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Monday, January 30, 2006

Joseph's cup and divination

Joseph claimed, to his brothers, to use divination (finding out things by magic):

Genesis 44:3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’” (ESV)

The NIV has a text note to Genesis 30:27 (where Laban says that he has learned, from divination, that God has blessed him because of Jacob's presence in his household) which says that divination was forbidden to the Israelites, because it "reflected a pagan concept of the world controlled by evil forces . . ." Moses spoke strongly against the practice of divination in Deuteronomy 18:9-12.

The Blueletter Bible provides access to commentaries, including that of Matthew Henry. His commentary on this passage doesn't mention divination. The commentary, also from the Blueletter Bible, of Robert Jamieson, suggests that Joseph did not practice divination, but said that he did to deceive his brothers. John Wesley doesn't deal with this verse, in his commentary. John Calvin mentions use of the cup for divination, but does not explain it. He does remark that, considering his position, Joseph might have used a gold cup, rather than a silver one.

Here's the Wikipedia article on divination.

Why did Joseph say this? One possibility is that he did practice divination. If so, that's strange, since he had achieved his position, in part, through foretelling of the future, through dreams or interpretations of dreams sent by God. (see previous post)

Another possibility is that the statements quoted above are part of Joseph's deceit of his brothers. He did a pretty thorough job of it. Was he trying to humiliate his brothers? Was he testing them? Was he trying to get revenge? Was this all his own idea, or did God direct him? The plain answer is that I don't know.

I will raise one more question. Why did Joseph not reveal himself at the first visit of his brothers? I don't see any reason why he could not have, and, had he done so, he would have gotten to see his father earlier than he did. My guess is that he was working through his emotions, and did not completely forgive them on their first visit.

I don't know, of course, if I would have been any kinder to brothers who had sold me into slavery than Joseph was. I hope I would have forgiven them. I'm thankful that my brothers have been good to me.

Thanks for reading. This is part of an occasional series, based on the Old Testament readings of the ESV Bible's plan for reading the bible through in a year.


Dave said...


I do not have a specific comment for this posting. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to make these posts. It is on my regular list, and I enjoy your point of view. I too am in the sciences and have taken several years to come to terms with my beliefs. I find the links you post especially useful, and the pointer to PSCF provided a wealth of great information.

Keep up this important ministry! God bless.

- Dave

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for reading, and leaving a comment, Dave.

John said...

My understanding of the Purim, and Ephod was it was a type of “divination”, but obviously sponsored by YHVH.
There are also other instances in scripture of “casting lots”, which is a method used in “divination” (i.e. choosing the 12th Apostle after Judas committed suicide).

Therefore, our word English word for "divination" may be a not specific enough to accurately describe that which on the surface, seems to be paradoxical.

Joseph, may have been practicing something similar to the Ephod, something that was sanctioned by YHVH, and not the type of divination that is forbidden of Israel

Even though something is told through "divination" doesn't make it not accurate. Take for instance, the “divining” spirit that Paul cast out of the girl in Acts Chapter 16. The spirit used for fortune telling that was in her seemed to be compelled, or forced to voice that Paul was a priest of the Most High God, and that he was telling the way to be saved - a true statement.

Another example of an accurate divination is when the men aboard the ship with Jonah cast lots and found out that he was the cause for the storm at sea.

Martin LaBar said...

Well said, John, and your comment is a great addition to the post.

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