Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




This chapter cannot be studied in isolation. It is a stage setting chapter – that must be taken in concert with the overall story of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers and family reconciliation. We usually think of God’s providential dealings in a positive sense – His providential blessings and provisions. But here we see the positive aspect of Providential Pressure as it is applied to Joseph’s brothers and then to his father Jacob.


A. (:1-2) Egypt is the Only Option to Obtain Grain

“Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why are you staring at one another?’ And he said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.’”

The sons certainly did not want to be dispatched to Egypt – that name was a sore spot in their conscience as it brought back memories of how they had mistreated Joseph.

What an indignity for the sons of the covenant to have to resort to seeking food for sustenance from Egypt. This is emblematic of the tangled web of sin and deceit they had woven. They were in desperate need of God’s grace to lead them to repentance and reconciliation.

B. (:3) Jacob’s Ten Brothers Dispatched to Egypt

“Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt.”

C. (:4) Benjamin Retained at Home

“But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said,

‘I am afraid that harm may befall him.’”

Parunak: A journey such as this was fraught with risks in the ancient world, particularly since the sons, like other travelers to Egypt, would be carrying wealth to use in buying grain, and would be a likely target for bandits. The circumstances require that they face this risk, and it is wiser that they travel as a group to discourage attacks against them. But Jacob retains Benjamin at home. Benjamin is the only remaining son of his favorite wife, and Jacob is not willing to expose him to the risks of the road.

Deffinbaugh: Perhaps the circumstances of Joseph’s disappearance were too suspect for Jacob to take another chance by leaving Benjamin in the care of his other brothers.

D. (:5) Sons of Israel Arrive in Egypt with Other Nations to Buy Grain

“So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.”


A. (:6) Fulfillment of Joseph’s Dream – His Brothers Come and Bow Down

“Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.”

Parunak: In each of the three trips to Egypt, we find Joseph’s family fulfilling the dreams of ch. 37. The first two times it is his brothers, as predicted in the dream of the sheaves (37:7); the third time, his father, fulfilling the dream of the sun, moon, and stars (37:9). In both dreams, the verb “made obeisance” is the same as the one here translated “bowed down.”

B. (:7-12) False Charge of Spying Levied Against His Brothers (Parallel to how they had treated Joseph)

1. (:7-9) Charge of Spying

“When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, ‘Where have you come from?’ And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.’”

Parunak: If he had revealed himself as their brother at this point, he would face a dilemma. If he were harsh with them, while they knew him as their brother, they would think him vengeful. If he greeted them cordially, they would not bow down willingly to him. To follow the guidance in the dream, he must serve as God’s agent to chastise and humble them, before revealing to them who he is.

Deffinbaugh: Joseph not only realized the fulfillment of his dreams but also the reason for them. He saw that God had a purpose for placing him in his position of power, and this purpose was for him to function as the family head, protecting and preserving his family. He had great power and prestige, but God had given these to him for a purpose much greater than merely to seek revenge. He saw that leadership involved power, but that it also brought upon him the weight of responsibility. At times the greatest need is not to be aware of the power at our disposal, but of the purpose for which this power has been given.

2. (:10-11) Countered by Claim of Honesty

“Then they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.’”

Steven Cole: The brothers tell Joseph that they are honest men (42:11). That’s a bit humorous, because honesty hasn’t been one of their noticeable virtues to this point. They deceived the Shechemites. They deceived their father with Joseph’s blood-stained coat. Judah led Tamar to believe that she would get his third son in marriage when he had no such intention. And even here, in their next breath they tell Joseph that their one brother “is no more,” when they don’t know that for sure. They do know that they last saw him heading for Egypt very much alive. Yet they claim to be honest men! So Joseph puts them to the test, to see whether they are indeed honest men (42:16, 19). If they’re honest, they can return with the other brother they have talked about

3. (:12) Charge of Spying Reiterated

“Yet he said to them, ‘No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!’”

C. (:13-16) Formulating the Litmus Test of Their Honesty

1. (:13) Point of Vulnerability

“But they said, ‘Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.’”

