LESSON 17: Genesis 41:1-43:14
Joseph the Savior of Egypt

My Lord and my God,
It is in the struggles of our lives that You form us, raising us up from selfish and self-centered creatures to men and women of compassion and self-sacrifice. Our struggles become a preparation for service in the Kingdom, in sharing Your love and compassion with others. It was in this way that You prepared both Joseph and Moses for their missions in salvation history. Like them, it is in our response to those struggles that You call us to experience spiritual growth. In the natural world it isn't in the rarefied atmosphere of mountain heights that there is lush vegetation, but it is in the valleys that abundant growth occurs. Likewise in our lives, it is in our valleys, in our sufferings and struggles, that we can grow to reach our full potential as Your sons and daughters. Guide us, Lord, in our study of the story of Joseph, and give us the strength to be like Joseph, to never loose faith in the midst of adversity. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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He called down famine on the land, he took away their food supply; he sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, sold as a slave. So his feet were weighed down with shackles, his neck was put in irons. In due time his prophecy was fulfilled, the word of Yahweh proved him true. The king sent orders to release him, the ruler of nations set him free; he put him in charge of his household, the ruler of all he possessed, to instruct his princes as he saw fit, to teach his counselors wisdom. Then Israel migrated to Egypt, Jacob settled in the country of Ham. Psalm 105:16-23

Epigraph of Pharaoh Djoser: 'To let you know. I was in distress on the Great Throne, and those who are in the palace were in heart's affliction from a very great evil, since the Nile had not come in my time for a space of seven years. Grain was scant, fruits were dried up, and everything that they eat was short. Every man robbed his companion. They moved without going ahead. The infant was wailing; the youth was waiting; the heart of the old men was in sorrow, their legs were bent, crouching on the ground, their arms were folded. The courtiers were in need. The temples were shut up, the sanctuaries held nothing but air. Everything was found empty.' Egyptian text from the 3rd Dynasty (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 144)

Jacob suffered in his faith journey, but much of his suffering was self-inflicted or was a result of God's struggles with Jacob to prepare him to become a true covenant partner and leader of a holy family. Joseph's afflictions, on the other hand, were unjust. Joseph was kidnapped from his family and sold into slavery when he was only seventeen years old. He had been living as a slave in Egypt for 11 years when, as a prisoner/administrator in Pharaoh's prison, he interpreted the dreams of two high profile prisoners. First, Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh's cup-bearer. He was the royal minister responsible for Pharaoh's palace wines, the only man personally entrusted with tasting the pharaoh's wine and handing the Pharaoh his goblet. Then Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh's baker, the royal minister in charge of all the breads and pastries served at the royal table. Joseph's prophecy was accurate for both men. The cup-bearer was freed and restored to his former position while the baker was executed. The cup-bearer forgot Joseph's service to him and Joseph languished in prison for another two years, but he did not despair. He trusted in God and looked to the hope of his salvation.

Through Joseph's trials God was preparing him for the mission that was to bring Joseph personal victory, salvation for Egypt, and salvation for Jacob/Israel's family. Joseph's training in the service of Potiphar as the steward of his household and estate, his experience as the assistant to the chief jailor in administering the entire prison complex, and his personal interaction with Pharaoh's jailed royal ministers gave Joseph the experience, training, and the knowledge of palace politics that he needed to take on the most demanding task of his life, the task of governing the nation of Egypt as the Pharaoh's Vizier, the governor of the nation of Egypt. Joseph's pilgrimage from slave to royal servant prefigured Israel's journey from slavery in Egypt to the servant nation of Yahweh, Israel's King.

In those years Joseph had grown from a teenaged shepherd overseer, envied and despised by his less able brothers, to an able and confidant man who was both liked and respected by the Egyptians to whom he was enslaved. In his enslavement and imprisonment God had not abandoned Joseph. God was preparing Joseph and Joseph responded positively to each new experience God placed before him. Joseph's experience is a lesson for all believers. We are called to not only place our hope and trust in God, but we are called to willingly step forward with that hope and trust to fulfill God's plan for our lives in the progression of salvation history. Just as God sent Jacob/Israel forth at daybreak, humbled and ready to meet his greatest fears in confronting Esau, and just as He sent Joseph forward from his prison to face the Egyptian Pharaoh, so God equips us and sends us forth to battle the world for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Please read Genesis 41:1-13: The Disturbing Dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt
41:1Two years later it happened that Pharaoh had a dream: there he was standing by the Nile, 2and there, coming up from the Nile, were seven cows, sleek and fat, and they began to feed among the rushes. 3And then seven other cows, wretched and lean, came up from the Nile, behind them; and these went over and stood beside the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4The wretched and the lean cows ate the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: there, growing on one stalk, were seven ears of grain, full and ripe. 6And then sprouting up, behind them came seven ears of grain, meager and scorched by the east wind. 7The scanty ears of grain swallowed the seven full and ripe ears of grain. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream. 8In the morning Pharaoh, feeling disturbed, had all the magicians and wise men of Egypt summoned to him. Pharaoh told them his dream [singular], but there was no one to interpret it (them*) for Pharaoh. 9Then the chief cup-bearer addressed Pharaoh. 'Today, I recall having been at fault. 10When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, he put myself and the chief baker in custody in the house of the commander of the guard. 11We had a dream on the same night, he and I, and each man's dream had a meaning for himself. 12There was a young Hebrew with us, one of the slaves belonging to the commander of the guard. We told our dreams to him and he interpreted them for us, telling each of us what his dream meant. 13It turned out exactly according to his interpretation: I was restored to my position, but the other man was hanged.'
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 109).

In the Hebrew text, a word which in English can be translated as "Look!" or "Behold!" is repeated six times in Genesis 41:1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 and adds to the sense of drama as each element of the dream unfolds (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, pages 108-9). The significant word repetition in this part of the narrative is the word "seven" which is repeated 27 times from 41:2-54. It is also interesting to note that in this part of the narrative there are several Hebrew words that are "loan" words from Egyptian; for example the word for "reeds" and "magicians" are Egyptian words that provide historical authenticity to the story. Also notice the curious reoccurring theme of twos/doubles or pairings. In reading though the story of Joseph from Joseph's two dreams in chapter 37 to the end of Genesis, notice the reoccurring pairings in dreams, objects, names, stories, etc. At the end of chapter 50 there will be a list of pairings from the Joseph saga.

All dreams to the ancients had significance, but the dreams of a king were believed to be direct revelations from the gods. The same belief was held by kings like King Abimelech of the Philistines (Gen 20:3-7), the Israelite kings (1 Sam 28:15; 1 Kng 3:4-15; Prov 21:1), and other pagan kings in Scripture (Dan 2:1-45; 4:5-19).

Question: What are the similarities between the Pharaoh's two dreams?
Answer: The second dream is almost a repeat of the first: seven healthy cows and seven healthy stalks of grain, followed by seven lean cows and seven sickly stalks of grain. In each case the healthy is devoured by the sickly.

The Nile was the symbol of "life" for the Egyptians. Their prosperity as a nation and a people came from the life-giving waters that both irrigated the land and replenished the soil in the annual floods. That the cows came up out of the Nile in the pharaoh's dream was not unusual. In the heat of the day it was normal for livestock to go into the water, coming out occasionally to feed on the vegetation growing on the river banks.

Genesis 41:8 In the morning Pharaoh, feeling disturbed, had all the magicians and wise men of Egypt summoned to him. Pharaoh told them his dream [singular], but there was no one to interpret it (them*= plural) for Pharaoh.

