The lesson advances with the dilemma of the incriminating evidence of theft against Benjamin. The narrative then shifts to focus on the intercession of Judah to plea for the governor’s mercy. The example of Judah’s intercession teaches us a lesson of sacrifice for the sake of others and a lesson of not giving up hope on mercy.
Did You Know...?
- The silver cup (44:2): The cup was a bowl-like size with a flower-shaped interior. The Hebrew-word “cup” in Gen 44:2 is similar to the word used to describe the bowls of the tabernacle’s lampstand (Ex 25:31-34, 37:17-20) but different from the common word for drinking cup (Gen 40:11;
2 Sam 12:3). [ref]
- “He indeed practices divination” (44:5): The sentence can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “he is predicting for himself an omen.” The word “divination” in Greek referred to a special form of divination practiced by the ancient Egyptians. Small pieces of gold or silver with marked precious stones were thrown into the cup accompanied by the incantations. After the cup was filled with pure water or oil, or even wine, the results of object floatation or sinking would be interpreted as the desired omen
—determining the future, locating the source of trouble or apportioning blame. [ref]
- Divination (44:5) in Hebrew can be literally translated into several references, such as: a past experience (Gen 30:27), a physical sign (
1 Kgs 20:33), a practice of soothsaying and witchcraft ( 2 Kgs 17:17; 2 Chr 33:6) and an interpretation of fortune-tellings or omens ( 2 Kgs 21:6; Deut 18:10).
- “You have done evil in so doing” (44:5): The phrase can literally be translated in Greek as “you are bringing to an end for yourselves.”
- “Far be it” (44:7) In Greek-Septuagint, the idiom can literally be translated as “perish the thought!”
- “Let him die” (44:9): The ancient law of Hammurabi and the Middle Assyrian laws stipulated a capital punishment or mutilation of the body for a serious offense
similar to the one accused by Joseph’s steward to the brothers, stealing the precious belonging of the high government official.
- “You shall be blameless” (44:10): The sentence can be literally translated as “you will be free (exempt) from obligations” in Hebrew.
- “Tore their clothes” (44:13): The Scriptures refer to such a deed with several meanings, such as a physical reflection to reveal one’s sorrow or one’s distress (Gen 37:34;
2 Sam 3:31, Est 4:1) or a physical manifestation to show one’s repentance ( 2 Kgs 22:11; 2 Chr 34:27; Ezra 9:3). The action of “tearing the clothes” as a sign of distress, mourning or repentance is usually accompanied by putting on sackcloth ( 1 Kgs 21:27; 2 Kgs 19:1), putting dust on one’s head (Josh 7:6; Job 2:12), shaving one’s head (Job 1:20) or pulling hair from one’s head and beard (Ezra 9:3).
- “In my lord’s hearing” (44:18): Literally, the phrase can be translated in Hebrew as “a word in the ears of my lord.”
- “I may set my eyes on him” (44:21): The sentence can be translated literally in Greek-Septuagint as “I am taking care of him for myself.”
- “He is torn to pieces” (44:28): The phrase, in Greek-Septuagint, literally can be translated as “he is eaten by wild animals.”
- “Calamity befalls him” (44:29): Literally, the sentence can be translated as “sickness may happen to him” in Greek-Septuagint.
- “Bound up” (44:30): The Scriptures describe several varieties of references of the word “bind” in Hebrew, such as for strength (Gen 30:41-42), for a conspiracy (
1 Sam 22:8; 2 Sam 15:31; 1 Kgs 16:20; Neh 4:8; 2 Chr 25:27), for an act of a reminder (Deut 6:8; Prov 6:21; Isa 49:18), for an act of tying up (Gen 38:28; Jos 2:18; Job 38:31; Jer 51:63); or for a metaphor or a symbolism (Gen 44:30; 1 Sam 18:1; Prov 22:15).
- “As a slave to my lord” (44:33): The idiom in Greek-Septuagint can literally be translated as “a house (domestic) slave for the master.”
