Genesis 42:21

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.

We are verily guilty concerning our brother.
I. Joseph's brethren had not been placed in any peculiar circumstances of trial since the loss of Joseph; consequently their sin had slept. There had been nothing to call it to light; they had well-nigh forgotten it; its heinousness had become dim in the distance. But now they were in trouble, and they could not help seeing the hand of God in that trouble. Their spiritual instinct told them that their trouble did not spring out of the ground; it had been planted there — it had a root. Their sin had found them out at last, and their own adversity brought about that contrition for their offence which its own hatefulness ought to have been sufficient to produce.

II. We see from this story that men may commit sins, and may forget them; and yet the sins may be recorded, and may one day rise up again with a frightful vitality. Men will soon bury their own sins, if they be left to themselves; but it is like burying seed, which appears to die and be forgotten, and yet it rises up again, and perhaps becomes a great tree.

III. The voice of conscience is a good voice, a wholesome voice — yea, the very voice of God to our souls, and one to be welcomed by us if we only listen to it at the right time. The consciousness of guilt is a blessed thing, if only it come at the right time, and when there is opportunity for bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. Well for us if our estimate of our condition is the same, at least in its main features, as that estimate which God has made, and which the last day will produce!

(Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)




1. In that it brings the past accurately to mind.

2. In that it connects the penalty with the sin.

IV. IT CONVERTS MORAL DIRECTION AND REMONSTRANCE INTO REPROACH AND UPBRAIDING. Reuben became to his brethren what conscience becomes to the sinner.

V. IT REMINDS US OF MORAL PROCESSES NOW AT WORK IN THE WORLD. God's searching providence is ever bringing past sins to light. Christ's Cross reveals the darkness of the world's guilt.

(T. H. Leale.)


1. This secret bound them henceforward to a life of hypocrisy.

2. This secret filled them with constant anxiety.

3. This secret neutralized all healthful moral influence.


1. They were the objects of suspicion. Jacob refused to allow Benjamin in their company.

2. They were the subjects of suspicion. Living in dread of God and man.


(J. C. Burnett.)







1. The relation of the sufferers. Our brethren.

2. The wretchedness of their state.

3. Our orders to succour them.

4. The possibility of affording them succour.

5. The facilities we have in this cause of compassion.


(2)The grace of God.

6. That even the effort we have made in this work furnish evidence of our guilt.


1. The depravity of human nature will be acknowledged.

2. Deep and godly sorrow will be felt.

3. It will lead us to apply to the mercy of God.

4. It will awaken zeal.

(J. Summerfield, M. A.)

I. The most dangerous propensity of sin is its deceivableness; the concealment of its true nature and danger when committed, the extent and evil of it are seldom perceived; a veil is thrown over its hideous and destructive qualities; and it is imagined to be, if not altogether defensible in the sight of God, at least desirable at the moment, and tolerable. However the conscience may give warning that all is not perfectly right, the consequences are commonly neither foreseen nor apprehended. Whether this be in the very nature of sin, as brought by the spirit of evil into the world; or whether that wicked spirit, with his numberless agents, is continually exercised in producing this deceit; or whether it proceed from both these sources, which is probable, the evil and misery are the same: men are tempted to sin, because they do not perceive its utter sinfulness; and it seems as if they could do it with impunity, do it and have nothing to fear.

II. And here, as we see the dreadful nature of sin, how it blinds the sinner, and makes him content with his guilt, so do we see the goodness of our heavenly Father, how graciously, by the ordination of His providence, He leads the transgressor to a deep sense of his perilous condition; how compassionately He interposes to deliver him from the fatal snare.

III. The instruction to be drawn from this subject is highly beneficial and important: it warns us to consider our own case, to look into our own condition. And let us be mindful that we do draw, from such considerations and examples, the right conclusion.

IV. There are two great considerations in connection with this subject, which I desire to press upon your attention.

1. The importance of our hearts being always open to God's merciful dealings in awakening us, and reclaiming us from evil.

2. That we profit from them without delay.

(J. Slade, M. A.)

