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Deeper Commentary

Gen 44:1 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 his sack’s mouth- Again, Joseph [like the Lord Jesus] used every opportunity to shower them with grace; simply because he loved them, and yet also with the hope that as Paul puts it, the goodness of God would lead to repentance (Rom. 2:4). There was obviously a set price for grain, but he gave them more than what they had paid for, seeking to teach them that his grace was not proportionate to their works or what materially they could give him. They had tried to shrug off Joseph's previous grace to them concerning the money in the sacks' mouths by imagining it was "an oversight". But the fact it happened a second time was meant to underline to them Joseph's grace. Joseph showers them with grace and love before falsely accusing Benjamin over the cup. The Lord likewise operates with us, assuring us of His love at the same time as testing us.

Gen 44:2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, with his grain money. He did according to the word that Joseph had spoken- "Silver" and "money" are the same word in Hebrew. Perhaps Joseph wanted to teach Benjamin and all of them about the fact that silver is so often the path to spiritual ruin. The brothers had sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver, and there was probably far more than twenty pieces of silver in the sacks. I suggested on Gen. 37:26 that the attraction of silver was a significant factor in the decision to sell Joseph into slavery. He was repaying evil with good, in the same terms as it had been paid out to him, as it were. Silver was thus demonstrated by Joseph to be utterly immaterial compared to Divine grace, and the issues of life and death. For without Joseph's wisdom and generosity, silver of itself could not save them from death by starvation.

It seemed that despite having been given their money back, and extra grain, they had abused Joseph's grace by stealing his cup. But as noted earlier, the false accusation of abusing his grace would have elicited the response: 'No we didn't... in this matter. But have we done so in the past? Will we do so in future?'.

Gen 44:3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their donkeys- The Divine camera enables us to imagine them, leaving with donkeys laden down with a heavier load than intended ["as much as they can carry", :1], made heavier by the silver; we see the men and their donkeys silhouetted against the rising sin.

Gen 44:4 When they had gone out of the city, and were not yet far off, Joseph said to his steward, Up, follow after the men. When you overtake them, ask them, ‘Why have you rewarded evil for good?'- See on :6. They would naturally feel 'But we didn't reward this man evil for good'. Indeed they had not, in the immediate context. But they had done evil to Joseph (Gen. 50:15,17,20 "You meant it for evil"). The purpose of false accusations is to provoke self examination and perhaps to reveal to us that in other contexts, those accusations against us are true in their essence. For as soon as they started to protest that they had not done evil to Joseph... they surely would realize deep in their subconscious that indeed they had done so. We can infer that Joseph had only done them "good" before they did him "evil". And the good he had done them was to attempt to be their spiritual leader, although he was only 17.


Gen 44:5 Isn’t this that from which my lord drinks, and by which he indeed divines?- Joseph's steward was aware that Joseph knew a lot about these men. He set them to eat in order of their birth, etc. Joseph had to give some credible explanation to his steward as to how he knew. So perhaps he just gave the impression that he had this knowledge through his cup which he used as a divining cup. But the use of such divination was strongly condemned by God (Lev. 19:26; Dt. 10:10 s.w.). So here we have another example of where Joseph appeared as an Egyptian when in his heart he was very different. Just as we appear on some external counts to be indistnguishable from the world, when our hearts are elsewhere. The brothers surely knew that the cup had been planted, and they were being falsely accused of doing "evil" in return for good. Likewise they would have probably disbelieved that this cup was the source of Joseph's knowledge about them. They didn't believe in "divination". So the question would have been provoked within them: "From where, then, does this man know all about us?". They were being led closer to the recognition that this man was Joseph their brother. God doesn't force us to repentance, but neither does He leave us totally to our own device. He nudges us, with a gentleness of the perfect force- not too hard so as to gaslight or railroad us, nor too soft so as to be unperceived. The nudging towards repentance can involve very round about methods, as we see here. And this explains our impression at times that life is very random and bizarre. It isn't, because what we see as so bizarre is in fact a leading or nudging of us to repentance.  

They likely realized that all the myths of divination through cups were bunk; and yet this man with whom they had to do could indeed "divine" them, setting them according to their ages. So they would have realized that somehow their attitude to this cup incident was going to be how Joseph 'divined' them; but it was their response to it which was going to make the answer. Would they rally around their brother Benjamin, and be prepared to suffer for and with him, this son of Rachel [as Joseph was]- or would they seek to justify themselves and leave him to his fate? Would they care about their father's grief, or not? Would the false accusation make them realize that although they had not stolen Joseph's cup whilst enjoying his huge grace to them over the meal table, they had in another context all rewarded evil for good?

And so the incident points forward to the table of the Lord Jesus, the grace of which we too have all in some way abused. Our spirit / attitude is the candle of the Lord, with which He searches us. Our thoughts when confronted by the cross reveal us to Him who died on it. Likewise Joseph (one of the most detailed types of the Lord) knew / discerned his brethren by his cup (Gen. 44:5). 1 Cor. 11:31,32 further suggests that our self-judgment at the breaking of bread is in fact the Lord’s judgment of us; just as Joseph's discernment of them was really their discernment of themselves.

