|Topical Bible Study||June 1950|
GOD’S PLAN IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Joseph Tests His Brethren
Joseph continued to shape circumstances for his brethren which were calculated to remind them of their great sin in selling him into Egypt, and at the same time to ascertain by their conduct if their heart condition and their outlook on life had undergone a change since that time. He wanted to be sure that they had reformed before making himself known to them—not for his own sake, but for theirs. He realized that once they knew who he was, his high position in Egypt might tempt them to make apologies for their own protection even though perchance they were still bitter of heart.
The Hebrew word here translated “cup” indicates that it was the larger silver cup from which wine was poured into smaller ones from which guests drank. It was also a divining cup; and customarily used in much the same way as the fortune teller’s crystal ball of today. Apparently this was quite a common practice in Egypt, and perhaps Joseph had his servant speak of the cup as the one in which he divined in order to strengthen their impression that he was a genuine Egyptian, thus insuring that his true identity should remain concealed until he decided the time was ripe to reveal it.
Had Joseph’s brethren actually stolen his cup after being treated so royally, the case against them would certainly have been condemnatory, one which clearly would have been that of returning evil for good. It was a serious charge to enter against them, and we cannot imagine Joseph thus accusing his brethren, except for his knowledge that the situation would clarify itself later.
When Joseph’s servant accused the men of robbery, indicating that one of them had taken Joseph’s special divining cup, they vigorously denied the charge, and to prove that the accusation was unwarranted called attention to the fact that even the money which had been put in their sacks on the previous visit had been returned. It certainly seemed to them that this should be proof that they were not robbers.
They were very confident of their position in the matter and willingly allowed their sacks to be searched, saying that the owner of the sack in which the cup might be found should be put to death. According to the Code of Khammurabi, effective as a law in Egypt at the time, and known to many in Canaan, death was the penalty for robbery. In other words, they were quite willing that the law take its course, for they were sure that the cup would not be found in their sacks.
The expression in verse 7, “God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing,” is a poor translation. The word God is not in the Hebrew text at all. The statement should read, “Far be it from thy servants,” etc.
Great was their surprise when Joseph’s cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. They “rent their clothes,” a symbol of sorrow and utter dejection. But they made no attempt to escape. They loaded their supplies back on their asses and returned to the city and to Joseph.
Joseph’s brethren must have been greatly chagrined to be brought before him under such circumstances. Joseph, still posing as an Egyptian, and one who could “divine,” that is, discover by magic if necessary, what they had done, asked them if they did not realize how futile it was for them to attempt such a robbery.
Judah’s statement, “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants,” was a confession of guilt pertaining to their original sin of selling Joseph into Egypt, for they knew they were not really guilty of the robbery as had been charged, although they were unable to explain how Joseph’s cup came to be in Benjamin’s sack. Even though they may have suspected that it had been planted there in the same manner as their money was on the occasion of their first visit to Egypt to buy food, they knew it would be useless to say so under the circumstances.
Joseph also knew that his brethren were not guilty of robbery, and doubtless he understood Judah’s confession of guilt as appertaining to their crime against him, and how pleased he must have been to realize that they were experiencing a genuine change of heart. He continued to hold the advantage in dealing with them, for he knew all the circumstances and they did not. With a show of generosity, he said,. “Far be it from me [the word God is also missing in the Hebrew in this text] to hold anyone except him in whose hand the cup is found.”
He knew that this was just what his brethren did not want, for it would mean that they would have to return to their father without Benjamin, and this, Judah explained, would doubtless cause the death of their father—it would bring his gray hairs down in sorrow to the grave, that is, to sheol, the condition of death, the Bible hell.
Judah acted as spokesman for the others, and related further details concerning their difficulty in getting their father’s consent to bring Benjamin with them. Then he offered to take Benjamin’s place as a bondman in Egypt so his younger brother could return with the others to his father. Judah had already made a solemn promise to his father that he would be responsible for the safe return of Benjamin, and this offer he made to Joseph indicates that he was wholly sincere in his surety pledge.
Throughout the entire account of Joseph and his brethren, Judah reveals himself as being more cognizant of their former wrongdoing than the others. It was Judah who suggested that they sell Joseph as a slave rather than kill him. Now he stands out as the one most concerned for the safety of Benjamin. He loved his aged father, and could not bear to see him suffer further so was willing to give up his own freedom to prevent it.
