Due to the severe famine, Joseph’s brothers needed to return to Egypt to buy more food. Benjamin had to go with them and Judah guaranteed his safety.
Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.” Genesis 43:1-2
In the second year of the famine, all of Joseph’s brothers except Benjamin travelled from Canaan down to Egypt to buy grain. Now that their supply had been consumed, Jacob told his sons to return to Egypt in order to buy more grain.
But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’” Genesis 43:3-5
Judah reminded his father that the governor of Egypt had placed strict conditions on allowing them to return. Their brother Simeon had been put into prison and would not be released unless their brother Benjamin came with them when they returned.
Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”
They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?” Genesis 43:6-7
When Joseph’s brothers first made their trek to Egypt to buy grain, they did not recognize him. They were convinced that Pharaoh’s second-in-command was a ruthless and suspicious foreign official. Since Joseph wanted to be assured that Benjamin was being treated well, he devised a plan that forced his brothers to bring Benjamin down to Egypt. Joseph was able to convince them that he suspected that they were spies. To prove that were not spies, but merely a family affected by the famine, they had to return with their brother Benjamin.
Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.” Genesis 43:8-10
When the brothers returned from buying grain the first time, Reuben had asked his father to let Benjamin go with him back to Egypt. Reuben had said the following to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back” (Genesis 42:37). Jacob rejected Reuben’s offer and refused to let Benjamin go down to Egypt. Jacob may have mistrusted Reuben. According to Genesis 35:22, “…Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.” Jacob also doesn’t seem concerned about Simeon who had, along with his brother Levi, taken vengeance on the men of Shechem. So while Jacob still had a supply of grain, he wasn’t willing to let Benjamin leave his side.
But now some time had passed. The famine was still severe in the land and all the grain they bought had been eaten. Although Judah is the fourth son of Leah, he takes a position of leadership and chides his father for delaying his sons’ return to Egypt.
Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. Genesis 43:11-12
In Egypt, the Nile River was known for its seasonal flooding. After the floodwaters receded in October, farmers were left with well watered and fertile soil in which to plant their crops. Both almond and pistachio trees do not tolerate overly wet soil. So Jacob chose these delicacies, along with a little balm, honey and spice as a gift of appeasement to be given to the governor of Egypt.
Jacob directs his sons to take double the silver with them. This would serve to pay for both the first supply of grain as well as the new supply they sought. Jacob wants to do whatever he can to insure that Benjamin will return to him unharmed.
Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” Genesis 43:13-14
Jacob, in fear of his life, fled from Esau and lived with his Uncle Laban for twenty years. When God commanded Jacob to leave Harran and return to his homeland, Jacob returned to Canaan but settled in Shechem. After Jacob’s daughter Dinah had been raped, his sons Simeon and Levi took vengeance upon the Shechemites and slaughtered all of the men of the city. Jacob, again fearing for his own safety, finally returned to Bethel to erect an altar to the LORD.
And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. Genesis 35:11-13
After Jacob sacrificed to the LORD at Bethel, God revealed Himself as El Shaddai (God Almighty) and confirmed the covenant with him that was made with Abraham and Isaac. Jacob beseeches God Almighty to grant his sons mercy before the governor of Egypt so that Simeon and Benjamin would return to their father.
So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”
The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.” Genesis 43:15-18
Joseph’s brothers who lived in tents must have been in awe of Joseph’s palatial residence. They could not comprehend that the governor of all Egypt would be extending genuine hospitality to them. Instead, they feared punishment because they hadn’t paid for their first supply of grain.
So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. Genesis 43:19-23
Joseph’s steward assures his brothers that he knows that they had not stolen the silver, yet he does not tell them who put their silver back in their sacks.
The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.
When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”
They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him. Genesis 43:24-28
Although Joseph’s brothers were welcomed as honored guests, they fell on their faces before him. Their act of submission to his authority fulfilled Joseph’s prophetic dream of his bothers’ sheaves bowing down to Joseph’s sheaf.