The divining may be a reference to his interpreting the butler's dream involving the cup; see on Gen. 40:11. The Hebrew for “divines" means literally ‘to make trial’; their taking of the cup was their trial / judgment. Thus we drink either blessing or condemnation to ourselves by taking the cup. The word used by the LXX for “divines" in Gen. 44:5 occurs in the NT account of the breaking of bread service: ‘everyone should examine himself, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). The Lord examines us, as we examine ourselves. There is a mutuality here- the spirit of man is truly the candle of the Lord (Prov. 20:27). He searches us through our own self-examination. He knows all things, but there may still be methods that He uses to gather than information. Our hearts are revealed to God through our own self-examination. And is it mere co-incidence that the Hebrew words for “divination" and “snake" are virtually identical [nahash]? The snake lifted up on the pole [cp. the crucified Jesus] is the means of trial / divination. Through the cross, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed (Lk. 2:35), just as they will be at the last day. Thus the breaking of bread ceremony is a means towards the sort of realistic self-examination which we find so hard to achieve in normal life.

The implication could be that they thought Joseph had information about them because of this magic cup, and they had therefore stolen it. Because they thought this would stop him knowing about them. This was to probe their conscience. They of course denied the theft. But their conscience would have prodded them- they were indeed aware that Joseph strangely knew all about them, and they were indeed uncomfortable with that fact, and would do all in their power to keep him from knowing more about them. All this was again a nudge towards their acceptance of the simple truth; the vizier was indeed Joseph and he knew all about them. The implication was also that Joseph would have already divined through the cup that they were going to steal it. The message was: 'He knows your past and future. Any attempt to avoid that is desperate and can never work. Just accept He knows all about you'. And this is what every man is faced with who seeks to deny the Lord's total knowledge of him. And as we take His cup at the communion service,  we are powerfully reminded of this and led towards self examination, knowing and seeing ourselves as He sees us.

The Hebrew for “divines" means literally ‘to make trial’; their taking of the cup was their trial / judgment. Thus we drink either blessing or condemnation to ourselves by taking the cup. The word used by the LXX for “divines" in Gen. 44:5 occurs in the NT account of the breaking of bread service: ‘everyone should examine himself, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). The Lord examines us, as we examine ourselves. There is a mutuality here- the spirit of man is truly the candle of the Lord (Prov. 20:27). He searches us through our own self-examination. He knows all things, but there may still be methods that He uses to gather than information. Our hearts are revealed to God through our own self-examination. And is it mere co-incidence that the Hebrew words for “divination" and “snake" are virtually identical [nahash]? The snake lifted up on the pole [cp. the crucified Jesus] is the means of trial / divination. Through the cross, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed (Lk. 2:35), just as they will be at the last day (1 Cor. 11). Thus the breaking of bread ceremony is a means towards the sort of realistic self-examination which we find so hard to achieve in normal life.

You have done evil in so doing’- They are falsely accused of doing evil. The accusation was false, but their psychological reaction was intended to lead them to realise that they had in fact done another evil, to Joseph (50:20).

Gen 44:6 He overtook them, and he spoke these words to them- Jacob's sons had been pursued and overtaken once before; the same word is used of Laban doing so to the Jacob family (Gen. 31:25). And Laban had likewise accused them of rewarding him evil for good, and he had made an accusation against them- that they had stolen his idols. That accusation was true, but it was turned into a false accusation by God's grace saving them from being "overtaken" and Rachel hiding the idols and lying to her father. And they would have been intended to make the connection; that they then had been saved by grace, they who were liars. And now they had been "overtaken" again, and a false accusation was made, that they had rewarded good with evil. But their consciences would have been pricked; for they had indeed done evil, and they would only be saved from this 'overtaking' by Divine grace. All these things were carefully planned to elicit their repentance. How many of the prods they felt and responded to, we do not know; but somewhere in their deep subconscious, surely something was stirred.

Gen 44:7 They 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!- As I have often mentioned, the Divine purpose of the experience of false accusation is in order to elicit from us the recognition that although we didn't do what we were accused of, we have in essence done the same in other areas. Whilst they had not stolen the cup, it was not so far from them to reward evil for good. But the brothers begin to show signs that they will not abandon Benjamin; for the pronouns vary: "They said... My Lord... your servants... that they...". So they are beginning to have a very different attitude to that which they had toward Joseph years earlier.

Gen 44:8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again to you out of the land of Canaan. How then should we steal silver or gold out of your lord’s house?- They begin however by parading their own righteousness and integrity. Yet the cup incident made them realize their guilt and made them acceptive of the judgment they deserved. And it made them quit their attempts at parading their own righteousness, no matter how valid it was in the immediate context. The cup made them realize their real status, and not just use empty words. Behold the contradiction in Gen. 44:9: “With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my Lord’s bondmen / servants". The Hebrew words translated “servants" and “bondmen" are the same. Their mere formal recognition that they were Joseph’s servants was to be translated into reality. Thus they say that Joseph had “found out the iniquity of thy servants; behold, we are my Lord’s servants". Describing themselves as His servants had been a mere formalism; now they wanted it in a meaningful reality. And the Lord’s cup can do the same to us. The way they were “searched" (Gen. 44:12) from the oldest to the youngest was surely the background for how the guilty men in Jn. 8 pined away in guilt from the Lord Jesus, from the eldest to the youngest. The whole experience would have elicited self-knowledge within them. The same word is found in Zech. 1:12, describing how God Himself would search out the sin of Jerusalem.

