44 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.
3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’”
6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7 But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house?9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”
11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it.12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.
14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”
16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”
(Genesis 44:1-17 NIV)
As we ended Chapter 43, we saw Joseph throw a lunch party for his brothers, where he honored his brother Benjamin by serving him five times as much food as the rest of the brothers. Joseph has not revealed himself to his brothers, so they only know him as the Egyptian ruler, second only to Pharaoh.
As we begin Chapter 44, we see Joseph giving them one final test to see how much they had really changed. Did they really care about their half-brother Benjamin, or would they give him up as they had given up Joseph so many years ago? The test would feel extremely ominous, but in the end, posed no real threat to Benjamin.
Joseph worked through his house steward to set up the test. The steward was to put the money back in each man’s grain sack, and also put Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s grain sack.
The next morning, the brothers headed back to their homeland. Joseph sent his steward after the brothers to begin the test by accusing them of stealing his silver cup. Joseph did not mention the money he returned to each man; the silver cup was the only focus.
Joseph intensified the accusation by instructing his steward to tell the brothers that the silver cup was not just for drinking, but for divination as well. We don’t know if Joseph actually practiced divination (fortune telling) or not. The brothers would be familiar with the Egyptian practice of divination, and would know the value of a vessel used for such practices, and the seriousness of the charges against the one who would steal it.
When the steward finally catches up to the brothers, they innocently and vehemently deny any such wrongdoing. They even promise to kill the brother that has the silver cup and volunteer the rest of them to be slaves to the Egyptians if the steward’s accusations are true. These are pretty bold statements for men who had not bothered to check their grain sacks before leaving Joseph’s house.
The steward fits the punishment to the crime – the brother with the silver cup in his sack will become a slave to Joseph; all the rest of the brothers can go free.
The brothers quickly complied, and the inspection began. To the brothers’ horror and bewilderment, the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s grain sack. The brothers immediately tore their clothes as a sign of deep sorrow that knows no comfort. The tearing of garments was often practiced when someone very close had died.
The brothers had passed the first part of the test – they did not abandon their brother Benjamin and head back home – they all went back to Egypt to face Joseph.
When the brothers came into Joseph’s house, they showed extreme humility by prostrating themselves on the floor before Joseph. Judah spoke up and begged forgiveness and mercy on behalf of all the brothers. Judah passed the second part of the test – demonstrating solidarity among all the brothers. If Benjamin was guilty and deserved enslavement, then they would all be guilty and become slaves.
Joseph appreciated the gesture, but only wanted the one who had the cup. The rest were free to go home, fully acquitted, cleared of all wrongdoing. This was the final test – would they abandon their half-brother Benjamin, or would they stand with him and protect him at all costs, even their own freedom?
We’ll see how the brothers respond in our next time together.
Here we have such a clear picture of what Jesus did for us, taking the penalty for our sins so we can be set free.
May we follow the brothers’ and Jesus’ example and stand with those who need someone to be an advocate, a united voice to stand with them.