Being sure that they were true men, and confident of the fact that they had removed from the mind of the Egyptian ruler the idea that they were spies, the eleven brothers of Joseph began their homeward journey. This second visit to Egypt had been so much more pleasant than they anticipated. There was no rough speech at this time. Their brother Simeon had been released from prison and restored to them. And they had even had a sumptuous meal at the home of this ruler, at which they drank and were merry with him. Now they were about to return home with the peaceful thought that the distress which God brought upon them, because of their evil deed of selling their brother Joseph as a slave into Egypt, and by it bringing their father untold grief and sorrow, was a thing of the past. They had suffered for their sin, and God had brought it to an end. They could go home and forget all about it.
There was a certain sense of eagerness that came over them as they began to leave the city, an itching to get back to their father as quickly as possible to prove to him how safe it was and how wise as well to have taken Benjamin along. For here they come with both Benjamin and Simeon, and a store of food to last them for many days. How good God had been to them! How wonderfully it all worked out: and what happiness will now fill their homes and the entire family of Jacob!
But a cloud appeared on the horizon. And it was a cloud in the most literal sense of the word, for they saw a cloud of dust being kicked up by the feet of a horseman who seemed to want to catch up with them. And in this assumption they were not wrong. Joseph had sent his servant to stop them and to determine which one had taken his drinking cup with him as a thief.
What a blow to men who were so pure that they were true men! Had they not had enough grief and sadness already? No sooner had they appeared before this ruler in Egypt the first time and they were accused of being spies. Would they now as true men invite the charge of theft by taking his drinking cup? Would they do that before one so powerful in Egypt, and one who at times seemed almost able to see right through them? True, he had made the mistake of accusing them of being spies. But their own consciences told them that they were criminals whom God was now visiting. What is more, when he showed such uncanny wisdom as to seat them all exactly according to their ages at the table, not only did a sense of awe come over them, but a warning light lit up in their souls. They saw him as a man with whom they ought not trifle.
It is true that circumstantial evidence is there once again. They had been in his house when his drinking cup had been before him. But there must be something wrong. And so sure are they that they are true men and no thieves, so fully do they judge each other to be incapable of such a deed, that with an oath, “God forbid,” they agree that the one who did steal the cup ought to die and the rest will be slaves of this ruler forever.
There is consternation at the charge, but there is no panic. They are confident. Once again according to their ages their sacks were opened. The first sack is opened. No cup is there. And as the sacks are opened their confidence grows. The sacks of Simeon and Levi, those “instruments of cruelty” that killed all the Shechemites, produced no drinking cup. And now there is but one left, that of Benjamin whom they had been guarding so carefully all the time while he was in Egypt so that they never left him out of their sight. Confident they are that the charge will be shown to be unfounded. In a few moments they will be on their way. Striking, is it not, that we do not read one word here of fear on the part of these brothers? They did not hold their breath each time a sack was opened. They waited not with bated breath as Benjamin’s was opened. Annoyed they were but not afraid. And as the eleventh sack was gotten down to be opened, the other ten sacks were already closed and fixed to be placed on their beasts of burden for the continuation of their journey homeward.
Take note of the fact that, when the steward explained to them why he had stopped them, the brothers said, “God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing: Behold, the money which we found in our sack’s mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan; how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold? With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.” And the steward said, “Now let it be according unto your words; he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.” So convinced are these ten brothers of their innocency that they are ready to specify the death penalty for the thief and bondage for all the rest of them. This accusation is preposterous! The contents of this last sack will vindicate them, and they will be on their way.
Then the blow fell!
All ten brothers saw not only that drinking cup in Benjamin’s sack but Benjamin consigned to slavery in Egypt, (even as they had once consigned Joseph to such bondage) and their father crushed with grief which, when added to the grief of losing Joseph, would bring him swiftly to his grave.
What tragedy is expressed in those brief words, “Then they rent their clothes and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.” In this instance the “they” refers to the ten brothers and does not include Benjamin as far as rending of clothes is concerned. He knew his innocency, though he was shocked at the thought of becoming a slave in Egypt. Even his ten brothers had vouched for his innocency when they agreed to death for the one with whom the cup would be found. And even when the cup was found in his sack, they did not believe that he stole it.