Joseph was trying to tell them: ‘What you did to the cup, you did to me. That cup is a symbol of me’. And inevitably the mind flies to how the Lord solemnly took the cup and said that this was Him. Our attitude to those emblems is our attitude to Him. We have perhaps over-reacted against the Roman Catholic view that the wine turns into the very blood of Jesus. It doesn’t, of course, but all the same the Lord did say that the wine is His blood, the bread is His body. Those emblems are effectively Him to us. They are symbols, but not mere symbols. If we take them with indifference, with minds focused on externalities, then this is our essential attitude to Him personally. This is why the memorial meeting ought to have an appropriate intensity about it- for it is a personal meeting with Jesus. “Here O my Lord, I see thee face to face". If it is indeed this, then the cup will be the means of eliciting within us our own realization of sin and subsequently, of our salvation in Jesus.

Gen 44:9 With whoever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondservants- Their emotional words reflect a lack of sensitivity to their father Jacob's feelings. They ought at least to have excluded Benjamin from their promises. There is a strange repeat here of the situation with Rachel, the mother of Benjamin and Joseph. Her husband Jacob, their father, had rashly said that whoever had stolen Laban's idols should due. Now they make the same mistake. And Benjamin is found guilty of stealing and hiding the idolatrous valuable cup. His mother had done the same, but been saved by grace. We wonder whether Joseph was trying to get his brother to see how their mother had sinned, and yet been saved by grace.

Here, being dead is paralleled with being a slave- that is the force of "die... we also will be bondservants". And there appears a parallel between being a bond slave and dying in :17. Indeed, Romans 6 draws the same parallel- death to sin is part of being a slave of Christ. The very fact we are baptized means we should not continue in sin, seeing we are dead to it (Rom. 6:2). This is one of the most basic implications of a first principle which we live in ignorance of most of our days. Baptism is a change of masters- but we are still bond slaves, not of sin, but of God. The implications of this figure may not be immediately apparent to the modern mind. We are totally committed to the Master- this is who we are, bond slaves.

Gen 44:10 He said, Now also let it be according to your words: he with whom it is found will be my bondservant; and you will be blameless- They should have sensed the grace shown in turning down their offer. Nobody would die, nor would they all become slaves. Yet the steward says that this is "according to your words". But his offer was not according to their words. The grace in it all is that their own self condemnation was turned around to something far more generous, and put back in their own mouths. They were intended to marvel at the grace, and to see that although there was going to be judgment, there was an extraordinary grace with the judge. We note too that this steward appears to have full authority to speak for Joseph, note "my bondservant". They would be blameless if only one of them had done it; the fact they plead a common, joint guilt ["the iniquity of your servants", :16] is therefore to be taken as not simply unity with their brother, but an expression of some other guilt, namely concerning Joseph.

The punishment for stealing the goblet of a man like Joseph was death, and the brothers offered this as the just desert. In the midst of their confusion, they are offered grace. They will not all be punished, as would be normal in such circumstances as they appeared jointly responsible. And the punishment for the guilty would not be death but servitude. They like us are being asked to see that the darkest clouds of circumstance are lined with amazing grace. If we perceive it. And they were being hereby encouraged to throw themselves upon that grace. 

Gen 44:11 Then they hurried, and each man took his sack down to the ground, and each man opened his sack- Their speed was to demonstrate their eagerness to show themselves innocent. As they opened their sacks, they would have again found their money in the sack mouth. So as they prepared to face judgment, they did so knowing that there was an amazing grace in the man with whom they had to do.

Gen 44:12 He searched, beginning with the eldest, and ending at the youngest. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack- As noted on :12, Benjamin would have seen the cup nestled amongst his returned money. It was a powerful visual symbol of how judgment and guilt was to be covered with the message of grace and passionate love toward him, and all of them. Again they would have noticed that Joseph and his steward knew their ages (as when he sat them by birth order at the table); for the search was made from eldest to youngest. We recall how the Lord Jesus likewise convicted the Jews in John 8 from the eldest to the youngest. So the specter of judgment hanging over them was again ameliorated by the awareness that their judge knew them intimately.

Gen 44:13 Then they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey, and returned to the city- "Each man..." signals that they all felt united with Benjamin; they didn't leave him to his fate. They had indeed moved on a long way from their attitude to Joseph. The repetition of circumstance in our lives is not only to teach us, but to make sure that we learnt the lesson- for what teacher doesn't give pupils exercises to practice the theory they've learnt? It seems that Joseph, acting on God's behalf and as a type of Christ, manipulated circumstances so that his brothers would have deja vu experiences. Thus he sets things up to tempt them with freedom if they again betray their younger brother (Benjamin) and are thoughtless to their father's pain. The united, frank and open response of the brothers (:16,17) showed how they had indeed learnt their lesson.

Their tearing of clothes is what Jacob did because of their treatment of Joseph (Gen. 37:34). So it is not so much a case of measure for measure, but rather their being led by circumstance to appreciate what they had put their father through.

Gen 44:14 Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there- Judah now takes the lead amongst the brothers. He comes over as responsible and genuine in his care for Benjamin.

