A Cup in the Sack
If you have Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Genesis 44, as we continue through our study of Joseph. We have noted throughout the over-arching theme of God's providence, not only does the Lord tell us in the story of Joseph, how Israel wound up in Egypt, not only does He tell us how God made this family of Jacob into a great nation in accordance with His promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15 and 17, but God also shows us something of His strategy in redemption with His people to bring blessing where there is estrangement, to bring reconciliation where there is enmity. And now, we come to Genesis 44. We have said throughout that we have seen a pattern of humiliation and exultation in the life of Joseph. He began life as a favored son, and in the very context of the rivalry with his brothers experienced the great humiliation of his life. He is sold into slavery, he serves well as a servant in the house of Potiphar. He finds himself falsely accused and imprisoned in a royal prison. He is even after helping one of the kings servants and encouraging him in his time forgotten for a period of years in this prison. He is finally released and then his exultation begins. He is made the grand Vizier of Egypt, the second ranking official behind Pharaoh and in the very context of his exultation, even as he has with his own mouth and heart uttered the words, God has caused me to forget his father's household, the Lord brings his father's household right into his backyard and begins to do a work that even Joseph could not imagine.
And so we come now to Genesis 44, as Joseph's test reaches its great culmination. You remember in our study of Genesis 42 and 43, Joseph's family had been brought to Egypt because of the famine. In Genesis 42 he had kindly given them grain, though he had kept Simeon. They had been accused of being spies, as an assurance that they would return, Simeon was kept. And indeed, they did return as they had promised bringing Benjamin, it took them a great deal of persuading of Jacob, their father. But they did return with Benjamin and again they were treated greatly, they were feasted royally, treated kindly by Joseph, brought into his own household. They supped with him, and now in this passage, they are preparing to depart. But Joseph has yet one more test to bring to bear on his brothers. So let's hear God's Word here in Genesis 44.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word, we thank You for the way it reveals Your designs, Your wisdom, Your providence. We pray, O God, that You would speak to our own hearts, that You would give us the grace to trust in providence, to see Your hand, Your searching hand, Your testing hand, in providence to respond as we ought, not only in trust and obedience, but in contrition and penitence, and repentance if necessary. We pray, O Lord that Your Word would speak to us this night and be applied to our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Joseph in this passage, engages in a gigantic test of the hearts of his brothers. Joseph had been severely wounded by his brothers. His relationship had always been estranged and when they had been reunited during the time of the famine, he was concerned to see if these men were still the same kinds of men that they were when he had known them, more than twenty years before, and so since his person had not been revealed to them, since his identity had not been disclosed to them, yet since they had not recognized them, he continued to conceal himself from them and he planned to put them to the test.
I. God doesn't tempt but He tests.
And you see that test laid out for you in verses 1 and 2. Joseph's plan was designed to reveal the heart of his brothers. Joseph, his brothers having done as they promised and having brought Benjamin down to Egypt and thus now preparing to leave again for the land of Canaan, sets out a second part of his plan. At first, he had accused them of being spies, and generously given their money back to them. He had kept their brother Simeon to insure or to at least to gain a better probability that they would indeed return to Egypt and perhaps even bring their father, Jacob. And Jacob's dealing here are to complete that plan, that testing plan which he had begun in Genesis 42.
Now let me pause quickly and say, Joseph's dealings here, are not a model for us to emulate in our own family relations. Many a counselor has seen husbands and wives who give one another secret tests and then wonder why they fail those secret tests. Moses is not encouraging us to emulate Joseph in his dealings with his brothers. And in part, we see this because the story of Joseph's dealing with his brother, it is very clear from Moses, it is very clear from the very words that his brothers say in Genesis 42 and we will see those in just a moment. Joseph's dealing with his brother is really a shadow of God's dealing with his brothers. So we see even in Joseph's test, God acting even more than Joseph. So, don't emulate his plan, but learn the lesson.
