Genesis 50:15-21: God Working Through All for the Good

Joseph and his brothers first meet in EgyptHow hard to forgive someone who hurts you!  A co-worker takes credit for your work, and now you are the lazy one.  A bully intimidates you, for not all bullies die away after grade school.  Your sister talks your aging mother into giving her a family heirloom, which she promised to you a decade before.  Later, she sells the item for a few dollars.

The damage burrows deep inside, and you want to avoid the anguish.  Perhaps, hate begins to consume you, and you seethe with revenge.

To absolve the people who offended you is an abnormal response for our fallen flesh.  So, don’t think because you’re a Christian this trait will become automatic.  No, we live in a world, which whispers in our ear, “Don’t become angry.  Retaliate!”

Not so from the story of Joseph.  An account of a real person helps us understand why and how we can forgive others who crush us—including those who did so with brutal intent.  The Old-Testament reading for today is the end of a long story.

So, let’s go back 13 chapters in Genesis to recall what occurred between Joseph and his brothers.  The eleventh of 12 brothers, Joseph, soon becomes dad’s favorite.  Now, we’re not supposed to prefer one child over another, but sometimes we do.

So the dad, Jacob, gives Joseph a colorful coat.  Alone, this is enough to cause resentment, but Joseph also likes to share what he dreams about during his sleep.  In one of his dreams, his brothers are bowing down to him.

With hate now simmering inside, his brothers conspire to kill him and throw him down a pit.  A compassionate brother intercedes, and so they decide to sell Joseph to a slave owner.  The captain of the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, buys Joseph as his slave.

The ten brothers try to cover up their malicious act by dipping Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood.  Later, they cry out to their father.  “Oh, dad, a wild beast attacked Joseph, killing him.”  The grief pierces dad to the heart, and he almost dies from the pain.

In Egypt, God is guarding over Joseph as he serves his master, Potiphar.  Now his wife conjures up other plans.  For she not only likes to check out the goods but also wants to touch.  So, one day, she makes her moves on Joseph, but he rejects her advances, leaving behind his outer garment as he escapes.

Spurned, she lies about Joseph.  “This slave of yours, husband, tried to seduce me.  Do you want evidence?  Cast your eyes toward my bed, where his coat still lies.  For he ran in fear when I sent him away.”  Full of rage, Potiphar throws Joseph into prison.

In the damp and moldy jail, God grants Joseph the gift to interpret dreams for another prisoner, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker.  The bread maker is released.  A couple of years go by, and he learns about Pharaoh and his disturbing dreams.

Ah, now he remembers Joseph!  So, he tells Pharaoh about Joseph’s ability to decipher dreams.  So, out comes Joseph from jail.  “Here’s what your dream means, O King.  For seven years, the earth will produce a bountiful crop.  For the seven to follow, famine will strike the land.”

Well, who better to oversee preparation for the hard times than the one who revealed this to the king!  The years pass, and Jacob’s family suffers privation from the scarcity of food.  The father, Jacob, sends ten of his sons on a long journey to buy grain.

In Egypt, they cross paths with their brother.  Well, Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t realize who he is.  Now, after two trips, Joseph spills the beans.  “Come closer, can you not tell I am your brother?”  So they journey back and bring Jacob and all the family to Egypt.  With joy, they celebrate.  The years press on, and their father dies.

The hidden, underlying fear of his brothers now rises to the surface.  “Perhaps, Joseph showed kindness to us because dad still lived.  Will he now pay us back for the wickedness we did to him?”  For so long, those ten brothers wallowed in guilt about what they did to Joseph and Jacob, their father.  Every time their father wept or dropped his head grieving for Joseph, guilt festered anew in their hearts.

All the sons of Jacob and the whole family resided in Egypt—17 years!  Somehow, during those almost two decades of living, no real healing took place between the ten brothers and Joseph, the one whom they sold into slavery.  The brothers thought themselves secure as long as dad lived.  Now he is dead!