They fell on the ground before him- Joseph's dream was having multiple primary fulfilments as they all bow to him. The fact the dreams are not presented as having one clear fulfilment [for they bow before him on several occasions] shows that all the recorded bowing of the brothers was only primary fulfilment; and in any case, Rachel was not present as required. And we wonder whether this bowing was anyway the fulfilment of the 'bowing before Joseph' of his dreams. Because to bow before someone has the sense of gratitude and thankfulness in Gen. 23:7,12, where Abraham bows to the sons of Heth in gratitude for a burial place for his wife. Perhaps that is the final fulfilment- bowing before Joseph, not in fear and subservience, but in gratitude. And it seems that is yet to come.

Gen 44:15 Joseph said to them, What deed is this that you have done?- "What deed is this?" was to elicit their memory of the deed done to Joseph. He addresses them in the plural- trying to elicit from them the recognition that they had all returned evil for good with respect to himself. The Hebrew for "deed" is not the word that would be used if Joseph simply meant 'What have you done?' or 'What thing have you done?'. It's the same word translated "occupation" or 'trade' in Gen. 46:33; 47:3. The idea is of trading, and he is trying to elicit from the memory of their trading of him for 20 pieces of silver. The "you" is "you" plural. He accuses them as a group of theft. And they had as a group stolen Joseph (Gen. 40:15).

The whole story of Joseph is one of the clearest types of Jesus in the Old Testament. The way His brethren come before His throne and are graciously accepted is one of the most gripping foretastes we have of the final judgment. The rather strange way Joseph behaves towards them was surely to elicit within them a true repentance. He sought to bring them to self-knowledge through His cup. Joseph stresses to the brethren that it is through his cup that he “divines" to find out their sin. He also emphasizes that by stealing the cup they had “done evil" (Gen. 44:4,5). And yet they didn’t actually steal the cup. The “evil" which they had done was to sell him into Egypt (Gen. 50:20). They had “stolen" him (Gen. 40:15) in the same way they had “stolen" the cup. This is why he says that “you" (you plural, not singular, as it would have been if he was referring merely to Benjamin’s supposed theft) had stolen it (Gen. 44:15). And the brethren in their consciences understood what Joseph was getting at- for instead of insisting that they hadn’t stolen the cup, they admit: “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" (Gen. 44:16 AV). Clearly their minds were on their treatment of Joseph, the sin which they had thought would not be found out. And this was why they were all willing to bear the punishment of becoming bondmen, rather than reasoning that since Benjamin had apparently committed the crime, well he alone must be punished.

Don’t you know that such a man as I can indeed divine?- The idea was 'I know that you have committed a great, evil deed'- concerning Joseph. The divining may be a reference to his interpreting the butler's dream involving the cup; see on Gen. 40:11. But "divine" is translated "I have learned by experience" in Gen. 30:27. Joseph is saying that he has seen them, knows them, has experienced them. This is about the clearest statement so far that 'I am Joseph'. They never got to quite the point Joseph wanted, for in the end he has to spell it out for them, although they were surely 'there' in their subconscious.

"Such a man as I" may allude to his title Zaaphnath Paaneah, which can mean 'The knower of that which is secret'. This was the message all along,  that Joseph like the Lord, knows all about us. And we are to come to that same realisation, to know even as we are known. Paul says that day is yet future, but we are led towards it now.


Gen 44:16 Judah said, What will we tell my lord? What will we speak?-

Joseph's brothers’ words are exactly those of Daniel in Dan. 10:15-17, where in another death and resurrection experience, he feels just the same as he lays prostrate before the Angel. Our attitude to the Lord in the last day will be our attitude to Him at the breaking of bread- just as our “boldness" in prayer now will be our “boldness" in the day of judgment. In the same way as the brothers had to be reassured by Joseph of his loving acceptance, so the Lord will have to ‘make us’ sit down with Him, and encourage us to enter into His joy. There will be some sort of disbelief at the extent of His grace in all those who are truly acceptable with Him (“When saw we thee…?"). The brothers grieved and were angry with themselves in the judgment presence of Joseph (Gen. 45:5)- they went through the very feelings of the rejected (cp. “weeping and gnashing of teeth" in self-hatred). And yet they were graciously accepted, until like Daniel they can eventually freely talk with their saviour Lord (Gen. 45:15). And so the sheep will feel rejected at the judgment, they will condemn themselves- in order to be saved ultimately. The same words occur in Neh. 8:10,11, when a repentant Israel standing before the judgment bema (LXX) are given the same assurance.


This spirit influenced David when he likewise says: "What can I say to you? For you Lord know your servant" (2 Sam. 7:20). Our awareness of our sinfulness at the day of judgment will doubtless have a like effect upon us. The moral desperation of the brethren ("how shall we clear ourselves?") will then be seen in us. Speechlessness is a characteristic of the rejected (Mt. 22:12); the brothers slunk away from Joseph's physical presence (45:4), as the rejected will (1 Jn. 2:28 Gk.). This all suggests that those accepted at the judgment seat will go through all the emotions of the rejected; they will realize that rejection is what they deserve. Those who judge (condemn) themselves now in their self-examination will not be condemned then.

