Genesis 42-44: Refiner’s Fire

1.  “That we may live and not die”  (Genesis 42)

2.  Joseph and his brothers, the covenant people (Genesis 42:19- 43:34)

3.  The testing of the eleven (Genesis 44)

The problem with the Joseph story is that too many people read it as many different things; some have read it as prosperity gospel (the blessings given to Christians); some have read it as an elevation of the Christian himself (e.g. Joseph placed in a high position).  Others have read it negatively – that Joseph’s testing is unnecessary, perhaps mean.  Or perhaps Joseph is imperfect, which is why he may be harbouring negative thoughts towards his brothers.  However, these are all very non-Christological interpretations, and they do not serve to edify the body of Christ if we read this story as a swansong of the Old Testament How-To Guide to becoming rich, becoming noticed, or becoming important.  It is, as I have been trying to maintain consistently, about Christ.

1.  “That we may live and not die”  (Genesis 42)

The first thing we have mentioned about Joseph since Chapter 37 is how the dream he prophesies speaks not only of himself temporarily, but eternally of Christ – how all the stars, moon and sun point to Christ.  Joseph is a type of Christ.  Which means that as bread-giver in a time of famine, we have a picture of Christ giving bread in a time when the Word of God has not appeared to the Israelites for 400 years.  It is a time of wilderness, of famine, and a time when people desire, nay, are desperate for the Living Bread.  Jacob wisely tells his 11 sons not to look at one another (v.1) for aid; rather, look to Christ, who dwells in Egypt, a land outside his home.  Look at The Christ, who tabernacled with men temporarily outside of his home-place with his Father and Spirit.  He is the one who will give the Living Bread and Water in this famine.


But not all are sent – only 10 are sent, whilst the last one is kept at home.  The reason why the last son, Benjamin, is kept at home is only partially explained, for Jacob feared that harm may happen to Benjamin.  One may immediately assume it is to do with Benjamin’s youth – but remember that it has been at least 9 years since Joseph has been sold as a slave to Egypt – not only that, but by now Benjamin has already 10 sons (Genesis 46:21).  2 of the 9 years wer spent in prison, 7 spent gathering the food, and then, somewhere during the latter 7 years when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph then opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians (Genesis 41:56-57).  This wasn’t merely a local famine – this is a global famine, and I would imagine that a famine spreading over all the earth would not be immediate.

If it isn’t because of his youth that he is prevented from visiting Egypt, then what might it be?  It is possible that it has to do with Joseph and Benjamin being his only second-born son after Rachel’s death, the first love of his life.  Look at how Jacob addresses him in v. 38 – “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one leftOnly one?  What about the other 10!?  Again, this is similar to how God spoke to Abraham concerning Isaac, his “only son” despite Ishmael’s earlier birth.  Ishmael, who was born of a servant who belonged to the wilderness was merely given birth by the will of man.  So, it is similar with most of the other brothers; but through Rachel, Jacob’s first love, is Jacob given two sons against the barrenness of Rachel, much like the barrenness of Sarah.  We were given Isaac by such a miraculous birth beyond scientific comprehension; and again, we were given Joseph and Benjamin also against scientific comprehension.    In any case, at this point it is mere extrapolation but keep this mind in point.

Custody for 3 days

Here again, we see a glimpse of the future fulfillment of Scripture: The brothers were kept in custody for 3 days, after which he says “Do this and you will live, for I fear God”.  In the same way, on the 3rd day on Mt. Sinai, the 10 commandments and the Law was given to Moses, after they have already been saved.  What is the meaning of Joseph’s expression – “Do this and you will live, for I fear God”.  Is it conditional?  The phraseology is odd – what does “Doing this” have anything to do with “God”?  It is as if the one who gives the commands right now is a representative of God before them.  This, in fact, is very similar to Christ’s commandments in the New Testament – do this and you will liveLove me with all your heart, your mind, your soul… and you will live.

So also, on the third day, we will rise up.  But will we be struck down in our second death, or will we go on to ascend?  We can only have eternal life in the interim of the End Days if we choose to look on Christ, and let faith be a tool of such an expression.  Look at Hosea 6:

1“Come, let us(A) return to the LORD;
for(B) he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and(C) he will bind us up.
2After two days(D) he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
3(E) Let us know;(F) let us press on to know the LORD;
(G) his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us(H) as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)

The narrative of these last chapters of Genesis make us assume that Joseph had already decided the fate of these brothers.  He had already decided to obey God and let Him fulfill his dreams.  Look at v.9 – “And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them”.  Indeed, he isn’t going to condemn even the father and Benjamin who weren’t even involved in the treachery of selling him as a slave?  In which case, these 11 men, and their father Israel, already had salvation offered to them – but the question is, will they take it?  Will they show the fruit of their desperation, of their search for the living bread?  Will they be even so much as willing to bring another brother as a witness to their truth?  This is why Joseph says, “do this and you will live”.  Examine the fruit of the Spirit as a mark of your salvation.  Examine the desperation for the living Word in your heart, and you shall live eternally with Jesus in new creation.

