NOTICE: If you are a friend or family member of mine, or really just anyone who I regularly see in person, then you can be almost certain that you will have my forgiveness if you ever need it. I just can’t hold a grudge against people. There are people who have made me extremely angry. There are even times when I have determined not to forgive someone! I just can’t help myself. When I see that person again, I can’t stay mad. Still, there are others who, because I don’t see or interact with them, I can’t really say I forgive.
I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who hasn’t found forgiveness difficult at one time or another. Prime example: Joseph and his father, Jacob. Joseph was sold into slavery, brutalized and traumatized by his brothers. Jacob suffered the loss of his son and was lied to for years, allowed by his sons to believe that Joseph had died from the attack of an animal. These are horrifying crimes to have committed against you, yet Jacob and Joseph manage to forgive. After mourning and burying his father along with a huge Egyptian entourage, Joseph comes back to Egypt to find a letter from his brothers. In the letter, they explain that some of Jacob’s last wishes included a desire for Joseph to forgive his brothers.
The only reason Joseph’s brothers even send this letter is because they are scared. They are scared that now that Jacob is gone, Joseph will feel free to take revenge. Yet these are the farthest thoughts from Joseph’s mind. It hurts him so much to know his brother’s true fears that he weeps (verse 17). Joseph reassures his brothers of his free forgiveness. He will not take revenge on them; he will continue to protect them and they will continue to live with him in Egypt. And Joseph kept his word, because the entire family of Jacob remains in Egypt for many years, until Joseph dies, and beyond.
The Treasures Within:
It’s practically old news that Joseph has forgiven his brothers. Of course he did; we knew this several chapters ago. Joseph’s brothers, however, weren’t sure of this, and you couldn’t blame them. They knew better than anyone the depth of the sin and hatred that had been in their hearts when they’d done what they did years ago. They alone knew the dark thoughts they’d allowed to run through their mind, leading up to the deed and after it. Knowing the worst of themselves, they expected the worst.
Yet Joseph had forgiven them. And not only Joseph, but Jacob, too. If you ask Person A to forgive Person B, then that’s because you have forgiven Person B also. Else you would gleefully join Person A in their grudge against Person B. Jacob had forgiven his sons. Not only that, but He clearly believes that forgiving his brothers is the right thing for Joseph to do. He offers no qualifiers to his request. He doesn’t explain his reasoning. He is simple and clear: “Forgive them”. It is as if he saying “this is the only thing that can be done”. And Joseph does.
The Hardest Thing
But like I said, forgiveness is hard. It’s much easier to hold on to stuff, to stay angry, and to seek revenge, even while at the same time we admire people like Joseph and Jacob for doing the exact opposite. We stay angry at friends who hurt us, exes who ripped our hearts out, family members who traumatized us, governments that ignore us, people groups that oppress us, presidents that violate our human rights. We convince ourselves that these are righteous angers, deserved. Sometimes we even spiritualize them, convincing ourselves that Jesus would want us to keep this anger, these grudges, this desire for vengeance close to us.
But imagine Jesus writing us the same letter Jacob wrote: “I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.” God doesn’t ask us to minimize the evil or pretend it never happened. He asks us to forgive. Simple, clear, and straightforward. This is the only thing that can be done. It is the hardest thing but it is the best thing. How do we know that? Because Jesus did it (Luke 23:34). If the Lord, the One against whom all sins and crime on planet Earth have been committed, can forgive, then so must we.
God’s Message To Us:
“You will forgive when you trust Me.” Forgiveness is not giving up or losing. It is not the same thing as saying that the offender is a good person or that what they did was not so bad after all. Forgiveness is not stupid or weak or illogical. It makes the most sense when we think about who our God is. As Jacob and Joseph and Abraham and Isaac and so many more have realized, God is the one in control. He allows all things, both good and evil, to take place. How can we hold a grudge against someone for an action that God allowed them to commit? The very act of staying angry and not forgiving is saying that we have been treated unfairly, that what took place should not have happened. Yet God, who is perfect, righteous, and fair, decided that what took place should happen. Withholding forgiveness and trusting in a sovereign, all-Powerful God with perfect control and knowledge are two mutually exclusive things. When we trust God, we will forgive others because we know that it is not them who have control over our lives, but God. Our God sees, knows, does, and loves perfectly. With this knowledge comes peace.
There Are Always Questions:
- I find it interesting that when Jacob dies and is buried, literally all of Pharaoh’s officials go with Jacob for the funeral and the mourning (verse 7, 9). This is especially interesting because this burial process went completely against everything the Egyptians believed in, right? Joseph, not believing in an afterlife like they did, wouldn’t have buried his father with trinkets and toys and food and what not. So was it just normal protocol that they all went with him or was this a sign of the regard the Egyptians had for Joseph?
- Another interesting thing is that in verses 12-14, as noted above, Joseph and his brothers bury their father in Canaan, almost immediately after his death. Yet in verses 24 and 25, when Joseph himself is dying, he speaks as if he cannot be immediately buried outside of Egypt like he wants. He says that his bones will be carried out of this place once God “comes to their aid” and takes them from Egypt. Were the Israelites already enslaved or restricted in their comings and goings? Why couldn’t they just go and bury Joseph right then and there?
What do you think? What did God teach you from this chapter of the Bible? What is your favorite lesson or story from the book of Genesis?