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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 44

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-15


Genesis 44:5. Whereby indeed he divineth.] “The ancient Egyptians, and still more the Persians, practised a mode of divination from goblets. Small pieces of gold and 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 thus formed, or which a lively imagination fancied it saw, were interpreted as the desired omen. The goblets were usually of a spherical form; and from this reason, as well as because they were believed to teach man all natural and many supernatural things, they were called ‘celestial globes.’ ” (Kalisch.) “The word rendered divineth (nichesh) means to hiss like a serpent (nachash), and hence to murmur incantations.” (Alford.)—



I. The severity of the trial.

1. It was unexpected. They had been feasted, laden with corn, and sent prosperously on their journey. Simeon is restored, Benjamin is safe, and they were now rejoicing in the prospect of seeing their father and of gladdening his heart. But a dark cloud suddenly comes over their sky. They are overtaken, accused of a crime, in their case most heartless and ungenerous. Evidence is found against them which they are unable to gainsay. (Genesis 44:6-13.) This was all unexpected, but still there had always lain deep in them a dread of some impending evil. Judah felt that this calamity was a judgment for former sins. The general wickedness of life, and especially their grievous sin against Joseph was now brought home to them. (Genesis 44:16).

2. It exposed them to the agony of suspense between hope and fear. The searching for the cup began with the eldest, and as it proceeded, ten out of the eleven were found to be innocent, being acquitted by the fact. But alas! in the sack of the youngest the cup is found. Thus their hopes were raised within one step of acquittal, and then were suddenly and cruelly cast down. And as if to make their situation still more grievous and perplexing, suspicion falls upon one of their number who could least of all have done this deed.

3. They were conscious of innocence. They felt so clear of this guilt that they boldly challenged proof. (Genesis 44:7-9). They plead their honesty in a former case. (Genesis 44:8). They considered themselves safe in the conviction that their character was established. The property was found upon Benjamin; and though that damaging fact admitted of no answer, yet they were placed in the painful position that they could not defend him without reflecting upon his accusers. They cannot believe Benjamin guilty, and yet they cannot attempt any defence.

4. The trial touched them in the sorest place. He who is accused of this guilt is the very son whom their father charged them to bring safely back. The calamities which now fell upon them seem to have been managed with the most cruel ingenuity.

5. The bringing them into their present difficulty seemed to have the sanction of religion. Though innocent in this particular instance, they could not help feeling somehow that their present misfortune was a judgment against them. Joseph professes to be able to discover the guilty by a supernatural knowledge. (Genesis 44:15). They have some fear that an agency of this kind was at work against them. They must now have thought of a former scene when though guilty they escaped punishment, and though they now feel that in this present matter they are innocent, yet vengeance still cries aloud against them and demands reprisals.

6. They regard their case as hopeless. They are horror-struck. “They rent their clothes,” which is the expression of a sorrow that knows no remedy.

II. The purpose of the trial. It was only some good and gracious design that could justify Joseph in putting his brethren to such a grievous trial as this. That design may be easily read in the light of former and subsequent events,

1. To stir up their consciences to the depths. In this way alone could they be brought to true repentance. The process was severe, but it had its motive in that real and true kindness which wounds but to heal. They had been guilty of a great sin against Joseph, and he generously forgave it, but he wanted to bring their sin home to them for the healing of their souls. They must be completely humbled. Judah’s acknowledgment shows that this desired result was accomplished. (Genesis 44:16). Their sin in selling Joseph completely overwhelms them now. Joseph prolonged the sufferings of his brethren even after he had forgiven their sin. And so, when God forgives, some penalty still may remain. In all this we have a parable of our kinsman Redeemer, who bring us, by painful means, to a sense of our sin in order that He might be the more welcome when He reveals Himself as a Saviour.

2. To show whether they were capable of receiving forgiveness. Would they now desert Benjamin, their father’s darling, as they had once deserted Joseph being such also? Or would they defend him and keep their trust? This was the true proof of them. And well did they endure the test. Judah comes boldly to the front and declares his purpose to cleave to his brother, and if needs be to sink with him in the same calamity. (Genesis 44:16). When Benjamin came not the first time, Joseph may have suspected that he had been disposed of as himself had been. Therefore he contrived that Benjamin should be brought before him. And now he has to learn how Benjamin was treated by his brothers. Their feeling towards him was tested by the cup in the sack. Joseph found that his brethren did not believe in Benjamin’s guilt, that they had a forgiving spirit. Had it been otherwise they would have been unfit to receive pardon. This is what our Lord teaches in the parable of the unmerciful servant. (St. Matthew 18:21-35).


