Act II: The Brother’s Second Descent

“It is said that only one in a thousand is a true spiritual director. I say only one in ten thousand!” (Francois de Sales as quoted by Abbe De Tourville, Letters of Direction.)

Joseph may very well be history’s first recorded stage director. The drama he set up and began in Act I (See Joseph as Hamlet, June 16, 2014) now comes to a magnificent conclusion here in Act II. We now behold in Joseph a “master” spiritual director at work in his family, bringing about change in those who have known no change for years.

The eerie feeling of déjà-vu intensifies for the brothers when they meet Joseph the second time. He invites them to his own house now, inspiring the suspicion that he would make them slaves on his own estate. They passionately defended themselves before the house steward concerning the issue of the silver, but the steward assures them that the God of their father must have given them the treasure. They present to Joseph their gift, but his eyes turn to Benjamin, his full brother and son of his beloved mother. No doubt he remembered the man standing before him as a mere boy, and precious memories of the past flooded his soul. Again Joseph had to excuse himself and weep (Genesis 43:16-30).

On his return Joseph had a feast laid out for his brothers. Strangely enough, he set them off by themselves to eat. This may have been mere protocol as far as the brothers were concerned, for they knew that Egyptians thought themselves beyond eating with “desert bunnies” such as themselves, let alone one of such illustrious rank as their host. Joseph, however, had something more subtle in mind. The brothers now found themselves eating together apart from Joseph, just as they did twenty years ago near the pit in which Joseph lay (cf. 43:22 with 37:25). Moreover, Joseph has them seated around the table according to birth beginning with Benjamin the youngest. How did this Egyptian know the order of their birth? To top things off, Benjamin was given five times the amount his brothers had. Joseph, no doubt, was curious as to how the brothers would respond to preferential treatment toward the Rachel child. One would think these curious circumstances would disturb their appetite, but they were perhaps too dull to catch such subtleties; they ate and drank and had a merry old time with their youngest brother, unperturbed with their smaller portions.

But what was Joseph up to while they were feasting by themselves? He was plotting like his brothers did long ago. They plotted to kill him; he plots family restoration. Joseph narrows in on Benjamin, around whom the story now turns. He was, of course, the only brother innocent of the crime long ago and, being the last son of Rachel and his father’s pet, has now taken Joseph’s position in the family. Joseph somehow must have an excuse to threaten him to see how their brothers will respond. He asks his steward to place his silver “divining cup” in the bag of Benjamin. Feasted and happy with wine, the brothers begin their journey home with cheerful hearts. Ah, but what is this rumbling behind them? It is the steward accompanied by warriors! He accuses them of stealing silver again, but this time it is his master’s “divining cup.” Confident of their innocence, they challenge the steward to kill the one with whom the cup was found and take the rest of them as slaves. The cup was found with Benjamin. We do not know what the brothers thought of his innocence, but rather than go on without Benjamin, the option the steward gave them, they all went back to share his fate.

Crucial to this episode is the silver cup. Joseph goes out of his way to let his brothers know that this was the cup with which he “divined.” We know, of course, that Joseph didn’t need this cup to divine. The brothers did not know this, however. The effect was superb! Each of the brothers had to contend with the awful thought that this Egyptian could supernaturally penetrate right through them into the dark secrets of their heart by means of his magical arts! This, along with the uncanny circumstances surrounding Joseph which created a mysterious aura of déjà-vu must have been most unsettling. Their guilty past has finally caught up with them. We imagine the desperate thoughts which whirled in these helpless souls as they were led back to Joseph’s court.

What follows is one of the most moving scenes of all time. Judah steps forth from the crowd of his cowering brothers and looks this mysterious Egyptian in the eye. Out from his heart flows a most exquisite speech. Fourteen times, twice seven, the number of perfection, he refers to his father with deepest emotion (44:18-34). There is no longer resentment for Jacob because of his favoritism, just a deep love for the old man in spite of his faults. He offers himself as a slave in the place of Benjamin and says, “For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.” This is the sweet moment of Judah’s glory; he is completely transformed from the brute Joseph once knew. He had gotten beyond himself; he will now offer his life for Rachel’s son. He is free! Joseph could no longer continue his drama. He commands all who were Egyptian to leave and reveals himself. The Hebrew fell into his brothers’ arms, weeping.

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