Genesis 44: Joseph's Final Test and Judah's Intervention
Using his silver cup, Joseph witnesses the genuine repentance of his brothers and their willingness to stand by Benjamin rather than save themselves.
Have you ever loved someone so much you would suffer any loss for them?
In Genesis 44, Judah proves his love for his father by being willing to become a slave in the place of Benjamin.
vv. 1–5 - As before, Joseph commands that food and money be given (cf. Gen. 42:25). They have must reason to be joyful. What’s new, however, is the hiding of Joseph’s silver cup among Benjamin’s belongings. This forms the catalyst for the final test. Will the brothers permit Benjamin to suffer and save their own skin, or do they love their brother and will they protect him? In v. 5 we have reference to divination, and some believe to be the practice of hydromancy and lecanomancy. However it was done, the intent of divination is to know the future, and it is condemned in the law of Moses. This is an entirely different practice than prophetically interpreting the dreams God has given. So much has been said about this in terms of the historical practice of divination, as well as either criticizing Joseph or trying to sanitize the practice. However, the answer might be more simple. If Joseph used the silver cup to divine, how would he have known the cup was stolen without having access to the cup? It is possible that the best answer is found in a different translation of the original text, noted by a couple of commentators. Specifically, “whereby he indeed divineth” being translated as “for which he would search thoroughly.“
vv. 6–13 - we read the dialogue between Joseph’s steward and Jacob’s sons. When accused of stealing the Governor’s special cup, they naturally plead their innocence, and argue for their character. Were they not willing to return the money for the initial batch of corn? The sincere but rash response give in v. 9 is like Jacob’s when he was chased down by Laban (cf. Gen. 31:32). This sets up an opportunity for the steward to appear merciful while testing the brothers to see if they will abandon Benjamin to save their own skin. So, in v. 10, Joseph’s steward says, no, I’ll take the guilty as a slave. The rest of you can go free. Thus, the search begins with the oldest, and when it comes to Benjamin, no one could have been expecting the cup to be found with him. But to everyone’s horror, the cup is found. It is likely that the brothers would immediately consider the idea that they have been framed. But there is no plea of innocence or outrage. Instead, in v. 13 they all rent their clothes. This is significant. In Joseph’s case, only Jacob lamented like this. But now all the brothers reflect brokenness.
v. 14–34 - when they all return to Egypt and stand before Joseph, Judah takes the lead. He presents several rhetorical questions in v. 16, and concludes, “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” Compare this to Genesis 42:11, where the appeal is that they are “true men” i.e. honest. Under God, Joseph has been used to breakdown the hard hearts of his brothers. In the face of this acknowledgement, Joseph repeats the statement given by his steward. Only Benjamin will become his slave. What follows is one of the most impassioned pleas ever recorded. Judah retells how they arrived at this point. In doing so, he reveals his conviction that Joseph must be dead by now, the struggle it was for Jacob to let Benjamin go with them to Egypt, and how his father’s life is bound up in Benjamin’s, and for that reason he must be Benjamin’s substitute.
Gospel stewards are commanded to supply the needs of God’s people. In v. 1, Joseph commands his steward to fill the sacks with food without price. It reminds us of the work of pastors, and their responsibility to provide gospel sustenance for their needy brothers and sisters week after week. Pray fervently for your pastor and his ministry to you. It is an investment in your own spiritual nourishment.
Inferiors must work for the comfort of their superiors. We often consider the importance of superiors protecting and providing for their inferiors; parents for their children, husbands for their wives, employers for their employees. But note Judah’s closing burden, “lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father” i.e. he does not wish to burden his father and do whatever he can to ease his concerns and fears. Employees, wives, children, church members, and citizens should take this to heart and live to alleviate some of the burdens of those in authority.
Pleas of intercession between injured parties must be marked by wisdom. Note how Judah does not mention the charge against Benjamin. To acknowledge the charge would have attacked Benjamin without proof. To argue against the charge would have brought the Governor’s judgment into question. Instead, he appeals to Joseph’s humanity and compassion. Many times, delicate matters arise between people and require the kind of wisdom that is not natural to man, but that God promises to those who seek it from Him.
People, by nature, struggle to see the true gravity of their sin. Over the course of these chapters, the brothers argued they were just and honest men. It took a repetition of affliction for them to acknowledge their true character. Nothing has changed. Your greatest problem and mine is blindness to our sin. Note the three characteristics in Judah that manifest a changed heart. First, he humbles himself without claims of goodness. Second, he shows concern for those hurt by his sin, in this case, particularly his father. Third, he is willing to keep his word even to his own hurt (v. 33). Every true believer will manifest these traits.
Christ is the perfect surety for the people of God. As noted, this chapter contains one of the most moving narratives in the entire Bible, as Judah steps in with a willingness to suffer in the place of Benjamin. But it is made even more powerful when we consider how it dimly reflects the place the Son of God volunteered to assume, taking our humanity to become like unto us, and suffering as a substitute for us. Just as Judah was not guilty for taking the cup, so Christ was not personally guilty for the sins of His people. Yet, God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Try to imagine how Benjamin might have felt when watching Judah plead on his behalf and ask yourself if you have ever felt that way towards Jesus, who has done the same for all who trust in Him.
“It was a faint type, this, of the power of the advocacy of our greater Joseph, the shepherd of Israel. He pleads for us His brethren, guilty as we are. He does not deny our guilt, but He pleads that He is a surety for us. He brings forward the ancient covenant engagements into which He entered with His Father when He put His life for our life and there He stands, even now, pleading also His own substitutionary sacrifice—not only that He is willing to be bound for us, but that He has been so bound—not merely that He is willing to take our guilt and be regarded as the guilty one, but that He has been numbered with the transgressors and has borne the sin of His people.” — Charles Spurgeon