Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the famine was sore in the land.XLIII.
THE SECOND VISIT TO EGYPT.
(7) The man asked us straitly.—In Genesis 42:13 they appear rather as volunteering a statement of their family relations than as having it wrung from them by cross-examination. But really this history must be taken as explaining and supplementing the former. Accused of being spies, they would naturally give an account of themselves, and Joseph, anxious to know about his father and brother, would certainly put numerous questions to them concerning their home and family. And they would answer them fully and frankly, little suspecting who was the questioner, and what was his real reason for exacting Benjamin’s presence in proof of their trustworthiness:
Of our state and of our kindred.—Heb., concerning ourselves and our birthplace (see Genesis 12:1; Genesis 24:4; Genesis 24:7; Genesis 31:3), that is, our home. Questions about ourselves would be such as those given: “Is your father yet alive? Have ye a brother?” And besides these, Joseph would interrogate them closely concerning the place whence they came, and the state of things there.
And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.(8) The lad.—Benjamin was now between twenty and thirty years of age. The term “lad” in Judah’s mouth is one of affection, but even in itself it suits very well to a youth of this age. Rebekah (in Genesis 24:16) is called in the Hebrew a lad (see Note there), and so is Shechem in Genesis 34:19. The assertion, therefore, that Benjamin is here represented as a mere boy, is disproved by the use of the word in the Hebrew.
Our little ones.—Heb., our “tafs” that is, our households. (See Note on Genesis 34:29.)
I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:(9) Then let me bear the blame for ever.—This is much more manly and therefore more persuasive than Reuben’s talk about pledging the lives of his children. For it was real, nor would it be a slight matter to stand in his father’s presence all the rest of his life as one guilty of a grievous crime.
And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:(11) The best fruits.—Heb., the song, that is, whatever in the land is most celebrated in song.
In your vessels.—The word used in Genesis 42:25, where see Note. Concerning this present two remarks must be made; the first, that it proves that though there was not rain enough in Palestine to bring the corn to perfection, yet that there was some small supply, sufficient to maintain a certain amount of vegetation; and but for this Jacob could not have kept his cattle alive (Genesis 47:1). And next, the smallness of the present does not so much show that Jacob had very simple ideas respecting the greatness of the king of Egypt, as that there was a scarcity even of these fruits. Probably the trade in them had ceased, and therefore even a moderate quantity ‘would be welcome. For the words rendered balm, spices and myrrh really balsam, gum-tragacanth and ladanum), see Note on Genesis 37:25.
Honey.—As both the honey made by bees and date honey were common in Egypt, many suppose that this was grape-honey, prepared by boiling down the juice of ripe grapes to a third of its original quantity. Hebron is famous for its preparation, and even in modern times three hundred camel loads used to be exported thence annually into Egypt. Diluted with water it forms a very grateful drink, and it is also largely eaten with bread, as we eat butter.
Nuts.—That is, pistachio nuts, the fruit of the pistachio, vera. As the tree delights in dry, rocky situations, it will not grow in Egypt. It has an oily kernel, both palatable in itself and also much used for making savoury meats. These and the almonds, which also do not grow well in Egypt, would be acceptable gifts.
And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight:(12) Double money.—So Rashi; but others render it literally, second money, that is, a second sum of money. This agrees with the phrase “other money” in Genesis 43:22.
And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.(14) God Almighty.—Heb., El Shaddai, the name by which Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17:1) was renewed to Jacob (Genesis 35:11).
If I be bereaved . . . —An expression of pious resignation, united with heartfelt anguish. The inserted words of my children lessen the pathos of the patriarch’s ejaculation, which literally is “and I, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon.(16) Slay.—The charge of inaccuracy brought against the narrator, upon the supposition that the higher classes in Egypt, especially the priests, did not eat flesh, has been abundantly disproved, as the representations of feasts belonging to this period show that an abundance of animal food was consumed. Animals, moreover, sacred in one district were freely eaten in another. Generally the priests might eat the flesh of oxen and geese, but not mutton, pork or fish. (Rawlinson’s Egypt, i. 438.)
And they came near to the steward of Joseph's house, and they communed with him at the door of the house,(19) At the door of the house.—Alarmed at a thing so unexpected as being taken to the house of the governor, they can see nothing but danger, and will not enter until they receive the assurance of safety from the officer “who was over Joseph’s house.” (See Note on Genesis 43:25.)
And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand.(21) The inn.—The lodging-place. (See Note on Genesis 42:27.)
Our sacks.—Heb., our travelling or forage bags. It is the word used at the end of Genesis 42:27. So immediately afterwards the silver was found “in the mouth of the travelling-bag.” And so again in Genesis 43:22-23. This is accurate, as the silver was placed in the private bag of each one, and not in the corn sacks; but as we have seen in Genesis 42:27; Genesis 42:35, only one of them found his money at the lodging-place. This, however, was a matter of no importance, while it was necessary to show that they were a full day’s journey on the route homewards before the mistake was discovered.
And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them.(23) Your God . . . —Either Joseph had instructed his steward what to say, or he had trained his household generally in the truths of his religion. (See Note on Genesis 42:18.) The word for “treasure” means hidden treasure, or as we call it a “windfall.” By bringing out Simeon he would remove their worst fears, and so at last they consent to go in.
And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.(25) For they heard . . . —As Joseph in Genesis 43:16 gives his orders in the Egyptian language, his brethren would not understand why they were taken to the governor’s palace; but probably the steward now tells them that they were to feast with the governor, in order to allay their fears, as the rights of hospitality were too sacred to permit of perfidy to a guest.
And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.(28) They bowed down.—This was the literal fulfilment of the first dream concerning the eleven sheaves making obeisance. As their business in Egypt was to buy corn, there was a fitness also in their being represented as sheaves.
And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.(29) Is this your younger brother?—Rather, your youngest brother. Joseph’s question was one of surprise. Can this young man, now nearly thirty, be the little Benjamin, who was but a child of eight or nine when last I saw him!
And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.(31) He washed his face.—This was done to remove all traces of his tears.
And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.(32) By himself . . . by themselves.—These caste distinctions were common in ancient times, and still exist in India. Joseph probably had his food served separately because of his high rank; but the word “abomination” shows that eating with foreigners was shunned by the Egyptians for religious considerations. Herodotus (ii. 41) says that the Greeks were equally the objects of their dislike, and that the use even of a Greek knife would render food, otherwise clean, polluted in the eyes of the Egyptians.
And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.(33) They sat.—The Egyptians are always represented on the monuments as sitting at their meals. For the Hebrew custom see Note on Genesis 27:19. The brethren, on finding themselves placed according to their age, must have supposed that Joseph possessed powers of divination, especially as the giving of due precedence was and is looked upon in the East as a matter of high importance.
And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.(34) Messes.—A portion of food from that prepared for the chief is regarded in the East as a mark both of honour and friendship, and the largeness of Benjamin’s mess marked him out as the especial object of Joseph’s regard. The words literally are, “And the portion of Benjamin was great above the portions of all of them five hands,” that is, five times. It has been supposed that Joseph intended to try his brethren by this preference, and see if they were still envious. More probably it was dictated simply by his love.
They drank and were merry with him.—Heb., They drank and were drunken with him. The verb is that used of Noah in Genesis 9:21, but probably the rendering in Haggai 1:6, “and were filled with drink,” would give the right meaning. They lost all fear and suspicion, and gave themselves up to enjoyment.