2. (:14-16) Test Focuses on This Vulnerability

“And Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you, you are spies; by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’”

Hughes: At this point Joseph put his brothers to the test by afflicting them with what they had done to him. They had oppressed him, now he oppressed them. They had accused him of spying; now he accused them. They had thrown him into the pit; now he tossed them into prison. And most of all, he called them to bring forth their youngest brother, the favorite of their father who now occupied the place in their father’s heart that had once been his.

D. (:17-20) Fine Tuning the Test

1. (:17) Time to Stew

“So he put them all together in prison for three days.”

Deffinbaugh: Joseph then placed all of the brothers in confinement. I cannot prove it, but my suspicion is that the prison was probably one that we know well—Potiphar’s prison. More significant is that Joseph put them in confinement together (verse 17). More than giving them comfort, as opposed to solitary confinement, it caused them to consider the meaning of what was taking place in their lives. This is more fully seen in their conversation recorded in later verses. Even if not bodily present with his brothers in prison, his heart must have been with them in their confinement. This was not punishment, but it was preparation, just as his confinement had been. It served to intensify their comprehension of the gravity of the situation.

Constable: Probably Joseph wanted to be sure that his brothers had not killed Benjamin since they had contemplated killing himself (Genesis 42:15).

The three-day imprisonment provided Joseph with time to plan his strategy, and it impressed the brothers with the importance of cooperating with Joseph (Genesis 42:17). These three days also gave the brothers a taste of what Joseph had endured for three years. Joseph may have intended that they serve one day’s imprisonment for each year he had suffered incarceration because of their hatred.

2. (:18-20) Tweaking the Test with Grace and Mercy

“Now Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.’ And they did so.”

Parunak: —Instead of binding nine and sending one back, he will bind one and send nine back. Not only is this more humane, in minimizing the number who must be confined, but it also permits those who return to carry more grain back for their families: “carry corn for the famine of your houses.” Even while disciplining his brothers, he must provide for the family as a whole. God is showing him that this is the very reason he has been sent to Egypt (a consciousness finally articulated in 45:5, 7; 50:20). He can fulfill this mission better by sending more grain back now.

Steven Cole: Joseph gives his brothers a glimmer of hope when he tells them, “I fear God.” They would not have expected this from this seemingly harsh Egyptian prime minister. But there was enough hope of fair treatment in those words to keep them from despairing and to reveal some tenderness underneath the harsh exterior of this man. If he hadn’t been harsh, he wouldn’t have gotten their attention. If he hadn’t shown them a glimmer of grace, he would have crushed their spirits.


A. (:21-23) Confession of Guilt

1. (:21) What Goes Around Comes Around

“Then they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.’”

S. Lewis Johnson: So their conscience is awakened which incidentally so far as we know is the only acknowledgement of guilt in all of the Book of Genesis. This is not an interesting thing. The only persons who have acknowledged their guilt in the Book of Genesis are these men who say, we are guilty concerning our brother because we saw the distress of his soul. So their conscience was awakened, their memory recalls their deed, and their reason explains why all of this is happening. Therefore, this distress has come upon us.

Hughes: Joseph’s brothers were wracked with guilt that, in the context of the Bible, put them in the way of grace. This was good guilt, healthy guilt, graced guilt. Without guilt there could be no forgiveness and no resolution. And without guilt they could never assume their covenant mantles. . .

Such guilt is good. It invites God’s grace. Along with this, cultivate a godly fear that reverently trembles before him. Such fear will invoke a graced wisdom in your life. And then own a godly sorrow that will lead you to repentance.

W. H. Griffith Thomas: Conscience is the “knowing” part of us, that which “knows” together “with” God, and agrees with the revelation of right which comes from him (con-science).

2. (:22) I Told You So

“And Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not tell you, Do not sin against the boy; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.’”

3. (:23) In the Dark

“They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.”

B. (:24) Compassion of Joseph

1. (:24a) Hidden Compassion

“And he turned away from them and wept.”