The language of self-reproach, which sharp compunction wrung from Jacob's sons, may well be adopted by many among ourselves. Take the most favourable case you can. Grant that you have done no positive harm to others. Have you not, too often, forgotten to do them good? Some, with no more natural abilities, and no better opportunities than their neighbours, render all with whom they come in contact, wiser, holier, and happier. Others, possessing the same powers of mind, and surrounded by she same circumstances, stand like a moral Upas, rendering the very atmosphere about them unwholesome and deadly. But, alas! how many who ought to improve a privilege so great, are, by inactivity and gross neglect, preparing for themselves seasons of sorrow in the future, when they will cry out, in agony of soul, knowing it is then too late to offer advice or aid to one who has become hopelessly hardened in sin, but whom, at an earlier period in his career, they possessed influence enough to save: "We are verily guilty concerning our brother." The wicked might kindly have been warned; the ignorant might easily have been taught; the headstrong might have been moved by expostulation and love; the poor might have been effectually relieved. Selfishness is the true secret of such unwarrantable neglect. We are disposed to think too much of our ease. Christians should not be contented with being in the right road themselves, but they should feel a lively interest in the welfare of others. Christians are responsible for their example. They are "the salt of the earth." They are "the leaven," which must leaven the whole lump. Their example in their families, in private intercourse with friends, and in their regular occupation, should be safe and consistent. Christian principle should be discovered in everything. Is it any wonder that the ungodly mock? Can we be surprised that unbelievers multiply? Is it astonishing that such a reckless disregard of ordinary duties, and such a strange forgetfulness of the importance of setting a good example, should draw a long train of calamities in the wake of inconsistent Christians, and cause them, in the hour of sickness and death, to cry out, at the remembrance of a brother, or husband, or child, or friend, shipwrecked and ruined by their neglect: "We are verily guilty concerning our brother"?

(J. N. Norton, D. D.)

In this chapter we have the description of our fathers, the patriarchs; their first journey into Egypt for corn, to relieve their famine in Canaan. Herein is considerable —

1. Their entertainment there: it was harsh, with much trouble, more danger.

2. The consequence of this their hard and distressful usage and entreatment; and that is trouble of mind, horror and perplexity of spirit: "And they said one to another," &c. The words, then, are the Holy Ghost's report of the case of the sons of Jacob, their being spiritually troubled, by way of conviction, or judgment in their own (which also is the Lord's) court of conscience.Wherein we observe —

1. The actors themselves: being the registers, accusers, witnesses, judge, and tormentors.

2. Process in judging themselves: wherein —(1) Self-accusation of the cause of their trouble, their sin, with the utmost aggravations; namely —

(a)In general: "We are guilty."

(b)In particular: Of envy, wrong against a brother; whom in bitterness we saw without pity, and were deaf to his entreaties; obstinate to the admonition of Reuben, and abiding therein.(2) In self-condemnation: "Therefore is this distress come"; and his blood required.

3. Execution: wherein —(1) The smart, by inward terror and consternation; their heart, misgiving them, is deeply affected, and that makes them very abrupt: "Yea, verily," that is, Alas! what shall we do?(2) The circumstance of the time when; couched in, "and"

(a)In general: Many years after the offence was done.

(b)In special: Now that they were outwardly in an afflicted condition.Doctrines:

I. Every man hath a conscience within himself.

II. The guilt of sin turns a man's conscience, that is, himself, against himself.

III. Conscience is apt to be very sensible, when it is awakened, not only of sin, but particular sins, and the particular circumstances and degrees thereof to the utmost; and charge all upon a man's self, not upon God's decrees or providence, nor upon the devil or evil company, &c.

IV. Envy, unnatural affection, cruelty, deafness to the entreaties of the distressed, obstinacy against warning and admonition, continuance in sin without repentance, &c., are very heinous and dangerous.

V. The accusations and condemnations of conscience are terrible, or cause terror beyond all expression.

VI. There is a time when God will call over sins that are past, and charge them upon the conscience.

VII. Inward trouble of mind sometimes (yea, usually) comes upon the people of God, when they are outwardly in some distress.

(E. Pledger, M. A.)