Someone had put their money in their sacks on the first journey; and they had not stolen it. As each sack now was being opened, they again saw that someone had put their money in their sacks. And they were sure that someone had put that cup in Benjamin’s sack. They did not glare at him, blame him, or speak roughly to him. Instead, notice in Genesis 44:16 that Judah declares, “What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.” He does not say, “. . .and he who tookthe cup,” but “with whom the cup was found.” And the guilt of which he speaks is not the guilt of stealing that cup, for not one of them did steal it, but the guilt of selling Joseph as a slave into Egypt. He is not speaking of guilt that Benjamin had, but guilt that was wholly theirs, the guilt of these ten brothers. They see now that it was God Who, through someone else had put that cup in Benjamin’s sack because of their guilt of years ago and that is now being visited by Him. Had not the steward said to them when they returned the money of the first visit? “Fear not; your God, and the God of your father hath given you treasure in your sack.” Well, He had also through Joseph and his steward, put that cup in Benjamin’s sack. And the ten guilty brothers mean that when they say that “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” They had seen God’s hand when they received such rough treatment on their first visit. Now they see it even more clearly, and feel far more heavily the hand of God upon them for their guilt.
They do not realize it, but the moment of truth has come. What Joseph sought, he found. For they were brought to appear before him as thieves. And the earnest plea that Judah made for his father; the length to which he went to show without a trace of envy that Benjamin was his father’s favored son and how they wanted to spare their father the loss of this favored son (even though once they robbed him of another favored son); their willingness to stay as slaves in Egypt so that Benjamin might go back to their father; all this was what Joseph wanted to hear, after noticing the day before that they evidenced no sign of envy when Benjamin was given a portion five times as large as theirs. All this showed that they were men who were radically changed in their spiritual lives. God had found out the iniquity of these brothers, but He had also caused them to find it as despicable as He judged it to be. God’s hand was on them in chastisement but also therefore in mercy that works consciousness of sin and sorrow for it. They confessed their guilt. They showed their sorrow for their sin. They showed tender love for their father and his favored son. They gave evidence of being converted and penitent by the Spirit of God.
What a touching scene followed! Joseph sent forth all the Egyptians out of the room, and bursting into loud tears that these Egyptians—and even the house of Pharaoh—heard, he said, “I am Joseph!”
Stunned these brothers were. They could not speak. Not one was able to run and fall on his neck and kiss him as a long lost brother. They were simply dumbfounded at this work of God. Joseph, their brother, is this mighty ruler in Egypt before whom they had bowed, and before whom even now they were on their knees after pleading for Benjamin’s freedom and their father’s joy!
It was not that they still hated Joseph and therefore did not rush to him and express their joy and show their relief that he had not died, or was somewhere in Egypt as an humble slave. No, it was what God wrought that made them so speechless and troubled that they could not answer Joseph when he asked, “Doth my father yet live?” Even though he speaks personally to them without an interpreter and in their language, these brothers could not find words to respond and react to this new turn of events. In a sense they were in shock. Their thinking was not exactly what could be called confused. Their minds just went blank, and they had trouble taking it all in and reacting to what they learned. Even the relief and knowledge now that they could bring Benjamin to their father did not register. The wonder, the benefits of this revelation stunned them and numbed them. They were speechless and immobile until Joseph calls them to him and fills in the details that prove that he is their brother.
Joseph reveals, what no other person in Egypt could reveal, that these brothers had sold him as a slave into Egypt. How could Joseph know that, if he were not the one sold? He tells them not to grieve and be angry with themselves for that sin, but to see the hand of God in it. He gives the richest evidence of his identity when he speaks of God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed. Note that in Genesis 45:7 we read, “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Here is the covenant promise and God in His covenant faithfulness working all together for the fulfillment of that promise, which ultimately brings the great deliverance through Christ and His cross and resurrection.
Let that be seen clearly. We deal here with sin; and the wages of sin is death! But, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). And the truth to see here is that Joseph, finding his brothers no longer walking after the flesh but after the Spirit, reveals such a forgiving spirit unto them. The more wonderful truth to see is that God so fully and freely forgives us our sins, and had His Son sold for thirty pieces of silver, so that He might receive our wages of death and earn for us and our posterity everlasting life in the new Jerusalem.