Seder Olam says that it wasn’t until the second year of the famine that Yaakov sent his sons down to Egypt.
The Hebrew shever (grain) can be read sever (hope). It is understood that the original Hebrew text was without nikkud (vowel markers added by the Massorites). This means that the character shin could be read as sin and potentially alter the meaning of the word, providing that the meaning fits the context. Rashi concludes therefore, that the phrase “Yaakov saw that there was grain in Egypt” should read “Yaakov saw that there was hope in Egypt”. We need not chose one over the other. The former is practically true and the latter, spiritually true.
Note that this account begins by using the name Yaakov the individual.
The Hebrew, “Lamah tit’rau” (Why are you looking at each other), means: “Why are you excusing your inaction by looking to someone else to do something about it, when you know you are capable of doing something about it yourself?” Alternatively “Why do you make yourself conspicuous?” (Taanit 10b; Rashi).
This is why the Brit HaChadashah (The New Covenant) says, “If anyone knows the good he should do and does not, to him it (is accounted) sin” –Yaakov (James) 4:17
2 Then he said, “Hinei Behold! I’ve heard that there’s grain in Mitzrayim (Egypt: Double distress). Go down there and buy some grain for us there so that we’ll live and not die.”
The phrase “So that we’ll live and not die” while referring to the immediate future, can also be understood as a remez (hint) of what is to come in the days of Yisrael’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Meaning that Yisrael’s suffering and bondage is a prerequisite to her redemption. This is yet another picture of the Gospel of our Messiah at work in the story of Yisrael. In fact it is true to say that (within the sin affected world), without suffering there can be no redemption.
3 So Yosef’s (YHVH: Mercy adds) brothers went down, ten of them, to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Benyamin (Son of my right hand: strength), Yosef’s (YHVH: Mercy adds) brother, Yaakov did not send, for he said, “Lest he encounter ason mischief, evil, harm, hurt.”
Some ask why ten of the brothers had to go to Egypt. Sforno explains that Yosef had decreed that no one could buy more food than was needed for a single household. The Midrash suggests that Yosef had imposed this restriction upon each person who came to buy grain so as to assure that all of his brothers would have to come down to Egypt to buy an allotted portion of grain for each of their households. Thus fulfilling the prophecy of his dream.
It is worth noting that according to Divine justice and practical protection, Benyamin is kept from the torment and adversity his brothers would face prior to Yosef revealing himself. This is because Benyamin played no part in causing Yosef’s suffering. Spiritually speaking we might say that this is yet another picture of the Messiah, as if God were saying, “The Son of my right hand alone is without guilt”.
The use of the Hebrew ason infers that Yaakov suspected that Yosef’s brothers had harmed Yosef because of their hatred of him. He also feared that because of the brothers’ animosity toward the favoured sons of Rachel (Sons of Yaakov’s old age), that they might do harm to Benyamin also.
Of course, ten is a number of completion. Therefore, this is also symbolic of the completion of Yosef’s rise to power and of the first stage in Yisrael’s journey toward freedom from both physical and spiritual bondage.
5 The sons of Yisrael (Overcomes in God) went to buy grain among the others who were coming, because the famine was in the land of K’naan (Lowland, humility).
Note that the story continues here under the name Yisrael, meaning the sons of the nation Yisrael rather than the individual Yaakov.
6 Now Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) was the master over ha-aretz the land. He was the provider of grain for all the people of ha-aretz the land.
It seems that this verse is meant to indicate that Yosef had watchers throughout the land whom he had instructed to keep a look out for his brothers. The Midrash says that Yosef, knowing his brothers would eventually have to come for grain in Egypt, had kept only one storehouse open so that he could monitor it personally and thus spot his brothers when they arrived.
Alternatively, according to Rashi, Yosef interviewed every national group and then delegated their care to his subordinates according to each group’s needs.
7 Then Yosef’s (YHVH: Mercy adds) brothers came and bowed down to him with faces to the ground. When Yosef saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he made himself unrecognizable to them. Then he spoke harshly and said to them, “Where have you come from?”
