And Judah said, 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 . . .
Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing his life is bound up in the lad’s life; It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave . . .
Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
Then Joseph could not refrain himself . . . and he cried, . . . I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?
Ten solemn men made their way back to the home of Joseph in Egypt. There were no bitter words, no angry accusations, no inner resentments; there were only spirits troubled and sad. How could they prove Benjamin innocent against such clear circumstantial evidence? Yet, how could they believe him guilty? They knew Benjamin far better than that. And how could they ever return to their homes without him? One question only they did not need to ask. Why did this have to happen to them? They knew the answer to that. It was not the mischief of Benjamin. It was not a strange quirk of fate. It was the hand of God which rested upon them. They had sinned very grievously against God, and against His people, and His covenant. For well over twenty years they had tried to forget the fact. They had acted as if it had never happened and in their own minds put it off with excuses. But now God was bringing it out into the open. It no longer worked to excuse their actions or to lay the blame upon others. The judgment of God had come. Each knew in his own heart that he was guilty, and for that they were being punished.
More burdened than all of the rest was Judah. Rather unintentionally he had come in the preceding weeks to a position of leadership over his brothers. It was under his pleading that their father had consented to allow Benjamin to come with them to Egypt. He had offered himself a surety for the safety of the youngest brother, and their father had acquiesced. Now he felt even more responsible than did the rest. He too felt the sting of guilt. For himself he might have made excuses and possibly in former years had done so. It was after all due to him that Joseph had been sold as a slave instead of slain. But that would work no longer. The fact of their responsibility loomed too close. He should have withstood his brothers to the face, and that he had failed to do. He was responsible as were the rest. And now his responsibility appeared even greater. He had pledged himself to keep their brother in safety, and the hand of the Lord was against them. What was he to do?
When all too soon the brothers arrived at Joseph’s house, they found him anxiously pacing. Little did they realize the real reason for his anxiety. His test had at last arrived at its concluding phase, and the results, he felt, for him would be crucial. Once again the brothers approached, and trembling as never before bowed with their faces to the ground. With words as harsh as he had ever spoken, Joseph questioned them through his interpreter. “What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?”
Cringing before his words, the brothers stood fearfully mute while Judah stepped to the fore. With eyes cast to the ground and in a voice scarcely audible, he spoke. “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.”
The words tore at Joseph’s heart. He saw his brothers standing there as he had never seen them in former years. Gone was the brazen boldness with which they had formerly reveled in their sins. There were no excuses, no defiant claims of innocence, but only the humble admittance that they had sinned. And the face of each one of the brothers showed that in his heart he agreed. What more could Joseph want? What else could he desire? But still could he be sure that if pressed the brothers would not do the same again? With the greatest of effort Joseph kept his composure. Working with Judah’s suggestion that they would all be his servants, he would give them full opportunity to desert their youngest brother. “God forbid,” he said, “that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.”
To Judah fell the duty of answering, and what could he say? He could think of nothing else than to present the matter in complete honesty, leaving God to do with it what was right. The result was one of the most passionately beautiful prayers of Scripture. With his whole heart and soul he spoke, “Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.
“My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have ye a father, or a brother?’
And we said unto my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.’
‘And thou saidst unto thy servants, ‘Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.’
“And we said unto my lord, ‘The Iid cannot leave’ his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ “And thou saidst unto thy servants, ‘Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.’
“And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’
“And we said, ‘We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us.’
“And thy servant my father said unto us, ‘Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: and the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: and if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.’
“Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; it shall come to pass, when the seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, ‘If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.’
“Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.”
It was Martin Luther that exclaimed concerning this prayer, “Oh, that we could thus step before God and make known our needs to Him as Judah addressed his brother ! . . . May it be granted to us to plead with God in Jesus’ name with the same earnestness when our troubles press heavily upon us, and may we be sure that as Joseph was moved by the petition of Judah, so God will be moved even more to hear our prayers and help us.”
To analyze such a plea is, of course, difficult and can be dangerous lest by taking it apart we destroy its feeling and beauty. Nonetheless there are certain things which we should note. 1) First there is its sincerity. The prayer was very evidently the outpouring of a burdened soul. Once Judah had begun to speak, the words flowed on of themselves until the whole burden of his soul was exposed. 2) Secondly, there is the humility of the prayer. Throughout Judah maintained an attitude of deep respect for the authority of Joseph. There, were no excuses, no protestations of innocence. The plea began with an admittance of guilt, “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants”; and at the end where he spoke of their father’s possible death, it was with the recognition that they were the responsible parties, “Thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.” He had no rights to claim but only pleaded on the mercies of the ruler before whom he stood. 3) Thirdly, the prayer showed a deep concern for the welfare of their father. The closing words speak for themselves. “For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.” How it contrasted with the hard indifference which Joseph had experienced at their hands so many years before. 4) Finally, and perhaps the most significant of all, was the demonstration of spiritual love revealed in the words “Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up, with his brethren.” It anticipated the saying of his own Seed yet many years away, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Still it did not so much anticipate as follow from that Seed, who, although He was not to be born for many generations, paradoxically pre-dated Judah because He is eternally in the bosom of the Father, “the firstborn of many brethren.”
Joseph could withhold himself no longer before this plea. Every word penetrated his heart with a joy so great it hurt; his eyes were clouded with tears. He had learned from Judah’s words all that he had yearned to know concerning the spiritual condition of his brothers. In fact his testing of them had brought to the minds of the brothers a clearer recognition of their guilt and sorrow for their sin than there ever would have been without it. Joseph saw them now as penitent sinners, and that was all he wanted. His heart bursting with the pain of extreme joy, he ordered all of the Egyptians from the room. It was no time for strangers to be watching. Turning to his brothers, he exclaimed with a burst of joy, “I am Joseph! doth my father yet live?” Long had he been anticipating this moment, to talk to them as a brother. His first wish was to hear of his father, not as an inquiring stranger, but as a brother and a son.
The brothers cringed in fear. For days and months they had been laboring under the oppressive consciousness of their guilt. They had thought over and over again on the greatness of the punishment that they deserved. They had almost despaired of the possibility of even obtaining mercy from God. Now suddenly there loomed before them the very man against whom they had sinned. Could they expect mercy from him?
Troubled by their fear, Joseph exclaimed again, “Come near to me, I pray you. I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” Gradually the kind voice of Joseph calmed their troubled fears. Even more there began to dawn for them an entirely new perspective on their lives. They had sinned. There was no escaping their guilt in that. Nonetheless so great is the love of God for His people that He had used it for good. With amazement and thankfulness in their hearts they sat and talked with their brother as with one who in the love of God still counted them as being dear.