Twenty years after the event l Their recollections of that event was as clear as if it transpired but yesterday. Learn the moral impotence of time. We say this evil deed was done fifty years ago. Fifty years may have some relation to the memory of the intellect, but it has no relation to the tormenting memory of the conscience. There is a moral memory. Conscience has a wondrously realizing power — taking things we have written in secret ink and holding them before the fire until every line becomes vivid, almost burning. Perhaps some of you know not yet the practical meaning of this. We did something twenty years ago. We say to ourselves, "Well, seeing that it was twenty years ago it is not worth making anything to do about it, it is past, and it is a great pity to go twenty years back raking up things." So it is in some respects, a great pity to bother ourselves about things other men did twenty years ago. But what about our own recollection, our own conscience, our own power of accusation? A man says, "I forged that name twenty-five years ago, and oh! every piece of paper I get hold of seems to have the name upon it. I never dip the pen, but there is something in the pen that reminds me of what I did by candle light, in almost darkness, when I had locked the door and assured myself nobody was there. Yet it comes upon me so graphically — my punishment is greater than I can bear!" Time cannot heal our iniquities. Forgetfulness is not the cure for sin. Obliviousness is not the redeemer of the world. How then can I get rid of the torment and the evils of an accusing memory? The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." That is the kind of answer men want, when they feel all their yesterdays conspiring to urge an indictment against them, as sinners before the living God.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Here is nothing but memory, conscience, and reason; yet what an exhibition and illustration of the self-retributive power of sin!

1. Memory. "We saw the anguish," &c.

2. Conscience. "We are verily guilty," &c.

3. Reason. "Therefore is this distress come upon us."Let a soul go into the future state with a memory to recall, a conscience to accuse, and a reason to justify penalty as deserved; and what more is necessary to hell? Hence Milton

"The mind in its own place, and in itself,

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven!"

It would be good for us if we could entertain the same views of sin in the time of temptation, that we are likely to have after it is committed, or at the time when trouble brings it home to our consciences. When Joseph cried piteously to his brethren out of the pit, they thought only of the pleasure of gratifying their envy. They then wilfully overlooked the guilt they were contracting, and the sorrows they were preparing for their father, and for them, selves; but when they were in trouble, they remembered their guilt in all its aggravating circumstances, and they would have given all they had in the world to recover that degree of innocence to which they might have pretended before Joseph came into their hands. They were chargeable with many other sins. Simeon and Levi, in particular, were chargeable with a crime not less heinous than the murder of Joseph. Yet the affliction which they endured in prison brought to remembrance in a special manner this sin against their brother. This was an atrocious iniquity, of which the most of them were equally guilty. We are naturally averse to suffering of every kind, and yet nothing is more necessary than suffering when we have sinned. It is necessary for us to know and feel the bitterness of sin, that we may confess and forsake it. And the sufferings which our flesh endures, are often necessary and useful to bring our sins to our remembrance. No doubt Joseph's brethren had often formerly thought with regret of the hatefulness of their conduct. If they were not hardened to a very uncommon degree, their hearts must have smitten them soon after the fact was committed. The sight of their father's anguish must have melted their stubborn spirits. But they needed their afflictions in Egypt likewise to awaken a new and more affecting sense of their wickedness. Joseph, and God by Joseph, did them a kindness in giving them an experimental knowledge of the bitter sufferings of an oppressed man, when he pours out tears, but finds no comforter.

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

Jacob's sons did not think that the man who had treated them with such severity knew anything concerning their conduct to their poor brother, but they knew that there is a God in the heavens, who knoweth and judgeth all the actions of the children of men. In this knowledge they were trained up by their father. But although they had been the children of a man who knew not God, this reflection might have occurred to them in the day of trouble, Adoni-bezek, king of Jerusalem, had his education amongst the most hardened sinners that ever lived in the world, and was himself one of the most hard-hearted tyrants that ever disgraced a throne; yet, when sore trouble came upon him, he acknowledged that it was the infliction of just punishment from God (Judges 1.). It is said of the virtuous Dion, the Syracusan, that when he was compelled to flee from his country, and knocked at some doors that did not open unto him as they would have done in former times, he meekly observed to his servant, that perhaps himself, in the time of his prosperity, had not always opened his door to the stranger. When we meet from men with treatment which we did not deserve, it may be of use, for calming our spirits, to consider whether we have not been guilty of as bad, or even worse conduct, to some of our neighhours. What if God has commissioned these men who behave ill to us, as His messengers, to execute His anger for offences against some of their fellow-men? Look forward, ye who have hitherto lived in ease and prosperity. The day of trouble will come. Plant not your dying pillow before hand with thorns and briars. If no reverse of circumstances should come upon you before you till you die, yet you are sure that you must die; and a death-bed will be the very worst place for such reflections as awakened conscience may produce. Bitter was the anguish of Joseph's brethren, but it would have been ten times more bitter if they had seen inevitable death before their eyes. They had little prospect of repairing the injury done to Joseph; but they might yet live to repair in some degree the wrong they had done to their father, and to seek with tears and supplications the forgiveness of their sins from God. Look back on your former conduct. Consider whether you have not done some injuries that may yet be repaired, or neglected some important duties that may yet be done, before you go to that place where there is no counsel, nor device, nor work. O death! how terrible are thy approaches to the man who is conscious that he hath shut his ears against the cry of the poor, or against the loud calls of the Son of God, urging him to improve the space given him for repentance!

