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The Grain Merchant of Egypt
by Wayne Blank
So ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might befall him. 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 RSV)
"God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to keep alive for you many survivors"
Joseph (see The Israelite Patriarchs - Joseph) entered Egypt as a prisoner (see Joseph's Dreams), having been sold as a slave by his jealous brothers (i.e. the first Israelite to enter Egypt was a slave, and although they thereafter experienced many free years in The Land Of Goshen, as an entire nation they became slaves until the Exodus, that Joseph himself participated in - see Joseph's Bones), but with the miraculous help of The Lord, Joseph rose to become the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Years later, when a great famine occurred in what would become known as the land of Israel, the Israelites sought food from the grain merchant of Egypt - Joseph (see Potiphar)
"Now Joseph was governor over the land; he it was who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came, and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers, and knew them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. "Where do you come from?" he said. They said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food." Thus Joseph knew his brothers, but they did not know him." (Genesis 42:6-8 RSV)
Joseph did not reveal his identity to them on their first visit, but he knew that it was going to be a long famine (i.e. "there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest," see below) and that they would have to return.
"Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain which they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, "Go again, buy us a little food." (Genesis 43:1-2 RSV)
Joseph treated his brothers harshly, as a matter of justice for what they had done to him, but he also knew that what was happening was according to The Lord's will. Joseph made himself known to them, after which the Israelites, including Jacob (who The Lord renamed Israel), went to live in Egypt.
"So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you."
Fact Finder: Joseph's statement "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to keep alive for you many survivors" may well have also been describing how the Israelites would become very populous while in Egypt. (a) How many people were the "remnant" that entered Egypt to escape the famine? (b) How many people were the "many survivors" that came out 4 centuries later at the time of the Exodus?