“When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 42:1–5 (ESV)
Twenty plus years had passed since Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and then told their father Jacob that his favored son was dead (Gen. 37). However, the LORD has a providential way of working through the events in our lives; not only for His glory but also for our benefit (Rom. 8:28-30).
Joseph was unaware how a devastating famine would reunite him with his elder brothers. It would be by God’s providence that the dreams of Joseph as a teenage shepherd in Canaan (Gen. 37:5-11) would be fulfilled as a man who governed the land of Egypt.
Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt. The text does not say how long the famine had been in effect. Moses did write that the famine spread over all the land (Gen. 41:56). This would include Canaan.
Jacob criticized his ten elder sons for their inaction. “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.”
However, Jacob did not let his youngest son Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, travel with them. Jacob feared that Benjamin might be hurt and harmed. Jacob’s thinking was probably affected not only by his age, his love for Benjamin, but also by his memory of Joseph’s reported death twenty years before.
Therefore, Joseph’s ten elder brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. They were among many others who came from Canaan for the same reason. The famine was that extensive.
Dr. R.C. Sproul explains, “We see in today’s passage, the hunger present in the land of the Nile (41:55) was also found in Palestine. Learning that food was available in Egypt, Jacob tells his sons to straighten up and go there to buy grain (42:1–2, 5). Unbeknownst to him, the availability of food is due to the wisdom of his son Joseph, and a worldwide famine has occurred, in God’s providence, in order to bless and protect God’s people by bringing them into Egypt (46:1–4).”
We see in today’s text, and the unfolding narrative, that there are no coincidences. God remains in complete control of all the circumstances of life. This was not only true in Joseph’s life, but also in our own. May each of us rest in that biblical truth.
Soli deo Gloria!