Joseph: 22. Judah's Plea

Genesis 44:18‑34  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Gen. 44:18-3418Then 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. 19My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 20And 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. 21And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. 22And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. 23And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. 24And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. 26And 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. 27And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: 28And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: 29And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. 30Now 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; 31It 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. 32For 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. 33Now 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. 34For 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. (Genesis 44:18‑34)
WHAT can be found more candid and lowly, or more affecting, than the appeal to Joseph of the man once so hard and heartless?
“Then Judah came near to him, and said, Ah! 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. My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? And we said to my lord, We have an aged father, and a child born to him in his old age, a young one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother; and his father loveth him. And thou saidst to thy servants, Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him. And we said to my lord, The lad cannot leave his father; for [if] he should leave his father, he [his father] would die. And thou saidst to thy servants, Unless your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. And it came to pass when we came up to thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, Go again, buy us a little food. But 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 unless our youngest brother [be] with us. And thy servant my father said to us, Ye know that my wife bore me two [sons]; and the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces, and I have not seen him since. And if ye take this one also from me, and mischief should befall him, ye will bring down my gray hairs with evil to Sheol. Now therefore, when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad [is] not with us, seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad's soul, it will come to pass, when he sees that the lad [is] not [with us], that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For thy servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, If I bring him not to thee, then I shall be guilty toward my father all the (or, my) days. And now let thy servant stay, I pray thee, instead of the lad a bondman to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brethren; for how should I go up to my father if the lad [were] not with me? lest I see the evil that shall come to my father” (vers. 18-34).
The immense change God had wrought in his brethren was thus made manifest to Joseph. Their envy and selfish cruelty had given way to tender love to their father and his affection for the younger son of Rachel. The old jealousy was supplanted to the root; and he who took the lead was ready to become a slave to the governor, that Benjamin might return to be his father's joy and consolation, instead of death if he remained a bondman. What Joseph had sought was given him, though, none as yet knew what he realized, the fraternal guilt how gladly forgiven, the father about to taste comfort beyond all his hopes; and his own pious heart recognized God's goodness and wondrous ways in bringing about all that was about to be the portion of the family of promise.
Good M. Henry casts about for reasons why Judah should be here so prominent. But those who favor either Patristic expositors or Puritans will pardon me if I point out the great loss which all sustain who do not study the dispensational ways of God in scripture. They consequently are too little versed in the prophets, who rendered invaluable and indispensable aid for apprehending the types. There is no real ground for conceiving Judah “a better friend to Benjamin than the rest were,” or “more solicitous to bring him off.” Nor need we think that “he thought himself under greater obligations to endeavor it than the rest, because he had passed his word to his father for his safe return; or the rest chose him for their spokesman, because he was a man of better sense and better spirit, and had a greater command of language than any of them.” I am not aware that anything is extant from Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Cyril which treats of this, or from Augustine, Jerome or any ancient Latin father. For they too entered so little into the study of the purposes of God as revealed in scripture that we could not expect gleanings of weight on this score.
Yet to those who have profited anything to speak of from prophecy it is evident that to a romancer Reuben would have seemed from Gen. 37 the natural one to have taken up the case, and Judah far from promising, especially when we read the revolting figure which he cuts, in chap. 38. But the truth according to God is that Judah was the one whom grace had now fitted for the work. And this harmonizes with the divine disposition of the land, where Benjamin had a special nearness in their respective lots. “Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of Jehovah—he shall dwell in safety by him; he will cover him all the day long, And dwell between his shoulders” (Deut. 33:1212And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders. (Deuteronomy 33:12)). And so it was ordered of Jehovah, that notwithstanding the almost extermination of the tribe for their defiance of their brethren in a gross case of sin, and later still their natural repugnance to the anointed king of Judah who superseded Saul's line and their tribe, they became attached to Judah and the house of David beyond and unlike all the others.
So it will characterize the future and its bright hopes when the heart of Jerusalem is spoken to, and she will hear the cry that her time of toil and trouble is accomplished, and her iniquity is pardoned. The ten tribes will share the blessing later; but Judah and Benjamin precede. They rejected the true Christ; they will receive the Antichrist. Hence Judah here has a place with and for Benjamin quite peculiar; and He who inspired the scripture did not forget to point to this fact only known to God, which gives it a meaning full of interest to those who honor the word as truly His and not man's, all of it worthy of Him. As Joseph clearly prefigured Him that was rejected by and separated from His brethren, yet exalted in a sphere outside them for the blessing of men in all the world, so Benjamin typifies Him in His tearing to pieces the enemies of the Jew in the day of retribution that is coming, not for blessing only like Joseph, but for power, executing divine judgment on the adversary.
One quite understands how few since apostolic days in the past or present exhibit a state to apprehend or enjoy the things to come. But this, thank God, does not enfeeble the truth, nor hinder faith's delight in looking beforehand to the glorious things for Israel on the earth then made ready for them. Our portion is with Christ for the heavens.