Home First
Table of




Genesis 41:54 - 43:15

SEVEN  YEARS  OF  FAMINE    Genesis 41:54-57


Finally, exactly as Joseph had said, the years of plenty came to an end. The people had grown accustomed to having all they needed, with much surplus left over, and probably were taken quite by surprise that such prosperity could not be regarded as a permanent right which they had somehow acquired by virtue of being residents of Egypt.

The story of Joseph in Egypt, if nothing else, should warn us that the blessings of prosperity come from the Lord and can as easily be removed by the Lord, as He wills. "….thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land." (Job 1:10) See Job 1:13-19 If this happened to us, what would our response be? This is what Job said, "….the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21)


Had not Joseph prepared against the day of adversity, not only for himself but for the whole land, no doubt most of the people would soon have been reduced to abject poverty and even starvation. Eventually the famine was due to affect even the land of Canaan and the family of Jacob.


In Egypt itself, individual stocks of food were finally exhausted, and the land was yielding only the minimum of new crops, if any. The physical causes of the famine are not stated, but it is probable that the Nile was running low because of droughts in the highlands, so that the annual inundation’s which nourished the productive areas of Egypt no longer occurred, In Canaan and Syria, the rains had evidently failed for some reason.

When the people began to be concerned, naturally their first reaction was to complain to Pharaoh. It is the government’s responsibility to provide food for us, they reasoned, though they could hardly have expected Pharaoh to decree an increase in the flow of water in the Nile!

    41:55     GO  UNTO  JOSEPH;  WHAT  HE  SAITH  TO  YOU  DO

In this case, however, thanks to Joseph, the government really was able to help them. Pharaoh simply sent proclamations throughout the land announcing that food was available, and that they could obtain it by dealing with Joseph’s food administration. Joseph in turn waited as long as possible, the better to conserve the grain which was available, and then finally opened up the storehouses to allow the people to purchase grain.

    41:56     SOLD  UNTO  THE  EGYPTIANS

Joseph maintained strict control over the supplies, in order to prevent looting and waste, knowing that even the vast supplies that had been accumulated would have to be carefully husbanded to last through seven long years of famine. He then sold them for a reasonable price and on an equitable basis to all who were in need of grain. Had it been given away, it would have rewarded indolence and shortsightedness. Also to give it away would have meant bankrupting and probably destroying the government. It is reasonable to assume that special provision was made for those who were truly in poverty and unable to buy. Quite likely, they were employed on useful government service or construction of one form or another, in order to earn the necessary cash or credit to buy the supplies they needed. The sale of grain had to take the place of taxes during those years.


As the famine wore on in other lands as well, news reached them about the Egyptian storehouses; and they began to send caravans and missions down to Egypt to buy corn. Eventually this situation would lead to the migration of Jacob and his family to Egypt. This, of course, was the ultimate purpose, in God’s economy, of the entire series of events.

By the time the famine came, Joseph had been in Egypt twenty years. He had never received any word from his family during all that time. For all he knew, his father might well be dead. Joseph must often have longed to see him, and even his brothers (time and God’s providential dealings had considerably reduced his bitterness over what they had done to him). In any case, it would not be much longer now (though he did not know this) before God would be sending his relatives down to him in Egypt.

JOSEPH’S  BROTHERS  COME  FOR  CORN  (1st Appearing)     Genesis 42:1-38


Genesis 39,40, and 41 have concentrated on the experiences of Joseph in Egypt during the twenty-year period following his exile. He had spent a total of thirteen years in Potiphar’s house and in the prison, and then another seven years as the second in command in the land of Egypt. Back at his boyhood home in the land of Canaan, except for the experiences of Judah as described in Genesis 38, Scripture does not tell us what had been happening to Jacob and his other sons during this interval. They had, by this time, all established their own homes and families. Benjamin himself was about twenty-three years old.

The family was now beginning to go through hard times. The famine which had settled on Egypt had also affected Canaan and the other lands of the region. Their business was predominantly cattle and sheep raising, rather than agriculture, but the drought had seriously damaged the entire economy. Furthermore, even though they still have great wealth, money could not buy grain if there was no grain to be bought.

    42:1     WHY  DO  YE  LOOK  ONE  UPON  ANOTHER?

It began to be obvious that Jacob also would have to send his sons down to Egypt, and they were aware of this. However, they were reluctant to go, no doubt because of their guilty consciences concerning Joseph and their fear that they might run into him there. To Jacob’s suggestion that they go there to buy corn, they responded merely by "looking one upon another," each trying to see what the other might have been thinking.

