SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 28 Genesis 42 & 43

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 42 & 43**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32
Genesis 33
Genesis 34
Genesis 35-36
Genesis 37
Genesis 38
Genesis 39
Genesis 40
Genesis 41

[Genesis 42

New International Version (NIV)](

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt

42 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5 So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.

6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”

8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”

12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”

14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.

18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”

Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’

33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’”

35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
[Genesis 43

New International Version (NIV)](

The Second Journey to Egypt

43 Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2 So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

3 But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’”

6 Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”

7 They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”

17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”

19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.

29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
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Anyone else think stpauler has a little Joseph in him, intentionally playing with us by cutting us off right before the story resolves?

But, yeah, that’s my question. Is Joseph trying to punish them a bit, playing with them before letting them know? Or does he have some other ideas in mind? Like maybe he wants to make sure his brother is still alive, or that his brothers feel sorry for what they did?

Sorry, I really wanted to go through to Genesis 45, but thought that that might be a bit too much.


According to Jewish tradition, the latter.

Yeah, this is too much as it is. There’s lots here. (stpauler, could I request please that chapters that are full of dense stories be taken chapter at a time?)

Chapter 42, like most of the Joseph story, is full of echoes: what you do to others is done to you.

The famine hits Canaan hard, so Jacob sends his sons to get grain (i.e., food) in Egypt. Jacob does NOT send Benjamin, here called Joseph’s (full) brother rather than Jacob’s son. Both Rachel and Joseph met with disaster during journeys, and Jacob is not about to risk Rachel’s other son.

The brothers go to Egypt, and come before Joseph, now governor/vizier. He recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. (The word “recognize” last appeared when the brothers showed Jacob the bloodied tunic.) It isn’t surprising that recognition would be one-way. Over 20 years have passed (he was kidnapped at 17, appeared before Pharaoh at age 30, and there have been seven years of plenty.) He was young, so he’s changed a lot more than they have. It’s WAAAAY easier for him to recognize a group than for them to recognize an individual. Finally, he’s wearing very fancy Egyptian robes, and has an Egyptian name. So it’s very realistic that he would recognize them but not vice versa.

They bow to him, and the text tells us that Joseph remembers his childhood dreams which are now being fulfilled. The text does not tell us explicitly, but he must also remember how much hatred those dreams caused.

He must be conflicted on several counts. He’s now comfortable and powerful, but the appearance of his brothers surely arouses horrible memories. He must want revenge, but fears that his father and brother Benjamin are starving back in Canaan, waiting for food from Egypt. He must be desperate for news of them but he can’t give himself away by asking.

He has to find out whether his brothers regret their actions and have reformed, so he decides on a series of tests. The biblical notion of repentance includes being faced with the opportunity to commit the same immoral act, and not succumbing. So, Joseph will put his brothers in similar situations to the past, to see how they behave. (As cmkeller says, this is certainly Jewish tradition, but I think it’s also the straight, plain meaning behind the text.)

He starts by accusing them of being spies. The accusation makes sense, they came from the northeast, Egypt’s most vulnerable border. And as an echo of the past, remember that he (as a teen) spied on them and brought a bad report back to Jacob in Gen 37:2.

In verse 9, NIT translation says they’re going to see the land “unprotected.” The actual Hebrew is “in its nakedness,” the word TS-R-V-T usually applies to prohibited sex acts. (Remember the naked Noah story, “uncovering someone’s nakedness” is usually nasty.) Echo of the past: Joseph was accused of rape by Mrs Potiphar, and he now accuses the brothers of rape of the land.

They refute the accusation by saying, “We are all the sons of one man.” That is, they are a single family and would not risk the entire family by spying. Joseph rejects their defense, with despotic arbitrariness. Let them disprove it!

Next test: how will they stand imprisonment? What rivalries will surface, when they are told that one will go back to Canaan, and the fate of the others will depend on that one?
After three days, however, Joseph’s desire to punish and test them is torn by his worry about those starving back in Canaan. So he demands one hostage and the rest to return to Canaan.

The brothers are aware that this is punishment because of how they treated Joseph. Verse 21 reflects a critical ethical imperative of the Torah: “We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen.” The same warning appears frequently, such as Exodus 22:21: it is wrong to mistreat others or to stand by while others are mistreated.

By the way, we now learn that Joseph pleaded with the brothers when he was in the pit; we were not given that information back in Chapter 37.

