These are the generations of Jacob: Reuben. Simeon. Levi. And Judah. Dan. And Naphtali. Gad. And Asher. Issachar. And Zebulun. Dinah. Joseph. And Benjamin. More space in Genesis is devoted to this family than anything else – Creation (Genesis 1-2); the Fall (Genesis 3); the Flood (Genesis 6-9); or the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). More space in Genesis is devoted to this family than anyone else – Abraham (Genesis 12-23); Isaac (Genesis 24-26); or Jacob (Genesis 25-35).
These are the generations of Jacob: Genesis 37 and Genesis 38 and Genesis 39 and Genesis 40…and all the rest. The generations of Jacob are the remaining fourteen chapters of Genesis beginning with Genesis 37 and concluding with Genesis 50. And the generations of Jacob are marked by these concluding words: “So do not fear” (Genesis 50:21a). But really important is how the generations of Jacob begin.
How Does It All Begin?
And how do the generations of Jacob begin? Look and listen carefully. “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2a). However, it is the next word that is rather telling. “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph…” It begins with Joseph and it continues with Joseph. Joseph gets thrown into a pit. Joseph gets sold into slavery. Joseph was a slave. Joseph was falsely and wrongly accused. Joseph was thrown into another pit, a prison. Joseph was promised to be remembered, but forgotten. And then after thirteen really long years of hardship and affliction, Joseph stands at the pinnacle of the world. It continues with Joseph and it all seems to be primarily about Joseph. Except that one chapter called Genesis 38. It is the one chapter in which there is absolutely no mention of Joseph. It is about his older brother Judah. And after Genesis 38, the generations of Jacob continue with…Joseph.
But there is more. How do the generations of Jacob begin? Look and listen carefully. “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father” (Genesis 37:2). It begins with Joseph. And it begins with Joseph’s brothers. And it begins with Joseph’s dad. And it continues in Genesis 42 with Joseph and with Joseph’s brothers and with Joseph’s dad.
Genesis 42 is the first time that Joseph and Joseph’s brothers and Joseph’s dad are each mentioned in the same chapter and the same context since Genesis 37. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s dad hears that there was grain for sale in Egypt. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers, all except Benjamin, went down to Egypt to buy grain. In Genesis 42, Joseph was the man in Egypt selling grain.
Why Do You Look at One Another?
As Genesis 42 begins, Joseph’s dad “learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt.” And how did Jacob learn that there was grain for sale in Egypt? The more word-for-word translation would be that Jacob saw that there was grain for sale in Egypt. Joseph’s dad must have seen his neighbors with arms full of grain. And Joseph’s dad must have asked his neighbors, “Where did you get all this grain?” And the neighbors must have answered, “in Egypt. There is a man there selling grain.” So, what does Joseph’s dad do? “He said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’” Jacob’s sons were just sitting around looking at one another! What were those looks like? Worry? Confusion? Mouths slightly hanging open, befuddled?
The famine that began in Egypt, spread over all of Egypt had reached Jacob’s home. The ground is hard and cracked. There has not been seen even a drop of water. The livestock are failing and perhaps some have died. Neighbors have been buried. Death is more real than ever. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt, but only ten sons. He detains Benjamin, refusing that he go. Listen to Genesis 42:4. “But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him.” I like how the King James translation words it. “Lest peradventure mischief befall him.” Jacob was afraid that evil could happen to Benjamin. Is that not interesting? The chances of death are high in a severe famine. This severe famine had reached Jacob’s home. And it is safer that Benjamin stay home than go buy grain with his brothers? It is safer that Benjamin stay with his dad than be with his brothers? Why was Jacob thinking like this?
And Joseph Remembered the Dreams
Listen to verse six. “Now Joseph was governor over the land.” He was at least thirty-seven years old and he was overseeing the health and safety and function of Egypt and the people of Egypt. And he was the one, this was not delegated, who sold to all the people who came to buy grain. If you wanted grain you had to see Joseph.
In Genesis 41:51, Joseph’s testimony was that “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” This is so important. There are all kinds of people from all kinds of places coming to buy grain. And each must have come with some anxiety that “we must get there before they run out of grain!” And so here all these anxious, hungry people shuffling in line. Is the line moving slow? Everything moves slower when you are anxious and hungry. The line can never move fast enough. And there were those ten sons, Joseph’s brothers.
They come before Joseph and “bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.” And Joseph recognized them, treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them (42:6-7). We might think that these rotten brothers are finally getting what they deserve. They soon will think that as well (Genesis 42:21-22). Remember Genesis 41:51, for the most important part of the entire chapter is in verse nine. “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed of them.” Joseph does not remember the affliction. Joseph does not remember his father’s house where the affliction began. Instead, he remembered the dreams he dreamed. How many dreams? There were two dreams, different but the same. When did Joseph dream those two dreams? And what do we know about the significance about two dreams? It is a thing fixed by God and God will surely and shortly bring it about. It is what God is about to do. This was twenty plus years later and Joseph is now seeing the dreams not fully fulfilled, but being fulfilled. Ten brothers, ten family members have just bowed before him. But God had set out to do more. Included was the entire family bowing before Joseph. Where is the rest of the family?
