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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 44

 

 

Verses 1-15

Genesis 44:1-15

The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack

The trials of the innocent

I.
That there is sorrow, and sorrow on a vast scale, is a great fact--a fact both too patent and too painful to be gainsaid. Joseph put the cup in the sack to try his brothers’ faith, love, and loyalty to their father.

1. Sorrow was sent into the world as a preventive of greater sorrow.

2. Sorrow gives occasion for the exercise of many an else impossible virtue.

3. This would be a lame excuse indeed if it stood alone. But grief is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.

4. When we remember our sins, we wonder, not that life has had so many sorrows, but that it has had so few.

II. Why should sorrow so often smite us in the most sensitive place? or, to take up the parable of the text--

1. Why should the cup be in Benjamin’s sack? Just because it is Benjamin’s, we reply. The very thing that leads God to smite at all, leads Him to smite you here. God takes away earthly pleasure, and thus helps you to remember your sin and repent of it.

2. The cup was put there to bring them to a better mind ever after.

3. It was put there to give Joseph the opportunity of making himself known to his brethren.

4. It was put there to lead them out of the land of famine into the land of plenty. From this we may learn three lessons:

The final trial of Joseph’s brethren

I. THE SEVERITY OF THE TRIAL.

1. It was unexpected.

2. It exposed them to the agony of suspense between hope and fear.

3. They were conscious of innocence.

4. The trial touched them in the sorest place.

5. The bringing them into their present difficulty seemed to have the sanction of religion.

6. They regard their case as hopeless.

II. THE PURPOSE OF THE TRIAL.

1. To stir up their consciences to the depths.

2. To show whether they were capable of receiving forgiveness. (T. H.Leale.)

Joseph puts his brethren to the test

I. THY. TEST TO WHICH JOSEPH EXPOSED HIS BRETHREN. There is at first sight an apparent wantonness in the manner in which this was applied; but looking deeper we see some motives for such a mode of action.

1. Probably it was designed as a kind of penalty for their former deeds. Joseph had been basely treated. Though he forgave his injurers, yet it was good for them to see their crime and feel it. His was not mere maudlin compassion; he desired first to bring them to repentance, and then he was ready and willing to forgive. And in this he is a type of God; God is the infinitely Forgiving One, but the Just One besides.

2. And a second motive which may be assigned for Joseph’s conduct is that perhaps it was to compel them to feel that their lives were in his power. They are humbled to the dust before him by the test. Now, in assigning to him such a natural motive, we are not showing his conduct as anything superhuman. It was magnanimous, but yet mixed with the human. Everything that man does has in it something of evil; even his best actions have in them something that will not bear the light of day.

3. Again, Joseph may have wished to test his brethren’s capability of forgiveness.

II. THE CONDUCT OF JOSEPH’S BRETHREN UNDER THE TEST.

1. Judah cannot prove that his brother is not guilty, neither can he believe that he is guilty; he therefore leaves that question entirely aside. Instead of denying it, in modem language he showed cause why the law should not be put in force against him.

2. We next notice the pathos of that speech (Genesis 44:20).

3. Let us learn, in conclusion, that even in the worst of mankind there is something good left. Judah was by no means an immaculate man; but from what a man was, you cannot be certain what he is now. Here were men virtually guilty of the sin of murder, really guilty of cupidity in selling their brother; but years after we find in them something tender still, love for their father and compassion for their brother. It is this spark of undestroyed good in man that the Spirit of Christ takes hold of; and he alone who is able to discover this in the hearts of the worst, he alone will be in this world successful in turning sinners to God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Analogies

1. We see a striking analogy between the conduct of Joseph towards his brother Benjamin, and that of Jesus towards His people. “Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten.” The Lord often brings us into difficulties that He may detain us, as I may say, from leaving Him. Were it not for these, He would have fewer importunate applications at a throne of grace than He has. He does not afflict willingly or from His heart; but from necessity, and that He may bring us nearer to Him.

2. We also see a striking analogy between Joseph’s conduct towards his brethren, and that of the Lord towards us. In all he did, I suppose, it was his design to try them. His putting the cup into Benjamin’s sack, and convicting him of the supposed guilt, would try their love to him, and to their aged father. Had they been of the same disposition as when they sold Joseph, they would not have cared for him. But, happily, they are now of another mind. God appears to have made use of this mysterious providence, and of Joseph’s behaviour, amongst other things, to bring them to repentance. And the cup being found in Benjamin’s sack, would give them occasion to manifest it. It must have afforded the most heartfelt satisfaction to Joseph, amidst all the pain which it cost him, to witness their concern for Benjamin, and for the life of their aged father. This of itself was sufficient to excite, on his part, the fullest forgiveness. Thus God is represented as looking upon a contrite spirit, and even overlooking heaven and earth for it (Isaiah 66:1-2). Next to the gift of His Son, He accounts it the greatest blessing He can bestow upon a sinful creature. Now, that on which He set so high a value, He may be expected to produce, even though it may be at the expense of our present peace. Nor have we any cause of complaint, but the contrary. What were the suspense, the anxiety, and the distress of Joseph’s brethren, in comparison of that which followed? And what is the suspense, the anxiety, or the distress of an awakened sinner, or a tried believer, in comparison of the joy of faith, or the grace that shall be revealed at the appearing of Jesus Christ? It will then be found that our light affliction, which was but for a moment, has been working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (A. Fuller.)

