Adam Clarke Commentary
Joseph commands his steward to put his cup secretly into Benjamin‘s sack, Genesis 44:1, Genesis 44:2. The sons of Jacob depart with the corn they had purchased, Genesis 44:3. Joseph commands his steward to pursue them, and charge them with having stolen his cup, Genesis 44:4-6. The brethren excuse themselves, protest their innocence, and offer to submit to be slaves should the cup be found with any of them, Genesis 44:7-9. Search is made, and the cup is found in Benjamin‘s sack, Genesis 44:10-12. They are brought back and submit themselves to Joseph, Genesis 44:13-16. He determines that Benjamin alone, with whom the cup is found, shall remain in captivity, Genesis 44:17. Judah, in a most affecting speech, pleads for Benjamin‘s enlargement, and offers himself to be a bondman in his stead, vv. 18-34.
Put my cup in the sack‘s mouth of the youngest - The stratagem of the cup seems to have been designed to bring Joseph‘s brethren into the highest state of perplexity and distress, that their deliverance by the discovery that Joseph was their brother might have its highest effect.
Whereby - he divineth? - Divination by cups has been from time immemorial prevalent among the Asiatics; and for want of knowing this, commentators have spent a profusion of learned labor upon these words, in order to reduce them to that kind of meaning which would at once be consistent with the scope and design of the history, and save Joseph from the impeachment of sorcery and divination. I take the word נחש (nachash) here in its general acceptation of to view attentively, to inquire. Now there has been in the east a tradition, the commencement of which is lost in immemorial time, that there was a Cup, which had passed successively into the hands of different potentates, which possessed the strange property of representing in it the whole world, and all the things which were then doing in it. The cup is called (jami Jemsheed), the cup of Jemsheed, a very ancient king of Persia, whom late historians and poets have confounded with Bacchus, Solomon, Alexander the Great, etc. This Cup, filled with the elixir of immortality, they say was discovered when digging to lay the foundations of Persepolis. The Persian poets are full of allusions to this cup, which, from its property of representing the whole world and its transactions, is styled by them (jam jehan nima), “the cup showing the universe;” and to the intelligence received by means of it they attribute the great prosperity of their ancient monarchs, as by it they understood all events, past, present, and to come. Many of the Mohammedan princes and governors affect still to have information of futurity by means of a cup. When Mr. Norden was at Derri in the farthest part of Egypt, in a very dangerous situation, an ill-natured and powerful Arab, in a threatening way, told one of their people whom they sent to him that “he knew what sort of people they were, for he had consulted his cup, and found by it that they were those of whom one of their prophets had said, that Franks (Europeans) would come in disguise; and, passing everywhere, examine the state of the country; and afterwards bring over a great number of other Franks, conquer the country, and exterminate all.” By this we see that the tradition of the divining cup still exists, and in the very same country too in which Joseph formerly ruled. Now though it is not at all likely that Joseph practiced any kind of divination, yet probably, according to the superstition of those times, (for I suppose the tradition to be even older than the time of Joseph), supernatural influence might be attributed to his cup; and as the whole transaction related here was merely intended to deceive his brethren for a short time, he might as well affect divination by his cup, as he affected to believe they had stolen it. The steward therefore uses the word נחש (nachash) in its proper meaning: Is not this it out of which my lord drinketh, and in which he inspecteth accurately? Genesis 44:5. And hence Joseph says, Genesis 44:15: Wot ye not - did ye not know, that such a person as I (having such a cup) would accurately and attentively look into it? As I consider this to be the true meaning, I shall not trouble the reader with other modes of interpretation.
What shall we say, etc. - No words can more strongly mark confusion and perturbation of mind. They, no doubt, all thought that Benjamin had actually stolen the cup; and the probability of this guilt might be heightened by the circumstance of his having that very cup to drink out of at dinner; for as he had the most honorable mess, so it is likely he had the most honorable cup to drink out of at the entertainment.
Thou art even as Pharaoh - As wise, as powerful, and as much to be dreaded as he. In the Asiatic countries, the reigning monarch is always considered to be the pattern of all perfection; and the highest honor that can be conferred on any person, is to resemble him to the monarch; as the monarch himself is likened, in the same complimentary way, to an angel of God. See 2 Samuel 14:17, 2 Samuel 14:18. Judah is the chief speaker here, because it was in consequence of his becoming surety for Benjamin that Jacob permitted him to accompany them to Egypt. See Genesis 43:9.
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