This is important for the history of the story of Joseph. And the importance is this, friends, there can be not reconciliation without repentance. There can be no reconciliation without repentance. Joseph here sets out this test because he wants to see the hearts of his brothers. How do they now treat, how do they now think of their brother, Benjamin. My brother, my mother's son, how do they treat him? What do they think of him? Do they treat him the way that they treated me? And how do they think of their father now? Years before, they did not care that it would break my father's heart if I didn't come back. They didn't care. My cries, my pleas, they ignored. They didn't care what it would do to my father. How will they treat him now? And so, they had been unmoved by his plight, and they had been uncaring of the impact of his loss to his own father, and he wanted to know if they were the same men.
And the only way that, that could be accomplished was under duress, and though and thus he concocts this scheme. He returns the money, once again to his brothers, this is an act of kindness, just like the first time, it wasn't designed to incriminate them, they had already seen this played out once before, it was however, a little bit like heaping bowls of fire upon their heads, because it was another act of unmerited kindness towards them, which they were now going to be seen to repay be theft. The money is returned to them, and then the cup is planted in the cup of the sack of Benjamin.
The taking of a ruler's special cup would have been as offensive as it would was brazen and foolish. How, how would anybody think that a ruler would go, even a day, without knowing his special cup for drinking had been stolen? It is obvious. No one would have been as foolish as to take that? Take anything else, but something that he would have used like that everyday, indeed, possibly, possibly, this test would have appeared even to the brothers as a set up. And thus give them an opportunity, and give Joseph an opportunity to see how they would react when they were wrongly dealt with. They perhaps would have been suspicious. Have we been set up again? Just like they put the money in our sacks, the last time, has someone in Joseph's household done this for spite against us? Is one of the Egyptians against us and so does this in order to bring harm to us? And it gives them the opportunity to show Joseph how they will react even as he had the opportunity to show how he would react when he was wrongly dealt with so many years ago.
So whatever is happening here, it is clear that Joseph's plan is a part of God's plan in the life of this family. We see that in verses 1 and 2. And that reminds us, even as we studied, not just a couple of Wednesday nights ago, that God, in His Word, says that He does not tempt us. But God does test us. Now the words are the same in the Bible. And the thought is the same in the Bible. The difference is simply this: Temptation is designed to destroy you. Testing is designed for your good. And so God searches out through he designs of Joseph, the hearts of the sons. Listen to what Derek Kidner says: “Joseph's strategy already brilliantly successful in creating the situations and tensions required, now produces its master stroke. Like the judgment of Solomon, the sudden threat to Benjamin was a thrust to the heart of his brothers. In a moment, the brothers stood revealed.” And so this is what this plan that Joseph sets out in verses 1 and 2 is designed to do.
II. God knows how to put His finger right on our most vulnerable and indefensible point.
The second thing I would like you to see, you will find in verses 3-17. Here the plan is carried out. And here we see the dialogue between Joseph's brothers and his household steward, and finally between Joseph's brothers and himself. The stolen cup is discovered here. Benjamin is arrested and guilt is accepted by his brothers. And again, in this passage, we see not only does God test the heart, but God knows how to put His finger on our most vulnerable and indefensible points and He does so in the hearts of Joseph's brothers. The brothers leave at dawn, we see in verse 3, but they are soon overtaken by Joseph's household steward in verse 4 and they are accused of theft in verses 4-6.
In verses 7-9, the brothers strenuously deny their guilt. They offer arguments for their trustworthiness in verse 8. They say, look if we were going to steal a cup from your household, why would we have brought the money in the sacks back to Egypt and given it to you? It doesn't make sense. We have already shown that we are honest men. Their consciences were clear and so they argued very strenuously. In fact, they went on to ask for, to appeal for the most strenuous punishment against the guilt of anyone who was found. Indeed, they said, kill the one who has done this, and the rest of us will be slaves. That is how confident they were in their own innocence.
The steward responds to them in verse 10, laying a trap for their hearts, testing their hearts. He says to them, “Oh no. Though you have proposed that the guilty man be killed, and the rest of you enslaved. All I am asking for is for the guilty man to be enslaved. The rest of you, you may go free.” And so by that statement, they are tested in their concern for their brother, and in their love for their father. Will they look out for their own skins, or will they be loyal to Benjamin? Will they care about their father, or will they forsake Benjamin, protect themselves and go back home with the dreadful news?
