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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Genesis 44

 

 

Verses 1-34

EXPOSITION

Genesis 44:1, Genesis 44:2

And he (i.e. Joseph) commanded the steward of his house,—literally, him that was over his hoarse (Genesis 43:15)—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 before, but not this time as a test). And put my cup,— גָּבִיעַ, from an unused root, גָּבַע, conveying the sense of elevation or roundness; hence a goblet or bowl, commonly of a large size (Jeremiah 35:5 ), as distinguished from the כּוֹס, or mailer cup, into which, from the gabia, wine or other liquid was poured (cf. Genesis 40:11 )—the silver cup,—τὸ κόνδυ τὸ ἀργυροῶν (LXX.). Bohlen mentions that the religious drinking utensil of the Indian priests is called kundiin the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money—literally, the silver of his grain, or of his purchase. And he (i.e. the steward) did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.

Genesis 44:3-5

As soon as the morning was light (literally, the morning became bright), the men (literally, and the men) were sent away, they and their asses. That Joseph did not make himself known to his brothers at the repast was not due to unnatural callousness which caused his heart to remain cold and steeled (Kalisch), or to a fear lest he should thereby destroy the character of his mission which made him the medium of retribution for his brothers (Kalisch), but to the fact that in his judgment either his brothers had not been sufficiently tested, or the time did not appear convenient for the disclosure of his secret. And when they were gone out of the city (literally, they went forth out of the city), and not yet far off (literally, they had not gone far), Joseph (literally, and Joseph) said unto his steward (or man over his house), Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them (literally, and overtake them, and say to them), Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good? The interpolation at this point of the words, "Why did you steal my silver goblet?" (LXX; Vulgate, Syriac) is superfluous. Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?—literally, and divining he divineth, or maketh trial, in it, the verb נָחַשׁ (from which is derived nachash, a serpent: vide Genesis 3:1) originally signifying to hiss or whisper, and hence to mutter incantations, to practice ophiomancy, and generally to divine. The special form of divination here referred to (κυλικομαντεία, or divining out of cups) was practiced by the ancient Egyptians. "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" (Kalisch). Traces of this ancient practice of soothsaying have been detected by some writers in the magnificent vase of turquoise belonging to Jam-shoed, the Solomon of Persia. Like Merlin's cup, described by Spenser ('Faery Queens,' 3.2, 19)—

"It vertue had to show in perfect sight

Whatever thing was in the world contained

Betwixt the lowest earth and heven's hight,

So that it to the looker appertaynd."

A similar account is given by Homer of the cup of Nestor; and Alexander the Great is reported to have possessed a mystic goblet of a like kind. It is said that in the storming of Seringapatam the unfortunate Tippeo Saib retired to gaze on his divining cup, and that after standing awhile absorbed in it he returned to the fight and fell (vide Kitto's 'Cyclopedia,' art. Divination). Ye have done evil in so doing.

Genesis 44:6

And he (i.e. the steward) overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.

Genesis 44:7-10

And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do (literally, for be thy seesaws from doing) according to's thing: behold, the money (literally, the silver), which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan (this was an irrefragable proof of their honesty): how then should we steal out of my lord's house silver or gold? They were even so confident of their innocence that they ventured on a rash proposition. With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen—literally, for servants to my lord. And he (the steward) said, Now also let it be according to your words. So LXX; Vulgate, and commentators generally; but Kalisch reads it as an interrogation, "Is it right according to your words?" meaning that strict justice demanded only the punishment of the thief, as he explained. He with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye (i.e. the others of you) shall be blameless.

Genesis 44:11-13

Then they speedily took down (literally, and they hasted and took down) every man his sack (from off his ass) to the ground, and opened every man his sack. Thus as it were delivering them up for examination. And he (the steward) searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found (where the steward himself had put it) in Benjamin's sack. Then (literally, and) they rent their clothes (on the simlah vide Genesis 9:23), and laded every man his ass (by putting on the sack which had been taken down), and returned to the city.