Reuben stands up (he’s the good guy in the E-author sections). “An accounting for his blood” is an echo of Cain and Abel, blood cries out from the ground. Kidnapping is seen as a form of bloodshed.

Joseph uses an interpreter, even though he understands the brothers’ language. He’s a fully acculturated Egyptian. Verse 24 is critical: Joseph turns away and weeps. This is a pivot for his conflicting emotions – he is doing for others what they did not do for him.

Having learned that Reuben tried to save him, Joseph takes Simeon (next in line) hostage and binds him (replicating Joseph’s own kidnapping). Simeon was one of the violent ones (remember the rape of Dinah story.)

The next test: Joseph secretly returns their money to them, hiding it in their sacks of grain. Will they keep the money, or will they come back to get Simeon? After all, they took money for Joseph.

The brothers return to Jacob. Verse 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land” is another echo: Joseph as a teen spied on them, and they spoke harshly to him.

In verse 34, they recount that if they bring Benjamin to Egypt, the governor will let them “trade” (NIV) or “move about” (JPS) in the land. The same Hebrew word is used in the terms offered by Shechem (Gen 34:10) after the rape of Dinah. (I don’t know what to make of that similarity.)

For those who believe in multiple authors, the story is an intermeshing of J and E. In verse 35, they find the returned money (E-author), which they had found back in verse 28 (J-author.) For those who believe in a single author, the implication is that they decided not to tell Jacob about the money, but to “find” it in his presence later.

Jacob doesn’t trust them. Joseph didn’t return, now Simeon didn’t return. Jacob won’t risk Benjamin. Reuben makes a ridiculous offer; he’s got the right instinct, but has no clue how to deal with it. This is Reuben’s last act of leadership.

Jacob says, “My son [Benjamin] must not go down with you…” He doesn’t say “your brother, he says “my son.” That may imply a rebuke, echoing what the brothers said back in Ch 37: “Is this your son’s tunic?” It’s certainly a reminder (again) of the split between Rachel’s children and Leah’s children, which is at the core of the story.

To be continued.

CH 43

Now we begin the testing before reconciliation, and this is complex, echoing and re-echoing the past.

The famine continues to be severe (we’re still in the seven year cycle) and Jacob tells the brothers to go back to Egypt for food (i.e., grain.) Reuben as first-born has been ousted from his position, presumably because of sleeping with Bilhah (in Gen 35:22). Judah has taken over leadership, and reminds them that the governor has Simeon prisoner and said not to come back without Benjamin.

Jacob scolds them for telling the governor that they had another brother, they say that he kept asking questions about the family and they had to answer. This does not exactly agree with the prior account: back in 42:13, they seem to volunteer the information about the youngest brother still at home. So, did they lie to their father? Perhaps. But Gen 44:19 will make it clear that Joseph HAD asked them questions, so perhaps we were just given an abbreviated account in Ch 42. (Or perhaps the E-version has them lie to their father, the J-version not.)

Judah takes responsibility. In verse 9, he says “I myself will [be a] guarantee [for] his safety.” Back in Gen 38:18, the same word (there translated “pledge”) appears prominently in the Judah/Tamar story. Judah should have stepped in like that for Joseph in the pit, years ago. Now, faced with an analogous situation he stands up for Simeon.

So Jacob sends them off with “balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.” Back in Gen 37:25, the camels of the Ishmaelites who took Joseph to slavery in Egypt were “loaded with spices, balm and myrrh.” ASIDE: there is no evidence of bee-keeping in ancient Israel, so “honey” probably means sweet syrup from dates. The famous “land flowing with milk and honey” meant goat’s milk and date-jam, which is much less poetic.

Jacob tells them to take double the money that was replaced in their bags. The Torah later will specify that thieves must repay double. That may have been an earlier custom, and Jacob is trying to pacify the governor who might accuse them of thievery.

Verse 14 is interesting on two counts. First, it implies Jacob understands that something special is happening, but he doesn’t understand what it means. Second, Jacob is still an egoist, it’s all about him.

So the brothers go back to Egypt. They now face Joseph’s tests, and (repeating myself) the biblical notion of true repentance includes facing the opportunity to commit the same immoral act, and not doing so.

