Genesis 45 (focal: 45:3a: “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’”)
It is little wonder that Joseph could not contain himself any longer. He broke down and wept and revealed himself to his brothers: “I am Joseph!” (45:3). Their repentance paved the way for restoration and reconciliation. Because Judah was willing to suffer for a crime he did not commit, they were all forgiven for the crime that they did commit. Joseph did not merely weep on Benjamin’s neck; he now kissed and wept on all his brothers (45:15). All were included in the grand reconciliation, as the harmonious community of brothers that God had earlier promised to establish was finally being realized.
Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers is perhaps unmatched in the Old Testament. By their wickedness, the brothers caused him to be sold into slavery, so that the best years of his life were spent in various forms of servitude and imprisonment. Yet when God presented Joseph with a golden opportunity to make his brothers pay for their crime, he passed it up. He could have put his brothers into prison and left them to rot. Instead, he devised a complicated and costly plan for their redemption, enabling them to make restitution in the only way possible for their crime. It was a costly plan for him, but at the end of the journey he could welcome them back into his presence – not as his slaves, but as his family. They were reconciled.
How was Joseph able to forgive like this, when we so often are not? A key element was his ability to see clearly the overarching purpose of God: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). He recognized that even when others sinned against him, God was still up to something good in his life and theirs. The brothers’ sin turned out to be a crucial part of God’s plan to provide food for his people through the famine, as well as bringing them down into Egypt, where the next chapter of their lives would play out. If we were able to recognize that God’s gracious work continues even through the sins of others, we would learn better how to forgive.
In real life it is rarely simple or quick that we can see God’s purpose in our suffering. It wasn’t for Joseph either. For twenty years, Joseph couldn’t see a single scrap of evidence that God was going to work his suffering for good. On the contrary, it must have seemed as if any hope of reconciliation with his brothers was unthinkable. So too, it may take a long time for you to see what God is accomplishing through the painful sins of others against you. God’s plans for your good are not always simple and transparent. You may need others to come alongside you and help you to discern the fruit that God is bringing out of your life in the land of your affliction.
Far from bypassing suffering, God’s wonderful plan for your life often takes you through the midst of pain and loss, just as it did for Jesus himself. Affliction is the soil in which the fruit of patience, endurance, perseverance, and hope most richly grow.
Yet there is more to this story than learning how to forgive. It also shows us something profound about learning how to be forgiven. We instinctively want to identify with Joseph, the heroic forgiver of those who sinned against him. However, in many ways we are more like Joseph’s brothers; we are the ones who have betrayed and used others to achieve our own ends. Our jealousy has led us to murder others in our thoughts and in our words, through malicious gossip and explosive anger. Our lust has bought and sold our sisters and brothers in our minds. Our shalom is deeply broken, our relationships are fractured, and our souls are tortured by the deep-rooted guilt that will not let us go, a scarlet stain that never disappears from our consciousness, no matter how hard we scrub. Who will step forward in our place to be our Judah and reconcile us to one another and to our Father?
That question reminds us that in Joseph’s story there is a profound picture of God’s love for us. Adam and Eve sinned against God and destroyed the harmony that had previously existed between God and man. God would have been entirely justified in destroying them then and there, or reducing them to the most abject form of slavery. We are no different from Adam. We have all sinned against God and against one another in thought, word, and deed, and daily continue to do so. Justice rightly demands death for our transgressions. But God did not pursue simple justice against us. Instead, he advanced a complicated and costly plan for our redemption, a plan that would both satisfy the claims of justice and allow us to receive the mercy and grace we need to be reconciled to him. God sent his only Son, Jesus, into this world of affliction and pain for us.
Jesus’ love for us is far greater than Judah’s love for his father. Jesus not only had to be willing to bear the punishment for another’s sin, but also had to carry that willingness through to the end. Judah may have offered to be Joseph’s slave, but Judah’s greater Son actually bore the blame that we deserved.
Jesus was born, suffered, died, and rose again as part of God’s great plan, both to save the lives of his people through a great deliverance and to create a harmonious community of brothers and sisters through the suffering of a substitute. Here, too, God’s good purpose was achieved through his sovereign control over men’s sinful actions (see Acts 2:23-24).
This Sunday I hope you can join us as we see that the story of Joseph paints for us a picture of how God reconciles to himself rebels.
For His Glory,