Joseph’s Banquet

Genesis 43

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2015

This chapter is called “Joseph’s Banquet”.  It is all about food.  It is centered around a meal.  It also raises an important question.  Can people really change?  Is change possible?  All of us know people who are stubborn.  They are not open to reason.  They are not open to any new ideas.  We know some people that are so hard to spiritual things that we think that they could never become believers.  Some people don’t change.  From this chapter we learn that not only can people change, they do change.  All of us have a testimony to share.  We could all give a salvation testimony.

We have heard many of them in this class and many of these changes are quite dramatic.  They are not little changes.  It is a big change to go from being a child of the Devil to being a child of God.  This chapter is all about change. Everyone in this chapter changes in some way.  Jacob changes.  Judah changes.  Joseph’s brothers change.  Even Joseph changes.  We will see this as we go through the chapter.

We have been studying the life of Joseph.  It is the most incredible story in the whole Bible.  He is loved by his father.  He is the favorite son and is sold into slavery and taken to Egypt.  The he is accused of a crime and is thrown into prison.  Then he interprets some dreams and is raised second to Pharaoh.  Seven good years take place and then seven bad years.  The famine spreads to Canaan and Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt.

They do not recognize him but he recognizes them and pranks them.  Joseph becomes a trickster.  He plays with his brothers but everything he does is for a reason.  One of Joseph’s spiritual gifts is wisdom.  He knows exactly what he is doing.  He tests his brothers to see if they have really changed in twenty years.  He keeps Simeon a prison and sends the rest back home.

They went home and told Jacob what happened and why Simeon did not come back with them.  They told him that they need to bring Benjamin back to get Simeon out and to get more food.  Jacob does not take this news very well.  He already lost Joseph.  He does not want to lose Benjamin too, so he says, “There is no way that he is going to Egypt.  That is out of the question.  He is staying home and that is final.”

They all stayed home and Simeon stayed in prison in Egypt for some time. It was a while before they went back.  Judah said, “If we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice” (43:10).  Jacob waited before allowing his sons to return to Egypt but he finally changed his mind.  Why?  What convinced him?

Two things happened.  First, the famine was bad.  They ate all of the food that Joseph’s brothers brought back from Egypt.  The supplies are all gone.  Reality set in.  Starvation forced him to rethink his position.  He did not want to do this but he didn’t have much of a choice.

There’s another reason he changed his mind.  Judah told Jacob that he would take responsibility for Benjamin.  He promises to be a pledge of his safety.  He says that if he does not bring Benjamin back, he will bear the blame forever.

“And Judah said to Israel his father, “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” (43:8-9).

What happens here is pretty amazing. Judah here takes over the leadership of the family.  He becomes the responsible one.  He was not the firstborn son or even the second born son.  He was the fourth born son and yet he is the one who takes responsibility for Benjamin.  Judah promised to be legally responsible for Benjamin’s safety.

Problems always reveal who the true leaders are.  A real leader steps up to a challenge, problem or crisis and takes charge.  When problems take place in the world, we find out who the true leaders are and who they are not.  The same is true of problems in the church.  Here was a crisis in the home and Judah was the one who stepped in solve it.

Now, this was a big change for Judah. Judah used to be very selfish.  Now he is thinking of others.  In the last chapter, Reuben tried to encourage Jacob to send Benjamin back. “Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” (42:37 ESV).

Now Reuben may have meant well here but that brought Jacob absolutely no comfort.   If his son dies, he could kill his grandsons.  That only makes things worse, not better.  Notice what Judah says instead.  He did not put his son’s life on the line.  He puts his own life on the line.  He did not offer his sons.  He offered himself, if there is a problem.  When they get back to Egypt, there is a problem and we will see in the next chapter how Judah keeps his promise.

Jacob finally gives them permission to go back to Egypt to get food but the sons have to do three things.  One, they have to bring Benjamin with them.  Two, they have to bring double the money.  Remember, last time they came home with all of their money.  They did not pay for the food.  Jacob says, “Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake.” (43:12 NIV).

