Genesis 44 – Joseph Tests His Brothers
A. Joseph sends them on their way.
1. (1-3) Joseph again puts money in his brothers’ bags of grain.
And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, “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. Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money.” So he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. As soon as the morning dawned, the men were sent away, they and their donkeys.
a. As soon as the morning dawned, the men were sent away: The brothers left Egypt in high spirits. They were treated well, had their sacks full of grain, and Simeon was out of prison. Jacob’s fear of something horrible happening seemed that it would not come to pass.
b. Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money: As before, the grain sacks of the brothers were topped off by the money they paid for the grain. This time, Joseph ordered that his special silver cup be hidden in the sack of Benjamin. In the morning, the men were sent away, beginning the journey back to Canaan.
2. (4-5) Joseph’s steward confronts the brothers on their journey back to Canaan.
When they had gone out of the city, and were not yet far off, Joseph said to his steward, “Get up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and with which he indeed practices divination? You have done evil in so doing.’”
a. Why have you repaid evil for good: The brothers were caught in Joseph’s trap. Some wrongly think that Joseph did this simply to use his position of power to torment his brothers in revenge for their cruelty towards him. Yet knowing the character of Joseph, this wasn’t the case. Guided by the hand of God, Joseph tested the hearts of his brothers and brought them to complete repentance.
b. He indeed practices divination: We know from other sources that ancients did use sacred cups as divination devices. It is possible (though not likely) that Joseph did also, because there was not yet specific revelation from God that such a practice was forbidden. The point was to make the brothers aware that this was a special cup, and it was a terrible crime to take it.
3. (6-10) The brothers claim they are innocent of theft.
So he overtook them, and he spoke to them these same words. And they said to him, “Why does my lord say these words? Far be it from us that your servants should do such a thing. Look, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” And he said, “Now also let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.”
a. Far be it from us that your servants should do such a thing: The brothers confidently stated they did not have the cup. This showed that they had a healthy trust in each other. If they did not trust each other, they would have immediately wondered which brother stole the cup.
b. With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves: The brothers were so confident they did not have the cup (and trusted each other so much), they declared the thief should be killed and all the others taken as slaves.
c. Now also let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave: Joseph’s steward (verse 4) did not repeat their offer of a death sentence, because he wanted no bloodshed. As the story unfolds, God would use the brothers’ suggestion that the guilty party be taken as a slave.
4. (11-13) The cup is found in Benjamin’s sack.
Then each man speedily let down his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. So he searched. He began with the oldest and left off with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city.
a. Then each man speedily let down his sack: They did it quickly, because they were certain they were innocent. They were so certain that they had just promised that if the stolen cup was found among them, the guilty one would stay in Egypt as a slave.
b. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack: The planted evidence was found. According to their oath, they would now be rid of the other favored son. If they hated Benjamin as much as they hated Joseph, they would be glad at this.
c. Then they tore their clothes: This was an extreme expression of horror, as if someone had just died. They weren’t happy at the idea of being rid of Benjamin; they were horrified. They all tore their clothes and they all returned to the city.
i. The reaction of the brothers showed that for them, this was the worst thing imaginable. The cup was found in the sack of their father’s favorite son, the one he worried about the most. Now Benjamin was sentenced to a life of slavery in Egypt, if not death.
ii. This was a radical change in the brothers. Before, they didn’t care about their father or his favored son. Now, the idea of hurting either father or son made them feel as bad as if someone had died.
d. Each man loaded his donkey and returned: When Joseph was taken as a slave, the brothers allowed him to go and thought nothing of it. Now, they were willing to stand with Benjamin as he faced slavery or death. This demonstrated a significant change in the heart and attitude of Joseph’s brothers.
5. (14-15) The brothers humbly return to an angry Egyptian official (Joseph).
So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground. And Joseph said to them, “What deed is this you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination?”
a. They fell before him on the ground: They came back to the Egyptian official with humility. They had been wronged; the evidence had been planted. Yet they didn’t come demanding justice, but with a humble plea for mercy.
i. When they fell before him on the ground, once again – for the third time – they fulfilled the dreams Joseph had more than 20 years before (Genesis 37:5-11).
ii. When they fell before him on the ground, it also demonstrated that the brothers were desperate to gain favor with the Egyptian official to obtain the release of Benjamin. They knew it was a genuine disaster to lose Benjamin and to bereave their father.
b. Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination: Joseph spoke this way because it was important, for a while longer, to play the part of an Egyptian and not allow them to know he was a Hebrew who worshipped Yahweh.
6. (16-17) Judah commits himself and all the brothers to stick with Benjamin, even as slaves in Egypt.
