The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 28

Jacob Seeks Food in Egypt


VERSES 1,2  “Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
“And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.”

The detailed story of the manner in which Joseph was made food administrator in Egypt is recorded in the Bible, not to inform us as to how the Egyptians were kept from starving during the seven years of drought, but rather that we may know of God’s watch care over his own people—his chosen people—and the manner in which he preserved them. The account does not inform us how Jacob learned there was food in Egypt that could be bought. It simply says he ‘saw that there was corn’ there.

Jacob asked his sons a question, which reveals that in all the intervening centuries human nature has not changed. Usually when great trials come upon us we are at a loss to know what to do, or which way to turn. Jacob asked, ‘Why do ye look one upon another?’ How often it is that we look at one another as if hoping thus to find the solution to a problem with which we are confronted!

It is quite possible that Jacob was as much at a loss to know what to do as were his sons, until he learned that there was food in Egypt. But this was the answer. They need not starve if his sons were willing to make the necessary journey to buy food. Trials which come upon the Lord’s people are seldom lightened without some effort on their part. The Lord provides our needs, but not without our cooperation. God had provided food in Egypt in order that Jacob and his family might be kept alive, and the seed of Abraham be preserved. It was necessary that the sons go and get the food. However, it was a long and hazardous trip in those days.

VERSES 3-24  “And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
“But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
“And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
“And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
“And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
“And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
“And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.
“We are all one man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.
“And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
“And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.
“And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:
“Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
“Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.
“And he put them all together into ward three days.
“And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
“If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
“But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
“And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
“And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
“And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.”

Jacob had never fully recovered from the shock he received when his sons brought Joseph’s blood-smeared coat and spread it out before him with the implication that his boy had been slain by wild beasts. At that time he intimated that he would continue to mourn for Joseph until he himself died. His continued mourning is indicated in his decision not to let Benjamin accompany the other sons on their trip to Egypt, ‘lest peradventure mischief befall him.’ This shows clearly that Jacob had not forgotten the ‘mischief’ which had befallen Joseph, and that the incident was still a painful memory.

It may be significant that Jacob’s new name, Israel, is used in the narrative when it states that ‘the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came.’ The previous chapter shows that the famine was upon all the lands surrounding Egypt, and it seems possible that despite Joseph’s conservation program, Egypt could not supply food for all who needed it. This would mean that perhaps not all who sought food from Joseph would be successful. The name Israel means, ‘The prince that prevails with God.’ Israel’s sons were to secure food because their father had prevailed with God, and now God would favor him and his family in this, their great time of need.

The account indicates that Joseph decided personally who should be permitted to buy, and perhaps how much, of the precious food which he had stored during the seven years of plenty. Apparently he was not willing to trust these important decisions to his subordinates. And so it was that his brethren were brought directly into his presence. He recognized them, but they did not recognize him. He had been a mere lad when they sold him into Egypt, and doubtless had changed a great deal in his maturing years. Since they were more mature at the time, they would not have changed so much. Besides, he was dressed in keeping with his position of honor, and this would tend to disguise his identity.

Although Joseph spoke roughly to his brethren, and caused them many anxious hours of worry, it was not because he held any bitterness toward them. He wanted to bring them to a keen sense of the wrong they had committed and to cause them to confess their guilt. Joseph remembered his dreams, which were prophetic of a time when his brethren would bow down before him and be at his mercy, and now he knew that the time for the fulfillment of these dreams had come.

This strengthened Joseph’s faith in God still more, and because his heart was pure and humble it would enable him to realize more than ever that God’s hand was overruling in his affairs, and therefore there was no cause for him to harbor ill will toward his brethren. As he expressed it later, he saw that it was really God who had sent him to Egypt, and that at the most his brethren—although they had aimed to do him harm—were, in reality, only the agency used by the Lord to accomplish this purpose. All of the Lord’s people should endeavor to take this viewpoint of their trials, for it would help them to be kindly disposed toward their enemies.

