Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE CUP IS PLACED IN BENJAMIN’S RIDING-BAG.
(2) Put my cup . . . —Rather bowl, as it signifies a large round vessel from which the wine was poured into the drinking cups. Joseph’s purpose apparently was to detain no one but Benjamin, and it was only when Judah spake so very nobly, and pointed out that Jacob’s heart would be broken with grief if he lost the one remaining son of Rachel, made more dear to him by his brother’s fate, that he determined to give a home to them all. He naturally supposed that his father had long since ceased to grieve for himself, and probably even hoped to prevail upon him subsequently to join him in Egypt. But when Judah offered himself for slavery rather than that his father should suffer the grief of seeing them return without Benjamin, Joseph understood that Jacob’s anguish would be great beyond endurance, and he also became aware that his brethren were no longer as heartless as they had shown themselves of old.
(5) Whereby he divineth.—Cup divination was common in Egypt in ancient times, and was a kind of clairvoyance, the bowl being partly filled with water, and the eye of the diviner fixed upon some one point in it till, wearied with gazing, a state of half stupor was induced, during which the mind, freed from the control of reason, acted in a manner parallel to its operation in dreams. The same effect can be produced by gazing intently on a globe of glass, and other such things. In Genesis 44:15, Joseph asserts that he practised this art, and innocently. Though used now generally for imposture, there is in clairvoyance a real physical basis, which would be inexplicable in an unscientific age; and the genuine piety and goodness of Joseph would not raise him above the reach of the superstitions of his time.
(7) God forbid.—Heb., far be it from thy servants to do, &c.
(9-13) Let him die.—Joseph’s brethren, conscious of their innocence, deny the theft, and, like Jacob when accused of stealing the teraphim (Genesis 31:32), declare that the guilty person shall die, and the rest be made slaves; readily too they consent to be searched, and take their travelling-bags from off the asses on which they were riding. The steward, who knew where the bowl was, answers that only the man in whose bag it is found shall be punished, and that not by death but by slavery. Beginning with Reuben’s bag, the money is found, but this the steward makes light of; he then takes the next, and as each brother sees that he has with him more than he knew of, their minds must have been filled with confusion and terror. They would be liable to slavery for taking the money, but when the bowl is found in Benjamin’s possession all hope was gone, and they rent their clothes in uncontrollable grief.
(17) God forbid.—Heb., far be it from me to do so. Joseph passes over the money found in their sacks, and which he had intended as a gift to help them in the remaining years of famine, but expresses his determination to keep Benjamin as a slave. Had they been as hardhearted as when they sold him into slavery, they would readily have gone away, leaving their brother to his fate. But they had changed, and therefore they earnestly exert themselves for his deliverance, though they must have felt it to be an almost hopeless task. They would feel sure of Benjamin’s innocence, but they would also remember that the previous day Joseph had shown him the utmost honour; and this would be a proof to them that for some reason or other the Egyptian governor had taken a fancy to him, and determined to have him in his service; and that therefore he had contrived this wicked scheme.
(18) Then Judah came near.—The power of Judah’s speech lies in the facts themselves, which gain in pathos from being simply told; but the ending is grand because of the speaker’s magnanimity. He offers to give up all that a man holds dearest in order that his father may he spared a grief too heavy to bear. There is, however, very considerable skill in the manner in which Judah shows that it was at Joseph’s repeated urgency that they had brought Benjamin with them, while omitting all mention of the fact that they had been falsely charged by him with being spies.
(28) The one went out . . . —The mention of the disappearance of the one son, which Jacob could account for only by supposing him to be dead, is made in order to give the reason for the intense love of the father to the son still remaining. The allusion also to his mother would move Joseph’s feelings, though of this Judah would not be aware.
(29) To the grave.—Heb., to Sheol. (See Note on Genesis 37:35.)
(32-34) Thy servant became surety.—Judah first gives the reason why he was especially bound to see to Benjamin’s welfare, but he adds to it the more affecting argument that he could not bear to look upon his father’s anguish. And with these moving words he ends his appeal, which to Joseph’s mind had carried the conviction, first, that to separate Benjamin, even for a time from Jacob, would be an act of extreme unkindness; and secondly, that his brethren were deserving not only of pardon, but of love.
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.