Genesis (Part 196)

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

Genesis 43:1-10

43 Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”


After the end of the last chapter, the brothers do not return right away to Egypt with Benjamin to rescue Simeon. They delay because their father Jacob/Israel will not let them bring Benjamin – the explicit instructions Joseph had given for them for when they return. If this seems cruel, we should consider that Jacob 1) does not believe Benjamin will return home from Egypt, and 2) likely believes Simeon is being fed well enough where he is. Looking at verse one, in The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 43:1Genesis 43:2

And the famine was sore (literally, was heavy) in the land (sc. of Canaan). And it came to pass, when they had eaten up—literally, had finished to eat up, i.e. not nearly (Mercerus, Bush), but entirely consumed—the corn which they had brought out of Egypt,—it is probable that only Jacob’s family partook of the Egyptian corn, the slaves supporting themselves on roots, vegetables, and milk (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Gerlach)—their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food. What they could buy would be little in proportion to their needs.

Jacob’s refusal to relent to Joseph’s terms continues until their family runs out of food. Then, perhaps facing the prospect of Benjamin starving, Jacob begins to reconsider sending his sons to Egypt. He is quickly reminded by them concerning the terms of their return. Continuing:

Genesis 43:3

And Judah spake unto him, saying,—Judah now becomes the spokesman, either because Reuben’s entreaty had been rejected, and Levi, who followed Reuben and Simeon in respect of age, had forfeited his father’s confidence though his treachery to the Shechemites (Keil, Murphy); or because he could speak to his father with greater freedom, having a freer conscience than the rest (Lange); or because he was a man possessed of greater prudence and ability than the rest (Lawson), if indeed the suggestion is not correct that they all endeavored to persuade their father, though Judah’s eloquence alone is recorded (Calvin)—the man (i.e. the Egyptian viceroy) did solemnly protest (literally, protesting did protest, i.e. did earnestly protest) unto us, saying,—with an oath which is not here repeated (Genesis 42:15)—Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you.

In chapter 42, Reuben makes the same plea with Jacob that Judah makes here in Chapter 43. As the note states, there is some debate over whether there is deeper meaning concerning Judah’s role here with his father. Is this early evidence that Judah – though not the eldest – is now the heir apparent of Jacob? We read more of this in later chapters but the tormented history of this family certainly impacts the way Jacob views his sons. Continuing on:

Genesis 43:4Genesis 43:5

If thou wilt send—literally, if thou art sending, i.e. if thou art agreeable to send (cf. Genesis 24:42Genesis 24:49Judges 6:36)—our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food: but (literally, and) if thou wilt not send him (a similar form of expression to the above, the two words יֵשׁ, being, and אַיִן, not being, including the substantive verb, and being conjoined with a participle for the finite verb), we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. Judah’s peremptory language receives sufficient justification from the fact that he believed the Egyptian governor to be in thorough earnest when he declared that without Benjamin they should sue a second time in vain.

Judah reminds Jacob of the terms set for their return by the mysterious Egyptian ruler that he did not recognize as his own brother. It seems likely that this was by now well known within the family but it still represents a hurdle for getting help. Perhaps it required finishing all of the food to force a decision to be made. When Jacob responds in verse six, the passage refers to him as Israel. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 43:6

And Israel said,—this is the second time that Jacob is so designated in the history of Joseph, the first time being in Genesis 37:1-36; which recites the sad account of Joseph’s disappearance from the family circle. The recurrence of what may eventually prove another breach in the theocratic family is probably the circumstance that revives the name Israel, which besides seems to prevail throughout the chapter (vide Genesis 37:8Genesis 37:11)—Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother! literally, whether yet to you a brother (sc. there was).

As the note states, this is only the second time in this saga that Jacob is referred to as Israel – the previous instance being all the way back in chapter 37. The note provides some theories as to why the text gives names him this way in this instance.

Jacob/Israel seems to bemoan the fact that his sons have put him (and themselves) in this situation. You can kind of hear the exasperation in his voice when he asks why in the world they shared so much information about their family with the Egyptian ruler in the first place. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(7) The man asked us straitly.—In Genesis 42:13 they appear rather as volunteering a statement of their family relations than as having it wrung from them by cross-examination. But really this history must be taken as explaining and supplementing the former. Accused of being spies, they would naturally give an account of themselves, and Joseph, anxious to know about his father and brother, would certainly put numerous questions to them concerning their home and family. And they would answer them fully and frankly, little suspecting who was the questioner, and what was his real reason for exacting Benjamin’s presence in proof of their trustworthiness:

Of our state and of our kindred.—Heb., concerning ourselves and our birthplace (see Genesis 12:1Genesis 24:4Genesis 24:7Genesis 31:3), that is, our home. Questions about ourselves would be such as those given: “Is your father yet alive? Have ye a brother?” And besides these, Joseph would interrogate them closely concerning the place whence they came, and the state of things there.

Here, the brothers explain the situation to their father in terms that make it sound as though they divulged their family history under heavy questioning. Earlier in Genesis, though, the text does not present things that way. Either the brothers are not being completely honest with their father, or we as the reader should read these verses as a supplement and expansion of the earlier verses (as the comment suggests you should do.)

In verse 7, the text tells us “they said” – meaning that the brothers answered as a group, perhaps speaking over the top of one another in their own defense. In verse 8, though, Judah speaks up again, seemingly as either the chosen spokesman or as the self and situation appointed spokesperson. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 43:8-10

And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me (Benjamin, though styled a lad, must have been at this time upwards of twenty years of age), and we will arise and go; that we may (literally, and we shall) live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him (the verb conveys the idea of changing places with another); of my hand shalt thou require him (vide Genesis 9:5): if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee,—the words are even more emphatic than those of Reuben (Genesis 42:37)—then let me bear the blame for ever—literally, and I shall be a sinner (i.e. liable to punishment as a sinner) against thee all the days (sc. of my life). The thought is elliptical. Judah means that if he does not return with Benjamin he shall both have failed in his promise and be guilty of a dire transgression against his father (cf. 1 Kings 1:21). For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time—literally, these two times. The nobility of character which shines out so conspicuously in Judah’s language is afterwards signally illustrated in his pathetic pleading before Joseph, and goes far to countenance the suggestion that a change must have taken place in his inner life since the incidents recorded of him in Genesis 37:1-36 and Genesis 38:1-30.

Judah makes the case to his father and even more emphatically than Reuben had previously, promises to see that Benjamin returns home. This scene is important in bridging the incident we saw a couple of chapters ago with Judah inadvertently sleeping with his late son’s wife, and the scene we see later in Genesis wherein Jacob blesses Judah in the place of his older brothers.

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