Genesis 42:1

The famine was part of God's plan to carry out his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13, 14). But it is not merely a fact in the historical preparation for what he was bringing to pass; a link in the chain of events leading on to Christ. We must look upon it as part of a series of types foreshadowing gospel truths. The famine was a step towards the promised possession, and has its counterpart in the work of the Holy Spirit. It represents the spiritual want of man; conviction of sin (John 16:8; cf. Romans 7:9), leading to know the power of Christ's work (Matthew 18:11).

I. The first step is CONSCIOUSNESS OF FAMINE; that a man's life is more than meat; more than a supply of bodily wants. It is realizing that he has wants beyond the present life; that in living for time he has been following a shadow. This knowledge is not natural to us. Bodily hunger soon makes itself felt, but the soul's need does not; and until it is known, the man may be "poor and blind and naked," and yet suppose that he is "rich and increased with goods."

II. WE CANNOT OF OURSELVES SUPPLY THAT WANT. Gradually we learn how great it is. We want to still the accusing voice of conscience; to find a plea that shall avail in judgment; to see clearly the way of life that we may not err therein. In vain we look one on another, seeking comfort in the good opinion of men, in their testimony to our upright life. In vain we try to satisfy ourselves, by promises to do better, or by offerings of our substance or of our work. In vain is it to seek rest in unbelief, or in the persuasion that in some way all will be right. The soul cannot thus find peace. There is a voice which at times will make itself heard - "all have sinned" - thou hast sinned.

III. GOD HAS PROVIDED BREAD. "I have heard that there is corn in Egypt" (cf. Romans 10:18), answers to the gospel telling of the bread of life. As to this we mark -

1. It was provided before the want arose (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). The gospel tells us of what has already been done, not of a gift to come into existence on certain conditions. The ransom of our souls has been paid. We have to believe and take (Revelation 22:17).

2. How faith works. They must go for that food which was ready for them. To take the bread of life must be a real earnest act, not a listless assent. The manna which was to be gathered, the brazen serpent to which the sick were to look, the command to the impotent "Rise, take up thy bed and walk," all show that it is not enough merely to wish, there must be the effort of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). This is a law of the spiritual kingdom. As natural laws regulate results within their, domain, so spiritual results must be sought in accordance with spiritual laws.

3. It is our Brother who has made provision for us. This is our confidence. He waits to reveal himself when in humility and emptiness we come to him, and to give us plenty (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). - M.

Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt.

II. CONSIDERED IN ITS EFFECT UPON JACOB'S SONS. "Why do ye look one upon another?" This sad question reavealed —

1. The utmost distress.

2. Great perplexity.

3. Forebodings of conscience.

(T. H. Leale.)




1. When distresses and trials come, we should be ready to trust that God means to do good by them in some way, though we may not know how.

2. When difficulties occur, we should still hope on.

3. When disappointments are our lot, we should remember that they come not without God's knowledge and permission.

4. Humility and faith will always lead to renewed hope.

(W. S. Smith, B. D.)

We have here a picture of man's lost estate, he is in a sore soul-devouring famine. We discover here man's hope. His hope lies in that Joseph whom he knows not, who has gone before him and provided all things necessary, that his "wants may be supplied. And we have here practical advice, which was pre-eminently wise on the part of Jacob to his sons in his case, and which, being interpreted, is also the wisest advice to you and to me. Seeing that there is mercy for sinners, and that Jesus our brother has gone before us to provide for us an all-sufficient redemption, "Why sit we here and look one upon another?" There is mercy in the breast of God, there is salvation in Christ; "get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die."

I. A PITIFUL PLIGHT. These sons of Jacob were overtaken by a famine. They were cast into a waste, howling wilderness of famine, with but one oasis, and that oasis they did not hear of till just at the time to which our text refers, when they learned to their joy that there was corn in Egypt. Permit me now to illustrate the condition of the sinner by the position of these sons of Jacob.

1. The sons of Jacob had a very great need of bread. But what is this compared with the sinner's needs! His necessities are such that only Infinity can supply them; he has a demand before which the demands of sixty-six mouths are as nothing.

