Joseph is a type for the Mashiyach and Judah is the name under which ethnic Israel would one day be conjoined.
44:1 Then he instructed the one over his household saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they are able to lift and put silver in the mouth of each man’s sack. 2 Place my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, along with his grain and silver.” So he did as Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) told him.
The Targum Yonatan once again asserts that the “One over his house” is Manasseh.
Joseph had sought to prove his brothers in many ways, during their first trip to Egypt and then during the meal he provided for them upon their return with Benjamin. However, he seems determined to seek confirmation of the brothers’ repentant spirit by placing them in a position where they will have to choose either to fight for a son of Rachel (Benjamin), or flee in order to save themselves.
The returning of the silver is of no real practical consequence, given that this has been done previously. However, each time Joseph returns the silver to his brothers he is leaving a clue to the ruse. After all, they had received 20 pieces of silver as his purchase price when they sold Joseph into slavery (37:18-28).
What makes this plot more convincing is the addition of the personal sacred item. The cup in question may have been similar in appearance to other sacred goblets used in divination and occult practices. It is clearly symbolic of Joseph’s authority and is an intimate object that touches the mouth: the domain of speech, food, kissing etc. It is obviously a cup he drinks from regularly.
3 In the morning light, the men were sent off, they and their donkeys. 4 They left the city and had not gone far, when Yosef said to the one over his household, “Arise, run after the men. When you catch up to them, say to them, “Why have you repaid ra’ah evil for good?
“Get up, chase after the men while the fear of the city is still upon them.” -Tanchuma
Joseph was clearly using the awe of the city and the proximity of his power to help inspire fear in his brothers. If the one over Joseph’s house had waited until the brothers were outside of the city they may have felt that they were a safe distance away and simply made their escape.
The charge “Why have you repaid evil for good” is a heavy accusation in the culture of the Middle East. Hospitality is paramount and any suggestion that hospitality has been disrespected in any way is often seen as being a greater offense than petty crimes like stealing.
5 Isn’t this the one (cup) from which adonaiy my lord drinks? He even uses it to nachash y’nachash diligently observe by divination (observe a hissing snake). This is ha-reiotem the evil that you’ve fashioned!” 6 Thus he had caught up to them and spoken these words to them.
An ancient Jewish translation of the Tanakh called the Septuagint offers evidence that a second question “Why have you stolen my silver goblet?” was once included in the Hebrew text at the end of verse 4. This helps us make sense of the fact that the Hebrew “Kos” (Cup) is not used in verse 5.
The phrase “From which my lord drinks” is meant to inspire terror in the hearers. The cup of a king was sacred property and the stealing of it was a direct slight against the one in authority of the entire land of Egypt.
The use of the Hebrew “ha-reiotem” from the root “ra’ah”, meaning evil, is interesting. It is used twice in as many verses and carries the core meaning of the accusation against the brothers. First in verse 4 it is said “Why have you repaid ra’ah evil for tovah good?” Then again here in verse 5 we read “This is ha-reiotem the evil that you’ve fashioned”. When added to the double use of the Hebrew “Nachash” meaning “hiss, divine, snake, divination, observe diligently etc.”, the twofold ruse of Joseph is illuminated against the double sin of his brothers. They first threw him into a pit in order to kill him and then sold him into slavery. Joseph has thrown them into a pit (during their first visit to Egypt) and is now placing them in a position where the only means of saving the life of Benjamin and their own lives is to submit to slavery.
It is important to remember that the reference to divination does not mean that Joseph practiced divination. In order for Joseph to live and work in Egypt he must have possessed cultural items and objects of authority and items that others associated with Egyptian worship that were simply part everyday life for one who was associated with the Egyptian monarchy. All of this is a ruse. Later when Joseph claims to know things by divination he is simply playing a part. What is clear from the story of Joseph is that he was a devote worshipper of HaShem and it is therefore unlikely that he ever literally practiced divination, which is considered an act of rebellion against God. (Lev. 19:12; Numbers 23:23; Deut. 18:10-11).
