Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 44

By Joseph Benson


Verse 2
Genesis 44:2. Put my cup, the silver cup — Probably a large cup of great value, and much used by Joseph; in the sack’s mouth of the youngest — Hereby, it seems, Joseph meant to try his brethren’s affection to Benjamin, whether they would assist him in his extremity, and also their regard for their father, whether they would willingly give up and leave in confinement his favourite son. Had they hated Benjamin as they had Joseph, and been influenced by the same unfeeling disposition as they formerly were toward their father, they certainly would have discovered themselves on this occasion: and no doubt Joseph would have taken his measures in dealing with them accordingly.

Verse 5
Genesis 44:5. Whereby indeed he divineth — The original word may be rendered, For which he would search thoroughly, or, Concerning which he would certainly divine, or make trial and discovery. As if he had said, Did you think that you could deceive my master? Did you not know that he could divine and discover secret things, whence he hath both his name and preferment? And this cup being much prized and used by him, you might easily think that he would use his art to recover it. You have done evil — Very evil, have acted unjustly, unthankfully, and foolishly in so doing.

Verse 8-9
Genesis 44:8-9. How then should we steal, &c. — It is not probable that we, who restored that which it was in our power to keep, and to conceal without any danger, should steal that which was likely to be discovered with so much shame and hazard to ourselves. With whomsoever it is found, let him die — They suspected no fraud, and were so conscious of their innocence, that they consented to suffer the severest punishment, if found guilty. Their offer, however, was rash and inconsiderate.

Verse 13-14
Genesis 44:13-14. They rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, &c. — Nothing can be more moving than this verse. Never was there a more striking picture drawn in words. Whole passages on the subject would not have affected the mind so much. These two or three words have a greater effect than the most pompous description of their amazement and trouble. Imagination supplies all the circumstances to us, and we see them before our eyes returning to the city, with silent sorrow, dreadful fear, the utmost confusion and perplexity, wholly at a loss what to say or do. They fell before him on the ground — Here again Joseph’s dream was fulfilled; but it must needs affect him greatly to see his brethren thus covered with shame and rent with anguish.

Verse 16
Genesis 44:16. And Judah said, &c. — Judah speaks in this cause, as being one of the eldest, and a person of most gravity and readiness of speech, and most eminently concerned for his brother; and nothing can be more affecting than what he advances on this occasion. God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants — Though the cup was found only in Benjamin’s sack, yet he speaks of himself and the rest as guilty, being his brothers, and in company with him. But, probably, he refers rather to their sins in general, for which, he meant to signify that God was now punishing them, and to the injury which they had done Joseph in particular. Even in those afflictions wherein we apprehend ourselves to be wronged by men, yet we must own that God is righteous, and finds out our iniquity. We cannot judge what men are, by what they have been formerly, nor what they will do, by what they have done. Age and experience may make men wiser and better. They that had sold Joseph, yet would not abandon Benjamin.

Verses 18-34
Genesis 44:18-34. And Judah said — We have here a most pathetic speech which Judah made to Joseph on Benjamin’s behalf. Either Judah was a better friend to Benjamin than the rest, and more solicitous to bring him off; or he thought himself under greater obligations to endeavour it than they were, because he had passed his word to his father for his safe return. His address, as it is here recorded, is so very natural, and so expressive of his present passion, that we cannot but suppose Moses, who wrote it so long after, to have written it under the special direction of Him that made man’s mouth. Indeed the whole speech is most exquisitely beautiful, and perhaps the most complete piece of genuine and natural eloquence to be found in any language. 1st, He addressed himself to Joseph with a great deal of respect, calls him his lord, himself and his brethren his servants, begs his patient hearing, and passeth a mighty compliment upon him, Thou art even as Pharaoh — A person whose favour we desire, and whose wrath we dread, as we do Pharaoh’s. 2d, He represented Benjamin as one well worthy of his compassionate consideration; he was a little one, compared with the rest; the youngest, not acquainted with the world, nor inured to hardship, having been always brought up tenderly with his father. It made the case the more piteous that he alone was left of his mother, and his brother was dead — Namely, Joseph; little did Judah think what a tender point he touched upon now. Judah knew that Joseph was sold, and therefore had reason enough to think that he was not alive. 3d, He urged it closely that Joseph had himself constrained them to bring Benjamin with them, had expressed a desire to see him, had forbidden them his presence, unless they brought him with them, all which intimated that he designed him some kindness. And must he be brought with so much difficulty to the preferment of a perpetual slavery? Was he not brought to Egypt in obedience, purely in obedience to the command of Joseph, and would not he show him some mercy? 4th, The great argument he insists upon was the insupportable grief it would be to his aged father, if Benjamin should be left behind in servitude. His father loveth him, Genesis 44:20. Thus they had pleaded against Joseph’s insisting on his coming down, Genesis 44:22. If he should leave his father, his father would die — Much more, if he now be left behind, never to return. This the old man of whom they spake had pleaded against his going down: If mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs, that crown of glory, with sorrow to the grave. This therefore Judah pressed with a great deal of earnestness. His life is bound up in the lad’s life — When he sees that the lad is not with us, he will faint away and die immediately, or will abandon himself to such a degree of sorrow, as will, in a few days, make an end of him. And, lastly, Judah pleads, that, for his part, he could not bear to see this: Let me not see the evil that shall come on my father. 5th, Judah, in honour to the justice of Joseph’s sentence, and to show his sincerity in this plea, offers himself to become a bondman instead of Benjamin. Thus the law would be satisfied; Joseph would be no loser, for we may suppose Judah a more able-bodied man than Benjamin; Jacob would better bear that than the loss of Benjamin. Now, so far was he from grieving at his father’s particular fondness for Benjamin, that he is himself willing to be a bondman to indulge it.

Now, had Joseph been, as Judah supposed, an utter stranger to the family, yet even common humanity could not but be wrought upon by such powerful reasonings as these; for nothing could be said more moving, more tender; it was enough to melt a heart of stone: but to Joseph, who was nearer akin to Benjamin than Judah himself, and who, at this time, felt a greater passion for him and his aged father than Judah did, nothing could be more pleasingly nor more happily said. Neither Jacob nor Benjamin needed an intercessor with Joseph, for he himself loved them. Upon the whole, let us take notice, 1st, How prudently Judah suppressed all mention of the crime that was charged upon Benjamin. Had he said any thing by way of acknowledgment of it, he had reflected on Benjamin’s honesty. Had he said any thing by way of denial of it, he had reflected on Joseph’s justice; therefore he wholly waives that head, and appeals to Joseph’s pity. 2d, What good reason dying Jacob had to say, Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; (Genesis 49:8;) for he excelled them all in boldness, wisdom, eloquence, and especially tenderness for their father and family. 3d, Judah’s faithful adherence to Benjamin, now in his distress, was recompensed long after, by the constant adherence of the tribe of Benjamin to the tribe of Judah, when all the other ten tribes deserted it.