44 14 When Judah and his brothers came into Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they flung themselves to the ground in front of him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed you have done? Did you not know someone like me can divine?”
16 Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? What can we say or do to prove ourselves innocent? God has found out your servants’ guilt. Here we are, slaves to my lord, we, including the one who’s hand was found with the goblet.”
17 Joseph said, “Assuredly, I would never do such a thing. The man in whose hand the goblet was found will be my slave. But you, go up in peace to your father.”
18 Judah approached him and said, “Please, my lord, allow your servant to say a word in my lord’s ear and let not your anger burst against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a young child of his old age, whose brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 You said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I can see him.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father. If he leaves, his father will die.’ 23 You said to your servants, ‘If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you shall never see my face again.’
24 “When we went up to my father, your servant, we told him the words of my lord.25 Our father told us, ‘Go back and buy us some food.’ 26 We said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down. We cannot see the face of the man if our youngest brother is not with us.’ 27 Your servant, my father, said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore two to me. 28 One went out from me. I thought, “He was torn apart,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from my presence, too, and harm befall him, you will bring down my gray head in despair to Sheol.’
30 “So, should I now return to your servant, my father, and the lad is not with us—his life, so bound to the lad’s— 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die, and your servant will have brought down the gray head of our father, your servant, in grief to Sheol.
32 “Your servant, pledged himself for the lad’s safety to my father, saying, ‘If I don’t bring him to you, I will bear the blame to my father for all the days.’ 33 So, please let your servant stay instead of the lad as a slave to my lord. Let the lad go with his brothers. 34 For, how can I go up to my father if the lad is not with us? Let me not see the misfortune that would come upon my father.”
The last time there was a problem between Joseph and his half-brothers, Simeon was incarcerated longer than he expected. This problem seems even more significant. The brothers had agreed that the thief would die, and the rest would become slaves—never returning to their father in Canaan. No magical third time of bowing will get them out of this trap.
As Judah had previously negotiated with his father to have them return with Benjamin to purchase more grain from Egypt, so he takes the lead in negotiating with Joseph toward them returning with grain to Canaan.
Joseph changes the volunteered death sentence to slavery for only the thief.
Judah recognizes the loss of Jacob’s new favorite son from favored Rachel would do Jacob in. Judah rehearses the story from when they first meet Pharaoh’s regent, whose position covers the identity of Joseph. The point of going through their journey to this point is to clarify the impossible choice to return home without Benjamin.
Judah attempts to change the command to leave by offering to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. His staying would affect no one (other than any commitment he had for support of Perez and Zerah, whom he had sired by his sons’ wife, Tamar).
Here there is more than a pregnant pause, an uncomfortable silence.
Many threads of storyline hold their breath to see what is next, what direction is chosen, what choices will be made toward and against the decisions of the powerful.