Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
- The Ten Brothers Were Tested
Joseph has had the satisfaction of seeing his brother Benjamin safe and well. He has heard his brothers acknowledging their guilt concerning himself. He resolves to put their attachment to Benjamin, and the genuineness of their change of disposition, to a test that will at the same time expose Benjamin to no hazard.
And my cup. - Besides returning each man's money as before, a silver cup of Joseph's is put in Benjamin's bag, after which, when daylight comes, they are dismissed. They are scarcely out of the town when Joseph's steward is ordered to overtake them, and charge them with stealing the cup. "And whereby indeed he divineth." Divining by cups, we learn from this, was a common custom in Egypt (Herodotus ii. 83). It is here mentioned to enhance the value of the cup. Whether Joseph really practised any sort of divination cannot be determined from this passage.
The cup is found in Benjamin's bag. "Spake unto them these words." The words of Joseph, supplying of course the mention of the cup which is expressed in the text only by the pronoun this. "We brought back to thee." Silver that we might have retained, and to which you made no claim when we tendered it, we brought back. How or why should we therefore, steal silver? "Now also according to your words let it be." He adopts their terms with a mitigation. He with whom the cup is found shall become a slave for life, and the rest be acquitted. The steward searches from the oldest to the youngest. The cup is found where it was put.
"They rent their garments;" the natural token of a sorrow that knows no remedy. "And Judah went." He had pledged himself for the safety of Benjamin to his father. And he was yet there; awaiting no doubt the result which he anticipated. "They fell before him on the earth." It is no longer a bending of the head or bowing of the body, but the posture of deepest humiliation. How deeply that early dream penetrated into the stern reality! "Wot ye not that such a man as I doth certainly divine?" Joseph keeps up the show of resentment for a little longer, and brings out from Judah the most pathetic plea of its kind that ever was uttered. "The God," the great and only God, "hath found out the iniquity of thy servants;" in our dark and treacherous dealing with our brother. "Behold, we are servants to my lord." He resigns himself and all to perpetual bondage, as the doom of a just God upon their still-remembered crime. "He shall be my servant; and ye, go up in peace to your father." Now is the test applied with the nicest adjustment. Now is the moment of agony and suspense to Joseph. Will my brothers prove true? says he within himself. Will Judah prove adequate to the occasion? say we. His pleading with his father augured well.
"And Judah came near unto him." He is going to surrender himself as a slave for life, that Benjamin may go home with his brothers, who are permitted to depart. "Let thy servant now speak a word in the ears of my lord." There is nothing here but respectful calmness of demeanor. "And let not thine anger burn against thy servant." He intuitively feels that the grand vizier is a man of like feelings with himself. He will surmount the distinction of rank, and stand with him on the ground of a common humanity. "For so art thou as Pharaoh." Thou hast power to grant or withhold my request. This forms, the exordium of the speech. Then follows the plea. This consists in a simple statement of the facts, which Judah expects to have its native effect upon a rightly-constituted heart. We will not touch this statement, except to explain two or three expressions. A young lad - a comparative youth. "Let me set mine eyes upon him" - regard him with favor and kindness. "He shall leave his father and he shall die." If he were to leave his father, his father would die. Such is the natural interpretation of these words, as the paternal affection is generally stronger than the filial. "And now let thy servant now abide instead of the lad a servant to my lord." Such is the humble and earnest petition of Judah. He calmly and firmly sacrifices home, family, and birthright, rather than see an aged father die of a broken heart.