Genesis 44
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 44 (J.) Joseph and his Brethren

1–17.  The divining cup.

18–34.  Judah’s intercession.

And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man's money in his sack's mouth.
1–17. The Divining Cup

1. with food, as much as they can carry] The “food” means corn; and by special favour the corn is not given them by price, but on a more generous scale; as much as they could carry.

every man’s money] This detail is not again referred to. It is over-shadowed by the incident of the cup.

And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.
2. the silver cup] i.e. a well-known, or favourite, goblet. The word for “cup,” the same as in Exodus 25:31, Jeremiah 35:5 (where it is rendered “bowl”), seems to denote a vessel shaped like the calyx of a flower. LXX renders κόνδυ; Lat. scyphum.

Observe that Joseph does not reveal his intention to the steward. He plays upon his brethren the same trick as in chap. 42; but brings matters to a point by associating Benjamin with the loss of the cup.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.
And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?
4. the city] The name of the city is most unfortunately not given. Memphis would be suitable: cf. Genesis 45:10. The moment of the men’s arrest is well timed. Everything had gone off well. They had got their corn; they had been acquitted of any complicity in the return of the money; they had been hospitably treated by the “lord”; they were well on their way homeward.

Wherefore have ye rewarded] The guilt of Joseph’s brethren is presented in an ascending scale of enormity: (1) it was theft; (2) by guests from their host’s table; (3) of an article of special sanctity. The LXX, in order to supply the connexion between Genesis 44:4-5, inserts at the end of Genesis 44:4, Ἵνα τί ἐκλέψατέ μου τὸ κόνδυ τὸ ἀργυροῦν; = “Wherefore have ye stolen my silver cup?”

Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
5. whereby he indeed divineth] “Divineth,” Heb. naḥash: see Genesis 30:27; Deuteronomy 18:10, “useth divination”; 1 Kings 20:33 marg. The word shews that the silver cup was a sacred one, by means of which Joseph sought and obtained oracles. Some have inferred that he must have been admitted into the priests’ guild, in order to be able to practise divination. It appears that water having been poured into a vessel or cup, gold or silver or precious stones were thrown into it, and the oracle or divination was derived from the rings, ripples, or sparkles, which appeared. The name given to this class of magic was “hydromancy,” ὑδρομαντεία, or κυλικομαντεία (Jamblichus, De Myst. iii. 14; Varro in August., De Civ. Dei, vii. 35). LXX renders αὐτὸς δὲ οἰωνισμῷ οἰωνίζεται ἐν αὐτῷ.

Driver quotes from the Travels of Norden (circ. 1750 a.d.) a passage in which a Nubian Sheikh says: “I have consulted my cup, and I find that you are Franks in disguise, who have come to spy out the land.”

And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.
And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:
7. God forbid] Lit. “far be it” = μὴ γένοιτο. The Heb. has no appeal to the Deity; cf. Joshua 22:29.

They are convinced of their innocence, and indignantly repel the insinuation that they have rewarded the “lord’s” hospitality so basely,

Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold?
With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.
9. With whomsoever] Joseph’s brethren propose the harshest possible penalty, death for the thief, and slavery for all the company. Cf. Jacob’s proposal in Genesis 31:32.

And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
10. my bondman] Joseph’s steward, while accepting the terms, mitigates their severity. He proposes that the offender, if apprehended, shall alone be punished, not with death, but with slavery. Joseph’s brethren readily accept the terms.

Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.
And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.
12. searched] There is no mention of the money in the sacks’ mouths (Genesis 44:1). The interest centres on the cup. That the search is made in order of age is a dramatic touch adding to the excitement of the scene described, and probably carried out by the directions of Joseph himself, as if it might be assumed that the youngest was the least likely to be the thief. Cf. Genesis 43:33.

Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
13. rent their clothes] See Genesis 37:29.

And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
14. he was yet there] Joseph had not yet left his official dwelling.

fell before him] The third and last fulfilment of the dreams (Genesis 37:7; Genesis 37:9-10). See Genesis 44:16.