The Pharaoh was deeply troubled by the negative outcome of both dreams. He was held directly responsible for the prosperity of his nation through his unique connection to the gods who gave good harvests and healthy livestock. In verse 8 the Pharaoh had wisely determined that the two dreams are really one dream, but the wise men/magicians he consulted were unable to interpret what they perceive as two dreams (see "them" in verse 8). Their lack of insight may be part of the Pharaoh's dissatisfaction with his "wise men" who cannot perceive that the two dreams are in reality one significant dream. In the meantime the cup-bearer, who saw an advantage for himself in offering the Pharaoh a possible answer to his dilemma, "remembered" Joseph and told the Pharaoh of Joseph's abilities as an interpreter of dreams.

Please read Genesis 41:14-24: Joseph is Summoned to Hear the Pharaoh's Dreams
41:14Then Pharaoh had Joseph summoned, and they hurried him from the dungeon. He shaved and changed his clothes, and presented himself before the Pharaoh. 15Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have had a dream, and there is no one to interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can interpret a dream the instant you hear it.' 16'Not I,' Joseph replied to Pharaoh, 'God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer' (God will answer the peace of Pharaoh*). 17So Pharaoh told Joseph, 'In my dream there I was, standing on the bank of the Nile. 18And there were seven cows, fat and sleek, coming up out of the Nile, and they began to feed among the rushes. 19And then seven other cows came up, behind them, starved, very wretched and lean; I have never seen such poor cows in all Egypt. 20The lean and wretched cows ate up the first seven fat cows. 21But when they had eaten them up, it was impossible to tell they had eaten them, for they looked as wretched as ever. Then I woke up. 22And then again in my dream, there, growing on one stalk, were seven ears of grain, beautifully ripe; 23but then sprouting up behind them came seven ears of grain, withered, meager and scorched by the east wind. 24Then the shriveled ears of grain swallowed the seven ripe ears of grain. I have told the magicians, but no one has given me the answer.'

The name of the Pharaoh who reigned during Joseph's time is unknown. When the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt in the 16th century BC, the Egyptians destroyed the records of that historical period so thoroughly that there is uncertainty over the names and even the order of some of the Hyksos rulers. At this time the Hyksos also controlled much of Canaan territory. Notice that the Pharaoh continues to refer to "dream" in the singular (verses 8 and 15), and Joseph will later verify that what appeared to be two dreams was really one dream (Gen 41:25).

Genesis 41:14: Then Pharaoh had Joseph summoned, and they hurried him from the dungeon. He shaved and changed his clothes, and presented himself before Pharaoh.

Most men in Mesopotamia, Canaan, Phoenicia and Syria did not shave. Art found in Egyptian tombs and in the ruins of Assyrian royal capitals depicts men of Canaan, Syria, and Mesopotamia with full beards. For example, a relief from the audience hall of Assyrian King Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh shows in detail the fall of the Israelite (Judahite) city of Lachish to the Assyrian army in 701BC and the vanquished, but bearded, Israelites bowing in submission before the throne of the bearded Assyrian king who is with his bearded ministers (only the two palace eunuchs fanning the king, who can't facial hair, have no beards). Joseph, like other Israelite men, must have worn a full beard. In contrast to the majority of peoples in the ancient Near East, the ancient Egyptians were clean shaven. Foreigners can always be distinguished from Egyptians in tomb paintings by their beards. From the Pharaoh to the common laborer, Egyptian men shaved their faces and the upper class (men and women) often shaved their heads and wore elaborate wigs. Egyptian priests, on the other hand, shaved their entire bodies, including their eyebrows, which they then reapplied with cosmetic paint. Egyptian priests were required to be ritually pure/ clean to enter Egyptian temples - the houses of the gods. The purity/cleanliness of their physical bodies included the removal of all body hair, circumcision and, curiously, abstaining from eating fish.(1)

Question: Assuming that Joseph had bathed that morning, as was the custom in Egypt, why then did he shave and change his clothes before presenting himself to Pharaoh, and why did the biblical text mention this detail?
Answer: Details in Scripture are never arbitrary. Details are always included for a reason. There are two possible reasons for shaving and changing clothes: Joseph shaved because he wanted to transformed himself from a foreigner to an Egyptian, increasing his chances of acceptance by the Pharaoh. In addition to wanting to appear more Egyptian, he may have wanted to be in a state of ritual purity that permitted him to meet with the Pharaoh face to face in Pharaoh's private residence. A pharaoh's house was in essence the temple of the semi-divine Pharaoh.

If Joseph wanted to be in a state of ritual purity, the other question that might be asked is how much did he shave? Did he only shave his beard or did he shave his head and the rest of his body? Egyptian priests were completely clean shaven from their heads to their feet. Eyebrows were then reapplied with paint. Egyptian priests had to maintain a state of ritual purity, included physical purity which was visually presented in a completely shaven and circumcised body. Priests are easily recognized in Egyptian art by their shaved heads. To have access to the temple of a god one had to be ritually pure. The laity and the unclean were not permitted to enter. Priestess who where not in estrus were permitted to enter the outer areas of the temples but only the male priests, the "pure ones," were permitted to enter into the inner rooms of the god's houses to bathe, feed, and clothe the idols. The Egyptian pharaoh was himself considered to be the embodiment of a god. Circumcision, which was one of the ritual requirements of the priesthood, was something for which Joseph was already prepared, having been circumcised when he was eight days old (A. M. Blackman, "Purification," Gods, Priests, and Men: Studies in the Religion of Pharaonic Egypt, London: Kegan Paul International, 1998, pages 3-21).

The 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus was impressed by the state of ritual purity required of the Egyptian priesthood: They are beyond measure religious, more than any other nation; and these are among their customs: [...]. They are especially careful to wear newly washed linen raiment. They practice circumcision for cleanliness sake; for they set cleanliness above seemliness. Their priests shave the whole body every other day, that no lice or aught else that is foul may infest them in their service of the gods... (Herodotus, History 11:37).

It is possible that in a strategic move Joseph decided to present himself in the ritually pure, shaved and circumcised state of a priest. From his association with the Pharaoh's ministers (the cup-bearer and the baker) Joseph would have known about Egyptian practices in association with the god-king. He would have known, for example, that priests were those who were considered to be gifted in the interpretation of dreams and other signs and that the pharaoh was to be approached as a god. Josephs may have been wisely pursuing every avenue to achieve success in his audience with the Egyptian Pharaoh. In a ritually pure state Joseph could be invited, not to just into the public audience, but into the presence of the god-king in the private rooms of the palace/temple (for more information see Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2007, "Why Joseph Shaved," Lisbeth S. Fried, pages 36-41).(2)

Genesis 41:15-16: 15Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have had a dream, and there is no one to interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can interpret a dream the instant you hear it.' 15'Not I,' Joseph replied to Pharaoh, 'God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer (God will answer the peace of Pharaoh).'

Pharaoh has heard that Joseph can interpret a dream without waiting to consult dissected animal organs, which was part of the accepted practice of divination. Joseph's reply in the literal Hebrew was: Not I... God will answer the peace of Pharaoh, meaning that he was only an instrument of God and that his God will give an answer that brings Pharaoh peace by promoting his understanding and settling his mind as to the meaning of the dream (Interlineal Bible, vol. 1, page 109).

Question: How did Joseph's response to the Pharaoh differentiate him from the Egyptian magicians and "wise men" the Egyptian king first called upon to interpret his dream?
Answer: Unlike the other men the Pharaoh had consulted, Joseph is not a magician; he is a prophet of his God.

Notice in verse 16 that Joseph has the confidence that he can interpret Pharaoh's dream before Pharaoh even tells him the dream because he knows he is a prophet of God.

Question: According to Deuteronomy 18:21-22 what is the test for a true prophet of God?
Answer: What he prophesizes must be correct 100% of the time or his words are not from God.

