FAMILY RECONCILIATION REQUIRES TRANSFORMING REPENTANCE
The earlier chapters were important to establish a baseline regarding the selfish character of Joseph’s brothers. They despised Joseph as the favorite son of their father. They had no qualms about attacking him with the intent to murder him – finally satisfying themselves with selling him into bondage in Egypt while causing their father to bemoan his supposed untimely death. Only the power of the transforming grace of God could affect the type of change in their hearts that is evidenced here in their dealings with Benjamin.
Duncan: Joseph in this passage, engages in a gigantic test of the hearts of his brothers. Joseph had been severely wounded by his brothers. His relationship had always been estranged and when they had been reunited during the time of the famine, he was concerned to see if these men were still the same kinds of men that they were when he had known them, more than twenty years before, and so since his person had not been revealed to them, since his identity had not been disclosed to them, yet since they had not recognized them, he continued to conceal himself from them and he planned to put them to the test.
S. Lewis Johnson: The threat to Benjamin is a thrust to the heart. It is a thrust to the heart of Jacob, but it is the thrust to the heart of those brothers who have brought Benjamin down to Egypt knowing that Benjamin is dear to the heart of Jacob, and Judah has become surety for him and so this threat that Joseph has mentioned and now brings to its fruition to Benjamin is something that will reveal the heart of these brothers. And the question of course that was on Joseph’s mind no doubt is, are these eleven men still the same fierce men that they were when they sold me into captivity? Are they still the same cruel brothers who threw me into the pit and while I was crying to be delivered sat down and ate a meal right by the side of that pit? And in a masterstroke, he is going to find out, would they abandon Benjamin as they did Joseph, because now they have the opportunity when the cup is found in Benjamin’s sack they have the opportunity to say, well we will turn Benjamin over to you and we will go on back to Canaan, and so you can see what a masterstroke this is. Joseph will find out about his brethren and so will we for that matter.
Hughes: Now, as we take up chapter 44, we will witness a life-altering transformation of the brothers that will variously involve conscience, repentance, enlarged sympathies, intercession, sacrifice, and substitution – all wrapped in a growing brotherly love that speaks of Christ.
I. (:1-12) CAPTURE OF BENJAMIN IN JOSEPH’S TRAP SETS UP THE ULTIMATE TEST
A. (:1-2) Setting the Trap
“Then he commanded his house steward, saying, ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.’ And he did as Joseph had told him.”
Alan Carr: God knows how to get our attention and He is not afraid to touch or take what He pleases to speak to our hearts. He has a silver cup that He can place in our lives to open our eyes when we have walked away from Him. Sooner or later, the silver cup will end up in your sack!
B. (:3-6) Springing the Trap
“As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, ‘Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’ So he overtook them and spoke these words to them.”
Parunak: No doubt the brothers are congratulating themselves on their good fortune. The previously harsh Egyptian has treated them kindly. They have Simeon, Benjamin, and sacks heavy with grain, and they are on their way home. They can hardly expect that the most difficult part of their journey lies before them.
One aspect of his script is puzzling: the claim that Joseph uses the missing cup for divination. The practice is absolutely forbidden in the law (Lev 19:26; Deut 18:10), and it is unlikely that Joseph, who repeatedly gives God the credit for revealing things to him, would actually use such a mechanism. We must understand that it is part of his disguise.
C. (:7-12) Searching the Sacks
1. (:7-8) Declaration of Innocence — Protest
“And they said to him, ‘Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?’”
2. (:9-10) Determination of the Penalty — Proposal
“’With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.’ So he said, ‘Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.’”
3. (:11-12) Discovery of the Cup — Proof
“Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.”
Parunak: We can imagine two conflicting emotions as the search proceeds.
• Growing relief as the cup is not found. By the time he gets to Benjamin, they are almost certain to be off free.
• Growing confusion as each brother’s money is found.
No mention is made of the money, but it must have put them further off balance.
II. (:13-17) CONFESSION OF JUDAH AND THE BROTHERS BEFORE JOSEPH DEMONSTRATES FAMILY SOLIDARITY
A. (:13-14) Returning to Joseph to Confess Their Crime
1. (:13) Tearing Their Clothes
“Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.”
