Genesis 42:1-17 (The Giver of Grain)

Genesis 42:1-17
The Giver of Grain

Introduction: Symbolism is used throughout the Bible as a common way of teaching us spiritual truths. The elements – fire, water, wind, and earth each point to a spiritual truth. Trees, grain, bread, rocks, rivers, mountains, and so on are all used to reveal spiritual truths from a perspective which we can understand.

Light and darkness do this, types of metal, and the times of the day are all used in a harmonious fashion to reveal other truths. Some are very easy for us to see, others are hidden in such deep little recesses that they can be easily misunderstood or misused.

However, by knowing the overall contents of the Bible, it is much easier to avoid error when evaluating metaphors and other types of symbolism. There is a cohesive, overall message and each symbol will consistently reflect the intention of this message. Do you know what yeast symbolizes? The number 7? How about incense?

When you see such things, make note of them. God is asking us to pay attention. He didn’t throw in a lot of unnecessary detail when He gave us this book. Instead, He uses every word as a wonderful display of wisdom and direction for us to follow.

Text Verse: Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O undesirable nation,
Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you,
Before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you!
Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord’s anger. Zephaniah 2:1-3

The Day of the Lord isn’t always easy to define. It is used to describe calamities of the past, but it is also used for the great final time of judgment on an earth which will be so far removed from Him that judgment is the only option left. When the tribulation comes, it will also be a time of renewal for His people Israel.

They will be purified through the fire of the Day of the Lord before they call on Him and He returns. This isn’t mere speculation, or one possible analysis of what may happen. It is what will happen. And God has given us pictures of it in Genesis to confirm that Israel is not abandoned and the church has not replaced her.

Sometimes figuring these things out takes really hard work, but it is in the hard work that the rewards come out. So together, let’s get back into the life of Joseph and earnestly work to see what God has placed there for us to see. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. Grain in Egypt (1-5)

1 When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt,

Here we begin chapter 42 with Jacob and his family in the distress of the famine which has swept throughout the land. He hasn’t been mentioned since chapter 37 when his sons brought to him the coat of Joseph which had been dipped in blood. He is now reintroduced into the story as the leader of the clan but not the center of focus.

It says that he “saw there was grain in Egypt.” This immediately shows us that everything is governed by God and His providential care for His people. Here he is sitting up in Canaan, not Egypt. And yet it says that he sees Egypt has grain.

This means someone told him about it as they passed through. For all we know, it could have been the same group of traders who once carried his son Joseph down to Egypt. By hearing about grain from them, he sees that there is grain down there.

It’s common for the Bible to use the action of one thing in place of another. In this case, that of hearing from the people who obtained grain is used in terminology applied to Jacob as if he sees it.

An unusual word for “grain” is used here. The word is shever and it comes from a word meaning to break. The idea is either that the kernel of a grain is broken to get out the grain, or that the earth is broken open when the grain sprouts up. The word is used only nine times in the Bible.

The first seven are all in this account. The other two are in Nehemiah and Amos and are both used in connection with the Sabbath day. In the New Testament, we come across this account about Jesus, His disciples, and grain on the Sabbath –

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!'” Matthew 12:1, 2

1 (Con’t) Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?”

The picture here is one of misery. There’s obviously nothing to do. There are no fields to plow and there is only heat and misery from the famine. In a case like this, sitting around looking at one another seems all you can do. It is life in a rut and one without hope or direction that we are seeing here.

And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.”

This verse now explains the previous one. Jacob didn’t actually see the grain in Egypt, he heard about it, but with the mind’s eye he saw it. He now perceives a glimmer of hope and the prospect of eating a full meal again. And so in that hope, he directs the sons to head to Egypt so that they “may live and not die.”

This second verse again uses the term shever for grain. Jacob is telling them to go buy it for the family to keep them alive. And this is more important that one would realize while flipping quickly through the pages as they read the story.

A famine isn’t something that just affects people in the short term. If it were to start raining that day, it would still be one full season before food started coming up in useable quantities once again. Other than grass for animals which would come up more quickly, the straights would not go away without action at this time.

In the Bible there is spiritual food to satisfy
Grain in abundance to fill our weary soul
So may we daily this wonderful word apply
And our lives will stay content, filled, and in always control

So Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.

