Fellowship at Cross Creek
The Silver Cup…
Intro… Is Joseph pushing things a bit too far? After a wonderful family reunion, albeit, his brothers still don’t know it, Joseph has one last difficult play up his sleeve. Is this one cruel? Why or why not? Could you ever imagine yourself acting in such a way as Joseph has with respect to his brothers? Is this all about revenge? Or is there something else much greater occurring here? I mean who has these kind of guts or courage to do what Joseph is attempting here? Someone, hardened by continually injustice and mistreatment?
Why is true change or repentance so so difficult? Why does it seem to take so much pain to really change? Ever had something that you thought you had changed about, but had really not, because the next time it happened, you did the same foolish thing again? What is it about human nature that seems to require such painful interventions or consequences?
Recently, we began a new unit or section or person of study…the life of Joseph. Essentially, the story of Joseph, is for the most part, our story. Chosen by God for a special purpose, Joseph must first endure much suffering and injustice before arriving at his God-ordained purpose and calling, and what a purpose it will be.
As we read, I want you to continue pondering, your special identity in Christ, and that just because you may be going through difficult days, your suffering…your waiting is NOT in vain. As God’s child…as God’s children, just as with Joseph and his brothers, you…we…all have a purpose in Christ (Romans 8; Eph. 1; 1 Peter 1).
The Bible’s very first word is the Hebrew word Bərēšīṯ, which means “in [the] beginning.” “Genesis” is actually the Greek word for “beginnings” or “origins,” and thus the origin for both the Latin and English transliteration: Genesis.
So what’s our goal? Just to explore. Like an archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, we are going back to the Scripture’s beginnings to do a little Spiritual digging and poking around to see what was God doing before God’s Son was Spiritually conceived in his mother Mary’s womb? What were the world, people and life like from the very beginning?
Summary of Recent Explorations…
• The Creation: The Creator Creates His Creation and its Caretakers (Adam and Eve). Gen. 1-2.
• The Fall: But a Crafty Adversary Emerges, Infecting the Creator’s Caretakers with a Virulent Strain of Deceptive Evil (non-beneficial actions). Gen. 3-4.
• The Flood: The story of the righteous Servant and a devastating Flood. In order to Save his Creation from a self-destructive and merciless evil, the Creator Must radically purge or cleanse his Creation Gen. 5-7.
• Creation’s New Beginning…Gen. 8-11.
• Creation’s New Caretaker: The Creator Raises up, Chooses and Greatly Blesses a righteous and trusting Caretaker named Abraham. Gen. 12-25.
• The Torch of the Creator’s Trusting Caretaking Now Passes to Succeeding Generations (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…) Gen. 26ff.
Joseph’s Story…Gen. 37-50.
• Jacob’s older sons grow deeply resentful of their favored youngest brother, Joseph. Gen. 37:1ff.
• Joseph’s jealous older brother tell their grieving father, Jacob, that Joseph has been killed by wild animals, when in actuality they have sold Joseph into slavery. Gen. 37:12ff.
• Despite being wrongly trafficked as a slave and then falsely accused and imprisoned God’s sustaining grace still accompanies Joseph. Gen. 39:1ff.
• Despite rightly interpreting the baker and cupbearer’s dreams, Joseph’s grace seemingly goes unrewarded. Gen. 40:1ff.
• Finally, Joseph is delivered from his false imprisonment by being remembered by the cupbearer and correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s two dreams. Gen. 41:1ff.
• Pharaoh now empowers Joseph to be the supreme authority to wisely guide Egypt through these next years of predicted plenty and famine. Gen. 41:38ff.
• Due to the famine, unknowingly Joseph’s brothers have been reunited with their younger who now controls all the grain in Egypt. Gen. 42:1ff.
• Jacob refuses to risk losing another son when his sons tell him that they were forced to leave their brother Simeon behind back in Egypt as surety that they would bring back their youngest brother Benjamin in order to prove that they are NOT spies. Gen. 42:19ff.
• When Joseph’s brothers are able to persuade their father Israel to allow them to return to Egypt to purchase more grain WITH their youngest brother Benjamin as they had been previously instructed to, they are rewarded with a great banquet in the presence of the mysterious Egyptian ruler. Gen. 44:1ff.
