1Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, "Go back and buy us a little more food."
3But Judah said to him, "The man warned us solemnly, `You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.' 4If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, `You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.'"
6Israel asked, "Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?"
7They replied, "The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. `Is your father still living?' he asked us. `Do you have another brother?' We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, `Bring your brother down here'?" 8Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice."
11Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift--a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved."
15So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, "Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon."
17The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph's house. 18Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, "We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys."
19So they went up to Joseph's steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20"Please, sir," they said, "we came down here the first time to buy food. 21But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver--the exact weight--in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don't know who put our silver in our sacks."
23"It's all right," he said. "Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver." Then he brought Simeon out to them.
24The steward took the men into Joseph's house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25They prepared their gifts for Joseph's arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.
26When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27He asked them how they were, and then he said, "How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?"
28They replied, "Your servant our father is still alive and well." And they bowed low to pay him honor.
29As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother's son, he asked, "Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?" And he said, "God be gracious to you, my son." 30Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
31After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, "Serve the food."
32They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34When portions were served to them from Joseph's table, Benjamin's portion was five times as much as anyone else's. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
Recall that in the previous chapter, the sons of Jacob journeyed to Egypt to buy food. Little did they know that their brother Joseph (whom years before they had sold into slavery) was in charge of distributing Egypt's food during the famine. Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. Joseph kept them in the dark concerning his identity because he was not sure of their character. For all he knew, they were still full of evil and jealousy. Perhaps they were as jealous of his little brother Benjamin as they were of him. Joseph very much wanted to see Benjamin again, so he devised a plan that would both test his brother's character and bring Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph accused his brothers of being spies and, as a condition of their innocence, ordered them to bring their littlest brother down to Egypt. Joseph held Simeon hostage until this condition was fulfilled. The brothers returned to their father Jacob and told him what had happened. Jacob himself did not know whether to believe his sons, and would on no account let them take Benjamin to Egypt. Jacob was in despair at this idea. He cried to them: "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!... My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow" (Gen. 42:37, 38).
What Jacob did not realize was that God, through His providence, was engineering all this in order to reunite the whole family in Egypt. God was using the famine to further His plan. I dare say that this famine (because of its consequences) was the most significant famine in the history of mankind. The famine reunited the family of God and brought them to Egypt. In Egypt, the family grew into the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel brought forth King David, King Solomon, and eventually, King Jesus, who came to save the world.
Jacob, of course, did not see all this. He just saw that "the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, [Jacob] said to them, `Go back and buy us a little more food'" (vs. 1-2). Joseph played his part well in Egypt, for the brothers were terrified to go back to Egypt unless they fulfilled Joseph's demand to bring Benjamin with them (see vss. 3-5). Jacob resisted this. He did not trust his sons to take care of Benjamin on a trip to Egypt. So, there was a stand-off of sorts between father and sons. And all this time, I'm sure Simeon, who was in prison in Egypt, was wondering where his brothers were! But the famine remained severe, and the family ran out of grain. In this severe condition, Jacob (called "Israel" in this chapter) was willing to listen. Judah appealed to him: "Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice" (vss. 8-10).
Judah's appeal, together with the severeness of the situation, was effective. Israel (Jacob) relented, took charge and advised his sons to bring gifts to this mysterious leader in Egypt. He also allowed them to take his beloved son Benjamin and sent them off with a prayer: "And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved" (vs. 14). Most certainly, this last statement of Jacob's is the reason that he is referred to as "Israel" in this chapter. Here he is once again a man of God, and so Moses (the writer of Genesis) refers to him by the name that God gave him (see Gen. 35:10). Significantly missing in the previous chapter was any mention of God by Jacob. In that chapter, Jacob despaired, but there is no evidence that he turned to God in his despair. For this reason, God turned up the heat (so to speak) and brought on an even more desperate situation, in order to bring Jacob to a place where he would seek God again. Certainly, Jacob could have saved himself and his family some amount of suffering if he had sought God from the beginning.
After they ran out of grain, and after hearing Judah's appeal, Jacob finally resigned himself to God's will. He said: "If I am bereaved, I am bereaved" (vs. 14). He left up to God what would happen to his family. The world may see such a statement as weakness, but Jacob could now say with Paul: "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Cor. 12:10). Jacob was brought to the end of his own strength, so now he was in a position to place himself in God's strength. In God's strength, Jacob regained his composure. Whereas in the previous chapter Jacob was in despair, crying: "Everything is against me!" (Gen. 42:36), here Jacob (now "Israel"), with a clear head, takes charge and confidently advises his sons what they should do when they return to Egypt (see vss. 11-13). Indeed, we are strongest when we resign ourselves to God's will, for then we are open to the strength of His Spirit to guide us in His wise way. We should all learn from this episode. We so often, like Jacob, stubbornly try to make it on our own in times of trouble, forgetting to seek God's guidance. If only we would turn to Him at the beginning--if only we would seek to follow His will at the beginning of trouble, we would save ourselves much grief. In Jacob's case, his resistance of God's providence forced him to endure an extra year famine, and another year of not being united with his son Joseph.
So, the sons returned to Egypt, with the gifts for Joseph, and with Benjamin (vs. 15). Joseph had his steward to prepare a banquet for them (vs. 16). Joseph's steward took them to Joseph's house, but instead of heartening them, this frightened them, as they thought they would be ambushed because the silver that they had used to pay for their food on their first visit was mysteriously returned to them (vss. 18-19). Again here, as in the last chapter, we see the ill effects of a guilty conscience, turning blessings into curses. Joseph's steward tried to calm their fears: "It's all right... Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks" (vs. 23).
