Joseph’s Silver Cup
Genesis 44. This chapter we have the final step in a sequence of events designed to test Joseph’s brethren concerning their repentance. Using the silver cup, Joseph threatens the liberty of Benjamin, which was the brother’s greatest fear. But in response, Judah demonstrates his desire to spare his father grief, and this was the final element of repentance Joseph was looking for!
The Brothers’ Third Return to Egypt (44:1-13)
1 And he commanded him who was over his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry; and put every man’s money in the mouth of his sack. 2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain-money. And he did according to the word of Joseph which he had spoken. 3 In the morning, when it was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses. 4 They were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, when Joseph said to him who was over his house, Up! follow after the men; and when thou overtakest them, thou shalt say to them, Why have ye rewarded evil for good? 5 Is not this it in which my lord drinks, and in which indeed he divines? Ye have done evil in what ye have done. vv.1-5 At the end of the previous chapter the brothers were enjoying the generosity of Joseph, and perhaps they had forgotten their guilt and fear for a time. But forgiveness is different than forgetting. There was still more work to do to reach the brothers’ consciences. The very one the brothers had sworn to protect must be put in jeopardy, and Joseph ordered the circumstances to achieve exactly this. Joseph masterfully recreated the same circumstance the brothers had been in. He pressed and tested them to see the progress in their souls. God does the same with us, He is the master of Providence. Even in prophecy, God will recreate old circumstances for the nations, and they will be judged according to that trial. But the motive of Joseph behind this actions was a desire for their restoration. Remember, it was after the prodigal confessed to his father and found forgiveness that a feast could be enjoyed. Joseph knew that the real feast could not begin until the matter was fully dealt with. This is why Joseph must press the issue. A sinner could never be comfortable in the presence of God unless he has full and known forgiveness. Joseph’s object was not just to get a confession or to have vindication, but he wanted restoration and fellowship. The same should be true with an offended brother (Matt. 18:15-20). It is interesting that Joseph told his servant what to say, and he referred to the cup as “this it in which my lord drinks, and in which indeed he divines”. The magicians of Egypt used divining cups to divine the truth through their black magic. Joseph did not use the cup in that way, but in another way, to test the hearts of his brothers. But Joseph falls far short of the Lord, who knows all things; He saw Nathanael under the fig tree, and told the woman at the well “all things” concerning her life.
6 And he overtook them, and he spoke to them these words. 7 And they said to him, Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from thy servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in our sacks` mouths we have brought again to thee from the land of Canaan; and how should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold? 9 With whomsoever of thy servants it is found, let him die; and we also will be my lord’s bondmen. 10 And he said, Now also let it be according to your words: let him with whom it is found be my bondman, but ye shall be blameless. 11 And they hasted and laid down every man his sack on the ground, and opened every man his sack. 12 And he searched carefully: he began at the eldest, and ended at the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they rent their clothes, and loaded every man his ass, and they returned to the city. vv.6-13 The brothers, when accused, sought to justify themselves. The search was conducted from the eldest to youngest. Naturally, the brothers would have wish for the opposite; to get the search of Benjamin’s sack over with first. But the anxiety is drawn out. To their horror, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. This was the worst possible outcome. But notice, the brothers did not abandon Benjamin. They all returned to the city!
The Confession of Judah (44:14-34)
14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; and he was still there; and they fell down before him to the ground. 15 And Joseph said to them, What deed is this which ye have done? Did ye not know that such a man as I can certainly divine? 16 And Judah said, What shall we say to my lord? what shall we speak, and how justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of thy servants; behold, we are my lord’s bondmen, both we, and he in whose hand the cup has been found. vv.14-17 Judah now is singled out. When the stakes were at the their highest, Judah steps forward. He had taken the lead in selling Joseph, and now he takes the lead in repentance. He takes the lead in repentance, just as the two tribes will in the day of Israel’s restoration. In a way, these brothers must have been shocked by Joseph’s change in countenance. They might have thought Joseph had a personality disorder or something. Hadn’t they just been in his house eating and drinking? Joseph speaks of himself as “Such a man as I am?” It pictures the discerning wisdom of knowledge of the Lord. The Lord discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, like the Lamb of Rev. 5, having “seven eyes” or perfect discernment. Judah spoke on behalf of them all. There were no excuses. The evidence was plain. Judah, who had made himself a surety for Benjamin, ropes all the brother into the place of responsibility. But Joseph presses the point further in v.17.
17 And he said, Far be it from me to do so! The man in whose hand the cup has been found, he shall be my bondman; but as for you, go up in peace to your father. 18 Then Judah came near to him, and said, Ah! 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. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 20 And we said to my lord, We have an aged father, and a child born to him in his old age, yet young; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother; and his father loves him. 21 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down to me, that I may set mine eye on him. 22 And we said to my lord, The youth cannot leave his father: if he should leave his father, his father would die. 23 And thou saidst to thy servants, Unless your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. 24 And it came to pass when we came up to thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, Go again, buy us a little food. 26 But we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us. 27 And thy servant my father said to us, Ye know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, He must certainly have been torn in pieces; and I have not seen him again hitherto. 29 And if ye take this one also from me, and mischief should befall him, ye will bring down my grey hairs with misery to Sheol. 30 And now, when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us, — seeing that his life is bound up with his life, 31 it will come to pass when he sees that the lad is not there, that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the grey hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For thy servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, If I bring him not to thee, then I shall be guilty toward my father all my days. 33 And now, let thy servant stay, I pray thee, instead of the lad a bondman to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brethren; 34 for how should I go up to my father if the lad were not with me? — lest I see the evil that would come on my father. vv.17-34 Joseph was a master with souls. He played it just right to test his brothers’ heart toward Benjamin. They could return to Canaan, but the guilty man must stay. Joseph brings it down to a very specific thing that he was dealing with. This is the climax of the trial. Judah replies with one of the most tender appeals in all the Word of
God. Judah replays the whole scene from the presence of his father. He says, “I cannot do this. I’ll take Benjamin’s place”. This was evidence of a profound and deep work in Judah’s soul. See how Joseph crafted this scene precisely to match the circumstances of his own betrayal? This was the perfect opportunity to abandon the second son of Rachel. There was nothing stopping them from turning around right there and going home. He can say of Benjamin “his father loveth him” without an ounce of envy. But there was something deeper than just the betrayal of Joseph; there was the pain the brothers had cost their father. In type, this pictures the offense that our sins have raised against God. Not only have we offended others, but God has been offended; “against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa. 51:4). Think of the grief that Jacob endured, and the false comfort that the brothers showed to him. But now, Judah shows that his heart was completely changed; “it will come to pass when he sees that the lad is not there, that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the grey hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to Sheol… for how should I go up to my father if the lad were not with me? — lest I see the evil that would come on my father.” This was the change Joseph was looking for.