Thursday, June 30, 2011

Joseph Sends His Steward After the Brothers -- Genesis 44:4-5

They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, “Up, follow the men and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good?  Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination?  You have done wrong in doing this.’”

Here we see Joseph exhibiting one of the most important traits of a good leader – namely, timely follow-up.  Not long after his brothers had been sent away with their money in their sacks as well as Joseph’s special drinking cup in Benjamin’s sack, he ordered his house steward to overtake them and gave him explicit instructions as to what the steward was to say to them.  Giving clear direction is more evidence of good leadership.

But that’s where the suggested action for ‘good leaders’ in this story should stop being copied.  Joseph now turns to instructing his servant to make a false accusation, or at a minimum to pretend that there must be some misunderstanding.  Notice his very words.  He jumps from having the man ask, “Why have you given back evil (by stealing) in exchange for the good you received and the kindness you experienced at our Master’s hands?” to a statement concerning his “personal cup” and its use.  No spoken word regarding the assumption that it was stolen.  There’s a grammatical gap there that seems strange.  There is also no direction to the servant to search their sacks and to find the cup and the money that Joseph’s servants had placed in them.  It is possible this slight lapse in instructions was an indication that Joseph himself was not at ease with his own approach.  Perhaps he knew he was not being honest in his methodology.  The spirit of God has a way of informing us of such wavering from the truth or from doing the right thing through our conscious.

We should note the reference to Joseph’s cup being used for “divination” purposes.  Not only was this Joseph’s drinking cup, but also it was a prized possession in the sense that it was used to receive oracles or pictures of coming events in a way akin to the reading of cups some so-called seers engage in today.  First water was poured in the cup.  Then fragments of gold, silver or precious stones were dropped in.  The cup was shaken and a picture or pattern was formed, which was then interpreted.  The practice was known as ‘hydromancy’ or the equivalent of modern-day cup-reading.  The word itself stems from "hydro", meaning water, and "manteia", meaning divination.  This is divination by means of water that includes examination and subsequent interpretation of the color, ebb and flow, or ripples produced by the pebbles or metals dropped in the water-filled vessel (cup or pool) to predict the future.

One could well ask what Joseph was actually doing being involved in hydromancy.  Or we could ask “was Joseph actually involved in hydromancy or was he just telling his servant to say that” since he knew his brothers would be well aware of the prevalent use of magic and hydromancy in Egypt?  It is possible the latter was indeed the case, that is, it is unlikely that Joseph, a devout believer in the true God, would have involved himself with such a practice.  Those that believe Joseph may have used divination rely on the fact that sorcery had not yet been spoken against by God.  Either way, Joseph was being deceitful.

And yet, it is he that wants his brothers to be told “you have done wrong”.  Isn’t this how life often works.  We are so quick to judge others when we ourselves have failed to examine our own methods and see if they cut the mustard on being honorable and Godly.  Perhaps that is the lesson for us from this section of scripture.  That and the fact that even good men falter at times. 

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