Summary: Bad stuff happens, people need forgiveness; how the two fit together and draw us closer to God.
15Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.”
Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSVA)
It was five days before Christmas when a stranger approached ten-year-old Christopher Carrier, claiming to be a friend of his father. I want to buy him a gift, and I need your help, said the stranger. Eager to do something good for his dad, Chris climbed aboard a motor home parked up the street.
The driver took Chris to a remote field, claiming to be lost, and asked Chris to look at a map. Suddenly Chris felt a sharp pain in his back. The stranger had stabbed him with an ice pick. The man drove the wounded boy down a dirt road, shot him in the left temple, and left him for dead in the alligator-infested Florida Everglades.
Chris lay lifeless for six days until a driver found him. Chris miraculously survived his injuries, though he was blind in his left eye. Because he was unable to identify his attacker, police could not make an arrest.
Joseph’s life was like that…except for the fact that he had seen the faces of the ones who had violated his freedom – often! His brothers had sold him into slavery. Twenty years later he had the opportunity for revenge, but did not take it. We understand the beneficence of Joseph in not exacting that revenge. But what of the brothers…what was their life like?
The scenario goes like this – you have had a problem with a friend or member of your family. You were wrong; he accepted your apology, and said it was all done. Still, in the back of your mind there is this nagging doubt, an insecurity that says it’s going to come back on you some day. He says he forgives you…but, does he really?
Joseph’s brothers had that kind of uncertainty about the forgiveness they had received from him. Could it be that the experience of Jacob, their father had come home to roost, the sins of the father visited on the sons? Is this a generational repeating of Family Feud?
If you recall, there is a lot of similarity between the events of Jacob with his brother, Esau, and the brokenness of Joseph with his brothers. Note the similarities:
• Thieves…Jacob the father was a thief, conning his brother Esau right out of his birthright and blessing…Reuben the son of Jacob, along with his brothers, sold their young brother Joseph into slavery, stealing his childhood and relationship with their father.
• Liars…Jacob the father was a deceiver, manipulating conditions to deceive his uncle Laban…Reuben the son with the other siblings, in order to cover their own tracks of mischief, lied, deceiving their father into thinking a wild animal had killed Joseph.
• God crisis…Jacob the father was driven to a crisis at the river Jabbok where he faced and wrestled with what kind of a man he’d be for the rest of his life…Joseph’s brothers also had a crisis brought on by the famine at home, where they had to face their past, and how they would handle the future.
• Tortured by Fear…Jacob had been forgiven by his brother, but he spent many anxious moments wondering if he would really be accepted back by Esau, the man who swore he would only wait until their father Isaac died – then he would kill his brother Jacob…The brothers of Joseph also wondered if Joseph was only waiting for Jacob to pass off the scene before he had them exterminated.
I’m not at all convinced that an “uncertain forgiveness” is better than just an outright not being forgiven at all; at least when someone tells you to your face that you’re a no-good so and so, you know where you stand. A Pastor and his bride had planned an outdoor garden party with meticulous attention to every detail. The night before the social event of the year in this small town, an horrific discovery was made – Mrs. Snodgrass, charter member of the church and president of every society that was worth anything, had been left off the invitation list. With anxiety pulsating through his heart to his temples and clear down to his shoes, the Parson dialed Mrs. S’s number.