Joseph’s Mysterious Steward (Genesis 43-44)

There is an interesting character that appears here in this part of the Genesis story: Joseph’s house steward IN Genesis 43-44. Just as a “by the way,” it is fascinating that the Lord builds little points of interest into His story of the patriarchs, little nuggets of gold. For those who are paying attention and who know where to look and when and what to look for, these subtle details make the story captivating regardless of how many times the story is read. Just when it would appear that all the details have been studied and all the viewpoints have been exhausted, another twist in the road will be found and another trail to explore will be uncovered. And so, for this reading the “new trail” is a consideration of this ‘house steward’ of Joseph, the person that does Joseph’s bidding and interacts with the brothers on Joseph’s behalf.

The first time that we encounter this steward is in Genesis 43:16 when the brothers have come to Egypt for the second time to buy food, because the famine is severe in all the land. The steward is commanded to bring the brothers into his house. They try to justify themselves by telling the steward that they brought back both the first money that appeared in their sacks and also more money to buy food. The steward listens to them and then says to them, “Peace be to you. Do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money.”

What an interesting thing for the steward to say! First, he declares to them peace. The steward represents Joseph, the one in power, and instead of threatening them he declares peace. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus would often say exactly these words to His frightened disciples. In the Old Testament, when angels appeared to men the angels almost always spoke of peace and told the humans not to be afraid. Here also the steward tells the brothers not to be afraid. “There is no threat here. Yes, you are in the house of the most powerful one in the land, but you are here in his peace and you have nothing to fear. The sovereign may be awesome and glorious, but you have found favor in his sight and you do not need to be afraid of him. In fact, here in his land he will protect you. You are safe and you are favored.” Thus, the steward speaks for Joseph and speaks to his brothers.

The steward also mentions God and gives Him the credit for returning the money into their sacks. Then he makes another noteworthy statement when he says that God put treasure in their sacks and he adds, “I had your money.” (NASB) The ESV says “I received your money.” What does this mean? It is clear that the steward had not received the money and did not have the money, but had given the money back to the brothers. The steward is declaring that he knew where the money was all the time and that their money does not spend in Joseph’s domain. “Your money will not be accepted here as payment for these goods.” It is also significant that the steward acts without Joseph’s consent or knowledge. He does not need to get Joseph’s permission to speak very boldly about what has taken place. (This can raise the question about the identity of the house steward. Could this minor character be a cameo appearance of the Son of Man, a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ?)

Probably the most fascinating interchange takes place in 44:6-13. Here the brothers have once again started to leave Egypt with their food when the steward catches up with them. The dialog is remarkable. Joseph tells his steward exactly what to say and the steward speaks those harsh words to the brothers, words of accusation, that they have responded to all Joseph’s benevolence by stealing his silver divining cup. The brothers respond defensively and say, “How could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? WITH WHOMEVER OF YOUR SERVANTS IT (THE DIVINING CUP) IS FOUND, LET HIM DIE, AND WE ALSO WILL BE MY LORD’S SLAVES.” Pay close attention to this and to the reply of the steward. The brothers propose that if the silver cup is found on anyone, the one who has it will die, and the rest will be slaves. But the steward says, “Now let it also be according to your words; HE WITH WHOM IT IS FOUND SHALL BE MY SLAVE, AND THE REST OF YOU SHALL BE INNOCENT.” Notice what has taken place here. The brothers say the guilty party should die, but the steward says that the guilty will be his slave. The brothers say that the rest will be slaves, but the steward says that the rest shall be innocent! Yet the house steward prefaces his statements with the words, “Let it be according to your words.” Given the opportunity to exercise severe judgment, he instead changes the sentence to one of grace. One brother will pay the penalty for the crime and the rest of the brothers will be considered innocent. One will be punished and the rest will go free. Notice further that the favored brother, the one most beloved by his father and the one who was the most innocent (Benjamin had almost certainly not been with his brothers when they sold Joseph into slavery) was the one who would bear the penalty for the other brothers’ crime. Also notice that Benjamin had been selected by Joseph as the one who would be considered guilty. All the brothers except Benjamin were equally guilty of selling Joseph into slavery, but only the innocent brother was chosen to bear the punishment for the crime and then the rest would be considered innocent. It is almost as if the crime of the ten guilty brothers is imputed to the one innocent brother.

Of course, the analogy is clear. We are all the ten guilty brothers. We all come into the presence of God with blood on our hands, with myriad sins that stain our multi-colored tunic. We are the ones who have stolen the ruler’s silver cup. We are the ones who tremble before the holy God who justly accuses us of our crimes and of our sins and asks us who we have to bear our deserved condemnation. In the terror of His gaze we need an innocent brother. We need a chosen sin-bearer who is Himself unblemished and spotless, who is holy and sinless, who is undefiled and separated from sinners and yet who will willingly accept the divine wrath that must be satisfied for the sins we have committed. This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless and sinless perfect sacrifice, the Brother who has endured the full weight of the wrath of God on the cross. And yet here is the wonder of God’s grace, that when I gaze at the cross and embrace as my Savior and Lord the crucified and risen Son of God, then the blood is removed from my hands and the stains are removed from my tunic and I am considered innocent. I am wrapped in a robe of righteousness and my sins are separated from me as far as the east is from the west and they will be remembered no more and I am received into the house of the King as a favored child and a full heir. Glory be to God! Here in Joseph’s house steward we see a foreshadow of the coming Messiah, a picture of Jesus Christ and of His mission of redemption which He accomplished on the cross. Let God be praised for His magnificent Word.

SDG                 rmb                  10/2/2019