2. Mark, again: what these people wanted was an essential thing. They did not lack clothes, that were a want, but nothing like the lack of bread; for a man might exist with but scanty covering. Oh that men should cry for bread — the absolute necessary for the sustenance of the body! But what is the sinner's want? Is it not exactly this? he wants that without which the soul must perish.

3. Yet again: the necessity of the sons of Jacob was a total one. They had no bread; there was none to be procured. Such is the sinner's case. It is not that he has a little grace and lacks more; but he has none at all. Of himself he has no grace. It is not that he has a little goodness, and needs to be made better; but he has no goodness at all, no merits, no righteousness — nothing to bring to God, nothing to offer for his acceptance; he is penniless, poverty-stricken; everything is gone whereon his soul might feed.

4. But yet worse: with the exception of Egypt, the sons of Jacob were convinced that there was no food anywhere. In speechless silence they resigned themselves to the woe which threatened to overwhelm them. Such is the sinner's condition, when first he begins to feel a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, he looks to others. "There is no hope for us; we have all been condemned, we have all been guilty, we can do nothing to appease the Most High"; what a wretched world were ours, if we were equally convinced of sin, and equally convinced that there was no hope of mercy! This, then, was the condition of Jacob's sons temporally, and it is our condition by nature spiritually.

II. Now we come, in the second place, to the GOOD NEWS. Jacob had faith, and the ears of faith are always quiet; faith can hear the tread of mercy, though the footfall be as light as that of the angel among the flowers. Jacob had the ears of faith. He had been at prayer, I doubt not, asking God to deliver his family in the time of famine; and by and by he hears, first of his household, that there is corn in Egypt. Jacob heard the good news, and communicated it as speedily as possible to his descendants. Now, we also have heard the good news. Good news has been sent to us in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. "There is corn in Egypt." We need not die. Now, we have better news than even Jacob had; although the news is similar, understanding it in a spiritual sense.

1. We are told to-day, by sure and certain witnesses, that there is corn in Egypt, there is mercy in God. Jacob's messenger might have deceived him — idle tales are told everywhere, and in days of famine men are very apt to tell a falsehood, thinking that to be true which they wish were so. The hungry man is apt to hope that there may be corn somewhere; and then he thinks there is; and then he says there is; and then, what begins with a wish comes to be a rumour and a report. But this day, my friends, it is no idle talk; no dream, no rumour of a deceiver. There is mercy with God, there is salvation with Him that He may be feared.

2. There is another thing in which we have the start of Jacob. Jacob knew there was corn in Egypt, but did not know who had the keeping of it. If he had known that, he would have said, "My sons, go down at once to Egypt, do not be at all afraid, your brother is lord of Egypt, and all the corn belongs to him." Nay, more, I can readily imagine that he would have gone himself, forthwith. Sinner, the mercies of God are under no lock and key except those over which Christ has the power. The granaries of heaven's mercy have no steward to keep them save Christ. He is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins.

3. There is yet another thing which the sons of Jacob knew nothing of. When they went to Egypt, they went on hap-hazard: If they knew there was corn, they were not sure they would get it. But when you and I go to Christ, we are invited guests.

4. But one other remark, and I will have done with this second point. The sons of Jacob were in one respect better off than you are apparently, for they had money with which to buy. Jacob was not a poor man in respect of wealth, although he had now become exceedingly poor from lack of bread. His sons had money to take with them. Glittering bars of gold they thought must surely attract the notice of the ruler of Egypt. You have no money, nothing to bring to Christ, nothing to offer Him. You offered Him something once, but He rejected all you offered Him as being spurious coins, imitations, counterfeits, and good for nothing. And now utterly stripped, hopeless, penniless, you say you are afraid to go to Christ because you have nothing of your own. Let me assure you that you are never in so fit a condition to go to Christ as when you have nowhere else to go to, and have nothing of your own.

