THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM – PART IX - SECTION I
THE PEOPLE OF
GOD MOVE TO EGYPT
I. In Chapter 44, Joseph tests his brothers and Judah rises to be the just leader of them.
A. Joseph sets up the test by having his servant place his divination chalice into Benjamin's bag, catch up to the brothers and then accuse Benjamin him of stealing it when it is found upon him.
1. The entire
episode makes Joseph look clever, but very willing to use deceit.
It should be noted that there is no particular evidence that God commanded
this deceit, any more than was the case when Abraham and then Isaac
passed off their wives as sisters. It is also not clear whether
Joseph intended this test all along, or whether he is trying to figure
out a way to keep his brothers near and reveal his identity.
2. Whatever the
explanation, the test creates a terrible situation, both for the falsely
accused Benjamin (whom we do not hear from) and for his brothers.
They must decide whether to stay with their brother or not, and whether
to act to save him for the sake of their honor and their father's
3. The situation
is the reverse of Laban's allegation that Jacob took his household
gods. In that case, the beloved one, Rachel, was in fact guilty
but not caught; here the beloved Benjamin is innocent but appears guilty.
4. Joseph says
that the chalice was used for divination. At this point, there
is no comment on the morality of using such divination, or even whether
Joseph really used it for this purpose. Later Jewish, and
by extension Christian, morals would plainly forbid trying to gain knowledge
in spiritual ways that do not involve prayer and faith in the true God.
See, e.g., Lev. 19:31, 20:6; Duet. 18:10-11; Gal. 5:20; 1 Pet.
4:3; Rev. 22:15. For prophesy is never gained by man's willing
it. 2 Pet. 1:20-21.
B. When the servant does stop them, the brothers are absolutely convinced of their collective innocence, to the point where they propose death to any guilty party and enslavement for the rest if any of them stole the chalice.
1. It does speak
well of their mutual trust that they could make such an offer.
They have been acting together, and do not even consider the possibility
that Benjamin is guilty, either because he is so known for his honesty,
or because they still think of him as incapable of planning. On
the negative side, the offer indicates that they are not thinking through
the situation well; after all, not only could one of them be guilty,
but the chalice might mysteriously appear as the money did on the earlier
2. The servant
acts like an utterly just and merciful judge, only wanting to punish
the guilty, and then proportionately to the crime.
1. When the servant
discovers the chalice with Benjamin, the other brothers could have assumed
he was guilty and abandoned him, providing for their own safety, and
thus for the continuation of the house of Israel.
2. However, they
stay with him, for one or more of several reasons: (1) a genuine love
for him; (2) a sense of loyalty to Israel and desire not to bring grief
to him; (3) a sense of shame for having failed to protect Benjamin and
perhaps memory of their injustice to Joseph; (4) the desire not to allow
dishonor to fall on the family; or (5) a belief that Benjamin could
not be guilty.
D. When they return to Joseph's house, Judah is plainly in the lead. His response is very loyal and courageous, albeit not particularly rational.
1. As soon as
they all return, Joseph must perceive that they have already passed
the first test and remained with Benjamin. He is probably very
glad about it, but must continue the ruse to complete the test.
E. However, Judah takes over the situation with his heroic and noble offer of himself in place of Benjamin.
1. Here, Judah gives the longest speech in the book of Genesis, lasting 17 verses. Unlike pagan mythologies, Biblical accounts do not typically have lengthy speeches. The speech here shows all the courage and eloquence of a pagan hero or a classical orator, but in this case for self-sacrifice and charity, rather than conquest and glory. It thus becomes the model for the contrast between the Judeo-Christian ethic and that of paganism, ancient or modern.
By referring to Israel as "thy servant" and "our father" Judah
also unintentionally Joseph that he has inverted the natural order by
making himself the master of his father. Cf. Matt. 22:43-45.
2. Judah begins
the speech by referring to himself as the servant of Joseph, and describing
Joseph as the equal to Pharaoh. At one level, the beginning is
meant to be flattering to Joseph; but, at another level, it reminds
Joseph not to be controlled by emotions, but rather to be in control
of them as Pharaoh was said to be. Given that an interpreter and
probably others are present, there is also a reminder to Joseph that
the outside world may be perceiving him as equal to Pharaoh and thus
that he may need to be more careful, for many reasons including avoiding
anything that would cause Pharaoh to feel threatened. In addition,
it may have unintentionally reminded Joseph of his choice between being
allied with the Egyptians or being united once again with his family.
