Read Genesis 44
A Silver Cup in a Sack
1 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.”
18 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.”
This is what the best movie scenes are made of. Joseph has framed his brothers and set them up in an eerily similar scenario to 20 years prior. He’s testing them to see if they will abandon Benjamin the same way they did him. The brothers are so sure of their innocence that they offer anyone who is found guilty to be put to death. Can you imagine the suspense as each of them open their sacks one by one, from oldest to youngest? And then as Benjamin lays open his sack, the silver cup topples out (cue the gasps and intense background music)!
The brothers immediately responded by tearing their clothes, an ancient tradition associated with mourning, loss, and grief. This was the same response that Jacob had just seven chapters earlier when they showed him Joseph’s bloody robe. This action reveals to us that the hearts of these brothers have changed. Before, they were cold-hearted, greedy men who sold their own flesh and blood into slavery with no regrets. Now, we see them displaying the same grief and mourning as their father, in anticipation of returning home without a beloved brother.
The plot thickens as they return to Egypt for Joseph to decide their fate. The scene is perfectly set for betrayal, as Joseph gives the brothers an opportunity to leave Benjamin in captivity and escape home. Then, Judah steps forward and gives a heartfelt plea to Joseph that ends with “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my Lord and let the boy go back with his brothers” (verse 33). Judah, the same brother who came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery in the first place, has had his heart changed by God. Now he humbly stands before Joseph, not only asking for mercy, but also offering his own life as a ransom for the crime his younger brother has been accused of.
God moved Judah to a place of repentance and complete life change. He also used it to foreshadow what Jesus would do in the New Testament for all mankind. We can all be encouraged by how Judah’s life turned around. God used him in that moment, kneeling before Joseph, but his faithfulness will be remembered for all of eternity, as the Messiah will be born almost 2,000 years later directly from the line of Judah.
Judah makes known to Joseph what has been revealed in his heart. Are you making it a regular practice to confess to other believers sin that has been revealed in your own heart?
Is there anyone that you need to show grace or mercy to, as Joseph showed to his brothers?
This story is a great reminder that people can change. If you have been wounded, you can always proceed with caution, but Judah is a prime example of a hardened heart that was changed by God. Is there anyone in your life you need to pray for, to move towards forgiveness and restitution?
Did You Know?
The word “divination,” as used in verses 5 and 15, comes from the Latin divinaire, meaning, “to be inspired by God.” This practice was common in ancient Middle Eastern cultures and comparable to a fortune teller reading horoscopes or tea leaves and claiming to have gained divine knowledge. God’s stance is clear on this, as seen in 1 Samuel 15:23, where divination is compared to rebellion.