Chapter 43

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The land of Canaan continued to be in the grip of severe famine, and the supply of grain that the sons of Jacob had brought from Egypt had been used up. Therefore, Jacob requested that his sons return to Egypt to buy grain. Judah responded that the only condition on which they could return to Egypt was for Benjamin to accompany them, as the one in charge in Egypt had strongly warned (literally, “to warn, warn”) that they could not see his face unless their brother (“younger brother” [LXX]) was with them. (43:1-5)

Israel (Jacob) felt that his sons had done him an injustice by telling the man that they had another brother and asked them why they had treated him so badly by revealing this. They explained that the man asked them specifically whether they had another brother and that they had no way of knowing that he would demand that they bring their brother down to Egypt. (43:6, 7)

In view of the serious situation in which the entire household of Jacob found itself on account of the famine, Judah requested that Jacob send Benjamin with him so that all in the family could live and not die or starve from lack of food. He promised to be surety for Benjamin, telling his father that he could require from his hand whatever he determined if he did not bring his brother back and that, if he failed, he would be sinning against his father for all time to come (literally, “all the days”). Judah then said, “If we had not delayed, we could have returned twice” (or made two trips to buy grain in Egypt). (43:8-10)

Israel (Jacob) finally resigned himself to having Benjamin accompany his sons. He told them to take some of the choice products of Canaan (some balm [resin (LXX)] and some honey, gum [incense (LXX)], myrrh [resin, ladanum, or some kind of aromatic substance], pistachios [terebinth or terebinth fruits (LXX)], and almonds [nuts (LXX]) as a gift for the man in Egypt. To buy the grain, Jacob asked his sons to take double the amount of silver they had paid the first time and to return the silver they had then paid but which, possibly in error, had been placed in their bags. He concluded with the words, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the face of the man that he may send back your other brother [Simeon] and Benjamin. And if I am to be bereaved [of my sons], I will be bereaved.” Jacob recognized that he had no choice in the matter. Without having his sons obtain grain from Egypt, the household would starve. (43:11-14)

All ten of Jacob’s sons headed back to Egypt. When Joseph saw his brother Benjamin among them, he directed the man in charge of his house to bring them into his house and to prepare a feast, for he planned to have all of them dine with him at noon. As the man conducted Jacob’s sons to Joseph’s house, they became fearful. Apparently their consciences troubled them regarding what they had years earlier done to Joseph and feared divine retribution for their serious sin. They thought that they were being led to the house because of the payment in silver that had been returned in their bags and that they would be (denounced and [LXX]) seized along with their donkeys and made slaves. Therefore, at the door (in the entryway [LXX]) of the house, they told the man that they had come down to Egypt to purchase food and later discovered that the full weight of each one’s silver had been returned in their respective bags. This time they had come with the silver that had been returned and with additional silver to purchase food. They added, “We do not know who put our silver in our bags.” (43:15-22)

The man in charge of Joseph’s house or his steward must have recognized that fear had prompted the men to speak. Therefore, he reassured them with the words, “Peace to you; do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. Your silver came to me [or I received your payment].” The steward then brought Simeon out to them. According to Josephus, the steward had dressed Simeon in presentable attire. (Antiquities, II, vi, 6) He gave water to Jacob’s sons for washing their feet and provided feed for their donkeys. Having been informed that the steward’s master who was then unknown to them as being Joseph would be dining with them at noon, they laid out the gift they had brought for him and waited for him to come. Upon Joseph’s arrival, they presented him with the gift and prostrated themselves before him. In response to his question about the well-being of their father, they answered that he was alive and well and again prostrated themselves. According to the Septuagint, Joseph said regarding Jacob, “Blessed be that man to God.” Recognizing his brother Benjamin, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke to me?” Directing his words to Benjamin, he then said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” (43:23-29)

Joseph was deeply moved with tender feelings toward his full brother Benjamin and was at the point of giving way to weeping. Therefore, he quickly left so that he brothers would not see his tears and entered his own private room to weep. He then washed his face, gained control of himself, entered the room where his brothers were, and requested that the food be served. Joseph was served by himself (probably because of his high rank in Egypt), and the Egyptians who were with him ate the meal separate from Joseph’s brothers. The explanation in the Genesis account for this arrangement was because it happened to be abhorrent for the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews. (43:30-32) Targum Jonathan indicates that the reason for the abhorrence was that the Egyptians revered the animals that the Hebrews ate.

At the table, Joseph’s brothers had been seated according to birth order, from the firstborn (Reuben) to the youngest (Benjamin). Joseph apparently had directed the seating arrangement. This caused the brothers to look at one another in amazement. All except Benjamin had been born within a period of roughly six years, and it would have been extremely difficult for a stranger to be sure about the exact birth order. (43:33) Josephus wrote that the brothers were seated “in the same order as they used to sit at their father’s table.” (Antiquities, II, vi, 6) According to Targum Jonathan, Joseph had taken his silver cup and pretended as if he were divining. He then seated the sons of Leah on one side, the sons of Leah’s maid Zilpah on the other side, and on still another side he seated the sons of Bilhah, the maid of Rachel. Benjamin’s place was closest to the side of Joseph.

The meal was apparently in front of Joseph. From there, the servants would take portions to Joseph’s brothers. Doubtless to determine any tendency on their part to envy Benjamin, Joseph had the servants greatly increase his full brother’s portion. The account says this was done by “five times.” This may not necessarily mean five literal times but may simply be an idiomatic way to indicate that Benjamin’s portion was much larger than that of the others. Josephus wrote that Benjamin’s portion “was double to what the rest of the guests had for their shares.” (Antiquities, II, vi, 6) The brothers also drank with Joseph and came to be in a good mood from the wine. According to the Septuagint, they became intoxicated. (43:34)