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06 January 2012

Forgiveness - 6 January

Simeon is being held hostage until Joseph sees Benjamin. Joseph literally holds all the cards. He’s got the food and soon he will also have the new favorite son. I wonder how many sleepless nights he had while the family convinced Jacob that the only way to get Simeon back – and get food – was to once again trust them with a favored son.

After they brought Benjamin to Joseph, Simeon was released and the family purchased grain. But Joseph hadn’t had enough revenge yet. He had a silver cup placed in Benjamin’s bag. The family was stopped on the way home, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s possession. The whole family had to turn around and face Joseph again, but this time with a theft charge hanging over their heads. Since the cup was found in Benjamin’s bag, Joseph told the brothers that Benjamin would have to remain as a slave. His brother Judah interceded and tells more of the true story. He pleads for Benjamin’s life – and for the life of his father as well. He doesn’t confess to the treachery of 22 years before, but he does show remorse (possibly because he had pledged himself for security and had his own future to think about). This confession becomes too much for Joseph…

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10  You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11  There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. Gen 45:1-15 (ESV)

Joseph reveals himself to his family, and they are …dismayed! Afraid because of the revenge Joseph could dish out? Sorry that they missed out on time with their brother? Regardless of the reason for the family’s tears, it’s clear that Joseph has had enough of the tension caused by bitterness. He weeps so loudly that they Egyptians AND Pharoah’s house heard it. Tears of regret, relief, regeneration. Tears of joy and genuine love for his family. Tears of forgiveness.

Then they talked!

Joseph forgave them because he recognized that all of the trials and sufferings in his life were a set up from God. He gave Joseph to that particular caravan. He allowed Joseph to be falsely accused and imprisoned. He allowed Joseph to interpret dreams so that Joseph’s dream would be fulfilled. God did it all! And his brothers gladly bowed down!

The whole family was saved. They moved to the best land and had the best jobs. God saved the Jewish people through Joseph’s sufferings. But until Joseph was willing to forgive, the family remained torn apart.

The family moved to Goshen and Joseph was reunited with Jacob. He was able to spend time with Jacob for a few years… and then Jacob died. Although Joseph had forgiven his brothers, it doesn’t seem that the brothers forgave themselves.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.  Gen 50:15-21 (ESV)

They wanted to make sure that Joseph didn’t plan some revenge – so they told him that Dad wanted peace. Again, Joseph cries – but this time he’s crying because they finally admitted their wrongdoing! Not only does he promise that he has forgiven them, but he says that he will even make sure their families are taken care of.

It takes a big man (or woman) to accept that a wrong has been done, find God’s purpose in it, and truly forgive. With forgiveness comes reconciliation and harmony.

Joseph was a cog in God’s prophetic wheel called “Israel”. But Joseph’s story is more than just a story of a dreamer who dreamt big and was rewarded by God. It’s also a story of terrible wrongs,  dysfunctional families, a murder plot, unfair incarceration, and betrayal – all made into good because Joseph realized that God was in control. He shows us the principle of “let go and let God”.

Could you have suffered through Joseph’s life without going crazy? Could you stand to be wrongly jailed? What would you want to say to the people who wronged you when you had the clear upper hand? Would you want revenge, or would you realize that God was in control?

I think I’d be like Joseph. I’d want my revenge – hot and sweet thanks! But after I had the opportunity to think about it, I would want to do the right thing. I’m not sure I could be as magnanimous as Joseph. But his story is a great reminder that God will make everything turn to His good.

Wow! What a way to start a new year. I pray that as we go through this study, we will all become more Christ-like and learn more about true forgiveness.

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