The dreams, first revealed by the narrator, are now repeated by the Pharaoh. It was God who gave the dreams to Pharaoh just as He had given the dream to King Abimelech. This pagan Egyptian king is now cooperating in God's plan of salvation.

Question: In recounting the dreams what details did the Pharaoh add that were not included before, and why are these details significant to the narrative? See Genesis 41:19-20.
Answer: Pharaoh added the statement: I have never seen such poor cows in all Egypt. He also adds: But when they had eaten them up, it was impossible to tell they had eaten them, for they looked as wretched as ever. These additional details highlight the Pharaoh's distress. He is the people's representative to the gods, responsible for ensuring the prosperity of the land and the people. He is himself regarded as a god, and yet he does not know what the dreams mean and he is afraid.

Please read Genesis 41:25-36: Joseph Interprets the Dream and Suggests a Course of Action
41:25Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same: God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is going to do. 26The seven fine cows are seven years and the seven ripe ears of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27The seven grunt and lean cows coming up behind them are seven years, as are the seven shriveled ears of grain scorched by the east wind: there will be seven years of famine. 28It is as I have told Pharaoh: God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is going to do. 29Seven years are coming, bringing great plenty to the whole of Egypt, 30but seven years of famine will follow them, when all the plenty in Egypt will be forgotten, and famine will exhaust the land. 31The famine that is to follow will be so very severe that no one will remember what plenty the country used to enjoy. 32The reason why Pharaoh had the same dream twice is that the event is already determined by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33Pharaoh should now find someone intelligent and wise to govern Egypt. 34Pharaoh should take action and appoint supervisors for the country, and impose a tax of one-fifth on Egypt during the seven years of plenty. 35They will collect all the food produced during these good years that are coming, and store the grain under Pharaoh's authority, putting it in the towns and keeping it. 36This food will form a reserve for the country against the seven years of famine which are coming on Egypt, so that the country will not be destroyed by the famine.'

Question: How many times did Joseph mention his God's power and authority to the Pharaoh? See Genesis 41:16-32.
Answer: Joseph mentioned God's power and authority four times in Genesis 41:16, 25, 28, and 32.

Question: How many times did Joseph repeat the statement: God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is going to do, and what does that mean?
Answer: Joseph made the statement twice, in verses 25 and 28. God is sovereign over all the nations of the earth, blessing them and bringing judgments according to His divine plan. In repeating the statement twice, Joseph is subtly stating the power of his God over the gods of Egypt who are powerless and false.

Question: What do the seven fat cows and the seven ripe ears of grain represent? What do the lean cows and the parched grain represent?
Answer: The fat cows and ripe grain represent seven years of plenty while the lean cows and parched grain represent seven years of famine.

Again Joseph stated the power of his God by saying: 32The reason why Pharaoh had the same dream twice is that the event is already determined by God, and God will shortly bring it about.

Using the words "Pharaoh should" in verses 34-34 and "under Pharaoh's authority" in verse 35, Joseph takes the risk in boldly suggestion his own plan.

Question: What plan of action did Joseph suggest to prepare for the famine?

  1. Appoint a vizier/governor who is a wise man.
  2. Appoint regional supervisors.
  3. Impose a tax during the seven bountiful years.
  4. The surplus grain should be stored and rationed during the famine.

Please read Genesis 41:37-45: Joseph Becomes the Vizier of Egypt in a Public Ceremony
41:37Pharaoh and all his ministers approved of what he had said. 38Then Pharaoh asked his ministers, 'Can we find anyone else endowed with the spirit of God, like him?' 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since God has given you knowledge of all this, there can be no one as intelligent and wise as you are. 40You shall be my chancellor, and all my people shall respect your orders; only this throne shall set me above you.' 41Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I hereby make you governor of the whole of Egypt.' 42Pharaoh took the ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain round his neck. 43He made him ride in the best chariot he had after his own, and they shouted 'Abrek!' ahead of him. Thus be became governor of the whole of Egypt. 44Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Although I am Pharaoh, no one is to move hand or foot without your permission throughout Egypt.' 45Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-Paneah, and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph began to journey all over Egypt.

Genesis 41:37-38: 37Pharaoh and all his ministers approved of what he had said. 38Then Pharaoh asked his ministers, 'Can we find anyone else endowed with the spirit of God, like him?' In the same way that King Abimelech saw Yahweh's blessings on Abraham (Gen 21:23), the Egyptian Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was a prophet who was blessed by his God.

Question: Was Joseph sufficiently prepared to take on this tremendous responsibility? Why? What does Joseph's experience tell us about God's plans for our lives?
Answer: Yes, he was prepared because he already had the experience managing Potiphar's household and estate and in administering a prison complex. God will not call you to a mission for which He has not prepared you. If He calls you, He will give you the necessary skills provided you are willing and obedient.

In a public investiture ceremony the Pharaoh installed Joseph as the governor of Egypt.

Question: What three things did Pharaoh give Joseph to signify his new station in life as Pharaoh's Vizier?
Answer: Pharaoh's personal ring, new clothes and a gold chain.

The signet ring could have been a bezel carved with a scarab seal or a solid gold signet ring with an engraved seal (an example of which was discovered belonging to Hyksos Pharaoh Apopy I (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 151). Pharaoh's ring gave Joseph the authority to reacquisition supplies and to validate documents in the king's name. The new clothes would have been like the extremely finely woven linen garments seen in tomb paintings, befitting of his new status. The gold chain was a necklace that was awarded to those who made significant contributions to the state. It also signified his office as the chief minister of the king. It was called the "Gold of Valor" and examples of this special necklace are seen in tomb reliefs (i.e. the 18th Dynasty relief showing General Horemhab being awarded the "Gold of Valor" by Pharaoh Tutankhamen).

A vizier is a king's representative to the nation. He is over all the other ministers of the king, similar to the position of a Prime Minister. After the investiture ceremony the Pharaoh introduced Joseph as Egypt's Vizier to the people by having Joseph ride in a horse drawn chariot in a royal procession in which the people shouted the word "Abrek," which may suggest the Egyptian word ab-rk, meaning "make way!", "attention!" , or "bow the knee!" (Hoerth, page 150; Waltke, page 534). The Egyptian king also gave Joseph a new name as a sign of his change in destiny in his elevation to Vizier of Egypt. He named Joseph Zaphenath-Paneah, which means: "God says: he is living" (NJB note "e" page 67).(3)

Question: What other examples in Scripture do you recall where a man was given a new name as a sign of the change in his destiny?
Answer: For example:

  1. God changed Abram's name to Abraham to signify his change in destiny to the father of a future nation (Gen 17:5). [He also changed Sarai's name to Sarah to signify a change in destiny as the mother of kings (Gen 17:15-16)].
  2. God changed Jacob's name to Israel to signify his change in destiny as one who struggled with God and as the father of the nation of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 32:29).
  3. Pharaoh changed Joseph's name to show his change in destiny from Hebrew slave to Vizier of Egypt.
  4. When Pharaoh Necho returned from his northern military conquest that made him master of Syria and the Levant, he captured and imprisoned King Jehoahaz of Judah (609 BC). He made Eliakim son of Josiah king in his place, changing Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim to signify that Judah's king was now a vassal of Egypt (2 Kng 23:30-34; 2 Chr 36:1-4).
  5. The Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem and deposed King Jehoiachin (March 16th, 597 BC). He placed Mattaniah on the throne of Judah instead, changing his name to Zedekiah, signifying that Judah's king was now a vassal of Babylon (2 Chr 24:10-17).
  6. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made Daniel of Judah a minister of his court and changed his name to Belteshazzar (Dan 4:1-5).
  7. Jesus renamed the Apostle Simon, calling him in Aramaic "Kepha," which means "Rock" (in Greek = "Petros") to signify his change in destiny from an Apostle to Jesus' chief minister, the Vicar/Vizier of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Mt 16:18).

