What does Genesis 42:6 mean?Joseph continues to rule over Egypt, overseeing the work of selling food to people afflicted by the famine (Genesis 41:44, 56). Some twenty years prior to the moment depicted here, he came to Egypt as a slave, sold out of jealousy by his ten older brothers (Genesis 37:28). God used Joseph's ability to interpret dreams to place him as second in command over the entire nation (Genesis 41:14–16; 40–41).
Part of the brothers' jealousy came from Joseph's dreams, which predicted his brothers would one day bow before him in submission (Genesis 37:5–11). Suddenly, Joseph's own brothers, the very ones who sold him into slavery, come before him to buy food. They bow low before him with their faces to the ground. This act of humility may have been a sign of respect in this era, but it also showed that the "sons of Israel" realized their vulnerable position. They needed grain from Egypt to survive. They assumed the posture of submissive servants.
Of course, their act of bowing before Joseph comes very close to fulfilling the prophetic dreams he had as a teenager (Genesis 37:5–11). In those dreams, however, eleven brothers bowed before him. Only ten have come to Egypt, for now, but eventually the entire family will come to live under his protection (Genesis 47:11–12).
The brothers do not recognize Joseph. He has the appearance of an Egyptian royal, perhaps with a dramatically shaved head (Genesis 41:14), gold collar, and linen robes (Genesis 41:42). He bears an Egyptian name (Genesis 41:45). He would also have matured greatly since they last saw him as a seventeen–year-old (Genesis 37:2). Joseph will recognize them, but maintain his secret at first (Genesis 42:7–8).