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Genesis 44: Arguing the Case
given 3 May 2003 by Bob Mendelsohn, at Beth Messiah, Sydney, Jews for Jesus Australia

Introduction

Going to court is never a comfortable situation. They used to say "you can't fight city hall." Even the best trained and best paid barristers have a bit of nervousness and disquiet when they approach the bench even in magistrate's court, much more the High Court. What pleasure is it in fighting, unless you win?

Imagine the discomfort then of going to court, to fight against the man who is also your accuser? In other words, you are being tried in front of the man who has evidence against you in relation to him? Or to be very clear, in this particular case, Joseph is both the plaintiff and the judge in the case of his brothers involving thievery and perjury against him! What a triple whammy! The evidence, although planted, is clear. The brothers have dirty hands. No amount of wiggling will work in their defense. Their hands are wringing with wickedness…. What will be their cry to the judge?

Remembering that pleasure is the operative overarching theme in Genesis, you might wonder about this in light of a court case. I believe that justice and the inevitable reunion of those declared not guilty will be a supreme pleasure which we will have to wait until next week to see unfold.

Irrefutable evidence of evil
The scene may bother you. The brothers had a visit with Joseph to buy food a while back, and left with the money replaced in their bags. Nothing happened, except guilt began to grow in them. Conscience which had been missing in their lives so many years ago, now is rising to the surface again. There is hope for those with seared conscience. Now the brothers visit Joseph again, and bring Benjamin along with them. This complied with the Joseph request. But after they buy the grain from and have a major banquet along with him, the brothers leave town. OK, nothing wrong yet. They were overjoyed at the ease of the visit. Until the house steward puts the money back in the saddle bags and puts Joseph's special cup in Benjamin's bag. What contrivance!

Regarding the cup or bowl, Alfred Edersheim writes in his commentary on this passage, "But, no doubt, there was in Joseph’s house, as in that of all the great sages of Egypt, the silver bowl, commonly employed for divination, in which unknown events were supposed to appear in reflection from the water, sometimes after gems or gold (with or without magical inscriptions and incantations) had been cast into the cup, to increase the sheen of the broken rays of light. Similar practices still prevail in Egypt."

The Hebrew of the verb 'to divine' is a pair of nachash words, "nachaish y'nachaish" (meaning regularly divines). The verb comes from the noun nachash meaning serpent. A divining rod had a serpent on it. We are instructed in the Scriptures to avoid all contact with divination (Deut 28.10-11, Lev 19.) and serpent fortune telling. It certainly hearkens back to the Garden of Eden. There we got in trouble listening to a snake and we will not gain the pleasure of God if we persist in seeking to learn from snakes to this day. You will do well to avoid such in your days.

I've told you that I think Joseph is my favorite Older Testament hero. And that there is no recorded sin in Joseph's life. You might think this fraudulent sting operation is a sin. I aver that it is not. I think it's an attempt to recreate the scene from 20 years before, when his brothers sold him into slavery. Leslie Flynn in his book Joseph, God's Man in Egypt, says, "this time the brothers did not repeat the selfish betrayal. Two decades earlier they had turned a deaf ear to Joseph's pleas. Now they share in Benjamin's plight and plead for his release. Judah before had suggested selling Joseph to the Midianites, now [he] makes a passionate appeal for his release. " and "The men who once sold Joseph into slavery would now choose slavery for themselves rather than return with news that would cause their father's death. Those who had thirsted for Joseph's blood now begged for Benjamin's favor" (Victor Books, 1981, page 100)

But I preempt myself. Joseph is painting a situation where there is no escape, but to admit emptiness. The overjoyed travelling brothers are overtaken by the steward and are overconfident in their arguing for their own innocence. But their overconfidence turns to being overwhelmed. White flags signal defeat and surrender, and thus the brothers, led by the new leader Judah fly white flags with humility. The evidence is in their bags; no amount of 'we didn't" will make it right. They can and do tell the story fully and even offer a "Why would we?" sort of recounting, but bottom line, they saw something of another's hand in the situation.

See what Judah says in verse 16 "God is behind this." (Peterson, the Message) or "God has found out the iniquity of your servants. How can we justify ourselves?" The paint is still wet and Judah and the boys are in the corner of the room. There is no escape. The plaintiff puts down his pen and carefully closes his legal brief case. He says, "The plaintiff rests, your honor." And the defense knows there is no defense. The evidence is irrefutable.