St. Peter's elevation as the Vicar of Christ is a position of authority to which each new Pope is selected as St. Peter's successor, taking a new name to signify his change in destiny in service to the King of Kings. Both Joseph and Daniel served pagan kings and were given names that were reflections of the pagan culture of their rulers, but neither man was compromised in his faith in the One True God, who both Joseph and Daniel continued to serve with unwavering loyalty.

The Pharaoh launched his vizier into a new life and even provided Joseph with a new family, marrying Joseph to Asenath ("belonging to the goddess Neit"), the daughter of Potiphera ("gift of the god Ra"), the priest of On (NJB, page 67, note "e"). Joseph's father-in-law was the priest of the sun god Ra whose temple complex was located at On. The Temple of the sun god Ra was at that time one of the most important Temple complexes in Egypt. Joseph didn't just marry well; he married into the elite of Egyptian society. "Asenath, daughter of Potiphera priest of On," will be mentioned three times in the narrative (Gen 41:45, 50; 46:20).(4)

Please read Genesis 41:46-57: Joseph's Life as the Grand Vizier of Egypt
41:46Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. After leaving Pharaoh's presence, Joseph travelled throughout the length and breath of Egypt. 47During the seven years of plenty, the soil yielded generously. 48He collected all the food of the seven years while there was an abundance in Egypt, and stored the food in the towns, placing in each the food from the surrounding countryside. 49Joseph gathered in grain like the sand of the sea, in such quantity that he gave up keeping count, since it was past accounting. 50Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph: Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore him these. 51Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, 'Because', he said, 'God has made me completely forget my hardships and my father's House.' 52He named the second Ephraim, 'Because', he said, 'God has made me fruitful in the country of my misfortune.' 53Then the seven years of plenty that there had been in Egypt came to an end, 54and the seven years of famine set in, as Joseph had predicted. There was famine in every country, but throughout Egypt there was food. 55But when all Egypt too began to feel the famine and the people appealed to Pharaoh for food, Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, 'Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.' 56There was famine all over the world. Then Joseph opened all the granaries and rationed out grain to the Egyptians, as the famine grew even worse in Egypt. 57People came to Egypt from all over the world to get supplies from Joseph, for the famine had grown severe throughout the world.

Question: How did Joseph begin his first year as the governor of Egypt?

  1. He travelled through the whole of Egypt, assessing Egypt resources and probably finding men he could trust to appoint as regional supervisors.
  2. He collected grain surpluses and stored the surplus in granaries throughout the land.
  3. Initially Joseph kept detailed records of the surplus, but there came to be such an abundance of stored grain that he no longer kept count.

The Hyksos ruled Lower Egypt in the north while the Egyptians continued to rule Upper Egypt in the south. A tomb inscription of a regional official in the south, living at what must have been about the same time Joseph was Vizier of the Hyksos kingdom in the north, mentions the same period of abundant harvests followed by a seven year famine and the measures the official took to collect the grain during the period of plenty: 'I collected corn, as a friend of the harvest god. And when a famine arose, lasting many years, I distributed corn to the city, each year of the famine.' This inscription is from the tomb of Baba, governor of El-Kab, a city located south of Thebes from the era of the 17th Dynasty in Upper Egypt, which was contemporary with the 16th Dynasty in the north (Halley's Bible Handbook, page 107).

During this period of plenty, Joseph's wife gave him two sons. Since no other wife is named and no other children, it appears that Joseph was monogamous. Notice that his wife's name and the name of her father and his position as priest of On are repeated, indicating the high status of these two individuals (another doublet). When Joseph was a slave master, the commander of the guard, was also named Potiphera, although it is rendered as "Potiphar" in the text. The difference in spelling is probably to alert the reader to the fact that Potiphar, the commander of the guard, and Potiphera, the priest of On, are two different men. It is also a continuation of the reoccurring theme of doubles in the narrative of Joseph: two men named Potiphar/Potiphera.

Genesis 41:50-52: 50Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph: Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore him these. 51Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, 'Because', he said, 'God has made me completely forget my hardships and my father's House.' 52He named the second Ephraim, 'Because', he said, 'God has made me fruitful in the country of my misfortune.'

It is interesting how Joseph expressed his thanks to God in naming his sons. It is not only interesting what he said but what he didn't say.

Question: For what was Joseph thankful expressed in the naming of his elder son? Why was this expression of thanks unexpected? See Genesis 37:4.
Answer: Joseph was thankful that God made him forget his sufferings in Canaan when he lived with his family. He did not mention his sufferings as a slave in Egypt. This suggests that Joseph's biggest sense of heartache was association with the way his brothers treated him even before they sold him into slavery.

Question: What were the names of Joseph's sons and what was the meaning of each of their names according to the biblical text? What role will the descendants of these two sons play in the history of the nation of Israel? See Numbers 13:1-3, 8, 11; 26:28-37; Joshua 14:4.
Answer: The elder son was Manasseh. The text explains his name as meaning: "God has made me completely forget my hardships and my father's House." The second son was called Ephraim. The text explains his name as meaning: "God has made me fruitful in the country of my misfortune." Each son will become a half-tribe of Joseph and will be called by the names of the two sons in the lists of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The name "Manasseh" in Hebrew is Menashsheh and is connected to the Hebrew word "to forget", nashshani. "Ephraim" in Hebrew is the same: Ephraim; the Hebrew word for "fruitful" is hiphrani (NJB, page 69, note "g").

Joseph was thankful for "forgetting" the hardships associated with living with his family in Canaan. God in His mercy had given Joseph the grace to forgive his brothers for the hurts he suffered in his relationship with them and in their betrayal of selling him into slavery (see 45:5-8).

Question: What comparison can be made between Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers' sin against him in condemning him to a life of slavery and Jesus' forgiveness of His "brothers'" sin against Him in sending Him to His death on the Cross?
Answer: Joseph's forgiveness will contribute to Israel's salvation just as Christ's forgiveness (Lk 23:34) was applied to the salvation of all men and women, including His kinsmen who were Jews/ Israelites.

Question: Notice that when the famine came and the Egyptian people were in need they went to the Pharaoh and he told them: 'Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you' (Gen 41:55). Where is the command repeated in the New Testament? What is the connection between the Old and New Testament passages? See John 2:5.
Answer: This command is remarkable similar to what the Virgin Mary told the servants at the wedding at Cana: His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you' (Jn 2:5). Joseph is a "type" of Christ, offering salvation to the people.

In studying the Old Testament it is important to remember to study those passages illuminated by the Living Christ. On Resurrection Sunday Jesus revealed the Old Testament to His disciples and Apostles. He instructed the disciples of Emmaus: Then, starting with Moses [referring to the Pentateuch] and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the Scriptures that were about himself (Lk 24:25-27), and later that day in the Upper Room in Jerusalem He told the Apostles: This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled. He then opened their minds to understand the Scriptures... (Lk 24:44-45).

The seven years of plenty came to an end; then the years of famine began. That Egypt was affected by the famine shows the severity of the natural disaster. Read the Egyptian text quoted in the beginning of the lesson. It records seven years of famine which the Pharaoh Djoser attributed to the failure of the Nile to overflow its banks to replenish the soil during a seven year period. Landslides in rain rich Upper Egypt, near the source of the Nile in the south, occasionally caused earthen damns that prevented sufficient flow for the annual spring floods. Without the overworked soil being restored with the nutrient rich silt of the floods, the harvests were meager. Repeated meager harvests led to famine. Lower Egypt (toward the Delta in the north) had an arid climate and the Nile was the only source of irrigation for crops.

