What does Genesis 42:37 mean?
ESV: Then Reuben said to his father, "Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you."
NIV: Then Reuben said to his father, "You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back."
NASB: Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, 'You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.'
CSB: Then Reuben said to his father, "You can kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you."
NLT: Then Reuben said to his father, 'You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. I’ll be responsible for him, and I promise to bring him back.'
KJV: And Reuben spoke unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
NKJV: Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.”
Verse Commentary:
Jacob has responded to news that one of his sons, Simeon, is held prisoner. His response is bitter, angrily accusing these nine for his loss of both Joseph (Genesis 37:28–33) and Simeon (Genesis 42:36). As we will see later, Jacob has no intention of risking Benjamin, even if that means abandoning Simeon to his fate (Genesis 42:38).

Reuben, the oldest son, responds with a grand gesture. He begs his father to trust him with Benjamin's life. He offers to allow Jacob to kill his own two sons—a parallel with the two Jacob feels he has lost—if he fails to bring Benjamin back. This likely reflects his own guilt about lying to Jacob about Joseph's death all those years earlier. His vow is not necessarily meant to be literal, but more likely an oath showing how serious he is.

And yet, this follows a pattern where Reuben tries to atone for sleeping with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22). It was Reuben who kept the others from killing Joseph outright (Genesis 37:22), planning to rescue him later. Reuben is the one who recognized the brothers' collective guilt when Simeon was taken (Genesis 42:21–22). This, again, is a bold attempt to prove himself to the family.
Verse Context:
Genesis 42:29–38 explains the results of Jacob's sons first trip to Egypt to buy food during a famine. There, the governor allowed them to leave only after keeping leaving Simeon as security, and demanding they return with Benjamin, the youngest, to prove their honesty. They also discovered—to their horror—that the money they paid the governor for grain was still in their bags. They do not know the governor is their own brother, Joseph (Genesis 37:28). However, Jacob refuses to risk losing yet another son and forbids the men to take Benjamin to Egypt.
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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