming himself from the somewhat undignified, and to one of his spirit somewhat uncongenial, position of the youngest of a family. If, as is possible, he had let any such idea ooze out in talking with his brethren as they went down to Egypt, and only abandoned it on their indignant and urgent remonstrance, then when the cup, Joseph’s chief treasure according to his own account, was discovered in Benjamin’s sack, the case must have looked sadly against him even in the eyes of his brethren. No protestations of innocence in a particular instance avail much when the character and general habits of the accused point to guilt. It is quite possible, therefore, that the brethren, though willing to believe Benjamin, were yet not so thoroughly convinced of his innocence as they would have desired. The fact that they themselves had found their money returned in their sacks, made for Benjamin; yet in most cases, especially where circumstances corroborate it, an accusation even against the innocent takes immediate hold and cannot be summarily and at once got rid of.

Thus was proof given that the house of Israel was now in truth one family. The men who, on very slight instigation, had without compunction sold Joseph to a life of slavery, cannot now find it in their heart to abandon a brother who, to all appearance, was worthy of no better life than that of a slave, and who had brought them all into disgrace and danger. Judah had no doubt pledged himself to bring the lad back without scathe to his father, but he had done so without contemplating the possibility of Benjamin becoming amenable to Egyptian law. And no one can read the speech of Judah-one of the most pathetic on record-in which he replies to Joseph’s judgment that Benjamin alone should remain in Egypt, without perceiving that he speaks not as one who merely seeks to redeem a pledge, but as a good son and a good brother. He speaks, too, as the mouth-piece of the rest, and as he had taken the lead in Joseph’s sale, so he does not shrink from standing forward and accepting the heavy responsibility which may now light upon the man who represents these brethren. His former faults are redeemed by the courage, one may say heroism, he now shows. And as he spoke, so the rest felt. They could not bring themselves to inflict a new sorrow on their aged father; neither could they bear to leave their young brother in the hands of strangers. The passions which had alienated them from one another, and had threatened to break up the family, are subdued. There is now discernible a common feeling that binds them together, and a common object for which they willingly sacrifice themselves. They are, therefore, now prepared to pass into that higher school to which God called them in Egypt. It mattered little what strong and equitable laws they found in the land of their adoption, if they had no taste for upright living; it mattered little what thorough national organisation they would be brought into contact with in Egypt, if in point of fact they owned no common brotherhood, and were willing rather to live as units and every man for himself than for any common interest. But now they were prepared, open to teaching, and docile.

To complete our apprehension of the state of mind into which the brethren were brought by Joseph’s treatment of them, we must take into account the assurance he gave them, when he made himself known to them, that it was not they but God who had sent him into Egypt. and that God had done this for the purpose of preserving the whole house of Israel. At first sight this might seem to be an injudicious speech, calculated to make the brethren think lightly of their guilt, and to remove the just impressions they now entertained of the unbrotherliness of their conduct to Joseph. And it might have been an injudicious speech to impenitent men; but no further view of sin can lighten its heinousness to a really penitent sinner. Prove to him that his sin has become the means of untold good, and you only humble him the more, and more deeply convince him that while he was recklessly gratifying himself and sacrificing others for his own pleasure, God has been mindful of others, and, pardoning him, has blessed them. God does not need our sins to work out His good intentions, but we give Him little other material; and the discovery that through our evil purposes and injurious deeds God has worked out His beneficent will, is certainly not calculated to make us think more lightly of our sin or more highly of ourselves.

Joseph in thus addressing his brethren did, in fact, but add to their feelings the tenderness that is in all religious conviction, and that springs out of the consciousness that in all our sin there has been with us a holy and loving Father, mindful of His children. This is the final stage of penitence. The knowledge that God has prevented our sin from doing the harm it might have done does relieve the bitterness and despair with which we view our life, but at the same time it strengthens the most effectual bulwark between us and sin-love to a holy, over-ruling God. This, therefore, may always be safely said to penitents: Out of your worst sin God can bring good to yourself or to others, and good of an apparently necessary kind; but good of a permanent kind can result from your sin only when you have truly repented of it, and sincerely wish you had never done it. Once this repentance is really wrought in you, then, though your life can never be the same as it might have been had you not sinned, it may be, in some respects, a more richly developed life, a life fuller of humility and love. You can never have what you sold for your sin; but the poverty your sin has brought may excite within you thoughts and energies more valuable than what you have lost, as these men lost a brother but found a Saviour. The wickedness that has often made you bow your head and mourn in secret, and which is in itself unutterable shame and loss, may, in God’s hand, become food against the day of famine. You cannot ever have the enjoyments which are possible only to those whose conscience is laden with no evil remembrances, and whose nature, uncontracted and unwithered by familiarity with sin, can give itself to enjoyment with the abandonment and fearlessness reserved for the innocent. No more at all will you have that fineness of feeling which only ignorance of evil can preserve; no more that high and great conscientiousness which, once broken, is never repaired; no more that respect from other men which for ever and instinctively departs from those who have lost self-respect. But you may have a more intelligent sympathy with other men and a keener pity for them; the experience you have gathered too late to save yourself may put it in your power to be of essential service to others. You cannot win your way back to the happy, useful, evenly-developed life of the comparatively innocent, but the life of the true-hearted penitent, is yet open to yon. Every beat of your heart now may be as if it throbbed against a poisoned dagger, every duty may shame you, every day bring weariness and new humiliation, but let no pain or discouragement avail to defraud you of the good fruits of true reconciliation to God and submission to His lifelong discipline. See that you lose not both lives, the life of the comparatively innocent and the life of the truly penitent.

