[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.
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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