The command of Joseph in Gen 44:1 was similar to the previous one in Gen 42:25. In both commands, Joseph did not take the brothers’ money but he restored “each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.” Joseph did such a thing twice out of his generosity and love for his family and father back home, knowing that they suffered from the famine at Canaan (Gen 42:2).
The passage described a striking contrast between Joseph’s command in verse 1 with the one in verse 2. While Joseph gave a command to fill the brothers’ sacks with grain and to “put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack” in Gen 44:1, Joseph specifically gave an additional command to put the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack in Gen 44:2. The latter command of Joseph served as a scheme for Joseph to take only Benjamin (Gen 44:17), Joseph’s brother from the same mother, into his care in Egypt (Gen 44:21).
How did Joseph plot his scheme to achieve the purpose of his command in Gen 44:2?Hide Answer
To achieve the purpose of his command in Gen 44:2, Joseph plotted his scheme. After Joseph told the steward to put his silver cup into Benjamin’s sack (Gen 44:2), Joseph then told the steward to go after the brothers and charge them with the accusation of stealing the governor’s silver cup (Gen 44:4-5). Thus, now Joseph had a strong reason to hold Benjamin, the one on whom the silver cup was found, on account of theft and make him stay in Egypt under the pretense of a criminal charge.
What were the commendable things done by the steward? What can we learn from him?Hide Answer
There were several commendable things performed by the steward of Joseph. First, as a messenger of Joseph, the steward was faithful. Since Joseph did not reveal himself to the brothers, the steward played an important role as a messenger of Joseph to express his intention and communication toward the brothers (Gen 44:4-6). Therefore, whatever Joseph said, the steward faithfully spoke to them those “same words” (Gen 44:6). The steward neither added nor deducted the words of Joseph.
As a faithful messenger, the steward reminds us of a similar duty of a prophet and a priest. The book of Deuteronomy described how a prophet must faithfully speak to his brethren all that God had commanded him according to God’s words which was put in the prophet’s mouth (Deut 18:18). Furthermore, the prophet Malachi explained how a priest, through his lips and mouth, was a messenger of God’s law (Mal 2:7). The faithfulness of Joseph’s steward as a messenger serves as a great contrast to the prophets of Israel in the time of the prophet Ezekiel, whose only interest was to divine for lies and follow their own spirit instead of speaking the words of God (Ezek 13:1-9). Likewise, the apostle Peter in his letter reminds us that as a royal priesthood, we are to proclaim praises to God (
1 Pet 2:9) through our mouth and deeds. In so doing, the people around us will be able to seek the law of God through us, the messenger of the Lord.
Describe the accusations of Joseph and their grievousness toward the brothers.Hide Answer
Joseph charged the brothers with several accusations and the allegations were severe. First, Joseph accused them of having “repaid evil for good” (Gen 44:4-5). Joseph had personally invited the brothers into his house and had eaten with them the day before (Gen 43:24-34). But in return, the brothers took the silver cup of Joseph, exploiting the kindness of Joseph. Thus, by repaying the goodness of Joseph—welcoming the foreign guests into the governor’s house to dine with him—with evil, taking the governor’s precious belonging without his permission, was ethically not only shameful but also morally intolerable.
Second, Joseph accused them of stealing the silver cup, the one from which he drank (Gen 44:5). The brothers were accused of stealing not just an ordinary silver cup, but the one belonging to the governor that was located inside the governor’s house. Hence, such a deed of the brothers was lawfully considered as a crime.
Third, Joseph accused the brothers of obstructing his practice of divination, by stealing his silver divination cup (Gen 44:5). Joseph emphasized to the brothers the habit and the religious culture of an Egyptian governor, to practice divination. By stealing the divination cup, not only did the brothers hinder the governor to religiously practice his divination but also had offended the religious-culture practiced by the governor.