“From the land of K’naan (Lowland, humility)” they said, “to buy grain for food.”
Though it had been at least 13 years since Yosef had seen his brothers we must remember that they had been older than him at the time of his sale into slavery, and that males older in age tend to maintain a certain continuity of appearance whereas a young man (as Yosef had been) would have undergone a more dramatic growth period from 17 to 30 years of age and thus may have changed significantly in appearance. Therefore, it seems logical that though his brothers were immediately noticeable to him, he was not easily identifiable. We can add to this the fact that they were expecting to find Yosef a slave, providing he were still alive. In addition, Yosef was not arrayed in common clothes. He was wearing the garments of royalty and probably had a shaved head and Egyptian chin beard, both customs being contrary to the ancient Hebrew style of grooming.
We know from the following verses that one of the ways Yosef disguised himself was to use an interpreter, thus giving the impression that he did not speak Hebrew.
Based on the events that follow we can interpret Yosef’s actions as a well thought out pretence intended to direct circumstances toward the fulfilment of his dreams. His harsh speech is meant to initiate events that will eventually bring his entire family to Egypt so as to save them from starvation and poverty.
The phrase “To buy grain for food” tells us that the brothers believed it to be impossible to use the grain as seed for sowing as long as the drought and famine continued. It also indicates that they had run out of their own grain supplies for planting and were now so desperate that they were at the point of starvation and needed food immediately.
8 Though Yosef recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then Yosef remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You’re spies! You’ve come to inspect the er’vah nakedness (undefended places) in the land.”
It is after remembering his dreams that Yosef further manipulates his brothers’ circumstances. He is looking for a way to bring his entire family to safety. This pretence is one born of trust in God, the One who had given him his dreams. There are times when harsh words are words of love, and times when gentle words are evidence of a failure to love.
Kli Yakar notes that Yosef uses the accusation of spying in order to keep the brothers from seeking out Yosef while they were in Egypt. Given the opportunity to investigate Yosef’s whereabouts they may have gleaned information about a Hebrew slave who had risen to power in Egypt. This in turn may have adjusted the outcome of events. Whereas by being accused of spying, they would not be allowed to move freely throughout Egypt.
Yosef’s first dream called for all eleven of his brothers to bow to him. Therefore, he must arrange for this to happen. Only then could his second dream find its partial practical fulfilment. Meaning, the only way his mother could bow before him is at the resurrection. Thus the complete spiritual fulfilment of Yosef’s dream would be at the resurrection and acts as an allegory for the bowing of the tribes of Yisrael before the Messiah, for Whom Yosef is a type.
10 “No, my lord!” they said to him. “Your servants came to buy grain as food. 11 All of us are the sons of one man. We’re being truthful. Your servants have never been spies.”
12 “Not so,” he said to them. “Rather, you’ve come to see the er’vah nakedness (undefended places) in the land.”
Though they are unaware of it, in both a practical and prophetic sense the phrase “All of us are the sons of one man” includes Yosef, the one they’re speaking to.
It seems that the brothers employed this phrase in order to appeal to common sense. It is unlikely that a people would send all or even the majority of their fighting men to spy out a foreign power. It is standard spying practice to send only a selection of men so that they might travel light and go unnoticed.
It seems likely that Yosef continued to challenge them in order to get information out of them about Benyamin and Yaakov. Yosef may have been concerned that they had treated Benyamin poorly because he was also a son of Rachel. Their answers would indicate to Yosef whether they were worthy of redemption.
13 But they said, “We your servants are twelve brothers, sons of one man in the land of K’naan. V’hinei And behold, the youngest is with our father today and the other one we are without.”
The brothers seem to be answering an unrecorded question, indicated by the recounting of their story to Yaakov in Genesis 43:7, where they say “The man asked us directly about our condition and our family saying ‘Is your father still alive?’ and ‘Do you have another brother?’”
The brothers tactfully use the phrase “The other one we are without”. Thus they keep the reasons for the missing brother secret rather than showing themselves to be of poor character.
