Judah's Appeal on Behalf of Benjamin. B. C. 1707.
18 Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 20 And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. 21And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. 22And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. 23And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. 24And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. 26 And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us. 27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: 28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces and I saw him not since: 29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. 30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life 31It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 32For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. 33Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord and let the lad go up with his brethren. 34For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
We have here a most ingenious and pathetic speech which Judah made to Joseph on Benjamin's behalf, to obtain his discharge from the sentence passed upon him. Perhaps Judah was a better friend to Benjamin than the rest were, and more solicitous to bring him off or he thought himself under greater obligations to attempt it than the rest, because he had passed his word to his father for his safe return or the rest chose him for their spokesman, because he was a man of better sense, and better spirit, and had a greater command of language than any of them. His address, as it is here recorded, is so very natural and so expressive of his present feelings that we cannot but suppose Moses, who wrote it so long after, to have written it under the special direction of him that made man's mouth.
I. A great deal of unaffected art, and unstudied unforced rhetoric, there is in this speech. 1. He addresses himself to Joseph with a great deal of respect and deference, calls him his lord, himself and his brethren his servants, begs his patient hearing, and ascribes sovereign authority to him: "Thou art even as Pharaoh, one whose favour we desire and whose wrath we dread as we do Pharaoh's." Religion does not destroy good manners, and it is prudence to speak respectfully to those at whose mercy we lie: titles of honour to those that are entitled to them are not flattering titles. 2. He represented Benjamin as one well worthy of his compassionate consideration (Genesis 44:20) he was a little one, compared with the rest of them the youngest, not acquainted with the world, nor ever inured to hardship, having always been brought up tenderly with his father. It made the case the more pitiable that he alone was left of his mother, and his brother was dead, namely, Joseph. Little did Judah think what a tender point he touched upon now. Judah knew that Joseph was sold, and therefore had reason enough to think that he was alive at least he could not be sure that he was dead: but they had made their father believe he was dead and now they had told that lie so long that they had forgotten the truth, and begun to believe the lie themselves. 3. He urged it very closely that Joseph had himself constrained them to bring Benjamin with them, had expressed a desire to see him (Genesis 44:21), and had forbidden them his presence unless they brought Benjamin with them (Genesis 44:23,26), all which intimated that he designed him some kindness and must he be brought with so much difficulty to the preferment of a perpetual slavery? Was he not brought to Egypt, in obedience, purely in obedience, to the command of Joseph? and would he not show him some mercy? Some observe that Jacob's sons, in reasoning with their father, had said, We will not go down unless Benjamin go with us (Genesis 43:5) but that when Judah comes to relate the story he expresses it more decently: "We cannot go down with any expectation to speed well." Indecent words spoken in haste to our superiors should be recalled and amended. 4. The great argument he insisted upon was the insupportable grief it would be to his aged father if Benjamin should be left behind in servitude: His father loveth him, Genesis 44:20. This they had pleaded against Joseph's insisting on his coming down (Genesis 44:22): "If he should leave his father, his father would die much more if now he be left behind, never more to return to him." This the old man, of whom they spoke, had pleaded against his going down: If mischief befal him, you shall bring down my gray hairs, that crown of glory, with sorrow to the grave, Genesis 44:29. This therefore Judah presses with a great deal of earnestness: "His life is bound up in the lad's life (Genesis 44:30) when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will faint away, and die immediately (Genesis 44:31), or will abandon himself to such a degree of sorrow as will, in a few days, make an end of him." And, lastly, Judah pleads that, for his part, he could not bear to see this: Let me not see the evil that shall come on my father, Genesis 44:34. Note, It is the duty of children to be very tender of their parents' comfort, and to be afraid of every thing that may be an occasion of grief to them. Thus the love that descended first must again ascend, and something must be done towards a recompense for their care. 5. Judah, in honour to the justice of Joseph's sentence, and to show his sincerity in this plea, offers himself to become a bondsman instead of Benjamin, Genesis 44:33. Thus the law would be satisfied Joseph would be no loser (for we may suppose Judah a more able-bodied man than Benjamin, and fitter for service) and Jacob would better bear the loss of him than of Benjamin. Now, so far was he from grieving at his father's particular fondness for Benjamin, that he was himself willing to be a bondman to indulge it.
Now, had Joseph been, as Judah supposed him, an utter stranger to the family, yet even common humanity could not but be wrought upon by such powerful reasonings as these for nothing could be said more moving, more tender it was enough to melt a heart of stone. But to Joseph, who was nearer akin to Benjamin than Judah himself was, and who, at this time, felt a greater affection both for him and his aged father than Judah did, nothing could be more pleasingly nor more happily said. Neither Jacob nor Benjamin needed an intercessor with Joseph for he himself loved them.
II. Upon the whole matter let us take notice, 1. How prudently Judah suppressed all mention of the crime that was charged upon Benjamin. Had he said any thing by way of acknowledgment of it, he would have reflected on Benjamin's honesty, and seemed too forward to suspect that had he said any thing by way of denial of it, he would have reflected on Joseph's justice, and the sentence he had passed: therefore he wholly waives that head, and appeals to Joseph's pity. Compare with this that of Job, in humbling himself before God (Job 9:15), Though I were righteous, yet would I not answer I would not argue, but petition I would make supplication to my Judge. 2. What good reason dying Jacob had to say, Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise (Genesis 49:8), for he excelled them all in boldness, wisdom, eloquence, and especially tenderness for their father and family. 3. Judah's faithful adherence to Benjamin, now in his distress, was recompensed long after by the constant adherence of the tribe of Benjamin to the tribe of Judah, when all the other ten tribes deserted it. 4. How fitly does the apostle, when he is discoursing of the mediation of Christ, observe, that our Lord sprang out of Judah (Hebrews 7:14) for, like his father Judah, he not only made intercession for the transgressors, but he became a surety for them, as it follows there (Genesis 44:22), testifying therein a very tender concern both for his father and for his brethren.