Summary: As Joseph reconnects with his brothers, he models for us three steps toward reconciliation: 1) Turn away from revenge. 2) Test for repentance. And 3) Trust in God's sovereignty. Judah's sacrifice reminds us of our Savior Jesus who reconciled us to God.
The Joy of Reconciliation
We are covering the amazing story of the Old Testament character of Joseph in two Sundays. The actual story covers 14 chapters of Genesis. I urge you to read it on your own. It is a fascinating account of the worst kind of betrayal and the most amazing story of reconciliation. Last week we looked at the pain of betrayal: What happens when those you trust let you down, when those closest to you hurt you deeply? How can you survive it? Today we fast forward to the dramatic climax of Joseph’s story. How can one work toward reconciling and finding peace again?
Out of Joseph’s experience, I want to offer you three steps toward reconciliation:
1. Turn away from revenge.
This may seem evident, but it’s not easy. Our natural temptation when hurt deeply is to strike back if we can. We want to hurt the one who hurt us. There is that great verse that says, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth Kerry.” No, that’s not what it says. Vengeance belongs to God and God alone (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35).
Joseph’s reconnect with his brothers didn’t happen overnight. The story unfolds over a couple of years’ time and is captured in chapters 42-45 of Genesis. When Joseph first saw his ten older brothers, we can only imagine the mixed emotions he must have felt. That old adage, “Time heals all wounds,” is not really true. Time only helps if, #1 you lose your memory and can’t remember what they did to you, or #2 you work toward forgiveness with God’s help. Otherwise, we’re pretty good at remembering and hanging onto every hurt.
We don’t know the full extent of Joseph’s forgiveness work, but we do get a clue that it’s in process, because he didn’t exact revenge when given the opportunity. When he recognized his brothers, he could have thrown them into a dark Egyptian prison cell and thrown away the key, or even executed them, but instead, he chose to continue the dialogue. Maybe he wanted to use them to reconnect with his youngest brother, Benjamin and his elderly father Jacob. But maybe he also wanted to see if they had changed. We see a clue in his tears. In chapter 42 he overheard the brothers talking in Hebrew, thinking that Joseph couldn’t understand. When he heard their admission of guilt, along with the oldest, Reuben, chastising them for their foolish action in selling off Joseph, he could tell God was working in their lives. And he quickly ran from the room to cry. His broken heart gives us a clue as to his desire for reconciliation over revenge.
Joseph didn’t forgive overnight. Sometimes deep wounds take time to heal. And he didn’t offer quick reconciliation either. Instead, his actions teach us something else on the journey towards reconciliation. We need to turn away from revenge, but we also need to:
2. Test for repentance.
Chapters 42-44 record two years of testing, where Joseph sought to see if his brothers had matured any over the last 22 years. Joseph had grown up. No longer was he this prideful, immature dreamer. He was “father to Pharaoh,” the right-hand advisor of the most powerful man in the world. Perhaps they had changed as well. Maybe they had given up their self-centered anger and pride.
Joseph first held his half-brother Simeon hostage, until the other nine brothers returned with his younger full brother Benjamin. When Jacob had lost Joseph believing him killed by wild animals, Jacob had shifted his favoritism toward the one surviving son from his favorite wife Rachel. Benjamin became Daddy’s new favorite. Like many grieving parents, Jacob over-protected his surviving son, so at first he wouldn’t let Benjamin go with the ten older brothers to this foreign land. Only the threat of starvation of his entire family finally forced Jacob to relent.
Over the course of these two trips, Joseph tested his brothers. He framed them with false arrests, to see how they would react. During the second trip, he chose the cherished brother Benjamin as the supposed culprit of the crime. The brothers were beside themselves. If they returned without Benjamin, their father would die of a broken heart for sure. Judah, who had initially led the scheme to sell off Joseph to slavery, now passionately offered himself in place of Benjamin. Joseph saw the change he was looking for. Whereas they had betrayed him out of jealousy, now they refused to act the same with Benjamin. On the contrary, they would do all they could—even at the cost of their own life—to ensure his safety.
The brothers in effect had re-earned Joseph’s trust, which leads to the dramatic unveiling of his identity in today’s reading. It is no surprise they found it hard to recognize him. They thought he would be dead for sure by now. And over 22 years, he had become fully enculturated into the Egyptian way of life. And if this was really him, their own lives were in danger. Yet, as he continued to speak with them in their native Hebrew—no longer using an interpreter—and as he asked them to come closer to him—which no Egyptian would ever do towards an unpolished Hebrew, and as he continued in kindness toward them, they began to recognize and trust him.