Lessons from the Life of Joseph (8)
“Forgiveness & Reconciliation” Genesis 43:1-14 & 45:1-7
Last week we were reminded that God sometimes allows us to get into situations that bring us face to face with our sin & disobedience. Joseph’s older brothers tried to cover up the evil they did to him twenty years earlier. They tried to suppress their guilt. But now finding themselves in big trouble in Egypt, their consciences began to trouble them. “They said to one another, ‘Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us.’” (v 21)
The brothers did not know that the powerful official standing in front of them was in fact their brother Joseph. As he had been communicating with them through an interpreter they didn’t realise that he could understand every word of their discussion. For the first time in his life Joseph realised that his brothers actually felt truly bad about how cruel they had been to him. Their consciences were being awakened. One of the first signs of an awakening conscience is the admission of personal guilt. Some people know perfectly well that they have caused others a whole lot of pain & hurt, yet they do not admit that they have done anything wrong. If, however, we have knowingly done wrong & have knowingly hurt others, unless we do admit our sin & turn away from it, God cannot use or bless us.
The famous story of the Prodigal Son illustrates this truth powerfully. The young man had wasted all his inheritance & ended up feeding pigs. Finally, it says in Luke 15:17, “…he came to his senses…” He realised he couldn’t blame his father or his older brother for the mess he was in. He alone was responsible. So he decided to return home, a truly broken & repentant young man, begging for his father’s mercy & forgiveness. Of course he was met by his amazing forgiving father & welcomed home. God often allows us, like the prodigal and like Joseph’s brothers, to be brought face to face with our sin & rebellion. He wants us to confess our sin, seek forgiveness & come home to the Father. Sadly many of those listening to the story Jesus told were religious, self-righteous Pharisees who refused to see their spiritual bankruptcy & need.
Isn’t it incredible that 20 years after their crime against Joseph God brings all ten brothers in front of the one they had wronged! But also amazing is the fact Joseph, the one wronged, never lashed out in hate or revenge. Instead he turned aside to weep. Tears not revenge - what a sign of Joseph’s godly character! It was not yet, however, the right time for him to let his brothers know who he was. He still had to test whether or not they had changed. No doubt he also longed to see his brother Benjamin & his father Jacob. After having Simeon, one of the brothers, bound & held as a hostage Joseph warned them that if they were to ever return they must bring their youngest brother Benjamin with them. And he “…gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey.” v 25.
The brothers must have been relieved to get out of Egypt, though of course one of them remained behind as a hostage. When they stopped for the first night on the journey home “… one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. ‘My silver has been returned,’ he said to his brothers. ‘Here it is in my sack.’ Their hearts sank & they turned to each other trembling & said, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’ (v 27 & 28) They were now so stirred up by God’s convicting power that even the fact their money had been returned to them made them afraid. Of course they knew they had paid for the grain and that it must have been the Egyptians who returned their silver to them. If you or I have money refunded aren’t we extremely pleased? Sure, but not these guys! Once back home, finding that all their money had been returned, they were shaken.
Jacob too was shaken. He was not handling things too well. He said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more & Simeon is no more, & now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!” v36 Jacob’s despair might seem understandable from a human perspective but had he looked at things from God’s perspective he would have been able to trust that God was in control. Little did he realize that in fact God was working for him. As Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Everything was not against Jacob – in fact God was working for him, for the deliverance of the whole family. When Winston Churchill, the famous wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain lost an election after the war his wife suggested that it might be a blessing in disguise. Churchill replied, “If this is a blessing, it is certainly very well disguised.” I guess Jacob might have felt the same way. He had no idea of what God was planning.
We do not know how long the food they bought in Egypt lasted but we read in 43:1 & 2, “…the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, ‘Go back & buy us a little more food.’” Jacob’s sons reminded him that unless Benjamin was with them the official in Egypt would not help them. Incredibly one of the sons, Judah, promised to ensure Benjamin’s safety and Jacob finally agreed to let them go. The rest of chapter 43 describes the dramatic events as they returned to Egypt. In fear & trembling they tried to explain about the money they had found in their sacks following their previous visit. To their amazement Joseph’s steward reassured them: “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks: I received your silver.” v 23 And then Simeon was brought out to them. They were told to wash themselves & rest up a bit for at noon they were to eat lunch at the home of the powerful official they so feared. The Bible continues, “When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought …and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, ‘How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?’” v 26 & 27
When Joseph saw his younger brother Benjamin he spoke kindly to him. “God be gracious to you, my son”, he said. Joseph was so deeply moved he had to rush away to a private room to weep. After composing himself again he returned & the meal began. According to Egyptian custom the visitors ate on their own separate from the Egyptians. Joseph had arranged the seating according to their ages & had ordered that 5 times more food be given to Benjamin. No wonder the brothers “looked at each other in astonishment.” v.34 Maybe it was another little test – to see if the brothers would show resentment to Benjamin as once they had to him.
