A superficial reading of this chapter is rather strange. It seems like Joseph is rather mean to his brothers as retaliation for the way they treated him. Sometimes we just need to read a little more slowly and marinate on it a bit more!
The brothers had left a famine back home and a paranoid and manipulative father. Their first encounter in Egypt had gone badly and one of them had been imprisoned for two years. Now they had to bring yet another brother, the youngest, to be able to buy more grain. When they arrive they get invited to a feast in the governors house, where the youngest gets five times as much food. Next day they load up to start travelling back and are then chased and accused of theft.
Verse 5 is strange as it states Joseph practices divination which is specifically forbidden hundreds of years later in the Law (Numb 23:23). Many scholars think the sense is that he could divine they had stolen the cup – revelation from God rather than occultic practices! Whatever the meaning of the text, the result is clear – the brothers are devastated, BUT this will lead to the restoration of relationships at a deepest level and will provide some principles for us to learn and put into practice.
Relationship must be evaluated realistically.
Judah’s admission to his brothers “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves. God has found out the guilt of your servants…” shows that longstanding guilt is coming to the surface. It’s some 23 years since the brothers had so dreadfully mistreated Joseph selling him into slavery. They knew their guilt but had never dealt with it. Now the Lord, through Joseph is shining His light on their sin.
It reminds me of a pretty sordid double murder in my wife’s home church years ago. A couple were secretly committing adultery and their shame drove them to murdering the innocent parties and dressing it up as a suicide pact. The Northern Ireland troubles were full on at the time and the standard of police investigation was poor. They got away with it for a couple of decades. But then the murderer’s son died tragically in Russia and that turmoil began the process of God’s spotlight on their sin and guilt. He confessed and is now in prison for the crime.
What would happen with Joseph’s brothers? Will they betray Benjamin too? Joseph wouldn’t hold them all responsible – only Benjamin v17. All the brothers need to do is agree to abandon Benjamin and head for the exit with the sacks of grain. It would be difficult with Jacob, but they had dealt with that twice before when returning without Joseph and then Simeon. Thankfully they have changed and face their shortcomings and guilt.
Responsibility must be accepted individually
Judah steps up and makes a magnanimous and noble appeal to Joseph, offering himself in place of Benjamin v33. It’s similar to what the One, Jesus, the Lion of Judah would do. Judah’s action is amazing – but Jesus’s more so. “he loved me and gave himself for me” Gal 2:20.
Repentance must be expressed genuinely
Paul makes clear the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow in 2 Cor 7:10 – describing the Corinthian’s response to him as “What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
Judah behaved just the same even before he realises he is standing before the brother he so cruelly treated two decades before. He is properly repenting which in tomorrow’s reading will lead to reconciliation.
Are there any relationships and situations in your life that need the same?