    42:2     THAT  WE  MAY  LIVE,  AND  NOT  DIE

Jacob finally insisted that thy go, each to bring back food for his own family and servants; for they had now reached the point where there was imminent danger of death by starvation. It apparently would not have been acceptable to the Egyptians to deal with servants; so the ten brothers themselves had to go. The youngest son, Benjamin, stayed home, mainly because Jacob did not want to take a chance on anything happening to him on the long and dangerous trip. Jacob dearly missed both Rachel and Joseph, and Benjamin was Rachel’s only remaining son. Jacob therefore would not allow Benjamin to accompany them.

    42:6     HE  IT  WAS  THAT  SOLD  TO  ALL

The sons of Jacob had no inkling that Joseph would turn out to be the one from whom they would have to purchase the grain, of course. Joseph was governor, or "ruler," over the land; and he apparently maintained close personal supervision over the stores of grain, realizing how critical these were to the survival of Egypt during the long years of famine ahead of them. Apparently, everyone coming into Egypt from foreign lands to buy grain had to obtain a direct permit from Joseph before he would be allowed to do so. It might well be that, under cloak of such a purchasing mission, outsiders might enter the land for subversive purposes. Foreign kings might covet Egypt’s wealth and desire to infiltrate and sabotage and possibly invade and plunder the land. It was up to Joseph to carefully screen all such alien travelers to be sure of their purposes.

Joseph probably thought sooner or later, someone from his own family would have to show up. He knew they would soon need grain, and would have to buy it from Egypt.

CAUSE    and    EFFECT

CAUSE = ‘something that brings about an effect or a result’ Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

1. Gen. 37:5 foolishness and arrogant.
2. Gen. 37:9,10 rebuked by father.
3. Gen. 37:18 murderous hatred by brothers

Joseph thought himself ready for leadership at seventeen;
the Lord had to chastise him and put him through a rigorous
training program before he was finally ready at thirty!


The apostle Paul, though he had received outstanding training prior to his conversion, had to be sent for three years into the desert (Galatians 1:15-18) for special full-time training before he was ready to enter his own ministry for the Lord. Likewise, the twelve apostles received over three years of full-time training from the Lord Jesus Himself before they were equipped to go out in fulfillment of His great commission. It seems as though, based on the examples in Scripture, a young Christian needs at least the equivalent of three years of full-time study in the Word and should be roughly thirty years of age before he is fully ready to assume the responsibilities of Christian leadership in the service of Christ.

1. Gen. 41:16 It is not in me
2. Gen. 41:38 A man in whom the Spirit of God is?
3. Gen. 41:39 So discreet and wise

Joseph was brought by God to the place that God wanted him in. Now comes God causing a famine to bring the sons of Israel to their place.


"And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf." Gen. 37:6,7
1. "and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth." Gen. 42:6
2. "and bowed themselves to him to the earth." Gen. 43:26
3. "And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance." Gen. 43:28

"And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? " Gen. 37:8


Joseph, evidently in accordance with his predetermined plan, did not make himself known to his brothers at this time.

1. He wanted first of all to determine their true attitudes.
2. Then to set events in motion which would finally bring them to:
(a) A true attitude of repentance.
(b) A unity toward God.
(c) A unity towards themselves.

Therefore, he acted harshly and as though he were very suspicious of their motives in coming into Egypt. When they told him they had come from Canaan simply to buy food, he replied by accusing them of being spies, using a food-purchasing mission as a cover for finding those parts of Egypt which might be vulnerable to invasion.

    42:11     WE  ARE  ALL  ONE  MAN’S  SONS;  WE  ARE  TRUE  MEN

As his brothers continued to insist that they had come merely to buy food, they began to volunteer more information about themselves. They were all brothers, who lived and worked with their father back in the land of Canaan. One brother was back home with their father and one was dead. They did not know Joseph was dead, of course, but that was what they had implied to their father, and so for many years that had been their stock answer to anyone who questioned them about Joseph. No foreign king would have sent ten brothers on a spy mission, especially if they were his own sons.

    42:15     HEREBY  YE  SHALL  BE  PROVED

Joseph surely, all the time they had been talking, had been wondering about Benjamin, who obviously was not with them.

1. Could they have possibly resented Benjamin, as they did him, since they two had the same mother and were their father’s favorites?
2. Now they had just said Benjamin was still at home, but they had also said Joseph was dead. Since they had lied in the one case, perhaps they also had in the other?

Therefore he felt he must test them further. Before he could really accept them and proceed to a reconciliation he would have to know the truth about his younger brother.