At the banquet, the dream given to Joseph when he was young (see Gen. 37:5-7) was once again fulfilled as the brothers "bowed down before him to the ground" (vs. 26). Joseph asked after his father (vs. 27), and then greeted Benjamin. As he did this, he was "deeply moved", and "hurried out and looked for a place to weep" (vs. 30). We see here that Joseph's charade with his brothers was very difficult to maintain. If Joseph could have been assured that his brothers were trustworthy, he would have gladly given up the charade. But Joseph was wise, and well remembered the cruelty that his brothers were capable of. As part of Joseph's testing of his brothers, he attempted engender jealousy in them by giving Benjamin five times as much as food as the others during the banquet. However, Benjamin's extra portion apparently did not engender any feelings of jealousy; the brothers seemed to have grown beyond the jealousy that had once spurred them to try to murder their brother Joseph so many years before. Rather than being jealous, "they feasted and drank freely with him" (vs. 34).
As for the brothers, they were confused at all that was happening, not understanding any of it. They were especially in awe that Joseph had seated them "in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest" (vs. 33). They realized that it was nearly impossible for Joseph to be able to do this by chance. They were all fairly close in age, so how could Joseph know who should sit where?
44:1Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: "Fill the men's sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man's silver in the mouth of his sack. 2Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one's sack, along with the silver for his grain." And he did as Joseph said.
3As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, "Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, `Why have you repaid good with evil? 5Isn't this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.'"
6When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7But they said to him, "Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master's house? 9If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves."
10"Very well, then," he said, "let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame."
11Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. 13At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.
14Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15Joseph said to them, "What is this you have done? Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?"
16"What can we say to my lord?" Judah replied. "What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt. We are now my lord's slaves--we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup."
17But Joseph said, "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace."
18Then Judah went up to him and said: "Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19My lord asked his servants, `Do you have a father or a brother?' 20And we answered, `We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother's sons left, and his father loves him.'
21"Then you said to your servants, `Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.' 22And we said to my lord, `The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.' 23But you told your servants, `Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.' 24When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
25"Then our father said, `Go back and buy a little more food.' 26But we said, `We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. 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. 28One of them went away from me, and I said, "He has surely been torn to pieces." And I have not seen him since. 29If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in misery.'
30"So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy's life, 31sees that the boy isn't there, he will die. Your servants will bring the grey head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32Your servant guaranteed the boy's safety to my father. I said, `If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!'
33"Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father."
Joseph has yet one more test for his brothers: "Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: `Fill the men's sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man's silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one's sack, along with the silver for his grain.' And he did as Joseph said. As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, `Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, "Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn't this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done."'" (44:1-5). This was quite a clever scheme of Joseph's. By it, he could determine whether the brothers had evil schemes concerning Benjamin, and if they did, Joseph would be able to save Benjamin from them and have him stay with him in Egypt. You see, if the brothers were planning evil against Benjamin, they would allow Joseph to arrest Benjamin and bring him back to Egypt. If, on the other hand, the brothers had changed their ways and desired to protect Benjamin, they would return to Egypt with Benjamin and try to defend him.
The brothers, when the steward caught up with them, were of course quite surprised to be accused of stealing something from Joseph (vss. 6-8). They were so confident of their innocence, they offered: "If any of [us] is found to have [the silver cup], he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves" (vs. 9). It does seem here that the brother's attitude had changed quite a bit from when they were young. Instead of scheming against each other, they were willing to stand up for each other, and defend and protect each other. Joseph, though, wanted to offer them the opportunity to desert Benjamin, if they so desired, so his steward said: "Whoever is found to have it will be my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame" (vs. 10). When the steward found the silver cup in Benjamin's sack, the brothers "tore their clothes" (vs. 13). In that culture, the tearing of clothes was a sign of grief and despair. The fact that the brothers tore their clothes showed they truly cared for Benjamin's safety, as they were grieved at the thought of him being taken into slavery in Egypt. Instead of deserting Benjamin there, the brothers "all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city" (vs. 13).
When they returned to Joseph, rather than leaving Benjamin in the lurch, they all volunteered to share equally the punishment for stealing the cup: "We are now my lord's slaves--we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup" (vs. 16). Joseph once again gave the brothers an opportunity to abandon Benjamin. He said to them: "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace" (vs. 17). At this, Judah gave a touching speech (see vss. 18-34), as he told Joseph of the reluctance that Jacob had in allowing Benjamin to go to Egypt, and the grief it would cause Jacob for the brothers to return without Benjamin. He also carried out his promise to Jacob to protect Benjamin with his own life. Judah told Joseph: "Now then, please let [me] remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers" (vs. 33). Judah's speech, as we will see in the next chapter, caused Joseph to break down. This was the last bit of proof that Joseph needed to share that his brothers were sincere.
The growth of the character of the brothers is commendable. They had been selfish schemers, now they were united with each other as children of God: defending, protecting, even risking their lives for each other. Much of this change came as a result of shared suffering. "There is nothing like the discipline of life to elicit and to deepen character. The pressure of poverty, the stings of conscience, the deepening of family love, the shaking of self-confidence, are a few of the ways" the brothers were made complete in love for each other. May all the children of God be unified in love. Paul exhorted us to "be like-minded, [have] the same love, [be] one in spirit and purpose" (Phil. 2:2). John taught what our love for each other should be like: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brother" (I John 3:16).