Genesis 44:1-2. As every measure which Joseph had yet taken to lead his brethren to discover who he was had failed, he must now have recourse to another expedient to detain them. All this is love, but it is love still working in a mysterious way. The object seems to be to detain Benjamin, and to try the rest.—(Fuller).

His desire was to find his brethren disposed to defend Benjamin in a just cause from that oppression to which he seemed to be exposed.—(Bush).

Had he presently entertained and embraced them as his brethren, they would sooner have gloried in their wickedness than repented of it. Neither would a little repentance serve for a sin so ingrained, and such a long time lain in. Some men’s stains are so inveterate that they will hardly be got out till the cloth be almost rubbed to pieces.—(Trapp).

Genesis 44:3. The most beautiful morning may soon be overcast with dark clouds. Joseph was preparing for them grief and fear, although he intended good and not harm. Let us never be too confident that to-morrow will be as this day, or that this day will be serene and bright till the evening.—(Bush).

Genesis 44:4-5. The use of the term “divineth” by the steward does not imply that Joseph ordinarily made use of the diviner’s art; but as it had probably been attributed to him on account of his great wisdom, by the Egyptians, he merely takes advantage of the fact to accomplish a particular purpose, without leaving us any ground to infer that the popular impression was either true or false. It is probable that the steward alluded to the circumstances that occurred the day before. It is natural to suppose that he would have had this cup before him on that occasion; and as he appeared to discern their relative superiority by some supernatural means, we may easily conceive that the steward’s phrase would convey to them the impression that it was owing to some mysterious magical virtue in the cup. We have no need to resort to any of the various renderings which have been suggested in order to save the credit of Joseph as an upright man. It was certainly as harmless a device as that of his feigning to be a stranger to his brethren, and keeping them so long in ignorance of his real character.—(Bush).

Genesis 44:6. The steward had faith in his master, though he could not discern his purpose; believed in his justice and wisdom, though the command might be perplexing. So are we to learn to trust our New Testament Joseph, even where we cannot trace Him.

Genesis 44:7-8. Their consciences being clear they had a ready and immediate defence.

1. The very thought was abhorrent to them. “God forbid,” or Heb. “Far be it from thy servants.” They could not be so base or ungrateful to one who had treated them with such kindness, and had given them such an honoured place at his table.
2. They appeal to their proved honesty in a former instance. The uprightness of their character was well established, so that they could produce it as a witness in their favour when falsely accused.

Genesis 44:9. Jacob’s sons could confide in one another. They were so confident in one another’s integrity that they could risk their own liberty upon it. They unanimously doomed the thief and themselves to slavery if he was found among their numbers; yet they were doubtless too rash in proffering to subject themselves to such a penalty. The money which they had formerly found in the mouth of their sacks might have taught them that the cup in question might likewise have been put into the sack of one of them without any fault on his part. He that is hasty with his tongue often rueth.—(Bush).

Innocency is bold, but withal had need to be wise, for fear of further inconvenience.—(Trapp).

Genesis 44:10. The steward takes the sons of Jacob at their word, so far only as justice allowed. He will not punish the innocent with the guilty, nor the guilty so rigourously as they proposed. When others speak rashly, we ought not to take advantage of their rashness, for we ourselves have, no doubt, often come under engagements without due deliberation, of which others, if they had been disposed, might have availed themselves greatly to our injury.—(Bush).

Genesis 44:11-13. When God comes to turn the bottom of the bag upwards, all will be out. Sin not, therefore, in hope of secrecy; at the last day all packs shall be opened.—(Trapp.)

In very agony they rend their clothes, reload their beasts, and return into the city. As they walk along, their thoughts turn upon another event; an event which had more than once occurred to their remembrance already. “It is the Lord! We are wanderers: and though we have escaped human detection, yet Divine vengeance will not suffer us to live.”—(Fuller.)

Genesis 44:14-15. They can only wait in humble posture to hear what is said to them. “Thus,” says an ancient father, “they bow down to him whom they sold into slavery, lest they should bow down to him.”—(Bush.)

Joseph does not profess to divine. He only claims this prerogative for such an one as he, and refers to his supernatural knowledge as being manifest in the case such as they were wont to attribute to diviners.—(Jacobus.)

The existence of a divining cup in Joseph’s house shows us that he had given way to Egyptian superstition; and therefore those commentators who desire to make Joseph appear blameless have endeavoured to give a meaning to this word “divining” which it will not bear. But we must remember that Joseph and the other saints of the Old Testament all belonged to ages before, and not after, Christ. They were before their generations, or they would not have been saints; but not before all generations, or they would have been more than saints.—(Robertson.)