Genesis 41:57: People came to Egypt from all over the world to get supplies from Joseph, for the famine had grown severe throughout the world. This statement is the bridge that reintroduces Joseph's family into the narrative. Seven-year famines are well documented in Egyptian and in other ancient Near Eastern documents (see the citation in the introduction). The salvation of not only Egypt but the "world" of the covenant people depended upon Joseph son of Israel, just as one day the salvation of the entire world would depend on Jesus son of Israel, Son of God.

Please read Genesis 42:1-4: Jacob Sends His Sons to Egypt for Supplies
42:1Jacob, seeing that there were supplies to be had in Egypt, said to his sons, 'Why do you keep staring at one another? 2I hear', he said, 'there there are supplies in Egypt. Go down and procure some for us there, so that we may survive (live*) and not die.' 3So ten of Joseph's brothers went down to procure grain in Egypt. 4But Jacob did not send Joseph's brother Benjamin with his brothers. Nothing must happen to him, he thought.
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 114).

Joseph was now 38 years old. Twenty-one years have passed since his brothers sold him into slavery when he was seventeen years old. Joseph was a Hebrew slave for thirteen years before he became the Vizier of Egypt. He has spent the past seven years collecting a surplus of grain in preparation for the famine that he prophesized. It is now the first year of the famine, and in Canaan Jacob has sent ten of his sons into Egypt for supplies. Notice that Joseph's fourth eldest brother, Judah, is no longer living with the Canaanites; he has returned to his family. Judah turned a corner in his life in his repentance of his sin against Tamar. His change of heart in the acceptance of his family responsibilities has resulted in his restoration to the covenant family. He will play an important role in the restoration of Jacob's family. The theme of this part of the narrative is "life" versus "death": there there are supplies in Egypt. Go down and procure some for us there, so that we may survive (live*) and not die... "Live" is repeated five times (42:2, 18-20; 43:8; 47:19); "live and not die" is repeated three times (42:2; 43:8; 47:19), spoken by Jacob, Judah, and finally by the people of Egypt.

Question: How are Jacob's sons divided in the narrative?
Answer: The sons of Jacob are divided into two groups: the 10 sons of the other wives who make the first journey to Egypt and the two sons of Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin).

Please read Genesis 42:5-17: Joseph's First Audience with His Brothers
42:5Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to get supplies, there being a famine in Canaan. 6It was Joseph, as the man in authority over the country, who allocated the rations to the entire population. So Joseph's brothers went and bowed down before him, their faces touching the ground. 7As soon as Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them. But he did not make himself known to them, and he spoke harshly to them. 'Where have you come from?' he asked. 'From Canaan to get food,' they replied. 8Now when Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him, 9Joseph remembered the dreams he had had about them, and said to them, 'You are spies. You have come to discover the country's weak points.' 10'No, my lord,' they said, 'your servants have come to get food. 11We are all sons of the same man. We are honest men, your servants are not spies.' 12'Oh no,' he replied, 'you have come to discover the country's weak points.' 13'Your servants were twelve brothers,' they said, 'sons of the same man in Canaan, but the youngest is at present with our father, and the other one is no more.' 14To which Joseph retorted, 'It is as I said, you are spies. 15This is the test you are to undergo: as sure as Pharaoh lives you shall no leave unless your youngest brother comes here. 16Send one of your number to fetch your brother; you others will remain under arrest, so that your statements can be tested to see whether or not you are honest. If not, then as sure as Pharaoh lives you are spies.' 17Whereupon, he put them all into custody for three days.

The word "spies" is a significant word in this part of the narrative; it will be used seven times, as an accusation and as a denial of the accusation in Genesis 42:9, 11, 14, 16, 30, 31, and 34:

Genesis 42:5: Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to get supplies, there being a famine in Canaan. This is the beginning of the journey that was prefigured in Abram going down to Egypt in the time of famine in Genesis 12:10-20 that was played out with the same five elements repeated three times (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-13 and 26:1-14; see Lesson_1.htm 8: handout #1).

Question: What earlier prophecy was fulfilled when the ten Israelite brothers bowed down before Egypt's Vizier? Was the prophecy literally fulfilled? See Genesis 37:5-8.
Answer: Joseph's dream of his brother's the sheaves bowing down to his sheaf is not literally fulfilled in the audience chamber as his brothers prostrated themselves before him. The dream is not completely fulfilled because one "sheaf" is missing. In the dream there were eleven sheaves, not ten. Benjamin is missing

Genesis 42:7: As soon as Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them. But he did not make himself known to them, and he spoke harshly to them. The word "recognize" is repeated in verses 7 and 8. Joseph may have spoken harshly to his brother in an attempt to control his emotions. As we will see later, Joseph was an emotional man and Scripture records that he broke down three different times when his emotions overcome him (Gen 42:24; 43:30-31; 46:29).

Question: Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, but why didn't his brothers recognize him? Also see Genesis 43:23.
Answer: More than 20 years have passed. Joseph is not only older but he is dressed as an Egyptian minister, clean shaven with the characteristic black cosmetic eye paint and the customary black wig that would make him difficult to recognize. Joseph was also speaking Egyptian, with an interpreter translating for him.

Genesis 42:9: Joseph remembered the dreams he had had about them, and said to them, 'You are spies. You have come to discover the country's weak points.'

Question: What was significant about Joseph remembering his dreams? See Genesis 37:5-11 and 45:5-8.
Answer: When Joseph recognized his brothers he "remembered" the dreams and recognized that the first prophetic dream about the sheaves was in the process of being fulfilled at that moment as ten of his brothers were bowing down in submission to him. At that moment he understood that everything that had happened to him had been part of God's plan for his life and for his family, but the dreams were not yet fulfilled.

The interpretation of the story of Joseph and his brothers rests upon Joseph's realization that it is God's plan that his two dreams reach fulfillment. Everything Joseph does from this point forward is motivated by his desire to bring God's plan to completion.

Question: Why did Joseph accuse his brothers of being spies? How many times did he accuse them?
Answer: Joseph accused them of being spies three times (Gen 42:9, 14, and 16). There are three possible reasons:

  1. Joseph was getting retribution for their treatment of him.
  2. He wanted them to come to understand the fear and distress they caused him when he was powerless and falsely enslaved.
  3. Joseph was using the accusation of spying as part of a plan to force the brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt so the dreams could be fulfilled as God intended them to be fulfilled - with all the brothers bowing down before Joseph and his father and mother bowing down as well.

According to the biblical text, it is unlikely that Joseph was seeking retribution. Joseph has already forgiven his brothers, and he has come to understand that everything that happened to him was the will of God for his life (Gen 41:51; 45:5-8). But he also understood that his brothers' salvation and the restoration of the covenant family unity depended on their repentance. Unless they came face to face with their crime against him, and unless they acknowledged their sin and repented it, the family would never be reunited. Salvation is linked to repentance of sins and turning away from sin that causes division and brings disunity. Joseph's dreams depicted a united family under his leadership. For the family to be united under his leadership there must be forgiveness' and Benjamin and Jacob must come to Egypt!

Question: In trying to convince the Vizier of their innocence what did the ten brothers acknowledge about their family and the two other brothers who were not present? What is significant about the mention of the youngest brother?
Answer: They acknowledged that they were 12 sons of the same father, that the youngest brother was in Canaan with their father, but the other brother was "no more." The youngest brother is Joseph's full brother, Benjamin; both are the sons of Rachel.

Genesis 42:17: Whereupon, he put them all into custody for three days.