2.  Joseph and his brothers, the covenant people (Genesis 42:19- 43:34)

Notice the effect Joseph has on the people.  They are convicted – and they want to live.  v.20-21 of Chapter 42 shows their confession – they have truly repented before the LORD Christ.  “…’bring your youngest brother to me.  So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’  And they did so.  Then they said to one another, ‘In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.  That is why this distress has come upon us.’  Reuben is the first one to reveal his heart.  He was the one who had been slow in his obedience… yet he had eventually expressed his anger against their collective sin.  Like Peter, he regretted what he had done; he regretted taking part with the wicked. His regret is fully expressed in Chapter 42v.37, to exchange his sons for Jacob’s two sons from Rachel.

What is interesting is the little detail about Joseph speaking in the Egyptian tongue, whilst the Israelites spoke in their own linguistic dialect.  The parallel I find is the apparent ‘misunderstanding’ between the two parties; we think our Christ does not understand us, because of his supposed elevated position.  But he does, and he understands our dialect, our hearts very well.  And our LORD is not a merciful pushover; he takes what is dear to us to make a point – so much as to take our kin (v.24 chapter 42).

Yet, upon the way, he provides us with the necessary resources to respond to his commands.  He gifts us with the necessary finances to fulfill His commands.  It is all from Him – the manna, the water from the Rock, the Tree of Life, the Bread of Life, even the very gold and silver used to make the Tabernacle.v.28: “At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'” Indeed, I find it unclear here whether they are pleasantly surprised or genuinely frustrated.  Either way, Joseph still awaits their obedient response as an expression of their love for their brother Simeon; love for their father Jacob; love for their brother Benjamin – such love which has been seriously lacking from their birth (Simeon and Levi’s sin against Shechem; the brothers collectively hating and scheming against Joseph; Judah’s disobedient attitude in bonding with a prostitute).  Joseph’s actions have put them in their rightful position, and now they remember and realise their sins; indeed, so much as to respond in desperation.

The fact that Joseph is placed in a position to know the family better than the brothers assume creates a very good foretelling of Jesus’ omniscience in partnership with the Father and the Spirit.  From knowing how many husbands an adulterous wife has to knowing the heart of the rich man, Joseph knows and probes the family of Jacob to the point of their conviction and confession.  Such truth and knowledge penetrates, bone, soul and marrow (Hebrews 4:12).

But it seems that they had delayed in going to save their kin.  They actually took their time to eat the grain given by the LORD through Joseph, and still delayed in returning to save Simeon!  Then at this point, Jacob’s name reverts to Israel – and this is a sign of his obeying God again.  He tells him to take the honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds.

A land flowing with milk and honey; pistachio nuts and almonds being the edible type of Seed; but myrrh?  Myrrh, gold and frankincense was given to Christ – two of which are used for anointing, one of those two being an anointing for death (which is myrrh, representing the death of Christ Jesus).  I doubt this is a common gift given to the living LORD of the land. (Chapter 42:30).

Bread, water and the Wedding Feast

What a surprise then for them to see that Joseph, the lord of the land, would give them water and wash their feet a la Christ with his disciples and truly caring for the beast of the last (Genesis 1:28; Chapter 43:24).  There they were, eating the Bread which they desired at noon, at the height of God’s righteousness Psalm 37:5-6:

5(J) Commit your way to the LORD;
(K) trust in him, and he will act.
6(L) He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as(M) the noonday.

So also, our God will eat with us (Matthew 22) at the great wedding feast in the city that has no night and where the true light of noon will be the Lamb Himself.

When Joseph returns to his chambers to weep, his brothers do not see it.  In the same we only have a glimpse of God’s love for us, God’s faithfulness, and God’s tears for us.  We know, in part, through the glory of the Scriptures, of God’s true love.  But will we stand in his chambers, dwell in his tabernacle and Holy of Holies behind the veil to see his face, and bask in his true glory and love?  Not yet.

So the brothers are amazed at each other as they sat before him, firstborn and youngest according to their age (v. 33), but Benjamin’s portion was greater than any of theirs.  There, however, was no jealousy – instead, they drank and were merry with him.  They may sit at different positions around the table, but they are all in communion with the lord of the land.  So also, let us be children in faith, let us be little children in the Spirit (Matthew 11:25, Matthew 19, Luke 22:26), like Benjamin who is the youngest (though by no means physically young) but most prone to be hurt in this world.  This is fulfilled in the spirit of breaking the tradition of the ‘right of the firstborn’ – for Joseph fully understands that the LORD does not differentiate between the physically old and young reprobate, but fully depends upon the old and young in Christ.

3.  The testing of the eleven (Genesis 44)

Now, Joseph tests the eleven brothers, just as the risen Christ tested the eleven apostles.  They had the temptation to place the blame on someone else, but Judah laid his heart before Christ.  He laid honesty before Christ.  And he offered himself self-sacrificially for his brother.  Judah has made a full metanoia from his Chapter 37 phase.  He is now willing to be a SERVANT.  This is a fulfillment of dream of Joseph – and now Judah is prepared to be a servant of Joseph.


These three chapters have been very colourful in painting the picture of the brothers of Joseph, at least some if not all of them having a changed heart through this experience.  The famine has created the conviction of sin; their inability to look to each other for aid; so they look to God for the living Bread; whereupon the cost of taking up the cross of the living Bread is that they lay their life down to take it up again – all of which Reuben and Judah (as we know) have come to experience as true Christians refined by the disciplinary and consuming fire of the LORD.

Genesis 42-44: Refiner’s Fire

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