As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” Genesis 43:29-31
Joseph had been sold into slavery by his half-brothers. Only Joseph and Benjamin had the same mother and father. Joseph had not seen his brother Benjamin in over 22 years. Overcome with emotion, Joseph left to find a secluded place to cry tears of joy and relief.
They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. Genesis 43:32
The reason that shepherds were considered detestable to the Egyptians probably reflected a common distrust of nomadic peoples by urban dwellers. A contemporary illustration would be a band of gypsies raising suspicions of the locals when they come into town.
The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him. Genesis 43:33-34
Joseph’s generosity towards Benjamin is understandable since Benjamin is his baby brother. Joseph’s actions may have also been a test to see if his brothers, who had harbored murderous jealousy towards him, would become envious of Benjamin.
Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said. Genesis 44:1-2
Joseph ordered his servant to place his personal silver goblet into Benjamin’s sack. The purpose may have been to create an excuse for Joseph to keep Benjamin with him in Egypt or to make it appear that Benjamin was in danger to see how his brothers would react to the situation.
As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’”
When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” Genesis 44:3-9
In response to the steward’s harsh accusation, Joseph’s brothers make an impassioned plea and proclamation of their innocence. Rashly they promise that if any of them is found to have the silver cup, he will be put to death and the rest of them willingly will become slaves.
“Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.” Genesis 44:10
Obviously, the steward’s response was not according to the words of Joseph’s brothers but to fulfill his master’s plan.
Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city. Genesis 44:11-13
The act of tearing their clothes was a sign of the brother’s grief. Because the Israelites had an agrarian society, clothing was a very valuable commodity. Nothing was mass-produced. Clothes were time-intensive and expensive, which meant that most people in those days only had a very limited wardrobe. For that reason, people who tore their clothes were showing just how upset they felt inside. By damaging one of their more important and expensive possessions, they reflected the depth of their emotional pain.
Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”
“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.” Genesis 44:14-16
Joseph probably did not practice divination because of his relationship with the LORD. Joseph’s prophetic dreams were divine revelations and not an occult practice. Joseph only claimed that he was a diviner to reinforce his guise as an Egyptian noble.
His brothers’ statement that God had uncovered their guilt could not be in reference to their stealing the silver or the cup because they were innocent of those charges. They were convicted that their dire circumstances were a form of divine punishment for having sold Joseph into slavery and lying to their father.
But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.” Genesis 44:17
Although Joseph presented himself as fair and reasonable in his pronouncement of judgment, he actually was completing his scheme and was testing his brothers.
Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
“Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ Genesis 44:18-23
Judah had personally guaranteed Benjamin’s safety. Judah told Jacob that if he did not bring Benjamin back to him that he would bear the blame all of his life. Now Judah is recounting what had transpired during and after their first excursion to Egypt.
When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
“Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
“Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’ Genesis 44:24-29
Joseph may have assumed that his father knew that he was sold into slavery and questioned why Jacob hadn’t made an effort to buy him back. After these many years, Joseph finally discovers that his father believed he was torn to death by a wild animal and has been in mourning for him.
Judah’s words not only serve to implore the governor to be sympathetic to the situation, but are being heard by his brothers. Although the lies that Jacob were told and the deception of Joseph’s brothers occurred more than twenty years ago, they are still causing their father grievous emotional pain and bringing conviction of guilt to his sons.
“So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” Genesis 44:30-34
Joseph learns that Judah was not jealous of Benjamin but deeply concerned for his safety. Judah was not only pleading for the life of Benjamin, but also for the life of their father. It was Judah’s suggestion that Joseph should be sold into slavery, but now he was willing to become a slave himself and serve as a substitute for Benjamin.
The promised Messiah would descend from the tribe of Judah. Judah was willing to be enslaved in the place of his brother. In a similar fashion, the coming Messiah would be willing to be the substitutionary sacrifice for those enslaved by sin.