Sforno suggests that by speaking so freely about their family they were attempting to prove themselves trustworthy because all that they were saying was easily verifiable.
14 Yosef said to them, “It’s according to the words I spoke to you when I said, ‘You’re spies.’
Yosef pretends to be unimpressed by the words of his brothers and reemphasizes his belief in their guilt, but offers them a way to prove their innocence, and bring his brother Benyamin to him.
15 By this you’ll be proved, scrutinized and tested: by the life of Pharaoh (Great House), you’ll not leave from here until your youngest brother comes here! 16 Send one from among yourselves to get your brother, while you remain confined, in order to prove your words, to see whether the truth is with you. If not, by the life of Pharaoh, you’re spies!”
The proof of their innocence will be Benyamin’s physical presence in Egypt. Thus all their other claims will be considered true.
Yosef’s use of language strengthens his disguise. He is making oaths (Of pretence) using Pharaoh as the deity before which the oath will be held accountable. This causes him to appear to them as a typical heathen Egyptian.
The following verses seem to indicate that none of the brothers were willing to volunteer to go. Perhaps because to travel alone would be dangerous, or because they believed Yosef to be an unreasonable ruler who would not keep his word.
17 So he put them together in prison for three days.
The three days in prison reflect the death and resurrection of the cupbearer. This is also a remez hinting at the death and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua, Who will come out of Yisrael and through His own imprisonment and freedom will deliver her from death.
18 Then Yosef said to them on the third day, “Do this and you will live. Ha-Elohiym the God, I am in awe of. 19 If you’re being truthful, let one of your brothers remain as a prisoner in the guardhouse where you’ve been, while you, go and bring grain for the hunger in your homes. 20 And bring me your youngest brother, so that your words can be verified—and you won’t die.” So they did.
Seeing that none of the brothers had volunteered to go, Yosef offered a more palatable solution.
Using the name of the brothers’ own God in reference to his offer, Yosef sought to sooth their fear somewhat.
We notice that even with the offer of freedom for the nine, he still had to select the one who would stay. This denotes great fear on the part of the brothers.
Notice that they have been confined in the guardhouse, just as Yosef was. He had put them in the prison of the upper class rather than placing them under confinement in the harsh conditions of the prisons of the common people.
21 Then each man said to his brother, “We’re truly guilty for our brother. We saw the distress of his soul when he begged us for mercy, but we didn’t listen. That’s why this distress has come to us.”
This is an honest and sincere admission of guilt. This is confession, an acknowledgement of sin.
22 Reuven (Look a son) answered them saying, “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy’? But you didn’t listen. Now, see how his blood is now being accounted for.”
Reuven continues to believe that the other brothers have killed Yosef and thus speaks of the blood guilt that murderers carry.
23 They did not know that Yosef was listening, since there was an interpreter between them.
The presence of an interpreter gives strength to Yosef’s disguise while allowing him to hear the brothers’ responses.
According to the Midrash, the interpreter was Manasseh Yosef’s firstborn son (Rashi).
24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned back to them and spoke to them, he took Shimeon (Hears) from them and tied him up before their eyes.
It seems that at least in part, Yosef’s tears were due to his having heard his brothers admit their wrong doing.
Shimeon is the appropriate choice of hostage because he is the second born son of Leah (Gen. 29:31-33) just as Benyamin is the second born son of Rachel. This is a clue to Yosef’s identity that his brothers were unable to see due to their distress.
Rashi suggests that Shimeon is chosen because of his hot temper as evidenced by he and Levi’s raid on Shechem. Thus Yosef can be sure Shimeon and Levi (Gen. 34:25-26) will not develop some foolish plot to retaliate.
Yosef continues the harsh performance by treating Shimeon roughly before them.
25 Then Yosef gave orders to fill their bags with grain, return each man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. So it was done for them. 26 Then they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left from there.
Yosef’s actions in returning the money seem to be intended to incite further fear and give the brothers a greater motivation for repentance.