Genesis 44:14-17

And Judah—who is recognized as the leader in this second embassy to Egypt (Genesis 43:8)—and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there:—"awaiting, no doubt, the result which he anticipated" (Murphy)—and they fell before him on the ground. The expression indicates a complete prostration of the body. It was a token of their penitence, and a sign that they craved his forgiveness. And Joseph said unto them,—in a speech not of "cruel and haughty irony" (Kalisch), but simply of assumed resentment—What deed is this that we have done! were ye not (or, did you not know?) that such a man as I can certainly divine?—literally, divining can divine (vide on Genesis 44:5). Though Joseph uses this language, and is represented by his steward as possessing a divining cup, there is no reason to suppose that he was in the habit of practicing this heathen superstition. And Judah said (acting throughout this scene as the spokesman of his brethren), What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? (i.e. justify ourselves, or purge ourselves from suspicion). God (literally, the Elohim) hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants (literally, servants to my lord), both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. And he (i.e. Joseph) said, God forbid that I should do so (vide Genesis 44:9): 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. Thus they were once more tested as to whether they could, as before, callously deliver up their father's favorite, and so bring down the gray hairs of their father to the grave, or would heroically and self-sacrificingly offer their own lives and liberties for his protection (Rosenmüller, Keil, Lange, Murphy, and others). How nobly they stood the test Judah's pathetic supplication reveals.

Genesis 44:18-34

Then Judah came near to him, and said,—the speech of Judah in behalf of his young brother Benjamin has been fittingly characterized as "one of the master. pieces of Hebrew composition" (Kalisch), "one of the grandest and fairest to be found in the Old Testament" (Lange), "a more moving oration than ever orator pronounced" (Lawson), "one of the finest specimens of natural eloquence in the world" (Inglis). Without being distinguished by either brilliant imagination or highly poetic diction, "its inimitable charm and excellence consist in the power of psychological truth, easy simplicity, and affecting pathos" (Kalisch)—Oh my lord (the interjection Oh is the same as that used by Judah in Genesis 43:20; q.v.), let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears (probably pressing towards him in his eagerness), and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh (i.e. one invested with the authority of Pharaoh, and therefore able, like Pharaoh, either to pardon or condemn). My lord asked his servants, saying, Have yea father, or a brother! And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age (vide Genesis 37:3), a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. Substantially this is the account which the brethren gave of themselves from the first (Genesis 42:13); only Judah now with exquisite tact as well as resistless pathos dwells on the threefold circumstance that the little one whose life was at stake was inexpressibly dear to his father for his dead brother's sake as well as for his departed mother's and his own. And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. This last clause is also a rhetorical enlargement of Joseph's words, ἐπιμελοῦμαι αὐτοῦ (LXX.); the phrase, to set one's eyes on any one, being commonly used in a good sense, signifying to regard any one with kindness, to look to his good (cf. Ezra 5:5; Job 24:23; Jeremiah 39:12; Jeremiah 40:4). And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. Judah in this no doubt correctly reports the original conversation, although the remark is not recorded in the first account. And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more (cf. Genesis 43:3-5). And it came to pass (literally, it was) when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. The effect upon Jacob of their sad communication Judah does not recite (Genesis 42:36), but passes on to the period of the commencement of the second journey. And our father laid (i.e. after the consumption of the corn supply), Go again, and buy us a little food (vide Genesis 43:2). And we laid, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us. And thy servant my father said unto us (at this point Judah with increased tenderness alludes to the touching lamentation of the stricken patriarch as he first listens to the unwelcome proposition to take Benjamin from his side), Ye know that my wife—Rachel was all through her life the wife of his affections (cf. Genesis 46:19)—bare me two sons:—Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 30:22, Genesis 30:24; Genesis 35:18)—and the one (Joseph) went out from me (and returned not, thus indirectly alluding to his death), and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since. Jacob means that had Joseph been alive, he would certainly have returned; but that as since that fatal day of his departure from Hebron he had never beheld him, he could only conclude that his inference was correct, and that Joseph was devoured by some beast of prey. And if ye take this also from me (in the sense which the next clause explains), and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave—Sheol (vide Genesis 37:35). Now therefore (literally, and now) when I come (or go) to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life (or soul) is bound up in the lad's life (or soul); it shall come to pass, when he sooth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the grey hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 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 (vide Genesis 43:9). Now therefore (literally, and now), I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman (or servant) to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. "There was no duty that imperiously prohibited Judah from taking the place of his unfortunate brother. His children, and even his wife, if he had been in the married state, might have been sent to Egypt. He was so far master of his own liberty that he could warrantably put himself in Benjamin's room, if the governor gave his consent" (Lawson). 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 (literally, shall find) my father. The sublime heroism of this noble act of self-sacrifice on the part of Judah it is impossible to over-estimate. In behalf of one whom he knew was preferred to a higher place in his father's affection than himself, he was willing to renounce his liberty rather than see his aged parent die of a broken heart. The self-forgetful magnanimity of such an action has never been eclipsed, and seldom rivaled. After words so exquisitely beautiful and profoundly pathetic it was impossible for Joseph to doubt that a complete change had passed upon his brethren, and in particular upon Judah, since the day when he had eloquently urged, and they had wickedly consented, to sell their brother Joseph into Egypt. Everything was now ready for the denouement in this domestic drama. The story of Joseph's discovery of himself to his astonished brethren is related in the ensuing chapter.

