What does Genesis 42:12 mean?
ESV: He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.”
NIV: No!' he said to them. 'You have come to see where our land is unprotected.'
NASB: Yet he said to them, 'No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!'
CSB: "No," he said to them. "You have come to see the weakness of the land."
NLT: Yes, you are!' Joseph insisted. 'You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.'
KJV: And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
Verse Commentary:
In most circumstances, false accusations could lead to an innocent person being jailed or executed. Joseph has accused his ten older brothers of spying (Genesis 42:9–11), a crime of which they are innocent (Genesis 42:1–5). As it happens, Joseph is now the governor of all Egypt (Genesis 42:6), so there is no actual danger. Of course, his brothers do not know this, because they don't recognize him as the boy sold into slavery some twenty years in the past (Genesis 37:28).

They have flatly denied his charge, revealing a little more of their story. He refuses their defense, however, and makes the accusation again. Here, Joseph repeats his challenge: that these men have come to Egypt to find military weaknesses to report back to some foreign power.

It's difficult to know Joseph's complete motivation in this exchange. He knows, of course, that his brothers are not spies. This does not seem to be revenge on them for what they did to him all those years ago, else he would likely have revealed himself and had them punished. At least part of the motive seems to be to maintain his secret (Genesis 42:23–24; 43:30; 45:1–5). This makes it likely Joseph is simply using an interrogation technique—intimidation—to wring out more information about his family.
Verse Context:
Genesis 42:1–17 contains the unlikeliest of reunions: that between Joseph and his ten oldest brothers (Genesis 37:28). They have been sent by Jacob to Egypt to buy grain during a terrible famine (Genesis 41:53–54). They don't recognize their brother, now an Egyptian ruler. Joseph knows them but keeps the secret; he responds harshly to avoid breaking the illusion. He then puts them in prison for three days, saying they might be spies. All the while, he has a plan in mind.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 42 describes the moment Joseph sees his brothers for the first time since they sold him into slavery over 20 years earlier. They have come to Egypt to buy grain, and they do not recognize him. He keeps his secret, speaking roughly to them and hinting they may be spies. He allows them to leave only if they promise to return with their youngest brother Benjamin. He keeps Simeon as collateral but sends them off with full sacks of grain for their family. He also secretly returns their money, something they are terrified to discover on the way home. Back in Canaan, Jacob responds to this terrible news with bitterness and vindictive blame.
Chapter Context:
Twenty years prior to the events of this chapter, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:28). Miraculously, Joseph is now the governor of the nation of Egypt (Genesis 41:44). His brothers, who know nothing of Joseph's fate, have come to buy food during a terrible famine (Genesis 41:56–57). Joseph, probably and justifiably angry at his brothers, keeps his identity a secret, at first. Over the next several chapters, he will test, challenge, and chasten them. Yet there is no revenge involved; everything Joseph does furthers a long-term goal of rescuing the family from starvation.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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