This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
According to God’s wisdom, He had exalted Joseph to be second-in-command of Egypt and lead Egypt (and the world) through the difficult times of famine. His brothers, who had sold him into slavery in Egypt, had come to buy food from him. Not knowing who he was, his brothers were tested by Joseph to reveal their character. He wanted to know if they had changed.
The brothers had demonstrated an attitude of care and compassion that they had lacked with Joseph. They had expressed in Joseph’s presence their feelings of guilt about their past sins, and they were sure that God was punishing them. But Joseph was preparing to do something great for his family, for he had been positioned by God to lead Israel into Egypt so that they would be out of the land of Canaan. In this way, they would not be able to marry into the tribes of the Canaanites or fall prey to their idolatry until the iniquity of the Canaanites was complete (Gen 15:16).
But first, he had to complete their testing.
1 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. 2 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. 3 As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. 4 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? 5 Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’”
Joseph’s testing of his brothers continued with him sending his servants in pursuit of his brothers. The servants must have been very loyal to Joseph since they continued to carry out his orders without question. He told his servants to say that the cup they planted in the bags was Joseph’s special divination cup. The brothers would not have known that it was just an ordinary (albeit expensive) cup.
6 So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. 8 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? 9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” 10 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.” 11 Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.
The drama must have increased with every sack that was searched. The servant found the cup (which he had planted) in Benjamin’s sack. Instead of letting the Egyptians take Benjamin from them, they all returned with him. In this way, they demonstrated again to Joseph that they indeed had changed.
14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. 15 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?” 16 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.” 17 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.”
Again, Judah takes the role of leadership in speaking on behalf of the brothers. He confesses that God was punishing them for their past iniquity, and offers himself and all his brothers as slaves of Joseph. However, Joseph rejects the idea of enslaving them all, and insists that only Benjamin shall be put into slavery.
Now Judah privately interceded with Joseph on behalf of Benjamin.
18 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. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 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.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 Our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ 26 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.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 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, 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 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.’ 33 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. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
Though Judah neatly avoided incriminating himself or his brothers in what happened to Joseph, he filled in some of the gaps for Joseph. He must have wondered what his brothers had told their father all those years before. Now he became aware of his father’s great suffering and his brothers’ guilt and remorse. Furthermore, Judah, who had hatched the idea of selling Joseph into slavery, was offering himself in Benjamin’s place. Having tested his brothers, Joseph has learned that they have changed.
Just as Judah offered himself as a substitute for Benjamin, so also a Son from the line of Judah offered Himself in the place of guilty sinners. Jesus, the Son of God born of a virgin from the tribe of Judah, gave His life to take the punishment of sin for all who believe in Him. Since He was the perfect lamb, God was pleased to pour out His wrath for sin upon Him so that those who believe would be given eternal life.
God also raised Jesus from the dead, for Jesus had done no wrong, and exalted Him to His right hand. Since Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah, He is the rightful King of Israel, and will return to reign over Israel (and all the world). He will put all His enemies under His feet, and will reign forever.