Note what it said… Let’s read it again. “So Joseph’s ten brothers…” Jacob isn’t the focus here, is he? Joseph is. He is the picture of Christ and he is the one to whom the brothers are accountable for having sold him. And so, Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain. One brother is left as will be explained in a minute.

But a different word for grain is used here. It’s not shever, but bar. You’d never get this in the English. The word comes from another word barar, which means to purify, select, or test. It is probably threshed and winnowed grain as opposed to grain in the shell.

Threshing and winnowing is a process of separating grain from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. The grain is threshed to break the scale and then it is winnowed by throwing the grain into the breeze. The heavier grain falls back down and the scale, which is light and airy, flies off with the wind. Thus the grain is purified.

The process is described for various grains by Isaiah in a beautiful picture of their purification. Here is that passage from Isaiah 28 –

Give ear and hear my voice,
Listen and hear my speech.
24 Does the plowman keep plowing all day to sow?
Does he keep turning his soil and breaking the clods?
25 When he has leveled its surface,
Does he not sow the black cummin
And scatter the cummin,
Plant the wheat in rows,
The barley in the appointed place,
And the spelt in its place?
26 For He instructs him in right judgment,
His God teaches him.
27 For the black cummin is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
Nor is a cartwheel rolled over the cummin;
But the black cummin is beaten out with a stick,
And the cummin with a rod.
28 Bread flour must be ground;
Therefore he does not thresh it forever,
Break it with his cartwheel,
Or crush it with his horsemen.
29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance. (23-29)

In Zephaniah 3:9, the word barar, which is where the word bar or purified grain comes from, is used speaking of the language of the people being purified –

“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language,
That they all may call on the name of the Lord,
To serve Him with one accord.”

And so that you can see there is a contrast between these grains, and that they are not being used synonymously, both types of grain, bar and shever, are used in one verse in Amos 8:5 –

“When will the New Moon be past,
That we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
That we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large,
Falsifying the scales by deceit,”

If you were here last week, you may remember that Amos 8 was the passage that referred to the famine for the word of God and it used the swelling and subsiding of the Nile as its example. It’s not coincidence that the same chapter and passage mentions both grains that are mentioned now in this chapter of Genesis.

From chapter 42 through chapter 45, these two words, shever and bar, will be used nine times; shever 6 times and bar 3 times. Each time they’re used, I’ll try to remember to highlight it in the verse.

After the last time they’re used, I’ll try to remember to explain what’s going on. Each word is used carefully and methodically to point to something else concerning Israel, yet future to us now. To help you, remember that Jesus uses grain in the parable of the sower in Mark 4. The symbolism is perfectly clear if you can make that connection. So you can get a spiritual picture of other agricultural metaphors God is using, listen to what John the Baptist says concerning the winnowing process in Matthew 3:11, 12 –

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

To help you think all this through, remember, Joseph is picturing Christ who was sold off to the gentiles. The brothers picture Israel. They are going down to get grain from Egypt where they will meet Joseph. Israel will again meet Jesus. The grain is the word of God.

And all of this is happening during the seven years of famine. These years picture the tribulation period coming in the future. As we continue along, try to keep these pictures in mind. Israel – it is all pointing to Israel after the church age and their divinely appointed meeting with their long-estranged Messiah.

These ten sons are going down to Egypt together for probably a few reasons. The first is certainly for safety. As a group they are much less likely to be robbed. Also, the grain is probably sold by individual and so ten individuals can buy for ten families. And finally, even if any amount could be purchased, ten – along with their servants, can carry much more than one.

But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.”

Jacob lost his favorite boy Joseph. Benjamin is the only son left from Rachel and so he is his only connection to the most important part of his life. Because of this, and in order to spare him from any possible mishap, he keeps Benjamin at home.

He uses a word here that indicates some sort of personal injury. Whatever could happen, he will do his best to keep it from happening. The journey will have to be made without Benjamin. But remember, Benjamin also pictures Christ in another way. His name means, Son of the Right Hand.

And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

It’s apparent that this famine was very widespread because other travelers were heading to Egypt along with the brothers. Unlike other recorded famines which were at times localized, this one covered the land. If it wasn’t so, then there would have been no need for the family of Israel to go to Egypt.