So, if their brother bided his time to avenge them after dad’s death, now he can do so.  Never did they wrestle through the hurt, discomfort, and dysfunction in the family.  Like them, we often don’t struggle to work through our past grievances.  Somehow, we assume the heartache will go away and disappear on its own.  Away from the eyes, away from the mind, we think.  So we hide our failings and refuse to confess them.

How foolish!  For we can all recollect incidents, long buried, which only needed a spark to ignite the old anger and hurt.  The burn of the unhealed scab still stings and scorches.  The wounds never healed because we buried our heads in the sand.

Often, we don’t forgive.  With the flick of our wrist, we’ll wave something off.  “Oh, don’t worry, everything is fine.”  Those words may not touch deep enough to restore a wounded heart.  What do we need?  Real confession and forgiveness.

To save their skin, the ten brothers cook up a story.  “Dear Joseph, when dad lay dying, he told us what God laid on his heart.  Forgive the wrongdoing of your father’s servants, your brothers.”  Did Jacob ask Joseph to do this?  Perhaps not.

For we can tell Jacob didn’t worry about Joseph forgiving his other sons.  For if he did, he would ask this of Joseph years earlier.  The story does not reveal this happening.  No, the timing is too convenient—this is a desperate effort to protect their lives.

Listen, when we confess our sins to another in Christ and receive the words, “I forgive you,” those sins are gone!  Oh, we can bake a cake for someone we harm as a positive gesture.  This shows you want to heal the rift.  Still, the Christian life is both word and deed, confessing and bringing God’s Word of pardon and baking the cake.

In Christ, when you receive absolution from another, you are listening to the voice of God.  Oh, you may not believe this, but God says so.  Forgiven by God, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, faith grasps this reality and lives!

So, what did Joseph do?  Moved by their words, though deceptive, he wept.  For Joseph forgave his brothers long ago and no longer carried the burden of hate or reprisal.  Though his brothers didn’t sound repentant, Joseph still pardoned them.

Perhaps to hedge their bets, they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin.  “A young, innocent face will soften up our brother.”  Unsure, they bow before Joseph, paying him the respect owed to his position, “We are your servants,” their lips cry forth.

Oh, the déjà vu!  Many years before, God gave Joseph two dreams about his brothers bowing down before him.  Now, they are doing what he dreamed.  Still, Joseph didn’t want servants to fear him but brothers to love him.  “Do not be afraid!  For am I here in place of God?”  Through the years, the mystifying work of his heavenly Father unfolded before his eyes.  Should he question God’s methods?  No.

The Scriptures tell us, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19).  So, our Father above doesn’t send us out to retaliate.  No, our Savior reveals what our disposition should be.  “Be merciful, as your Father is also merciful” (Luke 6:36).

So, Joseph explains to his brothers.  “The God of our fathers used the evil, which happened to me, for the benefit of myself and others.  Many are now alive because of what took place.”  The brother repeats what he told them when he first revealed himself 17 years earlier.  What did he say all those years ago?  “Don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me.  No, God sent me ahead of you to preserve life!  So you didn’t send me here, God did” (45:5, 8).

The mistreated brother sold into servitude experienced the hand of God bringing out His grace from the wrongs he endured for way too long.  The Lord turns malice inside out to make His blessings emerge, for His mysterious and divine purposes.

Do you want proof?  The cross of Christ.  On the crossbeam of nail and wood, our God in human flesh died by the hand of his creatures.  Through His death, God worked our life and salvation.  Yes, God can and does work through our painful events, for our well-being—if not here, in eternity.

The people who conspired to kill Jesus did so from hate-filled hearts, but God turned their cruelty into a better end—salvation!  What did our Lord suffer?  Unjust treatment, persecution, thrown into a pit of humanity, with His clothes torn off Him.  Though left in the prison of a tomb, He emerged alive.  The crimes perpetrated against Him became part of God’s larger plan of supreme achievement—eternal life for you and me!

The favored brother, Joseph, shows grace, forgiving those who betrayed him.  “Don’t be afraid, for I will provide for you …”  By comforting them, he spoke to the needs of their hearts (vs. 21), as does Jesus.  So, forgiven by our Savior, we now can comfort and forgive, as well.  Amen.