The cup in the sack

I. THE PRIVATE COMPLAINT.

1. Its nature. All” the money to be returned, and the silver cup to be placed in the sack belonging to Benjamin. It may seem strange that the steward was to charge them with stealing a cup wherein Joseph divined (if indeed the cup was not used for that purpose, as we believe), knowing that Joseph was a servant of God. We may not, with the higher standard of morality of these Christian times, approve this pretence; but it is in keeping with the whole transaction, which is a feint throughout.

2. Motive. Doubtless to test the feeling of the rest towards Benjamin. Did they envy this favourite as they did the other? If so, it was very likely that on being overtaken they would abandon the man with whom the cup was found--Benjamin--to his fate. Make no effort to procure his release. Return home without him, as they had once gone without Joseph. Before he proceeded further in helping his family in the famine, he would see if they had improved morally all these years.

II. THY OBNOXIOUS CHARGE. The confidential servant having received the command, but most likely being ignorant of all his master’s plans and of the relation of these guests, proceeds to put it in execution.

1. The brethren set off. Their journey. How unlike the last, when they were full of perplexity, and had left Simeon behind. Now they talk of their good treatment, and are accompanied by Simeon, and that Benjamin whom they had feared to lose.

2. They are pursued. Their astonishment at seeing the steward, who Genesis 43:28) had not long before spoken assuring words, hastening after them.

3. The charge. The steward faithfully, but to their great amazement, repeats the command of his master.

4. Their indignant denial, Such conduct would be opposed to the will of God (Genesis 43:7). The idea was inconsistent with their proved honesty (Genesis 43:8). They are quite willing to abide by the results of search. And that the punishment should be greater than hinted.

III. THE APPALLING DISCOVERY.

1. The search commences. They are willing. The steward begins as far as possible from where he knows it is concealed. Thus they do not suspect him of any complicity, and their confidence increases as he proceeds.

2. They see Benjamin’s sack opened, and there, shining in all its beauty, is the cup! What could they think, or say, or do? They did not suffer Benjamin to return alone. The test was successful. There was another discovery--an altered feeling towards the old man and his favourite son. This discovery Joseph made.

3. They could only regard it as a plot of some one--perhaps the Lord of Egypt--to find a pretext for keeping them in bondage. What would become now of their father, and their wives and little ones. Learn:

I. That our religion admits not of pretences.

II. The time of confidence may be the hour of peril. (J. C. Gray.)

Money in the sack

Frederick, King of Prussia, one day rung his bell, and nobody answering, he opened his door, and found his page fast asleep in an elbow chair. He advanced towards him and was going to awaken him, when he perceived part of a letter hanging out of his pocket. His curiosity prompting him to know what it was, he took it out and read it. It was a letter from this young man’s mother, in which she thanked him for having sent her a part of his wages to relieve her misery; and finished with telling him that God would reward him for his dutiful affection. The king, after reading it, went back softly into his chamber, took a bag full of ducats, and slipped it with the letter into the page’s pocket. Returning to the chamber, he rang the bell so loudly, that it awakened the page, who instantly made his appearance. “You have had a sound sleep,” said the king. The page was at a loss how to excuse himself; and putting his hand into his pocket by chance, to his utter astonishment, he there found a purse of ducats. He took it out, turned pale, and looking at the king, shed a torrent of tears without being able to utter a single word. “What is that,” said the king, “what is the matter?” “Ah, sire,” said the young man, throwing himself on his knees, “somebody seeks my ruin! I know nothing of this money which I have just found in my pocket.” “My young friend,” replied Frederick, “God often does great things for us, even in our sleep. Send that to your mother; salute her on my part, and assure her that I will take care of both her and you.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotes.)

Grace unknown in the heart

A child of God may have the kingdom of grace in his heart, yet not know it. The cup was in Benjamin’s sack, though he did not know it was there; thou mayest have faith in thy heart, the cup may be in thy sack though thou knowest it not. Old Jacob wept for his son Joseph, when Joseph was alive; thou mayest weep for grace, when grace may be alive in thy heart. The seed may be in the ground, when we do not see it spring up; the seed of God may be sown in thy heart, though thou dost not perceive the springing up of it. Think not grace is lost because it is hid. (T. Watson.)

