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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 44

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 12


‘The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.’

Genesis 44:12

The cup was discovered, and now the brethren, with heavy hearts, went back to Joseph. It must have seemed to them like an uneasy dream, though they could not foresee what the awaking would be. And then on their return, and when they stand in Joseph’s presence, Judah makes his defence of his brethren. It is a pathetic and a powerful speech, for out of the fulness of the heart the mouth is speaking. Its wisdom is shown in its silence about the cup; its earnestness in its unstudied simplicity. Dying Jacob had good reason to say, ‘Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise’ ( Genesis 49:8). Should we not remember, too, what the New Testament writer tells us, that our Lord sprang out of Judah ( Hebrews 7:14), for our Lord also, like Judah in this story, made intercession for the transgressors, and became surety for them?

I. First, then, let us note the strategy of love. Had Joseph willed it, nothing would have been easier than to have revealed himself to his brethren at the first. Indeed, we may wonder sometimes that at the very outset he did not speak one word and close the matter. But had he done so, we should have lost an exquisite story, and the loss would have left the world of childhood poorer; and had he done so, he could never have been certain of the tone and temper of his brothers’ hearts. All this delay and concealment and confusion was not the idle whim of a great potentate; far less was it the dark and cunning artifice that so often distinguishes oriental hate; the beauty of the strategy lay in this, that it was all the strategy of love, and was meant to discipline and to reveal the hearts that had played such a part of treachery at Dothan. In all true love there is strategy like that. There is no passion so ingenious as love. If God is love, and if God hideth Himself (Is. Genesis 45:15), we may expect to light on love doing the same. And the reserve of love, and its sweet ingenuity, and its intermediate roughness before disclosure, are all intended (as were the plans of Joseph) to reveal the depths of the beloved’s heart.

II. Next note how the brothers associate slavery and death with sin. When the steward overtook the brothers, and told them of the theft of Joseph’s cup, we can readily picture their utter incredulity that any of their number should be guilty. They protested that it was quite impossible—let their own past conduct be taken as their witness; but then they added, ‘With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen’ (v. 9). Now that quick response is worthy of attention, for it sprang from the heart, and was ratified by all. And it implies that in these early ages, and when the light of heaven was but dimly shining, men had already grasped this fearful truth that salvery and death are linked with sin. They felt, though they could not have explained their feelings, that these were the penalties that must follow wrong-doing. And we need hardly be reminded that this dawning sense of the connection of slavery and death with sin, is insisted on, with awful emphasis, in the gospel that centres in the death on Calvary. One of the early fathers of the Church spoke of the mind being naturally Christian. He meant that there was that within the heart which responded to the appeal of revelation. And this is true, for the most mysterious doctrines that have been given us in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, come to us, somehow, in familiar garb, and are recognised in the secrets of the soul.

III. Next note how sin committed long ago will rise to trouble us. Amid the palaces of Egypt the memories of Dothan vividly revived. At home, in the quiet days of peace and plenty, it may be that Joseph was seldom thought upon. But famine came, and with the famine trouble, and all the dark experiences of Egypt, and the conscience of the brethren awoke, and they remembered the dark deed of long ago. Let none of us think that we can do that which is wrong, and then forget it absolutely and utterly. The ‘whirligig of time brings its revenges,’ and the sin we thought to be dead is only sleeping. Sometimes it rises before us in our after days, as it rose before the brethren of Joseph; always it will rise up in that great hour when we shall be judged of the deeds done in the body. How wise it is, then, and what an urgent duty, to look (every day that we live) to Jesus crucified, and not only in song but in deed, to ‘lay our sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God.’

IV. Then, lastly, observe that the brothers were changed men. They were tried and tested, and were not found wanting. The stratagems of Joseph were rewarded, for he discovered all that he longed to find. At Dothan they had betrayed their brother—Joseph had been deserted there. Were the men still unchanged, and would they now desert Benjamin? And would they go home once more with some trumped-up story to Jacob? ‘They rent their clothes,’ we read, ‘and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city’ (v. 13). There must be no deserting of a brother now. They would stand by Benjamin through thick and thin. They were altered men, repentant of their past, alive now to the meaning of true brotherhood. It was this that Joseph was so keen to find, and having found it, he proclaimed himself.


‘It must have required extraordinary tenacity of purpose for Joseph to make his brethren suffer like this, but he dared to enforce the ordeal because he so clearly saw its necessity, the result to which they were coming, and for which they were being prepared. What a revelation this is of the reasons for the sorrows through which we have to pass! Jesus is behind them all, determining each, its duration and character and intensity. He sits as a refiner of silver. He dares to make us suffer to rid us of sin and to prepare us for a solid blessedness which shall last through all the sunny years that await us. But what pain it costs Him to give us pain! Like Joseph, He often turns aside to weep. And like Judah, He pleads for us in the presence of God.’

Verse 32


‘Thy servant became surety for the lad.’

Genesis 44:32

The brothers are once more before Joseph. He speaks ambiguously, on purpose to try them. But the brethren do not give up, or desert, their young brother Benjamin. Judah makes a speech which is very natural, simple, and pathetic.

I. It is conciliatory towards Joseph. Joseph’s greatness, power, and high rank are fully recognised (‘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.

How wonderful it is to discover the strong and noble emotions that slumber in the hearts of the most ordinary of men! None who had known Judah familiarly would have given him credit for this depth of human feeling or genuine eloquence. It rushes up as the hot-springs do in certain spots of the earth, which are wrapt in almost perpetual winter. But sorrow is a marvellous magician. It touches those secret springs that lie in the souls of men, and calls them forth in their native simplicity.

II. So we are brought to the moment before the mutual recognition and reconciliation take place.

Joseph’s brethren are now thoroughly humbled. There is no boastfulness, no spite, no envy in their bosoms now. Judah has acted nobly, and they have not deserted either him or Benjamin. Joseph is therefore convinced of their sincerity, and of the softening of their hearts, for clear proof of which he had waited.

He himself is full of pitifulness, and rejoices to perceive that they are very different from what they had been when they sold him as a slave, years before.

The whole story teaches us how good a thing it is to be kindly, and pitiful, and considerate—and how much of a family’s happiness and safety depends upon the mutual affection of its members. And a friend in need is a friend indeed.

III. And does not this pleading of Judah for his brethren recall Christ’s for us all, though there are vast differences? Remember how Jesus said, ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter.’ It was in response to the intercessions which the Mediator made for us all, that the Holy Spirit was shed on the Church. But, the parallel is even more complete, when in Joseph who had risen from the low dungeon to the throne, and who used his exaltation to bless his brethren, we see a type of Him who ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill things, that He might receive gifts, yea for the rebellious also; and especially the gift of the Holy Spirit.

—Abp. Saumarez Smith.


‘Trouble brought Judah near to Joseph, as it has often enough brought men to that Elder Brother, whom they have so greatly wronged. The whole of this story casts a strong light on God’s ways with us. The cup is often found in Benjamin’s sack, where we should least expect to discover it; and the soul finds itself interwoven in an inextricable maze of trouble, which has fallen on it as though from heaven, that it may awake from its slumbers, and seek God. Then we come near to Him.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 44". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-44.html. 1876.
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