Why Did Jacob then Israel Go to Buy Grain in Egypt?

Today’s Reading: Genesis 42-43

The severe famine that Pharaoh saw in his dreams has reached Canaan. Therefore, in these two chapters, Joseph’s brothers are sent to Egypt to buy grain on two separate occasions – once in chapter 42 and once in chapter 43. These two separate trips to buy grain created questions for me about where Jesus is in these chapters. The Holy Spirit has not revealed the full picture to me yet. So, I will share with you the beginning of what I’m seeing.

A few days ago I wrote about Jacob’s name change from Jacob to Israel. I mentioned that Jacob is one of the very few, if not only, people in the Bible whose name change was not permanent. Throughout the rest of his life, Jacob’s name goes back and forth between Jacob and Israel. When he is Jacob, he tends to be acting carnally. When he’s Israel, he tends to be acting spiritually.

Therefore, I noticed in these two chapters, in the two separate trips to buy grain, that Jacob was called Jacob exclusively in chapter 42 and that Jacob was called Israel exclusively in chapter 43. The only exception to this is Genesis 42:5, which says, “Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.” I believe this particular use of Israel is not about the man Jacob/Israel. Rather, this use of Israel is contrast to the others who came to buy grain. That is, Israel and all the others of the world, the Gentiles, were coming to Egypt to buy grain. So, the shift from Jacob to Israel, from the carnal to the spiritual man, in the two separate trips to buy grain was my first clue that something really significant related to Jesus is happening here.

My next clue was Genesis 42:17-20 – “And he put them all together in custody for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.”

Joseph held his brothers in custody for three days. Throughout the Bible, three days is repeatedly seen as the time between death and life. Then, “on the third day” Joseph tells his brothers do a specific thing and they will live. This is just another of the long list of events in the Bible that happen “on the third day”. The third day speaks of Jesus’ resurrection. Clearly, something related to Jesus’ resurrection and going from death to life is taking place in chapter 42, which is the chapter centered around Jacob, the carnal man.

What was the specific thing Joseph’s brothers were to do? If they were honest men, then they would bring their youngest brother to Joseph. If they were honest, they were to bring Benjamin to Joseph. “If they were honest men.” This is a very interesting statement.

Earlier in chapter 42, Joseph said to his brothers, “You are spies.” And his brothers responded, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.” This is the first time the Hebrew word ragal is used in the Bible. While ragal indeed means a spy, it comes from a root word that means to teach, to slander, to move away from, and to spy out. The underlying meaning of ragal is that you go about malaciously slandering another person. Isn’t this exactly what Joseph’s brothers did to him Genesis 37 when they stripped him of his robe and planned to kill him but instead threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery and then lied to their father about what happened? Yet, in response to Joseph telling them they are spies, slanderers, his brothers say they are honest men and not spies, slanderers. They proclaim to be servants to Joseph. But, Joseph knows his brothers are lying directly to his face.

This brought to my mind John 8. In verse 24, Jesus says to the Jews, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” The conversation continues and Jesus says to the Jews who believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and truth will set you free.” But, the Jews respond, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” It sounds like they are saying, “We are servants not spies.” The Jews had never been enslaved to anyone? Really?!? How about the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Bablyonians, and, at the precise moment they are speaking to Jesus, the Romans? They won’t acknowledge the truth. They are lying directly to Jesus’ face. They are doing just what Joseph’s brothers did.

Jesus responds to their bold lie, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

What was the specific act Joseph’s brothers were supposed to do to prove they were honest men? They were to bring Benjamin to Joseph. What does Benjamin’s name mean? The son of my right hand. Joseph says if you bring “the son of my right hand”, in other words Jesus, to me, then you will prove you are honest men. Jesus is equating the Son with the truth. Acknowledge and believe truth and the Son and you will be free.

The whole conversation between Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 42 has significant parallels with the conversation between Jesus and the Jews in John 8. Therefore, this idea of the son, the truth, setting you free is very important to what is happening to Jacob and Joseph’s brothers “on the third day.” It’s on the third day that Joseph’s brothers were told to prove they were honest men by bringing “the son of my right hand” to Joseph. “Do this and you will live, for I fear God,” said Joseph. “Believe truth about the Son and the Son will make you free,” to paraphrase Jesus.

Another clue to seeing Jesus in these chapters is that Joseph held Simeon back from returning to Jacob. Recall what Simeon’s name means – to hear, to listen. The sentence spoken at his birth was, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” Very, very interesting that Simeon was the one Joseph picked to stay back and not return to Jacob.

When Joseph’s brothers return to Jacob, they tell Jacob that they are honest men and have never been spies. They are continuing to hold to the lie about themselves instead of recognizing the truth. They ask Jacob to send Benjamin with them, but Jacob refuses. Reuben says, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you.” If something goes wrong, Reuben doesn’t want the burden to fall on himself but his sons. It is interesting that his focus was on his sons since his name means to see, show, or behold a son.

But, things begin to change in chapter 43. While chapter 42 focused on Jacob, chapter 43 focuses on Israel. The family has run out of food again. Judah and his brothers get into a discussion with Israel about taking Benjamin to Joseph so that they can get more food. At first, Israel is reluctant to send Benjamin.

Then Judah says, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you, and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.” Judah’s name means praised or celebrated, and the sentence spoken at his birth was “I will praise the Lord.” How fascinating then that it is Judah, praise, that takes the lead to begin the second trip back to Egypt. It’s “praise” that says to send “the son of my right hand” with him so that “we may live and not die.” It’s praise that guarantees the safety of “the son of my right hand” and promises to bring him back to Israel. And, Judah backs his promise, not with the pledge of his sons, but with the pledge of himself, his own life. Judah is willing to die himself.

Israel had been reluctant to let go of Benjamin, “the son of my right hand.” This was his most precious son. But, after Judah’s promise and pledge, Israel agrees and says, “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” Instead of holding on to Benjamin and controlling the situation, Israel is putting God in control. That is a mark of the spiritual man.

There  are so many more ideas, symbols, patterns, etc. to be revealed in these chapters. They get more clear in the following chapters as Joseph begins to reveal himself to his brothers. But, in Genesis 42-43, there is definitely a significant story about Jesus and how he is transforming Jacob to Israel, the carnal man to the spiritual man.

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