“I AM JOSEPH”
Joseph now knew that his brethren really had experienced a change of heart and that they were truly sorry for the crime they had committed against him many years before. With this knowledge, and realizing that he was about to be reunited with his family, he “could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me.” Now alone with his brethren, he made himself known to them. We read that he “wept aloud,” or as the margin states, he “gave forth his voice in weeping.” These however, were not tears of sorrow, but of joy. Great joy, when it comes as a climax to a long period of trial, often finds expression in weeping.
“I am Joseph,” he announced to his brethren, and at once asked, “Doth my father yet live?” According to the marginal translation, Joseph’s brethren were terrified when they realized that they were in the presence of their brother whom they had sold to be a slave in Egypt—so disturbed that they could not, for the moment, reply to his inquiry concerning Jacob.
Sensing the situation, and wishing to assure them that he was harboring no ill will, Joseph said to his brethren, “Come near to me, I pray you.” They accepted this invitation, and again Joseph told them who he was, that he was their brother, “whom ye sold into Egypt.” Probably Joseph referred to their crime, not to humiliate them, but to let them know that despite it he still loved them and had only kindness in his heart toward them.
This becomes apparent as we study the narrative, for Joseph assures his brethren that it was in the Lord’s providence that he had come to Egypt, God having sent him before them “to preserve life.” Here the reference is not to Egyptian life but, as he explained, “to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” The “posterity” to be saved was the promised “seed” of Abraham, that seed through which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. Through this seed is to come a great deliverance of all mankind from the thralldom of sin and death.
An interesting parallel may be drawn between the experiences of Joseph and his brethren, and Jesus and his brethren of natural Israel. Joseph was sent into the field by his father to seek the welfare of his brethren. They seized him and planned to put him to death, but compromised and sold him as a slave. Later, when they probably believed that he was dead, he revealed himself to them. By now he had become a ruler and savior of life.
So Jesus was sent into the field—the world—by his Heavenly Father, to seek the welfare of his brethren. Like Joseph, however, he came to his own “but his own received him not.” Instead, they put him to death, not by their own hands, but by turning him over to the Roman authorities. Later, Jesus will reveal himself to his brethren of natural Israel as their Ruler and Savior. And like Joseph, he will be glad to extend mercy to them once they demonstrate that their hearts have changed.
Having proved his friendliness toward his brethren, Joseph at once instructed them to return to Canaan and bring his father and household to Egypt to remain there for the duration of the drought. He wanted his family near to him so the reunion would be complete. It would seem that he had been making plans for this from the time he realized that he had found his family, for he announced at once that they were to “dwell in the land of Goshen.” A decision of this importance was unlikely to have been made on the spur of the moment.
“And after that his brethren talked with him.” Apparently it took them some time to recover their poise, and it was during this period that Joseph told them of his plans to bring the entire household to Egypt and have them settle in the land of Goshen. Then he embraced and kissed them all. His gracious plans for them and their father, together with this show of affectionate love, doubtless convinced the men that they had nothing to fear, and then they were ready to talk with their long-lost brother.
The spirit of forgiveness and mercy manifested by Joseph is a good example for Christians. Unfortunately, we do not always find it so easy to forgive those who have wronged us, but we should seek to attain to this goal of character development. Like Joseph, we are in the Lord’s hands, and he does not permit experiences except as they are for our good. So, if the injuries inflicted upon us y others are serving a good purpose in preparing us for joint-heirship with Christ in the kingdom, it should not be difficult to deal mercifully with those through whom the trials reach us. In this respect, our experiences are akin to those of both Joseph and Jesus, who through long periods of trial finally attained to positions of rulership. And so it will be with us if we are faithful, for “if we suffer [with him], we shall also reign with him.”
The news soon spread that Joseph’s brethren had come to Egypt and the spirit of rejoicing seemed to be general. Pharaoh outdid even Joseph in offering assistance to the family. This was a tribute to Joseph, for it reveals the great confidence the supreme ruler of the land had in this young Hebrew.
Pharaoh ordered that “wagons” should be dispatched to Canaan on which to bring Jacob and his belongings back to Egypt. This is the first time wagons are mentioned in the Bible. They were probably invented in Egypt, and are believed to have had but two wheels. They were seemingly not known in Canaan at the time. The invention of the wagon wheel was fundamental in the world of mechanics and travel.
Certainly Joseph’s brethren had a wonderful report for their father when they got back to Canaan. At first, when they told him that Joseph was alive, his “heart fainted, for he believed them not.” This was not surprising. He had probably been greatly concerned over Benjamin all the time they were gone, and for them to return with such unexpected news was more than he could adjust himself to at once.
But they continued to unfold the details of the wonderful news, and these, together with the gifts Joseph had sent and the wagons Pharaoh had dispatched to bring the household back to Egypt, finally convinced Jacob, and he said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.”