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 (Gen. 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 (Gen. 44:21), and had forbidden them his presence unless they brought Benjamin with them (Gen. 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 (Gen. 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, Gen. 44:20. This they had pleaded against Joseph’s insisting on his coming down (Gen. 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, Gen. 44:29. This therefore Judah presses with a great deal of earnestness: “His life is bound up in the lad’s life (Gen. 44:30); when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will faint away, and die immediately (Gen. 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, Gen. 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, Gen. 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 (Gen. 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 (Heb. 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 (Gen. 44:22), testifying therein a very tender concern both for his father and for his brethren.