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Joseph’s Brothers in Egypt

42 When Jacob heard[a] there was grain in Egypt, he[b] said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?”[c] He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us[d] so that we may live[e] and not die.”[f]

So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers,[g] for he said,[h] “What if some accident[i] happens[j] to him?” So Israel’s sons came to buy grain among the other travelers,[k] for the famine was severe in the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country.[l] Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down[m] before him with[n] their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger[o] to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered,[p] “From the land of Canaan, to buy grain for food.”[q]

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

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

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

14 But Joseph told them, “It is just as I said to you:[y] You are spies! 15 You will be tested in this way: As surely as Pharaoh lives,[z] you will not depart from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 One of you must go and get[aa] your brother, while[ab] the rest of you remain in prison.[ac] In this way your words may be tested to see if[ad] you are telling the truth.[ae] If not, then, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 He imprisoned[af] them all for three days. 18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do as I say[ag] and you will live,[ah] for I fear God.[ai] 19 If you are honest men, leave one of your brothers confined here in prison[aj] while the rest of you go[ak] and take grain back for your hungry families.[al] 20 But you must bring[am] your youngest brother to me. Then[an] your words will be verified[ao] and you will not die.” They did as he said.[ap]

21 They said to one another,[aq] “Surely we’re being punished[ar] because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was[as] when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress[at] has come on us!” 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!”[au] 23 (Now[av] they did not know that Joseph could understand them,[aw] for he was speaking through an interpreter.)[ax] 24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned around and spoke to them again,[ay] he had Simeon taken[az] from them and tied up[ba] before their eyes.

25 Then Joseph gave orders to fill[bb] 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.[bc] 26 So they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.[bd]

27 When one of them[be] opened his sack to get feed for his donkey at their resting place,[bf] he saw his money in the mouth of his sack.[bg] 28 He said to his brothers, “My money was returned! Here it is in my sack!” They were dismayed;[bh] they turned trembling to one another[bi] and said, “What in the world has God done to us?”[bj]

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

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[bp] for your hungry households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother back to me so I will know[bq] that you are honest men and not spies.[br] Then I will give your brother back to you and you may move about freely in the land.’”[bs]

35 When they were emptying their sacks, there was each man’s bag of money in his sack! When they and their father saw the bags of money, they were afraid. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone.[bt] Simeon is gone.[bu] And now you want to take[bv] Benjamin! Everything is against me.”

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may[bw] put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care[bx] and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But Jacob[by] replied, “My son will not go down there with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left.[bz] If an accident happens to him on the journey you have to make, then you will bring down my gray hair[ca] in sorrow to the grave.”[cb]


