March 28, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

 

Topic # D: VISITS OF JOSEPH'S BROTHERS. Gen. 42:1-45:28                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

Lesson IV.D.7:The Device of the Cup (Gen. 44:1-17)                                      

 

 

Genesis 44:1-17 (KJV)

 

1 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.

2 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.

3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.

4 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?

5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.

6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.

7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:

8 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?

9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.

10 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.

11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.

12 And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.

13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.

14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.

15 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?

16 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.

17 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.

 

 

In a Nut Shell

 

Joseph attempts to find out how his brethren felt towards Benjamin. Had they envied and hated the other son of Rachel like they had hated him, and did they have the same lack of feeling towards their father Jacob as they had before. When the cup was found upon Benjamin, they would have a pretext for leaving him behind to be a slave. But we cannot judge what men are now, by what they have been formerly; nor what they will do, by what they have done. The steward charged them with being ungrateful, rewarding evil for good; with foolishness, for taking away the cup from which my lord drinks, and for which he has a particular fondness, and would search for thoroughly? Or, by which, leaving it carelessly at your table, he would know whether you were honest men or not? They throw themselves upon Joseph's mercy, and acknowledge the righteousness of God, perhaps thinking of the injury they had formerly done to Joseph, for which they thought God was now going to punish them. Even in those afflictions where we believe ourselves wronged by men, we must admit that God is righteous, and finds out our sin.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 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.

 

“And he commanded the steward of his house”

The *Targum of Jonathan calls this “steward” Manasseh, the eldest son of Joseph.

 

“saying, fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry”

This instruction came out of his great affection for them, and showed his concern that his father and his family might have a sufficient supply of food (corn) in this time of famine.

 

“and put every man's money in his sack's mouth”

This is different money than that which had been put into their sacks the first time, for the steward acknowledged his receipt of it, but what they had paid for their present purchase of corn.This detail is not referred to again. It is over-shadowed by the incident of the cup (44:2).

 

What purpose was served by returning the money they paid for the corn they were taking with them? It was done, in the first instance, because of the compassionate feelings Joseph has for his father; but another purpose seems to have been that it was the method Joseph used to bring them back again.

 

*a translation or paraphrase in Aramaic of a book or division of the Old Testament. Here the translation was done by a scribe; Jonathan.

 

2 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.

 

“And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest”

The “youngest,” of course, is his brother Benjamin; and he ordered this to be done, partly to put him in obvious danger, and test how his brethren would behave towards him in such circumstances, and to find out how they would react to Joseph; and partly, so he might have an excuse for holding on to him. This cup was valuable for a couple of reasons; first, it was made of silver; and second, it was highly valued by its owner, on account of its costly material or its elegant finish and which had probably graced his table at the sumptuous entertainment of the previous day. And by the word used to express it, it seems to have been a large embossed cup, a kind of goblet.  

 

“and his corn money”

What he had paid for his corn. From this and other hints, it seems that each brother paid for his own corn, instead of pooling their money.Observe that Joseph does not reveal his intention to the steward. He plays upon his brethren the same trick as in chapter 42; but brings matters to a point by associating Benjamin with the loss of the cup.

 

“and he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken”

Joseph told his steward to put every man's money in the mouth of his sack, and then to put his personal silver cup into Benjamin's sack. The propose for putting the cup into the sack of Benjamin was obviously to place that young man into a difficult situation or in dangerous circumstances, in order to discover how far the brotherly feelings of the rest would be roused to sympathize with his distress and stimulate their exertions in procuring his deliverance. And it could also show their regard for their father, whether they would willingly give up and leave his favorite son in confinement.

 

3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.

 

“As soon as the morning was light”

When it was break of day, before the sun rose.

 

“the men were sent away, they and their asses”

The men being refreshed with food and rest, and their asses fed, saddled and loaded, they began the long journey home; and it may be readily supposed in high spirits, after so happy an outcome from all their troubles and anxieties.

 

4 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?

