Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
With the words "Why do ye look at one another!" viz., in such a helpless and undecided manner. Jacob exhorted his sons to fetch corn from Egypt, to preserve his family from starvation. Joseph's ten brothers went, as their aged father would not allow his youngest son Benjamin to go with them, for fear that some calamity might befall him (קרא = קרה, Gen 44:29 as in Gen 42:38 and Gen 49:1); and they came "in the midst of the comers," i.e., among others who came from the same necessity, and bowed down before Joseph with their faces to the earth. For he was "the ruler over the land," and had the supreme control of the sale of the corn, so that they were obliged to apply to him. השּׁלּיט seems to have been the standing title which the Shemites gave to Joseph as ruler in Egypt; and from this the later legend of Σάλατις the first king of the Hyksos arose (Josephus c. Ap. i. 14). The only other passages in which the word occurs in the Old Testament are in writings of the captivity or a still later date, and there it is taken from the Chaldee; it belongs, however, not merely to the Aramaean thesaurus, but to the Arabic also, from which it was introduced into the passage before us.
Joseph recognised his brothers at once; but they could not recognise a brother who had not been seen for 20 years, and who, moreover, had not only become thoroughly Egyptianized, but had risen to be a great lord. And he acted as a foreigner (יתנכּר) towards them, speaking harshly, and asking them whence they had come. In Gen 42:7, according to a truly Semitic style of narrative, we have a condensation of what is more circumstantially related in Gen 42:8-17.
As the sight of his brethren bowing before him with the deepest reverence reminded Joseph of his early dreams of the sheaves and stars, which had so increased the hatred of his brethren towards him as to lead to a proposal to kill him, and an actual sale, he said to them, "Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land (i.e., the unfortified parts of the kingdom which would be easily accessible to a foe) ye are come;" and persisted in this charge notwithstanding their reply, "nay, my lord, but (ו see Ges. 155, 1b) to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man's sons (נחנוּ for אנחנוּ, only in Exo 16:7-8; Num 32:32; Sa2 17:12; Lam 3:42): honest (כּנים) are we; thy servants are no spies." Cum exploratio sit delictum capitale, non est verisimile; quod pater tot filios uno tempore vitae periculo expositurus sit (J. Gerhard). But as their assertion failed to make any impression upon the Egyptian lord, they told him still more particularly about their family (Gen 42:13.): "Twelve are thy servants, brothers are we, sons of a man in the land of Canaan; and behold the youngest is now with our father, and one is no more (אימנּוּ as in Gen 5:24). Joseph then replied, "That is it (הוּא neut. like Gen 20:16) that I spake unto you, saying ye are spies. By this shall ye be proved: By the life of Pharaoh! ye shall not (אם, like Gen 14:23) go hence, unless your youngest brother come hither. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother; but he shall be in bonds, and your words shall be proved, whether there be truth in you or not. By the life of Pharaoh! ye are truly spies!" He then had them put into custody for three days. By the coming of the youngest brother, Joseph wanted to test their assertion, not because he thought it possible that he might not be living with them, and they might have treated him as they did Joseph (Kn.), but because he wished to discover their feelings towards Benjamin, and see what affection they had for this son of Rachel, who had taken Joseph's place as his father's favourite. And with his harsh mode of addressing them, Joseph had no intention whatever to administer to his brethren "a just punishment for their wickedness towards him," for his heart could not have stooped to such mean revenge; but he wanted to probe thoroughly the feelings of their hearts, "whether they felt that they deserved the punishment of God for the sin they had committed," and how they felt towards their aged father and their youngest brother.
(Note: Joseph nihil aliud agit quam ut revelet peccatum fratrum hoc durissimo opere et sermone. Descendunt enim in Aegyptum una cum aliis emtum frumentum, securi et negligentes tam atrocis delicti, cujus sibi erant conscii, quasi nihil unquam deliguissent contra patrem decrepitum aut fratrem innocentem, cogitant Joseph jam diu exemtum esse rebus humanis, patrem vero rerum omnium ignarum esse. Quid ad nos? Non agunt poenitentiam. Hi silices et adamantes frangendi et conterendi sunt ac aperiendi oculi eorum, ut videant atrocitatem sceleris sui, idque ubi perfecit Joseph statim verbis et gestibus humaniorem se praebet eosque honorifice tractat. - Haec igitur atrocitas scelerum movit Joseph ad explorandos animos fratrum accuratius, ita ut non solum priorum delictorum sed et cogitationum pravarum memoriam renovaret, ac fuit sane inquisitio satis ingrata et acerba et tamen ab animo placidissimo profecta. Ego durius eos tractassem. Sed haec acerbitas, quam prae se fert, non pertinet ad vindicandum injuriam sed ad salutarem eorum poenitentiam, ut humilientur. Luther.)
