Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
- Joseph and Ten of His Brethren
1. שׁבר sheber, "fragment, crumb, hence, grain." בר bar "pure," "winnowed," hence, "corn" (grain).
6. שׁליט shallı̂yṭ, "ruler, governor, hence," Sultan. Not elsewhere found in the Pentateuch.
25. כלי kelı̂y, "vessel," here any portable article in which grain may be conveyed. שׂק śaq, "sack," the very word which remains in our language to this day. אמתחת 'amtachath "bag."
Twenty years, the period of Joseph's long and anxious waiting, have come to an end. The dreams of his boyhood are now at length to be fulfilled. The famine has reached the chosen family, and they look at one another perplexed and irresolute, not knowing what to do.
The aged Jacob is the only man of counsel. "Behold, I have heard there is grain in Mizraim:" go down and buy. The ten brothers are sent, and Benjamin, the youngest, is retained, not merely because of his youth, for he was now twenty-four years of age, but because he was the son of his father's old age, the only son of Rachel now with him, and the only full brother of the lost Joseph. "Lest mischief befall him," and so no child of Rachel would be left. "Among those that went." The dearth was widespread in the land of Kenaan.
The ten brothers meet with a rough reception from the lord of the land. "The governor" - the sultan. This, we see, is a title of great antiquity in Egypt or Arabia. Joseph presided over the cornmarket of the kingdom. "Bowed down to him with their faces to the earth." Well might Joseph think of those never-to-be-forgotten dreams in which the sheaves and stars bowed down to him. "And knew them." How could he fail to remember the ten full-grown men of his early days, when they came before him with all their peculiarities of feature, attitude, and mother tongue. "And he made himself strange unto them." All that we know of Joseph's character heretofore, and throughout this whole affair, goes to prove that his object in all his seemingly harsh treatment was to get at their hearts, to test their affection toward Benjamin, and to bring them to repent of their unkindness to himself.
"They knew not him." Twenty years make a great change in a youth of seventeen. And besides, with his beard and head shaven, his Egyptian attire, his foreign tongue, and his exalted position, who could have recognized the stripling whom, twenty years ago, they had sold as a slave? "Spies are ye." This was to put a color of justice on their detention. To see the nakedness of the land, not its unfortified frontier, which is a more recent idea, but its present impoverishment from the famine. "Sons of one man are we." It was not likely that ten sons of one man would be sent on the hazardous duty of spies. "And behold the youngest is with our father this day." It is intensely interesting to Joseph to hear that his father and full brother are still living. "And one is not." Time has assuaged all their bitter feelings, both of exasperation against Joseph and of remorse for their unbrotherly conduct. This little sentence, however, cannot be uttered by them, or heard by Joseph, without emotion. "By the life of Pharaoh." Joseph speaks in character, and uses an Egyptian asseveration. "Send one of you." This proposal is enough to strike terror into their hearts. The return of one would be a heavy, perhaps a fatal blow to their father. And how can one brave the perils of the way? They cannot bring themselves to concur in this plan. Sooner will they all go to prison, as accordingly they do. Joseph is not without a strong conviction of incumbent duty in all this. He knows he has been put in the position of lord over his brethren in the foreordination of God, and he feels bound to make this authority a reality for their moral good.
After three days, Joseph reverses the numbers, allowing nine to return home, and retaining one. "This do and live." Joseph, notwithstanding the arbitrary power which his office enabled him to exercise, proves himself to be free from caprice and unnecessary severity. He affords them a fair opportunity of proving their words true, before putting them to death on suspicion of espionage. "The God do I fear." A singular sentence from the lord paramount of Egypt! It implies that the true God was not yet unknown in Egypt. We have heard the confession of this great truth already from the lips of Pharaoh Gen 41:38-39. But it intimates to the brothers the astonishing and hopeful fact that the grand vizier serves the same great Being whom they and their fathers have known and worshipped; and gives them a plain hint that they will be dealt with according to the just law of heaven.
"Carry grain for your houses." The governor then is touched with some feeling for their famishing households. The brothers, though honoring their aged father as the patriarch of their race, had now their separate establishments. Twelve households had to be supplied with bread. The journey to Egypt was not to be undertaken more than once a year if possible, as the distance from Hebron was upwards of two hundred miles. Hence, the ten brothers had with them all their available beasts of burden, with the needful retinue of servants. We need not be surprised that these are not especially enumerated, as it is the manner of Scripture to leave the secondary matters to the intelligence and experience of the reader, unless, as in the case of Abraham's three hundred and eighteen trained servants, they happen to be of essential moment in the process of events. "Your youngest brother." Joseph longs to see his full brother alive, whom he left at home a child of four summers. "Verily guilty are we concerning our brother."
Their affliction is beginning to bear the fruit of repentance. "Because we saw the distress of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear." How vividly is the scene of Joseph's sale here brought before us. It now appears that he besought them to spare him, and they would not hear! "This distress." Retribution has come at last. "His blood is required." Reuben justly upbraids them with their hardness of heart. Their brother's blood is required; for murder was intended, and when he was sold his death was pretended. "The interpreter was betwixt them." The dragoman was employed in holding conversation with them. But Joseph heard the spontaneous expressions of remorse, coming unprompted from their lips. The fountain of affection is deeply stirred. He cannot repress the rising tear. He has to retire for a time to recover his composure. He now takes, not Reuben, who was not to blame, but Simon, the next oldest, and binds him before them: a speaking act. He then gives orders to supply them with corn (grain), deposit their money in their sacks without their knowledge, and furnish them with provision for the way. Joseph feels, perhaps, that he cannot take money from his father. He will pay for the corn out of his own funds. But he cannot openly return the money to his brothers without more explanation than he wishes at present to give.
The nine brothers return home and record their wonderful adventure. "In the inn;" the lodge or place where they stopped for the night. This place was not yet perhaps provided with even the shelter of a roof. It was merely the usual place of halting. They would probably occupy six or seven days on the journey. Apparently at the first stage one opened his sack to give provender to his ass. The discovery of the silver in its mouth strikes them with terror. In a strange land and with an uneasy conscience they are easily alarmed. It was not convenient or necessary to open all the bags on the way, and so they make no further discovery.
Upon emptying the other sacks all the silver turns up, to their great amazement and consternation. Jacob laments the loss of his son. Reuben offers two of his sons to Jacob as pledges for Benjamin, to be slain if he did not bring him back in safety. The sorrowing parent cannot yet bring himself to consent to Benjamin's departure on this hazardous journey. "And ye shall bring down." Jacob either speaks here in the querulous tone of afflicted old age, or he had come to know or suspect that his brothers had some hand in the disappearance of Joseph.