Brotherly Confession


Joseph's brothers realize they can do nothing to save themselves. They admit this when they offer themselves to him as servants and beg him to show mercy.

“Judah said, ‘What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found’” (Gen. 44:16).

Genesis 42–44 reveals that God used Joseph’s examination of his brothers to make them recall their sin and admit their guilt. Their first meeting with him included a stay in prison (just as they had dropped their brother into a pit, 37:18–24) that made them finally admit to one another their maltreatment of Joseph (42:6–23). Then, on their way back to Canaan, Jacob’s sons had the eerie experience of finding the money that was supposed to be in Egypt’s coffers on the top of the grain in their sacks (vv. 26–28a). Already spooked by their stay in prison, they began to see the Lord’s hand in their journey (v. 28b).

When they went back to the land of the Nile with Benjamin, they found themselves no longer under Joseph’s accusations. Instead, they were his honored guests (43:16–34). This unexpected turn of events demonstrated their precarious position, especially when Joseph changed his mind again and charged them with theft after they left his house (44:1–13). Powerless, the men were left unable to surmise whether they would be in the pharaoh’s good graces. These strange events could not all be mere coincidences, they thought, and so they saw the hand of God in this event as it unfolded.

The brothers fall before Joseph and confess their guilt in today’s passage. An Egyptian onlooker might think they are owning up to the theft of the silver cup, but since they were not actually guilty of that crime, they are clearly confessing their past sins. They do not know Joseph himself is accusing them, and the strange similarity of being trapped in the land of the Nile just as they sold Joseph into Egyptian bondage is too much for them to bear. Everyone they have met must be agents of the Almighty; His hand is against them just as their hand was against Joseph (vv. 14–16). Years after their crime, Jacob’s sons finally show contrition.

The brothers see they can do nothing to save themselves. They admit as much when they offer themselves to Joseph as servants and beg him to show mercy (v. 16). This pictures how we must despair of our own efforts when we come before God (Luke 18:9–14).

Coram Deo

Sometimes we can go through periods where nothing seems to go our way. This does not always mean the Lord is pointing out a need to repent an unconfessed sin as He did with Joseph’s brothers. Yet it is wise in uncertain times to search our hearts and see whether we have sin that has not been addressed, since God may bring trials our way in order to bring us to repentance. Is there unconfessed sin in your life this day?

Passages for Further Study
  • Gen. 18:15
  • Num. 32:23
  • Josh. 7
  • Luke 12:1–3
  • 1 Cor. 4:5

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