Well thank you once again for joining me as we continue in our study through the book of Genesis, I’m Randy Duncan, and in this episode we’ll be covering chapter 44, which will see Joseph’s climatic testing of his brothers.
But as a quick reminder, in the last episode, we saw Joseph’s brothers come back down to Egypt for more food, but this time, with their youngest brother Benjamin. The brothers are brought before Joseph, where he questions them about their youngest brother and their father. Upon seeing them and hearing their report, Joseph has to excuse himself to weep, as he is overcome with emotion. But ultimately, they share a meal with him, where they all ate, and drank and were content.
And following this reception at Joseph’s home, the brothers are no-doubt in high spirits, as they prepare for their journey back home. But their high spirits will soon come crashing down, as Joseph begins to implement his one last test of the brothers
And witht that, we pick up the action here in chapter 45. And we begin with the first five verses which read, speaking of Joseph here…44 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’” 6 When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words.
And so some time after the meal they shared, Joseph commands his steward to not only fill the brothers’ sacks with food and money, but also to place his silver cup in the sack of the youngest brother, Benjamin.
Now this cup, in Hebrew is “gebia”, and is a larger container for wine that a normal cup. It’s possible they even drank from it the night before. Joseph’s steward refers to it as a “cup for divination”, but Joseph only refers to it as a silver goblet, which is insightful. I’ll speak more to that in just a moment.
But Joseph has the steward place the cup in Benjamin’s sack. Why would he do that? Well, if you remember, Joseph was the favorite of Jacob, his brothers hated him, and sold him into slavery. And so what Joseph does here is to brilliantly re-create a very similar situation. Meaning, here is Benjamin, the youngest and favorite of his father Jacob, will be placed in a situation where he will look guilty. If so, he will become a slave. And so what Joseph will find out is whether or not his brothers have changed. Will they remin loyal even when Benjamin appears guilty, or will they abandon him to slavery, just as they had done to Joseph. 20 years of separation and conflict is about to be resolved one way or another
But not only does Joseph place in the sack the silver cup, but in all of their sacks he places way more than they could have purchased with the money they brought. This would make their apparent ingratitude all the greater if they were arrested for theft.
One other thing that is interesting here, notice that the cup, this goblet, was silver. If you remember, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery for 20 pieces of what?…silver. And now, he is going to test them with silver. He is going to use silver to force them to confront their past evil deed
The steward also says to them, “ Is it not from this that my lord drinks?”. IOW, this is the very one you saw him using at dinner. And so you cannot claim that this is your property.
Verses 7-13 continue…7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
So the brothers begin with a compelling defense, “Why would we steal from you? We brought back all the money that was found in our sacks the first time, so why would we now steal silver or gold from the ruler’s house?” This makes sense, it’s rational.
However, they should have stopped there, because what they say next is not so rational. They continue to tell the steward, “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” They were so confident in their innocence that they make this rash statement, that whoever is found with the cup shall die. They express their confidence in one another in the strongest terms
It is reminiscent of Jacob’s rash statement to Laban when Laban accused him of stealing his idol, not knowing that his wife Rachel had stolen it, and was actually sitting on it!
It’s also over-the-top because biblical law never legislates the death penalty for crimes against property.
But fortunately, the steward sort of dismisses their bold pronouncement, and simply tells them, very well, “he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent”. And witht that, the brothers quickly begin to open up their sacks. The fact that they do it quickly is sort of an indication of their innocence.
But the steward begins checking each of their bags, starting with the oldest, and working his way down to Benjamin, the youngest. He knows their birth order from the dinner the night before. And you can sort of imagine the brother’s growing confidence as each man’s sack is searched, and nothing is found.
But this growing confidence is shattered as the steward pulls the cup out of Benjamin’s bag. The brothers are shocked and horrified, so much so that they tore their clothes, which was a physical expression of extreme emotion…of anguish. Similar to how Jacob responded upon hearing from the brothers the report of Joseph’s death.
They realize that they will have to return home without Benjamin, who will now be a slave. But the fact that they were in anguish, also demonstrates their character change. They had no problem or anguish disposing of Joseph 20 years earlier, but here, they are genuinely distressed at the thought of returning home to their father without Benjamin, because they know what it would do to their father.
Remember, just as the steward said, only the one found with the cup would become enslaved, the rest of the brothers were free to go. But notice what they do. They don’t leave their brother and return home. It says “they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city”. They don’t abandon Benjamin like they did Joseph. And so again, another indication that the brothers have had a change in character.
Verses 14-17 continue…14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
So when the brothers return to Joseph, they once again fall on the ground before him. But this time, it’s not out of respect for his position of authority, this time it is out of desperation.
Joseph says to them, “What have you done? Don’t you know that a man like me can practice divination? Now, cearly, Joseph doesn’t actually practice divination, but the brothers don’t know that. So this again is a part of Joseph’s ruse.
But I do want to quickly revisit this whole divination topic for just a moment. Divination involved contacting the divine to foretell the future, or to learn answers to otherwise unanswerable questions. In Mesopotamia, divination was so important that divination texts developed into the largest single category of Akkadian literature, at least in terms of sheer number of texts.
In the Ancient Near East, there were a few different techniques for practicing divination that involved liquids. There was a technique called hydromancy, which involved pouring water into oil,and gaining information from the ripples or reflections in the water. Oenomancy (ee-nomancy), which involved pouring wine into another liquid , and oleomancy, which is pouring oil into another liquid. But the idea is that the practitioner could determine the minds of the gods by studying the surface patterns and formations when one of the liquids was poured into another.
