Genesis (Part 194)

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

Genesis 42:26-34

26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

29 When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’”


Joseph’s brothers return home and tell Jacob of what has happened. They learn on their journey, and after returning home, that all of the money they brought, to pay for their grain, is in their sacks. As a result, they worry that Egypt will believe they stole the grain.

Picking up with their departure in verse 27, in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(27) In the inn.—Heb., lodging-place, literally, place to pass the night. It is quite possible that on a route frequented by numerous caravans there were places where a certain amount of protection for the beasts of burden and their attendants had been provided, either by the rulers, or by benevolent people. But Joseph’s brethren would find there at most only walls and water. “The one” who opened his sack is said by tradition to have been Levi. At the end of the verse this sack is called by another name, signifying a travelling-bag, or wallet for forage. The translation of these three different words, vessel, wallet, and sack, indifferently by the last of them, has led to the absurd view, common among commentators, that Joseph’s brethren went down into Egypt, each with one ass and one sack. Hence their astonishment that such an insignificant knot of men should be brought before the governor of Egypt. But the word used in Genesis 42:25 signifies everything into which corn could be put; and the word at the end of this verse is the travelling-bag, which each of the patriarchs carried behind him on his riding ass. Their men would go on foot at the side of the beasts of burden laden with the corn.

It is said here that one only found his money at the lodging-place, and that the rest did not find their money until they emptied their sacks on reaching home. the sacks mentioned here (in Genesis 42:35) were the same as the travelling-bags, for they are expressly so called in Genesis 43:21-23. In Genesis 43:21, however, they tell Joseph’s steward that they all found their money in the mouth of their sacks on opening them at the lodging-place. This was not strictly accurate, but it would have been wearisome and useless to enter into such details. Two things it was necessary to show: the first, that all had found their money; the second, that they had gone too far on their journey homewards to be able to return and give the money back. Probably what is said in Genesis 43:21 was literally true only of one, and he found his money because it had been put in last, and was therefore at the mouth of the wallet. In all the other sacks it had been put in first, under the corn, and so they did not find it until “they had emptied their sacks.”

The note above spends time comparing the story presented here against the one retold in the next chapter when the brothers return to Egypt. I agree with the comment that one need not get too hung up on the details as they ultimately do not matter with respect to the intent of their conveyance AND as it is likely true that it made little sense to go into the specifics with the ruler in Egypt (who they have not yet recognized is their brother, Joseph.)

In verse 28, they learn that one of the brothers still has his sack of money. They collectively worry as they know now they could be viewed as thieves. Continuing in Ellicott:

(28) Their heart failed them.—This verse is far more poetical in the Hebrew, where, literally it is And their heart went forth, and they trembled each to his brother. Their courage left them, and they stood looking at one another in terror.

It is easy to view Joseph as being cruel, but it makes sense that he wished to test their hearts and their characters after their treatment of him two decades prior. What kind of men are coming to him for help? What has happened to his beloved brother and father? These are not questions for which he can obtain easy answers. Continuing in The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 42:29-34

And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaanand told him all that befell unto them (literally, all the things happening to them, the participle being construed with the accusative); saying, The man, who is the lord of the land, spake roughly to us (literally, spake the man, lord of the country, with us harsh things, the order and arrangement of the words indicating the strong feeling which their treatment in Egypt had excited), 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 (vide Genesis 42:11Genesis 42:13). And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of Our brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. It is observable that they do not mention Joseph’s first proposal, probably because of Joseph’s subsequent kindness; neither do they intimate the fact that Simeon was bound, perhaps through a desire to soften the blow as much as possible for their venerable parent. 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 traffic in the land (cf. Genesis 34:10).

I wonder if the brothers, or Jacob, wondered among themselves at “the ruler’s” test. They almost certainly discussed the absurdity of it. “If we were spies, could we not just fetch a young man from our homeland and present him as our brother?” Do they have an inkling then that more is at play in this request than they know? Almost certainly. That inkling likely fuels their fear.

We’ll see Jacob’s reaction in the next section.