Joseph’s Brothers in Egypt
1 When Jacob heardtn Heb “saw.” there was grain in Egypt, hetn Heb “Jacob.” Here the proper name has been replaced by the pronoun (“he”) in the translation for stylistic reasons. said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?”sn Why are you looking at each other? The point of Jacob’s question is that his sons should be going to get grain rather than sitting around doing nothing. Jacob, as the patriarch, still makes the decisions for the whole clan.
2 He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for ustn Heb “and buy for us from there.” The word “grain,” the direct object of “buy,” has been supplied for clarity, and the words “from there” have been omitted in the translation for stylistic reasons. so that we may livetn Following the imperatives, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav expresses purpose of result. and not die.”tn The imperfect tense continues the nuance of the verb before it.
3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt.
4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers,tn Heb “But Benjamin, the brother of Joseph, Jacob did not send with his brothers.” The disjunctive clause highlights the contrast between Benjamin and the other ten. for he said,tn The Hebrew verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) could also be translated “thought” (i.e., “he said to himself”) here, giving Jacob’s reasoning rather than spoken words. “What if some accidenttn The Hebrew noun אָסוֹן (’ason) is a rare word meaning “accident, harm.” Apart from its use in these passages it occurs in Exodus 21:22-23 of an accident to a pregnant woman. The term is a rather general one, but Jacob was no doubt thinking of his loss of Joseph. happenstn Heb “encounters.” to him?”
5 So Israel’s sons came to buy grain among the other travelers,tn Heb “in the midst of the coming ones.” for the famine was severe in the land of Canaan.
6 Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country.tn The disjunctive clause either introduces a new episode in the unfolding drama or provides the reader with supplemental information necessary to understanding the story. Joseph’s brothers came and bowed downsn Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him. Here is the beginning of the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams (see Gen 37). But it is not the complete fulfillment, since all his brothers and his parents must come. The point of the dream, of course, was not simply to get the family to bow to Joseph, but that Joseph would be placed in a position of rule and authority to save the family and the world (41:57). before him withtn The word “faces” is an adverbial accusative, so the preposition has been supplied in the translation. their faces to the ground.
7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a strangersn But pretended to be a stranger. Joseph intends to test his brothers to see if they have changed and have the integrity to be patriarchs of the tribes of Israel. He will do this by putting them in the same situations that they and he were in before. The first test will be to awaken their conscience. to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered,tn Heb “said.” “From the land of Canaan, to buy grain for food.”tn The verb is denominative, meaning “to buy grain”; the word “food” could simply be the direct object, but may also be an adverbial accusative.
8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.
9 Then Joseph rememberedsn You are spies. Joseph wanted to see how his brothers would react if they were accused of spying. the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see if our land is vulnerable!”tn Heb “to see the nakedness of the land you have come.”
10 But they exclaimed,tn Heb “and they said to him.” In context this is best understood as an exclamation. “No, my lord! Your servants have come to buy grain for food!
11 We are all the sons of one man; we are honest men! Your servants are not spies.”
12 “No,” he insisted, “but you have come to see if our land is vulnerable.”tn Heb “and he said, ‘No, for the nakedness of the land you have come to see.’” The order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for clarity.
13 They replied, “Your servants are from a family of twelve brothers.tn Heb “twelve [were] your servants, brothers [are] we.” We are the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is with our father at this time,tn Heb “today.” and one is no longer alive.”tn Heb “and the one is not.”
14 But Joseph told them, “It is just as I said to you:tn Heb “to you, saying.” You are spies!
15 You will be tested in this way: As surely as Pharaoh lives,tn Heb “[By] the life of Pharaoh.”sn As surely as Pharaoh lives. Joseph uses an oath formula to let the brothers know the certainty of what he said. There is some discussion in the commentaries on swearing by the life of Pharaoh, but since the formulation here reflects the Hebrew practice, it would be hard to connect the ideas exactly to Egyptian practices. Joseph did this to make the point in a way that his Hebrew brothers would understand. See M. R. Lehmann, “Biblical Oaths,” ZAW 81 (1969): 74-92. you will not depart from this place unless your youngest brother comes here.
16 One of you must go and gettn Heb “send from you one and let him take.” After the imperative, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav (ו) indicates purpose. your brother, whiletn The disjunctive clause is here circumstantial-temporal. the rest of you remain in prison.tn Heb “bound.” In this way your words may be tested to see iftn The words “to see” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. you are telling the truth.tn Heb “the truth [is] with you.” If not, then, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!”
17 He imprisonedsn The same Hebrew word is used for Joseph’s imprisonment in 40:3, 4, 7. There is some mirroring going on in the narrative. The Hebrew word used here (אָסַף, ’asaf, “to gather”) is not normally used in a context like this (for placing someone in prison), but it forms a wordplay on the name Joseph (יוֹסֵף, yosoef) and keeps the comparison working. them all for three days.
18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do as I saytn Heb “Do this.” and you will live,tn After the preceding imperative, the imperative with vav (ו) can, as here, indicate logical sequence. for I fear God.sn For I fear God. Joseph brings God into the picture to awaken his brothers’ consciences. The godly person cares about the welfare of people, whether they live or die. So he will send grain back, but keep one of them in Egypt. This action contrasts with their crime of selling their brother into slavery.
19 If you are honest men, leave one of your brothers confined here in prisontn Heb “bound in the house of your prison.” while the rest of you gotn The disjunctive clause is circumstantial-temporal. and take grain back for your hungry families.tn Heb “[for] the hunger of your households.”
