We have a lot of ground to cover today, so we will not spend a lot of time summarizing things we have already covered. Yesterday we saw Jospeh’s first two tests of his brothers. We saw him test his brothers willingness to humble themselves before God and we saw him test their integrity. And today we see Joseph’s ultimate test for them and that test was whether they were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to save others. In other words it was a test of character.
Genesis 44:1-2 says this, “Joseph commanded his steward, “Fill the men’s bags with as much food as they can carry, and put each one’s silver at the top of his bag. Put my cup, the silver one, at the top of the youngest one’s bag, along with the silver for his grain.” So he did as Joseph told him.” Joseph here secretly put in place the ultimate test of his older brothers, ordering the steward to put Jospeh’s ceremonial silver cup at the top of Benjamin’s bag. By watching the other brothers response to Benjamin’s trouble, Joseph would be able to observe firsthand the other brothers’ true character.
Genesis 44:3-13 goes on to say this:
At morning light, the men were sent off with their donkeys. They had not gone very far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’”
When he overtook them, he said these words to them. They said to him, “Why does my lord say these things? Your servants could not possibly do such a thing. We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found at the top of our bags. How could we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If it is found with one of us, your servants, he must die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
The steward replied, “What you have said is right, but only the one who is found to have it will be my slave, and the rest of you will be blameless.”
So each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. The steward searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and each one loaded his donkey and returned to the city.
Jospeh ordered his steward to overtake the small caravan. Armed with a scripted accusation regarding the ceremonial cup; the steward confronted the group. Joseph mentions “divination” as a part of the ploy to make the brothers think this is a very valuable cup; there is, however, no evidence that he actually practiced divination.
The brothers responded with disbelief and disavowal to the steward’s accusation. Quickly mounting a defense: they had brought back the silver found in the bags after the first journey. Next they proposed a harsh punishment for any of their number caught with the cup—“he must die.” Finally they offered the remaining ten of their group as lifelong slaves. Rejecting their excessive offer, the steward indicated that only the guilty party would become his slave. And though the steward gave the innocent brothers permission to return home, they all retuned to the city in a show of solidarity with Benjamin, which was one of the things Joseph wanted to see.
Genesis 44:14-17 goes on to say this:
When Judah and his brothers reached Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. “What have you done?” Joseph said to them. “Didn’t you know that a man like me could uncover the truth by divination?”
“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed your servants’ iniquity. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.”
Then Joseph said, “I swear that I will not do this. The man in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you can go in peace to your father.”
Jacob’s most trusted son, Judah, speaks for the group here. Bowing to the ground before Joseph, Judah confessed that God had exposed their inequity, which was a reference to the sin they had committed against Joseph more than twenty years earlier. And second, Judah maintained the group’s solidarity by indicating that all of the brothers, not just Benjamin, would become Joseph’s slaves. And Joseph’s rejection of this offer added more tension to already tense situation, which is exactly what Jospeh wanted to do.
The last section of Chapter 44 we are going to spilt into two parts. The first part is 44:18-29, which says:
But Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let your servant speak personally to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ and we answered my lord, ‘We have an elderly father and a younger brother, the child of his old age. The boy’s brother is dead. He is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him to me so that I can see him.’ But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘If your younger brother does not come down with you, you will not see me again.’
“This is what happened when we went back to your servant my father: We reported to him the words of my lord. But our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ We told him, ‘We cannot go down unless our younger brother goes with us. If our younger brother isn’t with us, we cannot see the man.’ Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One is gone from me—I said he must have been torn to pieces—and I have never seen him again. If you also take this one from me and anything happens to him, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.’
Judah’s speech here is the longest in the Bible by any of Jacob’s son (218 words in Hebrew), and it marks the turning point in the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. In a display of great humility, Judah referred to Jospeh on eight occasions as “my lord”, and on twelve occasions referred to himself and members of his clan as “your servants”. After a representation of three contentious conversations—one that the brothers had with Joseph and two involving Jacob—Judah said that his father would die of grief if anything happened to Benjamin, which showed Joseph that his brothers had finally begun to think about others and the effect their actions would or could have on others.
The last section of Chapter 44 starts in verse 30 and runs through verse 34 and it says this:
“So if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us—his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life— when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Then your servants will have brought the gray hairs of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father.”