Why did he say that?  They came home with free food from Egypt.  They did not pay for it.  They tried to pay for it but the money was in their sacks.  Jacob wants to make sure that his sons take the money back.  What is the lesson?  If we get something we did not pay for, we need to return the item or pay for it.  The Eighth Commandment says “Thou shalt not steal”.   That means that we should return something if we made a mistake.  It also means that we should return something if someone else made a mistake.

Third, he told them to take some gifts to Egypt. They brought a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds with them (34:11).  Most people do not know that pistachio nuts were mentioned in the Book of Genesis.  They come from the Middle East.

Notice how the section ends.  It ends with a prayer before they leave.  Jacob commits the matter to God before they leave.  He did not know exactly what was going to happen.  He did not know what God was going to do but he prayed about it.  He was resolved to accept whatever happened.  He left the matter in God’s hands.

He said, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” (43:14 ESV).  It is the first time in the Bible that the word “mercy” appears.

John Wesley said, “Jacob had formerly turned an angry brother into a kind one with a PRESENT and a PRAYER, and here he betakes himself to the same tried method.”[1] Jacob brought all kinds of gifts to pacify Esau, the twin brother who wanted to kill him at one time.  He brought him five hundred animals.  Perhaps they might work in this situation. Proverbs 21:14 says, “A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath” (ESV).

Joseph’s brothers did what their dad told them to do.  “So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph” (43:15).  This is their second trip to Egypt.  This trip covers three chapters of Genesis.  Joseph gives his brothers a few more tests on this trip.  The last one is the hardest test of them all.  Joseph reveals himself to them during this second trip to Egypt, although we will not see that until Genesis 45.

Types of Jesus 

There are two pictures of Jesus in this chapter.  Benjamin is a type of Christ.  These men could not get to Joseph except through Benjamin (could net even get to see him without Benjamin).  We cannot get to the Father apart from Jesus.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come to the Father apart from Jesus.

Joseph is another type of Christ in this chapter.  He is eating with sinners.  It is a picture of grace.  Did they deserve this?  No. They sinned against Joseph.  They committed a terrible crime against him.  Joseph is feeding his enemies.  Over twenty years earlier, they threw Joseph in a pit and had a meal.  Now Joseph has them over to his house in Egypt and feeds them and he feeds them the best food.

Joseph is like Jesus in another way.  Jesus wept and Joseph wept. “As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there” (43:29-31 NIV).

Joseph sees his baby brother who he has not seen in over twenty years.  It is his only blood brother and, when he sees him, he gets emotional and breaks down but does not let anyone know how he is feeling. Joseph is a really good actor.  The last time he met him, was one year old.  Now he is around twenty-three.


Nine Surprises in Egypt

Now let’s take a step back and try look at these events from Joseph’s brother’s perspective.  Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt and got a bunch of surprises (some good and some bad).  Many things happened to them that they did not expect.

1) They bowed down to Joseph.

“When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground.  He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?” They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.” (43:26-27).

Joseph’s dream came literally true. Once again, the dream is being fulfilled.  This time it is not ten brothers but all eleven brothers bowing down to the ground before him.  Joseph had a dream that eleven stars bowed down to him (37:9).  Eleven sheaves of grain bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf (37:7). They did not expect to do this.  They said that they would never do this.

Have you ever said that you would never do something but ended up doing it eventually?  Joseph’s brothers said that they would NEVER bow down to him.  They mocked his dream.  They made fun of it but it came true.  People today mock the Bible but it will one day all be fulfilled.  Jesus said that “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away”.  Every jot and title will be fulfilled, down to the smallest details.

2) They were accused of a crime.

That was a surprise.  They went to Egypt and were accused of a crime.  They were accused of being spies.  It was a charge of espionage.  They were innocent.

3) They were thrown into prison.

