Genesis (Part 190)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 42:1-5

42 When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, 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.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.


It has now been twenty years since Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.

It was thirteen years between his enslavement until he was elevated in Egypt, and then seven ore years of plenty until the famine began. As it is possible that Jacob and his sons held out a bit longer after the famine’s onset, it may have been slightly longer than two decades before they set out to Egypt at Jacob’s behest. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(1) When Jacob saw.—That is, learned, understood, that there was corn in Egypt. As we have seen (Genesis 37:25), there was a large caravan trade between Palestine and Egypt, and the report would gradually get abroad that food might be purchased there.

Why do ye look . . . —In the second rainless season not only would the flocks and herds begin to languish, but the numerous retainers of Jacob and his sons would also become enfeebled from insufficient nourishment, and begin to die of low fever and those other diseases which follow in the train of famine. Jacob’s words, therefore, mean, Why are you irresolute, and uncertain what to do? And then he encourages them to take this journey as a possible means of providing for the wants of their households.

Continuing on into verse two with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 42:2

And he said, Behold, I have heard (this does not imply that the rumor had not also reached Jacob’s sons, but only that the proposal to visit Egypt did not originate with them) that there is corn—שֶׁבֶר ut supra, σῖτος ( LXX.), triticum (Vulgate)—in Egypt: get you down thither. That Jacob did not, like Abraham (Genesis 12:10)and Isaac (Genesis 26:2), propose to remove his family to Egypt, may be explained either by the length of the journey, which was too great for so large a household, or by the circumstance that the famine prevailed in Egypt as well as Canaan (Gerlach). That he entrusted his sons, and not his servants, with the mission, though perhaps dictated by a sense of its importance (Lawson), was clearly of Divine arrangement for the further accomplishment of the Divine plan concerning Joseph and his brethren. And buy (i.e. buy corn, the verb being a denominative from שֶׁבֶר, corn) for us from thence. From this it is apparent that the hitherto abundant flocks and herds of the patriarchal family had been greatly reduced by the long-continued and severe drought, thus requiring them to obtain food from Egypt, if either any portion of their flocks were to be saved, or themselves to escape starvation, as the patriarch explained to his sons. That we may (literally, and we shall) live, and not die.

The note above mentions Abraham and Isaac. Here is a timeline concerning all of the patriarchs to this point.

Isaac seems to have still been alive when Joseph was sold into slavery. However, he is apparently no longer alive at the outset of the famine.

Continuing with Ellicott and verse 3:

(3) Joseph’s ten brethren.—Either their cattle and households had been already greatly reduced by the mortality caused by the famine, or each patriarch must have taken a number of servants with him, if the corn carried home was to be enough to be of any real use. We learn, however, that they still possessed flocks and herds when they went down into Egypt (Genesis 47:1), and also households of servants (Genesis 46:5, where see Note). Joseph, moreover, besides the wagons and their contents, sends twenty loads of provisions for the use of his father by the way (Genesis 45:21-23), showing thereby that there were very many mouths to feed. Probably, therefore, there was some small amount of rain in Palestine, though not enough for the support of crops of corn. There would be, however, supplies of milk and flesh, but not much more.

The note here paints a picture of the situation for Jacob and his sons. It is likely that they have been prosperous over the course of time. However, the accumulation of servants and herds creates a large need on their part. They might be somewhat unique, though, in their ability to buy grain in large quantities. Continuing in verse four with the Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 42:4

But (literally, and) Benjamin, Joseph’s brother (vide Genesis 35:18), Jacob sent not with his brethren. Not because of his youth (Patrick, Lange), since he was now upwards of twenty years of age, but because he was Joseph’s brother, and had taken Joseph’s place in his father’s affections (Lawson, Lange, Murphy, &c.), causing the old man to cherish him with tender solicitude. For he said (to, or within, himself, perhaps recalling the fate of Joseph), Lest peradventure mischief befall him. אָסוֹן, from אָסַה, to hurt (Gesenius, Furst), and occurring only elsewhere in Genesis 42:38Genesis 44:29, and Exodus 21:22Exodus 21:23, denotes any sort of personal injury in general, and in particular here such mischance as might happen to a traveler.

In verse 4, we learn that Benjamin is Jacob’s new favorite. He is the second of Rachel’s sons – and the one for whom she died while giving birth. Unlike with Joseph, though, Jacob appears wary of potential dangers to Benjamin. Perhaps the passage of time has provided him with some inkling of the truth of what happened to Joseph. Sending Benjamin unprotected with his brothers to Egypt might prove unwise. Alternatively Jacob may still believe the story of Joseph’s demise but may now just be superstitious over those same circumstances repeating. Continuing:

Genesis 42:5

And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came—literally, in the midst of the comers; not as being desirous to lose themselves in the multitudes, as if troubled by an alarming presentiment (Lange), which is forced and unnatural; but either as forming a part of a caravan of Canaanites (Lawson), or simply as arriving among ethers who came from the same necessity (Keil). For the famine was in the land of Canaan. The statements in this verse concerning the descent of Joseph’s brethren to Egypt, and the prevalence of the famine in the land of Canaan, both of which have already been sufficiently announced (vide Genesis 42:3Genesis 41:57Genesis 42:2), are neither useless repetitions nor proofs of different authorship, but simply the customary recapitulations which mark the commencement of a new paragraph or section of the history, viz; that in which Joseph’s first interview with his brethren is described.

And now the sons of Israel arrive in Egypt, ready to purchase grain, unaware of who of who they will be purchasing from.