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Adam Clarke Commentary

Genesis 44

Introduction

Joseph commands his steward to put his cup secretly into Benjamin's sack, Genesis 44:1 , Genesis 44:2 . The sons of Jacob depart with the corn they had purchased, Genesis 44:3 . Joseph commands his steward to pursue them, and charge them with having stolen his cup, Genesis 44:4 -6. The brethren excuse themselves, protest their innocence, and offer to submit to be slaves should the cup be found with any of them, Genesis 44:7 -9. Search is made, and the cup is found in Benjamin's sack, Genesis 44:10 -12. They are brought back and submit themselves to Joseph, Genesis 44:13 -16. He determines that Benjamin alone, with whom the cup is found, shall remain in captivity, Genesis 44:17 . Judah, in a most affecting speech, pleads for Benjamin's enlargement, and offers himself to be a bondman in his stead, vv. 18-34.

Verse 2

Put my cup in the sack's mouth of the youngest - The stratagem of the cup seems to have been designed to bring Joseph's brethren into the highest state of perplexity and distress, that their deliverance by the discovery that Joseph was their brother might have its highest effect.

Verse 5

Whereby - he divineth? - Divination by cups has been from time immemorial prevalent among the Asiatics; and for want of knowing this, commentators have spent a profusion of learned labor upon these words, in order to reduce them to that kind of meaning which would at once be consistent with the scope and design of the history, and save Joseph from the impeachment of sorcery and divination. I take the word נחש nachash here in its general acceptation of to view attentively, to inquire. Now there has been in the east a tradition, the commencement of which is lost in immemorial time, that there was a Cup, which had passed successively into the hands of different potentates, which possessed the strange property of representing in it the whole world, and all the things which were then doing in it. The cup is called jami Jemsheed, the cup of Jemsheed, a very ancient king of Persia, whom late historians and poets have confounded with Bacchus, Solomon, Alexander the Great, etc. This Cup, filled with the elixir of immortality, they say was discovered when digging to lay the foundations of Persepolis. The Persian poets are full of allusions to this cup, which, from its property of representing the whole world and its transactions, is styled by them jam jehan nima, "the cup showing the universe;" and to the intelligence received by means of it they attribute the great prosperity of their ancient monarchs, as by it they understood all events, past, present, and to come. Many of the Mohammedan princes and governors affect still to have information of futurity by means of a cup. When Mr. Norden was at Derri in the farthest part of Egypt, in a very dangerous situation, an ill-natured and powerful Arab, in a threatening way, told one of their people whom they sent to him that "he knew what sort of people they were, for he had consulted his cup, and found by it that they were those of whom one of their prophets had said, that Franks (Europeans) would come in disguise; and, passing everywhere, examine the state of the country; and afterwards bring over a great number of other Franks, conquer the country, and exterminate all." By this we see that the tradition of the divining cup still exists, and in the very same country too in which Joseph formerly ruled. Now though it is not at all likely that Joseph practiced any kind of divination, yet probably, according to the superstition of those times, (for I suppose the tradition to be even older than the time of Joseph), supernatural influence might be attributed to his cup; and as the whole transaction related here was merely intended to deceive his brethren for a short time, he might as well affect divination by his cup, as he affected to believe they had stolen it. The steward therefore uses the word נחש nachash in its proper meaning: Is not this it out of which my lord drinketh, and in which he inspecteth accurately? Genesis 44:5 . And hence Joseph says, Genesis 44:15 : Wot ye not - did ye not know, that such a person as I (having such a cup) would accurately and attentively look into it? As I consider this to be the true meaning, I shall not trouble the reader with other modes of interpretation.

Verse 16

What shall we say, etc. - No words can more strongly mark confusion and perturbation of mind. They, no doubt, all thought that Benjamin had actually stolen the cup; and the probability of this guilt might be heightened by the circumstance of his having that very cup to drink out of at dinner; for as he had the most honorable mess, so it is likely he had the most honorable cup to drink out of at the entertainment.

Verse 18

Thou art even as Pharaoh - As wise, as powerful, and as much to be dreaded as he. In the Asiatic countries, the reigning monarch is always considered to be the pattern of all perfection; and the highest honor that can be conferred on any person, is to resemble him to the monarch; as the monarch himself is likened, in the same complimentary way, to an angel of God. See 2 Samuel 14:17 , 2 Samuel 14:18 . Judah is the chief speaker here, because it was in consequence of his becoming surety for Benjamin that Jacob permitted him to accompany them to Egypt. See Genesis 43:9 .To two such able and accurate testimonies I may be permitted to add my own. No paraphrase can heighten the effect of Judah's address to Joseph. To add would be to diminish its excellence; to attempt to explain would be to obscure its beauties; to clothe the ideas in other language than that of Judah, and his translators in our Bible, would ruin its energy, and destroy its influence. It is perhaps one of the most tender, affecting pieces of natural oratory ever spoken or penned; and we need not wonder to find that when Joseph heard it he could not refrain himself, but wept aloud. His soul must have been insensible beyond what is common to human nature, had he not immediately yielded to a speech so delicately tender, and so powerfully impressive. We cannot but deplore the unnatural and unscientific division of the narrative in our common Bibles, which obliges us to have recourse to another chapter in order to witness the effects which this speech produced on the heart of Joseph.

Genesis 44


  1 And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man's money in his sack's mouth.
  2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.
  3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.
  4 And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?
  5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
  6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.
  7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:
  8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold?
  9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.
  10 And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
  11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.
  12 And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.
  13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
  14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
  15 And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
  16 And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.
  17 And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
  18 Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.
  19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother?
  20 And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.
  21 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.
  22 And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
  23 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.
  24 And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.
  25 And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food.
  26 And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us.
  27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons:
  28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since:
  29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
  30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life;
  31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
  32 For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
  33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
  34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.

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