  1. Genesis 42:1 tn Heb “saw.”
  2. Genesis 42:1 tn Heb “Jacob.” Here the proper name has been replaced by the pronoun (“he”) in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  3. Genesis 42:1 sn Why are you looking at each other? The point of Jacob’s question is that his sons should be going to get grain rather than sitting around doing nothing. Jacob, as the patriarch, still makes the decisions for the whole clan.
  4. Genesis 42:2 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.
  5. Genesis 42:2 tn Following the imperatives, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav expresses purpose of result.
  6. Genesis 42:2 tn The imperfect tense continues the nuance of the verb before it.
  7. Genesis 42:4 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.
  8. Genesis 42:4 tn The Hebrew verb אָמַר (ʾamar, “to say”) could also be translated “thought” (i.e., “he said to himself”) here, giving Jacob’s reasoning rather than spoken words.
  9. Genesis 42:4 tn The Hebrew noun אָסוֹן (ʾason) 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.
  10. Genesis 42:4 tn Heb “encounters.”
  11. Genesis 42:5 tn Heb “in the midst of the coming ones.”
  12. Genesis 42:6 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.
  13. Genesis 42:6 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).
  14. Genesis 42:6 tn The word “faces” is an adverbial accusative, so the preposition has been supplied in the translation.
  15. Genesis 42:7 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.
  16. Genesis 42:7 tn Heb “said.”
  17. Genesis 42:7 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.
  18. Genesis 42:9 sn You are spies. Joseph wanted to see how his brothers would react if they were accused of spying.
  19. Genesis 42:9 tn Heb “to see the nakedness of the land you have come.”
  20. Genesis 42:10 tn Heb “and they said to him.” In context this is best understood as an exclamation.
  21. Genesis 42:12 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.
  22. Genesis 42:13 tn Heb “twelve [were] your servants, brothers [are] we.”
  23. Genesis 42:13 tn Heb “today.”
  24. Genesis 42:13 tn Heb “and the one is not.”
  25. Genesis 42:14 tn Heb “to you, saying.”
  26. Genesis 42:15 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.
  27. Genesis 42:16 tn Heb “send from you one and let him take.” After the imperative, the prefixed verbal form with prefixed vav (ו) indicates purpose.
  28. Genesis 42:16 tn The disjunctive clause is here circumstantial-temporal.
  29. Genesis 42:16 tn Heb “bound.”
  30. Genesis 42:16 tn The words “to see” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  31. Genesis 42:16 tn Heb “the truth [is] with you.”
  32. Genesis 42:17 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, ʾasaf, “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, yosef) and keeps the comparison working.
  33. Genesis 42:18 tn Heb “Do this.”
  34. Genesis 42:18 tn After the preceding imperative, the imperative with vav (ו) can, as here, indicate logical sequence.
  35. Genesis 42:18 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.
  36. Genesis 42:19 tn Heb “bound in the house of your prison.”
  37. Genesis 42:19 tn The disjunctive clause is circumstantial-temporal.
  38. Genesis 42:19 tn Heb “[for] the hunger of your households.”
  39. Genesis 42:20 tn The imperfect here has an injunctive force.
  40. Genesis 42:20 tn After the injunctive imperfect, this imperfect with vav indicates purpose or result.
  41. Genesis 42:20 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.
  42. Genesis 42:20 tn Heb “and they did so.”
  43. Genesis 42:21 tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.”
  44. Genesis 42:21 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.”
  45. Genesis 42:21 tn Heb “the distress of his soul.”
  46. Genesis 42:21 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.
  47. Genesis 42:22 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.
  48. Genesis 42:23 tn The disjunctive clause provides supplemental information that is important to the story.
  49. Genesis 42:23 tn “was listening.” The brothers were not aware that Joseph could understand them as they spoke the preceding words in their native language.
  50. Genesis 42:23 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.
  51. Genesis 42:24 tn Heb “and he turned to them and spoke to them.”
  52. Genesis 42:24 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.
  53. Genesis 42:24 tn Heb “and he bound him.” See the note on the preceding verb “taken.”
  54. Genesis 42:25 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.
  55. Genesis 42:25 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).
  56. Genesis 42:26 tn Heb “and they went from there.”
  57. Genesis 42:27 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.
  58. Genesis 42:27 tn Heb “at the lodging place.”
  59. Genesis 42:27 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.
  60. Genesis 42:28 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.”
  61. Genesis 42:28 tn Heb “and they trembled, a man to his neighbor.”
  62. Genesis 42:28 tn Heb “What is this God has done to us?” The demonstrative pronoun (“this”) adds emphasis to the question.
  63. Genesis 42:30 tn Heb “made us.”
  64. Genesis 42:30 tn The words “if we were” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  65. Genesis 42:32 tn Heb “twelve [were] we, brothers, sons of our father [are] we.”
  66. Genesis 42:32 tn Heb “the one is not.”
  67. Genesis 42:32 tn Heb “today.”
  68. Genesis 42:33 tn The word “grain” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  69. Genesis 42:34 tn After the imperative, the cohortative with prefixed vav indicates purpose/result.
  70. Genesis 42:34 tn Heb “that you are not spies, that you are honest men.”
  71. Genesis 42:34 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.
  72. Genesis 42:36 tn Heb “is not.”
  73. Genesis 42:36 tn Heb “is not.”
  74. Genesis 42:36 tn The nuance of the imperfect verbal form is desiderative here.
  75. Genesis 42:37 tn The nuance of the imperfect verbal form is permissive here.
  76. Genesis 42:37 tn Heb “my hand.”
  77. Genesis 42:38 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  78. Genesis 42:38 sn The expression he alone is left meant that (so far as Jacob knew) Benjamin was the only surviving child of his mother Rachel.
  79. Genesis 42:38 sn The expression bring down my gray hair is figurative, using a part for the whole—they would put Jacob in the grave. But the gray head signifies a long life of worry and trouble.
  80. Genesis 42:38 tn Heb “to Sheol,” the dwelling place of the dead.

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