Guzik: This was a radical change in the brothers. Before, they didn’t care about their father or his favored son. Now, the idea of hurting either father or son made them feel as bad as if someone had died.
Parunak: —The steward has already offered to release all but the one with whom the cup is found. Their reaction at this point is the first part of their response to the test. They could have left him to his fate and made their way home. But by now they care enough about their aged father that they will not abandon Benjamin as they abandoned Joseph. They all return to the city with Benjamin.
Alan Carr: There are no accusations thrown at one another. There are no compromises. There is simply a unified resolve to stand by their brother.
2. (:14) Falling to the Ground
“When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him.”
Deffinbaugh: On their first visit the brothers had only been impressed with the severity of this Egyptian potentate (cf. 42:7; 43:3-5,18). Here was a man to be feared. But on this second mission they had also gained an appreciation for the generosity and kind intent of the governor. The sumptuous noon meal and the generous provisions and accommodations were not intended to disarm these men, but to assure them of the kindness of Joseph. In effect, they had seen both the “goodness and severity” (cf. Romans 11:22) of Joseph. I believe part of the reason they returned en masse to Joseph was that they had gained an appreciation for his integrity. He was one to whom they could appeal. He was a man of integrity and justice. This, to me, is the best explanation of the events of the last chapter, especially Joseph’s generosity and his hospitality at the noon meal.
B. (:15-17) Receiving Joseph’s Judgment Upon Their Confession
1. (:15) Inquisition
“And Joseph said to them, ‘What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?’”
Parunak: “What deed is this that ye have done?” This is the most elaborated form of a recurring refrain throughout Genesis. . . All the cases in Genesis appear to be calling to account rather than genuine requests for information —
• 3:13, God to Eve in the garden
• 4:10, God to Cain after he killed Abel
• 12:18, Pharaoh to Abram after lying about Sarai
• 20:9, Abimelech to Abraham after he lied about Sarah
• 26:10, Abimelech to Abraham the second time
• 29:25, Jacob to Laban after he is deceived concerning his bride
• 31:26, Laban to Jacob after he stole away
Joseph’s statement is the last in this series, and invites us to reflect on it. This phrase is clearly distinctive to Genesis; it occurs 8 times there, and only nine times among other books, where only Judges (2x) has more than a single instance.
We can draw the following lessons from it. • People are accountable for their actions.
• This accountability is initially imposed by God, but then echoed in men as his image-bearers. The urge to ask, “What have you done,” is at the heart of the moral sensibility that lies at the base of Rom 2.
• Most of the challenges here are put to the covenant people by those outside the community (in Joseph’s case, ostensibly). The world expects more of those who claim to represent the Lord. Compare the requirement of the elder that he “have a good report of them which are without,” 1 Tim 3:7.
2. (:16) Confession
“So Judah said, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.’”
3. (:17) Judgment
“But he said, ‘Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.’”
III. (:18-34) COUNTERPROPOSAL OF JUDAH TO BE ENSLAVED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR BENJAMIN PROVES THEIR UNSELFISH LOVE
(:18) Respectful Approach
“Then Judah approached him, and said, ‘Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh.’”
A. (:19-21) Unique Beloved Status of Benjamin
“My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’”
B. (:22-24) Unconditional Demand of Joseph
“But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.”
C. (:25-29) Unacceptable Dilemma Facing Jacob
“And our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ And your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces, and I have not seen him since. And if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’”
D. (:30-32) Unfortunate Consequences of Returning Home Without Benjamin
“Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will come about when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’”
Hughes: Judah quoted their father’s own words, but along with his brothers he assumed the responsibility should has father’s gray head go down to Sheol in sorrow. By making the old man’s lament their own, we see that there had been a monumental change in the brothers’ hearts. Transformation had been effected in Egypt. The fledgling covenant community was moving toward a loving solidarity. The brothers had repented of their sin against Joseph. They had forgiven the unfair favoritism of their father. They so loved their father and his favorite son that they would not forsake Benjamin though the cost was immense.
E. (:33-34) Ultimate Request to Serve as a Substitute for Benjamin
“Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
Leupold: This is one of the manliest most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man for depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose it stands unexcelled. What makes it most remarkable however is the fact that it comes from the lips of one who once upon a time was so callused that he cared nothing about the grief he had caused his father.