Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.
3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.'”
6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7 But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” Genesis 44:1-9
I was wrong; the brothers didn’t get it. One of them even promised death to the brother who had the silver cup. Of course that would never happen as long as Joseph was in charge – something they didn’t know – but it certainly makes a point about promising something you really can’t deliver on. This will happen a number of times in the Old Testament, often as a result of sly questioning.
In fact, Jesus himself taught the importance of letting “your yes be yes and your no be no.” Matthew 5:37. There was no need for the brother to make extraordinary promises even though he thought he was in the right.
I believe in our culture we’re quite casual about making promises and breaking them. For instance, does “I’ll call you some time” constitute a promise if the person has no intention of calling? What about “I’ll pray for you” and you never do?
In the story, the brother’s promise could have been detrimental to the family if Joseph had been vengeful and cruel.
We know that ‘words have meaning’ so when we make what seems like empty promises be sure to follow them up. For instance, if you tell someone you’ll pray for them, do it and then give them a call or write a letter to let them know you’ve done it. I know it seems trivial but think of what something like that means to the person you’re promising.