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8. The Test Successfully Met by Joseph’s Brethren (Chapter 44)
The approach that Luther makes to this chapter is worth noting. He asks why it should have pleased the Holy Ghost to write down things seemingly so trivial; for the individual steps in the development of this sacred drama are, indeed, recorded very minutely. He answers that this was done in order that men might learn to perform faithfully the duty assigned them. Joseph displays a fine attitude toward his duty and his calling when he performs all parts of it in a conscientious way. Such works done in the way of one’s calling are right and pleasing to God.
Aside from that, Joseph’s brethren have not yet been tested to the fullest extent nor led to the point where they have an opportunity to retrace their steps and to make good their shameful treatment of Joseph. To this point Joseph guides them, being himself directed by God’s Holy Spirit to display a wisdom and an unselfishness which call forth our highest admiration.
1-3. And he gave commandment to the man who was over his household, saying: Fill the sacks of the men with as much food as they will be able to carry away, and place each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. And place my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest as well as the money for his grain. And he did according to the orders that Joseph gave. Morning came and the men were dismissed with their asses.
Joseph’s steward co-operated perfectly with his master in a very discreet way. But behind this discretion and the very practical wisdom of Joseph one involuntarily feels the guiding hand of the good Lord, who gave success to a plan that might have miscarried in a number of ways.
The steward’s orders were to give the men all the grain their sacks would hold. This generosity would be noticed, and the elation of the brethren would be increased thereby. Again the money was to be laid in the mouth of the sack—késeph —"silver," again for "money," as in the preceding chapters. The purpose of this was to be what it had been in the first instance. This mysterious money preyed on the mind of the brethren and roused a sense of the presence of a higher hand in all these proceedings. Besides, as it roused a sense of involuntary guilt on the part of the brethren, we believe that Delitzsch is right when he claims that "the brethren forfeited the right to give up Benjamin because all had in their bags something incriminating." Yet we doubt whether that was felt or realized at the time, because not a word is said in the further course of the narrative about this second money in the bags. This money simply faded into the background because of the prominence of the fateful cup. This gabhî’a’ was apparently a cup of special design, for it is mentioned in connection with the seven branched candlestick as being upon each branch. According to the root the term means something "convex" or "swelling." No doubt, a typically Egyptian cup is meant. This cup is to be placed in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, in order to create the impression that he had filched it, and so, of course, the brothers would be put to the test as to whether they were ready to abandon him to his fate. These orders from Joseph are carried out. A certain abruptness characterizes the style at this point, first, by the use of the asyndeton: "morning came" or "became light" (’ôr); then, by the use of successive perfects, also in v. 4 (K. S. 119).
4-9. They on their part went forth from the city. They had not yet gone far when Joseph said to the one who was over his house: Up, follow after the men, and when thou hast overtaken them, thou shalt say to them: Why have ye requited evil for good? Is not this that out of which my master drinks? in fact, he practices divination thereby. Ye have done evil in so doing. And he overtook them and spoke these very words. And they said to him: Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from thy servants to do anything like this. Look, silver that we found in the mouth of our sacks we returned to thee from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal from thy lord’s house, silver or gold? He of thy servants with whom it might be found, both he shall die, and we on our part shall be slaves to my lord.
It is not difficult to imagine with what cheerful hearts and almost exultant behaviour these men took their departure ("go forth" with direct object in the sense of "leave the city"). They had been treated like royalty. The man whom they had dreaded to encounter had proved a genial host. Their grain sacks were well filled. Eagerly they recounted every detail of their experience. In the meantime Joseph barely allows them time to get beyond the city when he instructs his steward to make haste lest the men by discovering the cup themselves and returning it thwart his purpose. The perfect tenses still continue the impression of abrupt haste in the narrative. Much depends on the very words used, therefore Joseph lays the very statements to be made upon his steward’s lips. First comes the general accusation calculated to arouse a measure of apprehension: "why have ye requited evil for good?" an arresting question while the memory of the favours received was still remarkably fresh.