That was a surprise.  They did not anticipate spending time in an Egyptian prison when they left Canaan.

4) Their sentence was reduced.

Only one had to stay in prison in Egypt, instead of nine.  Joseph changed his mind.  This was a good surprise.  They did not expect to get a commuted sentence.

5) Their money was returned to them.

They go to Egypt, buy food and on the way home, find the money in their sacks.  That was a bad surprise because they thought they would get in trouble for this.  They were already accused of being spies.

6) They did not have to pay it back.

They got to Egypt, tried to return the money, like Jacob told them to do, but they did not want the money back.  That was a good surprise.  They got some food in Egypt that they did not even have to pay for.

“So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “We came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.” “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver” (43:19-23)

This is interesting. The servant says that he got their money.  If he got their money, then how did it get put in their sacks?  Apparently, Joseph paid for their food.  He didn’t give them food for free.  He paid for them out of his own pocket.

7) They are invited to Joseph’s house for lunch.

That was a surprise.  They went to Egypt because they were starving.  They were worried living or dying.  When they get there, they get to eat a feast.

When Joseph saw Benjamin, he said, to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon” (43:16).

There was not any refrigeration in Joseph’s day.  Joseph did not have a freezer.  If you wanted to have stakes, you had to go kill an animal and cook it and that is what Joseph had done.  They did not kill animals every day and do this.  This is not just an ordinary meal.  It is a special meal.

It reminds me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  When the prodigal son finally comes home and says “I have sinned against heaven and am no longer worthy to be called your son,” the father had compassion on him, threw his arms around him, kissed him and said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate” (Luke 15:23).  That is what Joseph is doing with his prodigal brothers.  It was a special occasion.  It was first time in twenty years that all of the brothers are eating together.

They got to eat at the governor’s house.  This man worked for the government and he was not just any government official.  He was the number two man in the country.  That is like going to eat at the house of the Vice President.  That was a surprise. “So they feasted and drank freely with him” (43:34).

This was a feast.  It was a feast in a time of famine.  You do not have feasts in times of famine but Joseph’s brothers are dining with the second richest man in the country.  In fact, Joseph did not just feed them, he “gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys” (43:24).  He fed their animals as well.

“Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys” (43:19).  Why would they have been afraid to go to Joseph’s house?   Why would they be a little unsure about this invitation?

The last time they saw him, he was mean to them.  He spoke roughly to them.  The last time they were there, he threw them all into prison.  This time, he throws a party for them.  Joseph seems to be changing.  Instead of being mean to them and treating them harshly, he is kind.  He is hospitable.  He invites them over for a meal.  This was a good surprise.  Joseph’s brothers cannot figure out why he is doing this.  They think he has ulterior motives.  They think perhaps he wants to steal their donkeys.

8) They are seated according to age.

This feast followed the customs of the day.  There were three tables at this feast.  There was one table for Joseph.  There was one table for Joseph’s brothers and one for the Egyptian guests present (43:32).  The text says that everyone was seated according to birth order (43:33) and they had no idea how they knew how old each of the eleven brothers were.  That was a surprise.  It must have seemed like a strange coincidence.

9) Benjamin was given the most food.

This was a little bit of a surprise.  Everyone was served food but Benjamin was served five times more than his brothers were served.  There was clear favoritism here.  Everyone was not given the same amount of food.  If anyone got more in that day, it would have been the oldest son, the firstborn.  Here the youngest got more, five times more.  Why?

This was a test.  Joseph wanted to see if there was any jealousy on the part of his brothers for Benjamin.  Benjamin was his only full brother.  He was the only son of Rachel and he was probably Jacob’s favorite son back home.  How would they respond if he got more food?  Here was see that his brothers have changed.  They did not seem to be jealous.  They passed this test.  Next week, we will see one final test that Joseph gives them and how they respond to it.

[1]Wesley, John. “Commentary on Genesis 43:14”. “John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible”. “”. 1765.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *