Genesis 44:1-45:8 Judah’s Redemption

sets up… twist… sham divination… indignant… enslaved… test… respond nobly… Joseph plays… Judah submits… invoke empathy… suspense… freak out… still unsure… reassurance… God’s goodness…

Genesis 44:1-45:8

And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks [with] food, as much as they can carry, and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth.

As his brothers finish their second visit, Joseph again sets them up. But this time, there’s a twist.

And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.

And, he doesn’t wait for them to get home:

[And] when they were gone out of the city, [and] not [yet] far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good? [Is] not this [it] in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.

Its interesting that Joseph here makes a sham claim for divination (nachash), after previously refusing credit when he really did discern supernatural truth.

The brothers are understandably indignant:

And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:

and try to remind him of their prior honesty:

Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold?

as well as submit to the harshest of consequences:

With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.

The servant responds curiously:

And he said, Now also [let] it [be] according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.

I feel like I’m missing something, and the transliteration I have is even more confusing. If the servant agrees with them, why does he tone down the punishment? Perhaps he meant something more like, “What you say (dabar) is good (ken), but only the finder (matsa’) shall be enslaved (`ebed), the rest of you are clear (naqiy).”

Which is also interesting. Did Joseph merely mean this as a test for his brothers? Or, would he have been just as happy to get Benjamin back alone if the rest of abandoned him. My suspicion is that its both, with perhaps a bias towards the latter. All I’ve seen from him so far implies that he primarily cares about Benjamin, whom he seemingly wants to “rescue” from his brothers. Joseph doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about his brothers’ feelings. He may be willing to give them a chance to prove themselves, but I don’t think he’d shed any tears if they had left at this point. At least not for them; he’d obviously regret not seeing his father, though with Benjamin he’d have a decent chance of tracking down his presumably nomadic family at some later date.

Regardless of Joseph’s plan, the brothers respond nobly when they discover Benjamin’s entrapment:

And he searched, [and] began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.

Clearly they’ve come a long way from selling Joseph, and they’re not willing to abandon Benjamin despite the injustice of the situation. Interestingly, it is again Judah who takes the lead:

And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; for he [was] yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.

Joseph plays it up for all its worth:

And Joseph said unto them, What deed [is] this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?

Judah, surprisingly, doesn’t protest their innocence:

And Judah said, 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: behold, we [are] my lord’s servants, both we, and [he] also with whom the cup is found.

Judah willingly submits them all to slavery, but Joseph will have none of that:

And he said, God forbid that I should do so: [but] the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.

Again, was this a test, or a chance to get rid of the brothers he didn’t care about?

If a test, Judah passes with flying colors:

Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh 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.

An inspiring combination of humility and boldness. He walks through the whole sad tale, including Jacob’s love for Benjamin (and Joseph!):

And we said unto 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 loveth him.

He reminds this man that they warned him of the seriousness of his request for Benjamin:

And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for [if] he should leave his father, [his father] would die.

He then replays the poignant scene of leave-taking, perhaps hoping to invoke empathy:

And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two [sons]: And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since:

Which he surely does; Joseph probably never before heard of Jacob’s response to his supposed death, and this must be affecting him deeply. Jacob, perhaps sensing some softening, presses home:

Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad [be] not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad [is] not [with us], that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.

Having established some empathy for his father’s fate, Judah now establishes his right to intercede:

For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.

Interestingly, he frames it not as a sacrifice on his part, but as a mercy:

For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad [be] not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.

I can’t take the suspense, so I’ll keep going to the next chapter. Apparently Joseph can’t either:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.

He apparently starts by bursting into tears, which must freak everybody out:

And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.

I assume that means they heard about it, rather than his loud shrieks (qowl B@kiy) actually resounding for blocks. Its gotta be gossip-worthy to have the Godfather of Egypt breaking down like that, loud enough for the servants in the next room to hear it.

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I [am] Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.

I can barely imagine their shock and awe (bahal). I’m almost as taken aback as they by Joseph’s query. Apparently he’s still unsure whether their father really lives, despite Judah’s sad tale. Or perhaps he just wants reassurance of the reunion his heart had refused to even hope for during these 17+ years of exile.

Seeing their shock, Joseph apparently realizes he owes them reassurance as well:

And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I [am] Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.

And, perhaps for the first time, he sincerely ministers to their emotional state:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

That’s may well be the root of all forgiveness: being able to see God’s goodness as greater than man’s evil. More, seeing God’s righteous hand at work in that evil:

So now [it was] not you [that] sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

An illuminating phrase; makes me suspect that Pharaoh may have been a boy-king, which would also explain why Joseph would’ve told Pharaoh to appoint a man to rule over the famine preparations.

Let’s close with that, and save the reunion with Jacob for tomorrow.


God, I can’t help but feel that Judah is not only redeeming Benjamin, but redeeming himself, and even redeeming Joseph. Through his sacrifice and empathy-inducing stories Judah is manifesting his humanity to the manipulative Joseph — not ensnaring, but liberating Joseph to experience his brothers as real human beings. Lord, Iiberate me that way. Through Your sacrifice of Yourself, and the stories You tell me, help me to connect with the rest of humanity — as well as the pieces of myself I thought were dead. Make me a whole man, in a whole family, serving You with my whole heart; to also bless a whole world. Amen.