5. The vague "this" spoken as though all of the men must know that he referred to the stolen cup is a clever approach and very realistic. The steward makes it appear that this was in a very special sense Joseph’s cup ("to drink" is construed with be, "in," because the lips touch the cup in drinking). Some translators, like the Greek Septuagint and the Vulgate, certainly missed the fine point of the steward’s clever approach on the indefinite "this" without an antecedent, when they felt it necessary to prefix the explanatory remark: "Why have ye stolen the silver cup?" However, the steward’s next remark causes us a measure of perplexity when he says: "in fact, he practices divination thereby." Practising divination is a heathen custom. The type referred to here is cupdivination, called culicomanteia by the ancients. As far as the practice as such is concerned, it is said to have been used in several forms. Some poured clear water into a bowl or a cup and then strewed into the water small pieces or particles of gold and of silver or even of precious stones. Some poured oil into the water. Still others observed the manner in which light rays broke on the surface. Usually the resulting designs to be observed in the water, whether from the particles thrown into it or from the oil, were construed after certain rules in order to draw conclusions as to the future. Surely, if Joseph had imitated these customs, he would have been guilty of heathenish and sinful practices. Or does he merely feign that he uses them? Such feigning would have been a form of deception both here and in v. 15. There still remains the possibility, as Vilmar points out, that it may actually have pleased God to use some such means in order to convey higher revelation to Joseph. In fact, we know too little about the whole matter to pass judgment upon it in one way or in another. The last charge to be spoken is, "Ye have done evil in so doing," (literally: "ye have done ill what ye did").
6. The steward does his part of the work successfully. He delivers his message correctly. A strong protestation of innocence is the reaction on the part of the brethren. Conscious of their innocence, their reply bears all the earmarks of sincerity: strong assertion of innocence coupled with a respectful attitude. They cite a very good illustration of a typical attitude on their part. There was some "silver" involved here recently in a certain case ("silver" ＝"money" —no article, a thing overlooked by the familiar versions; the absence of the article generalizes the statement more). They had found this in their bags; and though they had been in "the land of Canaan" and so beyond the range of observation, they had brought the silver back from a sense of obligation. Surely, such men could not desire to take from the house of the steward’s lord "silver or gold." That is really a forceful argument. The consciousness of their entire innocence leads them to make an extravagant offer: Should this cup be found in the possession of any, that one shall die, and they as a body are ready to return as slaves. The imperfect nighnobh here (v. 8) acquires an optative or potential meaning: "how could we steal?" (K. S. 187). The relative clause of v. 9 practically has a conditional meaning: "if it be found with any of thy servants" (K. S. 390 e).
10-13. And he said: Even though now this is to be settled according to your words, yet only he with whom it is found shall be my servant, whereas ye shall be innocent. So they made haste, every man of them, and set their sacks on the ground, and they opened every man his sack. And he made the search—with the eldest he began, with the youngest he finished—and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. And they rent their garments, and each man reloaded his ass, and they returned to the city.
The usual translations of v. 10 (A.V. and Luther) make the verse contain a contradiction: for first the steward says: "let it be according to your words," then he sets up terms radically different from those proposed by the brethren. Apparently, the difficulty can be settled as K. C. proposes by taking gam, "even," in a concessive sense: "Even though now this is to be settled according to your words" —the thought being implied: in a general way. Then the apodosis reads: "Yet only he with whom it is found shall be my servant, whereas ye will be innocent." The steward speaks thus, well knowing what the outcome of the search will be.
11. The brothers make haste to have the unpleasant interruption disposed of as soon as possible. The sacks are set on the ground ready for inspection, They are opened for the steward. The words, "with the eldest he began, with the youngest he finished," are best treated as parenthetical. We can hardly imagine the astonishment when they, practically sure of vindication, see the cup emerge from Benjamin’s sack.
