Genesis 42

1 Indecisiveness can arise when we face difficult tasks. Here the brothers were reluctant to make a long journey to a distant country. There was an element of danger, but the journey was necessary for their continued survival. Israel provides both direction and prodding. God does the same things for us when we are discouraged and unfocused.
4 The danger of travel was very real, and Israel did not want to lose his youngest son. Benjamine was the only other son of his beloved wife, Rachel. This undoubtedly lowered the other brothers' moral.
5 The famine Joseph spoke of in Gen 41:31 was more than just an Egyptian problem. All the surrounding countries suffered as well.
6 Joseph had seen this in a vision recorded in Gen 37:7. Notice that the scene was in a grain field.

The famine was widespread, and there were people from all the surrounding regions traveling to Egypt to buy grain. It would be difficult to imagine that Joseph screened every person that came to buy grain. Certainly, he would have had a team of people doing this. So how did the brothers just "happen" to appear before Joseph? It could have been Divine providence. It is also possible that Joseph sent out orders that if a large group of brothers from Canaan showed up that they were to be brought directly to him.

7 The last thing the brothers would have expected to see was Joseph. They did not expect the one they sold as a slave to become a great ruler. Joseph had obviously grown since the last time the brothers saw him. About 21 years before Joseph had been a teenager. In addition, Joseph probably had his head covered and might have been wearing Egyptian makeup. He also spoke Egyptian. The brothers had no idea that they were actually standing before their long lost brother.
8 Joseph, of course, had no problem recognizing them. However, he decided not to reveal his identity. He is certainly curious to find out if they have changed or if they had remorse for what they did to him. The only way he could get objective answers to this is if they did not know who he was.

Joseph, of course, had not ventured up to Canaan during his years as a ruler. His tasks in Egypt would have kept him very busy. He had a young family. Travel to Canaan would have been difficult and time consuming. He probably could have sent messages to his family, but he chose not to. Perhaps Joseph realized that God would arrange a family reunion if it were needed. It also may not have been fitting for Joseph to suddenly reappear and prove that his brothers were worse than liars. While a teenager, Joseph had gladly trumpeted his special dreams and special treatment from his father. He was reluctant to do that again least even more jealousy arose in his family.

9 It is not until this point that Joseph remembers his dreams of grandeur as a teenager. He had probably not thought of them since he had been sold into slaver when -- it appeared that any hope of the dream coming true were crushed. Now, it was easy for him to see that his dreams were coming true.

I wonder how often Joseph thought about what his first words to his brothers might be if he ever saw them again. This ruse may have been spontaneous or previously planned to get the brothers to think about what they had done.

One country or tribe might declare war on another to attain their land, possessions, or simply to have power over them. Perhaps there was a danger that foreigners would try to take what Egypt had through warfare during this severe famine. However, Egypt would have been the wealthiest country during the famine, and could have afforded substantial protection to discourage any would be aggressors. Thus, Joseph's accusation against this little Hebrew tribe is extreme and dubious, but Joseph had the advantage over his brothers now and would use it to search their hearts before he entrusted himself to them.

11 Baffled by the accusations, the brothers attempt to give evidence that they are not spies.
13 This does not sound like much of a defense, but there may have been more to the interrogation that brought out these statements (Gen 43:7).

It may be a euphemism, but the brothers use the term "no more" instead of "dead" do describe their twelfth brother's absence. Of course, they have no way of knowing what happened to Joseph, but they would soon find out.

14 The brothers were undoubtedly frustrated and at a loss as to how to defend themselves against this accusation.
15 This is the crux of Joseph's ruse. He loved his full brother very much, and was eager to see him. It is not entirely clear why Joseph puts his brothers into such an awkward position, but perhaps the idea is to test the brothers to see if their selfish attitudes had changed.
16 Joseph suggests that nine of the brothers stay in prison while one went back to Canaan to retrieve Benjamin.
17 To show that he is not to be trifled with, Joseph throws his brothers in prison for three days. Whether Joseph intended them to suffer is not known, but we can be certain that the brothers' lives were never in danger. Remember that Joseph knew the chief jailer very well.
18 Joseph explains that the only reason he would show the brothers mercy is because he fears God (that is, he recognizes he is accountable to God). Obviously, when the brothers intended to kill Joseph and later sold him, they were not concerned about God.

If we fear God, we should also show mercy to others. We recognize God grace towards us, and become willing to show grace towards others. This does not mean there are no consequences or retribution, but it does mean that forgiveness is the goal.

19 This proposal is more palatable than the one given a few verses earlier. The goal, in more ways than one, is to see if the brothers have become honest men.
20 "To die" referred both to execution as spies and death by starvation. Joseph implied he would not do business with them if they could not prove their story.
21 Guilt can pop its head up at the most interesting times. Little did they suspect that their guilt was indeed linked to this current event.

Contrast the brothers' previous dealings with Joseph with Mat 5:7.

22 Reuben is guilty of revisionist history. He really did not want Joseph killed for his own selfish reasons. He had actually tried to persuade the other brothers to let Joseph starve to death rather than murder him outright.
24 Jacob was overcome with emotion. He could remember all too vividly being kidnapped, threatened, and then sold as a slave, and he found it impossible to keep a straight face.

Simeon was the second oldest and Joseph probably reasoned that he was the heir apparent since the oldest, Reuben, had disgraced his father.

25 Each of the brothers was probably buying grain for his family. When dealing with suspected spies, most countries are not very generous. Here, Joseph not only allowed the brothers to buy grain, but provided for their journey as well. Still, they did not catch on.
28 Finding the money was not a pleasant surprise. The brothers were still trembling from their encounter with the "harsh" ruler of Egypt. Certainly, an accountant would find that the brothers' money was missing from the Egyptian treasury. If they returned to Egypt, they would be accused of robbery on top of espionage.

Their first response: blame God.

35 Either the other brothers had not opened their sacks yet, or the money was buried in the grain. This only added to their fear that they might be accused of being spies and thieves.
36 Jacob saw this as a hopeless situation. He was still mourning the loss of Joseph twenty years later. Then he found that another son was languishing in a foreign prison accused of espionage -- a capital offense. Now he is told that only the appearance of Benjamin before this ruler would clear Simeon, but it was obvious that other serious charges could be lodged against them. Jacob was becoming despondent.
37 Reuben again attempted to assert himself as leader of the household. His offer was intended to be a noble gesture, but the thought of killing two of your grandsons because one of your sons died would not be very comforting.
38 Israel refused to send Benjamin -- at first.