Instead, they could have gotten what they needed closer by, like Isaac did when there was a famine at his time. God has ensured that there would be a need to travel to Egypt for a divine meeting with the son who had been appointed as the leader of the land.

And what is more than probable, although not stated here, is that there were more from Jacob’s clan than just the ten sons. In the camp there were many servants, there were sisters, grandchildren, and so on. It could have been in the thousands. And so, many servants would certainly have come with them to carry supplies.

II. The Governor of the Land (6-9)

Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land.

Joseph is called the governor. The term is shalit and is where the Arabic word we know as “sultan” comes from.  Some believe they adopted the title of “sultan” because of the example of Joseph in this story. He is the premier example of such a position.

He is the one who domineers or has mastery over others. In this case, he is the one who has been placed in charge of the sale of the grain to all people of the land.

6 (con’t)And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.

This would have been the customary greeting of anyone who was coming to Joseph for food. Because of his position, and because of his ability which at this point literally controlled life or death, when a customer came forward, they bowed right to the earth in a sign of submission.

Without his favor and the sale of the grain, they couldn’t exist, or they would have to pay exorbitant prices from someone else who had already bought grain. And so the brothers came like all others; humbly submitting for their sake and for the sake of their families.

Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.”

It has been at least 20 years since the brothers saw Joseph. He was 17 when they sold him. He was 30 when he stood before Pharaoh. That is then 13 years. There were seven years of abundance before the famine started. That is 20 years. And, it’s probably even more than a year since then.

By the time he reveals himself to his brothers, it will be two full years into the famine. So this is between 21 and 22 years of Joseph having not been seen by them. He would be clean shaven and adorned as an Egyptian ruler. Further, the brothers would never look directly at him as a sign of respect.

Along with this, he speaks to them through a translator, as we’ll see later in verse 23. And so, because of these things, it is not at all improbable that they won’t recognize him. There is nothing in the account to suggest that it isn’t possible. They would have no idea of who they are talking to.

In this position as a stranger, it says he spoke roughly to them. This wasn’t him being vindictive because of what they had done, but to see if they were repentant or not. He will use this harsh demeanor towards them to find out. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 7, wrote about this attitude. He said that –

“…godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (10)

In this position then, and accompanied by his rough manner, he asks them where they are from. Their response is from Canaan.

So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.

He probably knew who they were immediately, and when they bowed to him, the memory of the dream may have come right to mind. However, this is not the fulfillment of the dream and he would know that. There are 10, not 11, brothers there before him.

Once he heard them speak, he would be certain of who they were. They are from Canaan and their voices couldn’t conceal what the years may have hidden in their faces.

Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them,

This says what is already certain, “Joseph remembered the dreams.” It doesn’t mean he suddenly remembered the dreams, but he remembered their substance – there were 11 sons, not 10. In other words, the dreams would have come to mind right away, but the fact that Benjamin isn’t there, again recalls them to mind.

And so he sets up a pretext in order to find out about Benjamin. Back in Genesis 37:3, it said “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age.” As we saw then, the Hebrew literally says he was a “son of old age to him.”

This probably means, “a wise son.” It wasn’t speaking of Jacob’s advanced physical age, but Joseph’s advanced mental age; wisdom and understanding beyond his years. This wisdom has grown with age and he is using it now to bring about the truth of the situation, repentance by his brothers, and the deliverance of his family.

If that doesn’t speak of Jesus and His future dealings with the nation of Israel, I can’t think of what would. It is all leading to that point in history where they will finally acknowledge Him. The events here only look forward to that great day.

9 (con’t) and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!”

His reason for holding them in jail is seen in this verse. He calls them spies. By doing so, it will justify how he deals with them. The term “spies” is meragellim, a word which means to go about on foot. He says they have come to “see the nakedness of the land.” This is what spies do.

They go about on foot, looking for vulnerabilities in cities, in their infrastructure, in their military, and in any other way that would allow their allies to conduct battle against them. When a person is naked, they are left completely vulnerable and will cover their most private parts at the expense of other more vital parts.

This is what spies look for. The grain and gold would be protected and this would leave open areas which are actually more vital, like the Nile River or the city walls which may have weaknesses.

