Joseph decides to have a bit of fun with his brothers.
He gets his steward to fill the boys’ bags with food and put in all the money they had paid for it with. He also instructs the steward to put a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. I think you can see where this is going…
So in the morning, when “the men were sent away with their asses” (Gen. 44:3), Joseph sends his steward after them. Is this where the expression “getting your ass handed to you” comes from?
Joseph gets his steward to insinuate that this is the cup he uses for divination (Gen. 44:5). My study bible says that this is to explain how he could have known that the cup was taken by the brothers, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it. Divination is a form of power, especially in this context where Joseph gained his social status through divination. So he’s not just accusing the brothers of theft, but of the much more serious crime of attacking the source of Joseph’s power.
In any case, the steward overtakes the brothers and “he spoke to them these words” (Gen. 44:6). For the first time in forty-four chapters, someone is narrated to have repeated something without me actually having to read the repetition! Huzzah!
The brothers are shocked. Showing surprising logic, they say that they returned all the money they had found in their sacks after the first trip, so why would they steal something now? In cringe-worthy ironic fashion, they add that if any of them is found with the silver cup, that individual should die and the rest of them be made slaves of Egypt.
The steward agrees in principle, but backs down a little bit. The brother found with the cup shall become his slave (Gen. 44:11 – I assume he’s speaking on behalf of Joseph?), and the rest will go free.
The brothers all open their sacks and the steward begins to search, starting with the eldest brother and moving down. When he gets to Benjy’s sack, dun-dun-duuuunn, he finds the silver cup! So they all return to the city to confront Joseph.
Meeting with Joseph
The brothers throw themselves to the ground before Joseph as he lays it on thick. “What deed is this that you have done?” (Gen. 44:15). The narrator doesn’t say so, but I’m pretty sure Joseph is struggling to keep a straight face through this whole exchange.
Now, this is actually an interesting passage because Joseph is testing his brothers. Because the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag, that means that Benjamin will become a slave in Egypt – just like Joseph was. So by setting up this elaborate gag, Joseph is testing to see if his brothers have changed over the years. Would they abandon Benjy like they did Joseph?
Judah recaps the conversation he had with Jacob/Israel, who said that “my wife bore me two sons […] If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol” (Gen. 44:27-29). Keeping in mind that Jacob/Israel has four wives, not one, and at least thirteen children. I know I keep harping on this, but it’s really just disgusting that he seems only to care for one wife (a second wife, no less) and two of his children. This is the guy who, when one of his other kids was kept captive in Egypt, pretty much just forgot about him for ~2 years.
But in any case, Judah is terrified that his father will die if Benjy doesn’t return (filial love is a one way street, apparently), so he begs Joseph to keep him instead.