Genesis 43: Benjamin Comes to Egypt
We live to follow and serve in the strength we have been afforded, but when all strength is gone and every option exhausted, we learn that HaShem is sufficient.
43:1 Now the ha-ra’av famine (hunger) was kaveid heavy in the land.
The reason this phrase is repeated at the beginning of this chapter is because “the land” in question here is not Egypt, as is the case in the previous chapter. The following verse qualifies the context for ba-aretz (In the land). Ha-aretz is a title synonymous with the land of Israel. We could read “Now the hunger was heavy in the land of Israel”.
2 When they finished eating the grain they had brought from Mitzrayim Egypt (Double distress) their father said to them, “Go back. Buy us a little food.” 3 And speaking toward him Y’hudah (Praise) said, “Ha-eish The man warned us firmly saying, ‘You won’t see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy grain for you for food. 5 But if you won’t send him, we won’t go down, because the man said to us, ‘You won’t see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son had already tried to convince his father and had failed (Gen. 42:36); Simeon the next in birth order, was now in Egypt (Gen. 42:24), and Levi, possibly due to his actions at Shechem (Gen. 34:25), had lost his father’s respect. Therefore, Judah, being next in birth order, with the consent of his brothers, speaks to Jacob for the good of the whole community.
Judah uses stronger language in describing the Egyptian Viceroy’s (Joseph’s) instruction to them than the brothers had used together (42:24). When the issue of returning to Egypt was last discussed they had plenty of food and may have hoped that the famine would let up and allow for a return to agricultural prosperity. Now however, they were again faced with the prospect of starvation. Judah had to convince Jacob that none of his sons would return to Egypt without their brother, because Joseph’s vow had been made using a euphemism that required the return of Benjamin or the deaths of the brothers.
The irony of the name Mitzrayim (Egypt: Double distress) is not lost on Jacob, who is facing the double distress of losing both Joseph and Benjamin.
6 Then Yisrael (Overcome in God) said, “Why did you do evil to me by telling the man that you have another brother?” 7 They said, “The man questioned particularly about us and about our relatives saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have a brother?’ So we spoke to him on the basis of these words. How could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’”?
The name Israel is said to depict Jacob in his spiritual role as Patriarch of the Jewish people. Earlier in this account the name Jacob has been used, now Israel is employed. Jacob is a follower, Israel has overcome in God. In the previous chapters Jacob followed his vision, having seen food for his starving people in Egypt. He pursued that provision through his sons. Now he is faced with the possibility of losing the last of his favoured sons and the realization that this could potentially end the religious observance of Israel (remaining sons).
It is at this point that he must completely let go of his own ability to control the circumstances of his family’s predicament and allow God to be his overcoming strength. Thus, Israel (Overcome in God). This is not so much the difference between human effort and Godly strength, rather it is the lesson of every disciple, we live to follow and serve in the strength we have been afforded, but when all strength is gone and every option exhausted, we learn that HaShem is sufficient.
8 Then Y’hudah (Praise) said to his father Yisrael (Overcome in God), “Please, send the boy with me and we’ll get up and go, so that we’ll live and not die—we and you, and our children. 9 I’ll exchange myself for him (Benjamin). From my hand you can demand him back. If I don’t bring him back to you and place him before you, then the sin I’ve committed against you will be on me all my days. 10 If we had not delayed, we could have returned twice by now.”
Judah attempts to remove one of Jacob’s fears by taking sole responsibility. Reuben had previously offered the lives of his sons but Judah was making himself personally accountable. The Hebrew phrasing infers a life for a life exchange. Judah is saying that he will deliver Benjamin by any means including taking his place if he were to be unjustly imprisoned in the land of Egypt. Short of this he would bear the blood guilt of the sin of losing Benjamin. A sin that he sees as being committed against Jacob.
“I will guard him from heat, cold, evil beasts, and robbers. I will offer my life for his and do anything necessary to ensure his safety.” –B’chor Shor
Rav Meir Zlotowitz suggests that the reason Jacob was willing to listen to Judah’s petition was related to Jacob’s words “Upon me has it all fallen” (Gen. 42:36), implying that only a father could realize the magnitude of the loss of his two sons. Of all the brothers only Judah could identify with the loss of two sons (Gen. 38:7, 10). Therefore, when Judah offered to accept personal responsibility for Benjamin, Jacob granted Judah’s request to return to Egypt with his youngest brother.
11 Then their father Yisrael said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your vessels, and bring an offering down to the man—a little balsam and a little honey, gum and myrrh, pistachios and almonds.