HOMILETICS

Genesis 44:1-34

Joseph's artifice to detain Benjamin, or the story of the silver goblet.

I. JOSEPH'S STRATAGEM (Genesis 44:1-13).

1. The formation of the plot (Genesis 44:1-5).

2. The execution of the plot (Genesis 44:6-12).

3. The result of the plot (Genesis 44:13-16).

II. BENJAMIN'S SENTENCE (Genesis 44:17).

1. Exceedingly severe. He became a bondman. Remark upon the sadness of slavery, even when most mitigated.

2. Circumstantially justified. Appearances were against him. But the evidence of circumstances is sometimes fallacious.

3. Absolutely undeserved. In every sense of the expression Benjamin was blameless.

4. Wisely designed. It was meant to assay the characters of both Benjamin and his brethren.

III. JUDAH'S SUPPLICATION (Genesis 44:18-34).

1. Deferential humility (Genesis 44:18). It is difficult to imagine language more respectful and deferential than that of Judah. Almost every word is so framed as to convey a sense of Joseph's lofty station, superior dignity, and just cause of indignation against the speaker.

2. Artless simplicity (Genesis 44:19-26). Infinitely more powerful than either voluble rhetoric or closely-compacted argument is the plain and unsophisticated logic of truth. Without the most distant approach to sophistry, or even an attempt at persuasion, Judah confines himself to a bare recital of the facts of the case which were already well known to Joseph.

3. Inimitable pathos (Genesis 44:28-32). Depicting his father's love for Benjamin for his dead mother's and his lost brother's sakes, he tells how he himself had become surety for the lad to his aged parent, and that if he should fail to take him back again in safety he would bring down his father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

4. Heroic self-sacrifice (Genesis 44:33, Genesis 44:34). Rather than that Benjamin should not go home again to Hebron, he would himself remain a bondman to my lord the governor for ever. Nay, he explicitly makes offer that he should take the young man's place, as he would rather die than see the sorrow which his absence would bring down upon his venerable sire. Noble Judah! thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.

HOMILIES BY J.F. MONTGOMERY

Genesis 44:1-34

Character built on faith.

This chapter continues the same thread of Joseph's policy, and the same lessons are in it.

I. PRACTICAL WISDOM THE FRUIT OF PIETY. The true man is the strong man. With a deep knowledge of the human heart, Joseph felt quite sure that the only way to move Jacob from Canaan was to detain Benjamin.

II. THE SANCTITY OF THE AFFECTIONS. Real religion their only safeguard in the world's hardening and perverting influences. Joseph did apparent violence to his brethren's and his father's feelings that he might afterwards fill them with joy. There was a great deal of genuine family affection at the bottom of the scheme. He could not bear to part with Benjamin. He at first meant to maintain the dissembling till the old man was brought, but nature burst through the restraint. The whole a testimony to the real purity and simplicity of Joseph's heart, and therefore, in such circumstances of temptation as his, to his real religion.