At this point he proposed that he would test the validity of their story about being brothers by having them send for their younger brother. In the meantime, he would continue to assume they were spies, and keep them all in prison until their story could be verified. Joseph may have reasoned also that, as they had once spurned their brother’s pleas (Genesis 37:24-25), so now theirs should be spurned. As they sent him away into slavery and imprisonment, so now it would be good for them to have a similar experience. All the while, Joseph maintained his appearance as a harsh and stubborn Egyptian official, even taking an oath "by the life of Pharaoh" that he would keep the men in prison as spies until they proved their story.

    42:18     THIS  DO,  AND  LIVE

After three days, Joseph summoned them again and told them it would not be necessary for all of them to remain there. He did not really wish to cause his father, and the rest of the household back in Canaan, any more grief than necessary. Besides, he felt that three days in prison would be enough to cause all of them to begin at least to have a change of heart from their earlier behavior and attitudes. It is interesting that he told them that his change to a more considerate course of action was because "I fear God." Since he was apparently an Egyptian, here was a testimony to these children of Israel that it was possible for a high official who lived in an idolatrous land still to know the true God and to have his behavior influenced accordingly.


Joseph was sure they would come back, because he knew the famine would persist many years. The brothers also realized they would possibly have to return, even if thy should decide it expedient to abandon the brother who would be held hostage. But at least they could go home for the present, and take the urgently needed food back with them. If and when they returned, however, they had better have their younger brother with them, or the governor would decide they had been spies after all and would put every one of them to death.


By this time, their emotions and consciences were surely in considerable turmoil. Their minds were now well exercised in remembering what they had done to their younger brother, and in sensing that all of this was a very appropriate punishment. When Joseph gave them this ultimatum, they all with apparently one voice acknowledged to each other (not realizing that Joseph could understand what they were saying) that this distress had come on them because they had sinned against their brother.


Joseph perhaps had held Reuben, as the oldest brother, chiefly responsible for what his brothers had done to him. Now, however, he heard Reuben reminding the others that he had tried to persuade them not to carry out their crime. But Reuben, unstable and weak as he was, had never been willing to tell his father the truth or later to set in motion any attempt to rescue Joseph. He was not quite as guilty as the others, but neither was he innocent.


As Joseph heard them, he realized his prayers had been answered. (See a. A true attitude of repentance Pg. 24). They had actually come to the point of confession and repentance of their sin. He himself became so overcome by his emotions that he had to make a hasty exit from their presence, lest they should see him weeping. Joseph realized that Simeon must have been chiefly responsible. Therefore, he had his guard take Simeon, and put him in bonds before their eyes. Simeon was next oldest to Reuben, and had long manifested a cruel nature. He needed the instruction of a time in prison and chains more than any of the others. Was it pure coincidence that the governor would place in prison the one most responsible for their heinous act?


Joseph then gave orders-in the Egyptian language, of course-that the sacks should be filled with grain and the men sent on their way. He also told his servants to restore the money they had paid for the grain into their respective sacks, realizing what embarrassment and concern this would cause them, but also knowing that it would further awaken their consciences.

    42:29     AND  THEY  CAME  UNTO  JACOB

Their journey back home must have been over a distance of about 250 miles or more. Presumably Jacob was still living in Hebron, and Joseph’s headquarters were possible at or near the city of Memphis, which is about ten miles south of the present city of Cairo. Thus, the journey would take them probably about three weeks.

    42:35     THEY  WERE  AFRAID

After they had told the story, they proceeded to empty their sacks of grain into the storehouse.  Now they were shocked to find, in each man’s sack, the bundle of money which he supposedly had paid for the grain. They had come out of Egypt not only with a large supply of food, but had done so without paying for it!

Up until this point, Jacob had apparently taken their bad news with relative calm; but now both he and his sons were greatly alarmed.


Jacob accused his nine sons (more truly then he knew) of having been responsible for the loss of two of his children, Joseph and Simeon, and now surely they were going to cause the loss of Benjamin also, which was more than he could bear.

Quite the contrary, however, in reality. Not only were all things not working against him but, as a matter of fact, all things were working together for good (Romans 8:28). So it often is with God’s people. Even when all the circumstances seem negative, God is working positively, on behalf of those who are the called according to His purpose. There is never just cause to fear that God had let things get out of control. He had higher purposes related to our eternal future, for which He is preparing us through such difficulties.

    42:37     SLAY  MY  TWO  SONS

Exactly what satisfaction he though his father could get out of killing two of his grandsons, after already losing his sons, is hardly clear. Reuben simply spoke without thinking. He perhaps was trying to appear noble to his father, who had long since been badly disappointed in this eldest son of his; but he only succeeded in looking still more foolish.

    42:38     TO  THE  GRAVE

He would go down to the grave (actually Sheol, the place of departed spirits) if he no longer had Benjamin at least to remind him of Rachel and Joseph.


Back to "Joseph Exalted"          Forward to "Benjamin"


Home First
Table of