As is the case in Genesis 37:21-30, Judah’s request prevails where Reuben’s had failed (Gen 42:37-38). There are of course a number of reasons for this, one of which is that the Torah is showing how Joseph, the dominant tribe of the North and Judah the Royal tribe of the south became more important than Reuben, the firstborn.
Rashi notes the Targum, which says “From the praises of the land” and interprets “From the praised produce of the land”. To this he adds that the produce born of the land gives praise to God. While not all of this produce was unique to the land of K’naan (Israel), it was produce that K’naan was famous for.
This selection of gifts included items that were not readily available in Egypt (Gen. 37:25). During a time of famine even a small amount of each of these precious commodities was a sign of great respect and a symbolic gesture of humility toward the Egyptian monarchy.
The balsam or balm carries with it the symbolism of healing. A symbol that will be recognized by Joseph as a voice of affirmation, but is yet to be understood by his father and brothers.
The gift of honey has particular significance because this is the first time it’s mentioned made in Scripture, and it’s being mentioned in relation to the land which will later be called the land of milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). Parts of the land of Israel (Ha-aretz) were famous for their honey production, such as in the region surrounding Ziph (Ez-Zeifeh. Located South-east of Hebron just below the Salt Sea [Dead Sea]: Josh. 15. 55; 1 Sam. 23. 14f., 24; 26. 2), subsequently called the honey of Ziphim (Misn. Machshirin, c. 5. sect. 9).
12 Also take in your hand a double portion of silver, and bring back in your hand the silver that had been returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother too—now, get up, go back to the man!
The instruction to “take in your hand” seems to be a practical one. Silver carried in bags or vessels with other goods might appear to be hidden and therefore an attempt to deceive the Egyptian officials, whereas silver carried in hand shows both openness and a willingness to repay any funds that may have been mistakenly returned to the Hebrew contingent.
14 May El Shaddai (God the All Sufficient Protector) grant you rachamiym mercy (compassion) before the man, so that he may release your other brother to you, along with Benyamin (Son of my right hand/strength). As for me, if I am shachol’ti made childless, shachal’ti childless I will be.”
The name Shaddai is a conjunction of she-dai, meaning “Who is sufficient/enough”. It seems that Jacob employs this name in order to remind his sons that regardless of the amount of preparation they put into their journey and the amount of silver and supplies they carry, it is because God is sufficient to meet the needs of His people that they can trust in His provision and mercy.
The double use of the Hebrew shachol’ti emphasizes the weighty grief of Yisrael. Radak explains that the first use is passive and the second active, meaning that Jacob is saying “I have been made childless and I must face the possibility that I will be made childless”. This is a statement of trust in HaShem that is similar to that of Esther when she was about to appear before the king uninvited: “If I have forfeited my life, so be it” Esther 4:16. Put simply, “HaShem gives and Hashem takes away, Blessed is the Name of HaShem” (Job 1:21). The repetition of this word is also an affirmation of the two children Yisrael has treasured most in his old age, the sons of Rachel: Yosef and Benyamin.
15 Then the men took this offering. They also took the double portion of silver in their hand, as well as Benyamin. So they got up and went down to Mitzrayim Egypt, and stood before Yosef. 16 When Yosef saw Benyamin with them, he said to the one over his house, “Bring the men into the house. U-t’voach t’vach Slaughter, slaughter an animal and hachen (make it firm) prepare it, for the men will eat with me at noon.
Jewish tradition teaches that “the one over his (Joseph’s) house” was his eldest son Manasheh (Targum Yonatan). This seems unlikely, given that Manasheh could not have been older than 9 at the time, having been born before the famine.
The Sages say that the expression Ut’voach t’vach implies that the one over his (Joseph’s) house was to expose the incision in the neck of the animal so that the brothers could see that it had been slaughtered according to the tradition of their fathers, a tradition that would later be included in halakhic ruling regarding the Torah instructions for the slaughtering of animals (Chullin 91a Rashi).
Radak explains that noon is known as the time for royal dining. The time when many ancient royals enjoyed their main meal.
The Sages say that Genesis 43:16, which employs the phrase “Slaughter the animal and make it firm, prepare it”: infers that the preparation was done in honour of the Sabbath and that the meal was served at noon on the Sabbath. A day which Joseph observed long before the Torah was given at Sinai (Daat Zkenim).
17 So the man did as Yosef said, and the man brought the men into Yosef’s house. 18 But the men were afraid, because they had been brought into Yosef’s house. They said, “It’s because of the silver that was returned to our sacks the first time that we are being brought in—in order to wrestle us to the ground and fall on us and take us as slaves, along with our donkeys.”
It seems that the brothers’ guilt feeds their fear. They were probably concerned about the loss of their donkeys because they were their only means of delivering supplies back to Jacob and their families in K’naan.
