Joseph’s ruse persists as he tests and stresses his brothers even further in this chapter. Having dined with whom they believe is a rich Egyptian ruler as powerful as Pharaoh, Joseph’s brothers are sent back home with as much food as they can carry. Again, the brothers’ money is left in their packs as they leave Egypt, and Joseph’s silver cup is surreptitiously placed in Benjamin’s pack, on order from Joseph. The testing of his brothers’ character continues.
After having successfully set them up, Joseph has one of his men overtake the brothers to find the “stolen” silver cup. The one whose pack it is found in will be killed, which is the idea of the brothers, such was their confidence in their own innocence. As readers, the attitude of the brothers here is a great clue for us that their moral character has improved. The brothers think it absurd that they would do such a thing, particularly after this Egyptian was so kind to them. Simeon had even been returned to them. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s things, the brothers tore their clothes, a sincere reaction of grief and mourning.
When they arrive back in the presence of Joseph, he tells them, in so many words, that they should not be surprised that they got caught – because this ruler practices divination. None of the brothers seem to expect mischief – the fact that the cup was found in Benjamin’s thingsnimplies his guilt. Judah admits as much when he says, ““What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found.” Joseph then announces that because of this, Benjamin will be his slave.
The references to divination in this chapter consists of a device Joseph uses to exacerbate the planned “theft” of his silver cup. At this time, it was widely known that wise men, inclusive of Egyptian wise men, could discern the will of gods by observing liquid in a special cup. The impression on the brothers that Benjamin took a divination cup from this powerful Egyptian leader raises the stakes even higher.
Judah then does just as he has promised Israel he would: he interceded for young Benjamin. He tells Joseph the entirety of the story of Israel and how he would die of grief if Benjamin were not to return. Ironically, Judah also unknowingly mentions Joseph to Joseph himself when he says, “Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since.”
Joseph’s heart, already pierced by the sight of Benjamin, must be openly bleeding now as he hears Judah so valiantly stand up for Benjamin and that his father still remembers him. Surely this is the type of information he was seeking in this long ruse he is playing with his brothers. If he has been testing their loyalty to one another, he now has enough to know that they are much better than they were when they sold him as a slave.
Although it is difficult to imagine Joseph extending this ruse, he does not relinquish the truth just yet in this chapter. Joseph, so beaten and abused by the actions of his brothers so many years ago, is compelled to keep testing his brothers to make sure that they are more righteous and kindhearted than they were so long ago. Joseph also seems to be deciding whether they are deserving of the knowledge of his survival and success. We can tell that he loves Israel and Benjamin still very deeply – also his love for even Simeon is apparent as he releases him to be reunited with his brothers. It seems difficult to fault Joseph for his actions in light of how they treated him. We should keep in mind the fact that Joseph could have them tortured, maimed or killed. Instead, his heart is known to us through his desire to test their familial bonds, their sense of righteousness and their sense of respect. In a different version of this story, the brothers could have proven evil and capable of worse mischief than Joseph devises for them. But instead, the reality we see is a very sweet one: Joseph as a benefactor is holding out blessings upon them until he is sure that they are deserving. And the brothers themselves are in fear of this Egyptian leader, in turns obeying and honoring him as is his right.
The lesson for us in this chapter persists as it has in previous chapters: forgiveness. If Joseph can forgive his brothers given all of their history, then surely, we, more than likely in less dramatic circumstances, can bring ourselves to forgive our family members?
Extend the lesson further and we find more meaningful implications. Joseph’s brothers (sinners) torture an innocent future savior in Joseph (Jesus Christ) before they are ultimately tested (a life of faith, obedience and personal sacrifice) before being forgiven and allowed to share in unexpected and great blessings (eternal life). This analogy is far from a stretch, one which we will refer to more as the book of Genesis concludes.