20 But you must bringtn The imperfect here has an injunctive force. your youngest brother to me. Thentn After the injunctive imperfect, this imperfect with vav indicates purpose or result. your words will be verifiedtn The Niphal form of the verb has the sense of “to be faithful; to be sure; to be reliable.” Joseph will test his brothers to see if their words are true. and you will not die.” They did as he said.tn Heb “and they did so.”
21 They said to one other,tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.” “Surely we’re being punishedtn Or “we are guilty”; the Hebrew word can also refer to the effect of being guilty, i.e., “we are being punished for guilt.” because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he wastn Heb “the distress of his soul.” when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distresssn The repetition of the Hebrew noun translated distress draws attention to the fact that they regard their present distress as appropriate punishment for their refusal to ignore their brother when he was in distress. has come on us!”
22 Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy,’ but you wouldn’t listen? So now we must pay for shedding his blood!”tn Heb “and also his blood, look, it is required.” God requires compensation, as it were, from those who shed innocent blood (see Gen 9:6). In other words, God exacts punishment for the crime of murder.
23 (Nowtn The disjunctive clause provides supplemental information that is important to the story. they did not know that Joseph could understand them,tn “was listening.” The brothers were not aware that Joseph could understand them as they spoke the preceding words in their native language. for he was speaking through an interpreter.)tn Heb “for [there was] an interpreter between them.” On the meaning of the word here translated “interpreter” see HALOT 590 s.v. מֵלִיץ and M. A. Canney, “The Hebrew melis (Prov IX 12; Gen XLII 2-3),” AJSL 40 (1923/24): 135-37.
24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned around and spoke to them again,tn Heb “and he turned to them and spoke to them.” he had Simeon takentn Heb “took Simeon.” This was probably done at Joseph’s command, however; the grand vizier of Egypt would not have personally seized a prisoner. from them and tied uptn Heb “and he bound him.” See the note on the preceding verb “taken.” before their eyes.
25 Then Joseph gave orders to filltn Heb “and they filled.” The clause appears to be elliptical; one expects “Joseph gave orders to fill…and they filled.” See GKC 386 §120.f. their bags with grain, to return each man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. His orders were carried out.tn Heb “and he did for them so.” Joseph would appear to be the subject of the singular verb. If the text is retained, the statement seems to be a summary of the preceding, more detailed statement. However, some read the verb as plural, “and they did for them so.” In this case the statement indicates that Joseph’s subordinates carried out his orders. Another alternative is to read the singular verb as passive (with unspecified subject), “and this was done for them so” (cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV).
26 So they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.tn Heb “and they went from there.”
27 When one of themtn Heb “and the one.” The article indicates that the individual is vivid in the mind of the narrator, yet it is not important to identify him by name. opened his sack to get feed for his donkey at their resting place,tn Heb “at the lodging place.” he saw his money in the mouth of his sack.tn Heb “and look, it [was] in the mouth of his sack.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the reader to look through the eyes of the character and thereby draws attention to the money.
28 He said to his brothers, “My money was returned! Here it is in my sack!” They were dismayed;tn Heb “and their heart went out.” Since this expression is used only here, the exact meaning is unclear. The following statement suggests that it may refer to a sudden loss of emotional strength, so “They were dismayed” adequately conveys the meaning (cf. NRSV); NIV has “Their hearts sank.” they turned trembling one to anothertn Heb “and they trembled, a man to his neighbor.” and said, “What in the world has God done to us?”tn Heb “What is this God has done to us?” The demonstrative pronoun (“this”) adds emphasis to the question.
29 They returned to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan and told him all the things that had happened to them, saying,
30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us and treated ustn Heb “made us.” as if we weretn The words “if we were” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. spying on the land.
31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies!
32 We are from a family of twelve brothers; we are the sons of one father.tn Heb “twelve [were] we, brothers, sons of our father [are] we.” One is no longer alive,tn Heb “the one is not.” and the youngest is with our father at this timetn Heb “today.” in the land of Canaan.’
33 “Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘This is how I will find out if you are honest men. Leave one of your brothers with me, and take graintn The word “grain” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. for your hungry households and go.
34 But bring your youngest brother back to me so I will knowtn After the imperative, the cohortative with prefixed vav indicates purpose/result. that you are honest men and not spies.tn Heb “that you are not spies, that you are honest men.” Then I will give your brother back to you and you may move about freely in the land.’”sn Joseph’s brothers soften the news considerably, making it sound like Simeon was a guest of Joseph (Leave one of your brothers with me) instead of being bound in prison. They do not mention the threat of death and do not at this time speak of the money in the one sack.
35 When they were emptying their sacks, there was each man’s bag of money in his sack! When they and their father saw the bags of money, they were afraid.
36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone.tn Heb “is not.” Simeon is gone.tn Heb “is not.” And now you want to taketn The nuance of the imperfect verbal form is desiderative here. Benjamin! Everything is against me.”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You maytn The nuance of the imperfect verbal form is permissive here. put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my caretn Heb “my hand.” and I will bring him back to you.”
38 But Jacobtn Heb “he”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. replied, “My son will not go down there with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left.sn The expression he alone is left meant that (so far as Jacob knew) Benjamin was the only surviving child of his mother Rachel. If an accident happens to him on the journey you have to make, then you will bring down my gray hairsn The expression bring down my gray hair is figurative, using a part for the whole – they would put Jacob in the grave. But the gray head signifies a long life of worry and trouble. in sorrow to the grave.”tn Heb “to Sheol,” the dwelling place of the dead.
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