Parunak: Joseph’s weeping: more than anyone else in Genesis. He never weeps during his time of humiliation, but repeatedly weeps after he is promoted, during the process of reconciliation with his family: 42:24, 43:30, 45:14, 15, 46:29, 50:1, 17. This tenderness will remind us repeatedly that the steps he takes to humble and correct his brothers are not the result of hardheartedness on his part, but a conscientious, loving action needed to restore the family.

2. (:24b) Demonstrated Compassion

“But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.”

Only kept Simeon instead of binding 9 and sending only 1 back

S. Lewis Johnson: Now we should not feel sorry for these brothers because Joseph gave them some rough handling. The first place it is not vengeance on his part. The context makes it plain that he has a great deal of warm affection for them and much mercy is exhibited to them. He doesn’t even charge them for the grain. He moves out of the room and weeps over his feelings for them and then we should remember that they were hard men, these are the men who had massacred the whole village. And not only that they are the men who had put Joseph in prison and sat down to eat a meal, tantalized him, sitting down to eat a meal while he is in the pit crying to let him out, to show some mercy to him. So we shouldn’t feel sorry for them.

C. (:25-26) Charge of Joseph

“Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them. So they loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed from there.”

D. (:27-28) Cry of Despair

“And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. Then he said to his brothers, ‘My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.’ And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’”

Parunak: On the way home, one of the brothers discovers his money. Two details about this discovery can be deduced.

1. This was probably near the end of the journey. Joseph had given them separate provisions for the trip, and only when these were exhausted would they even consider dipping into the grain they had purchased. One of the brothers’ traveling provisions have run low; his asses were particularly hungry, and so he opens one of the regular bags.

2. They probably had many bags. To make reasonable provision for Jacob’s large family, they must have had a large drove of asses, each carrying several bags. Only ten of these bags will have held money, so it’s easy to understand how only one brother discovered it.

Dave Guzik: This was a test – not from Joseph – but from God. What would they do with the money? What would be revealed about their heart?

· The deceptive heart would hide it.

· The lying heart would make up a story about it.

· The proud heart would think it deserved it.

· The superficial heart would think nothing of it.


A. (:29-34) Sad Report of the Demand to Send Benjamin to Egypt

“When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, ‘The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan. And the man, the lord of the land, said to us, By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’”

B. (:35) Surprising Revelation that Increases the Sense of Danger

“Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.”

C. (:36) Stinging Rebuke from a Desperate Father Who is Facing Additional Loss

“And their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.’”

Bruce Goettsche: Do you know what the most common command in the Bible is? It’s the command “Fear Not”. Fear keeps us from moving forward. It keeps us from loving. It keeps us from dreaming and risking and daring to trust God in bold and daring ways. As long as we are afraid we will be limiting the work that God’s grace can do in our life.

Do you see what happened as a result of Jacob’s fear?

– They delayed returning for more supplies

– They prolonged the imprisonment of Simeon

– They delayed the reunion with Joseph

Jacob’s fear became a barrier in his life. When we are afraid we miss seeing God’s ability to provide for us. We miss seeing His marvelous sufficiency for our times of heartache.

D. (:37-38) Stubborn Reluctance to Release Benjamin to Journey to Egypt

1. (:37) Reuben’s Proposal

“Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, ‘You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.’”

2. (:38) Jacob’s Protestations

“But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’”

Parunak: Jacob’s response shows clearly his favoritism for Rachel’s children and the resulting cleavage within the family.

• Benjamin is “my son.” The rest of them don’t count.

• Because Joseph is dead (as he thinks), Benjamin is left alone.

Again, the others are forgotten. He would rather the whole family perish of hunger than that Benjamin be placed in risk. Clearly, he has yet some spiritual lessons to learn as well.

Constable: Throughout this chapter we can observe the attitude of Joseph’s brothers changing. Faced with a personal crisis they acknowledged their guilt. They regarded their suffering as righteous divine punishment, and they began to place Jacob’s interests above their own. However their repentance was not yet complete. The process of contrition had to run further before reconciliation was possible.