 

“And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off”

Which perhaps was as far as Tanis, the Zoan of the Scriptures (Ezekiel 30:14).

 

“Joseph said unto his steward, up, follow after the men”

The steward was probably ready and waiting with men and horses, to pursue Joseph’s brothers when he gave the order, for he was likely privy to Joseph's intentions, and may have collaborated with Joseph in planning the scheme. Joseph appears to have been up very early this morning, and had observed the exact time of his brethren's departure, and guessed where they might be when he sent his steward, and others after them; for it can hardly be thought he was sent alone after eleven men he was to charge with a theft, and bring them back again:

 

“and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?”

They wouldn’t know what he meant until he accused them of stealing Joseph’s valuable cup. They had been so kindly and amply entertained, but now they were in serious trouble. The steward was to represent the theft as vile ingratitude, as it would have appeared, had it been fact.

 

5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.

 

“Is not this it in which my lord drinketh”

The steward had placed the cup in Benjamin’s sack, so after making a pretense of searching some of the other sacks, he faked outraged at finding it in Benjamin’s sack. He was in serious trouble now and he may have shown his fear and looked at each of his brothers for help. The steward probably said something like this to the young man: “How ungrateful you are for stealing from someone that treated you so well. This was the cup the governor drank from, his favorite and very valuable, and so it was even more ungrateful of you to take that particular cup.”

 

“and whereby indeed he divineth?”

Joseph is represented by his steward as a bdiviner or soothsayer, and the Egyptians might have thought he was, since it was well-known to everyone that he was an exact interpreter of dreams, foretelling things to come, and that he did divining with the silver cup. Divination by cups has been from time immemorial prevalent among the *Asiatics.

 

It is evident also, from Genesis a44:15 that to divine signifies to know or foretel things which are beyond the reach of common understanding: it is therefore probable, that there was some sort of divination by cups then in use among the Egyptians. It does not however follow, that Joseph really practiced any such art; the steward may have asked this question, only to make the brethren think that he did so; and perhaps, from his being a known interpreter of dreams, the people might fancy that he was skilled in divination. Nor was Joseph a diviner, but the people thought he was one, and the steward might represent him as such, in order to cover up or carry on the deception.

 

“ye have done evil in so doing”

According to the steward, they had done both a mad and foolish thing, which was also dishonorable, wicked, and ungrateful, as well as infamous and scandalous; for nothing was reckoned more so than for a guest at a prince's table to carry away a cup, or anything of that kind, with him. They were bluntly accused of the theft, while the subsequent discovery of the cup was intended to confirm the impression of Joseph's supernatural wisdom.

 

*Asiatic means belonging or relating to Asia or its people.

 

aGenesis 44:15:“And Joseph said unto them, in apparent indignation, What deed is this that ye have done? Wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?” He intimated that a man in his position and of his wisdom was able to discover the most carefully hidden things.

bDeuteronomy 18:10: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.” Forbidden by God.

 

6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.

 

“And he overtook them”

Their asses being weighed down with corn could not travel very fast, but the steward and his attendants were mounted on swift horses.

 

“and he spake unto them these same words”

Joseph had instructed him as to what he should say (See the verses that follow and particularly, Genesis 44:10.).The steward's words must have come upon them like a thunderbolt, and one of their most predominant feelings must have been the humiliating and galling sense of being made so often objects of suspicion.

 

7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:

 

“And they said unto him, wherefore saith my lord these words?”

One of them, speaking for all the brothers, perhaps Judah, gave him an answer, saying they were astonished at the charge made against them, suggesting that there was not the least foundation for it, and they were quite surprised to hear anything of this kind alleged against them.

 

“God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing”

Obviously, they detested such a suggestion; that they could be guilty of such a foolish thing.

 

8 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?

 

“Behold, the money which we found in our sacks mouths”

Judah reminds him of the first time they went to Egypt for corn; upon their return each man found the money they paid for it in the mouth of their sack.

