Genesis 42 – Guess Who Is Coming for Dinner
Like recessions, depressions, and other economic dislocations, famine forces people to move. This is why humans occupy every habitable region of the world – and even places whose extreme temperatures I consider uninhabitable! In an age where travel is easy, migration is making an increasingly interconnected world. It is estimated that 244 migrants today or 3.3% of the world’s population.
This passage reminds us that migrants are vulnerable and, relatively, powerless. They don’t belong. They may not speak the language (they are using an interpreter to speak with Joseph and don’t understand that he can understand them). They don’t have rights. Joseph can, on a whim, make accusations and lock them up. This is instructive for those of us who follow the one whose power was made perfect in weakness.
When Joseph’s brothers show up he recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him. On the one hand, their inability to recognize him is understandable: Joseph had deliberately shed his Hebrew identity. He shaved his head and beard (he no longer sports the wild-man look). He wears makeup and chic Egyptian threads. He swears by Pharaoh (v. 15), playing the part. And of course, most importantly, he is out of context. They cannot imagine that this powerful Egyptian is their brother. On the other hand, their failure to recognize that Joseph is their brother is yet another instance in a long line of failures.
In recognizing his brothers Joseph revisits his own identity. He is filled with contradictory emotions: Sweet revenge for the violence done to him. Vindication, as Joseph remembered the dream that got him into such trouble is precisely fulfilled as his brothers bow before him (v.6). Anger – evidence by his harsh tone toward them. And tears, which cause him to turn away. Could he even be glad to see him? What emotions may be in play?
Joseph accuses them of spying. The ten brothers literally reply in Hebrew, “Twelve brothers your servants are… and one is no more” (v. 13). Ironically the one they view/claim as dead is their accuser.
What do you make of Joseph’s “playing” with his brothers? Is it revenge or a test? The guilt the brothers confess before Joseph suggests that Joseph has achieved the desired result (v. 21,22). Notice that the narrator tells us how Joseph pleaded with his brothers for his life, a detail that was not revealed earlier. Notice also that the guilt is collective. Reuben who tried to stop them does not absolve himself from what they perceive as collective punishment.
The return of the silver (v. 25) mirrors the silver the brothers received from the Ishmaelites for Joseph. What do we make of the second discovery of silver in verse 35? Is this a second tradition or are the brothers acting this discovery out in front of their father?
V. 38 – Jacob’s favoritism continues to stun sensitive readers. He refuses to allow them to take Benjamin, Joseph’s brother through Rachel, for “He alone remains.” What are the rest of the brothers, who are all sons of Leah? Apparently… nothing… It is the sort of disinheritance that caused them to sell Joseph into slavery in the first place.
Genesis 43 – A Second Journey
Poor Simeon. They did not rush back to spring him from prison. Jacob seems willing to sacrifice him in order to protect Benjamin.
But with time the grain is eaten and hunger returns. Judah confronts Jacob and puts the issue forcibly, either we risk Benjamin or we all (including our children) will die. He even takes personal responsibility, whereas Reuben promised the sacrifice his two sons, the next generation. Some believe that in this speech, he replaces Reuben as head of the family, the First Born.
For a second time Joseph breaks into tears. Like many powerful men and so as not to give up the ruse, Joseph takes leave and weeps alone. He washes to remove any evidence and then commands a supper.
The Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews. It is not entirely clear why. Some think it is because the Hebrews ate lamb, which is also described as detestable (Genesis 46:34). Others think there religious reasons may lie behind this. But the end result is that Egyptians, the brothers (seated by age) and Joseph eat at different tables. Benjamin is treated with favoritism (5x more food) but shares with his brothers.
Genesis 44 – Framing Benjamin
One wonders whether Joseph intended to rebuild his family with Benjamin, his blood (by both father and mother) brother. Again, Judah speaks directly, having replace Reuben about the consequences of not returning with Benjamin. Notice Judah is concerned less about what will happen to him than the grief would cause his father.
Genesis 45 – The Great Reveal
Joseph reveals himself. His brothers are terrified. and he is overcome by grief.
But notice how Joseph frames the terrible events in terms of God’s redemptive purpose. We cannot always see God’s redemptive purpose in this life, but the notion that God redeems and can bring good out of tragedy and evil, is a central claim of the gospel. It is the message of the cross.