A stolen silver cup for Benjamin
Joseph tests the character of his brothers1 Joseph told his personal assistant, “Fill the sacks of these men with food—as much as their donkeys can carry. Put the money they gave you back in the top of their food sacks. 2 Put my silver cup in the top of the sack of the youngest brother. Put his money there, too.” The assistant did it. 3 At daybreak, the men and their donkeys were sent on their way.
4 They had barely gotten out of the city when Joseph told his personal assistant, “Go right now and catch up with those men. Tell them, ‘We treated you kindly. So why did you treat us so badly? 5 Why would you steal my master’s cup—the one he uses to drink with and to predict the future? This is a treacherous thing you did.’”
6 Joseph’s assistant caught up with the men and delivered the message. 7 The brothers answered, “Sir, what are you talking about? We are your servants, and we would never do anything like that. 8 Look, we brought back the money we found in our food sacks last time we were here. What makes you think we would steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If you find it here, we invite you to kill the person who has it. As for the rest of us, we will all voluntarily agree to become your slaves.”
10 Joseph’s assistant said this, “Here’s what’s going to happen. Just as you said, there’s going to be a slave. The one who is found with a cup will become my slave. The rest of you will go free.”
11 Quickly, each man put his grain sacks on the ground and opened them. 12 Joseph’s assistant began looking, starting with the oldest brother and ending with the youngest. That’s where he found the cup, in the sack that belonged to Benjamin.
13 The men ripped their clothes in dismay and grief. Then each man loaded his sacks back onto the donkeys and headed back to the city. 14 When Judah and his brothers got to Joseph’s house, Joseph was still there. The brothers fell on their face, bowing before him.
15 Joseph said, “What were you thinking? Don’t you know that a man like me can tell the future?”
16 Judah answered, “What can we possibly say to you, sir? Where are the words? How could we ever explain what happened? It’s clear that God is giving us what we deserve for the sins we have committed in our lives. Look, we are all your slaves now—not just the one who was found with the cup. All of us."
17 Joseph said, “I’m not that kind of man. The only one who will become my slave is the person who had the cup. The rest of you are free to go home to your father.”
Judah pleads to take Benjamin's place as a slave18 Judah stepped toward him and said, “Please sir, I am your servant. May I speak with you? Please don’t be angry at what I’m about to ask. I know you have the status and power of Pharaoh, while I am merely your humble servant. 19 You, sir, asked your servants this question, ‘Do you have a father or brother?’ 20 We told you, sir, ‘We do have an old father and a little child born when our father was an old man. That child’s brother is dead. So this child, our youngest brother, is the only one left who was born to their mother. Our father cherishes this child.’ 21 You told us, your servants, ‘Bring him down so I can see him with my own eyes.’ 22 We said to you, sir, ‘We can’t take the boy away from his father. If we did, his father would die of grief.’ 23 You told us, your servants, ‘If you don’t bring your youngest brother down with you, I will never let you see my face again.’
24 When we went back to our father, your servant, we told him what you said. 25 And when our father told us, ‘Go down there again and buy us a little food,’ 26 We said, ‘We can’t do that. We can’t go back down there unless our youngest brother goes with us. We will not be allowed to meet with the governor again unless we have our youngest brother with us.’ 27 Our father, your servant, said to us, ‘You know that this wife gave me only two sons. 28 One son left me, and I told you he must have been torn to pieces. I never saw him again. 29 If you take his little brother away and anything bad happens to him you will be sending this old, white-haired man to an early grave, grieving.’
30 You can understand what will happen when I go back to my father, your servant, and the boy is not with us. This man’s joy in life comes from the life of his youngest son. 31 When he sees the boy is not with us, he will die. It will happen just like that. Your servants will send their white-haired father, your servant, grieving to the grave. 32 I sir, your servant, personally guaranteed the safety of the boy. I told my father, ‘If I don’t bring him back home, you can lay all the blame on me.’ 33 So please let me, your servant, take the boy’s place and stay here as your slave. Let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 How can I go home to my father if I don’t take the boy with me? I don’t want to see my father suffer because of this.”
Possibly a divination cup Joseph used to get answers from God.
Joseph frees Simeon and sends all of his brothers home with their grain, along with the money they brought to buy the grain. He also had one of his most important silver cups stashed inside one of Benjamin’s grain sacks—a set up for accusing him of stealing. Why do you think Joseph did this? And what does it say to you about the character of Joseph who would think up a plot like this that would terrorize Benjamin and all of his brothers?
What are we supposed to make of that apparently magic cup Jacob used “to predict the future” (44:5)? Priests and high-ranking nobles throughout the ancient Middle East—especially in Babylon, in what is now Iraq— used a cup or a bowl of water to tell the future or to get a yes-or-no answer from the gods. Should it bother us that Joseph used the same kind of divination cup that magicians used throughout the centuries?
When his brothers are arrested and escorted back to the city, facing the possibility of death or slavery, do you think they might have made the connection to how Joseph felt when slave traders took him to Egypt? And do you think this is a connection Joseph wanted them to make? Could it have been more than a test of how much they loved Benjamin but also a teaching moment: a chance for them to get a taste of their own medicine?
Judah makes an impassioned speech, offering to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. What do you think about that speech moved Joseph?
LIFE APPLICATION. Judah took a huge risk for his little brother Benjamin. When have you seen someone stick their neck out for someone else?
LIFE APPLICATION. Spoiler alert: Joseph will free everyone. How do you think Judah’s speech defending Benjamin would have affected the relationship between those two brothers in the years that followed? How have you seen relationships changed after one person took a risk to help someone else?