Genesis 42

The Word Made Fresh

1When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt he said to his sons, “Don’t just sit around looking at each other. 2I have been told there is grain to be had in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us so that we don’t die of starvation.”

3Ten of Joseph’s brothers started out for Egypt, 4but Jacob would not let Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, go with them because he was afraid something terrible might happen to him. 5That is how Israel’s sons came to be among those who went to Egypt for grain, because the land of Canaan was afflicted by the famine also.

6Joseph was the one in charge in the land. He was the one who approved the sale of grain to the people. When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to the ground before him. 7Joseph recognized his brothers right away but didn’t let on that he knew them. He was a bit gruff with them. “Where are you from?” he asked.

“We are from the land of Canaan,” they said. “We have come to buy food.” 8Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. 9Then he remembered the dreams he had had about them. He said, “You are spies! You have come to find weaknesses among us!”

10“No, my lord, no!” they cried. “We are your servants, and we came only to buy food. 11We are all brothers, the sons of one father. We are honest men. We are not spies.”

“No,” Joseph answered. “You are here to find where our land is unprotected.”

13They pleaded with him. “We are your servants. Our father had twelve sons. We live in the land of Canaan. The youngest we left behind with our father, and one of our brothers is no more.”

14Joseph said, “It’s just as I said. You are spies! 15This is how I will test you. As surely as Pharaoh lives you will not be allowed to leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16Choose one of you to go and get your brother. The rest of you will be kept here under arrest, and we will test your story to see if you’re telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives you are spies.” 17He kept them all under arrest for three days.

18On the third day Joseph summoned them. “I am a God-fearing man, so do this and I will spare you. 19If you are being honest, then choose one of you to stay here in prison while the others of you take grain back to your hungry kindred. 20But you must bring your youngest brother back here to me to prove you are telling the truth, and then you will not die.”

They agreed to do as Joseph asked. 21They said, “This is our punishment for what we did to our brother. He begged for his life, but we turned a deaf ear. That is why we’re being punished like this.”

22Reuben said, “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? You didn’t listen, and now we’ll have to pay for what you did to him!”

23Because he was using an interpreter they didn’t realize Joseph could understand what they were saying. 24He had to turn away from them to fight back his tears, then he came and spoke to them again. He chose Simeon and they watched while he had Simeon bound. 25Joseph then instructed his servants to fill their sacks with grain, to return each one’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey home. This was done.

26They loaded their donkeys with the grain and left. 27When they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to feed his donkey some of the grain, and he found his money at the mouth of the sack. 28He called to his brothers, “My money is here! It has been put in my sack!” They were frightened then, and looked at one another, saying, “What is God trying to do to us?”

29When they got back home to their father in Canaan they told him everything. 30They said, “The man who is in charge of things there treated us roughly and accused us of spying on his country. 31We told him we are honest men, not spies. 32We told him we are a family of twelve brothers; we all have the same father. One of us is no more, and the youngest stayed behind in Canaan with our father. 33Then the man said, ‘This is how you can prove you’re telling the truth: leave one of your brothers with me, then take the grain you have purchased to your homes. 34Then bring your youngest brother to me, and I will know that you are honest men, and I will release your brother back to you, and you may buy more grain from me.”

35Then they began emptying their sacks, and in each one there was a bag of money. When they and their father saw their money in their sacks, they were shocked. 36Jacob said, “I am the one who has suffered loss. Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin from me. All this you have brought on me!”

37Reuben said to his father, “If I do not bring Benjamin back to you, you may kill my two sons. Put Benjamin under my protection and I will bring him home to you.”

38But Jacob said, “My son shall not go with you. His brother is dead, and he is the only son of his mother left to me. If anything happened to him on the trip you would send me in sorrow to Sheol.”


1-5: Jacob hears that grain is being sold in Egypt, and sends all his sons but Benjamin to buy some. Benjamin is, he thinks, the only surviving child of his beloved wife Rachel.

6-17: It has been a number of years since Joseph has seen his brothers — perhaps 10 or more — but he recognizes them immediately. They don’t recognize him, however. He toys with them, accusing them of spying. They beg their innocence, telling him things about their family he already knows. He pretends ignorance, of course, and tells them they must prove their story by bringing their little brother to Egypt. He puts them in jail for three days; partial payment for the years he spent in jail.

18-25: Joseph sends for them on the third day and tells them he has modified his demand. He will keep one of them in custody and let the other 9 go home to bring their younger brother back to prove their story. He hears them talking among themselves, saying that they are being repaid for their cruelty to their long-lost brother Joseph. It gets to him and he has to take a break. When he comes back, he chooses Simeon to stay. Before they leave, he gives orders to put their money in their bags with their grain.

26-28: The brothers leave. Eventually one of them opens a sack of grain to feed the animals and discovers the money. They are distressed, but afraid to return to Egypt.

29-34: They arrive at home and try to explain the whole tragic trip to Jacob.

35-38: They empty their sacks and find their money bags in each one, adding to their distress. Furthermore, Jacob refuses to hear anything about taking Benjamin to Egypt. Reuben offers to be custodian for Benjamin and protect him, but Jacob will not hear of it.


There’s an old saying: “What goes around comes around.” Sooner or later, we will have to face up to our mistakes. Better to admit them to begin with and pay the consequences up front. That saves a lot of trouble in the future.