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Genesis 42:2-34

Context
42:2 He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us 1  so that we may live 2  and not die.” 3 

42:3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 42:4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, 4  for he said, 5  “What if some accident 6  happens 7  to him?” 42:5 So Israel’s sons came to buy grain among the other travelers, 8  for the famine was severe in the land of Canaan.

42:6 Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country. 9  Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down 10  before him with 11  their faces to the ground. 42:7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger 12  to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered, 13  “From the land of Canaan, to buy grain for food.” 14 

42:8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 42:9 Then Joseph remembered 15  the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see if our land is vulnerable!” 16 

42:10 But they exclaimed, 17  “No, my lord! Your servants have come to buy grain for food! 42:11 We are all the sons of one man; we are honest men! Your servants are not spies.”

42:12 “No,” he insisted, “but you have come to see if our land is vulnerable.” 18  42:13 They replied, “Your servants are from a family of twelve brothers. 19  We are the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is with our father at this time, 20  and one is no longer alive.” 21 

42:14 But Joseph told them, “It is just as I said to you: 22  You are spies! 42:15 You will be tested in this way: As surely as Pharaoh lives, 23  you will not depart from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 42:16 One of you must go and get 24  your brother, while 25  the rest of you remain in prison. 26  In this way your words may be tested to see if 27  you are telling the truth. 28  If not, then, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 42:17 He imprisoned 29  them all for three days. 42:18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do as I say 30  and you will live, 31  for I fear God. 32  42:19 If you are honest men, leave one of your brothers confined here in prison 33  while the rest of you go 34  and take grain back for your hungry families. 35  42:20 But you must bring 36  your youngest brother to me. Then 37  your words will be verified 38  and you will not die.” They did as he said. 39 

42:21 They said to one other, 40  “Surely we’re being punished 41  because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was 42  when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress 43  has come on us!” 42:22 Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy,’ but you wouldn’t listen? So now we must pay for shedding his blood!” 44  42:23 (Now 45  they did not know that Joseph could understand them, 46  for he was speaking through an interpreter.) 47  42:24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned around and spoke to them again, 48  he had Simeon taken 49  from them and tied up 50  before their eyes.

42:25 Then Joseph gave orders to fill 51  their bags with grain, to return each man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. His orders were carried out. 52  42:26 So they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. 53 

42:27 When one of them 54  opened his sack to get feed for his donkey at their resting place, 55  he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 56  42:28 He said to his brothers, “My money was returned! Here it is in my sack!” They were dismayed; 57  they turned trembling one to another 58  and said, “What in the world has God done to us?” 59 

42:29 They returned to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan and told him all the things that had happened to them, saying, 42:30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us and treated us 60  as if we were 61  spying on the land. 42:31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies! 42:32 We are from a family of twelve brothers; we are the sons of one father. 62  One is no longer alive, 63  and the youngest is with our father at this time 64  in the land of Canaan.’

42:33 “Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘This is how I will find out if you are honest men. Leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain 65  for your hungry households and go. 42:34 But bring your youngest brother back to me so I will know 66  that you are honest men and not spies. 67  Then I will give your brother back to you and you may move about freely in the land.’” 68 

1 tn Heb “and buy for us from there.” The word “grain,” the direct object of “buy,” has been supplied for clarity, and the words “from there” have been omitted in the translation for stylistic reasons.

2 tn Following the imperatives, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav expresses purpose of result.

3 tn The imperfect tense continues the nuance of the verb before it.

4 tn Heb “But Benjamin, the brother of Joseph, Jacob did not send with his brothers.” The disjunctive clause highlights the contrast between Benjamin and the other ten.

5 tn The Hebrew verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) could also be translated “thought” (i.e., “he said to himself”) here, giving Jacob’s reasoning rather than spoken words.

6 tn The Hebrew noun אָסוֹן (’ason) is a rare word meaning “accident, harm.” Apart from its use in these passages it occurs in Exodus 21:22-23 of an accident to a pregnant woman. The term is a rather general one, but Jacob was no doubt thinking of his loss of Joseph.

7 tn Heb “encounters.”

8 tn Heb “in the midst of the coming ones.”

9 tn The disjunctive clause either introduces a new episode in the unfolding drama or provides the reader with supplemental information necessary to understanding the story.

10 sn Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him. Here is the beginning of the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams (see Gen 37). But it is not the complete fulfillment, since all his brothers and his parents must come. The point of the dream, of course, was not simply to get the family to bow to Joseph, but that Joseph would be placed in a position of rule and authority to save the family and the world (41:57).

11 tn The word “faces” is an adverbial accusative, so the preposition has been supplied in the translation.

12 sn But pretended to be a stranger. Joseph intends to test his brothers to see if they have changed and have the integrity to be patriarchs of the tribes of Israel. He will do this by putting them in the same situations that they and he were in before. The first test will be to awaken their conscience.

13 tn Heb “said.”

14 tn The verb is denominative, meaning “to buy grain”; the word “food” could simply be the direct object, but may also be an adverbial accusative.

15 sn You are spies. Joseph wanted to see how his brothers would react if they were accused of spying.

16 tn Heb “to see the nakedness of the land you have come.”

17 tn Heb “and they said to him.” In context this is best understood as an exclamation.

18 tn Heb “and he said, ‘No, for the nakedness of the land you have come to see.’” The order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for clarity.