Joseph did not get his brothers to admit their guilt in selling him as a slave, but they have expressed the belief that the "other brother" was dead. To help them in the process of confession and reconciliation, Joseph threw them into the same prison where he was a prisoner.

Please read Genesis 42:17-24: Joseph's Second Audience with His Brothers
42:17Whereupon, he put them all into custody for three days. 18On the third day Joseph said to them, 'Do this and you will live, for I am a man who fears God. 19If you are honest men, let one of you brothers be detained where you are imprisoned; the rest of you, go and take supplies home for your starving families. 20But you must bring your youngest brother back to me; in this way, what you have said will be verified, and you will not have to die!' And this is what they did. 21And they said to one another, 'clearly, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep misery when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen, and now this misery has come home to us.' 22Reuben retorted to them, 'Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. Now comes the accounting.' 23They did not know that Joseph understood, because there was an interpreter between them. 24He turned away from them and wept. When he was able to speak to them again, he chose Simeon out of their number and had him bound while they looked on.

Notice the second significant mention of "three days/ third day" (Gen 42:17 and 18).

Question: There have been many references to the number three and a number of references to the third day/ three days in the Genesis narrative, but how many references have been made to "three days" or to the "third day" in the Joseph saga up to this point? See Genesis 37:2-42:18?
Answer: Nine times: third day = Genesis 34:25; 40:20; 42:18; three days = Genesis 40:12, 13, 18, 19; 42:17.

In the symbolic language of the Bible, a three day period is a symbolic expression for a short period of intense trial that is usually followed by divine intervention and restoration expressed as "on the third day" and at other times as "after three days." Examining other passages in Scripture where three days are significant in God's plan of salvation is helpful in understanding the importance of the "third day/ three day" references in Scripture. For example, in Matthew 12:40 Jesus referred to three days, applying the significance of the three days the Prophet Jonah was in the belly of the whale before he was "resurrected" and brought the people of Nineveh to repentance and redemption to Jesus' promised resurrection "on the third day" and man's redemption and salvation. In the Gospels Jesus also often spoke of a three day period prophesying His sacrifice and resurrection (Mt 12:40 [four times]; 17:23; Mk 9:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 13:32; 18:33; 24:46; Jn 2:19).

In the Joseph saga it was on the third day after his dream that the Pharaoh's cupbearer was restored to his former position as Joseph had prophesized in Genesis 40:12-23. Another reference to restoration on the third day is found in Hosea 6:1-2 where Yahweh told His prophet a time would come when His covenant people will acknowledge their sins and seek redemption and restoration, as they cry out Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

While the prophetic reference to "the third day" in Joseph's prophecy to the cup bearer in Genesis 40:12-23 may have been literal as well as symbolic, the prophet Hosea promised a third day restoration that is understood by the Old Testament faithful to be symbolic of God's plan of salvation and redemption. The Hosea passage was not concerned with a literal three day period but with a short period of intense trial followed by God's divine intervention to bring about the restoration of God's people in God's own time. Jesus' reference to the three days and three nights in Matthew 12:40 was a reference in biblical language to the promise of divine intervention in God's plan of salvation, linking Jonah's mission to the lost souls of Nineveh and Jesus' mission to the lost sheep of Israel.

There is also a "third day" in Genesis chapter 22, in the significant event which the Jews call the Akeidah, the "binding of Isaac," Yahweh told Abraham to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah where he was to offer his son in sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-4): It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he called. 'Here I am,' he replied. God said, 'Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.' Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place which Gods had indicated to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. It is on the third day that Abraham arrived at Moriah, after an intense period of grief knowing that he was commanded to sacrifice his son. Instead of permitting the sacrifice of Isaac, God intervened and commanded Abraham to sacrifice a ram in the place of his son. Isaac was redeemed, and he who was as good as dead was raised up and restored to his father on the third day. The "three days" imagery in the event of the Akeidah prefigures the sacrifice and resurrection of Isaac's descendant Jesus the Messiah. This same symbolism can be applied to Joseph's brothers. Genesis 42:18, after three days of intense suffering in the prison of the Egyptian pharaoh, Joseph released his brothers. In biblical symbolism "On the third day" symbolizes the "resurrection" of the brothers who believed they were as good as dead for three days in Pharaoh's prison.

Saint Paul wrote about the significant "third day" event of Jesus' Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and the witnesses who testified to it. Paul testified that the timing of the resurrection event was not according to man's time but "according to the Scriptures": For I delivered to you as of first importance which I also received, that Christ died for our sins and in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, then he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. When Paul wrote that the "timing" of the event of the Resurrection was "in accordance with the Scriptures," it is the Old Testament Scriptures to which he is referring. Paul also made the symbolic "third day" reference in the language of the Scriptures, linking it to God's intervention at the climactic moment of man's promised restoration of fellowship with God as promised to the Prophet Hosea in Hosea 6:1-2. It is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which occurred, as Paul writes, "on the third day." It is an event which occurred literally but at the same time was full of symbolic significance and through which all who believe will also be raised up to eternal life. The same symbolic meaning can be applied to the significant "three days" in Genesis 42:18. Not only does Joseph restore his brothers after three days, but the whole purpose of the imprisonment was to call them to salvation.

Genesis 42:18:On the third day Joseph said to them, 'Do this and you will live, for I am a man who fears God. Joseph's brothers experienced for three days what Joseph experienced for 13 years! In announcing that he was a man who "fears God" Joseph was also suggesting to his brothers that they should also "fear God," and that their decisions and actions should reflect their "fear" and respect for the God of their fathers. Fear God and confess your sins. Fear God and live.

Question: Why is "fear of God" a human attribute? See Psalm 25:14; 33:18; 85:8-9; Proverbs 1:7, 28-29; Sir 15:1, 11-20/21; 16:12/13-14/15.
Answer: Someone who has no fear of God of offending God has no fear of the consequences of sin. The sinner will receive God's judgment and the righteous His just reward.

Question: What was the alternative plan that Joseph offered the brothers to prove their innocence and achieve their salvation?
Answer: Nine of them must return to Canaan and bring their youngest brother to Egypt. One brother will remain in prison until they return.

Genesis 42:21: And they said to one another, 'clearly, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep misery when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen, and now this misery has come home to us.'

This verse is better translated: 'We are guilty and being punished...' Dr. Waltke writes: "The Hebrew word 'asam refers to both guilt and to its punishment. The two are inseparable" (Waltke, page 547).

Question: What effect did Joseph's demands have on his brothers? What effect did his acknowledgement that he is a man who fears God have on them? What effect did their response have on him?
Answer: They began to consider that they too should fear God and to acknowledge their sin in what they did to Joseph. They expressed the belief that what was happing to them was God's judgment on their hidden sin. When Joseph heard them acknowledge their crime against him, he began to weep.

The narrative movingly expresses Joseph's deep emotions in the presence of his brothers. Unable to control his emotions any longer, he breaks down; he weeps.

Question: Why did Joseph choose Simeon to stay behind?
Answer: He may have been planning to take Reuben, the eldest, until Reuben rebuked his brothers concerning their sin against Joseph and revealed his former plan to rescue Joseph. It was logical that Joseph chose Simeon who was the next in line in birth order.

Question: What was the brothers' last vision of Simeon? What might they have been feeling?
Answer: The brothers' final vision of Simeon was seeing him bound and led away to Pharaoh's prison and to an unknown fate. Their emotions, a combination of fear and sadness, must have also been difficult to control at that moment. Perhaps they even though of Joseph and remembered how he had been bound by foreigners and led away to an unknown fate.