III. Thus I have noticed the good news as well as the pitiful plight. I come now to the third part, which is GOOD ADVICE. Jacob says, "Why do ye look one upon another?" And he said, "Behold I have heard that there is corn in Egypt; get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die." This is very practical advice. I wish people would act the same with religion as they do in temporal affairs. Jacob's sons did not say: "Well, that is very good news; I believe it," and then sit still and die. No, they went straightway to the place of which the good news told them corn was to be had. So should it be in matters of religion. We should not be content merely to hear the tidings, but we should never be satisfied until by Divine grace we have availed ourselves of them, and have found mercy in Christ. Lastly, let me put this question: "Why do ye look one upon another?" Why do ye sit still? Fly to Christ, and find mercy. Oh, says one, "I cannot get what I expect to have." But what do you expect? I believe some of our hearers expect to feel an electric shock, or something of that kind, before they are saved. The gospel says simply, "Believe." That they will not understand. They think there is to be something so mysterious about it. They can't make out what it is; but they are going to wait for it and then believe. Well, you will wait till doomsday; for if you do not believe this simple gospel, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," God will not work signs and wonders to please your foolish desires. Your position is this — you are a sinner, lost, ruined; you cannot help yourself. Scripture says, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." Your immediate business, your instantaneous duty is to cast yourself on that simple promise, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that as He came into the world to save sinners, He has therefore come to save you. What you have to do with, is that simple command — "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." In conclusion, I make this last remark: Did you notice the argument Joseph used why the sons should go to Egypt? It was this — "That we may live, and not die." Sinner, this is my argument with thee this morning. My dear hearers, the gospel of Christ is a matter of life and death with you. It is not a matter of little importance, but of all importance. There is an alternative before you; you will either be eternally damned, or everlastingly saved. Despise Christ, and neglect His great salvation, and you will be lost, as sure as you live. Believe in Christ; put your trust alone in Him, and everlasting life is yours. What argument can be more potent than this to men that love themselves?

( C. H. Spurgeon.)


1. A dire calamity. Perhaps none greater. One which human wisdom cannot foresee. Affects all classes. Animal life depends on vegetable life, vegetable life on seasons, light, heat, rain, temperature, &c. These under the control of God. The lawmaker may suspend the operation of natural laws, moderate their influence, or affect their course.

2. Usually unexpected. In this case there was a warning given, and preparations made. Men cannot foresee the suspension or deviation of natural laws. Hopes for the future built on productiveness of the past.

3. Often over-ruled for good. In this case conspicuously so. Promotes human sympathy (thus the Irish famine, 1846-7, besides evoking much individual be. nevolence, was responded to by Parliamentary grants of, in the whole, £10,000,000. Ill. Indian famine, 1861). Provokes scientific inquiry into "supply and demand." of food. Leads to emigration and breaking up of new ground.

4. Always possible and near. World at any time only a harvest off starvation.

5. Generally local (Genesis 8:22). "All countries" (Genesis 41:57), those adjacent to Egypt. Kindness of Providence in this. Nations in their turn dependent on each other. Each "offers something for the general use."


1. Where? In Egypt. A storehouse of plenty for hungry nations. Always food in some place, and will be while the earth lasts. He who feeds the ravens knows what man has need of.

2. Why? Does it seem strange that the promised land should suffer, rather than be the favoured spot?(1) It was a small country.(2) Had other nations gone thither they would have conquered it.(3) Chiefly: it was part of the Divine plan that Israel should go down into Egypt, and the famine necessitated this.

3. How? By the extraordinary productiveness of seven preceding years, and the storing of the surplus corn. This effected by the instrumentality of Joseph. His mind supernaturally illuminated. Favour given him in the sight of the king of Egypt. Him appointment to office, including the absolute control of the produce of the land.


1. Want in the house of Jacob.

2. The ten sent out to buy corn in Egypt.

3. They arrive in Egypt, and visit the royal granaries.

4. Joseph recognizes them, and they bow before him, and thus fulfil the dream.

5. To disarm suspicion, and to discover the temper of their minds, and the history of their family, they are charged with being spies, and cast into prison.

6. After three days they are liberated, and a hostage required for their return with the younger brother of whom they have spoken, and of whose existence Joseph affects to doubt.

7. Mutual recriminations respecting Joseph.

8. Joseph is affected by what he hears.

9. Simeon bound and left in prison, while they betake themselves away to Canaan. Learn: However great the dearth of the bread that perisheth, there is always sufficient of the "bread of life," and it is always accessible.