This is what he is accusing the brothers of. Instead of coming to buy grain, it is only a ploy to find other weaknesses. If they brought many servants with them, it would seem all the more probable that they were working as spies among the big group.

III. Bound in Prison (10-17)

10 And they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.

“No” is their answer. The food is the only thing they’re interested in. They aren’t walking around on foot in an attempt to find weaknesses. Instead, they have come simply to find food in order to live. They have no other hidden agenda. And to support this, they go on with their explanation…

11 We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies.”

In their defense, they make what would otherwise be an impossible claim. It would be unheard of for ten brothers from the same family to spy like this. If one son got caught, all ten would get caught and there would be no one left to execute the plan.

It would be beyond logic for 10 brothers to all be spies working together at the same time, even if they had other servants who came along with them.

12 But he said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.”

The wisdom of Joseph is being displayed. Instead of accepting their words, which is completely unnecessary, he continues to accuse them. They are 10 people, born of 3 different mothers. Because of this, they would have had different features and so there is no need to accept their words at face value.

In order to get them to offer more information, which he knows will be forthcoming, he once again says they’ve come to search out the land and it’s weaknesses.

13 And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.”

To support their claim, they give more information, but in giving this they will only dig themselves in deeper. What they think is a full explanation is one which continues to allow Joseph room to accuse them.

They say that they are twelve brothers; no problem there. They are “the sons of one man” back in Canaan. Well, that would explain the different looks. “Sons of one man” implies more than one wife. So, no problem there. But they then claim that the youngest is with the father. This is a problem.

If they had explained why he was with the father, such as if he were too young, or an invalid, or whatever, it would be harder to disbelieve them. But why would one brother, of 12 brothers who are all over 35 years old, not be with them? If they were honest people, he would be needed to buy grain as well.

And finally they almost morbidly finish their statement – vha-echad ainaynu. Speaking in an elliptical sentence, they simply say “and the one, no.”

An elliptical sentence does not mean a sentence with an ellipsis in it. If you don’t know what that is, an ellipsis is three periods which symbolize missing information. Instead, an elliptical sentence refers to sentences with information missing.

If you ask, “What is a beard?” The complete answer would be, “A beard is the fluffy hair on Charlie’s face.” But an elliptical would be “The fluffy hair on Charlie’s face.” It leaves off “A beard is…”

With an inability to state that Joseph is dead, they simply say, “And the one, no.” It is inferred that he is dead, but the inference would be, as Joseph knows all too well, wrong. This is just like Jesus who is believed to be dead, but in fact, He lives.

14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’

Because of what they said about Benjamin, not Joseph, he can again accuse them of being spies. They don’t look alike, they have made a claim which sounds preplanned, and now they have thrown more information in without reasonable substantiation for it.

However, the truth is that he can look into the situation with complete knowledge and no matter what they answer, he will be able to find accusation against them. In this, we have a parallel to Jesus who knows us intimately. There is no place we can go that He isn’t aware of, and there is no thing we can hide from Him.

15 In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.

Many scholars claim that Joseph doesn’t believe them about Benjamin, as if they might have killed him too. This is unreasonable. If Benjamin was dead, they would have said that he was dead. There would be no reason to say otherwise.

Joseph would have every reason to believe that Benjamin was home with his father. First, because the dream was specific and he knew it was from God. Secondly, he would know how important Benjamin was to Jacob now supposing that Joseph was dead. And so he tests them with a vow on the life of Pharaoh.

Again though, an elliptical is used. The Hebrew simply says, “life of Pharaoh.” So Joseph is either saying, “by the life of Pharaoh” or he is saying, “as Pharaoh lives.” Either way, he is calling on the highest authority in the land as witness that what he now demands will come about or his sentence will stand.

16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!”

What Joseph is mandating now would be enough to make the hardest of men groan in terror. Their is a dire need for food in Canaan. There is an entire camp of people who belong to Jacob who need to be fed and there is the horrifying thought that Benjamin will be required in Egypt.

If Benjamin isn’t sent, they will be doomed to prison and possibly to death. But more so, without Benjamin being sent, there will be no more food to sustain the family. Everything is against them at this point. Without Benjamin, the son of the right hand, they have no hope at all. They are as good as dead. Do you see Jesus in this?