Pray; read three times (perhaps just twice) and ask questions…
44:1 Then he commanded his house steward, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.
Been here before. Did the brothers ever think to check their sacks this time? I certainly would have. No way I am leaving Egypt without checking for a repeat performance concerning the cost of the grain. And how hard is this to do?
2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph had told him. 3 As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. 4 They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, “Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.'”
Isn’t divination some type of approach for ascertaining the will of the gods, such as the interpreting of the arrangement of bird bones that have been cast upon the table or ground or the reading of a sacrifice’s internal organs? Did Joseph practice divination? We know he could interpret dreams. Or was this still a part of his private performance before his brothers?
6 So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. 8 Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?
In other words, if we brought back the money that was placed in our sacks the last time, why would we dare steal anything now?
9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
So knowing that they have been falsely accused, as Joseph had been with Potiphar’s wife, they put of the ultimate assurity or pledge…one of their lives…whoever has the missing silver cup.
10 So he said, “Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.”
The steward accepts their proposal.
11 Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack.
Notice that they “hurried.”
12 He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
Can you just imagine, with each sack being searched and no cup being found, the brothers’ confidence growing that indeed they had NOT taken the silver cup, and then finally, the last sack searched and the missing cup is discovered? Oh my! The worst possible scenario had occurred. Unwittingly, with the pledge of assurance, they had sealed their youngest brother’s fate.
13 Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.
No doubt, incredibly dejected.
14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him.
Is this now a third time they have bowed before him…just as his dreams had foretold?
15 Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?”
Because of my practice of divination I can ascertain the guilty party? This does make you wonder if the Egyptians were crediting Joseph’s predictive powers, particularly concerning both times of plenty and want, to some sort of divination?
16 So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.”
Remember Judah had staked his life to protect his brother before their father Israel. In other words, Judah, would seek to replace Benjamin, if anything were to happen to Benjamin, so that Benjamin would return home and Judah would remain.
Is the “iniquity” that Judah is referring to this latest event or their having sold their brother into slavery many years before?
17 But he said, “Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Joseph sticks the dagger in. Only Benjamin will remain as a slave. The rest of you are free to leave. But again, Judah has much at stake here.
18 Then Judah approached him, and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh.
Judah, like a defense attorney, relates the case’s history…
19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 We said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’
23 You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.
25 Our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’
26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’
“Sheol”…the place of the dead…not necessarily hell, but more like the body and soul ceasing to exist, as many suggest even now…that after we die, there is nothing. No heaven, no hell, no soul, like a plant that ceases to exist in its plant-like form. Thus, Israel is saying, I will die in sorrow.
30 Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow.
If you keep our youngest brother Benjamin, our father will not only die, but die in sorrow.
32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me-for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
• Joseph commands the steward to once again, without his brothers’ knowledge, place into the brothers’ sacks, the money they had brought to purchase the grain, along with a silver cup that is to be placed in Benjamin’s sack.
• When the steward catches up with the brothers and asks to search their sacks for the missing silver cup, the brothers are so confident that their sacks will NOT turn up the missing cup that they pledge the guilty party’s life if the cup is turned up.
• Finally, the cup is found in Benjamin’s sack and the brothers are devastated.
• They return to Joseph’s house where Judah not only rehearses before Joseph all the events leading up to this moment, but in order to spare his aging father a sorrowful death, offers himself as a slave in the place of his youngest brother.
Summary: Once again, the brothers are returned to Egypt under false pretenses…a stolen silver cup. When the missing cup is found in his youngest brother’s sack, Judah offers himself as the ruler’s slave in order that Benjamin might return to their father.
Why did God include this event in his record or what would we not know–about God, life, myself, others, etc.–if this story were not in the Bible?