 

“we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan”

They proved they were honest men when they returned to buy more corn, for they brought with them the money they found in their sacks. They could have kept it until the governor demanded it from them, but they decided themselves that the money was not their own and to bring it with them on their second trip. They did not wait to be questioned about it when they came to Egypt again, but of their own accord related the story exactly as it happened, and offered the money to this same man, the steward they were now speaking to. He could not deny the facts; that they brought it to him from the land of Canaan, a foreign country at a considerable distance, and out of the jurisdiction of Egypt, and where they were not liable to be made to account for it.

 

“how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold?”

That is, vessels of silver or vessels of gold; it could not be reasonably thought they would steal the cup, for if they would not keep the governor's money when they were in their own land and out of his reach. Neither would they steal anything out of his house, which they might conclude would soon be missed, and they easily apprehended and committed to prison, and suffer for it.

 

9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.

 

“With whomsoever of thy servants it be found”

Joseph’s brethren propose the harshest possible penalty should the silver cup be found in the possession of any of them; death for the thief, and slavery for the rest. Their father Jacob had said something very similar to his brother Laban many years ago: “But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it." Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods” (Genesis 31:32).

 

“both let him die”

This was a rash statement, since they might have thought the cup may well have been put in one of their sacks unknown to them, as their money had been before; and besides, death was a punishment too severe for such a crime, and therefore is reduced by the steward himself; but they said this more strongly to express their innocence:

 

“and we also will be my lord's bondmen”

And they added this; should the cup be found with any of them, they would be his servants, as long as they lived. This was likewise carrying the matter too far, and exceeding all bounds of justice, which should only require punishment of the offender.

 

This daring offer could only be made by men who were conscious of their own innocence, and did not suspect any fraud or deceit in the matter.

 

10 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.

 

“And he said, now also let it be according unto your words

Not according to everything they had said, but according to a part of it; the part where  they said With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen” (44:9).

 

“he with whom it is found shall be my servant

He is speaking in the name of Joseph, whom he represented, and who had told him what to say. He announced to the brethren, “only the one found guilty should be a servant,” thus dialing down the punishment which they had proposed, and were willing to submit to, and therefore could not object to what he proposes next.

 

“and ye shall be blameless

In other words, they would be acquitted of the charge, and pronounced innocent, and allowed to go free.

 

11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.

 

Protesting their innocence, they invited a search. The challenge was accepted.

 

“Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground”

To be opened and examined, and they did it promptly, as men having a clear conscience, and being confident that nothing could be found upon them, and desirous of having the affair put-to-bed as soon as possible, so that the steward might be fully satisfied, and they proceed on in their journey.

 

“and opened every man his sack”

Showing neither reluctance nor fear, and confident of their innocence.

 

12 And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.

 

“And he searched”

 According to some “experts,” he searched all the bags personally, and was not content to look into the mouth of them, but searched deeply into them going all the way to the bottom, to find the cup. As for the money in the sack's mouth, he took no notice of that, nor is there any mention of it (Genesis 44:1). The interest centers on the cup.

 

“and began at the oldest”

That was Reuben, Jacob’s first born, which indicates the steward might know their respective ages; Joseph may have informed him, or he recalled the order in which they were placed at Joseph's table when they dined with him (Genesis 43:33). Joseph probably instructed his servant to search from the oldest to the youngest, as if it might be assumed that the youngest was the least likely to be the thief.

 

“and left off at the youngest”

Benjamin was the youngest, and that was obvious since he was substantially younger than Joseph and the only brother that did not make the first trip. He ended his search with him. He used this method partly to keep them in fear as long as he could, and partly to prevent any suspicion of deceit, which might have been envisioned had he went directly to Benjamin's sack.

 

“and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack”

Where the steward himself had put it.

 

13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.

 

“Then they rent their clothes”

They tore their clothes to show their sorrow and distress, for they were at their wits' end, like people distracted, not knowing what to do. This was usually done in the eastern countries whenever grief or suffering develop, as did Jacob―Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34); and as the Egyptians themselves did when mourning for their dead.