*17 So he put them all together in prison three days.

Once, these same brothers threw him into a pit to be sold off to a foreign land. Now in that foreign land, they are bound in prison at his word. The irony of it is amazing. It doesn’t tell why he threw them in for three days and we will find out it isn’t three full days.

But any part of a day in the Bible is counted as a full day. We do the same thing in English all the time. If we go on a trip from Monday afternoon until Wednesday at noon, we will say we were gone for three days when we were really gone about two days.

And so we’ve come to the end of today’s passage. We’ve seen a few examples of how to apply these things to our lives, we’ve seen the beginning of some beautiful pictures of the reconciliation of Israel to their long estranged Messiah, and with that, the coming wondrous period where Christ will dwell in Jerusalem.

Before those things happen, it is our hope that we will be taken out of the world at the rapture. But when Christ comes for His people, it will only be for His people.

If you’ve never considered your standing with God and whether you will be with those taken from the terrible time that is coming, I hope you’ll give me another moment to explain to you how you can be 100% certain that He will also be coming for you…

Closing Verse: I will strengthen the house of Judah,
And I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back,
Because I have mercy on them.
They shall be as though I had not cast them aside;
For I am the Lord their God,
And I will hear them. Zechariah 10:6

Next Week: Genesis 42:18-28 (The Lord Provides the Grain) (105th Genesis Sermon)

The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.

There’s Grain in Egypt

When Jacob saw that in Egypt there was grain
Jacob then to his sons said
“Why do you look at one another again and again?”
What kind of thoughts are there in your head?

And he said, “Indeed I have heard
That in Egypt there is grain
Go down to that place, to delay would be absurd
And buy food for us there, our lives to maintain

That we may live and not die
It may be a long shot, but let us try

So Joseph’s ten brothers went
Down to buy grain in Egypt without further dissent
But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin
With them for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.”

And the sons of Israel went to buy
Grain among those who journeyed too
For the famine was in the land of Canaan so dry
Going to Egypt was the right thing to do

Now Joseph was governor over the land
And it was he who sold to all
To the people, and by his command
To all the people great and small

And Joseph’s brothers came
And before him bowed down
With their faces to the earth
To the man in Egypt of great renown

Joseph saw his brothers, yes his eyes were attracted
And recognized them right away
But to them as a stranger he acted
And spoke roughly to them and surely to their dismay

Then he said to them in a manner shrewd
“From where do you come?”
And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.”
Would you please sell us some?

So Joseph his brothers he recognized
But to them he remained disguised

Then Joseph remembered the dreams
Which them he had dreamed about
And said to them, “You are spies!
You’ve come to search us out

You have come to see the nakedness of the land!”
To surely search us out; this I understand

And they said to him, “No, my lord
But your servants have come to buy food
Please hear the truth now in our word

We are all one man’s sons
We are honest men, faithful and true
Your servants are not spies
It’s not something we would ever do

But he said to them, “No, but you have come
To see the nakedness of the land
And if attacked whether we would succumb

And they said, “Twelve your servants are
Brothers, the sons of one man
In the land of Canaan, we have traveled far
Only to feed our family is our hopeful plan

And in fact, the youngest is with our father today
And one is no more; truthful are the words we say

But Joseph to them said
“It is as I spoke to you, saying
‘You are spies instead
Watch your words, with fire you are playing

In this manner tested you shall be
By the life of Pharaoh, my words thus sincere
You shall not leave this place ever, you see
Unless your youngest brother comes down here

Send one of you, and let him bring
Your brother; and shall be kept in prison each of you
That your words may be tested in this thing
To see whether there is any truth in you

Or else, by the Pharaoh’s life
Surely you are spies, come to bring us strife

So he put them all together in prison three days
They awaited their fate under the guard’s gaze

Jesus was three days in the prison of death, so cold
But he prevailed over it because in him no sin was found
And now we can be released from death’s strong hold
By calling on Him, eternal life will abound

Let us make the right choice while time is on our side
We know not the number of our days
So let us turn away from our sin and pride
And call on Jesus, and to God give resounding praise

Hallelujah and Amen…

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