Divining cups

The Ancient Egyptians, and still more, the Persians, practised a mode of divination from goblets. Small pieces of gold or silver, together with precious stones, marked with strange figures and signs, were thrown into the vessel; after which, certain incantations were pronounced, and the evil demon was invoked; the latter was then supposed to give the answer, either by intelligible words, or by pointing to some of the characters on the precious stones, or in some other more mysterious manner. Sometimes the goblet was filled with pure water, upon which the sun was allowed to play; and the figures which were thus formed, or which a lively imagination fancied it saw, were interpreted as the desired omen--a method of taking auguries still employed in Egypt and Nubia. The goblets were usually of a spherical form; and for this reason, as well as because they were believed to teach men all natural and many supernatural things, they were called “celestial globes.” Most celebrated was the magnificent vase of turquoise of the wife Jemsheed, the Solomon among the ancient Persian kings, the founder of Persepolis; and Alexander the Great, so eager to imitate Eastern manners, is said to have adopted the sacred goblets also. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)


Verses 1-34

VISITS OF JOSEPH’S BRETHREN

Genesis 42:1-38; Genesis 43:1-34; Genesis 44:1-34

"Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good."- Genesis 50:19-20.

THE purpose of God to bring Israel into Egypt was accomplished by the unconscious agency of Joseph’s natural affection for his kindred. Tenderness towards home is usually increased by residence in a foreign land; for absence, like a little death, sheds a halo round those separated from us. But Joseph could not as yet either revisit his old home or invite his father’s family into Egypt. Even, indeed, when his brothers first appeared before him, he seems to have had no immediate intention of inviting them as a family to settle in the country of his adoption, or even to visit it. If he had cherished any such purpose or desire he might have sent down wagons at once, as he at last did, to bring his father’s household out of Canaan. Why, then, did he proceed so cautiously? Whence this mystery, and disguise, and circuitous compassing of his end? What intervened between the first and last visit of his brethren to make it seem advisable to disclose himself and invite them? Manifestly there had intervened enough to give Joseph insight into the state of mind his brethren were in, enough to satisfy him they were not the men they had been, and that it was safe to ask them and would be pleasant to have them with him in Egypt. Fully alive to the elements of disorder and violence that once existed among them, and having had no opportunity of ascertaining whether they were now altered, there was no course open but that which he adopted of endeavouring in some unobserved way to discover whether twenty years had wrought any change in them.

For effecting this object he fell on the expedient of imprisoning them, on pretence of their being spies. This served the double purpose of detaining them until he should have made up his mind as to the best means of dealing with them, and of securing their retention under his eye until some display of character might sufficiently certify him of their state of mind. Possibly he adopted this expedient also because it was likely deeply to move them, so that they might be expected to exhibit not such superficial feelings as might have been elicited had he set them down to a banquet and entered into conversation with them over their wine, but such as men are surprised to find in themselves, and know nothing of in their lighter hours. Joseph was, of course, well aware that in the analysis of character the most potent elements are only brought into clear view when the test of severe trouble is applied, and when men are thrown out of all conventional modes of thinking and speaking.

The display of character which Joseph awaited he speedily obtained. For so new an experience to these free dwellers in tents as imprisonment under grim Egyptian guards worked wonders in them. Men who have experienced such treatment aver that nothing more effectually tames and breaks the spirit: it is not the being confined for a definite time with the certainty of release in the end, but the being shut up at the caprice of another on a false and absurd accusation; the being cooped up at the will of a stranger in a foreign country, uncertain and hopeless of release. To Joseph’s brethren so sudden and great a calamity seemed explicable only on the theory that it was retribution for the great crime of their life. The uneasy feeling which each of them had hidden in his own conscience, and which the lapse of twenty years had not materially alleviated, finds expression: "And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." The similarity of their position to that in which they had placed their brother stimulates and assists their conscience. Joseph, in the anguish of his soul, had protested his innocence, but they had not listened; and now their own protestations are treated as idle wind by this Egyptian. Their own feelings, representing to them what they had caused Joseph to suffer, stir a keener sense of their guilt than they seem ever before to have reached. Under this new light they see their sin more clearly, and are humbled by the distress into which it has brought them.