And so when Joseph tells the brothers that a man like him can practice divination, they have no reason to doubt him, and assume that is how he knew they had stolen the goblet in the first place, and it made matters worse because this was the very cup he used in practicing divination.Now again, Joseph didn’t actually do that. When God is giving you information directly, you don’t need a goblet!
But what we see in way of a response from the brothers, is Judah, once again taking the lead. But even Judah can’t deny they are guilty. And so he says “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? IOW, there’s really nothing we can say. The goblet was found in their possession, and so the circumstantial evidence against them is overwhelming.
But notice what he says next, that “God has found out the guilt of your servants”. Meaning, God is now punishing them for their past sins. He may be referring to past sins in general, but he is more likely referring to their sin against Joseph. If so, this is now twice they have confessed their crime in Joseph’s presence.
And so Judah offers the brothers up to be slaves. But notice that he omits anything referencing his earlier rash words about the guilty party being put to death.
But Joseph responds by saying, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
And by his response, Joseph is now putting the brothers in a situation that involves an agonizing decision. They can save their own lives, and not become slaves, but they would do so at the expense of their brother Benjamin. If they stay with Benjamin, they cannot bring food back to their families, who would then die of starvation. And so the die has been cast, this is what Joseph wants to learn; would the brothers once again abandon the youngest and favoured son just as they had him 20 years earlier.
But we continue with verses 18-23…18 Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’
So the encounter between Joseph and his brothers has now reached its climax.
And once again, Judah speaks up. And he basically recalls the situation, reminding Joseph of their earlier conversation during the first trip to Egypt. What we will see, is that the remainder of this chapter, the final 17 verses, is an impassioned plea from Judah to Joseph in an attempt to save Benjamin’s life. He pours out his heart in what is the longest speech in the book of Genesis
And what Judah does is appeal to Joseph in an effort to show mercy, not only to Benjamin, but to thei father Jacob, who would be overcome with grief at the loss of his beloved son, and that the loss of another son would kill his father. And he will end his plea by asking Joseph to allow him to fulfill his promise to Jacob, and become a slave in place of Benjamin.
Notice that Judah says to Joseph that “you are like Pharaoh himself”. Some people may read or hear this, and assume that Judah is simply trying to flatter Joseph, to butter him up. But it may be more subtle than that. This may be a way for Judah to subtly remind Joseph that he has the power to grant a pardon, to exercise mercy by virtue of his exalted position
Notice also that the key word in this plea by Judah is the word “father”. Judah will begin and end his speech by referring to his father, and he uses the word “father” 14 times! So Judah’s speech here is designed to convey to Joseph, this ruler of Egypt, the impact that his actions would have upon their father.
Notice also that Judah says in verse 20, referring to Benjamin, that “his father loves him”, and that “he is the child of his old age”. IOW, Jacob dotes on him, still favors him. In that way, Jacob hasn’t changed. But the brothers have, and that is the important point here.
But Judah continues with his plea in verses 24-29…24 “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’
So Judah continues to recap his stpry for Joseph, about how they went back home after their first trip to Egypt, they told Jacob what Joseph had said, and how they informed Jacob that unless Benjamin went back with them, they weren’t going back a second time. The ruler in Egypt had warned them!
He also recaps how Jacob once again tells them that if anything should happen to Benjamin, like it did to Joseph, that he would not be able to live with it, that they would send his white head down to Sheol in sorrow. And they know this very well, because they have lived in the shadow of Jacob’s grief over losing Joseph for the last 20+ years now.
But notice also, Joseph is now hearing for the first time what Jacob believes about his fate all the years, that he was torn to pieces by a wild animal. And so he is now made aware that Jacob believes him to be dead
But we close out this chapter with the last five verses, beginning with verse 30… 30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”
So we see here in these last five verses Judah closing out his plea to Joseph, again, in the longest recorded speech in Genesis.
Judah also tells Joseph that he became a pledge for Benjamin’s safety, that he would bear the blame if he didn’t bring back Benjamin. And he ends up offering himself as a substitute for Benjamin, pleading with Joseph, “please, let me remain here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy go back home to his father, because I’m afraid of what it would do to my father if Benjamin doesn’t make it back.
And so his whole plea here is designed to play upon Joseph’s humanity, as he continues to make reference on how this would impact their aged father
This is the first instance of human substitution in the Bible, and it reveals a Judah who is much different than the one who sold Joseph into slavery all those years ago. Judah is willing to sacrifice himself for his father, and do so for a brother who is loved more than he is.
And this act of love and self-sacrifice for his brother is proof that the brothers have changed. The bothers, who in the past were seemingly indifferent to their father Jacob, and were so jealous of their brother Joseph that they sold him into slavery, now offer themselves as slaves to save their favored brother and protect their father, and as we will see in the next chapter, it breaks down the last of Joseph’s emotional defenses
But it is ironic…the one who offered Joseph for sale into slavery has now unknowingly offered to become the slave of his own victim! And so the story has now come full circle.
The stage is now set for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers. Which we will see in the next chapter
But in closing, I think it’s interesting, where did the Jews get their name? Why are they referred to as Jews? Well, there is an old Jewish teaching that suggests it was because of Judah’s willingness to risk his own freedom to save Benjamin that the Jewish people were named for him. The name “Jew”, originates from the Hebrew word Yehuda or Yehudi, which means, “from the kingdom of Judah”.
And just as Judah offered to become a substitute, isn’t it an interesting foreshadowing of a true Saviour who would later come from the line of Judah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who would offer himself as the ultimate substitute, not just for one brother, but for all of mankind!