In this case, though, the understanding of God's being in this situation is without measure. No man can get to this point, admit God's involvement and not seek change within himself. Judah and the rest admit to their evil from the past. They admit to being caught out. There is no escape and their only hope is in God who has mercy. They face the wickedness of their souls and cry to the Merciful One for help. For any who are listening to this on tape or online, or reading this, your only hope before God is to admit to your sins and your frailty, to beg for His mercy and let Him forgive you of your many sins.

Unwavering (and new) committment to family

Joseph wanted to find out if the brothers were jealous of Benjamin as they had been of him. Possibly there had been strife between them and Benjamin. If such was the case, it would be dangerous to let Benjamin, his only full brother, travel with them. Thus the test was arranged.

The cries of Judah about his brothers and specifically his father are enough to make me weep. He loved his old dad Jacob. Judah had done evil in the past with his daughter in law. He had disgraced his own sons in doing this evil. He had ruined the relationship of the brothers to the father by suggesting the sale of Joseph to the travelling nomads and the consequences were continual and desperately shameful. Now Judah as spokesman for the brothers moves into a family commitment that is both endearing and praiseworthy. In the section of Torah I read, from verse 18, we hear Judah recount the family history, calling the father old, and Benjamin, the son of his old age. If we knew nothing else of the story, this recounting would be enough to make us sad for Jacob. We hear the 'we cannot' and 'he will die' and 'my two sons' in the recounting and we wonder what will be enough for Judah or for Joseph?

This appeal, the longest speech in the book of Genesis, rings some familiar and familial tones in Joseph. Warren Wiersbe in his book Be Authentic (Chariot Victor, 1997, page 124) says " Little did Judah realize that each time he used that word [father], or referred to his brother Benjamin, he was reaching the heart of the man who held their future in his hands."

John Wesley in his commentary on this passage takes this passion of Judah for Benjamin even further when he records, "Judah’s faithful adherence to Benjamin now in his distress was recompensed long after, by the constant adherence of the tribe of Benjamin to the tribe of Judah, when all the other ten tribes deserted it."

Compare to Y'shua

We've been comparing Joseph to the Messiah each week, and today we do a bit more. We see in today's episode the Messiah figure, Joseph, bringing his brothers to their knees. He charges them with the evil that is so deeply engrained in them. And as a result of this confrontation, they admit to their sin. For Messiah to get through to us as a nation, and to us as individuals, we must be confronted with our own evil and be brought low, humbled to the point of death, begging for mercy.

Also Edersheim points out a comparison to Judah. "Judah is now the spokesman, and right well does his advocacy prefigure the pleading of his great Descendant." Obviously Jesus is the son of the tribe of Judah and who argues for us in the courts of heaven, interceding for us (Heb 7.22) and will bring many sons to glory. (Heb 2.10) Judah was willing to take Benjamin's place, but Jesus actually did take our place and die for our sins on the cross.

Summary

Here are some things I see as we conclude, and you can add your thoughts to your own list.

  1. When you are caught out, and you know that you have sinned, admit that sin before God
  2. Confess your sins and ask God for mercy
  3. Receive His love and grace in Jesus, the promised One who can forgive your sins and make you born again
  4. Compassion is God's universal answer to the cries of the penitent.

Dear friends, we have eternal life due to the Saviour Y'shua, due to His love and forgiveness. His Resurrection has proven His new covenant. His teaching is great, and yet it goes well beyond that to His life and death. No amount of good works will give us enough information to help us overcome evil. No amount of information will help us overcome our own evil inclination. Only the messiah can repair our relationship with God, which will in turn give us pleasure with Him.

If you have never experienced this eternal and new life about which we are speaking, if you are yet outside the relationship with God, then pray with me. If you haven't yet been restored into fellowship with Him, do so today. Won't you pray this prayer and ask God to forgive you of your sins, whatever they might be, and come home to pleasure with God? Lord forgive me in the name of the Messiah, the Serpent Bruiser, Y'shua himself. Forgive me for all my sins, and make me clean again. Give me eternal life in the name of Y'shua and make me born again. I trust you.

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