There are three elements to the narrative that will guide our thought concerning this passage here: Joseph’s Test, The Brother’s Guilt, and Judah’s Plea.
Verse 1: The passage begins with Joseph filling the brother’s sacks full and putting their money back in their sacks. In other words he continues to pile on the gifts and the grace. It is grace upon grace.
Verse 2-12: Before we can even blink an eye, Joseph’s blessing turns into testing. Joseph puts his plan together to frame his brothers, specifically Benjamin of theft, so as to test the other brothers to see whether they are truly changed men, or if they revert to their old ways. In the worst case, the brothers revert to their old ways, leave Benjamin to be a slave, and then Joseph reveals himself to Benjamin and takes care of him, and who knows, maybe they go get their father Israel and bring him to Egypt. But best case, the brothers don’t leave Benjamin to be a slave, thus showing their change, and thus the possibility of full reconciliation with Joseph.
So, as Matthew Henry notes, “Joseph heaps further kindness upon his brethren, fills their sacks, returns their money, and sends them away full of gladness; but he also exercises them with further trials.” Is this not how our Lord guides us through life at times? One season we are blessed with gifts beyond measure, and the following season we are brought to testing and vexation. Let us learn to love each season as they all come from the fatherly hand of our Lord, in Christ.
The Brother’s Guilt
Verse 9: As the brother are confronted by Joseph’s servant, in defense of their innocence they proclaim that whoever’s sack in which the silver cup is found, shall be put to death. This is very reminiscent to Jacob’s exodus from Laban years and years before. Jacob, had no idea that his wife Rachel had stolen Laban’s household idols, thus he proclaimed that whoever is found with them shall die. A real foot in your mouth situation.
Verse 13: Upon the discovery of the silver cup in the sack Benjamin, the brothers tear their clothes, showing their humility and sorrow before God.
Verse 14-16: The brother’s sorrow is not simply over the cup being found in Benjamin’s sack, but it is a sorrow before God for the guilt that still lays heavy upon their consciences. Before Joseph, Judah confesses that God has found their guilt. Thought they are technically innocent in an Egyptian court, Judah recognizes they stand guilty in the heavenly court. For that he is resigned to their punishment. Obviously Benjamin did not actually steal the cup from Joseph, but there is no way to refute the evidence in an Egyptian court of law.
As Judah pours himself out before Joseph, he is, before the reader’s very eyes, brought to the end of himself. All of his years of hatred, jealously, immorality, and defiance toward his father and his father’s God, are coming out to be dealt with. He has no righteousness to cling to. He knows that he stands a guilty man, and his only hope is the mercy of God. No more excuses, only repentance.
This is the state of repentance that we must come to before God. There is no way around it. Like Judah, before the heavenly throne, we must say, “What shall we say? What shall we speak? How shall we clear ourselves?” This is how we must humbly, honestly, and repentantly come before God, before whom we stand condemned as guilty law-breakers. My friends, we had better not dare go before the throne room of heaven with flapping lips and rapidly moving tongues. We must come with nothing in our hands to bring, simply to the cross we to cling.
Judah’s Plea (Verse 18-34)
After Joseph declares that he will only punish the guilty (v17), which of course is only Benjamin, Judah humbly, yet boldly, and passionately pleads for his brother Benjamin. It is a moving scene, especially if you consider the background and context. Judah goes so far as to offer himself up to be put in the place of Benjamin so that Benjamin could go free.
There are three ways in which Judah pictures forth Christ.
- As An Intercessor. As moving as Judah’s intercession for Benjamin was, think of how much greater Christ’s intercession is for His elect. When you sin, as a Christian, the accuser comes to accuse you and heap guilt upon you, look to Christ, you will find him at the right hand of God, pleading before the throne of the Father, reminding the Father of the life He lived, the cross He carried, the wrath and punishment He bore, for that very sin. As Judah, the innocent, pleads before the throne, for the accused, who isn’t truly guilty, so Christ, the innocent one, pleads before the throne, for the accused, who are guilty, but are truly guilty no longer, for they have the righteousness of Christ.
- As a Substitute. Judah, with stirring passion, throws himself in the between the wrath of the judge and the one who stands accused, Benjamin. He offers himself up, in the place of the guilty, so that the guilty might go free. I don’t know how anyone could read verse 33 and not see Christ in the gospel. Substitution is the very heart of the gospel. Christ Jesus, the innocent one, put Himself in the place of the guilty, substituting Himself for them, taking the wrath and punishment they deserved, so the guilty could go free. “For our sake, he who knew no sin, became sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5v21).
- As a Covenant Keeper. Judah was not acting on a whim. He was making good on the “covenant” he made with the father (Jacob) beforehand, to be a pledge, or a surety, for the “salvation” of the one whom the Jacob chose to save, Benjamin. So Christ, in coming to earth to substitute himself for sinners, was not acting on a whim. He was making good on the covenant of redemption that was made with the Father beforehand, to be a pledge, or a surety, for the salvation of the elect.
Immediately following Judah’s plea, chapter 45 begins with Joseph’s inability to control his tears any longer. Might we have a similar response to such a breathtaking gospel? May God give us an overwhelming experience of the love of Christ toward us that enraptures our emotions and gives us a genuine joy in Christ.
Finally, if you are a Christian, when you come to stand before the throne of God, you can plead Christ alone, because Christ has plead your case before the throne. And if Christ pleads your cause, the Father will not turn Him down, for Christ pleads for those whom the Father gives unto Him.
But my friends, if you this day, reject Christ, you will have no other way to clear yourself, and nothing to speak before God. Your tongue will be stopped. Turn to Christ today, lest you perish in your sleep this night and enter into the eternal, flaming wrath of God.