Benjamin and the Stolen Cup (Genesis 44:9)

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The whole section in Genesis 43-44 is designed to show the brothers as changed men. Joseph wants to know if they have any remorse for what they’ve done, if they recognize the impact of their actions, and – most importantly – if they’ll do it again.

Those questions have now been answered. By the end of Genesis 44, when Judah stands up for Benjamin, Joseph’s inquiry will be satisfied. At the beginning of Genesis 45, Joseph will reveal his true identity to the brothers.

But there’s another tidbit in Genesis 44 that also shows how much his brothers have changed. 

When Joseph’s chief steward confronts the brothers about the presumed stolen cup (before finding it in Benjamin’s sack), the brothers make a profound offer of innocence. If the cup is found in any of their bags, the one who is guilty will be killed, and the others will be sold off as slaves (Genesis 44:9).

You almost can’t help but notice the irony in that statement. More than twenty years earlier, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him. Now, they’re willing to do the same thing in the event they’re guilty of an actual crime, and one that represents a serious crime against the throne.

Regardless, the steward refutes their offer. Instead, he lowers the punishment to slavery for the the guilty party, and innocence for the rest of them. A few verses later, the brothers will offer the same thing to Joseph himself, and, like the steward, Joseph will let them off easier.

Why do the steward and Joseph both lower the penalty? One could argue that it’s just because of their generosity. The steward has already revealed himself to be part of the scheme to begin with (Genesis 43:23), and we know who Joseph is, so from our perspective, it fits right in line with their character.

You could also make an argument that Joseph and the Steward are trying to divide the brothers yet again. By extending innocence to the non-guilty parties and allowing them to return to home, he pits them against each other. They have Simeon and the food they came for, so why not return home and let the guilty brother deal with the consequences of his actions? It seems reasonable to me.

The only wrinkle is that leaving Benjamin in Egypt as a slave goes against what Jacob explicitly asked them to do. Jacob didn’t want to let Benjamin go in the first place; returning without him would surely grieve him to the point of no return.

But then again, the brothers didn’t care about their dad’s feelings when they sold Joseph into slavery, did they? Why should they now?

It’s a fascinating test that Joseph puts his brothers through, designed not just to see if they’ve changed, but if they remembered what they did to Joseph all those years again. 

As he’ll see in a few verses, these are not the same brothers he used to know. These men are honorable, committed to their family, and God-fearers. That’s enough for Joseph.