19 So they approached the man who was over Yosef’s house and spoke to him at the entrance of the house. 20 “Please, adoniy my lord!” they said. “We came down the first time to buy grain for food. 21 When we came to the encampment and opened our sacks, behold, there was each man’s silver at the opening of the sack, the full amount of our money. So we’ve returned it in our hand.
This response seems to merge the details of the two discoveries of silver: the singular portion of silver first found in one of their sacks and the silver subsequently found in all their sacks upon their return to K’naan.
The reason for including the details regarding the silver discovered at the encampment on the way, may be to show that they could not have returned at that point because they had not yet retrieved their brother and had been warned by the viceroy (Joseph) not to return without him.
22 In addition, we’ve brought down other silver in our hand to buy grain for food. We didn’t know who put our money into our sacks.” 23 “Shalom lachem Peace to you all,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid. Eloheichem v’loheiy Your God and the God of your father has given you hidden treasure in your sacks. Your silver had come to me.” Then he brought Shimeon out to them,
The man who was over Joseph’s house (possibly Manasheh, or a member of As’nat’s family, because if this one had been a servant the text would read “the servant who was over Joseph’s house” rather it reads, “the man”), makes a point of comforting the brothers by saying that it has been their God Who has engineered events to bless them. Something that Joseph later expresses to his brothers. Whoever the one over Joseph’s house is, one thing is certain, he is aware of the God of Israel. Joseph is clearly teaching his Egyptian household about the merciful God of Israel from Whom he has received his name and calling.
24 and the man brought the men into Yosef’s house, gave them water and they washed their feet. He also provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 So they prepared the offering for Yosef’s coming at noon, for they had heard that they were going to eat there.
This verse seems to indicate a progression in their approach toward Joseph’s house and their entry into it. Thus it seems likely that the conversation recorded prior to this was held the courtyard or entry room to the house, which is considered part of the house.
In their fearful state Joseph’s brothers had expected to be pounced on, beaten and confined, and in truth that is what they deserved. However, they were instead given water to wash their feet. One recalls the actions of Yeshua during his final Pesach meal with His disciples. Joseph’s brothers had expected their donkeys to be taken from them. However, they were instead given fodder with which to feed their donkeys. Through the actions of the governor of Joseph’s house (Manasheh: forget), the brother’s sins are forgotten and Mercy is shown to triumph over judgement.
“He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve; nor repaid us according to our iniquities.” –Psalm 103:10
26 When Yosef came home, they brought him the offering in their hand into the house, and they bowed down to the ground to him.
For the first time all of Joseph’s brothers, including Benjamin, bow down to him in fulfilment of Joseph’s first dream (Gen. 37:7).
27 Then he asked if they were well, and said, “Is he well—your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?”
The order of Joseph’s questions seems strange. He first asks if their father is well and then if he is alive. This can be explained by the fact that Joseph may have asked the first question and then, before the brothers could answer, had the terrible thought that his father may have passed away. Alternatively he may have simply been nervous and muddled his words.
Perhaps a better explanation is found in Daat Zkenim, where it is suggested that Joseph first asks after Jacob “Is he well” and then asks about his sabba (Grandfather) Isaac “The older father”, whom the brothers may also have told him about, and who’s death occurred around this time. Of course, the text doesn’t explicitly state that the brothers had spoken to Joseph about Isaac, but on the other hand, he may have simply slipped up by revealing his knowledge about Isaac’s existence. He was certainly showing superior knowledge when he had his staff seat the brothers according to their birth order.
28 “Your servant, our father, is well,” they said. “He’s still alive.” Then they knelt and bowed down. 29 Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benyamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother whom you mentioned to me?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Yosef hurried out because his rachamiyn compassion grew warm and tender toward his brother so that he wanted to cry. So he went into an inner room and wept there.
If the assertion concerning Joseph’s unusual question is correct, then the answer of the brothers “Our father is well” applies to Jacob and the second phrase “He is still alive” applies to Isaac. If Isaac was alive at this point in time, he must have passed away between this encounter and the coming to Egypt of Jacob’s household (46:26-27).
Joseph had already seen Benjamin but at this point he notices Benjamin’s features and sees the resemblance to his mother (Zohar; Haamek Davar).
Benjamin is 31 years old at the time of this meeting. Joseph hasn’t seen him for over 13 years.
Jacob had blessed his sons saying “May El Shaddai (God the All Sufficient Protector) grant you rachamiym mercy (compassion) before the man” (v.14). Now, Joseph is filled with rachamiyn mercy and compassion for Benjamin.
31 Then he washed his face, came out, and controlled himself. “Serve the food,” he said. 32 So they served him by himself, them by themselves, and the Egyptians who were eating with him by themselves (for Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews because it was an abomination to Egyptians).