13. We are struck by the reaction of the brothers of Benjamin. They do not inquire of Benjamin; they do not remonstrate with him; they do not seem to think of the possibility of a piece of deception being practised on them; they do not seem to think Benjamin guilty. They merely rend their garments, reload their asses, and return to the city. The mysteriousness of what happened in just singling out Benjamin seems to impress them all so strongly with the thought that a higher hand is at work, that they actually overlook a few obvious possibilities and reckon only in terms of how their duty demands that they act in reference to Benjamin and in reference to their father. Dods lets his imagination run riot when he actually conjures up the possibility that Benjamin may have made boastful remarks beforehand of the things he was going to do, to show that he was not the child they seemed to think he was; and so the brethren at this point may actually have thought Benjamin guilty of having done the bold thing of actually taking Joseph’s cup in order to make good his proud boast.
14-17. And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house and he was still there, and they fell down before him on the ground; and Joseph said to them: What is this deed which ye have done? Did ye not know that a man such as I am, is indeed able to use divination? And Judah said: What shall we say to my lord; what can we speak; how can we justify ourselves? God has found the guilt of thy servants. Behold, we are servants to my master, both we and he with whom the cup was found. But he said: Far be it from me to do this. The man with whom the cup was found, he shall be my servant. But as far as ye are concerned, go up in peace to your father.
Judah is mentioned separately, apparently because he at this point definitely took the whole situation in hand. The busy food administrator of Egypt in this instance made all things else wait till he had reached the conclusion of the unusual trial that was pending: "he was still there." Again the brethren prostrate themselves. For this was the necessary token of courtesy for all who would approach a person of such a standing as Joseph had. Joseph first heaps reproach on the brethren, because, surely, in the light of yesterday’s favour shown to them they were apparently rank ingrates. Then he increases the sense of higher powers at work in the case by referring to gifts of prognostication which were admittedly his. He may actually, as our remarks on v. 5 indicate, have been known in the past to have received revelation from on high. Perhaps he refers to the example known throughout Egypt, how it was he that foretold the event indicated by Pharaoh’s dream. The absolute infinitive makes the expression strong: "I am indeed able to use divination" (nach (ck) esh yenach (ch) esh).
16. The strong feeling of helplessness is reflected in Judah’s triple question: "What shall we say; what can we speak; how can we justify ourselves?" —potential imperfects; in the last instance mah —"how." Some here speak of the brethren as being aware of the fact that an adverse fate had caught up with them. We believe such a statement to be out of place. Joseph’s brethren knew better than to believe in a blind fate, Their better instruction in the paternal home had taught them concerning the true God. Into His hands they now believed themselves to have fallen: "God has found the guilt of thy servants." They do not actually confess their wrong against Joseph here, but that is what they all thought of at these words of Judah. They felt that divine retribution had caught up with them. Judah’s next statement is the utterance of a faithful heart. The idea of Benjamin’s remaining alone in Egypt simply could not enter the mind of one of them. If one stays, they all must stay. A good feeling of the solidarity of their group was here recreated in all of them. But Joseph tries them to the uttermost to give the deepest feelings of the heart an opportunity to display themselves. He protests strongly against the idea of keeping back all of them. He even makes release seem delightful by practically guaranteeing them all safe conduct: "go up in peace." But Joseph’s mention of their father made them all the more keenly aware of their obligation to him.
18-24. And Judah came up to him and said: Please, lord, let thy servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not become angered at thy servant. For thou art just as Pharaoh is. My lord asked his servant, saying: Have you still a father or a brother? And we said to my lord: Yes we have a father, an old man, and a son of his old age, a youth; and his brother is dead; and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father dearly loves him. And thou didst say to thy servants: Bring him down to me that I may set eyes on him. And we said to my lord: The lad cannot leave his father; his father would die if he should leave him. And thou didst say to thy servants: If your youngest brother does not come down along with you, you cannot appear in my presence. And it came to pass, as we went up to thy servant, my father, we told him the words of my lord.
