The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 30

Joseph Tests His Brethren


VERSES 1-4  “And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth.
“And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.
“As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.
“And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?”

Joseph continued to shape circumstances for his brethren which were calculated to remind them of their great sin in selling him into Egypt, and at the same time to ascertain by their conduct if their heart condition and their outlook on life had undergone a change since that time. He wanted to be sure that they had reformed before making himself known to them—not for his own sake, but for theirs. He realized that once they knew who he was, his high position in Egypt might tempt them to make apologies for their own protection even though by chance they were still bitter of heart.

The Hebrew word here translated ‘cup’ indicates that it was the large silver cup from which wine was poured into smaller ones from which guests drank. It was also a divining cup, and customarily used in much the same way as the fortune teller’s crystal ball of today. Apparently this was quite a common practice in Egypt, and perhaps Joseph had his servant speak of the cup as the one in which he divined in order to strengthen their impression that he was a genuine Egyptian, thus insuring that his true identity should remain concealed until he decided the time was ripe to reveal it.

Had Joseph’s brethren actually stolen his cup after being treated so royally, the case against them would certainly have condemned them; one which clearly would have been that of returning evil for good. It was a serious charge to enter against them, and we cannot imagine Joseph thus accusing his brethren, except for his knowledge that the situation would clarify itself later.

VERSES 5-13  “Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
“And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.
“And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:
“Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold?
“With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.
“And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
“Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.
“And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
“Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.”

When Joseph’s servant accused the men of robbery, indicating that one of them had taken Joseph’s special divining cup, they vigorously denied the charge, and to prove that the accusation was unwarranted called attention to the fact that even the money which had been put in their sacks on the previous visit had been returned. It certainly seemed to them that this should be proof that they were not robbers.

They were very confident of their position in the matter, and willingly allowed their sacks to be searched, saying that the owner of the sack in which the cup might be found should be put to death. According to the Code of Khammurabi, effective as a law in Egypt at the time, and known to many in Canaan, death was the penalty for robbery. In other words, they were quite willing that the law take its course, for they were sure that the cup would not be found in their sacks.

The expression in verse 7: ‘God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing,’ is a poor translation. The word ‘God’ is not in the Hebrew text at all. The statement should read, “Far be it from thy servants,” etc.

Great was their surprise when Joseph’s cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. They ‘rent their clothes,’ a symbol of sorrow and utter dejection. But they made no attempt to escape. They loaded their supplies back on their asses and returned to the city and to Joseph.

VERSES 14-34  “And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
“And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
“And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.
“And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
“Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.
“My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother?
“And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.
“And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.
“And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
“And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.
“And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant, my father, we told him the words of my lord.
“And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food.
“And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us.
“And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons:
“And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since:
“And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
“Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life;
“It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
“For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
“Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
“For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.”

Joseph’s brethren must have been greatly chagrined to be brought before him under such circumstances. Joseph, still posing as an Egyptian, and one who could ‘divine,’ that is, discover by magic if necessary, what they had done, asked them if they did not realize how futile it was for them to attempt such a robbery.

Judah’s statement, ‘God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants,’ was a confession of guilt pertaining to their original sin of selling Joseph into Egypt, for they knew they were not really guilty of the robbery as had been charged, although they were unable to explain how Joseph’s cup came to be in Benjamin’s sack. Even though they might have suspected that it had been planted there in the same manner as their money was on the occasion of their first visit to Egypt to buy food, they knew it would be useless to say so under the circumstances.

Joseph also knew that his brethren were not guilty of robbery, and doubtless he understood Judah’s confession of guilt as appertaining to their crime against him, and how pleased he must have been to realize that they were experiencing a genuine change of heart. He continued to hold the advantage in dealing with them, for he knew all the circumstances and they did not. With a show of generosity, he said, “Far be it from me [the word God is also missing in the Hebrew in this text] to hold anyone except him in whose hand the cup is found.”

He knew that this was just what his brethren did not want, for it would mean that they would have to return to their father without Benjamin, and this, Judah explained, would doubtless cause the death of their father. It would bring his gray hairs down in sorrow to the grave; that is, to sheol, the condition of death, or the Bible hell.

Judah acted as spokesman for the others, and related further details concerning their difficulty in getting their father’s consent to bring Benjamin with them. Then he offered to take Benjamin’s place as a bondman in Egypt so his young brother could return with the others to his father. Judah had already made a solemn promise to his father that he would be responsible for the safe return of Benjamin, and this offer he made to Joseph indicates that he was wholly sincere in his surety pledge.

Throughout the entire account of Joseph and his brethren, Judah reveals himself as being more cognizant of their former wrongdoing than the others. It was Judah who suggested that they sell Joseph as a slave rather than kill him. Now he stands out as the one most concerned for the safety of Benjamin. He loved his aged father, and could not bear to see him suffer further, so was willing to give up his own freedom to prevent it.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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