In the Hebrew, the "What can we [do]?" is clearer. It is repeated three times: "What can we say... what can we speak... what can we say to justify ourselves?". This is everyman before the Lord Jesus, unable to justify ourselves, as Paul stresses in Romans. What can we say or do? Nothing, but cast ourselves upon His grace. Judah's recognition of their position is the more commendable because it was based upon his inner conscience of their sin with Joseph. For he stood falsely accused before Joseph, and innocent of stealing the cup. This absolute contrition was therefore based upon repentance over the sin with Joseph, and not because of any sin regarding the cup, which they were falsely accused of. We can be sure Benjamin protested his innocence, but Judah doesn't go down the path of as it were demanding a retrial. Rather, he acts as genuinely guilty- because he knows that they are guilty of major sin against Joseph. This can help us cope with midjudgment; indeed we have been falsely accused and misjudged, but we are in fact utterly guilty of other sin before God and worthy only of death.

Or how will we clear ourselves?- This is the word usually translated "righteous". How can a man be just / right with God? This is the question of all the faithful, from the book of Job to Paul in Romans. Job uses precisely the same Hebrew phrase, translated "How shall a man be just [with God]?" (Job 9:2; 15:14; 25:4). These are the only other occurrences of the phrase, and so clearly Job was influenced by Judah's words. No words, no silver, no works. We each come to this point. We just have to accept that we have sinned and cast ourselves upon the Lord, being willing to die or be His eternal servants. This ideally is the attitude we should have at baptism and then throughout our lives.

God has found out the iniquity of your servants- They had agreed that with whomsoever the cup was "found", he should die (s.w. :9). And it had been "found" with Benjamin. But Judah says that all of them had sinned and their sin had been "found". He therefore has in mind their sin against Joseph. There is a direct parallel with their admission of this sin in Gen. 42:21 "We are verily guilty concerning our brother" Joseph. God and not Joseph nor his steward had found out this singular "iniquity" of them all; so Judah refers to the iniquity with Joseph and not of stealing the cup. So Judah is speaking on two levels; he is saying what Joseph apparently wants to hear, that they are guilty. But Judah knew that actually they as a group were not guilty of stealing Benjamin's cup, as Benjamin had apparently acted alone in stealing it. But he makes the confession of guilt because of his now deep awareness of "the iniquity" of the brothers regaring Joseph earlier. They had “stolen" him (Gen. 40:15) in the same way they had “stolen" the cup. They were guilty of theft- but of Joseph, not of the cup. And Judah accepts this and therefore chooses not to argue back with Joseph that they were innocent of the accusation about stealing the cup. And this was why they were all willing to bear the punishment of becoming bondmen, rather than reasoning that since Benjamin had apparently committed the crime, well he alone must be punished. The cup was “found" and they realized that God had “found out" their joint iniquity (Gen. 44:10,12,16). The cup was perceived by them as their “iniquity" with Joseph. They had used the very same Hebrew words years before, in telling Jacob of Joseph’s garment: “This have we found…" (Gen. 37:32). So we see here that there was some repentance and spiritual growth in Judah and the brothers. It is shown for all time that reconcilliation can be based upon the pure grace of one party, even if the other parties can never bring themselves to express repentance and apology in so many words to the offended party. But, there was deep within them a recognition of their sin with Joseph. This may possibly be in some contexts a pattern for how we deal with false accusation; to let it go, because we are guilty of the essence of the sin of which we are falsely accused.

Behold, we are my lord’s bondservants, both we, and he also in whose hand the cup is found- Judah doesn't plead innocent about stealing the cup, but agrees that Joseph has rightly perceived that they have a great hidden sin. Judah speaks of them as "servants" in the plural who have sinned, rather than in the singular, which he would've done if he only had Benjamin's behaviour in view. As noted on :10, the position was that they would all be held "blameless" if only one of them had stolen the cup. This joint plea was therefore a confession of some other joint sin- that concerning Joseph. This is why Judah says that despite the offer of only Benjamin being a slave, they would all accept this judgment.

The cup was “found" and they realized that God had “found out" their joint iniquity (Gen. 44:10,12,16). The cup was perceived by them as their “iniquity" with Joseph. They had used the very same Hebrew words years before, in telling Jacob of Joseph’s garment: “This have we found…" (Gen. 37:32).

They who had sold their brother into slavery in Egypt were now offering to become slaves in Egypt. Joseph's plan had worked, in that they were willing to experience what they had subjected him to. But still there never comes the specific statement of repentance and apology which we the story leads us to expect at the end.

Gen 44:17 He said, Far be it from me that I should do so- Evidence has been found that there was an Egyptian law which stated that if one of a group of men stole something from the ruling class, then the whole group were to be likewise punished. Judah has stated that they would all be slaves because of their "sin", which Judah understood as referring to their sin against Joseph and Jacob. Joseph reads his mind, and assures him that he will not "do so", even though that is Egyptian law. All he wants is that Benjamin remain with him. Later, the brothers would have rehearsed every word of Joseph, and understood he was speaking with the utmost grace and love. But at the time, his words and actions appeared so harsh. And so it shall be at the last day, when the Lord is no longer understood as a hard man at all, but we shall know that He was always bursting with passionate love and grace and desire for us. We can make that realisation even now.

