21 November 2017

Genesis 44:1-34

“And Judah said, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants...’” (v. 16a)

Psalm: Psalm 121


At first glance, Judah's 'confession' in verse 16 seems downright peculiar. Having protested their innocence in verses 7-9, the brothers are astounded when a silver cup is discovered among Benjamin's luggage (planted there, as the reader knows, on Joseph's instructions). Knowing that the punishment will be slavery for the 'thief', why does Judah confess to a crime of which he knows he and his brothers are innocent?

Joseph has now maintained his charade for almost three chapters, refusing to reveal his true identity to the brothers who threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:19-28). For the reader, the dramatic irony has become almost unbearable. Many might have expected the revelation to take place at the end of chapter 43, when Joseph and his brothers ate, drank and were merry together, following the trend of other stories in which someone's true identity is made known in the breaking of bread (eg Luke 24:13-35). By chapter 44, Joseph's story has become almost as frustrating as superhero films in which the hero disguises himself by simply taking off his glasses and slicking back his hair. We scream silently at the brothers: 'Why don't you recognise him?'

Some see Joseph's delay in revealing his true identity as a vindictive attempt to exercise power over the brothers who had tormented and abandoned him. But it provides the space for the brothers to connect their present experience to their actions 20 years ago, and finally to confess their guilt - not for stealing a cup, but for their treatment of Joseph. Judah's confession leads to transformation - in a direct reversal of the brothers' actions 20 years ago, rather than abandon their father's favourite son to slavery, Judah begs Joseph to allow him to remain as a slave in place of Benjamin. Having acknowledged his brokenness, Judah displays the greatest love of all - laying down his life for another (John 15:13).

To Ponder

  • To what extent is Joseph's conduct (in concealing his identity from his brothers and placing the cup in Benjamin's sack) excusable on the basis of the response it elicits? Is honesty always the best policy? Why?
  • How do you think Joseph might have responded if the brothers had willingly abandoned Benjamin to slavery?
  • How do you feel about the place of confession in worship? If you attend an act of worship that doesn't include confession, do you miss it? Why, or why not?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.