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Genesis 42:9-14

  1. .
    Gen 42:9a . .Then he remembered his dreams about them

    When Joseph had those dreams back in chapter 37, he probably had no clue as to how they would be fulfilled. He was only aware, from his father Jacob's interpretations, that he would one day be lord over his whole family, including his parents. Now it's becoming clear to him just exactly how those dreams were to play out in real life.

    Gen 42:9b . . and said to them: You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.

    That was a reasonable suspicion. Incursions into Egypt by Asians coming via the Way of Horus-- a military highway from Canaan that led through Gaza to El-'Arish --were a recurrent problem. So it would be only natural to assume that if Egypt was raided from the northeast during normal years, it could be expected to be raided even more often, and with greater boldness, during a food-related crisis that was effecting a huge part of the world of that day.

    Foreign invaders would of course be encouraged to think that maybe the Egyptians were so distracted by just trying to survive that they'd let their guard down and have no heart for fighting. A nation in crises is a plausible target of opportunity for any ambitious conqueror. It of course fell to Joseph's responsibility to carefully screen foreigners to be certain of their true purposes for entering Egypt. Were they looking for food; or were they looking for weak points in Egypt's defenses?

    Joseph really had no good reason at all to trust his own brothers. Not only had they been so callous as to plot their own kid brother's murder, and sell him to slave traders, but he no doubt remembered how two of them viciously hacked to death the entire number of men in the town of Shechem back in chapter 34. So far as he was concerned, they were capable of anything, even of pillaging a vulnerable Egypt under the guise of ordinary people just looking for something to eat like everybody else.

    Gen 42:10-11 . . But they said to him: No, my lord! Truly, your servants have come to procure food. We are all of us sons of the same man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies!

    Ten men all together is too obvious. I think that professional spies would split up and not travel together nor even enter Egypt on the very same day. Perhaps they hoped that by divulging details about their family, it would help convince their inquisitor that they weren't entering Egypt for military purposes. But even that story could be perceived as a cover to an official in Joseph's position.

    Gen 42:12 . . And he said to them: No, you have come to see the land in its nakedness!

    A word like "nakedness" can imply any number of things. One is that the once majestic, and superior, land of Egypt was debased and embarrassed by it's severely reduced agricultural production. It was world famous for abundance, and proud of its independence. Egypt needed help from no one, and asked for none. On the contrary, Egypt was everyone else's ace in the hole in times of trouble. However, during this particular famine, the once proud nation's agriculture was in ruins just like everybody else's and would have been destitute just like everybody else too except for one thing: Joseph and his federally-funded grain silos.

    Gen 42:13 . . But they replied: Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.

    For the second time they volunteer personal information about themselves; and probably for the same reason as the first. However, it was music to Joseph's ears because no doubt when he didn't see his kid brother Benjamin traveling with his eldest brothers, he began to be concerned that they had done to him what they had previously wrought upon himself. Although they lied about the "one" who is no more (lying about Joseph was by now probably a reflexive habit) they certainly weren't lying about the youngest because there was no reason to. If Benjamin were dead, then they simply would have said "two" are no more.

    Gen 42:14 . . Joseph said to them: It is just as I told you: You are spies!

    With Joseph's intelligence, and from his day after day experience with an endless stream of truly desperate people, he would have known by now (especially with that incredible intuition of his) that the ten weak-knees guys standing before him certainly weren't professional soldiers. He's being deliberately obtuse, and it's becoming obvious now (at least to us Bible students who know Joseph's true identity) that he's feeling his brothers out to ascertain whether or not they're the very same unrepentant, unremorseful, cold-blooded, steely-eyed, dirty rotten scoundrels they were in the past. Until he's certain they can be trusted, Joseph isn't going to afford them the even tiniest hint of who he really is.
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