Who are the Hebrews? (Genesis 43:32)

Share the Post:

Despite the fact that this midday meal with Joseph and his brothers should have been one of a joyous reunion, there’s a definite class and racial divide happening inside Joseph’s house.

Genesis 43:32 outlines the arrangement as such: “They served [Joseph] by himself, them by themselves, and the Egyptians by themselves.” Why is that? If it’s supposed to be a meal, which is usually dominated by conversation and camaraderie, why are they all separated?

The end of verse 32 gives a clue as to why: The Egyptians don’t eat with Hebrews, “for that is loathsome to the Egyptians.”

By this point in the Bible, the name of “Hebrew” isn’t a common designation of God’s people. In fact, the account of Joseph is only the second time that the word has been used. The first was way back in Genesis 14:13, where Abraham is described as a “Hebrew.”

The name “Hebrew” means “one who has traversed.” It’s specific application is one that has traversed some kind of body of water, which is most likely accurate in Abraham’s account, but in his account, he’s also “traversed” quite a huge amount of land, as well.

The next time “Hebrew” is used is in Genesis 39:14, where Potiphar’s wife uses it disparagingly to refer to Joseph. “He [Potiphar] has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us.” The insinuation is that her husband brought in an outsider – someone who didn’t belong – and that person has tried to overtake us. From this point forward, the term “Hebrew” will be much more prevalent.

Getting back to the dinner at Joseph’s house, this arrangement of guests is noteworthy. We get why the brothers aren’t eating with the Egyptians, but the reason the Egyptians aren’t eating with Joseph – despite knowing he’s a Hebrew, too (Genesis 41:12) – most likely has to do with rank. Joseph is a much higher class than the others, so he eats by himself.

It’s a theme that would repeat itself throughout Scripture. The hallmark of the Hebrew race is their nomadic lifestyle – from Egypt to Canaan, into captivity, and back to Judah.

The same is true of people of God in the New Testament. The great persecution that started in Acts 8:1 would send Christians all over the known world. Paul himself would spend his life traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel.

The same is applied to us in a metaphorical sense. Even if we stay in the same town we grew up in, Hebrews 11:13 (ironically) calls us “strangers and exiles on this earth.” We don’t belong – but then again, we’re not supposed to. We’re meant to be ones that traverse this earth, passing over to our true home, which is Heaven.