Genesis chapter 44

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18Then Judah approached him and said, 'Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. 19My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little boy born in our father’s old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24So it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25And our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ 26But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28and the one left me, and I said, 'Surely he is torn to pieces,' and I have not seen him since. 29If you also take this one from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30So now, when I come to your servant, my father, and the boy is not with us—since our father’s life is so attached to the boy’s life— 31when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. So your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant, our father, down to Sheol in sorrow. 32For your servant accepted responsibility for the boy from my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then my father can let me take the blame forever.’ 33So now, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go up with his brothers. 34For how shall I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear that I may see the evil that would overtake my father.'
Christian Standard Bible

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What does Genesis chapter 44 mean?

The last chapter seemed to be a happy ending. Eleven of Jacob's sons are on their way back to Canaan with everything they came for. They have the grain they need to avoid starvation. They have Simeon, released from prison after being held as security. And they have Jacob's beloved Benjamin, safe and well. They even have their money, once again returned, seemingly with their knowledge, adding yet another blessing. They have not yet realized that the powerful Egyptian governor with whom they've dealt is their estranged brother, Joseph (Genesis 42:7–8), who is testing them (Genesis 44:1–2).

Joseph's test continues by having his own personal, valuable silver cup hidden in the grain sack carried by Benjamin. Under Joseph's orders, the steward catches up with the brothers on the road back to Canaan. He questions them harshly, accusing them of stealing the cup. Naturally, the brothers protest loudly. They have no idea the cup is with them. Seeking to prove their innocence, they make a foolish offer: if any of them are found with the cup, that man will be killed, and the rest will become slaves to the ruler (Genesis 44:3–10).

The steward pounces on the offer, while changing it. He insists, as Joseph has instructed him, that the man found with the cup will become a slave and the rest will be free to go. The brothers all quickly open their sacks to be searched in order from oldest to youngest. The steward, who put the cup in Benjamin's sack, makes a show of searching all the others before finding it there. This results in a display of intense grief and frustration—but the brothers do not leave. They return to the city along with Benjamin and the steward (Genesis 44:11–13).

The Egyptian ruler—still unrecognized as Joseph—insists that the men can go free if Benjamin remains behind as a slave. This is a direct parallel to the situation Joseph faced when his brothers—these same men, other than Benjamin—sold him as a slave some twenty years ago (Genesis 37:24–28). In that moment, the ten oldest sons of Jacob cruelly and jealously left an innocent person in slavery, grieving their father, to serve their own interests. Now, with Benjamin, they face a similar choice. Will they leave an innocent one and once again trouble their father (Genesis 44:14–17).

Fortunately for them all, Judah speaks on behalf of the family. He confesses his guilt, though he knows Benjamin and the rest are innocent of stealing the cup. He knows, however, that he has guilt to bear for what he did to Joseph many years prior (Genesis 42:21–23). He passionately describes how their elderly father will die of grief if he loses his beloved youngest son. Judah tells how he pledged himself as safety for the boy. He could not bear to look into the eyes of his father and deliver the news that Benjamin had been left behind (Genesis 44:18–32).

This plea climaxes with a dramatic offer. Hoping Joseph's heart has been softened, Judah offers to take Benjamin's place as a slave. In this way, he will be able to save both the boy and Jacob. The same brother who masterminded a younger brother's sale into slavery (Genesis 37:26–27) is now begging to be kept as a slave to save a younger brother (Genesis 44:33–34).

Joseph has now seen his estranged brothers (Genesis 42:1–8), heard them admit guilt (Genesis 42:21–23), and been reunited with his younger brother (Genesis 43:29–30). Now, in response to a test, he hears Judah offer his own life in sacrifice. This finally breaks Joseph's controlled disguise. He will break down, clear the room of all Egyptians, and reveal his identity with great emotion (Genesis 45:1–3).
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