Joseph probably ate separately because of his exalted status and possibly because he was keeping Hebrew eating practices that would have been seen by his Egyptian staff as abhorrent and reported to Pharaoh. The reason for the Egyptians eating separately from the Hebrews is stated.
Shepherds (Hebrews) were regarded as abhorrent to the Egyptians (Gen. 46:34; Exodus 8:22), and the sheep seems to be the singular exception to the Egyptian worship of various animals. Egyptians despised sheep and their herders in much the same way as Jews came to despise pigs and their keepers.
Radak’s assertion that Egyptians didn’t eat the meat of sheep because they were considered a deity is untenable, given that Egyptians consumed the meat of a number of other animals to which they attached worship practices, and that those who herded sheep would have therefore been considered holy and respected rather than abhorred.
The fact that the Hebrews were detestable to the Egyptians at a time when Israel consisted of less than seventy souls (Gen. 46:26), is a testimony to Israel’s God given reputation and prominence in the land of K’naan.
33 They were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birth-right and the youngest according to his youth. The men looked at each other in astonishment.
The ten eldest brothers were born within seven years of one another, making it difficult for a stranger to guess their exact birth order. Thus the brothers were astonished to see themselves seated in order from Eldest to youngest.
34 Then portions were brought to them from before him—and Benyamin’s portion was five times larger than any of their portions. Yet they drank and celebrated with him.
Benjamin’s portion is half the number for completion. Half of Joseph’s prophetic dreaming had been fulfilled. Joseph gave Benjamin a significantly greater portion in order to test the brothers to see if their hatred for the sons of Rachel still consumed them. In response to this the Torah states “Yet they drank and celebrated with him”. They were not angered by the special treatment shown to Benjamin. To the contrary, they celebrated it. This shows true repentance and a genuine humility on the part of the 10 eldest sons of Jacob, and stands in stark contrast to the meal they had eaten when they had sat down after throwing Joseph into the well (Gen. 37:25; 42:21). Only the repentant can receive salvation.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Genesis 42: 10 Brothers
42:1 Now Yaakov (Follows after the heel) ra’ah learned (saw, perceived) that there was grain in Mitzrayim (Egypt: double distress), so Yaakov said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?”
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
Genesis 41: Pharaoh’s Dreams
We would do well to remember that modern social justice is not justice, in the same way that a truth is not the Truth.
This sidra (section) of Genesis begins the Torah portion Mikeitz (end), which takes its title from the phrase “And it came to pass at the end of two years”. While practically speaking mikeitz is used to denote the end of a period of time, by way of a remez (hint) it also infers the end, or last phase of the prophecy made to Avraham (Gen. 15:13-16) concerning the bondage and persecution of his progeny and ultimately, their freedom from slavery.
It is worth noting that verses 1-32 deal with the last of the three pairs of dreams in Joseph’s story. Each set of dreams acting as a stepping stone toward the fulfilment of God’s plan for Israel.
The events of this chapter begin two years after the release of the baker and cupbearer and bring the total years of Joseph’s imprisonment to 12 and his years in captivity to 13 (Genesis 37:2). Verse 46 tells us that Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, making Jacob 120 years and Isaac 180 (Isaac died around this time) at the time of these events.
1Now it was at the end of two years, when Pharaoh (Great house) was dreaming, and hinei suddenly, there he was standing al upon (over, beside) ha-y’or the River (Nile).
Pharaoh was standing upon or over the River, a title used to describe the Nile. The Nile was deified in Egyptian culture and Pharaoh’s standing on or over it makes him (at least in his own mind) superior to it, a god in his own right, which we also know to be part of the spiritual belief system of the ancient Egyptians. Pharaohs were often considered to be gods, a god with us, in reality they were types of anti-messiah’s. As mentioned in previous articles, Pharaoh was a title rather than a proper noun.
All of Egypt was dependant on the Nile for its crops and water. The Nile symbolized prosperity and provision. Therefore, given its venerated status, Pharaoh could not help but be captivated by its prominent position in his dream.
2 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven cows, y’fot beautiful, healthy and at closer inspection, fat, and they grazed in the reeds.
There were seven cows, a number meaning completion, fullness etc. A number that would later become closely associated to Israel’s agricultural and social order. These cows were healthy (one of the meanings of yafeh) and were grazing in the reeds. The reeds grow at the edge of the Nile itself, which indicates that the Nile is the source of the cattle’s health and fatness. Practically speaking, the cattle of Egypt often submerge themselves in the Nile in order to get relief from the heat and from insects.