Verses 16-34


Genesis 44:21. That I may set mine eyes upon him.] An expression meaning the exercising of a tender care towards him. Thus (Jeremiah 29:12.) “Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm.” Heb. “Set thine eyes upon him.”



There are some remarkable features in this intercession—

I. It was able. Judah was the man of eloquence among his brethren. His eloquence proposed and carried out the measure of Joseph’s sale, prevailed on Jacob to send Benjamin with the rest to Egypt; and now it persuades and overcomes this unknown Joseph who cannot endure any longer the restraint which he put upon himself. Judah confines himself to facts, but arranges them in the best order for effect. They are all speaking facts, each one has a tender memory or sorrow of its own. They suggest so much to the hearer that the whole speech is fired with the passion of true eloquence. Kalisch justly calls this pleading speech of Judah’s, “one of the masterpieces of Hebrew composition.” The facts narrated are simple, but they are told with the true touches of nature. What fiction can surpass the pathos of Genesis 44:20? “And we said unto my lord, we have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age; a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.”

II. It was noble. He does not insist upon the innocence of Benjamin, nor does he confess the theft; but acknowledges the general iniquity of his life. He generously offers himself as a surety for Benjamin. This heroic and self-sacrificing deed speaks louder than any words. He accepts slavery in his brother’s stead. Here was an appeal to Joseph’s sense of a self-forgetting devotion. In Judah there were many faults, and yet we find in him fond love for his father, and compassion for a brother stronger than even the desire of life.

III. It gave promise of future greatness. In sacred history, Judah’s name becomes great, is associated with all that is strong and noble. He is the pleader, “Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah.” (Deuteronomy 33:7.) “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah.” (Genesis 49:10.) David was chosen to be king of the tribe of Judah. (Psalms 78:67-68.)

IV. It suggests some features of our Lord’s intercession for us. Judah was a type of Christ. “Our Lord sprang out of Judah.” (Hebrews 7:14.) He was “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” (Revelation 5:5.) His human ancestor was a remarkable type of Him, of His power, His wisdom, His triumphs, His preeminence. A type also, as here, of His intercession. Christ appears in the presence of God for us. He “maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34.) He bears the curse that would otherwise fall upon us. Though Himself the birthright son, He bears the cross that we, the humblest and the least, might be free.

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 our Lord God as well as Judah prays to Joseph here; for it is a perfect specimen of prayer—the true feeling that there ought to be in prayer.”


Genesis 44:16. They well knew that they had sold Joseph for a slave, and filled up many of the years of their father’s life with bitter anguish; and they admit that it were a righteous thing with God to make them all slaves for crimes which their consciences charged upon them, but of which they supposed Joseph to be profoundly ignorant.—(Bush.)

An ingenuous and penitent confession, joined with self-loathing and self-judging; teaching us how to confess to God.—(Trapp.)

Genesis 44:17. This was to try the truth of their love to Benjamin, and whether they would stick to him in his utmost peril. God hath like ends in afflicting His children. “The King of Babylon stood at the parting-way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination” (Ezekiel 21:21.) So doth God. He knows that the best divining of men is at the parting-way; there every dog will show to what master he belongs.—(Trapp.)

Genesis 44:18. He asks the privilege of speaking a word.

“Say, what is prayer, when it is prayer indeed?
The mighty utterance of a mighty need.”

He begs that the lord’s anger may not burn against him. He is in his power; the evidence is against him. But he will press his suit, if possible to get a hearing. He owns the royal authority which he addresses; but he must tell the facts in some faint hope of prevalence.—(Jacobus.)

The surety here becomes the advocate, and presents one of the most powerful pleas ever uttered. Though he knew nothing of the schools or the rules of the rhetoricians, yet no orator ever pronounced a more moving oration. His good sense, and his affection for his venerable father, taught him the highest strains of eloquence.—(Bush.)

This brief introduction was admirably calculated to soften resentment, and obtain a patient hearing. The respectful title given him, “my lord;” the entreaty for permission to “speak;” the intimation that it should be but as it were “a word;” the deprecation of his anger, as being in a manner equal to that of “Pharaoh;” and all this prefaced with an interjection of sorrow, as though nothing but the deepest distress should have induced him to presume to speak on such a subject, showed him to be well qualified for his undertaking.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 44:19-29. It is observable that Judah said nothing but what was true, although he did not tell all the truth. It was not to be expected that he would tell how Benjamin’s brother was lost. He only told his father’s opinion concerning it, and that was enough to melt any man’s heart into compassion for a father bereaved in such a cruel manner of one son, and trembling in apprehension of the loss of another.—(Bush.)

Genesis 44:30-34. 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!—(Fuller.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 44". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-44.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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