Joseph alludes to God's words and Abraham's plea regarding Sodom, that the righteous will not be destroyed with the wicked (Gen. 18:25). See on :18. Joseph is saying that they are now righteous. They have just said that there is no way they can be cleared or righteous (see on :16), but through this allusion, Joseph on God's behalf declares them righteous. This is an Old Testament version of Paul's teaching of imputed righteousness, by grace.

The man in whose hand the cup is found, he will be my bondservant; but as for you, go up in peace to your father- "Peace" carries the idea of peace with God. Joseph is saying that they are forgiven. Despite their statement that there is no way they can now be righteous and their confession of collective sin- with the sin against Joseph in their minds. Why then does Joseph want to keep Benjamin? Perhaps because Benjamin was the one who had not sinned against Joseph, and yet needed to be taught the same lessons of imputed righteousness. Or maybe Joseph wanted to see their response; he has said they are forgiven and at peace. Yet will they now abandon their brother? Have they learnt in practice what loyalty to your brother is all about? Will there be works appropriate to their faith in Joseph's forgiveness? And there will be.

Gen 44:18 Then Judah came near to him- The same word used of Abraham coming near to God to speak, continuing the allusion noted on :17.

And said, Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and don’t let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even as Pharaoh- Judah's recorded words in this chapter begin as broken sentences, and now become more lengthy and eloquent. This is psychologically as we would expect; we can be sure that we are reading the actual words spoken, thousands of years ago. It's hard to know whether Judah feels Joseph's anger is already burning, or is asking that this not be the case. If the former, then we have the wonderful picture of men thinking that Joseph like God is burning with anger against them, when in fact He is full of passionate, saving love toward us. And many will learn that wonderful lesson at the day of judgment. But if Judah means ' Do not be provoked to anger by what I am going to beg of you', then we have yet another connection with Abraham's words in pleading for Sodom (Gen. 18:30).

"Don't let your anger burn" could imply that as the Hebrew says, Joseph's face was glowing with wrath. But that was in fact only a mask. Behind that apparent wrath, there was a heart bursting with love, tenderness and blanket forgiveness even when no repentance was proferred. And that, finally, at the end of all things, is how we shall understand our present apparent experience of God's wrath.

Gen 44:19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’- The question "Do you have a brother?" was intended to elicit their memories of what they had done to Joseph. Although Joseph had kindly accepted their confession of sin in :16 as good enough for him to forgive them, it was not really complete. Because they had failed to openly confess their sin with Joseph. And here we have a powerful lesson in not demanding repentance according to our terms before we forgive, nor judging the quality of others' forgiveness. For it seems God's eagerness to forgive and save means that whilst He seeks total repentance, He apparently settles for less, as Joseph did.

Judah mentions his father a total of fourteen times in his speech. Perhaps this was because he correctly sensed in Joseph a fondness for this old man of whom they had previously spoken. And perhaps on a deeply subconscious level, he knew he was talking with Joseph and that the feelings of their father would be the critical point at which Joseph might be persuaded.

Gen 44:20 We said to 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 loves him’- Benjamin was in his 20s and had ten sons at this point, and presumably daughters too (Gen. 46:21). Judah cites their previous words to Joseph, with Benjamin standing there- perhaps now he is admitting that they had exaggerated Benjamin's youth. And yet the lie about Joseph, that he had been killed, was so ingrained in Judah that now in this moment of ultimate truth he still repeats it: "He alone is left of his mother". This is the problem with lying- the lie really becomes perceived truth if it is repeated long enough, and takes a lodgment in our entire worldview and self-understanding. Even at this point, Judah could not admit what surely his subconscious was telling him- that Joseph was standing in front of him. And we see that Judah was still not totally truthful- he paints the picture of  a family in perpetual mourning for the loss of a younger brother, lovingly united in care for their elderly, ever grieving and now hungry old father. That is so psychologically credible; the most dysfunctional of families can keep repeating positive narratives about themselves until they believe them to be true. So even here, Judah is still not completely truthful. And we never actually see the brothers confessing in detail what happened, neither to Jacob nor Joseph. And yet they were still accepted by Joseph even though their repentance was 'only' deeply internal, and not to the extent he hoped for. We have to accept the repentance of others when it is of a similar low quality; because so much of our repentance toward God is likewise of low quality. We again note that repentance or impenitence is not a binary state; like forgiveness, it has many shades  and hues. They didn't get to the depth of repentance they ought to have done, but Joseph just so loves them that he cuts short the entire attempt to educate them, and reveals himself to them. Just as the Lord will do at His return to an immature brotherhood. 

Gen 44:21 You said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him’- This Hebrew phrase to set eyes upon is used in Am. 9:4 ("for evil") and Jer. 24:6 ("for good"). It implies Joseph was going to do something with him, rather than just wanting to literally see him. The Hebrew could mean "I will keep my eye on him". And this was to elicit from the brothers the impression that this vizier of Egypt had a special interest in Benjamin. It was another nudge towards perceiving that this vizier was in fact Joseph, the only blood brother of Benjamin.

We note that in Judah's long speech here [long in the sense that few speeches of this length are recorded in Genesis], he is constantly quoting the words of others- of Joseph earlier, of his father, of his brothers to their father etc. Of the entire speech in :18-29, Judah says 42 words of his own and 84 words reporting the words of others. This is a window onto the extent to which they had carefully mulled over every word spoken and remembered it all. This was just as Joseph had intended- because that reflection on those words, over a period of time, was intended to elicit truthfulness and repentance and self understanding. Joseph, on God's behalf, was indeed the master psychologist.