Please read Genesis 42:25-38: Jacob's Sons Return to Canaan
42:25Joseph gave the order to fill their panniers with grain, to put back each man's money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. 26Then they loaded their supplies on their donkeys and went away. 27But when they camped for the night, one of them opened his sack to give his donkey some fodder and saw his money. There it was in the mouth of his sack. 28He said to his brothers, 'My money has been put back; here it is, in my sack!' Their hearts sank, and they looked at one another in panic, saying, 'What is this that God has done to us?' 29Returning to their father Jacob in Canaan, they gave him a full report of what had happened to them, 30'The man who is lord of the country spoke harshly to us, accusing us of spying on the country. 31We told him, "We are honest men, we are not spies. 32We were twelve brothers, sons of the same father. One of us is no more, and the youngest is at present with our father in Canaan." 33But the man who is lord of the country said to us, "This is how I shall know whether you are honest: leave one of your brothers with me. Take supplies for your starving families and be gone, 34but bring me back your youngest brother and then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I shall give your brother back to you and you will be free to move about the country."' 35As they emptied their sacks, each discovered his bag of money in his sack. On seeing their bags of money they were afraid, and so was their father. 36Then their father Jacob said to them, 'You are robbing me of my children; Joseph is no more; Simeon is no more; and now you want to take Benjamin. I bear the brunt of all this!' 37Then Reuben said to his father, 'You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will bring him back to you.' 38But he replied, 'My son is not going down with you, for now his brother is dead he is the only one left. If any harm came to him on the journey you are undertaking, you would send my white head down to Sheol with grief!'

"Money" is the key word in this part of the narrative. In the Hebrew text "silver/money" will be mentioned twenty times from Genesis 42:25-45:22.

Genesis 42:25:Joseph gave the order to fill their panniers with grain, to put back each man's money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. Then they loaded their supplies on their donkeys and went away.

A pannier is a large basket, or a pair of baskets, placed across the back of a pack animal. Joseph generously had his servants fill the baskets with the sacks of grain his brothers had purchased as well as supplying provisions for the return journey to Canaan. He also had his servants secretly return to them the money they had paid for the grain, putting it into the sacks of the ten brothers' pack animals.

Question: What was the brothers' reaction to finding the money in one of the sacks? What was significant about their statement?
Answer: They were very distressed. They again saw their misfortunes as an act of God as they did in 42:21 - their just punishment for their sins. They are coming to terms with what they did to Joseph.

Notice that discovering the money in the sacks is told twice. In the first discovery, on the journey back to Canaan, they had only opened one sack (42:27), but it was not until they were with their father in Canaan that they opened the other sacks on the pack animals (42:35). They were shocked to discoverer money in every brother's sack. Also notice that in the story they their father about their misadventures in Egypt that Jacob's sons omitted telling their father about the three day imprisonment and the Vizier's threat to Simeon. Instead they gave the impression that Simeon was a guest of the Vizier (42:33), and turned Joseph's threat (42:19) into a suggested economic opportunity for the family in Egypt (42:34) if only they would bring back their youngest brother as a sign of their good faith when they return. Jacob accepted their story until they unpacked the rest of the animals and he discovered the money in the other sacks.

Question: What was Jacob's reaction to finding the money in the sacks?
Answer: Until the money was found in the other sacks their story seemed credible, but after the discovery of the money the brothers appear to be guilty of stealing and this caused a breach between Jacob and his sons. He accused them of being robbers of the Pharaoh's money and of his sons.

In a flood of self-pity Jacob accused his sons of ruining his life and robbing him of his sons.h That part at least has some truth to it. But Jacob had no plan as how to proceed.

Genesis 42:37: Then Reuben said to his father, 'You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will bring him back to you.'

Question: What was Jacob's response to Reuben's suggestion?
Answer: Reuben's suggestion was so ludicrous that Jacob didn't even dignify it with a reply. He clearly did not have any confidence in Reuben.

Question: What statement did Jacob make that further alienated him from his sons? Quote the verse.
Answer: Verse 38:But he replied, 'My son is not going down with you, for now his brother is dead he is the only one left. If any harm came to him on the journey you are undertaking, you would send my white head down to Sheol with grief!' Jacob told his sons that none of them matter, only Benjamin is his true son.

Jacob refused to let his sons take Benjamin back to Egypt to rescue Simeon. He was a poor leader but he was still the Patriarch of the covenant family and the decisions for the family are still ultimately his to make. The "promised seed" has never been in such jeopardy. The family God has chosen as the bearer of the "promised seed" for the sake of Abraham is fractured and dysfunctional. The family is led by a father who knows neither how to lead nor how to love. Jacob was not willing to lead his sons into Egypt for the sake of rescuing the lost Simeon - which is Joseph's goal and God's plan.

Please read Genesis 43:1-14: Judah Takes over the Family Leadership and Jacob's Sons Plan to Return to Egypt
43:1But the famine in the country grew worse, 2and when they had finished eating the supplies which they had brought from Egypt their father said to them, 'Go back and get us a little food.' 3'But', Judah replied, 'the man expressly warned us, "You will not be admitted to my presence unless your brother is with you." 4If you are ready to send our brother with us, we will go down and get food for you. 5But if you are not ready to send him, we will not go down, in view of the man's warning, "You will not be admitted to my presence unless your brother is with you."' 6Then Israel said, 'Why did you bring this misery on me by telling the man you had another brother?' 7They replied, 'He kept questioning us about ourselves and our family, asking, "Is your father still alive?" and, "Have you another brother?" That is why we told him. How could we know he was going to say, "Bring your brother down here"? 8Judah then said to his father Israel, 'Send the boy with me, and let us be off and go, if we are to survive (live*) and not die, we, you, and our dependants. 9I will go surety for him, and you can hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and produce him before you, let me bear the blame (I will be a sinner against you*) all my life. 10Indeed, if we had not wasted so much time we should have been there and back twice by now!' 11Then their father Israel said to them, 'If it must be so, then do this: take some of the country's best products in your baggage and take them to the man as a gift: some balsam, some honey, gum tragacanth, resin, pistachio nuts and almonds. 12Take double the amount of money with you and return the money put back in the mouths of your sacks; it may have been a mistake. 13Take your brother, and go back to the man. 14May El Shaddai move the man to be kind to you, and allow you to bring back your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I must be bereaved, bereaved I must be.'
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 118).

Notice the repetition of "to live and not die" in verse 8. "Live and not die" is repeated three times (42:2; 43:8; 47:19). The phrase was first spoken by Jacob in 42:2; it is now repeated by Judah in 43:8 and it will be repeated one final time before the end of Genesis.

The supplies purchased in Egypt have been exhausted and the need for food forces Jacob to make the decision to send his sons back to Egypt for more grain, but he was still opposed sending Benjamin with them and his recriminations against his sons did not help the desperate situation: Then Israel said, 'Why did you bring this misery on me by telling the man you had another brother?' (verse 6).

Question: Who stepped forward to provide a plan and sound leadership in the family crisis and what did he propose? Name the three statements. Was he willing to disobey his father?
Answer: Judah stated the obvious: they cannot return and buy grain without taking Benjamin with them. He offered to be personally responsible for Benjamin's life if they are allowed to take him with them into Egypt by making three statements:

  1. I will go surety for him
  2. you can hold me responsible for him
  3. If I do not bring him back to you and produce him before you, let me bear the blame all my life.

However, Judah stated that he will not oppose his father's final decision. If his father agrees that they can take Benjamin they will go; if not, they will not go.

That Judah will "go surety for him" is the literal translation. He was willing to assume the debt for Benjamin's life. If he is not able to return Benjamin, Judah is willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance and his future to Jacob: I shall be a sinner against you all my life (43:8; i.e. see Jacob's disinheritance of Reuben, Simeon and Levi in 49:3-7). Once again Judah has shown more leadership than Reuben. Reuben offered the lives of his son's as his surety, but Judah put his own life on the line. Acting as a dutiful and obedient son, Judah told his father he would not go without his permission, but Simeon's fate and the lives of their wives and children rest on Jacob's decision. This is a sign that the unruly and disobedient sons of Jacob are learning to be obedient and respectful sons and loving brothers.

