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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:

(1) Learn to think more kindly of God and His dispensations, as you see how much reason you have to expect sorrow, how little right to look for joy;

(2) Learn the lesson the lesser sorrows are meant to teach, lest you need the greater;

(3) Take care lest you not only lose the joy, but lose the good the loss of joy was meant to give. (J. B. Figgis.)

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 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

(1) recalls the former visit, and the conversation of that time (Genesis 42:18-20). He then

(2) proceeds to remind Joseph of his command (Genesis 42:21), but for which they had not brought their brother. Of their expostulations (Genesis 42:22) and of his firmness of purpose (Genesis 42:23). He then drew the portrait of the old man, described the long time they bore the pangs of hunger before Jacob at last would suffer Benjamin to go; and, having hinted at the loss of one other son, repeated the final words of the old man (Genesis 42:29).


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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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 44". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-44.html. 1905-1909. New York.