Verses 15-18

Genesis 43:15-18

The men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph’s house

Joseph’s brethren under the influence of a guilty fear

THEY DREAD SOME GREAT MISFORTUNE. They are driven to Egypt by a dire necessity. A presentiment of disaster weigh upon their hearts. They expect no favourable solution of their mysterious treatment.

II. THEY ARE POSSESSED BY AN INVETERATE SPIRIT OF MISTRUST, They interpret adversely even the most favourable appearances. The generous reception which was given them only serves to raise their worst suspicions and to alarm their fears. They cannot get rid of the belief that Joseph meant to entrap them by a cunning device.

III. THEY ARE HAUNTED BY THE MEMORY OF AN OLD CRIME. They are innocent respecting this money in their sacks, and yet they feel themselves to be guilty men. Conscience makes cowards of them everywhere. (T. H.Leale.)


1. Fear misinterprets kindness.

2. We are often being tested while we are unconscious of the fact that we are so.

3. An illustration of the difference between the outer appearance and the inner life of a man. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Bring these men home

It was a whisper aside, addressed to one who proved himself very capable of executing Joseph’s wishes. This device of “bringing them home” and feasting them gave Joseph opportunity for testing their feelings towards Benjamin; it allowed them a chance of recognizing their brother; and it used them to his love as mingled and contrasted with his severity. Joseph wished to produce these three effects; but I scarcely think he intended another effect, which, however, was the first--the re-awakening of their fears. It was God who intended that. (A. M.Symington, D. D.)

Use of animal food in Egypt

It has been objected here that the narrator must be in error in representing Joseph as giving orders for the slaughter of animals for food, since that must have been contrary to the customs of the Egyptians; but Wilkinson, in describing preparations for dinner, says, “an ox, kid, wild-goat, gazelle, or oryx, and a quantity of geese, widgeons, quails, or other birds were obtained for the occasion”; and Kalisch alleges that “though there was scarcely an animal which was not held sacred in some province, there was, perhaps, with the only exception of the cow, none which was not eaten in other parts of the land”; so that the description here is in perfect harmony with what we now know to have been the habit of the people. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Verses 19-25

Genesis 43:19-25

And they came near to the steward of Joseph’s house, and they communed with him

Joseph’s steward




1. Just orders are readily entertained by honest servants from their masters (Genesis 43:17).

2. The house of kindness may sometimes terrify souls as the house of dangers.

3. Innocency itself may be suspicious of wrong charges, to raise up fear.

4. Groundless jealousies pretend dangers where none are (Genesis 43:18).

5. Wisdom suggests unto innocency a fair defence to prevent danger (Genesis 43:19).

6. Innocency’s plain acknowledgment of its designs is its best apology (Genesis 43:20.)

7. Declaration of events of providence as they are tends to justify the innocent.

8. Where providence orders good, souls may make question of receiving or keeping it (Genesis 43:21).

9. Just souls will deal justly in dealing with others about buying, &c.

10. Innoceney may plead ignorance of the fact of sin plainly, being not guilty (Genesis 43:22).

11. Upright hearts in power will speak peace and encouragement to fearful spirits.

12. Good hearts teach to ascribe all good providences unto God in covenant.

13. Just men will own their acts to discharge the innocent. So the steward.

14. Conditions being performed, hostages must be in justice returned (Genesis 43:23).

15. Good hospitality will labour, to afford room and all convenient refreshings to its guests.

16. Hospitality in truth, provides for beasts as well as men (Genesis 43:24).

17. Prudence will put men upon care to prepare a present for rulers in time of danger.

18. Courtesy from hosts gives opportunity for guests to express their returns.

19. Noon refreshments are suitable to morning’s labours.

20. Good rulers are careful first to work and then to eat (Genesis 43:25). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Verses 26-34

Genesis 43:26-34

And he took and sent messes unto them from before him.

Joseph and his brethren at the banquet

Consider this incident--


1. That we should not set up the pretence of loving all alike. Benjamin was specially honoured (Genesis 43:34), and greeted with loving words (Genesis 43:29).

2. That it is wise to observe the established customs of society when they are not morally wrong.


1. In the case of the brethren.

2. In the case of Joseph. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph’s banquet

1. The banquet of Joseph’s joy, of his hope, of his trying watch.

2. The feast of reviving hope in Joseph’s brethren.

3. Their participation without envy in the honouring of Benjamin.

4. An introduction to the last trial, and a preparation for it.

5. The successful issue in the fearful proving of Israel’s sons. (J. P.Lange.)

The dinner designed to make Joseph known

And now, I apprehend, it was Joseph’s wish to discover himself m his brethren, or rather to enable them to discover him. There are three things in particular while they were at dinner, each tending to this end, and as I conceive, designed for it.