• We are really not told if God is the one directing Joseph, justified or not, in his manipulation of his brothers, but even if not, Joseph is weaving a masterful disciplinary intervention. In other words, rather than a direct verbal intervention, which is what most of us, including a billion mothers on the planet, would have been tempted to do, Joseph is using the providential platform that God has afforded him in order to bring his brothers to a more genuine brokenness and repentance. It’s as if, Joseph sees the entire field. The clouds are parting before him, and it is obvious what he is supposed to do which each new situation. It’s as if he is a human angel, doing God’s bidding. Almost instinctively, after this wonderful banquet in which Joseph chooses NOT to reveal his identity to his brothers, he knows to put them through one more gut-wrenching test. I mean what coach, parent, teacher or boss has the backbone or spine to put those we truly care about through such a back and forth testing?
It kind of reminds me of a scene from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, in which Petruchio, in his attempt to tame the Bianca’s older sister, the shrew Katheriana, very humorously, goes back and forth with her concerning whether it is the sun or moon that hangs above them. Whenever Katherina finally gives in and admits to calling it whatever Petruchio is referring to it at the moment, he then switches back to calling it the opposite of what she has just called it.
But in reality, genuine, lasting remorse and repentance typically only follows a great cost of pain. For a change to really take place, typically the pain or cost must be great. Gradually, Joseph has been setting his brothers up for a true test of genuine remorse and character. Will someone protect Benjamin, as they failed to do for Joseph many years ago, although Reuben did try. He just was not successful.
So this all leads me to the Spiritual question, does God want to use us as his agents of aggressive, strategic Spiritual intervention? Are we to be human angels in a world of deep moral darkness? And if so, how so?
• Because of our limited perspective, as was the case of Joseph’s brothers, kind of like a judge listening to our attempt to plead our way out of a traffic ticket, isn’t it kind of interesting to listen to Judah rehearse the entire story before his brother, as if there was this great misunderstanding to all that has taken place. In some ways, Judah sounds kind of pathetic until he gets to the punch line…allow me to take the place of my brother…. which is what Jesus Christ, who will descend from the tribe of Judah will do for his brothers. He will take our place. He will take our sin. He will assume our punishment, so that through our trust or acceptance of his sacrifice, we go free, no longer a slave to sin’s death penalty or perpetual enslavement.
Thanks … It’s been a good week of pastoral ministry. Got to check on quite a few folks and do some counseling. The ministry typically goes in spurts. Sometimes it is more study, teaching or writing-driven, sometimes more pastoral, counseling or prayer-driven and sometimes more practically or administrative-driven. This week it was checking on the sheep-driven, which is what I knew I needed to do, and by God’s grace, it worked out that way. Of course, there are tons more sheep that I need to check on, but the Spirit so seemed to arrange it that I was able to check on quite a few in a meaningful way this week, and for that I am very thankful. Also thankful for God’s gracious financial provision. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord.
Struggle…Not so much a struggle as a pondering as to the true Spiritual needs of my flock. Of course, there are individuals, but there is also the body…Just doing some thinking, pondering and praying. Trying NOT to assume or presume.
Truth… 1) As with Joseph, being willing to be a patient agent of God’s intervention within people’s lives, including God’s painful intervention; 2) Sacrifice…being willing as Judah to offer myself as a sacrifice for others safety and deliverance; 3) Much like a very secure Christ before the Sanhedrin or the Roman authorities–NOT pleading or wah wahing all the unnecessary details of my own personal righteousness to God or others. God knows who I am and what I have done. And what others may or may not think, is it really that important? To those that really are interested in my Spiritual well-being, I suppose it will all come out, but to those who are NOT really interested, why waste my Spiritual breath?
Application… God, if I am to Spiritually stir the pot or waters so to speak, either for individual or the body or elements within the body, or even others outside the body, you are going to have to open up the field, so that it is obvious to me. In order to obtain a better, deeper repentance, help me not give away too much truth or too many cards too soon. Help me to be wise, shrewd as a serpent, but innocent as a dove. Help me to see and act appropriately, Lord.
Biggest Struggle at the moment:
How does what happen here relate to you?
What about your kids?
Biggest Struggles (Imagine these or several–put yourself in their shoes–walk through a day with them at school, at home. What might they encounter?)
Now how does what happen here possibly relate/ (Remember this is only to give you a feel or an introductory hook or a reinforcing took; in there looking, they may come up with something entirely different.)
Remember to have fun, sense the Spirit’s leading and develop a love for these kids.
As always, thanks!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org).