In regards to practicing divination, the Scriptures forbid such a practice. The writers of the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy firmly emphasized that there should not be found among the people of God anyone who soothsaid or interpreted both omens (Lev 19:26; Deut 18:10-12) and fortune-telling (
2 Kgs 21:6). In addition, the book of 2nd Kings mentioned how such a deed was considered as evil in the sight of the Lord ( 2 Kings 17:17). Lastly, the practice of divination according to the book of 2nd Chronicles was considered as a deed which provoked the Lord to anger ( 2 Chr 33:6).
The book of Genesis did not specifically record that Joseph claimed to have practiced divination. Rather, Joseph mentioned to the brothers how he could “certainly practice divination” (Gen 44:15). Thus, Joseph culturally and politically emphasized the greatness of his power and authority as an Egyptian-governor to the brothers. Joseph did so for the purpose of cutting down the possibility of the brothers’ maneuver to defend and to escape from the scheme of Joseph.
The Scriptures view the phrase “repay evil for good” in several different layers. First, the mentioned phrase indicates an exploitation of another’s goodness. The prophet Jeremiah shared how the people of God devised evil plans against Jeremiah even after he had spoken good concerning them (Jer 18:18-20). Second, the phrase signifies that such a deed will cause one to bereave. The psalmist narrated how the people who rewarded him evil for good had caused bereavement to the soul (Psa 35:12). Third, the one who repaid evil for good would become adversaries. The book of Psalm recorded that those who rendered evil for good would be adversaries to the one who followed what was good (Psa 38:20).
List the brothers’ strong defenses toward the steward’s accusation.Hide Answer
In replying to the steward’s accusation, the brothers strongly defended themselves with these arguments, “What are you talking about?….[We] would never do such a thing! Didn’t we return the money we found in our sacks?” (Gen 44:7-8 NLT). In addition, not only did they firmly believe their innocence, but they also guaranteed a death sentence to the one who had stolen the cup and were willing to undergo the punishment themselves by emphasizing, “Why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves” (Gen 44:8-9 NLT).
In Gen 44, when accused by the steward of the crime they did not commit, the brothers were determined to enforce the death sentence to whomever was proven to have stolen the governor’s silver cup (Gen 44:9). Little did they know that the cup was inside Benjamin’s sack (Gen 44:12). Likewise, a similar event was previously experienced by Jacob. When accused by Laban of stealing the idol, Jacob bravely proclaimed the death sentence to whomever was found to have stolen the item (Gen 31:32). Unknown to Jacob, it was Rachel, his wife, who had stolen Laban’s idol. While in Jacob’s situation, Rachel was able to escape from the death sentence proclaimed by Jacob (Gen 31:34-35); in the event of Joseph’s brothers, Benjamin was found guilty and could not escape from the punishment by the Egyptian (Gen 44:12).
In regards of being searched by the accusers.Hide Answer
In the events of Gen 44 and Gen 31, both accusers were able to search the accused (Gen 31:35). While Laban failed to find his idol, the steward was successful to prove and indict Benjamin of stealing the silver cup of Joseph (Gen 44:12). The deception of those two events was reversed. In Gen 31, Laban, the accuser, was deceived by the accused, his daughter Rachel; but in Gen 44, Benjamin the accused, was deceived by the accuser, the steward.
By comparing the brothers’ reactions toward Joseph’s absence in Gen 37, how did the event in Gen 44 reveal the brother’s change of heart collectively? What were the significances of each event? The tearing of the clothes. See Gen 37:29, 31-35.Hide Answer
Through the comparison between Gen 37 with Gen 44, one could notice the brothers’ change of heart collectively. Previously, in the book of Genesis 37, only Reuben tore his clothes in knowing that Joseph was no longer with them (Gen 37:29). In addition, when their father tore his clothes at the news of Joseph, the brothers were silent and cold about it (Gen 37:31-35). The rest of the brothers felt no remorse at all. But in Gen 44, after the brothers knew that the governor’s silver cup had been found in Benjamin’s sack, all of them tore their clothes for the sake of Benjamin (Gen 44:13). While the event in Gen 37 signifies the rest of the brothers’ indifference toward Joseph, the beloved son of his father; the event in Gen 44 indicates the brothers’ empathy and solidarity toward Benjamin, also the beloved son of his father—ignoring the fact that they were not their father’s favorite.