When Joseph sees this, his heart warms to them. He may not yet be quite sure of them. A prison-repentance is perhaps scarcely to be trusted. He sees they would for the moment deal differently with him had they the opportunity, and would welcome no one more heartily than himself, whose coming among them had once so exasperated them. Himself keen in his affections, he is deeply moved, and his eyes fill with tears as he witnesses their emotion and grief on his account. Fain would he relieve them from their remorse and apprehension-why, then, does he forbear? Why does he not at this juncture disclose himself? It has been satisfactorily proved that his brethren counted their sale of him the great crime of their life. Their imprisonment has elicited evidence that that crime had taken in their conscience the capital place, the place which a man finds some one sin or series of sins will take, to follow him with its appropriate curse, and hang over his future like a cloud-a sin of which he thinks when any strange thing happens to him, and to which he traces all disaster-a sin so iniquitous that it seems capable of producing any results however grievous, and to which he has so given himself that his life seems to be concentrated there, and he cannot but connect with it all the greater ills that happen to him. Was not this, then, security enough that they would never again perpetrate a crime of like atrocity? Every man who has almost at all observed the history of sin in himself, will say that most certainly it was quite insufficient security against their ever again doing the like. Evidence that a man is conscious of his sin, and, while suffering from its consequences, feels deeply its guilt, is not evidence that his character is altered.

And because we believe men so much more readily than God, and think that they do not require, for form’s sake, such needless pledges of a changed character as God seems to demand, it is worth observing that Joseph, moved as he was even to tears, felt that common prudence. forbade him to commit himself to his brethren without further evidence of their disposition. They had distinctly acknowledged their guilt, and in his hearing had admitted that the great calamity that had befallen them was no more than they deserved; yet Joseph, judging merely as an intelligent man who had worldly interests depending on his judgment, could not discern enough here to justify him in supposing that his brethren were changed men. And it might sometimes serve to expose the insufficiency of our repentance were clear-seeing men the judges of it, and did they express their opinion of its trustworthiness. We may think that God is needlessly exacting when He requires evidence not only of a changed mind about past sin, but also of such a mind being now in us as will preserve us from future sin; but the truth is, that no man whose common worldly interests were at stake would commit himself to us on any less evidence. God, then, meaning to bring the house of Israel into Egypt in order to make progress in the Divine education He was giving to them, could not introduce them into that land in a state of mind which would negative all the discipline they were there to receive.

These men then had to give evidence that they not only saw, and in some sense repented of, their sin, but also that they had got rid of the evil passion which had led to it. This is what God means by repentance. Our sins are in general not so microscopic that it requires very keen spiritual discernment to perceive them. But to be quite aware of our sin, and to acknowledge it, is not to repent of it. Everything falls short of thorough repentance which does not prevent us from committing the sin anew. We do not so much desire to be accurately informed about our past sins, and to get right views of our past selves; we wish to be no longer sinners, we wish to pass through some process by which we may be separated from that in us which has led us into sin. Such a process there is, for these men passed through it.

The test which revealed the thoroughness of his brothers’ repentance was unintentionally applied by Joseph. When he hid his cup in Benjamin’s sack, all that he intended was to furnish a pretext for detaining Benjamin, and so gratifying his own affection. But, to his astonishment, his trick effected far more than he intended; for the brothers, recognising now their brotherhood, circled round Benjamin, and, to a man, resolved to go back with him to Egypt. We cannot argue from this that Joseph had misapprehended the state of mind in which his brothers were, and in his judgment of them had been either too timorous or too severe; nor need we suppose that he was hampered by his relations to Pharaoh, and therefore unwilling to connect himself too closely with men of whom he might be safer to be rid; because it was this very peril of Benjamin’s that matured their brotherly affection. They themselves could not have anticipated that they would make such a sacrifice for Benjamin. But throughout their dealings with this mysterious Egyptian, they felt themselves under a spell, and were being gradually, though perhaps unconsciously, softened, and in order to complete the change passing upon them, they but required some such incident as this of Benjamin’s arrest. This incident seemed by some strange fatality to threaten them with a renewed perpetration of the very crime they had committed against Rachel’s other son. It threatened to force them to become again the instrument of bereaving their father of his darling child, and bring about that very calamity which they had pledged themselves should never happen. It was an incident, therefore, which, more than any other, was likely to call out their family love.

