Genesis 44 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Genesis 44
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


(2) Put my cup . . . —Rather bowl, as it signifies a large round vessel from which the wine was poured into the drinking cups. Joseph’s purpose apparently was to detain no one but Benjamin, and it was only when Judah spake so very nobly, and pointed out that Jacob’s heart would be broken with grief if he lost the one remaining son of Rachel, made more dear to him by his brother’s fate, that he determined to give a home to them all. He naturally supposed that his father had long since ceased to grieve for himself, and probably even hoped to prevail upon him subsequently to join him in Egypt. But when Judah offered himself for slavery rather than that his father should suffer the grief of seeing them return without Benjamin, Joseph understood that Jacob’s anguish would be great beyond endurance, and he also became aware that his brethren were no longer as heartless as they had shown themselves of old.

(5) Whereby he divineth.—Cup divination was common in Egypt in ancient times, and was a kind of clairvoyance, the bowl being partly filled with water, and the eye of the diviner fixed upon some one point in it till, wearied with gazing, a state of half stupor was induced, during which the mind, freed from the control of reason, acted in a manner parallel to its operation in dreams. The same effect can be produced by gazing intently on a globe of glass, and other such things. In Genesis 44:15, Joseph asserts that he practised this art, and innocently. Though used now generally for imposture, there is in clairvoyance a real physical basis, which would be inexplicable in an unscientific age; and the genuine piety and goodness of Joseph would not raise him above the reach of the superstitions of his time.

(7) God forbid.—Heb., far be it from thy servants to do, &c.

(9-13) Let him die.—Joseph’s brethren, conscious of their innocence, deny the theft, and, like Jacob when accused of stealing the teraphim (Genesis 31:32), declare that the guilty person shall die, and the rest be made slaves; readily too they consent to be searched, and take their travelling-bags from off the asses on which they were riding. The steward, who knew where the bowl was, answers that only the man in whose bag it is found shall be punished, and that not by death but by slavery. Beginning with Reuben’s bag, the money is found, but this the steward makes light of; he then takes the next, and as each brother sees that he has with him more than he knew of, their minds must have been filled with confusion and terror. They would be liable to slavery for taking the money, but when the bowl is found in Benjamin’s possession all hope was gone, and they rent their clothes in uncontrollable grief.

(17) God forbid.—Heb., far be it from me to do so. Joseph passes over the money found in their sacks, and which he had intended as a gift to help them in the remaining years of famine, but expresses his determination to keep Benjamin as a slave. Had they been as hardhearted as when they sold him into slavery, they would readily have gone away, leaving their brother to his fate. But they had changed, and therefore they earnestly exert themselves for his deliverance, though they must have felt it to be an almost hopeless task. They would feel sure of Benjamin’s innocence, but they would also remember that the previous day Joseph had shown him the utmost honour; and this would be a proof to them that for some reason or other the Egyptian governor had taken a fancy to him, and determined to have him in his service; and that therefore he had contrived this wicked scheme.

(18) Then Judah came near.—The power of Judah’s speech lies in the facts themselves, which gain in pathos from being simply told; but the ending is grand because of the speaker’s magnanimity. He offers to give up all that a man holds dearest in order that his father may he spared a grief too heavy to bear. There is, however, very considerable skill in the manner in which Judah shows that it was at Joseph’s repeated urgency that they had brought Benjamin with them, while omitting all mention of the fact that they had been falsely charged by him with being spies.

(28) The one went out . . . —The mention of the disappearance of the one son, which Jacob could account for only by supposing him to be dead, is made in order to give the reason for the intense love of the father to the son still remaining. The allusion also to his mother would move Joseph’s feelings, though of this Judah would not be aware.

(29) To the grave.—Heb., to Sheol. (See Note on Genesis 37:35.)

(32-34) Thy servant became surety.—Judah first gives the reason why he was especially bound to see to Benjamin’s welfare, but he adds to it the more affecting argument that he could not bear to look upon his father’s anguish. And with these moving words he ends his appeal, which to Joseph’s mind had carried the conviction, first, that to separate Benjamin, even for a time from Jacob, would be an act of extreme unkindness; and secondly, that his brethren were deserving not only of pardon, but of love.

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 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.
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?
Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
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 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 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.
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.
My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother?
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.
And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.
And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
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:
And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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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