And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
15. such a man as I] The Grand Vizier, second only to Pharaoh (see Genesis 44:18), married into the family of the Priest of On, and one “in whom the spirit of God is” (Genesis 41:38).

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.
16. God hath found out] Judah confesses the wrong-doing of himself and his brothers (Genesis 42:21). So mysterious a misfortune could only be explained as a Divine recompense for secret guilt. Cf. Numbers 32:23, “be sure your sin will find you out.”

“God,” Elohim, is spoken of in address to a foreigner, as Judah supposes Joseph to be. See notes on Genesis 39:9, Genesis 43:29.

And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
17. God forbid] As Genesis 44:7. Joseph deprecates Judah’s proposal, and insists on the milder sentence already proposed by his steward. Benjamin should be kept as a slave.

Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.
18. Then Judah] The prominence of Judah has been noticeable in Genesis 43:3; Genesis 43:8 and in Genesis 44:14; Genesis 44:16 of this chapter. Benjamin, though present, is silent; Reuben takes no part.

Oh my lord] See Genesis 43:20.

thou art even as Pharaoh] Judah’s opening words are those of graceful deference, referring to Joseph’s enquiry in Genesis 44:15.

18–34. Judah’s Intercession

This is one of the most beautiful and pathetic passages in Hebrew narrative. Judah’s speech falls into two unequal divisions: (1) Genesis 44:18-31 a simple recapitulation of the story, (2) Genesis 44:31-34 his self-sacrificing offer of himself as a substitute for Benjamin. The points emphasized are (a) Joseph’s previous demand to see Benjamin, (b) the aged father’s unwillingness to let him go, (c) the certainty that the loss of Benjamin would be Jacob’s death, (d) the offer to stay in Benjamin’s place.

My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother?
19. My lord asked] Cf. Genesis 43:7.

And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.
20. a child of his old age] Cf. Genesis 37:3, where the words are applied to Joseph.

his brother is dead] See Genesis 44:28, Genesis 42:38 (J). According to the J narrative, his brothers thought him dead. In Genesis 42:13 (E) Joseph’s fate is referred to in vaguer terms, “one is not.” This allusion to the “dead” brother in addressing Joseph adds a most effective touch to the story.

of his mother] Lit. “to his mother,” i.e. of Rachel’s children.

And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.
21. that I may … upon him] The phrase probably means something more than merely seeing Benjamin. It may indicate favourable protection, as in Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15.

And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
22. And we said, &c.] The substance of this verse expresses more than Genesis 42:20 (E). The expostulation here mentioned is not there recorded.

And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.
And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.
And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food.
And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us.
And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons:
And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since:
28. and I have not seen him since] The unconscious pathos in the words which Judah uses must have struck Joseph to the heart.

And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
29. mischief befall him] Cf. Genesis 42:4; Genesis 42:38.

with sorrow] Heb. evil. “Evil” in the sense of “trouble,” as in Psalm 107:26, or “calamity,” as in Proverbs 24:16, a different word from “sorrow” in Genesis 42:38.

the grave] Heb. Sheol. See ch. Genesis 37:35, Genesis 42:38.

Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life;
30. his life … the lad’s life] Better, as R.V. marg., his soul is knit with the lad’s soul. See 1 Samuel 18:1, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” It is the affections, not the lives, of two loving persons which are intertwined.

It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
31. with us] These words, which are not in the Heb., are added in the Sam., LXX, and Pesh. versions as essential to the meaning.

with sorrow] i.e. “with grief,” as in Genesis 42:38; not “with evil,” as in Genesis 44:29.

For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
32. surety] Cf. Genesis 43:9.

Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
33. instead of the lad] This offer on the part of Judah to remain in Egypt in the bond-service of Joseph, as substitute for Benjamin (LXX ἀντὶ τοῦ παιδίου), forms the noble climax of the generous appeal to Joseph’s feelings. The unconscious irony of the situation is heightened by the fact that Judah is unaware of Joseph’s personality, and yet has succeeded in making his appeal hinge upon the reference (a) to the old age and affectionate feelings of Jacob, and (b) to the loss which he has already sustained in the death of Benjamin’s elder brother.

For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
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