Even in the fact that he did not send the one away directly to fetch Benjamin, and merely detain the rest, but put the whole ten in prison, and afterwards modified his threat (Gen 42:18.), there was no indecision as to the manner in which he should behave towards them - no "wavering between thoughts of wrath and revenge on the one hand, and forgiving love and meekness on the other;" but he hoped by imprisoning them to make his brethren feel the earnestness of his words, and to give them time for reflection, as the curt "is no more" with which they had alluded to Joseph's removal was a sufficient proof that they had not yet truly repented of the deed.
On the third day Joseph modified his severity. "This do and live," i.e., then ye shall live: "I fear God." One shall remain in prison, but let the rest of you take home "corn for the famine of your families," and fetch your youngest brother, that your words may be verified, and ye may not die, i.e., may not suffer the death that spies deserve. That he might not present the appearance of despotic caprice and tyranny by too great severity, and so render his brethren obdurate, Joseph stated as the reason for his new decision, that he feared God. From the fear of God, he, the lord of Egypt, would not punish or slay these strangers upon mere suspicion, but would judge them justly. How differently had they acted towards their brother! The ruler of all Egypt had compassion on their families who were in Canaan suffering from hunger; but they had intended to leave their brother in the pit to starve! These and similar thoughts could hardly fail to pass involuntarily through their minds at Joseph's words, and to lead them to a penitential acknowledgement of their sin and unrighteousness. The notion that Joseph altered his first intention merely from regard to his much afflicted father, appears improbable, for the simple reason, that he can only have given utterance to the threat that he should keep them all in prison till one of them had gone and fetched Benjamin, for the purpose of giving the greater force to his accusation, that they were spies. But as he was not serious in making this charge, he could not for a moment have thought of actually carrying out the threat. "And they did so:" in these words the writer anticipates the result of the colloquy which ensued, and which is more fully narrated afterwards. Joseph's intention was fulfilled. The brothers now saw in what had happened to them a divine retribution: "Surely we atone because of our brother, whose anguish of soul we saw, when he entreated us and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." And Reuben reminded them how he had warned them to no purpose, not to sin against the boy - "and even his blood...behold it is required" (cf. Gen 9:5); i.e., not merely the sin of casting him into the pit and then selling him, but his death also, of which we have been guilty through that sale. Thus they accused themselves in Joseph's presence, not knowing that he could understand; "for the interpreter was between them." Joseph had conversed with them through an interpreter, as an Egyptian who was ignorant of their language. "The interpreter," viz., the one appointed for that purpose; בּינות like Gen 26:28. But Joseph understood their words, and "turned away and wept" (Gen 42:24), with inward emotion at the wonderful leadings of divine grace, and at the change in his brothers' feelings. He then turned to them again, and, continuing the conversation with them, had Simeon bound before their eyes, to be detained as a hostage (not Reuben, who had dissuaded them from killing Joseph, and had taken no part in the sale, but Simeon, the next in age). He then ordered his men to fill their sacks with corn, to give every one (אישׁ as in Gen 15:10) his money back in his sack, and to provide them with food for the journey.
Thus they started with their asses laden with the corn. On the way, when they had reached their halting-place for the night, one of them opened his sack to feed the ass, and found his money in it. מלון, camping-place for the night, is merely a resting-place, not an inn, both here and in Exo 4:24; for there can hardly have been caravanserais at that time, either in the desert or by the desert road. אמתחת: an antiquated word for a corn-sack, occurring only in these chapters, and used even here interchangeably with שׂק.
When this discovery was made known to the brethren, their hearts sank within them. They turned trembling to one another, and said, "What is this that God hath done to us!" Joseph had no doubt had the money returned, "merely because it was against his nature to trade with his father and brethren for bread;" just as he had caused them to be supplied with food for the journey, for no other reason than to give them a proof of his good-will. And even if he may have thought it possible that the brothers would be alarmed when they found the money, and thrown into a state of much greater anxiety from the fear of being still further accused by the stern lord of Egypt of cheating or of theft, there was no reason why he should spare them this anxiety, since it could only help to break their hard hearts still more. At any rate, this salutary effect was really produced, even if Joseph had no such intention. The brothers looked upon this incomprehensible affair as a punishment from God, and neglected in their alarm to examine the rest of the sacks.
On their arrival at home, they told their father all that had occurred.
But when they emptied their sacks, and, to their own and their father's terror, found their bundles of money in their separate sacks, Jacob burst out with the complaint, "Ye are making me childless! Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone, and will ye take Benjamin! All this falls upon me" (כּלּנה for כּלּן as in Pro 31:29).
Reuben then offered his two sons to Jacob as pledges for Benjamin, if Jacob would entrust him to his care: Jacob might slay them, if he did not bring Benjamin back-the greatest and dearest offer that a son could make to a father. But Jacob refused to let him go. "If mischief befell him by the way, he would bring down my grey hairs with sorrow into Sheol" (cf. Gen 37:35).