The comparison between Gen 37 with Gen 44 also showed the brothers’ other change of heart. Before, in Gen 37, the brothers were not only jealous of Joseph but they also hated him, for being the favorite son of their father (Gen 37:3) and for having the self-elevated dreams of himself (Gen 37:5-11). Because of their unwillingness to be inferior to Joseph, the younger one, the brothers were all united to get rid of the dreamer (Gen 37:19). But in Gen 44, the brothers were collectively willing to accompany Benjamin back to Egypt (Gen 44:13) and to sacrifice themselves as slaves (Gen 44:16). Though the steward emphasized that the blameless brothers could go their way in peace (Gen 44:10), the brothers were adamant to stand together with Benjamin to face the governor.
From Gen 44, what can we learn about the brothers’ collective change of heart?Hide Answer
From the brothers’ collective change of heart, we can learn about the spirit of unity and sacrifice for the sake of others. In the book of Genesis 44, though Benjamin—the favorite of their father—was now found guilty and the brothers had the chance to go in peace, the brothers refused to leave him and they continued in unity standing together for the sake of Benjamin.
Likewise, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians admonishes us to be of one accord and of one mind, looking out not only for our own interests “but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:2-4). The apostle reminds us, though we have our own interests, we ought not to be selfish. When we feel that our self-esteem has been hurt by other people’s success, we tend to ignore the interests of those people. But as a fellow brethren in Christ, the apostle reminds us that we are one family in Christ and in lowliness of mind, we ought to esteem others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). Thus, while looking out for our personal interests, we ought to pay attention and to help out those who are in need.
Furthermore, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reproves us that as members of the body of Christ, if one member suffers then all the members suffer with it (
1 Cor 12:26). But in reality, sometimes the other way happens. When one member suffers in difficulty, we feel no obligation to help ease his burden. Therefore, the apostle gives us an analogy of the members of one body in the book of 1st Corinthians. Just as the eye and the feet need each other ( 1 Cor 12:21) and the whole body feels the pain in one of its parts, the suffering of our fellow brethren in Christ should also be the suffering of ourselves. Once we willingly help to ease the burden of our suffering brethren, we are one step closer to eliminating the schism and the ignorance among one another in the body of Christ.
The phrase “God has found out the iniquity” in Gen 44:16 reflected Judah’s realization of his personal guilt. Previously, in the book of Genesis 37:26-27, Judah was the one who had proposed to sell Joseph as a slave and he was the one who had influenced the rest of the brothers to agree on his proposal. To cover the selling of Joseph, all the brothers had agreed in unity to deceive their father through the tunic dipped in blood (Gen 37:31-34). Now, when faced with a great distress—knowing that the brothers had been falsely accused and framed—Judah remembered the echo of Reuben’s words, the words of warning that they all had sinned against the boy Joseph (Gen 42:22). Thus, Judah plainly confessed to Joseph that God had found out the iniquity which they had done in secret, the secret sin which they had committed against Joseph by selling him as a slave (Gen 37:26-27) and the secret sin of deceiving their father up till his old age through the concealed fact that Joseph had not been killed by wild animals (Gen 44:28).