The scene lives in every one’s memory. They were going gladly back to their own country with corn enough for their children, proud of their entertainment by the lord of Egypt; anticipating their father’s exultation when he heard how generously they had been treated and when he saw Benjamin safely restored, feeling that in bringing him back they almost compensated for having bereaved him of Joseph. Simeon is revelling in the free air that blew from Canaan and brought with it the scents of his native land, and breaks into the old songs that the strait confinement of his prison had so long silenced-all of them together rejoicing in a scarcely hoped-for success; when suddenly, ere the first elation is spent, they are startled to see the hasty approach of the Egyptian messenger, and to hear the stern summons that brought them to a halt, and boded all ill. The few words of the just Egyptian, and his calm, explicit judgment, "Ye have done evil in so doing," pierce them like a keen blade-that they should be suspected of robbing one who had dealt so generously with them; that all Israel should be put to shame in the sight of the stranger! But they begin to feel relief as one brother after another steps forward with the boldness of innocence; and as sack after sack is emptied, shaken, and flung aside, they already eye the steward with the bright air of triumph; when, as the very last sack is emptied, and as all breathlessly stand round, amid the quick rustle of the corn, the sharp rattle of metal strikes on their ear, and the gleam of silver dazzles their eyes as the cup rolls out in the sunshine. This, then, is the brother of whom their father was so careful that he dared not suffer him out of his sight! This is the precious youth whose life was of more value than the lives of all the brethren, and to keep whom a few months longer in his father’s sight Simeon had been left to rot in a dungeon! This is how he repays the anxiety of the family and their love, and this is how he repays the extraordinary favour of Joseph! By one rash childish act had this fondled youth, to all appearance, brought upon the house of Israel irretrievable disgrace, if not complete extinction. Had these men been of their old temper, their knives had very speedily proved that their contempt for the deed was as great as the Egyptian’s; by violence towards Benjamin they might have cleared themselves of all suspicion of complicity; or, at the best, they might-have considered themselves to be acting in a fair and even lenient manner if they had surrendered the culprit to the steward, and once again carried back to their father a tale of blood. But they were under the spell of their old sin. In all disaster, however innocent they now were, they saw the retribution of their old iniquity; they seem scarcely to consider whether Benjamin was innocent or guilty, but as humbled, God-smitten men, "they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city."

Thus Joseph in seeking to gain one brother found eleven-for now there could be no doubt that they were very different men from those. brethren who had so heartlessly sold into slavery their father’s favourite-men now with really brotherly feelings, by penitence and regard for their father so wrought together into one family, that this calamity, intended to fall only on one of their number, did in falling on him fall on them all. So far from wishing now to rid themselves of Rachel’s son and their father’s favourite, who had been put by their father in so prominent a place in his affection, they will not even give him up to suffer what seemed the just punishment of his theft, do not even reproach him with having brought them all into disgrace and difficulty, but, as humbled men who knew they had greater sins of their own to answer for, went quietly back to Egypt, determined to see their younger brother through his misfortune or to share his bondage with him. Had these men not been thoroughly changed, thoroughly convinced that at all costs upright dealing and brotherly love should continue; had they not possessed that first and last of Christian virtues, love to their brother, then nothing could so certainly have revealed their want of it as this apparent theft of Benjamin’s. It seemed in itself a very likely thing that a lad accustomed to plain modes of life, and whose character it was to "ravin as a wolf," should, when suddenly introduced to the gorgeous Egyptian banqueting-house with all its sumptuous furnishings, have coveted some choice specimen of Egyptian art, to carry home to his father as proof that he could not only bring himself back in safety, but scorned to come back from any expedition empty-handed. It was not unlikely either that, with his mother’s own superstition, he might have conceived the bold design of robbing this Egyptian, so mysterious and so powerful, according to his brothers’ account, and of breaking that spell which he had thrown over them: he may thus have. conceived the idea of achieving for himself a reputation in the family, and of once for all redeeming himself from the somewhat undignified, and to one of his spirit somewhat uncongenial, position of the youngest of a family. If, as is possible, he had let any such idea ooze out in talking with his brethren as they went down to Egypt, and only abandoned it on their indignant and urgent remonstrance, then when the cup, Joseph’s chief treasure according to his own account, was discovered in Benjamin’s sack, the case must have looked sadly against him even in the eyes of his brethren. No protestations of innocence in a particular instance avail much when the character and general habits of the accused point to guilt. It is quite possible, therefore, that the brethren, though willing to believe Benjamin, were yet not so thoroughly convinced of his innocence as they would have desired. The fact that they themselves had found their money returned in their sacks, made for Benjamin; yet in most cases, especially where circumstances corroborate it, an accusation even against the innocent takes immediate hold and cannot be summarily and at once got rid of.

