r18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
21 “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’
30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life,31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’
33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
(Genesis 44:18-34 NIV)
As we began Chapter 44, Joseph gave his brothers 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, pose no real threat to Benjamin.
Joseph worked through his house steward to set up the test. The house steward returned each man’s money in their grain sack, and put Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s grain sack. The men departed, then the house steward chased down the men after they left town and accused them of stealing Joseph’s silver cup. The men vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and said if one of the brothers had Joseph’s cup, they must die. The house steward fit the punishment to the crime; if the cup was found in one of the men’s sacks, then that man must become Joseph’s slave.
Upon inspection of each man’s sack, the men discovered their money returned, and Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers tore their clothes, signifying deep sorrow and pain. They knew that they could not go home without Benjamin, as the news would kill their father. They quickly went back to Egypt and went before Joseph to explain and make amends.
As we pick up the story today, Judah becomes the family spokesman and recounts their full history with Joseph. Judah focuses on the relationship between his father and Benjamin, and the devastating effect it would have on their father if Benjamin were held captive and not allowed to return home. Judah repeatedly refers to himself and his family as “your servants”, showing proper respect to Joseph and putting themselves under his authority.
In the final two verses, Judah pleads with Joseph to allow himself to be made Joseph’s slave in place of Benjamin. Judah had given his word to his father that he would safely return Benjamin home or take the blame for not doing so.
In this passage, we see Judah’s humility and integrity come out. Judah did not abandon ship and look out for his own interests when faced with an insurmountable challenge. Instead, he offered himself in place of his brother, standing in the gap, just as he had promised his father he would do.
We also see Judah engaging Joseph’s heart, pleading with Joseph to not break his father’s heart by detaining Benjamin as a slave. His offer of substituting his life for Benjamin’s shows the extent to which he knows and believes the devastation that would take place in his father’s life if Benjamin did not safely return home.
This is a vastly different Judah than the one we saw back in Chapter 37 who sold his brother Joseph to the slave traders. We can’t speak for the other brothers, but Judah passed Joseph’s character and loyalty tests with flying colors.
When faced with difficult and seemingly insurmountable circumstances, may we stay true to the Lord and His Word, even if, like Judah, it requires us to lay down our own life and deny ourselves.