Why was Joseph adamant in holding Benjamin with him, instead of letting him go back with the brothers?Hide Answer
Instead of letting Benjamin go back with the brothers, Joseph was adamant in holding Benjamin with him for strong personal reasons. First, Joseph missed his brother Benjamin so much. The writer of the book of Genesis mentioned that “[Joseph’s] heart yearned for his brother” the moment he saw Benjamin. And “Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep” (Gen 43:29-30). Second, Joseph shared a special connection with Benjamin. Both Joseph and Benjamin were from the same mother (Gen 43:29). Thus, after revealing his identity to the brothers, “[Joseph] fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck” (Gen 45:14). Third, Joseph loved his brother Benjamin. Joseph expressed his love to Benjamin by giving him “five times as much” servings “as any of [the brothers]” during lunch time (Gen 43:34) and by giving him “three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments” during the send-off to bring down Jacob from Canaan to Egypt (Gen 45:22).
From the phrase “go up in peace to your father” in Gen 44:17, what would Joseph like to declare to his brothers concerning their fate and Benjamin’s?Hide Answer
From the phrase “go up in peace to your father” in Gen 44:17, Joseph would like to declare the brothers’ fate and Benjamin’s. To the brothers, Joseph’s phrase “go up in peace to your father” meant that the brothers could go back to their father in Canaan. In addition, the phrase meant that Joseph would no longer charge all the brothers of their denial and their iniquity (Gen 44:16). Furthermore, to Benjamin, Joseph’s phrase meant that only Benjamin would be charged of his crime to steal the governor’s silver cup (Gen 44:12). In other words, the brothers could continue their life in Canaan with their father and without Benjamin, while Benjamin must stay back in Egypt to be the slave of the governor as the consequence of his crime (Gen 4:17).
Describe the structure of Judah’s speech.
How did Judah begin his plea to Joseph? Why did he make such a moving plea?Hide Answer
After Joseph gave his command, Judah quickly made his plea to the Egyptian governor. First, Judah came near to him. Then Judah pleaded to speak a word in his hearing and not to let his anger burn (Gen 44:18). The purpose of Judah’s plea was to counter the command of Joseph, negotiating the term and the condition of it. From Joseph’s words in Gen 44:17, Judah knew that Joseph’s decision to hold Benjamin was final and unchangeable. Thus, Judah intercepted the execution of the command through his plea so that the Egyptian governor could at least give him a chance to speak his thoughts in changing the mentioned term.
From Gen 44:19-29, how did the content of the speech reflect Judah’s sincere love for his father? The way Judah addressed his father;Hide Answer
In his speech, Judah mentioned his father, Jacob, as the main reason throughout his speech. In Gen 44:19-29 alone, Judah addressed his father fifteen times and he used the third-person pronoun “he” for his father three times. Judah built the reasoning of his speech for the sake of his father.
The connection between his father, Jacob, and Benjamin;Hide Answer
In his speech, Judah emphasized the love connection between his father, Jacob, and Benjamin, the youngest son. Judah highlighted how Jacob, his father, greatly loved Benjamin that Jacob had been willing to wait until the grain which the brothers had already bought from Egypt had been eaten up (Gen 43:1-2) before Benjamin could be brought to the Egyptian governor. Having experienced a similar incident of losing a son (Gen 38:6-11), Judah explained to Joseph how Jacob was highly protective of Benjamin and was worried to death if calamity did befall Benjamin (Gen 44:29).
The sorrow of his father, Jacob;Hide Answer
Judah had personally witnessed how crushed Jacob’s feeling and spirit had been after learning that Joseph had been torn to pieces (Gen 44:28, 37:33-35). To prevent further sorrow in Jacob’s part, through his speech, Judah boldly proclaimed that he was willing to be a substitute for Benjamin as a slave (Gen 44:33) rather than seeing the dying grief of his father for the second time.
Describe how Judah built his reasoning to touch Joseph’s heart through: The exposition of Jacob’s condition during Joseph’s absence;Hide Answer
Through his speech, Judah focused on the deteriorated condition of Jacob’s spirit during Joseph’s absence. Judah shared his father’s deepest feeling for Joseph, the one which Joseph never knew about. After seeing the bloody tunic of Joseph, Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist and mourned for Joseph many days. Jacob even refused to be comforted by all his sons and all his daughters and desperately wished to go down into the grave in mourning (Gen 37:34-35). For all these years, broken and hurt, Jacob still thought that Joseph, his son, had been torn to pieces (Gen 44:28). No doubt, Joseph was taken aback when hearing all these information, the ones which he had never heard of.
