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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 44

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


9. Joseph’s last test and its results ch. 44

Joseph next tested his brother’s loyalty to Benjamin by framing Benjamin and charging him with stealing Joseph’s cup. These events prompted the brothers to acknowledge that God was punishing them for their treatment of Joseph many years earlier. Judah’s plea for Benjamin voiced the genuineness of the brothers’ loyalty to Benjamin. It contrasts with their former disloyalty to Joseph.

Joseph wanted to discover if his brothers would sell Benjamin as a slave as they had sold him and possibly kill Jacob with sorrow. Their alternative was to submit to slavery for Benjamin’s sake. This discovery seems to have been the object of Joseph’s actions as Moses related them in this chapter. As God had tested the genuineness of Abraham’s faith (Genesis 22:1), so Joseph tested the genuineness of his brothers’ repentance.

Verses 1-5

That Joseph practiced divination is not clear from Genesis 44:5 or Genesis 44:15. He may have, but this seems inconsistent with his character as a man of faith in Yahweh. It also seems unlikely since Joseph had the gift of interpreting dreams (divine revelations) from God. If anyone needed to resort to divination it would not have been Joseph. Some interpreters, however, believe Joseph’s claim was just part of his ruse. [Note: E.g., Waltke, Genesis, p. 559; and Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 799.] The first statement made by Joseph’s servant may have been a lie (Genesis 44:5). The second statement made by Joseph did not claim to practice divination (Genesis 44:15). Joseph said that such a person as he could do it. Leon Wood believed that Joseph meant that he had information not available to ordinary people. The Hebrew verb in both Genesis 44:5; Genesis 44:15 is nahash (to whisper, mumble formulations, prophesy), not qasam, the word normally translated "to divine." [Note: Wood, The Prophets . . ., pp. 32-33.] These references to divination seem intended to impress Joseph’s brothers with the value of the cup that had disappeared. The Hebrew word translated "cup" here, gabia’, refers to a chalice or goblet, not to a common drinking cup, a kos. The brothers inferred that Joseph used it for purposes other than simply drinking.

Verses 6-13

The brothers’ promise was not only rash but foolish since the contents of their sacks had surprised them previously (Genesis 44:9). Years earlier Laban had searched through Jacob’s possessions for his teraphim that remained hidden in Rachel’s tent. Jacob had rashly pronounced a death sentence on the guilty person (cf. Genesis 31:23; Genesis 31:25; Genesis 31:33; Genesis 31:35). Now the Egyptians searched for Joseph’s cup of divination and found it in the sack of Benjamin, Rachel’s son. The brothers here also rashly pronounced a death sentence on the guilty person.

Joseph’s steward did not hold the brothers to their promise but simply stated that the "guilty" person would become a slave (Genesis 44:10). Joseph had set his brothers up with a perfect excuse to abandon Benjamin and free themselves from slavery.

Tearing one’s clothing was a sign of great personal distress in the ancient Near East (Genesis 44:13; cf. Genesis 37:29). Here it expressed the brothers’ sincere agony at the prospect of having to turn Benjamin over to the Egyptians and return to Jacob only to break his heart. They tore their clothes in anguish, as Jacob had done when he received news of Joseph’s apparent death (Genesis 37:34). The brothers did not suspect that they were the victims of fraud any more than Jacob did when his sons gave him Joseph’s bloody coat. [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 564.]

"That all the brothers suffered such distress is a telling sign of the new sense of unity they had developed. They had already been informed that the innocent will be released (Genesis 44:10). Moreover, that they all return to Egypt underscores their commitment to Benjamin. The brothers are of one accord without any grumbling or dissent. . . . They were guilty [previously] but did not show remorse; now they are innocent and demonstrate deepest agony." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 800.]

Verses 14-17

Judah acted as spokesman because he had promised Jacob that he would take responsibility for Benjamin’s safety (Genesis 44:16; cf. Genesis 43:8-9). Judah regarded this turn of events as divine condemnation for the brothers’ treatment of Joseph and Jacob years earlier. [Note: See D. Daube, Studies in Biblical Law, pp. 248-55; and Sternberg, p. 306.] Really it was divine discipline that God designed to produce repentance. Judah did not try to get rid of the privileged son this time. Instead he volunteered to share his fate at great personal sacrifice.

Joseph allowed Judah and the other brothers to depart and return home without Benjamin (Genesis 44:17). However Judah’s refusal to do so demonstrated the sincerity of the brothers’ repentance.

Verses 18-34

Judah explained the whole story. He did not try to hide or excuse the brothers’ guilt. This is the longest speech in Genesis. Key words are "servant" (10 times), "my lord" (7 times), and "father" (13 times).

"No orator ever pronounced a more moving oration." [Note: Bush, 2:329.]

"I would give very much to be able to pray before our Lord God as well as Judah prays here before Joseph. For this is a perfect pattern of prayer, yes, of the true feeling which should be in a prayer." [Note: Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 7:368.]

Jacob had not changed in that he still doted on his youngest son. However the brothers had changed; they now loved their father and Benjamin. Note Judah’s appeal to Jacob’s old age and Benjamin’s youth (Genesis 44:20), descriptions designed to stress each one’s vulnerability and so elicit Joseph’s pity. Judah manifested concern for Jacob as well as Benjamin (Genesis 44:31). Rather than hating their father for favoring Joseph and then Benjamin, the brothers were now working for his welfare. The supreme proof of Judah’s repentance, and the moral high point of his career, was his willingness to trade places with Benjamin and remain in Egypt as a slave (Genesis 44:33-34; cf. John 15:13). This is the first instance of human substitution in Scripture (cf. Genesis 22:13).

"A spiritual metamorphosis for the better has certainly taken place in Judah. . . . He who once callously engineered the selling of Joseph to strangers out of envy and anger is now willing to become Joseph’s slave so that the rest of his brothers, and especially Benjamin [whom Jacob loved more than Judah], may be freed and allowed to return to Canaan to rejoin their father." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 570.]

Jesus Christ, Judah’s descendant, demonstrated the same attitude.

"Jacob will crown Judah with kingship [Genesis 49:10] because he demonstrates that he has become fit to rule according to God’s ideal of kingship that the king serves the people, not vice versa. Judah is transformed from one who sells his brother as a slave to one who is willing to be the slave for his brother. With that offer he exemplifies Israel’s ideal kingship." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 567.]

God teaches His people to be loyal to one another by convicting them of previous disloyalty to get them to love one another unselfishly. Such self-sacrificing love is essential for the leaders of God’s people.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 44". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-44.html. 2012.
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