7 They said to him, “Why are you saying these things my lord? Far be it from your servants to fashion such a thing as this. 8 Look, the silver we found in the mouths of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of K’naan (humility, lowland). So how could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 Whoever among your servants is found with it, let him die! And also, we’ll become my lord’s slaves.”
The first response of the brothers is an emotional one, charged with incredulity. However, they follow this with what is known in the Talmud as a kal vachomer [a.) a deduction from minor to major b.) by extrapolation we know; all the more so].
The brothers are so sure that none of them have stolen the goblet, that they proclaim a death curse over the thief and slavery for themselves if it is proven to be true. It is no coincidence that death and slavery were the very things that the brothers intended to inflict on Joseph.
10 “Now let it be according to your words,” he said. “He with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be n’kiym clean (innocent, exempt).”
The one over Joseph’s house accepts the spirit in which the brothers have spoken but does not insist on a literal adherence to their oath. Rather he counters by proposing the enslavement of the guilty party who he knows to be Benjamin (Though not truly guilty). This is an additional test to prove the brothers. They are being offered the opportunity to leave the guilty party behind and save themselves. Joseph clearly believes that if his brothers still hold animosity toward the sons of Rachel that they will take the opportunity to be rid of Benjamin and escape Egypt with their lives intact. However, if they choose to stay and defend Benjamin, Joseph will know that they are truly repentant.
It’s interesting to note that the one over Joseph’s house says “He with whom it is found will be my slave”. This would be a preposterous thing for a servant to say. A slave may work under another slave but he is never the property of that slave. This lends credence to the idea that the one speaking here is Manasseh the son of Joseph who holds authority in Joseph’s house as his first born, and is therefore qualified to speak this way.
11 Then each man hurriedly lowered his sack to the ground and each man opened his sack. 12 He searched them beginning with the eldest and finishing with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benyamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothing, and each one loaded up his donkey and they returned to the city.
The speedy response of the brothers shows their belief in their innocence. The man over Joseph’s house searches methodically from eldest to youngest so as to make it appear that he has no idea where the cup might be.
According to the Midrash the brothers were being punished measure for measure. Just as they had sent Joseph’s blood stained coat home to Jacob and he had torn his garment in grief, so too they were tearing their garments at the thought of Benjamin’s slavery and the affect that it would have on Jacob. The tearing of garments is a significant Hebraic sign of grief over a lost loved one. The brothers were grieving, not only for Benjamin and Jacob but also for the potential death of the burgeoning nation of Israel.
14 When Y’hudah (Praise) and his brothers entered Yosef’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. 15 “What’s this deed you’ve done?” Yosef said to them, “Didn’t you know that a man like me can discern by divination?”
Joseph’s allusion to divination is obviously part of the ruse. The phrase “A man like me” is intended to promote his Egyptian disguise and affirm his power over them. Joseph is a devote worshipper of HaShem and does not practice divination.
This is now the second time Joseph’s first dream has been fulfilled (Gen 37:9). Hebrew prophecy has a cyclical nature and is often fulfilled multiple times.
16 Then Y’hudah said, “What can we say to my lord? What words can we speak? How can we justify ourselves? Ha-Elohiym The God has exposed the iniquity of your servants’. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we as well as the one in whose hand the cup was found.”
Though Judah knows that he and his brothers are innocent (Perhaps with the exception of Benjamin), He doesn’t attempt to defend himself, nor does he place the blame on Benjamin. Instead he says, “The God has exposed the iniquity of your servants (plural)”. Judah is clearly making confession concerning the brothers’ greater sin of selling their brother Joseph into slavery.
17 But he said, “Far be it from me to do this. The one in whose hand the cup was found—he will be my slave. But you, go up to your father in peace.”
Joseph pushes Judah further by saying “The one in whose hand the cup was found—he will be my slave. But you, go up to your father in peace.” This is his final proving of his brothers. Will they take the opportunity to finally be rid of Rachel’s sons? Or, will they show true repentance and join themselves to Benjamin in brotherly loyalty and honour.
(Parashat Vayigash) And Draw Near
18 Then Y’hudah approached him and said, “I plead for your pardon, my lord. Please let your slave say a word in my lord’s ears, and don’t be angry with your slave, since you are like Pharaoh (Great House).
