SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 29 Genesis 44

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 44**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32
Genesis 33
Genesis 34
Genesis 35-36
Genesis 37
Genesis 38
Genesis 39
Genesis 40
Genesis 41
Genesis 42 & 43

[Genesis 44

New International Version (NIV)](

A Silver Cup in a Sack

44 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’”

6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7 But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”

11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”

16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”

17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”

18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’

21 “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.

25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’

27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’

33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
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The detail about how Joseph uses his silver cup for divination seems to imply that he is a bit more than someone who can interpret dreams off the top of his head, or even because God revealed it to him. He is the head of the court magicians. Four hundred years later, those are the ones Moses fights against.


That line almost sounds like a joke, as if Joseph knows that divination is quackery and is privately mocking it. Except, of course for his ability to interpret dreams.


Well, here he’s obviously faking it, as he knows the order of their birth through ordinary means, and he’s merely maintaining a disguise as an Egyptian.

I am not thinking Joseph used the cup for divination to figure out anything about his brothers. I am thinking that he has this special, silver cup that everyone identifies with him, so it will be clear the cup belongs to him, and he would not have given it away or sold it. Because he is a diviner - that’s the source of his power in Egypt.

“That’s the cup I use in magical rituals!!!” both to make the “crime” of stealing it worse, and to prove that Joseph would never have dreamed of letting it out of his hands. I find it difficult to believe that Joseph would not have done some kind of magic in the twenty years between his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, and the famine.


Considering what happened last time, you’d think that one of the brothers would have thought of checking the sacks before they left.

The Hebrew word is based on an Egyptian word “libation vessel” that indicates a very large special cup. There’s implication that it’s used for divining (verse 5) but it’s not stated that Joseph actually did divination – other than dream interpretation, which Joseph clearly says comes from God. So I read it that he wanted the brothers to think that’s how he knew what was happening, as cmkeller suggests. Ilike Shodan’s interp as well, but we have no info about Joseph doing any magic (other than being an efficient administrator.)

This chapter also echoes and re-echoes the past.

Note that the cup is silver; the brothers sold Joseph for pieces of silver and so are being tested with silver.

They’re sent on their way, and then armed guards come after them to arrest them for thievery. The brothers are confused: they had brought back the money from the first trip. They don’t understand it, and they are so sure that none of them committed theft, they say that if anyone is guilty, that one should be killed and rest enslaved. This is obviously rhetorical, they’re exaggerating to assert innocence.

The steward searches them, in age order (which, again, must surprise them.) Seniority order is important, because it’s all about how the older children of Leah treated the younger children of Rachel.

The cup is found in Benjamin’s sack. (Note that Joseph has staged this for maximum drama, by ordering the search in age order, the last sack is the reveal!) They tear their clothes (a sign of mourning); remember that Jacob tore his clothes back in 37:34 upon seeing Joseph’s bloodied cloak.

In verse 14, it’s not just “the brothers,” it’s now “Judah and his brothers,” with clear leadership. Reuben was set aside because of sleeping with Bilhah; Simeon and Levi are set aside because of their violence at Shechem, so Judah is in charge, as he had given his promise to their father. They throw themselves on the ground – much more emphatic than just bowing low – thus fulfilling Joseph’s childhood dreams, now with all eleven.

Judah’s plea is that they stand together: if one is guilty, they are all guilty. He may be trying to protect Benjamin from being singled out for punishment. He may be expressing their guilt over the original crime against Joseph. He may be reflecting the (simplistic) notion that suffering is divine punishment, so they must have done something to deserve this fate, and he’s just resigned to it. He may just think that they’re screwed whatever they do, there’s no way to challenge the governor’s power or arbitrariness.

Joseph’s response, “Far be it from me to do such a thing [to punish all for the sin of one.]!” The phrase has a prior appearance when Abraham berated God about Sodom: “Far be it from you to do such a thing,” (Gen 18:25)—i.e., to punish innocent with wicked.