3 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven other cows coming up after them from ha-y’or the River (Nile), ugly and emaciated, and they stood beside the cows at the edge of ha-y’or the River (Nile). 4 Then the ugly emaciated cows ate the seven good-looking fat cows—and Pharaoh woke up.
As is often the case when dreams take a nasty turn, Pharaoh awoke abruptly and was probably unsettled for some time before going back to sleep. The eating of the fat cows seems symbolic of the fact that the seven full and complete good years would soon be forgotten by a full and complete (7), all consuming age of famine.
5 Then he slept and dreamed a second time: hinei suddenly, there were seven heads of grain ascending on a single stalk, b’riyot made fat and good. 6 Then hinei suddenly, there were seven heads of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouting up after them. 7 Then the seven thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven ears of grain that had been made plump and full. Then Pharaoh woke up—it was a dream.
The text infers that the seven thin heads of grain grew on the same single stalk. The use of the Hebrew echad (One, complex unity) regarding the stalk of the full heads of grain, is intended to unify the two weeks of years in order to connect them to the former dream.
Once again the years of famine swallow up all evidence of the years of abundance. Once again the seven that completes the prosperity also completes the poverty.
The phrase, “it was a dream” infers relief on Pharaoh’s part at the fact that he had woken from a vivid dream. Relief that turns to concern when he realizes that the dreams have some sense of the prophetic about them.
8 But in the morning he v’tipaem felt beaten and disturbed in ruachu his spirit. So he sent and called for the fortune-telling priests of mitzrayim (Egypt: double distress) and all its wise men and Pharaoh told them his dream. But no one could interpret them for Pharaoh.
The fortune-telling occultists of Egypt were part of her priesthood. It may be that the priest of On mentioned later in the text is one of those who was called upon. The wise men may or may not have been associated with the priesthood. Given the ongoing political struggles between the house of Pharaoh and the priesthood of Egypt, it is more likely that the wise men were men of logic and common wisdom rather than spiritualists like the fortune-telling priests.
As in the case of the cupbearer and baker, an attempt is made to interpret the dreams but to no avail. This may be the catalyst for the cupbearer’s pang of conscience. We also note the singular use in the phrase, “Pharaoh told them his dream” compared to the plural, “But no one could interpret them”. At this point it should be clear to all concerned that the dreams have a unified message, and yet, this seems to escape all the wise men and priests of Egypt. Though, it seems to have been established in Pharaoh’s mind. This is possibly why when Joseph later begins by establishing the fact that the dreams are echad (one), Pharaoh accepts what follows, having already concluded the same.
9 Then the prince of the cupbearers spoke with Pharaoh saying, “I am reminded of my sins today. 10 Pharaoh had been angry with his servants and put me in the custody of the house of the prince of the executioners—and with me, the prince of the bakers. 11 Then we each dreamed (firmly binding) a dream (firmly bound) on the same night, he and I, we both dreamed, yet each dream had its own interpretation. 12 Now there with us was a ga’ar Ivriy Hebrew youth—a slave belonging to the prince of the executioners. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams for us, each man’s dream he interpreted. 13 Then it came about, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. I was restored to my position, but he was hung.
We could read the cupbearer’s confession as the result of a genuine pang of conscience or as an act of self-preservation. Either way the timing is in God’s hands and affords Joseph the perfect opportunity to bring glory to both the God of Israel and himself. One would have thought, given the Egyptian prejudice against the Hebrews, that the phrase “ga’ar Ivriy” Hebrew youth, coupled with the position of slave, would have given Pharaoh reason to pause. However, it seems, based on the following verse, that Pharaoh’s angst had grown so great that at this point he was willing to try anything.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called for Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds). So they quickly fetched him from the ha’bor well/pit. He shaved, changed his clothes, and came to Pharaoh. 15 Then Pharaoh (Great house) said to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), “I dreamed (firmly binding thing) a dream (firmly bound thing) and there’s no one to interpret it. I heard about you—it’s said that you can listen to a dream to interpret it.”
Rosh Hashanah 10b says that Joseph was released 2230 years from creation on Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah: Day of Shofar blasts). If this is correct, Joseph was released at the beginning of what will later become known as the High Holy Days of Israel, which take place in the seventh month (Tishri, Beginning; The Sabbath Month) of the Hebrew Calendar, and include Yom Kippur (Day of Covering), Sukkot (shelters) and Shemini Atzeret (Eight Day).
This idea is significant because the number seven, which symbolizes completion, fullness and fulfilment, is a central element in the dreams of Pharaoh. Also, the month of Tishri is a month of new beginnings. These events are truly a new beginning for both Joseph and Israel (Jacob). And, in retrospect, the beginning of the end (all be it 400 years down the track) of Egypt’s domination over the Jewish people.