Thus was proof given that the house of Israel was now in truth one family. The men who, on very slight instigation, had without compunction sold Joseph to a life of slavery, cannot now find it in their heart to abandon a brother who, to all appearance, was worthy of no better life than that of a slave, and who had brought them all into disgrace and danger. Judah had no doubt pledged himself to bring the lad back without scathe to his father, but he had done so without contemplating the possibility of Benjamin becoming amenable to Egyptian law. And no one can read the speech of Judah-one of the most pathetic on record-in which he replies to Joseph’s judgment that Benjamin alone should remain in Egypt, without perceiving that he speaks not as one who merely seeks to redeem a pledge, but as a good son and a good brother. He speaks, too, as the mouth-piece of the rest, and as he had taken the lead in Joseph’s sale, so he does not shrink from standing forward and accepting the heavy responsibility which may now light upon the man who represents these brethren. His former faults are redeemed by the courage, one may say heroism, he now shows. And as he spoke, so the rest felt. They could not bring themselves to inflict a new sorrow on their aged father; neither could they bear to leave their young brother in the hands of strangers. The passions which had alienated them from one another, and had threatened to break up the family, are subdued. There is now discernible a common feeling that binds them together, and a common object for which they willingly sacrifice themselves. They are, therefore, now prepared to pass into that higher school to which God called them in Egypt. It mattered little what strong and equitable laws they found in the land of their adoption, if they had no taste for upright living; it mattered little what thorough national organisation they would be brought into contact with in Egypt, if in point of fact they owned no common brotherhood, and were willing rather to live as units and every man for himself than for any common interest. But now they were prepared, open to teaching, and docile.

To complete our apprehension of the state of mind into which the brethren were brought by Joseph’s treatment of them, we must take into account the assurance he gave them, when he made himself known to them, that it was not they but God who had sent him into Egypt. and that God had done this for the purpose of preserving the whole house of Israel. At first sight this might seem to be an injudicious speech, calculated to make the brethren think lightly of their guilt, and to remove the just impressions they now entertained of the unbrotherliness of their conduct to Joseph. And it might have been an injudicious speech to impenitent men; but no further view of sin can lighten its heinousness to a really penitent sinner. Prove to him that his sin has become the means of untold good, and you only humble him the more, and more deeply convince him that while he was recklessly gratifying himself and sacrificing others for his own pleasure, God has been mindful of others, and, pardoning him, has blessed them. God does not need our sins to work out His good intentions, but we give Him little other material; and the discovery that through our evil purposes and injurious deeds God has worked out His beneficent will, is certainly not calculated to make us think more lightly of our sin or more highly of ourselves.

Joseph in thus addressing his brethren did, in fact, but add to their feelings the tenderness that is in all religious conviction, and that springs out of the consciousness that in all our sin there has been with us a holy and loving Father, mindful of His children. This is the final stage of penitence. The knowledge that God has prevented our sin from doing the harm it might have done does relieve the bitterness and despair with which we view our life, but at the same time it strengthens the most effectual bulwark between us and sin-love to a holy, over-ruling God. This, therefore, may always be safely said to penitents: Out of your worst sin God can bring good to yourself or to others, and good of an apparently necessary kind; but good of a permanent kind can result from your sin only when you have truly repented of it, and sincerely wish you had never done it. Once this repentance is really wrought in you, then, though your life can never be the same as it might have been had you not sinned, it may be, in some respects, a more richly developed life, a life fuller of humility and love. You can never have what you sold for your sin; but the poverty your sin has brought may excite within you thoughts and energies more valuable than what you have lost, as these men lost a brother but found a Saviour. The wickedness that has often made you bow your head and mourn in secret, and which is in itself unutterable shame and loss, may, in God’s hand, become food against the day of famine. You cannot ever have the enjoyments which are possible only to those whose conscience is laden with no evil remembrances, and whose nature, uncontracted and unwithered by familiarity with sin, can give itself to enjoyment with the abandonment and fearlessness reserved for the innocent. No more at all will you have that fineness of feeling which only ignorance of evil can preserve; no more that high and great conscientiousness which, once broken, is never repaired; no more that respect from other men which for ever and instinctively departs from those who have lost self-respect. But you may have a more intelligent sympathy with other men and a keener pity for them; the experience you have gathered too late to save yourself may put it in your power to be of essential service to others. You cannot win your way back to the happy, useful, evenly-developed life of the comparatively innocent, but the life of the true-hearted penitent, is yet open to yon. Every beat of your heart now may be as if it throbbed against a poisoned dagger, every duty may shame you, every day bring weariness and new humiliation, but let no pain or discouragement avail to defraud you of the good fruits of true reconciliation to God and submission to His lifelong discipline. See that you lose not both lives, the life of the comparatively innocent and the life of the truly penitent.


Verses 16-34

Genesis 44:16-34

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord?
--

Judah’s intercession

I. IT WAS ABLE.

II. IT WAS NOBLE.

III. IT GAVE PROMISE OF FUTURE GREATNESS,

IV. IT SUGGESTS SOME FEATURES OF OUR LORD’S INTERCESSION FOR US.

V. IT SUGGESTS THE QUALITIES OF TRUE PRAYER. In true prayer the soul is stirred to its depths. “I would give very much,” says Luther, “if I could pray to cur Lord God as well as Judah prays to Joseph here; for it is a perfect specimen of prayer--the true feeling there ought to be in prayer.” (T. H.Leale.)

