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Genesis 44:18-21, What to Do After You Have Been Busted

The emotional trauma faced by the brothers now is immense.  They have been “found out” or implicated in the stealing of Joseph’s drinking cup even though they know that the charges against them are false.  In fact, Joseph’s cup has been planted by his staff/servants in Benjamin’s knapsack just like dirty cops might plant evidence of wrongdoing in the possessions of someone they want to arrest. But the brothers have painted themselves into a verbal corner—consigning to death the one with whom the drinking cup is found. They have done this because they are so sure of their innocence.  We pick up the story in verse 18:


ἐγγίσας δὲ αὐτῷ Ιουδας εἶπεν δέομαι κύριε λαλησάτω ὁ παῗς σου ῥῆμα ἐναντίον σου καὶ μὴ θυμωθῇς τῷ παιδί σου ὅτι σὺ εἶ μετὰ Φαραω
19 κύριε σὺ ἠρώτησας τοὺς παῗδάς σου λέγων εἰ ἔχετε πατέρα ἢ ἀδελφόν

20καὶ εἴπαμεν τῷ κυρίῳ ἔστιν ἡμῗν πατὴρ πρεσβύτερος καὶ παιδίον γήρως νεώτερον αὐτῷ καὶ ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ ἀπέθανεν αὐτὸς δὲ μόνος ὑπελείφθη τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ ὁ δὲ πατὴρ αὐτὸν ἠγάπησεν
21 εἶπας δὲ τοῗς παισίν σου καταγάγετε αὐτὸν πρός με καὶ ἐπιμελοῦμαι αὐτοῦ.


“And Judah, drawing near to him, said, 'I beg of you, my lord, let your servant speak a word before you, and don’t be excessively angry with your servant—for (I know) you are next after Pharaoh (in authority).  19 My Lord, you asked your servant, 'Do you have father or brother?' 20 And we responded to (our) lord, 'We do have a father, an old man, and a younger child of his old age, and his brother has died and he himself, only, is left of the children of his mother.  And the father has loved him.' 21 And you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me and I take care of him.'"


These verses get us started on Judah’s abject apology and his attempt to win Joseph’s favor. It is a brilliant rhetorical display, where Judah both admits the brothers’ powerlessness but then subtly places a burden on Joseph that he never assumed in the earlier conversation. I will comment on some words in the text with emphasis on the subtle way that Judah tries to “re-tell” the story of what has happened to the brothers.


First, we note that Judah is the one who continues to speak for the brothers. He began to assume that role in 43:3, after Reuben had gone off the deep end by suggesting the murder of his children if he didn’t return from Egypt with Benjamin still alive. The words spoken by Judah in the next 15 or so verses will serve to break the emotional logjam between the brothers and lead to their tearful reunion in Gen. 45.  Second, the verb rendered “be excessively angry” is θυμόω, emphasizing the inner as well as outer state of a person, though some would say there is little difference between θυμόω and οργίζομαι, another verb for being angry.  The Homeric Greek term, which begins the Iliad, is μήνις, “wrath.”  Judah tells the Egyptian man (Joseph in disguise) that he is μετὰ Φαραω, literally “after Pharaoh” or “next in line after Pharaoh.”  The brothers know they are talking with “Mr Big,” which makes them tremble all the more.


Third, Judah then begins to rehearse the story of their encounter. The retelling of the story is crucial both psychologically and theologically. It is psychologically powerful because it allows the introduction of a language of “care” that is absent from the first presentation of the story in Gen. 42 and 43, and it is theologically significant because the repeated use of “father” and “our father” by Judah brings into the reader’s mind the question of what constitutes the Biblical family in the first place.  Who is really the child of whom?


Judah tells the familiar saga of Joseph asking them about things “back home” (v 20).  The first difference we notice is that Judah speaks with an air of finality about Joseph, by saying that “he died” (ἀπέθανεν) whereas before the author presented Joseph as just “not existing” (οὐχ ὑπάρχει, 42:13). He stresses that Benjamin is the only other son left to his mother, a point repeating earlier words, but then he adds, “and his father loved him” (ἠγάπησεν, curiously, is in the aorist). The injection of detail is designed to soften Joseph up; indeed, the language of love appeared nowhere in the earlier chapters.


Then the words in verse 21 are, from one perspective, untrue.  Judah asserts that Joseph wanted to see Benjamin so that he (Joseph) would “care for” him (the fairly rare LXX verb ἐπιμελοῦμαι).  Joseph never said that; he just told the brothers to bring the younger brother down to Egypt (42:20). I suppose the words are half true (“bring him down”). But note, in addition, that by this time Judah has dispensed with indirect discourse and is boldly attributing words to Joseph in direct speech, “You said. . .bring him down to me and I will care diligently for him” (I take the addition of the preposition ἐπι as an intensifier). In sum, then, by adding the verb for “love,” by using direct discourse attributed to Joseph, and then by using the powerful verb ἐπιμελοῦμαι, Judah is subtly redefining the nature of the brothers’ encounter with Joseph from a mere transactional one to one of caring and intimacy. It gets even better. . .

Genesis 45:21-28
Back to Septuagint Page

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