(J. C. Gray.)

Benjamin, Jacob, Joseph, Pharaoh, Reuben, Simeon
Canaan, Egypt
Corn, Egypt, Grain, Hearing, Jacob, Learned, Sons, Staring
1. Jacob sends his ten sons to buy grain in Egypt.
16. They are imprisoned by Joseph as spies.
18. They are set at liberty, on condition to bring Benjamin.
21. They have remorse for Joseph.
24. Simeon is kept for a pledge.
25. They return with grain, and their money.
29. Their relation to Jacob.
36. Jacob refuses to send Benjamin.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Genesis 42:1-2

     4506   seed
     4823   famine, physical

Genesis 42:1-3

     5940   searching

Genesis 42:1-4

     5095   Jacob, life

Genesis 42:1-17

     6701   peace, search for

Corn in Egypt
Now, there are very few minds that can make parables. The fact is, I do not know of but one good allegory in the English language, and that is, the "Pilgrim's Progress in Parables, pictures, and analogies are not so easy as some think; most men can understand them, but few can create them. Happy for us who are ministers of Christ, we have no great trouble about this matter; we have not to make parables; they are made for us. I believe that Old Testament history has for one of its designs the furnishing
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 5: 1859

Touching Jacob, However, that which He did at his Mother's Bidding...
24. Touching Jacob, however, that which he did at his mother's bidding, so as to seem to deceive his father, if with diligence and in faith it be attended to, is no lie, but a mystery. The which if we shall call lies, all parables also, and figures designed for the signifying of any things soever, which are not to be taken according to their proper meaning, but in them is one thing to be understood from another, shall be said to be lies: which be far from us altogether. For he who thinks this, may
St. Augustine—Against Lying

The Upbringing of Jewish Children
The tenderness of the bond which united Jewish parents to their children appears even in the multiplicity and pictorialness of the expressions by which the various stages of child-life are designated in the Hebrew. Besides such general words as "ben" and "bath"--"son" and "daughter"--we find no fewer than nine different terms, each depicting a fresh stage of life. The first of these simply designates the babe as the newly--"born"--the "jeled," or, in the feminine, "jaldah"--as in Exodus 2:3, 6, 8.
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

Spiritual Hunger Shall be Satisfied
They shall be filled. Matthew 5:6 I proceed now to the second part of the text. A promise annexed. They shall be filled'. A Christian fighting with sin is not like one that beats the air' (1 Corinthians 9:26), and his hungering after righteousness is not like one that sucks in only air, Blessed are they that hunger, for they shall be filled.' Those that hunger after righteousness shall be filled. God never bids us seek him in vain' (Isaiah 45:19). Here is an honeycomb dropping into the mouths of
Thomas Watson—The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12

Letter Xliv Concerning the Maccabees but to whom Written is Unknown.
Concerning the Maccabees But to Whom Written is Unknown. [69] He relies to the question why the Church has decreed a festival to the Maccabees alone of all the righteous under the ancient law. 1. Fulk, Abbot of Epernay, had already written to ask me the same question as your charity has addressed to your humble servant by Brother Hescelin. I have put off replying to him, being desirous to find, if possible, some statement in the Fathers about this which was asked, which I might send to him, rather
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux—Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux

Sign Seekers, and the Enthusiast Reproved.
(Galilee on the Same Day as the Last Section.) ^A Matt. XII. 38-45; ^C Luke XI. 24-36. ^c 29 And when the multitudes were gathering together unto him, ^a 38 Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, Teacher, we would see a sign from thee. [Having been severely rebuked by Jesus, it is likely that the scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign that they might appear to the multitude more fair-minded and open to conviction than Jesus had represented them to be. Jesus had just wrought
J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel

The Old Testament opens very impressively. In measured and dignified language it introduces the story of Israel's origin and settlement upon the land of Canaan (Gen.--Josh.) by the story of creation, i.-ii. 4a, and thus suggests, at the very beginning, the far-reaching purpose and the world-wide significance of the people and religion of Israel. The narrative has not travelled far till it becomes apparent that its dominant interests are to be religious and moral; for, after a pictorial sketch of
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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