Judah’s intercession

The whole of this intercession, taken together, is not one twentieth part of the length which our best advocates would have made of it in a court of justice; yet the speaker finds room to expatiate upon those parts which are the most tender, and on which a minute description will heighten the general effect. We are surprised, delighted, and melted with his charming parenthesis: “Seeing his life is bound up with the lad’s life.” It is also remarkable how he repeats things which are the most tender; as, “when I come, and the lad be not with us . . . it shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us . . . ” So also in describing the effect which this would produce: “When he seeth that the lad is not with us, he will die; and we shall bring down the grey hairs of thy servant, my father, with sorrow to the grave. And now, having stated his situation, he presumes to express his petition. His withholding that to the last was holding the mind of his judge in a state of affecting suspense, and preventing the objections which an abrupt introduction of it at the beginning might have created. Thus Esther, when presenting her petition to Ahasuerus, kept it back till she had, by holding him in suspense, raised his desire to the utmost height to know what it was, and induced in him a predisposition to grant it. And when we consider his petition, and the filial regard from which it proceeds, we may say, that if we except the grace of another and greater Substitute, never surely was there a more generous proposal! (A. Fuller.)

Joseph’s love, and Judah’s charge

I. BENJAMIN’S SURETY.

II. THE FRIENDLY BANQUET.

III. THE STRANGE STRATAGEM.

IV. THE ELOQUENT APPEAL. Judah makes a speech which is very natural, simple, and pathetic. It is conciliatory towards Joseph. Joseph’s greatness, power, and high rank are fully recognized (“Thou art as Pharaoh”). It is considerate in reference to the statements about Jacob’s peculiar reasons for sorrow. It is courageous in its announcement of Judah’s own responsibility, and of his readiness to be a substitute for his brother. And all through the speech tenderness and sympathy are exhibited in a very simple but touching manner. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Judah’s argument

To point out the force of this overwhelming argument requires a view of the human mind, when, like a complicate machine in motion, the various powers and passions of it are at work. The whole calamity of the family arising from obedience to the judge’s own command; an obedience yielded to on their part with great reluctance, because of the situation of their aged father; and on his part with stiff greater, because his brother was, as he supposed, torn in pieces, and he the only surviving child of a beloved wife; and the declaration of a venerable grey-headed man, that if he lose him it will be his death--was enough to melt the heart of any one possessed of human feelings. If Joseph had really been what he appeared, an Egyptian nobleman, he must have yielded the point. To have withstood it would have proved him not a man, much less a man who “feared God,” as he professed to be. But if such would have been his feelings even on that supposition, what must they have been to know what he knew? It is also observable with what singular adroitness Judah avoids making mention of this elder brother of the lad, in any other than his father’s words. He did not say he was torn in pieces. No, he knew it was not so! But his father had once used that language, and though he had lately spoken in a manner which bore hard on him and his brethren, yet this is passed over, and nothing hinted but what will turn to account. (A. Fuller.)

Judah’s intercession

I. HE REHEARSES THE PAST (Genesis 44:18-29).

1. The speaker. Judah. Well that it was he. Had it been Reuben the proof of penitence had not been so clear. It had been too much like the old Reuben Genesis 37:22 with Genesis 42:22). It was Judah, and not like the old Judah (Genesis 37:26-27). The last time Joseph heard Judah speak of his father’s favourite was when he (Joseph) was in the pit, and Judah, on the edge, was proposing to sell him into Bondage. Now he intercedes to save Benjamin from bondage.

2. The subject. He

II. HE PICTURES THE FUTURE. This he was the better able to do, from his memory of a former occasion. That picture of sorrow and wail of agony had ever since haunted him. It might be repeated with still more painful consequences. It might hasten the death of his father. He records, without a censure, the endearing union of the old father and his younger brother. There was one life between them. The death or loss of Benjamin might be the death of the father. He relates that he had become a surety for the safe return of the lad. As he thus earnestly and most pathetically pleads for the release of Benjamin, what feelings must have risen in the mind of Joseph. Chiefly of joy that Judah was so changed; but also of attachment to a father who had mourned his own supposed death so long and truly.

III. HE PROPOSES A COMPROMISE.

1. Its nature. If one must be held in bondage for this supposed crime, let it be himself, who is confessedly innocent, in place of Benjamin, whose guilt is assumed. Judah has wife and children at home, yet will leave all rather than abandon his brother. He will be henceforth a slave, if only Benjamin may be free. Was ever love like this? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; see especially Romans 5:6-8).