Joseph’s method of dealing with his brethren was unique. In questioning their identity as he did, and insisting that they were spies, they could not help but be reminded of their long-lost brother, and of the sin they had committed in selling him as a slave. First, they became convinced as never before of the wrong they had done their brother, and confessed it to one another. This may have been the first time they had admitted their wrong so freely among themselves.

However, it was still somewhat of a secret guilt—one which, as yet, they were willing to discuss only among themselves. Supposing Joseph to be an Egyptian and not able to understand their language, since he had purposely talked to them through an interpreter, they did not realize he understood what they were talking about. But he did; and he was moved deeply at this evidence that they recognized the wrong they had done to him. This caused Joseph to go into another room and to weep.

In the attitude displayed by Joseph in this matter we have an illustration of God’s willingness and desire to forgive. The true spirit of forgiveness—of Godlike forgiveness—causes one to rejoice to know that a wrongdoer is beginning to realize his sin and is moving toward repentance. This is God’s attitude toward the entire human family, as shown in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Here we learn of the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents—that one sinner being Adam and his race, all of whom lost life through him.

VERSES 25-28  “Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.
“And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
“And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth.
“And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?”

One with a guilty conscience is prone to attribute evil motives even to the good deeds of others. Joseph, out of the goodness of his heart, returned the money his brethren had paid for the food they were taking back to Canaan. But, when one of them discovered it, they were afraid, and felt that God was in some way punishing them. It was an unusual experience, and since, as they believed, they were dealing with strangers who would not ordinarily be so benevolent, it would have been rather difficult for them to take any other view of the incident.

VERSES 29-34  “And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and told him all that befell unto them; saying,
“The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.
“And we said unto him, We are true men; we are no spies:
“We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
“And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone:
“And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.”

The nine brethren made the return journey to Canaan safely, but when they reached home they had a real problem in explaining to their father why Simeon was not with them, and that it would be necessary to take Benjamin the next time if they expected to obtain more food. They related their experiences in detail, which reminded them once more of their sin in selling Joseph and letting their father believe he was dead.

VERSES 35-38  “And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
“And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
“And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
“And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”

Previous to this, only one of the brethren had discovered that his money had been returned. But now they found that the purchase money for the sacks of food had been returned to all of them. Then they all became fearful, including Jacob. Jacob had never hinted that his sons had been directly responsible for his loss of Joseph, but on this occasion, nevertheless, he reminded them that both Joseph and Simeon had been with them, and that they returned to him without them. So, he said, ‘Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away.’

Without realizing it, Jacob was here expressing a truth, particularly concerning Joseph, which must have been very unpleasant for his sons to hear. Reuben assumed a noble position in the matter, offering his own two sons in sacrifice should they fail to bring Benjamin back to his father. At the time his brethren first decided to do away with Joseph, Reuben had opposed the plan. Apparently he possessed a more tender conscience than the others.

Jacob, up to this point, was determined that Benjamin should not be taken to Egypt, for he could not bear the thought of losing him as he supposed he had lost Joseph. Such a calamity, he said, ‘would bring down his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.’ The Hebrew word translated ‘grave’ in this text is ‘sheol.’ It is the second time it appears in the Bible. Jacob also used it, on the first occasion, and in a similar connection.

Sheol’ is the only Hebrew word in the Old Testament that is translated ‘hell,’ but is usually translated in this way only when the text applies to a wicked person. Where the death of the righteous is indicated, the translators usually use the word ‘grave.’ This, of course, is misleading, for it gives the impression that the wicked go to a different place at death than do the righteous. It is especially unfortunate because to many minds the word ‘hell’ conveys the thought of torment in fire and brimstone.

It is interesting to note, however, that Jacob speaks of his gray hairs going down into ‘sheol’—the death condition. It would be difficult to understand how this could be, if sheol is indeed a place of fire. Certainly, gray hair would not last long in such a place. Actually, of course, Jacob refers to his gray hair as symbolic of his old age. He was already mourning over the loss of Joseph, and would continue to do so; and now, if his sorrow was to be increased through the loss of Benjamin also, his death would be hastened, being already old. In death he would rest unconsciously until the resurrection.

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