Genesis 44 (NRSV)
Joseph Detains Benjamin
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 top of his sack. 2Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.
3As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? 5Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’“
6When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. 7They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! 8Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
The brothers confidently stated they they did not have the cup. This shows 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. They 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.
10He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.”
11Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. 12He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
13At this they tore their clothes. Then each one loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
When Joseph was taken as a slave, the brothers allowed him to go and thought nothing of it. Now they are willing to stand with Benjamin as he faces slavery or death. This demonstrates a significant change in the hearts and attitudes of Joseph’s brothers.
14Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. 15Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?”
16And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found.”
With these words, Judah revealed God’s work among the brothers. In Judah’s mind, the brothers are now destined to live the rest of their lives as slaves in Egypt because they sold Joseph as a slave some 20 years before.
17But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Judah Pleads for Benjamin’s Release
18Then Judah stepped up to him and said,
Donald Gray Barnhouse (pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA from 1927 to 1960) called this speech of Judah “the most moving address in all the Word of God.”
“O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20And 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; 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, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ 24When 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,’ 26we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. 29If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’
30″Now therefore, when 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, 31when 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. 32For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ 33Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
Judah shines forth as one willing to be a substitutionary sacrifice out of love for his father and for his brothers. Remember, Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph 20 years earlier (Genesis 37:26-27). Here he willingly offers to lay down his life for his brother.
HERE is “Have Mercy on Me, O Lord God,” by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 721), played by American organ virtuoso Carlo Curley. The music almost sounds like a beating heart — “Have mercy, Lord, my sin forgive, for Thy long-suffering is great!”
from John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible:
Now, had Joseph been, as Judah supposed, an utter stranger to the family, yet even common humanity could not but be wrought upon by such powerful reasonings as these; for nothing could be said more moving, more tender; it was enough to melt a heart of stone: but to Joseph, who was nearer a-kin to Benjamin than Judah himself, and who, at this time, felt a greater passion for him and his aged father, than Judah did, nothing could be more pleasingly nor more happily said. Neither Jacob nor Benjamin needed an intercessor with Joseph, for he himself loved them.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.