Joseph’s tone and tune changes. This must have set straight the remainder of the line. What had happened, the line thought, to the nice demeanor of this man? Joseph accuses these ten men of espionage. “No, no!” They exclaimed. “We are just ordinary men. We are just honest men, your servants, never spies. We are just here to buy grain. We are here because we are hungry.” But Joseph will not budge. “No. You are spies.” And then the ten brothers get real, get honest. “We are actually 12 brothers, well used to be twelve. One brother is no more and another brother is back home with our dad.” What does Joseph hear? Honesty. Benjamin is alive. Dad is alive! But Joseph still will not budge. “No. You are spies” (42:9b-14).
Joseph has his ten brothers detained. Let’s put it this way: Joseph has his ten brothers thrown into a pit, but a lot nicer pit than the one they threw him in. They have three days to decide which brother will leave the other nine behind and fetch Benjamin. Three days later, Joseph returns and has changed his mind. They have moments to decide which brother is left behind while the other nine return home to fetch Benjamin (Genesis 42:15-20).
These Are Finally Honest Men
Listen to what this produced. These are finally honest men. The brothers remember Joseph. “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother.” They confess. They heard the distress of his soul back in his pit. Here they are now in their pit and “distress has come upon them.” We are getting what we deserve, they say (42:20-21).
Joseph hears it all, turns away to not be seen and weeps (42:23). “Behind the harsh pose there was warm affection.” Joseph is not bitter. Joseph is not out to get revenge or dish out what they deserve. Joseph is being used by God to seek their repentance. And this is awesome. As a 17-year-old with dreams, could Joseph in his wildest imagination have imagined how God would fulfill those dreams?! At 37-years-old, Joseph remembering those two dreams is watching them unfold in the amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways and his word! This is the big idea of Genesis 42.
What Is This That God Has Done To Us?
Genesis 42 is a lesson in the three perspectives of Genesis 37. It is a lesson in the three perspectives of those two dreams. A lesson in the perspectives we can have of God’s Word. Joseph remembers and weeps as it unfolds, in amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways. But there are two other perspectives.
The brothers. Simeon was left behind while the others returned home. And on the way home they stop at a hotel to rest. One brother, we are unsure who, stops to feed his donkey. Now when they left, Joseph had each of their nine bags filled with grain, leaving the brothers with the impression that the grain was bought and paid for. But when this one bag was opened, his money was returned and put in his sack. At this the brothers trembled and for the first time mentioned the name of God. “What is this that God has done to us?” There is a perspective (Genesis 42:25-28).
The brothers tremble. The brothers are afraid and at this, assume that God is the cause. I would say, they view this as not good and are crediting God for what is not good. In other words, when things have gone well there was never any mention of God. But when things went south, then God is mentioned or blamed. And really what is happening is that God is working. He is working out those dreams, dreams the brothers despised. They do not know, do not see that this is how God is working and for their good. He is working for their repentance (cf. Romans 2:3-4). The brothers do not yet see (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
Returning home the brothers get honest again and tell dad just about everything. Then all nine brothers open their bags and, behold, there is money in each bag! Now all, including Joseph’s dad, are afraid (Genesis 42:29-35). Joseph has been thought all but gone. Simeon is no more. He was left in a pit at the mercy of the second most powerful man in the world. And Jacob learns that this man is demanding to see Benjamin?! NO! And listen to Jacob. “All this has come against me” (Genesis 42:36). Nothing is going my way. There is the third perspective. Jacob knew Joseph’s dreams and even guarded the words of Joseph’s dreams, waiting for their fulfillment (Genesis 37:11). And here now, beyond what anyone thought or imagined, these dreams are being fulfilled. But not as Joseph thought or Joseph’s brothers thought (they thought they stopped the dreams) and not as Joseph’s dad thought. And as it happens, Jacob thinks all is against him. Perhaps who can blame him? But this all is written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11).
And there is my perspective. I am not like Joseph. Maybe a little like the brothers and the dad. I know God’s Word, meaning, what God wants and what God has promised. But I know how it should come about and how it should look. And I get frustrated. I lose patience. It is wrong. But I get frustrated. I ask, “God, what are you doing? Or, what are you not doing?” And do you know what I miss out on? Weeping at the unfolding promises in amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways. And what I need, Genesis 42 has pointed out for me. I need repentance, just as those brothers. And Genesis 42 is for all those who need repentance for getting frustrated or impatient, that things are not going or coming about and looking how I think it should go and come about and look. Frustrated and impatient instead of content to serve and being faithful and loving with warm affection.