Summary: Joseph's restoration with his brothers teaches us that we can be free by forgiving those who have harmed us. In this way, Joseph is a picture of Christ - the one who forgives us and the model for the way that we should forgive others.
The year was 1996. The US would post its first ambassador to Vietnam since the N Vietnamese took control of the south in 1975. President Clinton choose as his ambassador Pete Peterson, a former congressman and US AirForce pilot. Pete had been shot down over N Vietnam 31 years earlier and was a prisoner of war for 6 years. He was beaten and tortured for most of that time.
When he was shot down, he ejected and landed in a mango tree. He was badly injured with head injuries and broken bones. Local villagers dragged him out of the tree and paraded him through the nearby villages, while villagers spit on him, beat him and threw rocks at the badly injured man.
When Pete returned to Vietnam he went to the village where he was captured. We pick up the remainder of the story from the BBC news:
He drank tea with .......two of the men who had dragged him back to the village through the rice paddies. And he walked through the fields, holding hands with the grandson of one of his former captors, to the mango tree in which he had fallen 31 years earlier.
"I return here not to re-live what was probably the most unhappy day of my life, but to signify to the entire world that reconciliation is not only possible but absolutely the way to reach out."
Ambassador Peterson learned what many do not - that the only way to be free is to forgive.
JOSEPH provides this example in an even more profound way. The story is provided for us in Genesis 44 and 45. These chapters reveal the restoration of Joseph and his brothers, after the brothers return the second time to Egypt to buy food. After their first visit, Joseph required that they leave one brother, Simeon, in order for them to return to their father with the food they purchased in Egypt. The famine was severe and before long, Jacob and his sons needed more food. Jacob orders the brothers to return to Egypt for more food, but Judah refuses to go without taking Benjamin with them. Joseph had required this to test the brothers, but Jacob was fearful of losing his only connection to his cherished wife Rachel. Finally, after hearing Judah’s appeal, Jacob sends the brothers, with Benjamin back to Egypt for food.
Joseph knew that the brothers would return. This is why he kept Simeon - to ensure that they came back. Joseph questions them further concerning whether or not Jacob is still alive. Joseph is overwhelmed at the sight of his younger brother, Benjamin - the only other son of his mother Rachel. He prepares a great feast for the brothers, seating them in the exact order of their ages and giving extra portions to Benjamin. Finally, he sends them away but tells his servants to hide his personal royal cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain.
When the brothers are apprehended and returned to Egypt, Joseph is moved by the speech of Judah, a speech that demonstrates that the brothers are truly changed men. They could have easily allowed Benjamin to be taken back to Egypt to save their own skins, the same way that they sold Joseph years earlier. But this time they stick together and protect the honor of their father and the integrity of the family. They are no longer jealous quarrelers. They are unified brothers who recognize their wrong.
Through the story in Genesis 43-45, we see some valuable lessons about forgiveness.
I. Joseph Chose Forgiveness instead of Revenge.
Great injustices were committed against Joseph.
He was hated by his brothers,
sold as a slave
accused by Potiphar’s wife,
forgotten by the cup-bearer
Joseph’s youth was stolen from him. At age 17 he was taken from his family.
Joseph had EVERY OPPORTUNITY to retaliate against his brothers.
He was ANONYMOUS
He had POWER
He had OPPORTUNITY
But in spite of the excuses and opportunities, Joseph completely forgives his brothers. In fact, it is evident from the story that Joseph didn’t wait until his brothers arrived from Canaan for forgive them. He had done this long ago. In my opinion, he forgave them when he was 17 years old, seated on the back of a camel, taking a trip to Egypt as a slave of the men to whom he was sold by his brothers.
Joseph would not have been successful in Potophar’s house, in the prison or as second in command over Egypt if he were still bound by resentment and the desire for vindication. This episode with his brothers is the demonstration of his forgiveness. He had forgiven long ago.
II. Lessons from Joseph about Forgiveness
Forgiveness doesn’t seek to “settle the score.”
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else."