1 ¶ And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth. 2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses. 4 And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good? 5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing. 6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words. 7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing: 8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold? 9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen. 10 And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless. 11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack. 12 And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city. 14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground. 15 And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine? 16 And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. 17 And he said, God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.
Joseph sets the brothers up yet again for a shock by not only filling them with food and wine and also giving them provisions for their return journey, but then placing a special silver cup in the sack of Benjamin. All of the men’s money was returned again to them.
This silver cup, which it is said that Joseph used to drink from and to divine with has some special significance. It was common for nobility in the ancient world to use cups for the purposes of divining the will of the spiritual world. Several sources attest to this. The same instrument used by the pagan was also used by the people of God before the Law was given and after to divine God’s will. As an example the casting of lots takes place many times to divine God’s will because, unlike we today who believe heavily in randomness and luck based on randomness, the ancients believed that there was a point to everything even if humans were unable to discern it. Just type in the word lots in a computer concordance or look it up.
Divining was used to try to understand that plan or the intention of spiritual entities; gods, devils, and, in the sense of the people of God, His will. If you believe that no flip of the coin results from chance and that God is in control of all reality and events then this becomes easier to understand although its purpose may be truly ungodly and an abomination based on intent. Judging from Joseph’s character and his close relationship with God, being used by Him, I am confident that Joseph was not seeking answers from devils, pagan entities, but from God alone.
In this bit of deception, as you read, Joseph accuses them of stealing his cup in order to bring them back to him. Now, Joseph states that he is going to keep Benjamin as a servant, even though Judah offered all of them as Joseph’s servants, and they can go back to their father.
18 ¶ Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 20 And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. 21 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. 22 And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. 23 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. 24 And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. 26 And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us. 27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: 28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: 29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. 30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; 31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 32 For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. 33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. 34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
Judah pleads for his father, that Benjamin not be kept as a servant but that Judah take his place. He offered himself as surety for Benjamin’s safety, after all. He implores this mighty Egyptian official, whom he does not know as his brother, Joseph. Judah, who in 37:26 persuaded his brothers that, rather than kill Joseph, they should sell him to the Ishmaelites, was instrumental in Joseph having the opportunity to be the de facto ruler of Egypt’s internal policies regarding the preparation and survival of this famine.
This is a time of great tension and, as far as the brothers know, the fate of Benjamin, their fate, and their father’s all hinge on this Egyptian official’s sense of mercy. It is a time of desperation, fear, and anxiety. To them, everything hinges on this official’s decision. Can you imagine how filled with confusion and dread and apprehension they must be? I wonder if they imagined how filled with confusion, fear, and apprehension Joseph must have been when he was thrown in that pit and then sold by his own brothers as a slave to traveling traders.