Joseph now puts them to the ultimate test of integrity. They can save their own lives by throwing Benjamin to the wolves (my private joke here, see Gen 49:27). That will break their father’s heart, but possibly save their lives. On the other hand, if they stay with Benjamin, they won’t bring back food to their starving families. There seems to be no good decision. Crying, “We was framed!” doesn’t seem helpful.

This is the climax of the encounter.

Their attempt to escape this dilemma is a heart-rending plea for mercy. Judah “went up” to Joseph: the verb implies both confrontation and movement. He confesses all. This is the longest speech in Genesis. He begins by describing the current situation, (verse 18 – 29), then pleads about their aged father (verses 30 – 32), and finally offers to take Benjamin’s place (verses 33 – 35). He makes no mention of the theft of the goblet, or their innocence (since he has no alternative explanation.) He just appeals to Joseph’s sense of mercy and humanity.

The phrase “equal to Pharaoh” is not simply flattery, but a reminder that Joseph can grant pardons without the need to appeal to Pharaoh.

The term “he is the only one left” was used with Jacob when he wrestled with the angel.

In verse 27, Judah, speaking for Jacob, recognizes Rachel as the true (or at least principal) wife; that’s no excuse for the sibling envy, but he’s acknowledging the situation. Judah thus is doing an act of repentance: he’s confronting a similar situation (Benjamin rather than Joseph in peril), and he acts differently. This scene is a re-creation of the scene at the pit, and what Judah says to Joseph now is what he should have done years earlier. Benjamin is recognized as a brother to the sons of Leah (“let the boy return with his brothers”) and Judah offers himself into slavery instead of Benjamin.

Judah (representing all the brothers) has now stood the true test of repentance: not only does he regret what he did, he faced a similar condition and acted better.

We’re now ready for reconciliation.

It appears to be the steward who knows the birth order. Joseph doesn’t give any orders of who should be searched first. I assume the steward searched so that the cup would be found in the last sack they searched, to build tension, both in the story and among the brothers.

Everyone knew which brother was the youngest, because they said he was in the last chapter.

I am guessing Joseph did a lot of this kind of fakery as part of his job as head divinatory for Pharaoh. And he was good enough at it to keep his job for twenty years, while the head cup bearer and baker cycled in and out of favor (to say the least).


He passed the test of repentance, but not of integrity. He’s still claiming that Joseph was killed by wild beasts, rather than admitting that the brothers sold him.

I don’t see that in the text, just “our brother is dead.” Not an unreasonable assumption for the fate of someone sold into slavery over 20 years before. The life of a slave was usually brutish and short.

In verse 28, Judah says Joseph was torn to pieces. He puts the words in Jacob’s mouth, but he’s the one telling the story, and he knows that the reason Jacob thought so is because Judah and his brothers deliberately made it look that way. And he knows that he was the one who first proposed selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites.

Since Benjamin was not involved in the abduction of Joseph, if Judah truly wanted to trade himself for Benjamin, now would be a good time for him to confess to that earlier crime, stressing his own guilt and Benjamin’s innocence. I mean, telling the truth should be the minimum. If he wanted to go above and beyond, he would also confess to stealing the cup himself, and hiding it in Benjamin’s sack.

Ah, I see. He was quoting Jacob, but not correcting Jacob’s misconception. Remember that they’re bowing low, pleading for their lives; not a good time to mention that they had kidnapped their brother. He wants to plead that their old father couldn’t take another heart-break. This isn’t a “confession” (confession as atonement has no place in Old Testament), this is trying to escape with their lives from what he thinks is an impossible situation.

Where does it say that? Both verses 10 and 17 say that nobody’s life is in danger, and that all the brothers but Benjamin are free to go. Only Benjamin must remain behind, not be executed, but to serve Joseph, which may be a better fate than starving in Canaan.

They’re facing an arbitrary, supreme (next to Pharoah) power. Remember that he threw them in prison without cause, then let them out, then wined-and-dined them, it’s all unsettling and he must appear an arbitrar despot to them. And, OK, I’ve misstated, they’re pleading for Benjamin’s life, if not their own. But a confession of their sins could (from their point of view) easily change the scenario to endnger all their lives. In fact, a whim of this Egyptian governor could end their lives as well.

New thread for Genesis 45