Reading For Thursday Genesis 42:1-38


The story makes a swift transition from Egypt back to Canaan, and from Joseph back to Jacob. The change of scene is readily explained: the famine that Joseph had interpreted in Pharaoh's dream has reached Canaan. Jacob is still bewailing his lost son and refusing to be comforted. At the start of Chapter 42, he is still trapped in his grief despite the passage of about twenty years. It is not that a parent like Jacob should be expected to ‘be over it’ because this kind of grief never truly ends even if over time it is easier to cope with. But Jacob seems to be trapped in his grief and unable to re-establish and attend to relationships with others, for example, or the ordinary demands of life and work. There can be something self-indulgent about the occasions when a person shows no such movement or development over a period of two decades. So, when Jacob speaks, the note of querulous self-pity is still in his voice when he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.”” (Genesis 42:1–2, ESV)

The pain of the past manifests as Jacob refuses to send Benjamin (the youngest son and the only other son, besides Joseph, born to his favorite wife, Rachel). Joseph may be lost, but Jacob has found a new favorite and the dysfunction continues in familial relations. It is interesting to read that ten of Joseph’s brothers rather than ‘ten of Jacob’s sons’ join others as they go in search of food in Egypt. 

The plot really picks up as the brothers have to come to Joseph for aid. Joseph immediately recognized his brothers in the audience, but they did not recognize him. Joseph’s aim seems to be to elicit information about his father and brother and to ascertain whether or not his brothers had changed during the past two decades. Joseph attempted to accomplish this by charging them with espionage, challenging their credibility, putting them in jail for three days, demanding that the younger brother to whom they referred to be brought to Egypt, and insisting that one brother be left in Egypt as guarantor that the others would return with Benjamin. 

The temptation to exercise vengeance must have been appealing, but Joseph has demonstrated self-control before and he does not give full vent to his frustration and anger. In fact, Joseph was deeply moved as the brothers discussed among themselves their past sins against Joseph. Since he had spoken to them only through an interpreter, they assumed that he could not understand them. Joseph ordered his servants to return each brother’s silver in his sack of grain. The brothers were no little perplexed when they discovered their silver. As they arrive home, the brothers tell their father what has happened and why Simeon has not returned with them; then, they open their sacks and find their money returned. Jacob was greatly distressed when he heard of all that had transpired. He had lost Joseph, and now Simeon, and he was not about to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers. Reuben pleaded with his father to entrust Benjamin to his care. If he did not bring Benjamin home, Jacob could put to death Reuben’s two sons. Reuben meant well, but his gesture was not very reassuring. 

We look in vain for any trace of the man who relentlessly wrestled with God. Instead, Jacob seems pessimistic and mean. Reuben attempts to rally his father, offering his own sons as surety that he will deliver Benjamin safely home if Jacob allows them to return to Egypt with him, to secure Simeon’s release. But Jacob has no desire to risk anything with Benjamin. He tells the brothers that there is only one left and if he loses Benjamin, he would just die. Surely that stung the brothers as it sounded in their ears. It seems that the other nine surviving sons of their father don't matter all that much and Simeon might be written off. It seems there is no faith, no hope in Jacob; only despair.  

Thing To Consider:

  • When it comes to forgiveness, why do we want to forget but not forgive?  
  • Why is that approach selfish?
  • What is the relationship between guilt and forgiveness?  
  • Why do we resort to hyperbole when we suffer (i.e. It cannot be any worse, no one understands, etc.)?