Gen 44:22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy can’t leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die’- As noted on :20, Benjamin was a man in his 20s with ten sons. Jacob was clearly psychologically obsessed with Benjamin; his love for Rachel and Joseph was all channeled into this man.

Gen 44:23 You said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will see my face no more’- Joseph could believe the reported obsession of Jacob with Benjamin, and perhaps that was why he wanted Benjamin and Jacob to individuate from each other. For he had suffered the same problem with Jacob, and now realized that in God's plan, he had had to separate from Jacob in order to stand on his own feet before God. Joseph had threatened that if they saw his face again without their brother, then they would die. This is exactly how Pharaoh later threatened Moses (Ex. 10:28). Moses had made this threat "even as Pharaoh" (:18). Moses would have seen the connection, and realized that God's providence would likewise make this threat of no final reality. This is the advantage of familiarity with the text of Scripture; we see that our situations are not unique and have Biblical precedent, which encourages our faith and helps us realize that we are not alone and no situation is unprecedented.

Gen 44:24 It happened when we came up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord- The continual emphasis upon Jacob as Joseph's servant and "lord" was all a primary fulfilment of Joseph's dreams.

Gen 44:25 Our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food’- Judah is careful to report the conversations exactly as they were. Truthfulness was being elicited, but they still had not quite confessed as they needed to their sin with Joseph, the lie of their lives.

Gen 44:26 We said, ‘We can’t 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’- Although as noted on :25 Judah is being strictly accurate in reporting the conversations, he omits the death threat Joseph had twice made to them. He obviously didn't want to remind Joseph of that; he therefore still was not being totally open, and still hoping that by dint  of his own word choice he might secure a slightly better deal for them all.

Gen 44:27 Your servant, my father, said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons- Again, Judah is effectively bowing before Joseph in the name of Jacob, just as Joseph's dreams had required, by talking of "Your servant, my father".

Gen 44:28 And the one went out from me- True enough to any psychological reconstruction, Jacob remembered the last time he had seen Joseph, walking out of the family encampment with Jacob watching his receding figure as he went towards Dothan. The same words are used of how as a younger man, Jacob had gone out from his father Isaac (Gen. 27:30), never to see him for many years, apparently lost in Mesopotamia. The patterns in the life of Jacob are amazing, and they are too in our lives, if we perceive them.


And I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I haven’t seen him since- This could be taken as meaning 'This is what I thought at the time, I was sure of it; although it's true that since then, I never saw him again'. As noted on Gen. 37:33, the story of Joseph's death begged many questions and Jacob would never have been satisfied as to what actually happened. At this point in Judah's speech, the brothers would all have internally hung their heads. Judah really ought to have said something like: 'This is what your servant our father thought, but actually it was because we lied to him and deceived him; although we didn't steal your cup, we committed a greater sin that this experience with you has reminded us of- we nearly killed our brother, and then sold him down here into Egypt as a slave. We are therefore sure that God has found out this sin and are willing to take whatever punishment He, through you, thinks appropriate'. But Judah didn't say that. He ought to have done, and he had been set up now to say it- but he doesn't. And still Joseph loves them and accepts them. Our forgveness of others and personal repentance is likewise nearly always a case of "Yes... but...", and the quality of it is not always great.

Gen 44:29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol’- The brothers taking this one also from Jacob suggests that he suspected they had killed Joseph, or were responsible for his disappearance. Judah faithfully reports Jacob's words; and again, as suggested on :28, he now had the chance to say in so many words what they had done. But he doesn't.

We recall that Judah had been terrified at the prospect of losing his own son Shelah, and that was why he wouldn't let him marry Tamar, whom he considered a femme fatale. But although Judah was spiritually weak at that time, he learned the lesson; and he therefore doesn't want his father to again go through the loss of a son, in this case Benjamin. So we do see great growth in Judah at this point, far beyond the self centered man of 22 years ago in Gen. 38. Then, he had separated or "gone down from" his brethren; now he leads them and is willing to effectively die for one of them.

Gen 44:30 Now therefore when I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us; since his life is bound up in the boy’s life- The idea was that if Benjamin did not return, then Jacob would lose his life because he would assume that a son who had not returned, even if he was a slave and alive in Egypt, was effectively dead. This ought to have made the brothers realize that by selling Joseph into Egypt, so that he did not return to Jacob, they had effectively taken Joseph's life from him. They had murdered him, and their careful legalistic plan to not spill his blood themselves was not effective in taking away their guilt for his blood.

Gen 44:31 It will happen, when he sees that the boy is no more, that he will die. Your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant, our father, with sorrow to Sheol- See on :30. For a son to remain alive in Egypt as a slave was still tantamount, in Jacob's perception, to the son dying. The brothers had therefore effectively killed Joseph by selling him as a living slave into Egypt. This therefore was why Joseph raised the whole idea of Benjamin remaining as a slave in Egypt. He wanted the brothers to realize that this was effectively murder, a killing of Benjamin. And that is what they had done to Joseph. It is hard to find any other explanation as to what Joseph's intentions were by telling the brothers that Benjamin must remain as a slave in Egypt, and they were to return to their father. They didn't want that outcome, because, as Judah now explains, it would be effectively the death of Benjamin.

