Relevant Verses: Gen. 42-50; Matt. 18:23-35; 5:43-44; Luke 6:28; 23:34; Acts 5:31
Leading Question: When Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, was it his fault, his father’s fault, or the fault of his brothers?
After the bitter disappointment of being sold by his brothers into Egypt, Joseph finally ended up on his feet. The official study guide puts it this way:
Eventually, things moved in the right direction for Joseph, big time. He not only gets out of prison, but he is made prime minister of Egypt after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41). He is married and has two children of his own (Gen. 41:50-52). The storehouses of Egypt are full, and the predicted famine has begun. And then, one day, Joseph’s brothers turn up in Egypt.
Question: According to Genesis 42:7-20, what was Joseph up to in his first encounter with his brothers in Egypt?
Comment: The official study guide offers this interpretation. Do you think it is correct?
“Joseph had the power and could have taken his revenge on his brothers without having to justify himself. But, rather than revenge, Joseph is concerned about the members of his family at home. He is worried about his father. Was he still alive, or had a dysfunctional family become a family without a patriarch? And what about his brother Benjamin? As his father’s delight and joy, Benjamin was now in the same position that Joseph had been. Had the brothers transferred their dangerous jealousy to Benjamin? Joseph is now in a position to look out for these vulnerable people in his family, and he does just that.
Question: In the concluding words of the judgment parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 41-46), Jesus declares that the abuse and neglect of the vulnerable members of the community is actually done to Jesus himself. Does such an application make the point of the parable more forcible?
Question: Joseph is able to eavesdrop on his brothers when they talk with each other. The official study guide says that Joseph feels sorry for his brothers. In the light of these words from Scripture (Gen. 42:21-24), do you agree?
21 They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” 22 Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them.
Comment: Alongside the suggestion of pity for his brothers, another possibility presents itself as an explanation for Joseph’s tears: His sense of isolation and loneliness from his family after all these intervening years.
Healing the Wounds of the Past
The remarkable narratives involving Jacob and his family can be very instructive for us. The earlier forgiveness extended by Esau to his cheating brother Jacob was part of the family story, too. But the long tentacles of the brothers’ treatment of Joseph leave a fascinating pattern for us to ponder.
Jacob was in Egypt 17 years before his death. Up to that point there is not a hint of any feeling of revenge on the part of Joseph. Still the deep imprint of their evil deeds on the brothers themselves were not easy to eradicate. Genesis 50:15-21, in particular, is worth exploring and discussing:
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
Question: Based on our own experience and observations, is it likely that Joseph’s reassurances completely obliterated the effects of their evil?
Question: Can you think of other examples that might illustrate Joseph’s view of providence: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good”?
The Business of Forgiveness
Several questions bubble to the top when we talk about forgiveness. Three, in particular are crucial. First, should we forgive? Hopefully, we can answer that with a hearty “yes!” But the second and third questions often haunt our ability to say yes. Can we forgive wholeheartedly? And if we sense a problem there, then we have to ask: “How can God touch my heart so that I can say yes?
But tainting our ability to say yes is the second question: Are we able to forgive? Joseph’s brothers wanted to forgive and be forgiven, but they were haunted by their own evil deeds.
So the last question is: How can the heart be transformed? And here Acts 5:31 is crucial for it teaches that both repentance and forgiveness are gifts of God:
“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Both repentance and forgiveness are gifts of God. Human will can only enter the picture after God has given his gifts.
Having said that, our official study guide points to four passages of Scripture that we should ponder prayerfully:
1. Being forgiven, should teach us to forgive: Matthew 18:21-35.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
2. The timing of forgiveness: Luke 23:34. Quoting the official study guide: “Jesus didn’t wait for us to ask for forgiveness first. We do no have to wait for our offender to ask for forgiveness. We can forgive others without having them accept our forgiveness.”
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
3. Loving our enemies: Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28.
Matthew 5:43: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . .”
Luke 6:27: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Perhaps the best we can do is prayerfully ponder the story of Joseph and his brothers and look to the teachings and example of Jesus.