This month, we are exploring forgiveness. And today we turn to the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers. Listen now for God’s word for you.
Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15 (NIV)
Joseph Makes Himself Known
45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Forgiving someone is really hard.
In order for us to place ourselves in the shoes of Joseph, I invite each of us to take a moment to think about who it is we need to forgive…
It may be a person.
Or a few people.
Or a whole community.
…It may be God.
Forgiving others is Christian practice. One that we are called by Christ to do, One that is powerful and liberating. But one that is also really hard to bring ourselves to do.
Let’s start our conversation together in that place, answering this question:
Why is it hard for us to forgive?
- we’re in pain
- we’re in danger
- we don’t know if the other person has really changed
- we’re angry
- we don’t want them to feel better. we want revenge. we want them to feel the guilt they deserve
- we want justice
- we’re not ready. we need more time
- we have to accept that someone close to us has harmed us, betrayed our trust
Joseph had a whole list of reasons why it was hard to forgive his brothers.
- They sold him as a child into slavery.
- They set him up for a life of poverty, servitude and jail time
- His brothers forced him out of his loving family.
- Joseph hasn’t seen his dad Jacob or his full brother Benjamin in 20 years because of his brothers’ betrayal. He has been disconnected from them for two decades. Most of his life.
We know that Joseph struggles with whether or not to forgive his brothers because he doesn’t reveal himself to them as soon as they arrive. He takes his time.
The brothers come first to Egypt because their dad Jacob tells them to. They are all starving of hunger in Canaan due to the famine – that Joseph’s dreams predicted. Jacob, knowing that Egypt has some food stocked tells them to go and to beg for food.
So, they come into Egypt, they bow before him and they do not recognize Joseph. It’s been 20 years. I’m sure he has changed. And Joseph takes that time to assess them. He takes advantage of his disguise and he tricks them – by putting a silver cup in his brother Benjamin’s bag and accusing them of stealing.
As the brothers apologize to Joseph, he realizes that they have changed…at least some. Joseph threatens to keep Benjamin – his full blood brother – and he sees his elder brother Judah plead with him to take him instead. “Our father Jacob loves Benjamin,” Judah says “I could not do it to him.” It’s as if Judah and the brothers are confessing something else. Something they did all those years ago to Joseph.
Joseph takes his time in forgiving his brothers. Even after 20 years of distance and God providing for him and his new understanding of all that has happened for good.
It’s an emotional and life shaking thing Joseph is about to do.
He asks the attendants to leave and the text says that “he is overcome.” He weeps so loudly that the attendants hear him outside. Pharaoh and his household hear him. We all lean in to this paramount moment when Joseph reveals himself to them.
Then, he speaks three powerful words: “I am Joseph.”
Those three words open for all of them the wounds of old.
Joseph, the one these brothers sold into slavery.
Joseph, the one these brothers betrayed.
Joseph, their Father’s favorite son.
Joseph asks if his Father is still alive and the brothers are silent. They cannot respond.
They are stunned. In shock. Likely growing in fear for their lives.
Here is Joseph, their brother, against whom they have committed significant harm. And now HE has the power to kill them.
And yet, Joseph invites them closer.
“Come to me, Come see who I am.”
…”I am Joseph. Your brother. Is our dad still alive?”
The brothers continue to be in silence, in fear.
Joseph reassures them.
“What you meant for evil…all those years ago…God has used for good.”
My dreams came true. I can now provide for you and for our father and for the whole household.
The barrier between us. The anguish. The betrayal. The pain.
I choose to forgive.
We don’t know exactly WHY Joseph chooses to forgive them.
On one hand, it could simply be for Joseph’s own benefit. He misses his family – particularly his father Jacob and his brother Benjamin – and deep down needs this reconnection.
It’s possible Joseph is moved by a greater good. Realizing that his brothers – his enemies – his bloodline – will die if he does not use his power to help them.
Or it’s possible Joseph forgave his brothers because God enabled him to do so.
Connie Ten Boom, an author and writer, hid jews in her home during the holocaust and was sent to a concentration camp.
She tells this story in her book “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” of when she was speaking at a church in Munich and bringing the good news to the bombed out Germany that their sins were forgiven.
After the talk, she saw a man coming her way. pushing through the crowds.
In her words…
“One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush:
the huge room with its harsh overhead lights;
the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor;
the shame of walking naked past this man.
I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.
“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’
“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.” (excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom, http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/CorrieTenBoom.htm, 09/15).
Connie Ten Boom’s story is similar to Joseph’s in many ways.
– They were both abused. Enslaved.
– Many years (decades) pass before they encounter their tormentor.
– They’re now both in positions of power.
– They have the choice of what to do.
….And with God’s help, they both chose to forgive.
At the end of Joseph’s story, he embraces his brothers, weeps over them. AND THEN, the text says, “his brothers talked to him. “
I love this ending because it reminds us that everything is not wrapped up nicely in a bow. After forgiveness, there is still a lot more to talk about. A lot more that needs to be done.
Even after this emotional connection, the brothers
– must forgive themselves for what they have done
– they must go home to their father Jacob and tell him the truth about what they have done.
– they must move to Egypt and allow Joseph to have power over them. To care and provide for them.
It won’t be an easy road ahead, but this moment of forgiveness provides a way forward. A newness about their relationships that gets rid of the secret keeping and harboring of pain. A newness that opens up space to create something new.
God knows forgiveness is hard for us to do.
God knows the names and the stories of those have harmed you. Those imprinted on your heart.
Who you need to forgive.
God knows it’s hard and God has lots of grace for us on this journey.
So, as you are ready. As time and love and support help you heal,
Consider again those you need to forgive.
And ask for God’s help to help to forgive.