III. CONTRAST BETWEEN GOD'S IDEAL OF GREATNESS AND THE WORLD'S. Great rulers and statesmen are not wont thus to cultivate the emotions. The tendency of high position is to harden the heart, and to change nature into policy, and the real into the artificial. Yet such instances as Joseph show the possibility of uniting the two spheres—the secular and the spiritual, and being great in both.—R.

HOMILIES BY J.F. MONTGOMERY

Genesis 44:5

Probation.

Divination by cups was practiced by the ancient Egyptians. But no reason to suppose that Joseph actually used this art. It would have been inconsistent with his habitual faithfulness to God, and with the ascription to him alone of the power to reveal secrets (Ge 40:7-41:16). He was now acting a part. He spoke in the character of an Egyptian ruler, to whom the nation ascribed supernatural wisdom. We need not now inquire how far he was right in this. But his object was to try his brethren, whether, and how much, they loved their father and their young brother. He contrived that Benjamin should appear to have incurred the penalty of servitude. What would the rest do? Would they, as they had done to him, leave their brother in slavery? Would they go home and deceive their father by a false story of his death? Could they bear to renew his grief? Had they learned that God marked their actions, and ordained the things that happened to them? The cup hidden in Benjamin's sack was indeed that whereby he was divining their secret thoughts. They Stood the test. They acknowledged God's hand, and refused to purchase their own safety at the price of their brother's freedom (contrast Genesis 37:26, Genesis 37:27, with Genesis 44:30, Genesis 44:34). Forthwith the clouds passed away. In him whom they feared they found a brother.

I. GOD BY HIS PROVIDENCE TRIES THE SPIRIT THAT IS IN US. The events of our lives are ordered so as to bring this about (Deuteronomy 8:2). They are to us as Joseph's cup. Daily work, family life, professional duties, the common intercourse of society, raise questions which are answered according as God or self rules the heart and guides the actions. Hence no part of our life is unimportant in a spiritual point of view. Things, in themselves of small account, test the character and motives of the life, as floating straws show the current; and this all the more because their spiritual bearing is not apparent. Kindness, truth, unselfishness, in little matters, reveal the man more truly than on greater and more conspicuous occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:3).

II. TRIALS ARE SENT IN LOVE AS INSTRUMENTS OF BLESSING (James 1:12). Through their operation the Christian life is matured (Romans 5:3-5). Every grace must be exercised in order to grow, and trial is the opportunity of exercise. Without trial there could be no real victory over evil, no real submission of the will to God. We pray to be kept from temptation. To run into it is to court a fall. But where God sends trial grace is provided (1 Corinthians 10:13), answering every need; help for the falling or fallen as well as strength for the steadfast.

III. How TO STAND IN THE DAY OF TRIAL. In each of the messages to the Churches (Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22.) trial is implied now of persecution, now of false doctrine, now of indolent spiritual ease. And the blessing is "to him that overcometh." How? "By the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 12:11), i.e. by faith in it. Not merely belief in the doctrine, but realizing what the work of Christ has won for us, and the love of the Father from which it proceeds, and the claim which the mercies of God make upon us (Romans 12:1). The first step is receiving with an undoubting spirit the love of God; not letting in unbelief in the garb of humility. The next is keeping that truth present in the mind in the midst of daily work, that the love of Christ may constrain the direction of our life.—M.

HOMILIES BY W. ROBERTS

Genesis 44:14-34

The conversion of Judah.

I. THE EVIDENCE OF IT.

1. The unexpected confession of guilt which he makes. "God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants."

2. The sensitive appreciation of the terrible blow which Benjamin's loss would be to Jacob. "When he seeth the lad is not with us he will die."

3. The noble sacrifice he proposes to make for Benjamin. "Let thy servant abide instead of the lad, a bondman to my lord."

II. THE CAUSE OF IT.

1. The memory of his old sin, which appears to have haunted his conscience.

2. The arrestment of Divine Providence, which in his Egyptian experience he suffered.

3. The inward operation of God's grace upon his heart.

Learn—

1. That no living sinner is beyond the reach of conversion.

2. That for the most part the work of conversion is gradually consummated; and—

3. That when once it is completed it appears in a change of character and life.—W.

HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS

Genesis 44:32

A surety.