II. Chapter 45 describes the next scene. With Judah's great offer, Joseph can conceal himself no more and thus reveals his identity to his brothers.
A. Although he has been in command of the situation up until now, Joseph is completely overcome with emotion and orders everyone except the brothers out of the room.
1. There is certainly
a desire to be joined again to his brothers, but he has been able to
do that for some time. There is perhaps greater joy in the clear
fact that his father is still living and mourning for him.
3. There also
may be a sense of guilt at his deception and at having let his father
believe for years that he was dead, when in fact he was viceroy of Egypt.
4. Whatever the
reason, Joseph no longer appears as the dominant, powerful figure, but
rather in very human form surrounded by conflicting emotions.
question about his father seems to reflect an astonished joy that his
father is still living. Perhaps he thought that his own apparent
death would lead Israel's own. He does still indicate some distance,
asking about his father, rather that our father.
2. Joseph then
describes their betrayal of him in terms of God's providence working
to save the family and whole peoples. It is not clear when Joseph
came to this discovery, earlier or at this moment, but he is here able
to accept the injustice to him as providential. In this speech,
he plainly refers (for the first recorded time) to the work of God.
description brings up the entire issue of the providence of God and
why He permits evils, and especially sins. God would not will
that a person commit a sin, but still works through the suffering of
His faithful people, culminating in the sacrifice of Christ. See,
e.g., Col. 1:24-28; James 1:12-15; 1 Pet. 4:12-13. This mystery
of why God allows evils will be the theme of the book of Job and a continual
question. See Catechism 309-314. One answer to the question
of evils is that we must be allowed to commit evil if we are to be free.
See Catechism 311. St. Thomas Aquinas more emphasizes the point
that that God would never allow an evil unless He intended to bring
a greater good from it. See Summa Theologica Part I, question
2, article 3 reply 1. It is that aspect that Joseph describes
4. He tells his
brothers that they need not be distressed, for God was working through
their actions. However, that fact does not eliminate their guilt.
As Jesus will later say of Judas, the crucifixion was going to take
place, but Judas still bore the guilt of betrayal (as the others involved
bore guilt in different respects.) See Mark 14:21; see also Matt.
5. For the time
being, there is reconciliation. However, the ten brothers who
betrayed Joseph will later wonder whether Joseph's forgiveness will
last after the death of Jacob. There, it will become clear that
Joseph bears no grudges. Gen. 50:15-21.
6. There is perhaps a future tension building in Joseph's description of himself as the father to Pharaoh. Neither the Pharaoh nor the Egyptians would likely want to accept that this foreigner is ruling, even if he has taken up Egyptian practices. Such jealousy may be a reason for the later enslavement of the Hebrews.
C. Joseph then tells them to go back to his father and give him the glorious news that he, Joseph, is alive and viceroy in Egypt. He proposes that Israel relocate the entire family in Goshen, a part of Egypt that would have presumably been good for cattle raising. There Joseph can be sure that the family is well provided for.
1. At one level,
the proposal makes sense, for the move will guarantee the prosperity
of the people of God. On the other hand, it does move them away
from their promised land; and being in Egypt could tempt them to worship
foreign gods. It does not seem that Joseph or his brothers worry
much about it. Israel does seem to be worried, for God has to
assure him that He will provide for His people in Egypt. See Gen.
2. Joseph does
understand that his family must keep their ancient heritage, as implied
by the special place they will live, and by the fact that they will
continue to keep animals there. Egyptians emphasized farming much
more than cattle raising. When the Israelites leave Egypt 400
years later, they will take the cattle back with them. See Ex.
D. There is then
an emotional reconciliation among the brothers. Even here, Benjamin
is preferred to the others, but that fact does not seem to cause any
III. The people of God then relocate to Egypt, with the Pharaoh's blessing.
1. The Pharaoh
is pleased that Joseph's family has arrived. The reason for
that fact is not clear. It could be simple compassions, for it
is likely that sometime in the 10 years, Joseph explained the situation
and a longing to be reunited with the family to the Pharaoh. It
could be that, if the family comes to Egypt, Joseph will not feel any
temptation to try to leave Egypt. It could also be that the Pharaoh
believes that God will bless his country all the more with Joseph's
1. The brothers,
now filled with the riches of Egypt return to Israel, apparently wearing
Egyptian apparel, with Joseph having even five Egyptian garments.