1. The order of the tables. One for himself, one for the strangers, and one for the Egyptians. The design of this was to set them a thinking of him, and who he was, or could be? That the Egyptians and Hebrews should eat apart they could easily account for: but who, or what is this man? Is he not an Egyptian? Yet if he be, why eat by himself? Surely he must be a foreigner . . .

2. The order in which they themselves were seated; it was “before him,” so that they had full opportunity of looking at him; and what was astonishing to them, every man was placed “ according to his age.” But who can this be that is acquainted with their ages, so as to be able to adjust things in this order? Surely it must be some one who knows us, though we know not him. Or is he a diviner Who or what can he be? They are said to have “marvelled one at another,” and well they might. It is marvellous that they did not from hence suspect who he was.

3. The peculiar favour which he expressed to Benjamin, in sending him a mess five times more than the rest. There is no reason to suppose that Benjamin ate more than the rest; but this was the manner of showing special favour in those times. It was therefore saying in effect, “I not only know all your ages, but towards that young man I have more than a common regard Look at all this, and look at me Look at me, my brother Benjamin. Dost thou not know me?” But all was hid from them. Their eyes, like those of the disciples towards their Lord, seem to have been holden, that they should not know him. Their minds however are eased from an apprehensions, and they drank, and were cheerful in his company. (A. Fuller.)


1. Gracious hearts, however sometime they may deal severely, yet they desire their peace.

2. Providence sometimes orders peaceable entertainment, where worse is feared.

3. Nature itself, much more grace, inquire of and desires the peace of parents. He asked of their father, and meaneth his own (Genesis 43:27).

4. It is equal that peaceable inquiries should have due answers.

5. In answering for others, Providence orders the accomplishment of his will The sunbows, &c.

6. All humility becomes their answers who are in fear of foreign powers (Genesis 43:28.)

7. Sight of near relations moveth to inquire of their condition.

8. Natural affection desires to know its near relations for good.

9. Grace puts souls upon blessing relations as well as knowing them.

10. The best blessing is the grace of God procured upon souls.

11. Brethren may be fathers in blessing the fruit of the same womb (Genesis 43:29). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Natural affection may speed to vent itself, after gracious benediction.

2. Natural bowels may burn in gracious souls to their relations.

3. Gracious wisdom teacheth to seek time, place, and measure of expressing affection to relations.

4. Secret venting of affections is best at some opportunities (Genesis 43:30). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Benjamin’s mess

I. PRESENTS FROM HOME. Those made to Joseph by men who little thought what feelings they might excite.

1. They were from his father. He would think of them as being selected by him. An act of homage.

2. They were peculiar to his native country and immediate neighbourhood. How often when a boy had he collected similar gums and nuts. They would take him back to the old time.

3. The presents we may receive from home have more of love in them than homage. We like them the better for that.

4. These presents were the gifts of poor men, who were the poorer by reason of the famine. Presents not to be valued by their intrinsic worth, but by the circumstances under which they were selected, and the feelings with which they are offered.

5. Every good gift is from above. God the author and giver of every good and perfect gift.

6. There is one unspeakable gift, made to us, suited to us; have we accepted this gift?


1. They are asked concerning their welfare (see Exodus 18:7). Such inquiries from us often mean only the welfare of the body, or relate to temporal things. Family greetings pleasant. Should include an interest in highest and best things.

2. They soon regarded the absent. His father in particular, the “old man.” It was about twenty-two years since he had seen his father. “Is he yet alive? A few years work great changes in families. Return to your native town after an absence of twenty-two years, and note the different names, and the vast changes. The father was poorer than when he saw him last by reason of the famine; the son was richer than when he left home to look after the shepherds in Shechem. The coat of many colours exchanged for a robe of state. The shepherd boy become a prince. Absent friends to be remembered.

3. Benjamin specially addressed.


1. The president of the feast. Joseph at a raised table by himself. His state and grandeur. Perhaps the presents from home were placed before him. His knowledge of the guests, and their ignorance of him. Jesus at &he last supper knew all, and was little known; after the resurrection He was known in the breaking of bread.

2. The officers of his household. They would show the respect and honour in which he was held.

3. The Israelites. The arrangement of their places at the table. “Whence hath this man this knowledge?” Benjamin’s mess. What could this mean? Whether they liked it or not, their father’s regard for the younger son, whether Joseph or Benjamin, was to be respected. They needed to be taught this lesson. And we must honour our parents. As they thus sat and feasted with the prince, did they think of the time when they sat down to eat bread by the side of the pit where Joseph was once imprisoned? Joseph returned good for evil. Learn: Let us remember home, especially the heavenly home. (J. C. Gray.)


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 43:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

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