Genesis 43:1-34

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.” [1]

Growing up I remember some of the military recruiting slogans that used to decorate the television screens and magazine pages of the era. I recall the Air Force displaying the cockpit of a fighter jet under which was the slogan “This desk flies at Mach II. But you can handle it.” The Navy encouraged people to, “Join the Navy and see the world.” The Army told us, “Be all you can be.” The Marines were, “looking for a few good men” (which would definitely be politically incorrect in our day).

The appeal of these advertisements is their ability to stir our natural desire to manage things or be in control of our lives, which is what most of us want deep down in our subconscious. We want a good life, as we define it. Most of us are willing to endure things that are not so good—so long as we are in control of the situation. We will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things—we will willingly submit to boot-camp-type hardships—as long as we are doing the submitting and believe we retain ability to manipulate the difficult circumstances to our ends. Some persons will die for what they believe—if the choice is theirs. The difficulty comes when control of life very obviously passes out of our hands and we see ourselves as the one acted upon rather than as the actor.[2]

That is one reason why God uses seemingly-dire circumstances in awakening the conscience to his demands on a life! As long as we feel we are in control, we think we can keep God and his standards at a distance. When we lose our sense of control, we are more inclined to acknowledge that it is God’s world in spite of everything and that we must ultimately come to terms with him and rest in his mercies and shalom.[3] God’s office is just past the end of your rope. Believers are being re-created to be entirely Jesus-dependent, to thank him for everything and rest in his sovereign plans.

This was the place where God had brought Jacob/Israel and his eleven sons. The famine around them was severe. God had used the famine to bring the older brothers to Egypt where they met Joseph, although they did not recognize him. Next, God subjected the brothers to the painful treatment of being tossed into the pit of the Royal prison. They had probably never endured such humiliation since they came from a wealthy and influential family in Hebron. But in Egypt, they were being treated as spies. It was there in prison, not knowing what would happen to them or whether they would be forgotten in the pit, that the brothers’ consciences began to awaken. It was after their incarceration that they first confessed sin: “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us” (Gen. 42:21).

However, the brothers had only so far expressed their remorse to one another. They had yet to mention the sovereign God of their fathers to themselves or anyone else. At this point in their story, they were as likely to see karma at work as they were God at work. They could simply have seen their punishment as resulting from the fact that history has a certain moral course to it. Only when they saw their money in their grain sacks did they begin to sense the presence of God. “What is this that God has done to us?” they cried (42:28). God was stepping up his work in the Jacobites’ hearts as we observed in chapter 42 last week.

Between chapters 42 and 43, there is a break in the action. However much had been accomplished, the sin against Joseph would never have been fully brought out into the open, confessed, and then forgiven were it not for the continuing hand of God in the events now narrated. There is no record that the brothers ever mentioned Joseph again once they returned home. They were away from Egypt, the place of their problems. They had grain. Perhaps things could get back to normal – even if Simeon were rotting in an Egyptian prison. They all seemed content to let well enough alone and forget their confrontation with their grievous sins.


Maybe they were hoping against hope that the rains would come and replenish their own crops so they would never have to return to Egypt. Maybe the man in charge would forget about them and let Simeon come home at some point. But YHWH had other plans. The famine continued to become more severe. The grain they brought back from Egypt was running low. Jacob and his sons do to their grain supply what the famine was doing to the land – consume [ravage] it. The patriarch-father Jacob-Israel, responsible for the household’s subsistence, is the first to turn his thoughts to the land of plenty, and the storehouses on the banks of the Nile: “Go again, buy us a little food.” (vv. 1–2).

Apparently, there was just enough grain left for the family to survive while the brothers made another round trip back to Egypt. Father Israel is forced to confront the forbidden subject, the one he would not hear of – Joseph’s demand that the brothers return with young Benjamin. Of course, his sons reminded him “the man” in Egypt would not receive them without Jacob’s pride and joy (vv. 3-7). Judah took charge of the conversation. Number one son, Reuben, had slept with his father’s concubine (35:22). Sons two and three, Simeon and Levi, had disqualified themselves by the violence against the Shechemites (not to mention Simeon is imprisoned in Egypt). This led to Judah being the one who takes charge. His leadership is firm and to the point:

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.”