Then Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
a. God has found out the iniquity of your servants: With these words, Judah revealed God’s work among the brothers. In Judah’s mind, the bothers were now destined to live the rest of their lives as slaves in Egypt because they sold Joseph as a slave, some 20 years before this.
i. The brothers were innocent of the sin of stealing the cup, but were guilty of far greater sins. In the same way, we might take pride because we are innocent of some sin or another, yet we are guilty of far greater. You can’t hide from your sin. Time does not erase the guilt of your sin; only the blood of Jesus can.
ii. 22 years before, when the brothers thought to kill Joseph but threw him into a pit, he cried out to them, pleading with anguish (Genesis 42:21). Donald Barnhouse said, “A physicist could compute the exact time required for his cries to go twenty-five yards to the eardrums of the brothers. But it took twenty-two years for that cry to go from the eardrums to their hearts.”
b. Here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found: With these words, Judah insisted that the brothers would stick by Benjamin, though he was the favored and more greatly blessed son. If they quickly abandoned Benjamin, it would show little change of heart from 20 years ago, when they abandoned Joseph.
i. This resignation to slavery in Egypt was all the more significant, considering these were middle-aged men who came from lives of relative privilege, wealth, and status.
B. Judah intercedes for Benjamin.
1. (18-23) Judah recounts the previous conversations with the Egyptian official.
Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’”
a. Then Judah came near to him and said: Judah didn’t take this fatalistically. He made an appeal to the Egyptian official. Everything looked bad; the planted evidence against them seemed to seal their fate. Yet he made an appeal.
i. Judah’s impassioned speech to Joseph is a model of a heartfelt, desperate appeal. Of Judah’s speech, F.B. Meyer wrote: “In all literature, there is nothing more pathetic than this appeal.” H.C. Leupold wrote, “This is one of the manliest, most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man. For depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose it stands unexcelled.” Barnhouse called it “the most moving address in all the Word of God.”
b. My lord asked his servants: Judah reminded the Egyptian official that all this began with his questions. All they wanted to do was to buy some grain. This point is emphasized again and again: Then you said… but you said.
c. A father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead: Judah naturally presented the matter in the most sympathetic way. Joseph must have inwardly smiled when he said, his brother is dead.
2. (24-29) Judah recounts the previous conversation with his father Jacob.
So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’
a. Go back and buy us a little food: Judah told the Egyptian official the events of Genesis 43:1-10.
b. Surely he is torn to pieces… I have not seen him since: With these carefully chosen words, Judah did not say that Benjamin’s brother was dead – only that Jacob said, “Surely he is torn to pieces” and that Judah had not seen him since. Judah remembered the cruel lie that the brothers let their father believe regarding the death of Joseph (Genesis 37:31-35).
3. (30-32) Judah explains why it is so important that Benjamin return to Canaan.
Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’”
a. When he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die: 20 years before, Joseph’s brothers didn’t care about their father when they reported Joseph’s supposed death (Genesis 37:31-35). Judah showed they were now greatly concerned for the feelings and welfare of their father. This was more evidence of a change of heart – to care when you didn’t care before.
i. This is especially significant when we think of how deeply Jacob, Judah’s father, must have hurt him and the other brothers through the years of his constant favoring of Joseph and Benjamin. This was a deep wound; yet Judah’s heart was changed to care even about the father who wounded him so deeply.
b. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father: Judah also made his request personal. Judah’s own life and standing before his father would be destroyed if Benjamin never returned.
4. (33-34) Judah offers his life for Benjamin and his father.
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”
a. Please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord: Judah dramatically offered to lay down his life for the sake of Benjamin. This was a dramatic change from 22 years before when the brothers did not care about Joseph, Benjamin, or even their father Jacob.
i. Judah distinguished himself as the one willing to be a substitutionary sacrifice, out of love for his father and for his brethren. This is love – heroic self-sacrifice.
b. How shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me: Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph 20 years earlier (Genesis 37:26-27). Here, with heroic love, he offered to lay down his life for the favored brother. This display of sacrificial love was another example of transformation in the brothers.
i. Moses was willing to offer himself for the salvation of Israel (Exodus 32:31-32), and so was Paul (Romans 9:1-4). Sacrificial love is evidence of our transformation (John 13:34).
ii. Through this chapter. there is remarkable evidence of the changed hearts of Joseph’s brothers.
· They did not resent it when Benjamin was given the favored portion (Genesis 43:34).
· They trusted each other, not accusing each other of wrong when accused of stealing the cup (Genesis 44:9).
· They stuck together when the silver cup was found. They did not abandon the favored son and allow him to be carried back to Egypt alone (Genesis 44:13).
· They completely humbled themselves for the sake of the favored son (Genesis 44:14).
· They knew their predicament was the result of their sin against Joseph (Genesis 44:16).
· They offered themselves as slaves to Egypt, not abandoning Benjamin, the favored son, their brother (Genesis 44:16).
· They showed due concern for how this might affect their father (Genesis 44:29-31).
· Judah was willing to be a substitutionary sacrifice for his brother out of love for his father and his brethren (Genesis 44:33).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission