Joseph was overly generous with his brothers, giving them as much grain as they could carry and returning their silver again. Joseph had the cup placed in Benjamin’s sack as a final test for his brothers.
The brothers had been full of anxiety since they first went to Egypt. It was relieving to be headed home, with Simeon released and Benjamin safe. Jacob would be relieved and pleased.
With the men comfortably on their way home to Canaan, Joseph sent his steward to accuse them of thievery. The cup that Joseph had the steward put in the bag was the object allegedly stolen. The cup was claimed to be the one that Joseph used for “divination”. Divination was a superstitious occult practice, a kind of fortune telling, that was used in pagan practice. Joseph did not practice divination. His wisdom came from his relationship with God. However, the idea that they had stolen a cup used for sorcery or magic would concern his brothers to a greater extent..
The brothers proclaimed their innocence. They were so confident of it, that they offered a foolish oath: if anyone of them was discovered with the cup, that person would be punished by death, and the rest of the brothers would become slaves. Considering what the brothers had already been through, they should have thought it was entirely possible for someone to have put the silver cup into their bags. They had after all found silver in their sacks before. They should have been more cautious than to suggest death or slavery as a punishment, especially with the recent re-acquisition of Simeon, and for the safety of Benjamin. Slavery was the very thing they feared Joseph was going to do to them when they arrived!
The steward purposely altered the oath, that whoever had the cup would become the slave. Joseph evidently wanted the brothers to understand what he went through. The steward knew where he would find the cup, so he left Benjamin’s bag for last. The result was devastating. Benjamin was to be a slave. How could they go back to Jacob without Benjamin? They tore their clothes in distress. When they sold Joseph into slavery, they went on with their lives. This was evident of a change of heart. The brothers had witnessed the torment of their father after losing Joseph. They too, in their own hearts were tormented by the guilt that was unearthed by these trials Joseph set before them. They did not want to add to their father’s pain or to their own by losing Benjamin.
They returned to face Joseph and threw themselves to the floor before him. They know that they are at his mercy. Only this Egyptian ruler can pardon them. Again, the dream is fulfilled. Joseph was harsh with them, and asserted he could find out who it was by divination. This was part of his “disguise”- Joseph knew who had the cup because he had it had it put there.
Judah spoke to Joseph as it was he claimed personal responsibility for Benjamin. He confessed that God found their sin, but he was not talking about the cup, but the sin that they had carried for over twenty years: the sin of selling Joseph. Instead of leaving Benjamin by himself, Judah offers himself and all of the brothers as slaves.
Joseph pushed back, to further test them. He said no, only Benjamin would be his slave, and the rest would go free. Joseph knew the others would have to face Jacob without Benjamin, and they could not “go in peace” to him. However, if the brothers chose to abandon Benjamin, Joseph would be sure that the brothers had not changed, in which case Benjamin would have been better off in his care. He had no intention of enslaving Benjamin. His efforts were to protect him.
Judah’s speech came from utter humility. He came closer to Joseph because he was broken and desperate. It was also brave for him, as a foreigner, to approach the ruler of a country. He reiterated the pain of Joseph’s disappearance to Joseph, which Joseph had never heard before. Joseph learned how the brothers deceived his father. Joseph learned of Jacob’s partial love for Benjamin. Judah expressed love for his father, whom he did not want to see hurt. Remember, Judah and the others were already bearing the guilt for willfully hurting Jacob when they faked Joseph’s death. Judah had promised Jacob he would bear the responsibility of Benjamin, and so he would. He offered to take Benjamin’s place, as a slave. This is a great transformation for Judah, a great expression of love.
We should always give generously and freely to those in need. We are within our bounds to test the motives of others concerning what is within our power to protect. We must protect the Gospel, and keep it from those who seek to destroy it and manipulate it. We must protect the souls that belong to Christ. We must protect the weak, and the poor, as Christ commanded. Oaths are dangerous and quickly cause more harm than good. Christ told us to simply let our answer be “yes” or “no” (Matt. 5:37). The Lord may give us relief during times of trial, for which we should be grateful. We should fall before Christ in our most desperate moments. We should put others before ourselves. Sacrificial love is great love: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another (John 15:13). Christ proved this himself.