Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Guilty Brothers Appear Before Joseph - Genesis 44:14-16

When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him.  And Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done?  Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?”  So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord?  What can we speak?  And how can we justify ourselves?  God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.”

Once again the brothers find themselves before their brother Joseph, who is now a ruler in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh.  This time they have to explain why Joseph’s steward found the money they had paid for the grain in each of their sacks again, and more importantly, why Joseph’s valued cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

The first thing, in defense of Joseph, is to note that he did not actually say he practiced divination, but only that the brothers should have known that such a man as he could indeed have done so.  For those that may have thought that Egypt’s culture had worn off on Joseph in a very negative way, this understanding should redeem our hero somewhat.

Next, there is a familiar phrase used even today that simply asks rhetorically, “What can I say?” and implying “Of course, I can say nothing.”  I am not sure where it originated, but I would not be surprised if it did not come from the words that Judah, on behalf of the brothers, uttered before Joseph in this text.  If not, it should have.  Clearly there was no acceptable explanation they could offer the ruler.  Guilt or not, they were caught with the stolen goods.  So why bother?

But Judah goes beyond simply saying, “we have no explanation”.  He willingly offers Joseph the position that the brothers also do not have justification.  But did he really believe that or was he simply, again with the concurrence of the others, just giving up?  We do not know.  Did they indeed believe that it was God who found them guilty of iniquity and thus placed them in their current predicament?

Now for that belief to have been true, we must assume that Judah was talking about their original sin of plotting to get rid of Joseph, even killing him, and ultimately ending up selling him to traders on route to Egypt.  Otherwise, if they believed this in reference to their current charge of being guilty of stealing again, then they were wrong, for clearly they were innocent, having been framed by Joseph.

Nevertheless, the brothers agree to serve Joseph as slaves (which interestingly is contrary to what the steward had proposed back in verse 10 of this chapter).  Perhaps they were aligning their allegiance with Benjamin in support of his situation or they were simply afraid to go back to Jacob and face him yet without another one of his sons – this time the youngest whom he was very fond of.  The mentioning to Joseph, however, of Benjamin’s crime individually from the rest of group’s may indicate, to some at least, a possible yet slight exhibition of human nature.  That is, it may have served them well to remind their judge of their younger brother’s more serious crime, perhaps in hopes of getting some relief for the rest of the group.

What can we learn from this passage?  Well, for certain, I would argue that we should never point to the greater sin or crime of another, especially in hopes of being treated less harshly ourselves.  I think we can agree on that.

But should the brothers have tried to prove their innocence?  Would anyone that mattered have accepted their arguments even though they knew they were blameless?  Is there a time for us to simply leave our future to God?  These are difficult questions and each circumstance is different.  Do we often find it difficult to remember that God has forgiven us?  Do we continue to remember our sins of the past and still blame everything bad that happens today on those, as the brothers appear to be doing here?  I know I have been guilty of that in the past.  I believe many still have not learned that lesson though there are numerous precedents in Scripture for knowing God does not hold us ransom like that.

Let me assure you, you can know this one thing for certain – you and I are never alone.  God is with us and He is for us.  We can call on Him for wisdom and protection.  Then we must obey and trust.

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