19 tn Heb “twelve [were] your servants, brothers [are] we.”

20 tn Heb “today.”

21 tn Heb “and the one is not.”

22 tn Heb “to you, saying.”

23 tn Heb “[By] the life of Pharaoh.”

sn As surely as Pharaoh lives. Joseph uses an oath formula to let the brothers know the certainty of what he said. There is some discussion in the commentaries on swearing by the life of Pharaoh, but since the formulation here reflects the Hebrew practice, it would be hard to connect the ideas exactly to Egyptian practices. Joseph did this to make the point in a way that his Hebrew brothers would understand. See M. R. Lehmann, “Biblical Oaths,” ZAW 81 (1969): 74-92.

24 tn Heb “send from you one and let him take.” After the imperative, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav (ו) indicates purpose.

25 tn The disjunctive clause is here circumstantial-temporal.

26 tn Heb “bound.”

27 tn The words “to see” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

28 tn Heb “the truth [is] with you.”

29 sn The same Hebrew word is used for Joseph’s imprisonment in 40:3, 4, 7. There is some mirroring going on in the narrative. The Hebrew word used here (אָסַף, ’asaf, “to gather”) is not normally used in a context like this (for placing someone in prison), but it forms a wordplay on the name Joseph (יוֹסֵף, yosoef) and keeps the comparison working.

30 tn Heb “Do this.”

31 tn After the preceding imperative, the imperative with vav (ו) can, as here, indicate logical sequence.

32 sn For I fear God. Joseph brings God into the picture to awaken his brothers’ consciences. The godly person cares about the welfare of people, whether they live or die. So he will send grain back, but keep one of them in Egypt. This action contrasts with their crime of selling their brother into slavery.

33 tn Heb “bound in the house of your prison.”

34 tn The disjunctive clause is circumstantial-temporal.

35 tn Heb “[for] the hunger of your households.”

36 tn The imperfect here has an injunctive force.

37 tn After the injunctive imperfect, this imperfect with vav indicates purpose or result.

38 tn The Niphal form of the verb has the sense of “to be faithful; to be sure; to be reliable.” Joseph will test his brothers to see if their words are true.

39 tn Heb “and they did so.”

40 tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.”

41 tn Or “we are guilty”; the Hebrew word can also refer to the effect of being guilty, i.e., “we are being punished for guilt.”

42 tn Heb “the distress of his soul.”

43 sn The repetition of the Hebrew noun translated distress draws attention to the fact that they regard their present distress as appropriate punishment for their refusal to ignore their brother when he was in distress.

44 tn Heb “and also his blood, look, it is required.” God requires compensation, as it were, from those who shed innocent blood (see Gen 9:6). In other words, God exacts punishment for the crime of murder.

45 tn The disjunctive clause provides supplemental information that is important to the story.

46 tn “was listening.” The brothers were not aware that Joseph could understand them as they spoke the preceding words in their native language.

47 tn Heb “for [there was] an interpreter between them.” On the meaning of the word here translated “interpreter” see HALOT 590 s.v. מֵלִיץ and M. A. Canney, “The Hebrew melis (Prov IX 12; Gen XLII 2-3),” AJSL 40 (1923/24): 135-37.

48 tn Heb “and he turned to them and spoke to them.”

49 tn Heb “took Simeon.” This was probably done at Joseph’s command, however; the grand vizier of Egypt would not have personally seized a prisoner.

50 tn Heb “and he bound him.” See the note on the preceding verb “taken.”

51 tn Heb “and they filled.” The clause appears to be elliptical; one expects “Joseph gave orders to fill…and they filled.” See GKC 386 §120.f.

52 tn Heb “and he did for them so.” Joseph would appear to be the subject of the singular verb. If the text is retained, the statement seems to be a summary of the preceding, more detailed statement. However, some read the verb as plural, “and they did for them so.” In this case the statement indicates that Joseph’s subordinates carried out his orders. Another alternative is to read the singular verb as passive (with unspecified subject), “and this was done for them so” (cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV).

53 tn Heb “and they went from there.”

54 tn Heb “and the one.” The article indicates that the individual is vivid in the mind of the narrator, yet it is not important to identify him by name.

55 tn Heb “at the lodging place.”

56 tn Heb “and look, it [was] in the mouth of his sack.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the reader to look through the eyes of the character and thereby draws attention to the money.

57 tn Heb “and their heart went out.” Since this expression is used only here, the exact meaning is unclear. The following statement suggests that it may refer to a sudden loss of emotional strength, so “They were dismayed” adequately conveys the meaning (cf. NRSV); NIV has “Their hearts sank.”

58 tn Heb “and they trembled, a man to his neighbor.”

59 tn Heb “What is this God has done to us?” The demonstrative pronoun (“this”) adds emphasis to the question.

60 tn Heb “made us.”

61 tn The words “if we were” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

62 tn Heb “twelve [were] we, brothers, sons of our father [are] we.”

63 tn Heb “the one is not.”

64 tn Heb “today.”

65 tn The word “grain” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

66 tn After the imperative, the cohortative with prefixed vav indicates purpose/result.

67 tn Heb “that you are not spies, that you are honest men.”

68 sn Joseph’s brothers soften the news considerably, making it sound like Simeon was a guest of Joseph (Leave one of your brothers with me) instead of being bound in prison. They do not mention the threat of death and do not at this time speak of the money in the one sack.



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