The man in Egypt is large and in charge. They have no choice but to play by his rules. Judah put on his big-boy pants and pledged Benjamin’s safety. If he failed, he would assume ineradicable, personal guilt forever. But now there was no time to waffle over the decision. Swayed by Judah’s pledge and inescapable logic, Jacob/Israel gave explicit orders to takes gifts and double money to “the man.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man.

When he is acting as the patriarch in a saving way, Jacob is called “Israel” in this passage. Ironically, the gifts the sons were to bring Joseph were the very same kinds of items the Ishmaelite caravan would have carried, along with bound and enslaved Joseph, for sale in Egypt. With the brothers provisioned for their journey, Jacob/Israel offered a prayer for his sons (something he didn’t do on their first trip). “14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.

The opening phrase – “May God Almighty grant you mercy” – are not just words, because mercy is the narrative key of this entire episode. In fact, the events that would take place on the day of the brothers’ arrival in Egypt were a demonstration of God’s mercy. Near the conclusion of this section, in verse 30, when Joseph sees Benjamin, we read, “Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion [or mercy] grew warm.” It is the exact Hebrew word that is translated “mercy” in verse 14. So, mercy frames the account from beginning to end.[4] Notice also, Father Israel invokes the name El Shaddai – God Almighty. In Genesis, this name of God is associated with blessing, promises, and revelation of God’s sovereign nature. What Jacob prays are not simply nice words or a happy sentiment.

The Family Jacob is being forced to contend with the fact that God is the most real of all realities – he creates, ordains, and sustains all things. Their lives are ALWAYS in God’s hands even though they are only occasionally forced to realize it. The sons are charged by their father to go with the expectation that El Shaddai would grant them mercy. Jacob then recognized his favorite son is also in God’s hands. “And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” He reconciled himself to God’s will because he was backed into a corner and could no longer afford to live in the delusion of self-control. God’s office is just past the end of our ropes. But mercy and shalom reign there.


We don’t know how long the brothers’ journey took. Egypt’s border was at least a day and a night’s trip at a fast pace. When they arrived and “stood before Joseph,” they apparently were standing before Joseph’s representatives, because there was no verbal exchange between the brothers and Joseph. At the same time, we are told that Joseph saw that Benjamin was with them but did all his communicating through his steward. And further, we see that what he communicated left the brothers shocked and terrified, because he invited them to his house to dine with him at high noon (vv. 16-18).

With thousands of foreigners streaming in and out of the capital to buy food, why had the vizier singled them out? He was, after all, holding Simeon in prison as a spy. He must have some evil purpose in mind. High-ranking Egyptian officials were known to maintain private dungeons in their palaces.[5] Their nervous, wordy explanations reveal their fear:

18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.”

It seems not one of the brothers remembered Israel’s benediction, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man.” They were expecting only the worst and their fears were mounting as they blathered their excuses before Joseph’s chief steward. We know how the story goes. The brothers have not read the script. They are certain the “man in Egypt” means them harm. But then, they receive more shocking news on top of the invitation to feast with the man. The chief steward said, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money” (23). The brothers have only mentioned God as the overseer of karma – do good, earn good; do bad earn bad. And, so far in their collective story, they seem sure they have earned bad karma.

The Hebrew-speaking steward had responded Shalom lachem, “Peace to you,” the traditional Hebrew greeting for receiving guests. It meant that the arriving guests were received in “peace” and security. Mercy and peace were starting to rain down upon the unjust, undeserving brothers. There was no karma here, only grace. The steward, speaking to them in Hebrew, is not describing a miracle – as if the money magically appeared in their sacks. He’s relaying what Joseph has told him to say. The steward put the money back in the sacks as instructed. God was at work through human agency.

The pagan-raised Egyptian servant had to explain to Israel’s sons the gracious work of Elohim. Their father Jacob/Israel’s prayer is being answered before their eyes. Did they recall his prayer for mercy from God Almighty? Probably not. They make no mention of it. Moses doesn’t even record their reaction to their brother Simeon’s release from at least a year in custody (23b) now that Benjamin has been brought as Joseph demanded. Simeon’s freedom communicates forgiveness and a declaration of innocence. And the brothers busy themselves preparing for the vizier’s noon arrival. “24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

At high noon, the vizier arrived. The brothers bowed low and presented their gift. But they must not speak until spoken to. Joseph’s greeting is one of his most beautiful moments. His theme is one of peace, shalom. He inquired about Jacob, “Does your father have shalom? … Is he still alive?” (27). They responded, bowing down before Joseph, “Your servant our father has shalom; he is still alive” (28). The scene is dripping with peace and well-being. Again, the brothers bow like sheaves of grain before their savior, Joseph. The meeting grows warmer as Joseph engages young Benjamin.

