Genesis 44

The Word Made Fresh

1Then Joseph ordered his chief servant to fill the men’s sacks with as much grain as they would hold and put each one’s money on top. 2“Then,” he said, “place my silver cup at the mouth of the youngest one’s sack along with his money.” The servant did as he was told.

3As soon as there was enough light the next morning the men were sent on their way with their pack animals. 4Soon after they were gone, Joseph told his head servant, “Go after them and when you catch up with them, say, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Why did you steal my master’s silver cup? 5It is the cup my master drinks from and it is also the one he uses to foretell the future. You have done a very wicked thing.’”

6When the servant caught up with them he repeated Joseph’s word to them. 7They said, “Why would my lord say such things? We would never do anything like that! 8Remember the money that we found in our sacks the last time we were here? We brought it back to you, all the way from Canaan. Why would we steal silver or gold from your master? 9If you find anything that belongs to your master with any one of us, take that one’s life! And the rest of us will give ourselves over to be your master’s slaves.”

10The head servant said, “Alright, just as you say. But the one who is found with the silver cup will become my slave. The rest of you can go free.”

11They each lowered their sacks to the ground and opened them. 12The head servant checked each one, beginning with the eldest down to the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13When they saw it, they tore their clothes. Then they loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

14Joseph was still at his house when they arrived, and they knelt on the ground before him. 15Joseph said, “What have you done? Don’t you know that someone like me can tell the future?”

16Judah said, “What can we say to you, my lord, to prove ourselves innocent? God has exposed our guilt. So, here we are, your slaves, all of us, the guilty one and the rest.”

17But Joseph said, “Not at all! Only the thief shall be my slave! The rest of you can return to your father in peace.”

18Then Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let me have a word with you, and don’t be angry, although you are as important as Pharaoh himself. 19My lord, you asked us if we have a father or a brother. 20We told you that our father is very old and there is a young son with him who he loves very much, who was born in his old age. That son’s mother had another son, but he is no longer with us. 21You said to us then, ‘Bring this younger brother down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22We told you that the boy cannot leave his father, or his father would surely die. 23But you said, ‘Unless your younger brother comes with you, you will not be allowed to see me.’ 24When we returned home we told our father what you had said. 25Then one day our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more grain.’ 26We said, ‘We cannot go there unless our younger brother goes with us. Otherwise, we won’t be allowed to see the man.’ 27And my father said, ‘You know my wife gave me two sons. 28One of them disappeared and I said he was torn to pieces and I have not seen him since. 29If you take this one from me you will bring my gray head down to Sheol.’ 30If the boy is not with us when we return to my father, whose life is wrapped up in him, 31he will die when he sees the boy is missing, and we will be responsible for our father’s death. 32I, your servant, guaranteed the boy’s safe passage, and I told my father that if I do not bring the boy home with me, I will carry my father’s pain until the day I die. 33And so I am asking you to please let me remain here as your slave in his place and let him return home with his brothers. How can I return to my father without the boy? Please do not force me to see the suffering that would bring my father.”

Commentary

1-5: Joseph hasn’t finished playing with his unsuspecting brothers. He has their sacks filled with grain, puts their money bags in the sacks and his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. After they leave he has his steward chase them down and accuse them of stealing his cup, adding that it is the cup which he uses for divination. Whether that is true or not it certainly heightens the drama of the moment.

6-13:  The steward catches them and lowers the accusation. They deny it and offer the life of any one of them in whose sack the silver cup is found. The steward agrees, but says he will only enslave that one (the Egyptians seem to eschew capital punishment – remember that Potiphar only imprisoned Joseph when his wife accused him of rape with the evidence of his cloak in her hand). The bags are searched and, curiously, no mention is made of their money that Joseph has replaced. However, the silver cup is found in Benjamin’s sack, and they are all distraught. They reload their donkeys and return with the steward.

14-17: There follows a poignant scene. The sons of Jacob all bow down before Joseph just as his dream had foretold many years before. Joseph plays his role superbly, claiming to be able to “divine” things. Notice that Judah has become the family spokesman. Knowing that they cannot return home without Benjamin, he offers that all of them will remain in Egypt as slaves, but Joseph will hear none of that.

18-34: Now Judah gives a long and heartfelt defense. He tells of his concern for his father and how he fears that the enslavement of his younger brother might lead to his father’s death. He explains that he himself promised his father that he would be responsible for Benjamin’s safe return and begs Joseph to allow him to remain as a slave and let Benjamin go home to his father.

Takeaway

Judah steps forward as the truth teller and offers to suffer for the rest. Many centuries later the kingdom of Israel will be established, and the capital will eventually be placed at Jerusalem, in the area belonging to the tribe of Judah. And many centuries after that, Jesus will offer to suffer for the rest of us on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.