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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian Journalist: Who put the money in the bag? (Genesis 43)

Genesis 43:23. “’It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I received your silver.’”

Exegesis and Application

This is a story of biblical equivocation. Joseph’s ten brothers went down from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain for their hungry families. Joseph accused the brothers of being spies. They denied this and told him they were just a large family of 12 brothers, ten standing before him, one dead and the youngest staying back home with dad. Joseph let them go home if one of the brothers stayed behind, bound in prison. He would be released from prison when they brought the youngest son back to Egypt. Just before their departure homeward from Egypt after buying the grain, Joseph gave orders to secretly have each of his brother’s silver put back in their respective sacks (Gen. 42:25). On the way back home, the brothers discovered the silver and began the long process of fearing the lord of Egypt, Joseph. The famine did not subside and the brothers fearfully returned to Egypt to buy some more grain. When the brothers arrived in Egypt on this second trip, they offered to return the silver, frightened that the unrecognized Joseph would think them spies and thieves and put them in jail. But Joseph said to them: “It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” (43:23) Joseph’s words were ambiguous because his intent was to conceal that he had first received and then secretly returned his brothers’ payments for the grain. Joseph was not lying to his brothers but rather focusing his action on his agency of the God of his fathers.

Why did he surreptitiously return the money to his brothers? Was it another trap or “test” (cf, vss. 14 & 16) to see how they would react and what they would do, i.e., sell the imprisoned Simeon (as they did Joseph) by keeping the silver and not coming back for him? Was it nothing more than a show of Joseph’s deep love for his brothers by providing them provisions and returning their money? Was it a conflicted action (outwardly tough, inwardly soft) by Joseph still dealing with his emotions towards brothers that had sold him into slavery? Joseph’s action could be attributed to several motives at the same time.

In any case, the ambiguousness of the clandestine action is given full vent in vs. 23, “Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sack; I received your silver.” The appearance of the silver was not a miraculous action by Yahweh but rather the deliberate action by Joseph. God did not give the treasure. Joseph did! Or did he? Was Joseph acting on the movement of God in his heart when he put the money back in the brothers’ saddlebags? This is the key point of this passage: Joseph is God’s agent acting on behalf of God, just like the brothers were earlier acting as God’s agents when they sold Joseph into slavery (45:5). I don’t know how much to make of this, but the Hebrew word for “treasure” in vs. 23 is “matmon” and can refer to “concealed or hidden wealth” in the Old Testament (Gen. 35:4). The point being with this term that the returned silver was a hidden blessing from God to the brothers (“has given you”). Furthermore, it is interesting that the message of comfort comes from Joseph’s Egyptian administrative assistant, so even the pagans acknowledge divine supervision of human affairs.

Christian journalist, there are two things to take from this particular incident in Joseph’s life:

1) You must realize that you act as an agent of God and many times your actions will be perceived as coming from you. But really they are an example of the mercy and love of God towards another. Don’t take credit when you give treasure to another because that treasure may really be coming from the giver of all good things (James 1:17).

2) Be charitable in your actions because you have been shown charity by God. The claim of the brothers to be “honest men” (42:10) gives a new definition to slave trading. Still, Joseph loved them despite their actions (43:30) because God had loved him.

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