The Bible story about Joseph and how he met his brothers in Egypt is a beautiful description of mercifulness and forgiveness.
Humanly thinking, Joseph would have had cause to be harsh and bitter toward his brothers. They had sold him as a slave to Midianite traders, and consequently he ended up spending many years in an Egyptian prison.
Joseph did not see his brothers again until a long later when they came to Egypt to get food. Pharaoh had placed Joseph over all the land of Egypt, and he had been given the task of storing grain as a reserve against years of famine.
Joseph had an opportunity to take revenge on his brothers. However, he did not do so. He saw a deep purpose and God’s guidance in what had happened. He said to his brothers: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God has sent me before you to preserve life. – – And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen 45:5–8)
Joseph forgave from the heart
The brothers also brought their father, Jacob, to Egypt, and the whole family remained there to live. When Jacob died the brothers began to fear that now Joseph would finally take revenge on them for their evil deeds. Even when their father Jacob was still alive they had probably dreaded the day when he would die. Fearfully they sent a message to Joseph in which they referred to their father’s words: “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Gen 50:16–17)
The brothers were believers and understood that they had done wrong. They knew Joseph had been given much power and he could make their lives very difficult. Nevertheless, they needn’t have feared, for Joseph had already forgiven them from the heart.
In responding to his brothers’ appeal Joseph brought out that it is not man’s duty to avenge; only God has the authority to judge. He told his brothers: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Gen 50:19–21). That Joseph had forgiven his brothers from the heart is also apparent from his actions; he took care of his brothers’ families.
Meeting with the mind of Christ
We can say that Joseph had “the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5–8). He did not wish to fight evil with evil; instead he wanted to be merciful and encouraging. By faith he understood that he himself had received much forgiveness from God and that even all of his temporal riches were gifts from God.
Both Joseph and his brothers had been in God’s school. The brothers had had to humble themselves and ask for forgiveness for their evil deeds. No longer did their words contain the same proudness they did years ago in the field where they forced their brother to go along with the slave traders.
Most often it is not easy to ask for forgiveness or to forgive. A person searching for the kingdom of God needs to pass through the narrow gate to get inside (Matt. 7:13). It is the same with putting away day-to-day sins—it is not always easy for a child of God who has fallen into sin to humble himself to ask for forgiveness.
Sometimes forgiving can also be very difficult. If a person is not able to forgive his or her neighbor, bitterness may begin to overcome his or her heart, with sorrowful consequences. Therefore, it is important to pray to God for strength to both forgive and ask for forgiveness. When God is able to help in this matter, the heart is freed from bitterness and the burdens of sin. Joy and a merciful mind will follow.
Text: Pekka Aittakumpu
Source: Siionin Lähetyslehti 3/2015
Julkaistu englanninkielisessä numerossa 11.5.2016
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