The jealousy of the brothers against Joseph was based around the fact that he was the favoured son of the favoured wife, Rachel. They earlier cared nothing for the pain of their father over the apparent loss of Joseph. But now we see that Joseph's efforts to retrain them have paid off. Because they are driven to play the card of their father's feelings as a desperate last ditch attempt to appeal for Joseph's understanding and mercy. And in fairness to the brothers, their love for their father is greater now than it was when they deceived him over the apparent gruesome death of his favourite son Joseph... their half brother. In their own way, they are presented as having repented in their hearts, and are desperately concerned for the feelings of their father, even though he apparently has not long left to live. And yet the point of the story is that they never say sorry in so many words. The entire Joseph novella leads us on to expect some famous final scene where they confess their sins, and Jacob and Joseph graciously forgive them and they live happily ever after. But that scene, expected as it is by us, never comes. Instead we have these more subtle implications that they did in fact repent of what they had done, and they now really did love their old father. But they never said so in so many words. It is our wisdom to realize that we have people in our lives who are similar. And we are to perceive the unwisdom of treating repentance as a binary yes / no status, witnessed by external words and actions. For repentance is a re-thinking, it is a state of the heart. And that is why it is for us to forgive rather than seeking to judge whether or not a person is penitent.  For only God sees the heart and He alone can judge penitence.

Gen 44:32 For your servant became collateral for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I don’t bring him to you, then I will bear the blame to my father forever’- As explained on :30,31, to be a slave in Egypt was effectively death. Judah was willing to accept this 'death' for the sake of Benjamin his brother; and perhaps he was motivated by the realization that he deserved it anyway for having sold Joseph into this death. This was why all the brothers were willing to be slaves in Egypt. We note that Benjamin was also a son of Rachel, the favoured wife; and Judah as Leah's son had been jealous of Rachel's sons. But now he is willing to become a slave, even to die, for the sake of a son of Rachel. And yet Judah never in so many words repents nor apologizes to Joseph for his jealousy.  Instead we have these more subtle implications that he did in fact repent of it; see on :31. So Joseph's very complex and roundabout test of the brothers revealed that now, they were willing to suffer for their brother and their father.

Judah gives a pledge in Gen. 38:17 in connection with his immorality. It cannot be incidental that he later offers his life as a pledge to his father to guarantee the return of Benjamin (Gen. 43:8-10). We are surely meant to detect Judah's spiritual growth between these two "pledge" incidents. We note Judah offers to "bear the blame / sin" if Benjamin doesn't return (Gen. 43:9). He has matured from seeking to hide his blame / sin in his behaviour with Tamar. Likewise the Judah who had caused his father so much grief over the loss of Joseph, becomes the Judah who is so careful to avoid causing his father such grief over Benjamin.

Gen 44:33 Now therefore, please let your servant stay instead of the boy, a bondservant to my lord; and let the boy go up with his brothers- As noted on Gen. 38:1, Judah was somewhat separated from the other brothers and lived apart from them. But he is willing to accept a living death for the sake of one of his brothers. He was thereby coming closer to the spirit of Joseph, the one separate from his brothers who would sacrifice all to save them. But as when Moses later offered to eternally die instead of Israel, God doesn't accept substitutionary atonement in this sense. And here too, Joseph doesn't accept it.

Judah's spiritual growth is evident. He recognized he had made Joseph a slave in Egypt, and he was willing now to suffer the same fate, from love for his younger brother and a desire not to make his father suffer again as he had over Joseph. As discussed on Gen. 38, this transformation all began with his repentance concerning his bad attitude and sins concerning Tamar. We see too how Judah came very close to the spirit of the later atonement in Christ. He, the innocent [regarding the stealing of Joseph's cup], was willing to suffer for the sake of the guilty [Benjamin], for the sake of the Father's feelings. This willingness to suffer for the sake of others was perhaps what most impressed Joseph. For his life had been all about suffering for the sake of his brethren. Judah is also tacitly accepting his father's preference for the sons of Rachel. He knew that for Jacob, the loss of Judah would be less painful than the loss of Benjamin. And so Judah was willing to spare his father that pain, even though it meant his effective death in prison.

Gen 44:34 For how will I go up to my father, if the boy isn’t with me? Lest I see the evil that will come on my father- Again we see real spiritual progress from the time when Judah and the others didn't care for the evil that they had brought upon their father. At any time, they could've sat down with him and confessed and put him out of some of his misery. But they hadn't. Perhaps now Judah was vowing that if he ever saw his father again, he would tell him the truth about the Joseph incident. And so at this point, Joseph decides that they had all got as far as they were going to get in terms of confession and repentance, and calls an end to the process.

The brothers were now faced with the choice of once again returning to their father Jacob, bearing the news of the loss of one of his sons. They had done this 23 year previously; but now their conscience has developed. It was now something which Judah would rather die than do. So there is indeed a growth of care for Jacob, and a deepening of conscience; although it stops short at the full blooded, specific confession of sin to Jacob and Joseph which the novella sets us up to expect. And the powerful lesson is that some people don't get to that level of repentance they might or ought or we feel they should. But this is not to say they are impenitant or conscienceless.