Their situation is hopeless if they do not have food. Judah's arguments are sound and unlike Reuben's plan, Judah's plan inspired confidence. Jacob agreed.

Question: What did Jacob tell the sons to take to the Vizier? What did he tell them to do about the money?
Answer: He told them to take six products of Canaan as a gift (balsam, some honey, gum tragacanth, resin, pistachio nuts and almonds) and he told them to take double the money; returning the money found in the sacks along with additional funds for the purchase of more grain.

The gift is a sign of respect and submission, like the offering to Esau in Genesis 32:15-21 (also see 1 Sam 16:20; 17:18; 2 Kng 5:15). Taking back the money originally paid for the food from the first journey is the ethical decision. Jacob's suggestion there might have been a mistake shows that he has reassessed the guilt of his sons and moved by Judah's unselfish offer was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the end Jacob gave them permission to make the journey and gave them a parting blessing in the name of El Shaddai. Jacob then announced that he was resigned to his fate, which he placed in God's hands. It is now the second year of the famine and Joseph is 39 years old (Gen 45:6).

Questions for group discussion:

We are called to not only place our hope and trust in God, but we are called to willingly step forward with that hope and trust to fulfill God's plan for our lives in the progression of salvation history, just as Joseph took his experiences - bad and good - and used them to fulfill God's plan. St. Paul wrote: We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good. He decided beforehand who were the ones destined to be moulded to the pattern of his Son, so that he should be the eldest of many brothers; it was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory (Rom 8:28-30).

Question: Read Matthew 5:13-16. In this passage, from Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount," He spoke about the Christian's responsibility to the Kingdom, using the metaphors of "salt" and "light." How does Jesus' teaching in this passage and St. Paul's message in Romans 8:28-30 apply to Joseph and how does it apply to you personally in your walk of faith? Also see CCC 782, 1821, and 2012.

Question: Through prayer and patience Christians are often released from personal suffering, like Joseph. However, there are also those who, despite prayer, hope, faith, and patience are destined to endure suffering. How should the Christian respond to this kind of suffering? See Rom 14:8, 1 Cor 1:24, 6:20, 10:13, 2 Cor 1:5, 1 Pt 2:21; CCC 307, 164, 618, 1508, 1521, and the document "How Should the Christian Respond to Suffering" in the Documents section of


1. The Egyptian kings were worshiped by the Egyptian people as the god Horus incarnate. The Pharaoh was also believed to be the physical son of the sun-god Ra (Re), the state god of Egypt and the mediator between mankind (via Pharaoh) and the gods. It has been suggested by some scholars that given the Pharaoh's special religious status, it would not be unreasonable to assume that for Joseph to enter the chambers of Pharaoh's palace required him to be in a state of ritual purity, like a priest. There are tomb paintings of enthroned Pharaohs receiving tribute from emissaries from foreign nations, depicting the foreigners in beards and other aspects of their national dress, but it is possible that these audiences were held in chambers not associated with the Pharaoh's official private residence. A late 8th century BC victory stele of Pharaoh Piye (747-716 BC) recounts the submission of several Egyptian rulers who could not enter his palace because they were "uncircumcised and were eaters of fish," even though their legs were "as smooth as a woman's." But, the stele records, the Egyptian prince Namart was permitted to enter the palace because he was "pure" and did not eat fish (Miriam Lichtheim, "The Victory Stela of King Piye," Ancient Egyptian Literature: vol. III; The Late Period, Berkeley, University Press, 1980, page 66-84). Clever Joseph may have reasoned that to have his interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams be favorable received, it would be advantageous for him to appear less foreign, and even to be perceived as one associated with the priesthood. One of the Egyptian priestly duties was to interpret omens like dreams and natural phenomena. Joseph was already circumcised, having undergone the ritual when he was eight days old (Gen 17:9-14); he only need to shave his body. That Joseph may have adopted the Egyptian priestly custom of shaving all body hair, including the eyebrows, and dressing as an Egyptian may have been why his brothers did not recognize him, even though he recognized them, when they came to Egypt to purchase grain during the famine in Canaan (Gen 42:7-8). See Aylward M. Blackman, "Purification (Egyptian)," in A.B. Lloyd, ed., Gods, Priests, and Men: Studies in the Religion of Pharaonic Egypt, London: Kegan Paul International, 1998, pages 3-21; Lucia Gahlin, "The Role of Priests," Egypt: Gods, Myths and Religion, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 2004, pages 10, 35, 43-44, 92-97, 110-25; The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Pantheon Books, New York, pages 133-34 [2.36-37].

2. The Egyptians were not the only culture that required those entering their temples or participating in their rituals to be physically purified by being shaved. The Akkadian word gullubu means "shaven" and refers to an order of the priesthood. The installation ceremony of the high priestess of Baal at Emar (Syria) included a day set aside for shaving the priestess. The Law of the Sinai Covenant required the Levites to have their bodies shaved in the rite of investiture: Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 'Separate the Levites from the Israelites and purify them. This is how you must purify them: you will sprinkle them with purifying water, and they will shave their bodies all over and wash their clothes. They will then be clean' (Num 8:5-7). Egyptian priests were not residents of the temples where they served. They were organized into divisions who took their turn in temple service every fourth month. The remainder of the time they lived normal lives in their communities. Since they rotated in and out of temple service, Egyptian priests were shaved bald one month out of every four - which is interesting since the standard of male attractiveness was luxurious shoulder length black hair. Ancient medical documents provide numerous prescriptions for hair tonics to cover graying hair and for the treatment of thinning hair and male pattern baldness. For upper class men this standard of male beauty was achieved through wearing full black wigs. Wigs were worn on public occasions and at banquets, and it was not uncommon for hair extensions to be woven into existing shorter hair (Blackman, "Purification (Egyptian)," page 10; Fletcher, "Hair," British Museum Dictionary of ancient Egypt, London: British Museum Press, 1995, pages 117-118; Kamal, A Dictionary of Pharaonic Medicine, Cairo: The National Publication House, 1967, pages 213-214; Lisbeth Fried, "Why Did Joseph Shave?", Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August, 1007, pages 37-41).

3. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot into Egypt. Joseph's investiture ceremony described in the passage is similar to other investiture ceremonies described in ancient texts. For example, there is the account of the investiture of Pharaoh Necho by Ashurbanipal of Assyria (668-633 BC): I clad him in a garment with multicolored trimmings, placed a golden chain on him ..., put golden rings on his hands; I wrote my name upon an iron dagger [to be worn in] the girdle... I presented him with chariots, horses and mules as means of transportation [befitting] his position as ruler (Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, page 295).

4. The city of On was also known by the Greek name "Heliopolis," which means "city of the sun." It was a very prosperous city. The great trade route called "The Way of the Sea" extended from the city of On northward along the Mediterranean coast into Canaan and then into Northern Mesopotamia. Today the ancient city of On is known as Tell Hisn. Its ruins lie a short distance north of the first ancient Egyptian capital at Memphis, which is today covered by the northeastern suburbs of modern Cairo. The myth of "the nine gods (Ennead) of On" dates back to the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (c. 2350 BC). In that myth a primeval mound emerged from a watery chaos and became the origins of the dry land upon which all life was born (Egypt: Gods, Myths and Religion, Lucia Gahlin, Barnes & Noble Books, 2002, page 57).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references to Genesis 41:1-43:14


1295*, 1296


839, 843