Note that Pharaoh is referring to the dreams as one dream but like the cupbearer and baker before him, he is using the doubling of the Hebrew chalom chalam’ti (Dreamed a dream). Thus the two become echad (one, complex unity).
16 Then Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) answered Pharaoh (Great house) saying, “apart from me. Elohiym (God, gods, Judge) will answer Pharaoh with shalom.”
In other words, “Without Elohiym’s help I’m not able to give a Divine answer, instead I defer to Him and He will answer you so as to bring shalom (peace, wholeness) to the turmoil of your heart and mind.” Like Daniel the prophet, Joseph ascribes his interpretive skill to God (Daniel 2:30).
“Those that honour Me, I will honour” -1 Samuel 2:30
17 So Pharaoh said to Yosef: “In my dream, hinei suddenly I was standing on the bank of ha-y’or the river (Nile). 18 And hinei behold, out of the river (Nile) seven cows were coming up, fat and beautiful, healthy, and they grazed in the reeds. 19 Then all of a sudden, there were seven other cows coming up after them, feeble, very ugly and emaciated. I’ve never seen cows this hideous in the whole land of Egypt. 20 Then the emaciated and ugly cows ate the first seven fat cows. 21 When they were devoured, one couldn’t tell that they had been devoured. Their appearance was as ugly as it was at first. Then I woke up. 22 Then I saw in my dream, there were seven heads of grain ascending on one (echad) stalk, full and good. 23 Then suddenly, there were seven heads of grain, dried up, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouting up after them. 24 Then the thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. So I told the fortune-telling priests, but no one could provide me with an explanation.”
While there are some subtle differences in the recapitulating of the dreams, all the main elements are present. It is possible that Pharaoh left out the fact that the scrawny cows came out of the Nile because the Nile was deified and from his perspective, only gave forth good things. However, this small detail does not mitigate the otherwise dark conclusion of the dreams.
The fact that Pharaoh mentions his disappointment only in the fortune-telling priests, may indicate one of two things: either he didn’t expect the wise men (who use logic) to understand what he considered to be metaphysical symbolism, or, he was intentionally belittling his priestly rivals. Whatever the reason, he was none the less concerned about the dreams and their meaning, and was determined to get an answer.
25 Then Yosef said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dream is echad (one). Elohiym (God, gods) has told Pharaoh what He is about to fashion. 26 The seven good cows: they are seven years. Also the seven heads of grain: they’re seven years. It is echad (one) dream. 27 The seven emaciated and ugly cows coming up after them: they’re seven years. Also the seven empty heads of grain scorched by the east wind: there will be seven years of famine. 28 He (Hoo) the word (Ha-d’var) which I conveyed by my words (d’vartiy) to Pharaoh already: Ha-Elohiym the God is about to fashion, that which he has shown to Pharaoh. 29 Seven years of abundance are about to come in the whole land of Egypt. 30 Then seven years of famine will come up after them and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten and the famine will consume the land. 31 So the abundance in the land will be unknown because of the famine that follows, for it will be an exceedingly oppressive famine.
Joseph emphasises the unity of the dreams. The cows representing ploughing and sowing and the grain, reaping and harvesting (Arbanel). He first gives a concise overview.
Joseph infers that God has given this message to Pharaoh because it concerns the entire land that he has governance over. Joseph reasserts his own trust in God, repeating that God is about to fashion these things. Though the generic title Elohiym (God, gods, judges) is being used, as a Hebrew he can only be speaking of the Hebrew God, he is after all an imported slave who has little previous knowledge of Egypt’s deities.
Joseph begins with the issue of famine because Pharaoh is used to prosperous livestock and abundant grain harvests, but it is the latter part of the dream that has concerned him most and it is this that allows Joseph to capture and hold Pharaoh’s attention.
32 “Now as for repeating Pharaoh’s dream twice: it’s because the matter has been settled by Elohiym God and Elohiym God will quickly make it happen.
Joseph stresses the point that Elohiym is in control of both the dreams and the events that they predict. Elohiym (Joseph’s God) has firmly decided this and will make it happen very soon. Joseph, a slave, a despised Hebrew, speaks of an authority greater than the false man-god Pharaoh. Any other ruler might have had Joseph struck down for presuming to say such a thing but Pharaoh seems convinced that Joseph is his only means of escaping what is to come.
33 So now, let Pharaoh select a man discerning and wise and set him in authority over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh act by appointing administrators over the land and take a fifth portion from the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance.
The man for the job will need to be discerning enough to coordinate the business and logistics of this undertaking and wise enough to know how to store and preserve the grain. A good job for one who has cared for flocks and harvested grain in the fields of Hebron nu.