The Hebrew phrase “Va-Yiggash,” translated here as “approached” also appears in the introduction to Avraham’s petition on behalf of the righteous of Sodom (Gen. 18:23). There are also similarities between Judah’s petition and that of Moses on behalf of Israel at Sinai (Exodus 32:9-14). However, while his offer is substitutionary, unlike Moses, Judah is not without guilt.
Judah knew that his petition to trade places with Benjamin might be seen as letting Benjamin off the hook and therefore could be offensive to the Egyptian ruler (Joseph). Judah also intended to remind the viceroy (Joseph) of the fact that he had requested Benjamin’s presence despite the protests of the brothers. This is why he asked that the viceroy (Joseph) not be angered by what he was about to say. This self-sacrificing stance of Judah shows his strength of conviction and his willingness to be held accountable before God for his sin.
19 My lord asked his servants saying, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 So we said to my lord, ‘We have a father who is old, a child born to him in his old age is katan little. Now his brother is dead, so he is the only one of his mother’s children left, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so that I can look at him.’
There is no problem with the description of Benjamin using the Hebrew katan, meaning little, small, young etc. Judah’s words are referencing what was said during their last visit and it is likely that enough time had passed since the brothers last came to Egypt for Benjamin to have matured in size and appearance. Benjamin is at least 20 years old when these events take place, given that Joseph is now approximately 40 years (Gen. 37:2; 41:46, 53).
By reminding Pharaoh’s viceroy (Joseph) of his passed enquiries, Judah appears to be calling attention to the obvious inconsistencies in the events leading up to the discovery of the cup. Implicit in his recounting of events is his belief that something is not right with the situation that has arisen.
22 But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave his father, he would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you won’t see my face again.’ 24 “Now when we went up to your servant, my father, we told him my lord’s words. 25 Then our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little grain for food.’ 26 So we said, ‘We won’t go down unless we have our youngest brother with us—then we’ll go down. For we won’t see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 “Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You yourselves know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One went out from me, so I said, “He must have been torn to shreds,” and I haven’t seen him since.
Verses 27-28 further illuminate the communication between Jacob and his sons which was recorded in Gen. 43:6-7. The Torah is often brief in one place and expansive in another. This kind of illuminated repetition helps the reader to retain small details that might otherwise be forgotten.
29 And if you also take this one away from before me and an accident happens to him, then you’ll bring my grey hair down to the evil of Sheol.’ 30 “Now if I come to your servant my father and the boy isn’t with us, since his v’nafsho soul life is bound to his b’nafsho soul life, 31 when he sees that the boy is no more, he’ll die. Then your servants will bring the grey hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief.
The use of the Hebrew “nephesh”, meaning soul life, denotes a strong intimate relational connection between Jacob and Benjamin. The same word is used in 1 Samuel 18:1 where it describes Yonatan’s friendship with David.
Judah is unwittingly accusing the viceroy of Egypt (Joseph) of killing his own father. Thus Joseph is emotionally challenged within his own ruse.
32 For your servant became surety (An exchange) for the boy with my father when I said, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before my father all my days.’ 33 So now, please let your slave remain as my lord’s slave in the boy’s place, and let the boy go up with his brothers. 34 For how can I go up to my father and the boy is not with me? Otherwise I would see the va’rah evil that would come upon my father!”
With a contrite heart Judah offers himself as a slave to the viceroy (Joseph), not knowing that the man who stands before him is the brother he had once sold into slavery. This is a wonderful prophetic allegory for the ethnic people of Israel and her redemption through Messiah at the end of the age. Joseph is a type for the Mashiyach and Judah is the name under which ethnic Israel would one day be conjoined. Thus, just as Judah and his brothers sold Joseph into metaphorical death, so too Israel sold Yeshua into death. But the story doesn’t end there. The day is coming when like Judah, the ethnic Jewish people will come with contrite hearts and gaze upon the One Whom we have pierced, and in repentance through the sacrifice of Yeshua the entire remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved (Romans 11).
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.