 

“and laded every man his ass”

Put their sacks of corn on their asses again, having unloaded them by order of Joseph’s steward.

 

“and returned to the city”

To the metropolis, which was either Tanis, Zoan, or, as others think, Memphis, for they wanted to see how it would go with Benjamin. They hoped to plead his cause and get him released, so that he could go with them, for they were afraid to see their father's face should they return without him; otherwise, they would have been content to have gone without him.

 

14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.

 

“And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house”

Judah is mentioned mainly because he was the principal spokesman, and was the one most concerned for the safety of Benjamin, since he was the unofficial head of the group.

 

“for he was yet there”

Joseph had remained at his own house, for he probably delayed going to the granaries, to oversee the sale and distribution of corn, but was waiting impatiently for the return of his brethren, which he expected at any moment.

 

“and they fell before him on the ground”

Not only to show their respect for the governor, but as persons in the utmost distress and affliction, throwing themselves at his feet for mercy―It was a token of their penitence, and a sign that they craved his forgiveness. It is no longer a bending of the neck or bowing of the body, but the posture of deepest humiliation―once again fulfilling his dream.  How deeply that early dream penetrated into the stern reality! 

 

15 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?

 

“And Joseph said unto them, what deed is this ye have done?”

This is not a question, but a denunciation of an action so wicked, dishonorable, and ungrateful, and yielding such aggravated circumstances that it can hardly be said how bad a one it is. A person may well wonder why men who had received such favors could ever be guilty of such a crime; this he said with a stern face, and seemingly in great anger and wrath.

 

“wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?”

 Joseph asks his brethren a probing question: “Don’t you think a man like me can certainly divine?” Either he could divine, though not by the cup, of which no mention is made here, but in some other way used by the Egyptians. Or perhaps, he had diviners with him, such as Aben Ezra, with whom he could consult, to find out who took the cup; or surely they must think that a man like him, who had such great knowledge of things, natural and political, and whose name was Zaphnathpaaneah, a revealer of secrets, would be able to look into an affair of this kind and discover the guilty party. (See Genesis 41:15) Surely, they might conclude that a man so wise and insightful would easily deduce who the persons were that stole his cup.

 

16 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.

 

“And Judah said, what shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak?”

Signifying that they were at a loss for words, bewildered, and did not know what to say in their defense. They could not acknowledge their guilt, for they were not conscious of any, but they could not deny the fact, the cup was found on one of them; and though they might have suspected fraud, they were afraid to say what they suspected, and therefore were at a loss to express themselves.

 

“or how shall we clear ourselves?”

It would be useless for them to assert their innocence, because here was proof against them, at least against their brother Benjamin.

 

“God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants”

He brought it to their remembrance, fastened the guilt of it on their consciences, and in His providence was bringing them to just punishment for it; meaning not the sin of taking the cup, which they were not conscious of, but some other sin from their past they were guilty of, and now God was going to chastise them for it; particularly the iniquity of selling Joseph. This was brought to their minds before, when in distress, and now it was there again―“They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come on us”  (Genesis 42:21).

 

“behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found”

Another fulfilling of his dream more obviously than ever; for, by bowing down to the earth to him, they were showing him the same reverence everyone else did that came to buy corn; but here they acknowledge themselves to be his servants, and him to be lord over them, and to have dominion over them all, and them to be his slaves and bondmen.

 

17 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.

 

“And he said, God forbid that I should do so”

Joseph suggests this would be doing something that was both unjust and unfair, should he take them all for bondmen, for the offence of one.

 

“but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant”

 He would not die, as they had supposed, but become his servant.

 

“and as for you, get ye up in peace unto your father”

It must have been a huge surprise to have permission to leave, rather, an order to return in peace to their father in the land of Canaan, with their corn and cattle. There would be no charge against them, nor would any harm come to them. Joseph said this to test their affection for their brother Benjamin, and to see whether they would leave him in distress; then he would know better how to act in the future both towards him and them.

 

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