The fifth portion is to be taken from the land, meaning a fifth of all the grain producing land would be farmed directly into Pharaoh’s storehouses. This would be in addition to the taxable produce of the land, which probably returned a tenth of all grain to Pharaoh’s storehouses every year.
35 Then let them gather all the food from these good years that are coming, and let them store up grain under Pharaoh’s hand as food for the cities, so they may preserve it.
This means that each city would have its own granaries in which to store its grain. These granaries would be controlled by those whom the man Pharaoh appointed would place in charge as overseers.
36 Let the food be held in reserve for the land for the seven years of famine that are coming upon the land of Egypt. Then the land will not be annihilated by the famine.”
Affirming his certain belief in the coming events, Joseph says, “the seven years of famine that are coming”.
37 Now the plan seemed good in the eyes of Pharaoh as well as all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can a man like this be found, one in whom is ruach Elohiym (God’s Spirit: spirit of the gods)?”
It is interesting to note that the plan seemed good not only to Pharaoh but also to his servants. One would have thought that a court of people who despised Hebrews and had just been one upped by a Hebrew slave, would be envious, hateful and disagreeable to Joseph’s interpretation and council. However, be it due to their fear of Pharaoh’s wrath or simply because they genuinely saw the wisdom in Joseph’s words, they were all convinced by him according to the will of God.
The name Elohiym, which denotes the attribute of Judgement, is used throughout this account. It is God the Judge who speaks this warning to Pharaoh, and it is the servant of YHVH the Merciful who brings Pharaoh the redemptive solution to the coming crisis. Whatever Pharaoh’s degree of spiritual understanding, he clearly believes that Joseph is a spiritually gifted man imbued with supernatural favour.
39 Then Pharaoh (Great house) said to Yosef, “Since Elohiym God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You! You will be over my house, and in addition all my people’s mouths will kiss you. Only in relation to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Egyptian law forbade the promoting of slaves into positions of authority. Thus Pharaoh’s edict was a controversial one. However, it’s clear that Pharaoh was convinced that Joseph was uniquely qualified for the job.
This rise to the position of Egypt’s second in command was the first stage of the final fulfilment of Joseph’s God given dream of ruling over Israel and the nations, as a type for the future Messiah.
41 Then Pharaoh said to Yosef, “See, I appoint you over the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and put a chain of gold around his neck.
The ring was Pharaoh’s seal and meant that Joseph had authority to implement legislation and seal binding law in all Egypt. The fine garments of royalty represented Joseph’s authority over the land of Egypt, over the morning (Sun) and the evening (Moon) stars. This is in fulfilment of his second dream, which has multiple, far reaching and complex repercussions. In place of the garments he had lost, Joseph is given a garment of far greater authority. Though he has suffered great losses, he has, with God’s help, overcome adversity with his trust intact.
43 Then he had him ride in the chariot as second-in-command, the one that belonged to him, and they called out before him, “Av’reich Father King, Tender Father!” So he appointed him over the whole land of Mitzrayim (double distress) Egypt.
There are at least two possibilities for translating the composite Hebrew word Av’reich. First, Av means Father (in wisdom) and reich means tender (in years) [Midrash]. Second, and according to both Rashi and Onkelos, Av is the Hebrew for Father and reich is Aramaic for King. Both titles denote attributes of the God of Israel, our Father and King (Aveinu Melkeiynu). Therefore, to the Hebrew reader at least, Joseph is seen as a type for the Messiah (God with us). The Jewish Redeemer who will save from the nations those who submit to Him and then, will deliver, save and restore His entire people (12 tribes), the house of His father Jacob (Israel).
Onkelos paraphrases, “This is the father of the king”; which agrees with what Joseph himself says, that God had made him a father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8).
The Targum of Yonatan includes both meanings in its paraphrasing of this verse:
"This is the father of the king, who is great in wisdom, and tender in years:'' –Targum Yonatan
“let the father of the king live, who is great in wisdom, and tender in years:'' –Targum Yerushalayim
44 Pharaoh also said to Yosef, “I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one will lift up his hand or his foot in the whole land of Egypt.” 45 Then Pharaoh named Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) Tzafnat-paneach (treasury of glorious rest) and gave him As’nat (Belonging to the goddess Neit) daughter of Potipherah (He whom the Ra gave), kohen priest of On (Strength), as his wife. Then Yosef went out, in charge of the land of Egypt.
Both Rashi and Rashbam interpret Joseph’s new title as M’pareish Hatz’punot, meaning He who explains what is hidden.