Joseph’s final test for them was about to come. The whole group of them were sent on their way in the morning loaded up with food but secretly Joseph’s own silver cup was hidden in Benjamin’s sack. We then read in 44:4 & 5, “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? Isn't this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’” Of course the brothers protested their innocence. They were so sure of their innocence that they added, “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; & the rest of us will become my lord's slaves.” The steward said only the one found with the cup would need to be a slave. The rest would be free. Imagine the tension as the search started, first from the oldest brother’s sack on down to the youngest – Benjamin. And yes, “…the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.” v 12
The brothers were totally devastated. They were taken back to the city. “Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him.” v. 14 Joseph acted as if he was very angry. He finished by saying, “Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.” v 17 What a test! Previously the brothers had sold Joseph as a slave. Would they now leave Benjamin in a similar situation so as to save themselves?
This was when Judah came forward to plead with Joseph. In moving detail he explained to Joseph the whole situation. He told how the loss of Joseph had broken his father’s heart and now if Benjamin the youngest were also to come to harm, the old man would surely die. Judah lays his own life on the line for Benjamin saying, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.” v 33 Judah was clearly a changed man, as were the other brothers prostrated before him. Judah’s heartrending appeal so moved Joseph that he could no longer control himself. He ordered all his attendants to leave and then burst into loud sobbing. We read in 45:2 & 3: “…he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him… Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.”
Amazingly we read that although his brothers were understandably terrified, Joseph said to them, “‘Come close to me.’ Joseph could have had all his brothers executed but instead he reached out to them in love & forgiveness. What a picture this is of the Lord Jesus! We stand before Him as guilty undeserving sinners but He reaches out to us with His nail-pierced hands and offers us forgiveness & salvation. Jesus says: “Come close to me. I want a personal relationship with you. I invite you to be part of the worldwide family of God’s people.” Joseph continued, “‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed & do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. v 4-7
What an amazing understanding Joseph had of God’s sovereign rule in history! God was in control. Joseph did not see himself as merely the victim of his brothers’ cruelty & sin. He didn’t allow bitterness & revenge to blind him to the overall purposes of His God. All that had happened to him had been part of the plan of Almighty God. Three times Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me ahead of you” (vv. 5, 7) and “It was not you who sent me here but God” (v.8). Later in Genesis 50:20 he makes the incredible statement, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Of course, the fact God had His sovereign plan and had overruled everything in Joseph’s life did not excuse the brothers for what they had done. They were still guilty. They were still responsible. Yet having confessed their guilt and shown true repentance, Joseph was more than ready to forgive them. In fact he welcomed them with open arms, just like the father welcomed back the prodigal son and just like the Heavenly Father welcomes us back when we come to Him in repentance.
We too need to admit our guilt before a holy God but the wonderful thing is, when we repent He is ready to forgive, to heal & restore. In turn, like Joseph, we who have been forgiven by God need to be ready to forgive those who have sinned against us. It is as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
Someone said: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; if our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; if our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; if our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; but our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.” Through Jesus we receive forgiveness and through the power of His Holy Spirit we can forgive those who have sinned against us.
As we forgive others & as we actively bless those who have hurt us, we openly resist the evil one. We take back spiritual ground and release those who have hurt us to receive God’s work in their lives. As we close today, I want us to pray a prayer of forgiveness: Heavenly Father, I bring to You today the sinful things done against me by _________ (name the person & the offense before the Lord). What he/she did to me was wrong. I choose today to cancel the debt I feel is owed to me. I release _______ from my judgment & place him/her into Your hands. I forgive him/her. I bless him/her. Please release the power of the Holy Spirit to help me get over this offense so that I can move on in my life in obedience to Your will. I repent of my own anger & bitterness (name any other sinful reactions towards the person) and I receive Your forgiveness, Lord. I rebuke any evil spirits that would try to take ground in my life and that try to stir up anger, bitterness, or resentment. I refuse to give them any place in my heart. In the name of Jesus, I command the power of the enemy’s influence to stop now and to leave me. I ask You, Lord, to come and heal me, restore & revive me, and fill my heart with Your life & peace. Guide me, by Your Spirit, as to how I should deal with _____________, particularly when things don’t change right away the way I would like them to. I surrender my own expectations to You, Lord, and choose to walk in Your freedom & grace. In Jesus Name, Amen