And so the search commences in verses 11 and 12. And Benjamin is the last one searched. You can imagine the tension building as sack after sack after sack is opened, and their search from oldest to youngest again, just like they had been seated at the table and suddenly the sack is opened and there they find the cup. And the men, it is very clear from what Judah will say in verse 16, immediately they recognized that the hand of providence had struck. They forget all the temporal aspects of this. You see no protestation that it is a set up. You see no protestation of their innocence. Immediately they recognize that God has laid His finger on them. They tear their clothes. They show, they display their broken heartedness, and their repentance. They return to the city, and Judah, we are told, in verse 14 becomes the spokesman, and once again in verse 14, the brothers of Joseph prostrate themselves before him. Again fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis 37.
In verse 15, Joseph questions them. Now let me just say in passage, the reference to his using this cup for divination and his reference to his ability to do divination has caused the commentators some trouble. On the one hand, you remember earlier when he spoke to Pharaoh, he disclaimed the power of divination and said that only God could reveal. On the other hand, one wonders what Joseph is doing with the divination cup, and why he is claiming to do divination in this passage. Well, whatever the answer is, I think it is fair to say that it may well say simply part of his ruse. He is attempting to continue to conceal his identity for them. Davis says in his commentary: “It is possible that the practice of hydromancy, that is determining the future, or determining secrets through what you put in a cup. It is possible that the practice of hydromancy was not common in Egypt in his time. But that it was invoked by Joseph to give his scheme an heir of authentication. There again, to hide his true identity from them.”
At any rate, Judah answers for the brothers in verse 16. And I would like you to look at that verse because it is a classic. Notice what he says: “What can we say to my Lord, what can we speak, how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants. Behold we are my Lord's slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found. You know, Judah's words seem to have a double meaning. God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” On the one hand, he is not attempting to deflect responsibility for the stolen cup. On the other hand, if you will turn back with me to Genesis 42, one cannot help but think that once again, Judah, on behalf of all his brothers, is admitting that God is seeking out their secret sins and revealing it to them. Look at Genesis 42, verses 21 and 22″ “Truly, we are guilty concerning our brother because we saw the stress of his soul when he pleaded with us, and yet, we would not listen. Therefore, this distress has come upon us.” And then notice the end of verse 22. Ruben says, “Now comes the reckoning for his”, that is Joseph's, “blood.” And then if you will look down at verse 28: “Then he said to his brothers, my money has been returned, and behold it is even in my sack, and their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, what is this that God has done to us.” And now when he says, “God has found out our iniquity,” here in Genesis 44:16, we see again their recognition that in God's providence, He has been seeking them out, and now He has put His finger right on the place where they are most vulnerable, where they are most indefensible. The other son of Rachel, the son, the son of their father, Jacob, the brother of their long lost brother, Joseph, has now become the subject of the searching's of the grand vizier of Egypt. And they choose to trace this particular action, not to being wrongly treated, wrongly accused, but right back to the providence and judgment of God. God has found out our iniquity.
And once again, I want to you to see immediately following on this in verse 17, Joseph tests their hearts. How does he do it? By once again, giving them the right to leave even though Benjamin must stay. Oh my friends, if Joseph in this scheme knew how to search out the hearts of his brother, how much more does God know how to search out our hearts. God, in His providence, knows exactly where we are most vulnerable and most indefensible. And in His grace, He lays His finger on that point, that we might not continue in our sin on the way to destruction, but might turn and be embraced in His grace and mercy. Listen again to what Kidner says: “When the steward converted their challenge of verse 9, when they said, we will be slaves, when the steward converted their challenge of verse 9 into a chance of freedom at Benjamin's expense, all the conditions were present for another betrayal at a far more compelling price. Their freedom. Years before they had gotten twenty pieces of silver. Now their freedom is offered. If they will only betray Benjamin, the response by their unanimity, their frankness, and their constancy shows how well the chastening had done its work.” God, had changed the hearts of these brothers. And their response in this providence manifested that they were different men than they had been many, many years before.