27 As one of them opened his sack to give fodder to his donkey at the encampment, he saw his money—behold, it was at the top of his bag. 28 So he said to his brothers, “My money has been returned! Look, it’s in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, each one turned to his brother and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Knowing that Yosef kept accurate records, the brother who opened the sack at their first encampment was rightly afraid. Rashi suggests that this was Levi.
“What is this that God has done to us?” is yet another admission of guilt and an acknowledgement of the Judge of the Universe, God of Yisrael. The brothers saw the returning of the money as a plot by the Master of Egypt to enslave them. Thus they saw it as a just retribution from God for what they had done to Yosef.
29 When they came to their father Yaakov, in the land of K’naan (Lowland, humility) they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke with us harshly, and took us as spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We’re honest. We’ve never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more and the youngest is with our father today in the land of K’naan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I’ll know if you’re being truthful: leave one of your brothers with me. As for the hunger of your homes: take and go! 34 Then bring your youngest brother to me, so that I may know you are not spies, but you are telling the truth. I’ll give you back your brother and you can move about freely in the land.’”
In recounting their ordeal the sons of Yaakov keep certain facts from him in order to spare him unnecessary concern. They know he is old and still grieving the loss of Yosef. Therefore, they don’t include their three day imprisonment, nor do they convey the very real threat of slavery or the possible execution of Shimeon.
35 Now as they were emptying their sacks, v’hinei behold, there was each man’s bag of money in his sack. When they saw their money bags, they and their father, they were afraid.
The fear of the brothers was due to their guilt, but the fear of Yaakov was for his sons, for Shimeon and ultimately for Benyamin. The brothers may have concluded that the money left in the one sack discovered on the way might have been an oversight on behalf of one of Pharaoh’s officials but the money found in all their sacks was evidence of an intentional plot to accuse them.
36 Then their father Yaakov said to them, “You’ve made me childless! Yosef is no more. Now Shimeon is gone, and next you’ll take Benyamin! Everything is against me!”
One wonders at how the sons of Yaakov may have felt at hearing their father’s words? It is because he is without Yosef and may soon be without Benyamin, that Yaakov considers himself “childless”. Though Shimeon is included as collateral damage, this is none the less a slight against all ten brothers.
37 Then Reuven (Look a son) spoke to his father, saying, “You can put my two sons to death if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my hand and I—I will return him to you.”
Reuven continues to seek restoration over his defilement of his Father’s wife. Here he offers the lives of his own sons in an attempt to prove his repentance, both in regard to his sexual sin and his part in the mistreatment of Yosef. This is however, a weak gesture because regarding the Hebrew consciousness the sons of Reuven are also considered the sons of Yaakov.
38 But he said, “My son will not go down with you—for his brother is dead and he alone remains. And if he should encounter ason mischief, evil, harm along the way you’re going, you’ll bring my grey hair down to Sheol (Place of the dead) in grief.”
As part of his response Yaakov again insinuates that the brothers are guilty of mischief relating to Yosef: “if he should encounter mischief, evil, harm along the way you’re going”.
The Hebrew Sheol (meaning place of the dead and not the grave, which is kever, an entirely different Hebrew word referring to the tombs of Yisrael which are above ground), again affirms the ancient Hebrew belief in the afterlife, spent in one of two places within Sheol: The bosom of Avraham (Gan Eden: Paradise) or Gehinnom (Torment). Whereas the grave (Kever) was above the earth, Sheol is a spiritual place indicated as existing below. This is because symbolically speaking, God’s throne is above, and death, the result of sin, is distinguished from God as being below.
Yeshua illuminates the first century Jewish understanding of the temporal afterlife in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). The only parable where Yeshua employs proper nouns (names). This is because the parable is a true account regarding specific individuals and is intended to convey the reality of that which follows death: torment for the wicked and peace for the righteous. Sheol is a temporal holding place within time and space that precedes the final judgement, at which point the righteous will enter into the Olam haba (World to come) and the wicked into eternal punishment. Thus the Olam haba (World to come) follows Avraham’s bosom after the judgement and Eternal punishment (The fiery abyss) follows Gehinnom after judgement (Rev. 3:12; 20:10; 21:1-8).
© Yaakov Brown 2017