Attacked by his own brothers. Thrown into a pit. Sold into slavery. Falsely accused. Put in prison.
Don’t let the brevity of these phrases deceive you ... they encompass thirteen years of Joseph’s life (Genesis 37-41). He was about seventeen when his brothers decided to get rid of him, and thirty when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and became second-in-command in Egypt.
Thirteen years is a long, long time.
Long enough to become resentful.
Long enough to become bitter.
Long enough to become hateful.
Or ... long enough to become forgiving.
After Joseph had finished testing his brothers, he revealed himself to them (Genesis 45). This was no dry, matter-of-fact disclosure. This was an incredibly emotionally-charged moment:
‘Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, “Have everyone go out from me.” So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it ... he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept on them ...’
These tears tell me something. They tell me that Joseph had forgiven his brothers down to the very core of his being. He had forgiven them so completely that he longed to be reconciled with them. He didn’t deliver accusations and he didn’t demand explanations. All that mattered to him was that his brothers were with him again and they could live together as a family. The past was the past – over and done with. God’s grace was the present – overflowing with joy.
Read those words again: “He kissed all his brothers and wept on them.” All of them. Each and every one. Forgiveness – full and free.
This story makes me ask: Who has hurt me? What am I doing with that hurt?
Joseph stands before us to point the way forward to living out such extraordinary forgiveness. How? How could he forgive the people who caused him such pain and suffering for so many years? He chose to focus on God, not on his brothers. He elected to see where God was at work redeeming evil for good. Hear his words:
“Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life ... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God .... you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
As long as we focus on the people who hurt us, we will nurse bitterness and hatred. We must focus on God if we are to truly forgive others:
The God who causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).
The God who loves (John 3:16).
The God who reconciles (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The God who forgives (Ephesians 1:7).