Genesis 43: The Return of Joseph's Brothers to Egypt
With the famine lasting longer than the sons of Jacob anticipated, the brothers must return to Egypt for more corn.
Have you ever considered that when God withholds something from us it may be to guide us to where we need to be?
In Genesis 43, the persistence of the famine drives the sons of Jacob back to Egypt.
It is tempting to question the harshness of Joseph in these chapters. But as we saw in Genesis 42, Joseph is being used to produce repentance and humility in Jacob’s sons. Now we see the greater fruit of it in Judah.
vv. 1–14 - Though no doubt they had attempted to stretch the corn to last as long as possible, eventually it runs out. Faced with Jacob’s reluctance, Judah insists they must bring Benjamin with them, promising to do everything he can to ensure Benjamin’s security. He describes his relationship to Benjamin for this task as a “surety” which has the idea of pledging to exchange places with. He is willing to be fully answerable should anything happen to Benjamin. Though Judah had failed to protect Joseph, he is willing to go above the call of duty for Benjamin. Jacob, realizing the need each family has for more corn, relents, and suggests they take four things: first, take a present made up of the luxuries they could still produce or acquire in Canaan; second, take double money, because either the price of the corn may be increased, or they should return with more; third, take the money take was hidden with the corn last time, in case they are charged with non-payment in the first transaction; and fourth, take Benjamin.
vv. 15–25 - we find the brothers going from the presence of Jacob and into the presence of Joseph again. Perhaps Joseph recognizes Benjamin. He could only have been around 10 years of age when he last saw him. Now he is a young man in his thirties. Upon seeing Benjamin, Joseph instructs the ruler of his house to gather everyone into his home for a midday meal. Once again, Joseph’s brothers are reading this in a negative light, believing they are going to be captured as slaves for taking the money for the corn on the first visit. Thus, in v. 19 they appeal to the steward of the house to explain what happened, and that they have brought the money from the first visit. However, the steward is quick to give credit to the true and living God, indicating his knowledge of their background and beliefs. Jacob’s sons then prepare themselves for the noon meal and the gift they brought for Joseph.
vv. 26–34 - as in the previous chapter, Joseph’s dreams are once again fulfilled when the brothers bow to the ground. In v. 29, Joseph, knowing who Benjamin is, inquires if this is the younger brother they mentioned in their first visit. Joseph then blesses Benjamin, but as he does so, tears well up in his eyes and he quickly runs to his private chambers, most likely his bedroom, and weeps profusely. When he returns, Joseph maintains the Egyptian separation customs, and not ready to reveal himself, eats alone. Joseph, communicating with the steward, was able to have his brothers sitting in order of their birth and served them generously, but gave five times to Benjamin, perhaps as a test to see if any of the old envy might arise as it did when Joseph was favored by Jacob.
Obedience to parents does not rule out modest and humble appeals to them. Sometimes those in authority understand authority to mean that no inferior has a right to share an opinion or a solution to a problem. This is not the meaning of authority. Judah’s argument with Jacob is respectful and necessary, and those of us in any form of leadership should have the humility to listen to inferiors when they have something to say.
Constancy is a virtue, but obstinacy is not. So said Matthew Henry, and he is right. We are not infallible, and thus, although it is good to be resolved in a right path, it is folly for us to think every chosen path is the right one. When wisdom reveals to us the error of our way, it is godliness to course correctly rather than being headstrong. This is what Jacob did, and so must we.
Men must not take sinful advantage of others. Jacob notes that the money in the sacks might have been an oversight, and if that is the case, it needs to be returned. If you are playing a sport, it is perfectly acceptable to capitalize on the errors of your opposition. But if your employer writes a severance check and adds an extra zero by accident, God would have us call attention to it and allow it to be corrected. Exodus 23:4 says, “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.” You’re not allowed to ignore it, or take it. God’s justice does not permit us to capitalize on the shortcomings or misfortunes of our neighbor.
No amount of luxuries can make up for necessities. Canaan had balm, honey, spices, myrrh, nuts, and almonds, but it had no corn. No amount of jewelry can substitute basic clothing. No number of good friends can substitute for the companionship of a spouse. And so it is spiritually. No number of good books can substitute the Bible, and no amount of good works can be substitute man’s need of Christ. Christ is the water that quenches our thirst, and the bread which satisfies the soul. Christ said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). Remember that. No amount of success in this world can take the place of Christ, but as simple as that is to comprehend, most believers learn it through painful experience.
We should contemplate the inevitability of afflictions. Jacob shows an increase of faith in this chapter, which is seen in him being referred to as Israel, and culminates in him casting himself on the sovereignty of God in v. 14, “God Almighty give you mercy before the man… If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” This is not fatalism, for he hopes for mercy from God. But he acknowledges that his greatest fear may be realized. It is wise for us to consider our greatest loss and realize God is worthy to do as He pleases for His glory.
“Bread that perisheth does not endure like the bread of heaven.” — Charles Spurgeon