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

Have you ever heard of the great clock of St. Paul's in London? At midday, in the roar of business, when carriages, and carts, and waggons, and omnibuses, go rolling through the streets, how many never hear that great clock strike, unless they live very near it. But when the work of the day is over, and the roar of business has passed away — when men are gone to sleep, and silence reigns in London — then at twelve, at one, at two, at three, at four. the sound of that clock may be heard for miles around. Twelve — One! — Two! — Three! — Four! How that clock is heard by many a sleepless man! That clock is just like the conscience of the impenitent man. While he has health and strength, and goes on in the whirl of business, he will not hear conscience. He drowns and silences its voice by plunging into the world The time will come when he must retire from the world, and lie down on the sick bed, and look death in the face. And then the clock of conscience, that solemn clock, will sound in his heart, and, if he has not repented, will bring wretchedness and misery to his soul.

(Bp. Ryle.)

Man's conscience was once the vicegerent of Deity: what conscience said within was just the echo of what God said without; and even now, conscience in its ruin has enough of its pristine eloquence and surviving affinity to God never to be altogether and always silent. The passions try to make conscience a sort of citizen-king, putting it up and down as they please: but it will not quietly submit; it resists the authority of the passions; it insists upon supremacy; it cannot forget its noble lineage and its erst holy function derived from God. As long as man can gratify his passions, and give an opiate to conscience, so long will it be partially quiet. But a day comes when the passions must be laid, and when every beat of the heart, like the curfew bell, will tell you that the time for extinguishing their fires is come, and then and there conscience will re-assert its lost supremacy, grasp its broken sceptre, and, refusing to be put down, it will emit its true and eternal utterances; and reason of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment; and prove that man may peradventure live without religion, but die without it he rarely can. A death-bed is that hour when conscience re-asserts its supremacy, however stupefied it may have been with the opium of half a century, and reminds its possessor of all behind and before. In such a case there are two resources: either the Romish priest, with a stronger opiate, under which man will die deluded and deceived: or the blood of Jesus, with pardon for the sin, and therefore peace for the conscience, which is the joyful sound of forgiveness.

(J. Gumming, D. D.)

The voice of an evil conscience is not one evil in particular, but a multitude of evils. It is a barking hell-hound, a monster vomiting fire, a raging fury, a tormenting devil. It is a nature and quality of a guilty conscience to flee and be terrified, even when all is well, and when prosperity abounds, and to change such prosperity into danger and death.

( Luther.)

A dying man, floating about on the wreck of the Central American, thought he heard his mother's voice saying, "Johnny, did you take your sister's grapes?" Thirty years before his sister was dying of consumption, and he had secretly eaten some choice grapes sent her by a friend. For twenty years the words had passed from his recollection. What have we really forgotten.

Benjamin, Jacob, Joseph, Pharaoh, Reuben, Simeon
Canaan, Egypt
Anguish, Begged, Besought, Brother, Certainly, Distress, Distressed, Ear, Grief, Guilty, Hearken, Indeed, Listen, Making, Mind, Pleaded, Prayers, Punished, Soul, Supplication, That's, Trouble, Truly, Truth, Verily, Wouldn't, Wrong, Yet
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 42:21

     5009   conscience, nature of
     6174   guilt, human aspects

Genesis 42:21-22

     7315   blood, basis of life

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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