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. 2Then 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.’” (Genesis 44:1-5, NIV)

Did Joseph actually practice divination? If so, what are we to make of this?

  • +1 I added a related question, (What is Divination?). In one sense Joseph certainly read "signs", and the cup could make sense in that context. But, there is also "spiritualism" which seems to be an association with the dead, etc. Hopefully, the related question will be constructive. However, there seems to be two questions here: did Joseph practice divination, (interpretation of signs, dreams, etc.), and - does this specific passage affirm this. I hope this question intends to focus on the first aspect. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 20:45

7 Answers 7


The Hebrew is נחשׁ(nḥš) which is related to sorcery or divination; the Masoretic text here is נָחַשׁ (nā·ḥǎš), which means to practice divination. Other instances:

But Laban said to him, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you" (Genesis 30:27, RSV)

You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft (Leviticus 19:26)

There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer (Deuteronomy 18:10)

Joseph's instruction to his servant doesn't necessarily imply that he actually practiced divination, since the instruction itself was part of the greater ruse of making it appear that his brothers acted in bad faith towards him. Nowhere in Genesis is there any appearance of Joseph's actually practicing divination.


In Genesis 44:5 (NASB)

Is this not that from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? (...)

and in Genesis 44:15 (NASB)

Joseph said to them, “What is this thing that you have done? Do you not know that a man who is like me can indeed practice divination?”

While Genesis 44:5 isn't that clear, Joseph later on seems to indicate that he did practice divination.... but then again, this could be part of Joseph's ruse.


There are a lot of "if"'s involved in this answer:

whether Joseph existed, is accurately portrayed etc.

From a historians view I'd say: sure why not? When in Egypt do it like the Egyptians.

But we only have this text and it is sparse with information about the cup and its use. What the text does say, however, is not that Joseph divines with the cup.

The text we have now says that within the overall scheme of things this is an exquisite ruse. And within this ruse a servant is told to paint the picture of a Joseph using the cup in this way. Whether a divining Joseph wants to appear angry about this "cup-stealing" or a strictly non-diviner Joseph just sets up an elaborate lie involving the secondary usage of this cup also is up to the reader.

  • I disagree that "What the text does say" is that Joseph directed them what to say in some elaborate ruse to see if his brothers changed - which had nothing to do with the cup. However, it can be presumed that no one would care if "Joseph, the right hand of pharaoh" had lost some random cup - the guards would have had to see it, and immediately recognize its value and purpose. However, there seems to be two questions here: did Joseph practice divination, (interpretation of signs, dreams, etc.), and - does this specific passage affirm this. So, I agree that this verse isn't conclusive. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 20:41

Joseph had no need for divination, yet he lived in a culture that did. Joseph had to live the life of an Egyptian and most likely pretended the practice of divination. He could interpret dreams as God willed him, which to Egyptians would seem as divination. Then on the other hand God can use anything or anyone to glorify Himself.



Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

Gen. 44:5. Is not this it in which my lord drinketh—not only kept for the governor's personal use, but whereby he divines. Divination by cups, to ascertain the course of futurity, was one of the prevalent superstitions of ancient Egypt, as it is of Eastern countries still. It is not likely that Joseph, a pious believer in the true God, would have addicted himself to this superstitious practice. But he might have availed himself of that popular notion to carry out the successful execution of his stratagem for the last decisive trial of his brethren."

There are a few instances with Strong's Numbers where he lumps together 'alternate spellings', but they should actually have their own Strong's #.

H3808 - la/lua - not. Occurs 5,188 times. Of those, 188 are instances of "lua". And "?~lua" occurs 147 times.

It appears that "lua" signals subterfuge (as in, 'deceit used in order to achieve one's goals').

Some are easy to see and others harder (for me).

Gen. 31:35 - Where Rachel lies about not being able to rise when Laban wants to search her donkey for his missing idols.

Gen. 34:23 - Shechem convinces men of his tribe to submit to circumcision by promises - just because he wants Dinah for a wife.

Scripture4all.org is an incredible aid, to me. While ISA 3 beta is not finished (so not fully functional), you can still get the ISA 2's full free program (found under the download area for ISA 3). The Concordant View bar makes it easy to look at the instances of "lua" using the Strong's H3808.


Since the cup was silver and in the presence of arsnic silver turns a different color, might this have been what would have seemed to be an effort to remove Joseph's protection? The cup seemed to have the power to tell if the ruler was being eliminated, thus, the person stealing the cup would seek to be in league with those wanting to kill Joseph.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 3:57

I do not dispute any related research or assumptions that might prove otherwise but, my personal discernment according to Genesis 44 since Joseph was one of Pharoah's most trusted distinguished officers, therefore, all Pharoah's lords had to have a special cup, a gift from him.

In this case, it doesn't mean Joseph followed the same pagan practices, he could have used the cup for display and drinking purposes only as a result, make-believe to his and Pharoah's compulsive pagan worship servants that he followed likewise.

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    – Steve can help
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 11:37

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