“One to whom hidden things are revealed” – Onkelos
“A revealer of secrets” –Targum Yonatan
The latter part of Tzafnat-paneach is used only this once in Scripture, and Iben Ezra confesses his ignorance as to whether it is an Egyptian word or not. Some think the first part of the name is etymologically linked to the name of the Egyptian idol Baal Zephon (lord of the north: Exodus 14:2), and that, in this new name given to Joseph by Pharaoh, he has inserted the name of his god, just as Nebuchadnezzar did, when he gave new names to Daniel and his company (Daniel 1:7).
The Zohar explains that the name change was an instance of Divine Providence intended to help keep Joseph’s identity hidden from his family so that his dreams would be fulfilled.
Alshich suggests that Potipherah is the same as Potiphar and that therefore, Joseph is marrying his former master’s daughter and is thus vindicated from the false charge concerning Potiphar’s wife. However, if as many believe, Potiphar is a title rather than a personal noun, it is just as likely that the Potiphera of the priests of On is simply an equivalent position in the priesthood held by another individual altogether. This seems more likely in fact, given that the role of Prince of Executioners (Potiphar) is quite separate and distinct from that of priest.
As’nat the Egyptian (Double distress) becomes the mother of two of Israel’s greatest sons, the sons of promise, Ef’rayim (doubly fruitful) and M’nasheh (to forget trouble). Thus, out of double distress comes double blessing.
46 Now Yosef was 30 years old when he began serving as representative of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Yosef went out from Pharaoh’s presence and passed throughout the whole land of Egypt.
The age of thirty years is significant because it is believed to be Yeshua’s age when He began His public ministry and is known to be the age at which first century Jewish teachers and scribes were welcomed into positions of ministerial authority. Add to this the multiples of three (Unity of deity and completion of that which is firmly established) and ten (Fullness, completion, fruitfulness), and we see that Joseph is entering a season of completion and fullness according to the will of God. At thirty he has now been separated from his family for thirteen years (Gen. 37:2). A number that in Judaism represents the twelve tribes in union with the One God.
47 During the seven years of abundance, the land produced by the handfuls. 48 So he gathered all the food in the land of Egypt during the seven years, and put food in the cities; the food from the city fields surrounding the cities he put in each city. 49 So Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) stored up grain like the sand of the sea, vast amounts, until he stopped keeping record because it was beyond counting.
Once again Joseph’s name speaks forth his work and the blessing of God poured out on an undeserving people. Mercy adds.
The phrase, “By the handfuls” is an idiom signifying abundance.
50 Two sons also had been born to Yosef before the first year of famine came, born to him by As’nat (Belonging to the goddess Neit), daughter of Potipherah (He whom the Ra gave), kohen priest of On (Strength). 51 Yosef named his first-born M’nasheh (to forget trouble), “because Elohiym God has caused me to forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” 52 And the second he named Ef’rayim (doubly fruitful), “because Elohiym God has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression.”
We are told that Joseph’s two sons are born to him, “before the first year of famine came”. Why? What difference does it make when they were born? In the birth of Joseph’s sons God has provided evidence in advance of the fruitfulness yet to come, so that during the coming years of famine (adversity), Joseph can look to the hope he has in HaShem. The sons are named both for the past faithfulness of God (M’nasheh) and for the future promises of God (Ef’rayim). There is a lesson here for every believer: God has given us a great hope in His Son Yeshua, a promise of eternal life, and we know this, that “God cannot lie”. Therefore, in adversity we should look to the sons who have been born to us in the former days, “Forgotten Trouble (Resurrection)” and “Future Double Fruitfulness (Eternal life)”, remembering that God has been faithful, that He is being faithful, and that He will faithfully complete the good work He has begun in us.
The continued use of Elohiym (Judge) reinforces the restorative justice shown to Joseph. As’nat, like Tamar, Rachav, and Ruth, has been grafted into the bloodline of Israel through a Redeemer (like Boaz), a man who is a type for the future Messiah and deliverer of humanity.
The fact that the boys were given Hebrew names infers As’nat’s conversion to Joseph’s faith, having been convinced of the truth of HaShem according to His providence and faithfulness to Joseph and Yaakov/Yisrael.
We bless our boys every Yom Shishi with the words, “May God make you like Ef’rayim and M’nasheh” (Gen. 48:20).
53 Then the seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine started to come—just as Yosef had said. So there was famine in all the lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When the whole land of Egypt suffered famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, and Pharaoh said to all of Egypt, “Go to Yosef. Do whatever he tells you.” 56 The famine was over all the face of the earth, so Yosef opened up all the stores among them and sold grain to Egypt. Then the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Yet the whole world came to Egypt to buy grain—to Yosef—because the famine was severe in the whole world.
For all intents and purposes, Joseph had become the ruler of the known world. He had become father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8), and would soon be recognized as ruler over his brothers according to the will and plan of God for His people Israel.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,