This is one of the manliest, most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man. For depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose it stands unexcelled. What makes it most remarkable, however, is the fact that it comes from the lips of one who once upon a time was so calloused that he cared nothing about the grief he had caused his father. The speech is well ordered, being a historical presentation of the facts of the case: how Joseph had learned of their brother and had demanded his presence as a condition of their appearing again before his face; how their father had been apprised of the demand and had grieved over letting the youngest depart; what the effect of the non-appearance of Benjamin on the father would be: and finally it contains a moving plea that Judah might be permitted to stay in Egypt in his brother’s stead. It presents no particular exegetical difficulties. But a few things call for explanation. First of all, it is difficult to determine whether as Judah stepped up to Joseph the others remained prostrate on the ground. It seems more likely to us that when he arose they also arose. Then, there is an honest compliment in the words, "for thou art just as Pharaoh is." It means: you have as great power as Pharaoh and must be respected as he is. It supplies the reason why Judah speaks so respectfully; K. C. makes the clause concessive, but without good reason.
In v. 20 "he alone is left of his mother’s children" runs literally: "and he is left, he alone to his mother." Apparently the le before ’immô is the le used as a substitute for the construct relationship (K. S. 280 c). In v. 22 the co-ordinated clause, "and he shall leave his father, then he would die," plainly necessitates rendering the first clause conditional, much as K. C. protests; cf. K. S. 369 s. Therefore we render, "his father would die, if he should leave him," patterning after Meek’s good suggestion.
25-34. And our father said: Purchase a little food for us again. And we said: We cannot go down, unless our youngest brother be with us. Then we could go down; for we cannot see the face of the man, if our youngest brother be not with us. And thy servant, my father, said to us: Ye know that my wife bore me two sons, and the one went forth from my presence; all I could say was: surely he hath been rent by a wild beast, and I have not seen him to this day. If ye shall take this one too from me, and evil should befall him, ye should bring down my gray hairs with trouble to Sheol. And now, should I come to thy servant, my father, and the lad be not with me, seeing that his and his father’s soul are closely knit together, it will happen that when he sees the lad is not there, he will die; and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of their father with sorrow to Sheol. For thy servant went bond for the lad with my father, saying: If I do not bring him back to thee, I shall be guilty before my father forever. And now let thy servant stay in place of the lad as servant to my lord. And let the lad go up with his brethren. For how could I go up to my father and the lad be not with me? Oh that I might not be obliged to see the evil that would come upon my father!
Here, as in the previous portion of Judah’s speech, we notice that the whole account must have been condensed quite a bit. The fact mentioned in v. 22 has not been recorded heretofore. Yet none of these facts is out of harmony with the original version. Now v. 27 and 28 appear as words of Jacob which were not previously reported as belonging in this connection.
In v. 28 "and I said, Surely, he is torn in pieces" (A.V.) is intended as a summary of the whole experience after he "went forth" from his father’s presence. We sought to reproduce this purpose by rendering: "All I could say was, Surely, he hath been rent." Verse 30 presents, a good statement of the case where two are bound together by a close love, "his and his father’s soul are closely knit together" (qeshûrah). In v. 34 appears that particular use of pen, usually "lest," which introduces negative wishes, "Oh that not." A son that can say: "Oh that I might not be obliged to see the evil that would come upon my father," is a son who really cares for his father and is much concerned not to cause him grief. Judah was a transformed man. That is clearly displayed by his words. No doubt, the entire attitude of all the rest showed just as clearly that Judah was speaking the inmost, thoughts of their heart. There could be no more doubt as to whether the brethren were minded toward their father and his most dearly beloved son as they once were. They were all transformed men.
We feel that our remarks concerning the use of the material of the preceding chapter as a text for a sermon apply also to this chapter.
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