29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Joseph addressed Benjamin with the tender affection of an older brother. His address has overtones of the later Aaronic Benediction of Numbers 6:25:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. [6]

Joseph’s words to Benjamin invoke a special blessing with words that do not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament except in the Aaronic Benediction. And with his blessing, he is again overcome and must excuse himself lest he give away his identity before he is ready. “30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there” (30). The text literally reads, “his mercies were heated up for his brother.”  Jacob’s prayer that El Shaddai would grant the brothers mercy is literally coming true. Every event of the day so far represented a flood of God’s mercy to the utterly undeserving brothers.

Hot, tender mercies were served in the house of Joseph! And in private, hot tears flowed from Joseph’s eyes as he wept alone. Joy and sorrow were surely mixed in those tears. But the joy was in what had begun that day and what was yet to come. After regaining his composure and washing his face, the vizier returned to his guests and gave orders.

“Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement.

They ate in their separate groups— Joseph alone as royal superior, the Egyptians by themselves because of dietary-religious scruples, and the Hebrews alone by elimination. How ironic that the last time the brothers dined around Joseph, they ate a meal as he cried out for his life from the depths of a cistern. That meal was hasty and bitter. This was a feast. Again, hidden mercy was at work – for the brothers had no idea who was hosting their meal. Joseph was once the victim, but now he is the victor.

The ten old brothers, who had once jeered and mocked Joseph, were now astonished to be arranged at their table according to their ages. Had Joseph been spying on their family? Was he supernaturally enlightened by Elohim, whom he had claimed to fear? The unworthy brothers, known more deeply by their host than they could know, sat down to eat a meal with their savior who has expertly drawn them to himself. Meals have an exalted position in both Old and New Testament literature. Merely satisfying one’s hunger by eating something would not be considered a meal. We can look to the meals Jesus shared with his disciples, the last of which took on special significance in light of his sacrificial, blood-shedding death and glorious resurrection. The meal is not merely expression of fellowship, but an act which engenders and preserves that fellowship. The host of the meal invites his guest to participate in his existence.

For the unworthy and undeserving brothers, this meal sealed their salvation and acceptance in the land of plenty. Joseph had welcomed his brothers into his own secure existence. Soon, his father and scores of nieces and nephews would join him in the land of salvation – a growing family saved not by their devotion to God Almighty but by God’s chesed (his loyalty love) toward them and the coming Promised Seed. Their shared existence represented in this feast would become eternal.

It was a great feast with plenty of food and drink. “34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.” (v. 34). Joseph was generous to all his brothers, but five times more so to young Benjamin. Joseph wanted to see how they would react to such favoritism. Would those old animosities and envies resurface? Happily, they did not. He scanned each of the older brothers’ faces every time a heaping portion was ladled onto Benjamin’s plate, but the brothers remained merry.[7]

In this chapter, we’ve seen that the older brothers take responsibility for their actions and pledged safety to their favored younger brother. They acknowledged their guilt and planned to make restitution for the money found in their sacks, showing honesty. They received their brother Simeon from prison, displaying unity. They recognize that God was at work in the circumstances of their lives, showing faith. And they rejoiced in their fellowship meal despite the favoritism shown to their younger brother, reflecting gratitude. God was been at work in the miseries, fears, and uncertainties of their lives as their savior executed his flawless plan to draw them to their salvation.

The brothers’ fears had proved groundless. God Almighty had answered Father Israel’s prayer even before the words left his lips. Unlike the demon gods of Egypt, God Almighty does not require human works to pour out goodness on his people. He rains down mercy because of who he is, not who we are. To those who are trusting into the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of the risen Promised Seed, he offers himself in fellowship at his table. He draws us to himself and he promises a land of plenty where he will be our God, we will be his people, and he will dwell with us eternally.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 43:1–10.

[2] Boice, 3:1021.

[3] Id.

[4] Hughes, 503. Kindle Edition.

[5] Id., 504.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Nu 6:24–26.

[7] Hughes, 506-508. Kindle Edition.