Joseph sees Benjamin, so one of his fears is groundless: they had not killed Rachel’s other son. Joseph orders his house steward to prepare a meal (echoing when they threw him in the pit, they sat and ate a meal back at Gen 37:25.) They are frightened that the governor wants to attack them, seize them as slaves, which is what they deserve because of what they did to Joseph.

They speak to Joseph in verses 20 – 22, honest confession that they didn’t take the money. They pass another test: they could have just kept silent in hopes Joseph didn’t know about it. Joseph brings out Simeon. Once they had taken money for a brother, so they have the opportunity to repeat their sin, but they don’t, they want Simeon rather than the cash.

In verse 29, Joseph sees Benjamin, “his own mother’s son.” Another reminder that the story pivots around the way the brothers treated the children of Rachel, the favored wife.

Joseph is overcome, on the verge of tears, at the sight of Benjamin. At the prior encounter (in Gen 42:24), he also turned aside and wept. In both situations, the tears indicate a moral decision for Joseph: he could keep his full brother Benjamin and kill the others.

A meal is served, but they sit separately; recall that they ate separately at the pit. Joseph seats them in seniority order, and they are astonished that he knows how to do this. It’s a clue that he knows who they are, and it’s a reminder of “who’s missing?” The second clue is that he gives Benjamin a larger portion, and favors a son of Rachel – the same set-up as Jacob to Joseph. This is perhaps another test: will this obvious favoritism arouse envy?

The meal is a happy one, they “feasted and drank freely” without signs of envy. And this should qualm any of their fears, setting up the final test.

CK Dexter Haven:

I doubt that, Happy Meals are not kosher.

The thing that jumps off the page for me is the exclusive use of “Jacob” in chapter 42, and “Israel” in chapter 43. The only exception is 42:5, which seems out of place and redundant, because we have just been told that the famine is world-wide, and that it is the reason for the journey to Egypt. It seems very strong evidence to me that the chapters are from different sources.

The other thing that bothers me is the concept of selling grain to all comers. Pharaoh’s dream predicted famine in Egypt, and Joseph told him how to get Egypt through it. Now we see that the famine is world-wide, and that news has reached Jacob that grain is for sale in Egypt, implying that Egypt is exporting the grain that was supposed to see it through its own famine. We were told in the last chapter that a fifth of the harvest was stored each year, so even if the years of plenty yielded five times the normal harvest, Egypt would still need all the stored grain to feed her own people, even assuming that raw grain would keep for seven years.

I think it implies much more than that — it implies that he really doesn’t consider anyone but Benjamin his son. And the next few verses show that he would rather let Simeon rot in Egypt indefinitely than risk losing Benjamin. He doesn’t send the brothers back to Egypt to ransom Simeon; he only sends them back when he runs out of food again. So his priorities seem to be:

  1. His stomach
  2. Benjamin
  3. his other sons

The only alternative explanation is that chapter 43 is from a different source, where Simeon was never held hostage. This is supported by the exchange between Jacob and Judah at the beginning of chapter 43, which makes the most sense if it’s the first time Jacob was aware of any discussion of Benjamin with Pharaoh. The redactor later inserts half a verse saying Simeon was returned.

On the plus side, I like that the brothers speak to Joseph through an interpreter. Right up to today, most stories tend to ignore the fact that people speak different languages in different regions (heck, in Star Trek, all the aliens speak English). We’ll see another famous example with the shibboleth later on.

There is also mention of Egyptian dining customs, but they raise their own questions: Why are Hebrews are so detestable to Egyptians, to the point where even Joseph, second in power only to Pharaoh, had to eat by himself? And this was the friendly Egyptian dynasty. 400 years later, when a hostile dynasty was in power, an Egyptian noblewoman raised Moses as her own, so why couldn’t they even eat with Hebrews earlier?

Actually, both chapters are mostly J-source, with a few paragraphs or sentences from E. You’ve picked on one: 42:5 - 7 is usually attributed to E. I don’t think the “Jacob” vs “Israel” is consistent with the two sources, but I don’t really know for sure. (I’m writing this on the run, I can check later.) The text does move towards a point (in a few chapters) where “Israel” becomes the people rather than the individual.

I agree, you’ve said it better than I did. The whole mess arises because Jacob shows favoritism to Rachel and her children over the others.

I thought I had mentioned that, but (again) I’m in a hurry so forgive me if I repeat myself. Egyptians were urbanized farmers, and so looked down on the nomadic shepherds.

New thread for Genesis 44