Joseph Reasures His Brothers of His Forgiveness
4th August 2013
by Rev. Charmaine Braatvedt
Genesis 50: 4 – 26
The events described in the story from Genesis occurred in the 18th century BC and tells of Joseph, the last of the great Biblical patriarchs reassuring his brothers of his forgiveness for their betrayal of him. It is one of the most moving stories of forgiveness in the Bible.
Let us briefly summarise of the life of Joseph whose name means May God Add.
He was the 11th and favoured son of Jacob.
Joseph’s favoured position in his father’s affections provoked jealousy and conflict among the 12 brothers and initiated a family saga that ultimately teaches us much about forgiveness, loyalty and grace.
At 17 years old Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. The brothers deviously dipped Joseph’s coloured coat in animal blood to produce the false evidence that persuaded their father Jacob that his son, Joseph was dead.
In reality, Joseph now a slave, was transported to Egypt where he was betrayed a second time. This time, his betrayal was at the hand of his master Potiphar’s wife. She accused him of attempted rape. Again a coat was used to falsify evidence and the outcome of that was that Joseph was imprisoned.
Fortuitously young Joseph had a gift for interpreting dreams and this facilitated not only his eventual release from prison, but also his promotion to overseer of the Pharaoh’s kingdom. He became a very powerful man in Egypt and even married an Egyptian woman and had two sons by her called Ephraim and Manasseh.
At this time, there was a massive famine in the Middle East and Joseph’s brothers and family who were living in Canaan, were hard hit by it. Driven by hunger the brothers came to Egypt to buy food. Here they were fed by Joseph and the Pharaoh and Joseph graciously forgave his brothers for the wrong they had done to him. Eventually, their father Jacob and Joseph’s whole family settled his family in Egypt.
Jacob’s sons were given land in Goshen as the Egyptians found sheep herders offensive. Thus they lived some distance from their Egyptian neighbours. This internal exile enabled them to keep their distinct religious and ethnic identity intact.
Joseph lived to 110years. It had been Joseph’s wish that when he died he would be buried in Canaan. This request was honoured by Moses who took Joseph’s remains with him during the great Exodus.
Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers stands as a stunning example of good character and deep faith in God. He is primarily remembered as a man who, after all the hurt inflicted on him by his brothers, found it in his heart to forgive them.
Their inability to embrace his forgiveness was exposed when their father Jacob died. This is both curious and at the same time understandable. Their inability to receive Joseph’s forgiveness says a lot about them, about their inability to forgive others, about their inability to forgive themselves. A guilty conscience is a punishing task master.
The absolution in the NZPB addresses this problem of the disturbing effects of guilt very well:
God forgives you, forgive others, forgive yourself and approach your God in peace.
The brothers fearing that Joseph would take revenge on them on account of the wrong they had done him.
Once upon a time they had sold their brother into slavery, now they referred to themselves as Joseph’s slaves.
Sin enslaves us to the person we have wronged until we are forgiven.
The grace of forgiveness frees us from that slavery.
In the passage we see an emotional Joseph reassuring his brothers: Don’t be afraid. He speaks kindly to them and promises to provide for them.
Joseph’s faith in God’s goodness enables him to hold the wrong and injury done to him in a positive way.
He declares that all that happened was part of God’s plan to bring about the fulfilment of the promised blessing in Gen 45: 5,7 and 9.
The book of Genesis closes with the same words of faith and trust expressed time and again throughout the Scriptures
God will surely come to your aid. 50: 24 – 25.
Though this story occurred way before the Christian era, its theme of Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers, reflects the fundamental and core value of the Christian faith as articulated in the prayer Jesus taught us.
“forgive us our sins and we forgive those that sin against us.”
There is no suggestion in Jesus’ prayer that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.
This presents us with an enormous challenge.
Forgiveness is perhaps the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. Especially as the call to forgiveness frequently involves extending grace to those we regard as our enemies.
Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have to forgive someone who has hurt them.
For example, at the end of WWII any talk of forgiving Hitler’s Germany or Japan was greeted with angry responses. The very thought of forgiving the perpetrators of the holocaust was and probably still is considered contemptible.
Yet unnatural as it may seem, this concept of forgiveness is as I have already said at the heart of what Christianity is all about, and there is no doubt that Jesus expects his followers to exercise forgiveness.
I am sure you like me will have your own stories of how you have been hurt by others and now you face the challenge of forgiving them. All too often these stories involve those closest to us, a friend, a husband, a wife, son, daughter, a sibling or a colleague.
How then can we make some progress in the area of forgiving
In the first instance, let us understand that forgiveness is the natural extension of the call to love your neighbour.
Love your neighbour does not mean you have to feel fond of your neighbour or find him or her to be an attractive person.
Forgiving a neighbour who has behaved badly towards us does not mean making out that they are really not so bad after all when it is quite plain that they are.
Nor does it mean that what they did to us is no longer hurtful or offensive.
Nor does it necessarily imply that those forgiven do not have to take responsibility for the consequences of what they have done.
For example, if someone commits a murder, they can well be forgiven for what they have done, yet they still need to take responsibility for what has been done by going to jail.
Forgiveness means we wish for the good of the person we have forgiven. We no longer seek revenge for what has been done to us. We no longer seek to hold on to bitterness and other dark thoughts that are reserved for those who hurt us. Forgiveness means that we metaphorically free the person from the chains that bind them in the slavery of resentfulness and release them with goodwill.
“Don’t be afraid, I will provide for you and your children and he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
This is not the same as feeling fond of that person nor is it to say someone is nice when they are not.
Forgiveness marks an end. It is a watershed that constitutes the beginning of something new. Thus forgiveness involves change. This change does not mean that the past is immediately forgotten. Rather it means that the past is held differently. So Joseph says “I now see that you intended to harm me but God intended it for good.”
Forgiveness means deciding not to dwell on the negative, on the sin that was forgiven rather to look for the good and the positive and to adopt attitudes and practices that will lead to forgetting.
Forgiveness can be granted before it is felt.
I don’t feel like getting up out of bed on a cold winter’s morning. Duty says I must and so I do. Yet once I am up and the day unfolds I begin to be pleased that I did get out of bed.
Forgiveness begins as a duty, a commitment and a promise to hold the story of hurt or abuse in a loving gracious way. It is comforting and encouraging to know that eventually, in time, the feelings of goodwill will accompany this promise and commitment and so the forgiveness will be complete.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Who needs your forgiveness today? Who is enslaved by guilt on account of a wrong they have done you? Jesus’ call on our lives as his disciples is not to like these individuals nor is it to collude with the wrong in what they have done. The call is to forgive them and in so doing to release them, to wish them well. The story of Joseph stands as a witness to the challenge in Jesus’ prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
May God bless you in your endeavours to do just that.