"For thy servant became surety for the lad unto his father." The brethren of Joseph had been surprised on their second visit to Egypt at the cordiality of their reception. They started homewards with well-laden sacks and trembling gladness. They had not gone far when they were overtaken, their sacks searched, and the cup found. With depressed spirits and dreary forebodings they were brought back to the city, and into the presence of Joseph. Joseph had several motives in his strange treatment of his brethren. He may have desired in some way to punish them for their sin against himself by letting them taste some of the bitterness he had experienced when, ruthlessly torn from his home, he was sent a shrinking slave into a distant land. Human nature was strong in Joseph as in others. His brethren had to learn the nature of their own sin by suffering. They have also to learn that their lives were forfeited by sin to justice. He wished also to bring them to a state of humility, so that they should afterwards behave rightly to each other. He may have had doubts as to the safety of his own brother Benjamin with them. He tests thus their interest in their half-brother, for they could have left with some sort of excuse Benjamin as a slave in Egypt. He tests also their regard for their father, and finds out also how they would look upon himself when he should reveal himself to them. Judah is the spokesman for the rest in the painful circumstances in which they are all placed. Joseph proposes to keep only Benjamin as a slave, but Judah draws near, and with deepest humility and heartfelt earnestness pleads with Joseph. Consider—

I. JUDAH'S PLEADING.

1. Judah pleads as surety for Benjamin, and as a brother. We find that it is Judah and not Reuben who pleads now for the life of a brother. Age has mellowed the fierce Judah. We cannot always tell from what a man is in his early years what he will be later on.

2. We learn from this position and pleading of Judah as to how we should approach God. We have sinned and can only throw ourselves on his mercy. We see also how Christ pleads for us. His pleading is real and earnest. He prayed on earth for his disciples. The present is a dispensation of mediation. Hence Christ still pleads as our surety in heaven.

II. JUDAH'S OFFER. He is ready to be bound for Benjamin. It is one thing to talk, another to act. He had promised his father to bring Benjamin again (Genesis 43:9), and he wishes to keep his word. He became surety, a guarantee, as one who is bound by signing a paper. He was answerable to his father. He is ready to give his service for Benjamin, his life for his brother. His faithfulness was thus proved. Christ is our surety. He makes himself one with us (Hebrews 2:11). He sprang from Judah (Hebrews 7:14). He became one with us in nature and in temptation, and was accepted as our substitute, was bound, abused, and crucified. He bore the curse for us (Galatians 3:13). He sacrificed himself for us. Christ died for us who were below him. We may see in the success of Judah's pleading an indication of the success of Jesus' work. Joseph needed no entreaty to be merciful to Benjamin. He was nearer of kin to Benjamin than Judah was. So God is our Father. Joseph only wished to see the brethren in a fit state to be forgiven. They were entirely forgiven (Genesis 44:5-15). He forgave freely, and wished them to forgive themselves. He knew very well that if they began to blame themselves too much, or to upbraid each other, they would never be happy. Forgiveness should produce peace.

1. Let us see ourselves in those suppliant brothers of Joseph.

2. Let us see in Judah how Christ pleads for us, and with what power. Certainly he excelled in his appeal, in wisdom, boldness, eloquence, tenderness, and self-sacrifice. How much more should we not praise Jesus for his power, his life, his love, sufferings, death, and present intercession.

3. Let us then trust him. What would have been thought of the others if they should have said to Judah, "You are not equal to being surety for him," or" You are not of sufficient standing, not above us, so as to speak in the name of the rest"? And is not Christ equal to the work of securing our salvation? If he can do it, shall we attempt to mar by our meddling? Full atonement is made, as well as powerful intercession offered. What we have to do is to trust Christ's work. Let us give up hope of preparing ourselves. He is not like some who are sureties, and are unwilling to pay. He has paid. The law and justice have nothing to demand. Should either present a claim, point to the cross, for that answers all demands. Oh the mystery of redeeming love! Oh the simplicity and yet the depth of meaning contained in that work of Christ! It is a stumbling-block to the high-minded, but a salvation to the humble.—H.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 44:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/genesis-44.html. 1897.

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