III. It is a mark of grace to know that we do not deserve mercy, only the wicked think that they do.
One last thing if you will look at verses 18-34, you see this moving plea of Judah in which he declares his willingness to suffer on behalf of his brother, and he reflects a heart which has been changed by the hand of God. And let me say this. This passage teaches many things, but it teaches at least this. It is a mark of grace to know that we do not deserve mercy. It is the wicked that think that they deserve the mercy of God. And Judah here makes it very clear that he is not even going to ask for mercy from Joseph, because he doesn't deserve it. That in and of itself shows you the work of grace that has been done in the heart of Judah. Look at this passage with me. Judah specifically addresses Joseph, he speaks respectfully to him. He begs his patience, and then he tells the family story in verses 19-34. And he basically argues two things. In this great passage, we could divide it many ways, but he basically just argues two things.
First of all, he makes it clear that he will do anything he can to avoid hurting his father. He is ready to move heaven and earth if he can just avoid breaking his father's heart one more time.
And secondly he makes it clear that he has made a covenant with his father. He has pledged himself, he has called on his father's curse for the rest of his life, if he does not bring his son back. And because of his love for his father, and because of the covenant that he has made with his father, on those things, he bases his plea to the one whom he doesn't even realize is Joseph.
And as you read through this passage, you can see ten points at which Joseph's heart would have been breaking just to hear Judah's word. But especially in verses 20 and 28. How would Joseph have responded to hearing these words: ”We said to my Lord, we have an old father, and a little child of his old age, and now his brother is dead. He alone is left of his mother.” And then again in verse 28, “Your servant, my father, said to me, you know that my wife bore me two sons, and the one went out from me and said, surely he is torn in pieces, and I have not seen him since, and if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”
It is interesting to note, isn't it, that Judah, even here, doesn't confess everything. When God begins to lay His finger on our sins often times, the confession comes like an onion, in layers of the peal. The full confession will come later, when Joseph finally discloses His own identity. But now, the process of full and complete confession and repentance has already begun. When God brings us conviction, or when God brings conviction to someone who has offended us, we should not expect the fullness of that conviction to be expressed all at once, because sinners, even when they are under conviction, have an innate desire to protect themselves. And God pursues us as the hound of heaven until we completely disclose our culpability. Only then, can we be right with Him, and with our brethren.
The heart state of Joseph's brothers is seen in that they do not plea for mercy. Notice what Judah says. Judah doesn't say, “Oh grand vizier of Egypt, give us mercy we pray.” He simply says this. “Please allow me to remain as your slave instead of him.” He asks for the privilege to suffer on behalf of his brother. He asks for the privilege of serving as a slave vicariously in the place of, on behalf of, his brother, Benjamin.
How does that reveal the heart change of Judah towards Benjamin, and towards his fathe? This is one of the brothers, who years before had callously ignored the cries of Joseph, and had callously been indifferent to the heart of his father. And here now, he is begging for the privilege of being a slave in his brother's place. It is interesting, isn't it, here, the guilty offers himself as a substitute for the innocent. But there would be another lion of the tribe of Judah who was innocent, but who would offer himself as a substitute for his guilty brothers. And that substitute would be accepted and He would live and die in their place that they might experience His glory. Judah's new heart manifests itself in love to God, and love to his neighbor. He shows his love of God, in not questioning God's providence. God, you found me out. I deserve this. And he shows his love to neighbor and his love for Benjamin and his love for his father. A changed heart has a different view of God and a different view of neighbor. The resignation to providence and loyalty to his brother shows us that heart of Judah.
It is a mark of grace, my friends, to know that we don't deserve mercy. Only a wicked man in this case, would have attempted to justify himself. But the heart change wrought by the hand of God is apparent in the words and the actions of Judah. And now the stage is set for the revelation of Joseph. But for that, you will have to wait until next week. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, You are wise beyond our comprehension, and You are good, beyond anything that we can imagine. We thank You for Your providence, for the way that it advances Your glory and our good, and we thank You oh Lord, that You do not leave Your children alone to stew in their sin, but that You are determined to make them like Your son. We praise You for this O God, and we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.