Why the Cup in Benjamin’s Sack?

“And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth. And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.” Genesis 44:1-2

Joseph’s Background

We are all familiar with this story. Joseph’s brothers were about to leave Egypt and return to their father, Jacob, in Canaan after coming to buy food for their families due to the famine. Seventeen years earlier, Joseph’s older and cruel brothers had put him into a pit and sold him into Egypt, where he was lied on and went to prison. Because of them, he was robbed of his childhood. Now unbeknownst to them, they are face-to-face with him and Joseph does a strange thing. He has his steward put a cup into Benjamin’s sack. At first sight, it looks like he’s setting them up for revenge and destruction; but upon closer analysis, we see he is bringing them into a reality check.

The key to interpreting this event is in realizing whose sack the cup is in (Benjamin’s) and who he is. Benjamin is their father Jacob’s new favorite son. If they so choose, they can now do with Benjamin what they had done with Joseph seventeen years earlier.

Joseph “Sets the Stage”

The sentence had already been passed. Whoever had the sack with the cup stays in Egypt, the exact place Joseph’s brothers had sent him because he was their father’s favorite. All they had to do to get rid of Benjamin was leave him to suffer at the hand of the Egyptians. Then go home and report to their father that his new favorite son had been arrested and would not be coming home anymore.

What Joseph was doing by having the cup placed in Benjamin’s sack was “setting the stage” to see if they were the same men they used to be. To his joy, he found they were not. Seventeen years earlier, they were hateful, liars, wicked, and selfish – giving no thought to Joseph’s welfare or to their father’s feelings.

In chapter 37 of Genesis, we read that they hated him out of jealousy. In chapter 44, however, Joseph learned that by placement of the cup in Benjamin’s sack, God had done a real work of grace in his brothers when they offered themselves as sacrifices for Benjamin and their father.

How does this story apply to us?

I think God sometimes allows someone to put a cup in our sack as a reality check – to see where we are in our Christian walk. Perhaps we have a lustful experience and a cup is put in our sack to see if we are still controlled by the flesh. Perhaps we are facing a time when coveting, lying, or stealing seem to  be the best option (I do not think God tempts us to sin, but He does sometimes allow others to) and a cup is put in our sack to see what we will do. Perhaps a cup is put in our sack that calls upon us to turn the other cheek or maybe a cup that tests our response to ill health.

Joseph found that his brothers were not the men they used to be; it is evident they had grown in their lives. When the cup is put in your sack, what about you? Do you, and others, see spiritual growth in you when the test comes?