Judah had once separated his father Jacob from a son of Rachel by making Joseph a slave in Egypt. To save the life of the clan he had voluntarily made himself accountable to his father for the well-being of Benjamin, Rachel’s only other son besides Joseph. And now Benjamin, like his older brother Joseph, was on the verge being made a slave in Egypt. Knowing that he would always “bear the guilt for sinning against” his father if Benjamin did not return home, Judah volunteered to remain in Egypt as Joseph’s slave. Proving to Jospeh that his brothers characters had truly changed over the twenty years that they had been separated, which means they passed Joseph’s final test, and Chapter 45 gives us the climax of Joseph’s amazing story.
Genesis 45:1-8 says this:
Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. But he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and also Pharaoh’s household heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
In the first four verses we that Joseph was overwhelmed by Judah’s words and not wanting or wishing to lose his dignity before his Egyptian attendants, he orders everyone but his brothers out of the room. Joseph then released more than twenty years of pent-up emotion, weeping so loudly that the Egyptians outside the room heard it. Joseph’s revelation of his true identity—undoubtedly spoken in Hebrew not in Egyptian—so terrified his brothers that they could not answer his questions about his father’s well-being. Violating protocol, Joseph ordered his brothers to come near him so that he could speak to them more intimately, this time explicitly identifying himself.
Verses 5-8 are the theological high point of the account of Jospeh’s life and one of the most eloquent affirmations in the Bible regarding God’s sovereignty in human events. With amazing spiritual maturity Joseph confessed that God had worked beyond the foul intentions of his older brothers to accomplish two vital things: to preserve life through Joseph’s leadership leading up to and during the seven-year famine, and to establish Israel as remnant “on earth”. The word remnant is an important term used to refer to Israel as the people group who would pass along God’s blessings throughout the generations. Three times Joseph affirmed that it was God—not his brothers—who had sent him to Egypt. Therefore, his brothers did not need to “be grieved or angry” with themselves. God had made Jospeh a father, a top-level advisor to Pharaoh, and a “ruler over all the land of Egypt”.
Genesis 45:9-15 continues the story by saying this:
“Return quickly to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: “God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me without delay. You can settle in the land of Goshen and be near me—you, your children, and your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and all you have. There I will sustain you, for there will be five more years of famine. Otherwise, you, your household, and everything you have will become destitute.”’ Look! Your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin can see that I’m the one speaking to you. Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”
Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
Joseph, who had once presented a plan to Pharaoh to save Egypt, now offered a plan to his brothers to save Israel’s clan by moving them to Egypt to live in Goshen during the five more years of famine that were to come. Goshen was a region in the eastern portion of Egypt’s Nile Delta and was also known as “the land of Rameses”. The brothers, who were still having trouble believing that Joseph was not only alive but ruling in Egypt, watched as Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept. To their amazement, he also kissed each of his brothers who had once plotted to kill him.
The next 9 verses we are just going to summarize. Genesis 45:16-20—Affirming the commands Joseph had given, Pharaoh told him to have his brothers load their animals with food, go back to Jacob in Canaan, and then return with their families. New to the set of instructions was Pharaoh’s provision of wagons from the land of Egypt to transport the weaker members of the clan down to Egypt, the promise that Joseph’s family could live in the best of the land of Egypt, and that they would be permitted to eat from the riches of the land.
Genesis 45:17-24—Joseph supplied his brothers with generous provisions for the journey back to Canaan, as well as items for the clan’s return to Egypt. The translation of Joseph’s final command (“don’t argue”) is uncertain and may also mean “Don’t fear” or “Don’t take undue risks”.
Finally Genesis 45:25-28 finishes this portion of Joseph’s story with these words:
So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They said, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.
Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”
Jacob experienced a storm of emotions when the group returned from Egypt. Initially he experienced relief, as all elven brothers came back to him. His “heart went numb” (“was stunned”) when he was told that Joseph was still alive and he realized his other sons had maintained a deception for twenty years. Jacob agreed to “go to see him” before he died. God’s promise of blessing to Jacob (Genesis 32:29 and 35:9) had proven true, all because Joseph was a man who acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with God.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Genesis 46-47, Matthew 15:1-28, Psalm 19:1-14 and Proverbs 4:14-19