2. The motive. To spare his father all needless pain, he would accept the position of being less loved than Benjamin. His father might grieve at his loss, as he had at Simeon’s, but the loss of Benjamin would affect him more.

3. The result. The test had proved to Joseph that Judah repented the past. It was a happy discovery. What can give greater joy to a brother than to see a right moral change in a brother? Learn:

1. Fearlessly to take the side of the innocent and the aged.

2. To bring forth fruit meet for repentance.

3. Not to be ashamed of an honourable change of heart and mind.

4. To love and honour Him who became a surety for us. (J. C. Gray.)


Verse 30

Genesis 44:30

His life is bound up in the lad’s life

The life of the lad

These words were spoken by Judah as descriptive of the tenderness and affection which Jacob felt towards Benjamin, the youngest son of that patriarchal family; but they are words just as appropriate to hundreds of parents in this house--“since his life is bound up in the lad’s life.
” The fowl in the barnyard, clumsy-footed and heavy-winged, flies fiercely at you if you come too near the little group, and God intended every father and mother to be the protection and the help of the child. Jesus comes into every dwelling, and says to the father or mother: “You have been looking after this child’s body and mind; the time has come when you ought to be looking after its immortal soul.” I read of a vessel that foundered. The boats were launched; many of the passengers were struggling in the water. A mother with one band beat the wave, and with the other hand lifted up her little child towards the lifeboat, crying: “Save my child! save my child!” The impassioned outcry of that mother is the prayer of hundreds of Christian people who sit listening this morning while I speak.

I. I propose to show SOME OF THE CAUSES OF PARENTAL ANXIETY.

1. I find the first cause of parental anxiety in the inefficiency and imperfection of parents themselves. We have a slight hope, all of us, that our children may escape our faults. We hide our imperfections and think they will steer clear of them. Alas, there is a poor prospect of that. There is more probability that they will choose our vices than choose our virtues.

2. Again, parental anxiety often arises from an early exhibition of sinfulness in the child. It is especially sad if the parent sees his own faults copied by the child. It is very hard work to pull up a nettle that we ourselves planted. We remember that the greatest frauds that ever shook the banking-houses of the country started from a boy’s deception a good many years ago; and the gleaming blade of the murderer is only another blade of the knife with which the boy struck at his comrade. The cedar of Lebanon that wrestles with the blast, started from seed lodged in the side of the mountain, and the most tremendous dishonesties of the world once toddled out from a cradle. All these things make parents anxious.

3. Anxiety on the part of parents, also, arises from a consciousness that there are so many temptations thrown all around our young people. It may be almost impossible to take a castle by siege--straightforward siege--but suppose in the night there is a traitor within, and he goes down and draws the bolt, and swings open the great door, and then the castle falls immediately. That is the trouble with the hearts of the young; they have foes without and foes within.

II. I shall devote the rest of my remarks to ALLEVIATION OF PARENTAL ANXIETY. Let me say to you as parents, that a great deal of that anxiety will be lifted if you will begin early with your children. Tom Paine said: “The first five years of my life I became an infidel.” A vessel goes out to sea; it has been five days out; a storm comes on it; it springs a leak; the helm will not work; everything is out of order. What is the matter? The ship is not seaworthy, and never was. It is a poor time to find it out now. Under the fury of the storm, the vessel goes down, with two hundred and fifty passengers, to a watery grave. The time to make the ship seaworthy was in the dry-dock, before it started. Alas for us, if we wait until our children get out into the world before we try to bring upon them the influence of Christ’s religion. I tell you, the dry-dock of the Christian home is the place where we are to fit them for usefulness and for heaven. In this world, under the storm of vice and temptation, it will be too late. In the domestic circle you decide whether your child shall be truthful or false--whether it shall be generous or penurious. You cannot begin too early. You stand on the bank of a river floating by. You cannot stop that river, but you travel days and days towards the source of it, and you find, after awhile, where it comes down, dropping from the rock, and with your knife you make a course in this or that direction for the dropping to take, and you decide the course of the river. You stand and see your children’s character rolling on with great impetuosity and passion, and you cannot affect them. Go up towards the source where the character first starts, and decide that it shall take the right direction, and it will follow the path you give it. But I want you to remember, O father, O mother, that it is what you do that is going to affect your children, and not what you say. You tell your children to become Christians while you are not, and they will not. Above all, pray. I do not mean mere formal prayer, that amounts to nothing. Often go before God and say: “Here are my dear children. Oh save them. Put their feet on the road to heaven. Thou knowest how imperfectly I am training them; make up what I lack. Lord Jesus Christ, better than anything Thou canst give, give them Jesus.” God will hear such a prayer. He said He would: “I will be a God to thee and thy seed after thee.” (Dr. Talmage.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 44:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/genesis-44.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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