Joseph’s brothers have returned to Egypt to buy food. They have brought their youngest brother Benjamin, as the Prime Minister (Joseph) had required. Joseph invited them to lunch as part of his tests of their character. Joseph seated them in birth order, and shocked, they wondered, “How could he know? Is God orchestrating all of this?” Joseph also tested them regarding jealousy by giving Benjamin five times their portions. And Joseph set up one final test (Genesis 44:1–14). Joseph had thought through this strategy very carefully. He had instructed his chief steward to tell his brothers before he conducted his investigation that whoever had the cup would become a slave and the rest would be free to go (44:10). Had they been jealous of Benjamin at the banquet, they may have been able to mask their true feelings—but they could under these circumstances! There was no question in Joseph’s mind what they would have done years ago.
Well, their reactions this time are totally different. All of them together returned to Egypt to face this criminal charge. Imagine Joseph’s relief and joy when he saw them with their little parade of donkeys entering the palace gates. They were a pathetic sight with heads bowed low, their clothes torn, and their long flowing hair and full beards matted with a mixture of dust and tears. But Joseph saw something different—something deeper, something more revealing. He saw a group of men who were more concerned about their father and younger brother than they were about themselves. They had passed the jealousy test.
Judah passed the test with flying colors! He stepped forward and made no excuses, uttered no rationalizations, no cover up (v. 16). Judah made it clear that they would not forsake Benjamin. If he became a slave, so would all of them. Though innocent of the charge of stealing, Judah was acknowledging that they were guilty of a much greater sin—a sin God had uncovered. Joseph wisely remained anonymous so that they did not feel pressured into this confession.
Joseph had just one more question: did his brothers feel any concern for their aging father? So Joseph made one final test. Judah demonstrated great concern for his father and took a final incredibly selfless step (v. 17-34). Joseph had his answer to his final question and more! The man who had convinced his brothers to sell him as a slave now offers to be a slave in Benjamin’s place! The man who years ago could have cared less about the impact of Joseph’s death upon his father now is so concerned with his father’s welfare that he was willing to remain in Egypt so Benjamin could return. That is genuine repentance. Judah is a changed man. Hearing Judah’s final statement, Joseph could contain himself no longer (45:1-8).
Joseph comforted his brothers by helping them to understand that though their actions were sinful, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan. Then Joseph turned to more practical matters (v. 9-11).