Confession: Judah Speaks Up For His Brother
Joseph was still in his palace when Judah and his brothers arrived, and they fell to the ground before him.
Genesis 44:14 (NLT)
The phrase “Judah and his brothers” alerts us that Judah was now the spokesman for the family. True, it was Judah who suggested they sell Joseph (Gen. 37:26-27), and it was Judah who unwittingly committed incest with his daughter-in-law (Gen. 38), but by the grace of God, people can change and make new beginnings. Let’s remember Judah for his courageous and compassionate speech and not for his foolish sins.
Joseph was still in his palace when Judah and his brothers arrived, and they fell to the ground before him. “What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?”
Judah answered, “Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.”
“No,” Joseph said. “I would never do such a thing! Only the man who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go back to your father in peace.”
Genesis 44:14-17 (NLT)
Verse 14, however, marks a turning point in the character of at least some of the tribes of Israel. Notice that all the brothers returned, with Benjamin, to Joseph’s house. Once the bowl had been found, all the brothers, except Benjamin, were free to go their way and return to their families in Canaan. But, they didn’t do that. Rather than solve their problem the way they had so long ago with Joseph by abandoning him, they decided to stay with Benjamin and bear together whatever fate awaited them.
Joseph was on hand to meet his brothers, for this was the occasion he’d been anticipating for years. When they arrived, his brothers didn’t merely bow before him; they prostrated themselves on the ground, eleven frightened and broken men. This was the third time they had bowed before him (Gen. 42:6; 43:26); so Joseph’s prophetic dreams had more than been fulfilled.
In his opening words, Judah made it clear that he wouldn’t even try to defend himself and his brothers, for what could he say?
It’s when guilty sinners’ mouths are shut and they stop defending themselves that God can show them mercy (Rom. 3:19).
The phrase “God is punishing us for our sins.” (Gen. 44:16) doesn’t refer only to the discovery of the grain money or to the silver cup. The statement also refers to their hidden sins, the way they had treated Joseph and their father years before. On their first visit to Egypt, they had expressed this feeling of guilt and had moved Joseph to tears (Gen. 42:21-24).
It was then that Judah came to Benjamin’s defense in the longest speech by a human found in the Book of Genesis, and one of the most moving speeches found anywhere in the Bible. Eight times in this defense, Judah called Joseph “my lord”; and thirteen times he used the word “father.”
Little did Judah realize that each time he used the word “father,” or referred to his brother Benjamin, he was reaching the heart of the man who held their future in his hands.
Judah Intercedes For Benjamin
Then Judah stepped forward and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant say just one word to you. Please, do not be angry with me, even though you are as powerful as Pharaoh himself.
“My lord, previously you asked us, your servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ And we responded, ‘Yes, my lord, we have a father who is an old man, and his youngest son is a child of his old age. His full brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him very much.’
“And you said to us, ‘Bring him here so I can see him with my own eyes.’ But we said to you, ‘My lord, the boy cannot leave his father, for his father would die.’ But you told us, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes with you, you will never see my face again.’
“So we returned to your servant, our father, and told him what you had said. Later, when he said, ‘Go back again and buy us more food,’ we replied, ‘We can’t go unless you let our youngest brother go with us. We’ll never get to see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
“Then my father said to us, ‘As you know, my wife had two sons, and one of them went away and never returned. Doubtless he was torn to pieces by some wild animal. I have never seen him since. Now if you take his brother away from me, and any harm comes to him, you will send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.’
“And now, my lord, I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave. My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’
“So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!”
Genesis 44:18-34 (NLT)
Judah reviewed their recent family history and reminded Joseph of facts he knew as well as they did, perhaps better. Judah’s aim was to make a case for the release of Benjamin so he could go home to his aged father. To begin with, Benjamin was there only because Joseph had required him to come. The families back in Canaan would starve to death if the brothers had left Benjamin at home. The suggestion perhaps is that, if Benjamin hadn’t come along, perhaps none of this trouble would have happened.
Judah then made it clear that if Benjamin remained in Egypt, their father would die; and he even quoted Jacob’s own words to prove it (v. 29; see also 42:38). Jacob and Benjamin were so bound together in the bundle of life that Jacob couldn’t live without his youngest son.
Did Judah know that this powerful Egyptian ruler before him had two young sons of his own, and was he hoping that his story would touch a father’s heart?
Judah’s final appeal was to offer to remain in Egypt as the substitute for Benjamin. That Judah should declare himself surety for his youngest brother (Gen. 43:8-10) and willingly offer to take his place surely touched Joseph’s heart. Judah was certain he’d been the cause of Joseph’s death, and he didn’t want to be the cause of Jacob’s death. Over twenty years before, Judah had seen his father’s deep grief at the loss of Joseph, and he had no desire to see this repeated.
This poignant speech certainly revealed Judah’s concern for both his aged father and his youngest brother. In fact, Judah almost begged to become Joseph’s slave! “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers” (44:33). It was indeed a new Judah who stood before Joseph, a man whom Joseph knew could be trusted. The time had now come for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers.
We need to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the Surety for those who have trusted Him (Heb. 7:22). He has assumed the responsibility for us to make sure that we will come to the Father (John 14:1-6). Jesus is “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10), and He will see to it that each of them arrives safely. Judah was willing to take Benjamin’s place and separate himself from his father, but Jesus actually took our place and died for us on the cross, crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). He is our Surety and He cannot fail.