[Today: Genesis 44] Joseph’s Silver Cup is Stolen. In this chapter the brothers depart from Egypt but Joseph has secreted his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers are called back to stand before Joseph in judgment, fearing that Benjamin will be held hostage in spite of all their promises to their father Jacob to bring Benjamin back alive.

[Gen 44:1-34 KJV] 1 And he commanded the steward of his house, 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. 2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses. 4 [And] when they were gone out of the city, [and] not [yet] far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good? 5 [Is] not this [it] in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing. 6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words. 7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing: 8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold? 9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen. 10 And he said, Now also [let] it [be] according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless. 11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack. 12 And he searched, [and] began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city. 14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; for he [was] yet there: and they fell before him on the ground. 15 And Joseph said unto them, What deed [is] this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine? 16 And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we [are] my lord’s servants, both we, and [he] also with whom the cup is found. 17 And he said, God forbid that I should do so: [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. 18 Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou [art] even as Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 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. 21 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. 22 And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for [if] he should leave his father, [his father] would die. 23 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. 24 And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, Go again, [and] buy us a little food. 26 And we said, 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. 27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two [sons]: 28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: 29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. 30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad [be] not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; 31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad [is] not [with us], that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 32 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. 33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. 34 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 my father.

In the previous chapter Joseph honors his brothers with a banquet in his home, though his identity remains unknown to them. They are mystified that Joseph seats them according to birth order at the feast and that he showers Benjamin the youngest with more than all the others who were bidden to his table. When the meal time was wrapping up Joseph instructs his steward to give the men as much as they can carry back to Canaan and once more to return every man’s money to his sack. In addition he instructs that his own silver cup be placed in Benjamin’s sack in addition.

The issue of the silver cup is more important than we would know in our modern culture. To suggest a modern equivalency imagine that you had a luncheon with the President of the United States. This would not be an exaggeration because Joseph is second in command of an empire encompassing the entire civilized world at the time. So, you are sitting at the table with the leader of the free world and upon leaving you discover his cell phone or perhaps his wallet in your pocket without any explanation for it being there. What would be your reaction? Would you feel threatened or vulnerable? What if you were accused of stealing the item? How would you explain yourself and what would be the consequences?

The silver cup of a leader was a status symbol of their authority. It held the same symbolic importance as the bracelets on his wrists, or the signet ring on his finger. The idea of the cup of a leader being stolen can be found in history both before Genesis was written and after. It would be a great indignity against a sovereign to do such a thing. It is a known fact that a certain nobleman being accused of stealing Alexander the Great’s silver cup was so ashamed just at the accusation that he committed suicide. The matter at hand then for Joseph’s brothers is very grave indeed.

In v. 3 the eleven brothers are sent away and allowed to get as far as just beyond the city when Joseph sends his servants after them with an accusation against them for behavior they were not actually guilty of. The brothers are doubly horrified to find that the cup in question is in Benjamin’s possession which puts him in jeopardy in spite of all that they did to promise their father Jacob that Benjamin would be returned to him intact. Thus they rend their clothes in protest of their innocence and return to the city.

When the men are brought again before Joseph the brothers fall on their faces before him pleading that they are guiltless in this matter. Rueben the first born while he spoke up in these matters in the first journey to Egypt is strangely silent while in v. 18 Judah speaks up showing that it is known that he is the defacto heir and that Rueben, Simeon and Levi for various reasons will be disinherited by Jacob when the time comes to divide the family estate.

Judah speaks to Joseph privately and asks Joseph to be merciful toward Benjamin because of the tenderness of their father’s age and Jacob’s love for Benjamin as the youngest and his favorite. Judah’s concern is that if they do not return with Benjamin that their father would die from grief due to his advanced old age and fragile condition. Judah mentions the fact that Benjamin is the only survivor of two sons by Jacob’s first wife (Judah of course not knowing that Joseph did not die but actually stood before him that very moment). Because of all of these concerns Judah begs Joseph not to keep Benjamin hostage but to take him instead because Judah doesn’t want to face their father and see him die from the upset of losing his youngest and dearest son.

In all of this narrative what can we glean from it concerning our own lives and what the Father wants us to learn about Himself from it? Joseph is a type of Christ – betrayed by His own but working redemptively in their behalf nonetheless. We can see in Jacob the picture of the father of the prodigal, not wanted to lose his younger son and pining after him in his absence. The seeming distance the brother put between themselves and their guilt concerning Joseph speaks of the tendency of men to justify themselves objecting to why they must answer to a God when they feel guiltless not taking into account original sin. Paul addresses this in Romans 3:

[Rom 3:23-24 KJV] 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

We like these brothers are all guilty in the sight of God. It was our sin that put Jesus on the cross just as it was the act of all the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph was within his rights to slay every one of his brothers but he does not. Thus we can see that it was Joseph’s love for them that justified them as not worthy of punishment although on their own merits they could make no such claim. Likewise it is the love of God and the love of His son Jesus that justifies us before God and not any knowledge on our part, or moral excellence or any choice that we have made that might allegedly render us righteous before the Master. As with Joseph and his brothers it is the love of Jesus alone that gives us standing before him and on that basis we have no reason to think of ourselves as anything other than forgiven transgressors whose only righteousness is found in the lovingkindness and mercy of God.

 

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