When Josephs brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him? So they sent word to Joseph, saying, Your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father. When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. We are your slaves, they said. But Joseph said to them, Dont be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, dont be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21
The Mosaic statute, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21), was the standard for retaliatory practices in Israelite society. But the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers highlights a higher standard of conduct: forgiveness and mercy based on love for ones brother. The law limited the tendency toward excessive retaliation. One could only retaliate by harming the other to the same level that one was harmed. But love raises the bar. Forgiveness of the offenses of one’s brother is the preferred treatment and results in peace and blessing. Only then can one experience God’s greater good that triumphs over the evil of others.
True forgiveness foregoes retaliation. And truly accepting forgiveness means we no longer fear retaliation. On a human level, this means ongoing communication and trust are essential to mending relationships that have been fractured by hurtful actions. It may not be enough for a hurting relationship to go through one cathartic event, where everything is brought out into the open. Ongoing doubts and fears have to be addressed as they bubble to the surface.
The same applies to our relationship with God. We have been forgiven our sins through our faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith is based on God’s promise to us. But there may still be nagging doubts which must be addressed by ongoing meditation on God’s word, prayer and the ministry of the Spirit of God in our hearts.
Every man has experienced conflict and men deal with conflict much differently than women. Men are more reticent to verbalize their feelings, especially when it comes to feelings of alienation, fear, resentment and doubt. These feelings, however, have to be dealt with at some point if true reconciliation is to take place. Our passage teaches us the importance of bringing these feelings out into the open and addressing them in appropriate ways.
On an even deeper level is the fear of God and God’s wrath. Men may have deep fears of death and judgment. The Bible teaches that we can have assurance of salvation and know for sure we are going to heaven (1 John 5:13). There truly is no fear in love when we practice love. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
- How did the guilty feelings that lingered in the consciences of Joseph’s brothers cause them to misinterpret his forgiveness?
- Do you think Jacob really left the instructions that Joseph’s brothers said he did, or do you think they made them up?
- We are told for a second time that Joseph wept. Do you think it is a manly thing to cry?
- What perspective on the sins of his brothers did Joseph reiterate?
- Do you ever doubt God’s forgiveness of you?
- What does 1 John 4:8 say about these doubts?
- Do you struggle with imperfect reconciliation with other people?
- How can you improve your communication the way Joseph and his brothers did?