The consequence of Joseph’s adamant command;Hide Answer
Knowing that the command of the Egyptian governor could not be changed, Judah underlined the future consequence of such an adamant command. In his speech, Judah emphasized how Jacob’s life was already bound up in Benjamin’s life (Gen 44:30). Thus, separating them both meant that the governor would purposely bring down Jacob’s “grey head with sorrow to the grave” (Gen 42:38). In other words, Judah highlighted how the two of them, Jacob and Benjamin, were inseparable and the command to hold Benjamin back in Egypt would only cause more great sorrow and distress to Jacob until his death. Such a consequence, convincingly should have disturbed Joseph’s emotion to reconsider the effect of his command.
The brothers’ unspoken feeling of being unloved;Hide Answer
In his speech, Judah aso exposed the deepest feeling of the ten brothers, which Joseph had never known before. Judah shared the words of Jacob, “my wife bore me two sons” (Gen 44:27). In other words, not only that Rachel was considered as the legitimate and loved wife, but the two sons—Joseph and Benjamin—were also considered as the legitimate sons of Jacob. Hence, Judah painfully confessed the delegitimation of the ten brothers’ status of sonship in the eyes of their father. Through the confession, Judah, too, revealed the heartbreaking experience the ten brothers had to endure for years, for being discriminated of their sonship. But from the tone in his speech, surprisingly, Judah further implied that the brothers were no longer affected by such a discrimination and Judah willingly proclaimed that he would do anything to prevent Jacob, the father, from being sorrowful again (Gen 44:32-34). Such a revelation of the brothers’ and Judah’s deepest feelings had made a startling impression in the heart of Joseph.
How did Gen 44:33 reflect the climax of Judah’s sacrifice?Hide Answer
Gen 44:33 reflected the climax of Judah’s sacrifice in several ways. First, the phrase “let your servant remain as a slave” indicated that Judah was not only constructing emotional and touching arguments but he also proved the words with his deeds, by willingly making himself to be a slave. Second, Judah’s commitment in Gen 44:33 meant that he was willing to renounce his liberty and his family. If the offer was accepted by the Egyptian governor, Judah knew that he would no longer be able to go back to Canaan, his home country, and most importantly, to see his family. Third, the commitment also meant that Judah was willing to degrade himself, serving a foreign ruler in a foreign country while bearing the status of a criminal. Fourth, through the sacrifice, Judah was performing his duty as a surety and was achieving the intended result of the negotiation—the safe return of Benjamin, the beloved son of his father, and the return of the rest of the brothers to their home country.
In responding to the evidence against Benjamin (Gen 44:12), Judah could have argued extensively for their innocence. But here, in Gen 44:16, Judah plainly admitted the wrong. The example of Judah teaches us a lesson about confessing our sins to the Lord. It is easier for us to find excuse to our wrongdoings, rather than openly admitting them. The writer of the letter of
1st John admonishes us that if we confess our sins, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” ( 1 Jn 1:9). In other words, if we humble ourselves, confessing our wrongdoings in front of Him; the faithful and just Lord will give us the chance of forgiveness. But if we hardened our heart, stubbornly proclaim that we have no sin, then we are only deceiving ourselves ( 1 Jn 1:8).
After admitting the wrong, Judah initiatively threw himself on a plea for Joseph’s mercy in Gen 44:18. Likewise, after we confess our sins to God, we ought to seek for His mercy. The psalmist reminds us that “the Lord takes pleasure in those who hope in His mercy” (Psa 147:11). Instead of feeling down and desperate in our mistake, the psalmist reproves us to stand up and not to lose our hope for God’s mercy.