Genesis 45:1-15 Through human forgiveness, we catch a glimpse of the immensity of God’s forgiveness
Genesis 45:1-15 Through human forgiveness, we catch a glimpse of the immensity of God’s forgiveness
1 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. 2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. 3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have. 11 There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished.”’ 12 Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth which is speaking to you. 13 Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. 15 He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
Judah’s speech convinced Joseph that the formerly malicious and murderous brothers are now motivated by love and are displaying integrity within themselves. Joseph did not accept Judah’s offer of enslavement in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom. But he forgave his brothers and comforted them in their grief and anguish. Joseph counselled them to move to Egypt as they were still five years of famine. In today’s devotion, we learn about human forgiveness, through which we catch a glimpse of the immensity of God’s forgiveness.
“Have everyone go out from me.”
Joseph has finally arrived at the place of trust, being convinced that the brothers have changed. And they will not keep him away from his father in order to conceal their crime. Joseph has seen with his own eyes Judah’s filial devotion and fraternal love. It is here that he lost control of himself; the man who had been able to keep separate his family and imperial world can managed no longer. Egypt’s most powerful man who is father even to the Pharaoh now becomes a brother to a shepherding race despised by the Egyptians. Joseph, in love stripped off all defences and appearances of superiority becoming as one of them. In ordering all Egyptians to leave his presence, Joseph affiliates and unites himself with the covenant family, not with the sophisticated and arrogant culture of Egypt (see Hebrews 11:2). The brothers were in shocked having learned of the true identity of Joseph, the one they have wronged. Until they allow themselves to be embraced by radical grace and forgiveness, they could not approach Joseph in brotherly intimacy: But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
“Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here…”
By beckoning his brothers towards him, he humbled and brought himself down to their level. Joseph proceeded to explain the grand reason for all that had happened: for God sent me before you to preserve life. In so doing, he gave his brothers reason to dispel grief and anger for their wrongdoings. If their grief arose from Joseph’s needless suffering, they have no reason to. For it is necessary that Joseph suffer so that all might be saved. Thus, from divine perspective, Joseph and his brothers have unwittingly become participants of God’s salvation plans. Even though the brothers did send Joseph to Egypt out of malice, but God used their transgression to accomplish His purpose: it was not you who sent me here, but God. For what its worth, they now knew that their crime did not cause irreparable damage to Joseph but instead, it brought salvation to all.
“Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen…”
Joseph counselled them to migrate to Egypt as there were still five more years of famine. Because Joseph’s sudden revelation as the man of the land is so incredible, Jacob will need a credible witness. Joseph called upon Benjamin as witness for him, for he is the only brother (given the circumstances) who can give a credible testimony. After Joseph spoke to them face to face in their own language: it is my mouth which is speaking to you, he kissed and wept on them. Reconciliation is achieved through truth telling, forgiveness and authentic gestures of intimacy.
Human forgiveness reveals the immensity of God’s forgiveness
We learn about love and catch a glimpse of the immensity of God’s forgiveness by observing human relationships. Joseph suffered unjustly under his brothers’ malice. Having understood the divine purpose of his suffering, and having witnessed his brothers’ repentance, he forgave them. Notice that Joseph did not require a scapegoat or employ a sacrifice of expiation; their just punishment was summarily waived. For all that Joseph required from his brothers is repentance to love God and to love one another. And this was demonstrated by Judah’s offering of himself as slave so that Benjamin can return to his father.
If humans can exhibit such unconditional love in forgiving their transgressors, how much more our God. When God sees man’s willingness to turn back from sin and self-rule, God forgives man without the need of a scapegoat. A scapegoat is a vessel to bear punishment on behalf of the transgressor. Scapegoating runs against the righteousness of God, for it promotes injustice and irresponsibility. Either God forgives and annuls all payment or He demands just and full payment from the transgressor. Just as we cannot exact a sum owed to us from the debtor’s family, God will not exact payment of debt from his own Son. By moving the punishment to another, God is seen as promoting irresponsible behaviour. Judah, in the silver cup crime offered to be enslaved in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom. Joseph implicitly rejected Judah’s offer by choosing to forgive instead. Paul taught,
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. Galatians 6:3-5
For everyone has to examine his own work and bear his own load for shame or for glory. Whatever means God uses to effect salvation must never leave the premise of personal responsibility. In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah reminded the people that future generations will not be punished for the sins of their forefathers. For God’s justice will guarantee that each guilty person will die for his own sin. Jeremiah prophesied in the context of the New Covenant,
In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. Jeremiah 31:29-30
In the same breath, he said, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it… for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34. The New Covenant must be understood and appropriated in the light of personal responsibility.
As every sin committed by man is committed against God. James said, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17. Therefore, just as Joseph had the right to forgive his brothers who committed a heinous crime against him, God has the right to forgive those who repent without shifting punishment to another.
What about Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross? Isn’t that employed to absorb the wrath of God and the punishment due sinners? Jesus’s sacrifice is forgiveness aimed at regenerating man’s heart, to empower him to remove sin from his life, to love God and to live eternally. Jesus proved His ability to forgive sins by raising the paralytic: “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” (see Matthew 9:1-8).“Forgive” (aphiemi in Greek) means to send away, to discard. As sickness is caused by the power of sin, Jesus demonstrated His authority to send away the power of sin by healing the paralytic.
The New Covenant that is rectified by Jesus’s blood removed deceit from the heart of those who believe. Jesus’s death destroyed the power of sin that is inherent in the believer’s natural body (Romans 8:3). Through Jesus’s resurrection, the power of sin, which is death is destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26, 56). And all believers will in time cast off the natural body of sin to acquire the spiritual body of righteousness. Therefore, Jesus is not a punching bag of sorts that diverts God’s wrath from sinners, but rather the means of destroying the power of sin so that humanity may live lawfully, abundantly and eternally. Nevertheless, the Old Testament tradition simplifies the mechanism in which salvation is realised through Jesus. Even as most understood that Jesus gave His life so that man may live, the relationship between divine wrath and Jesus’s sacrifice is an indirect one. Jesus suffered and died not to bear man’s punishment but rather to “forgive” or destroy the power of sin so that man may be freed from sin and live to God (see Romans 6:5-7).
When a man suffers for doing good, salvation is imminent.
People suffer for various reasons. While some suffer for standing up for the truth, most suffer because of their own undoing. Those who suffer because of their folly will be sanctified through their failures. But those who suffer for doing what is right will bring salvation to the world.
Joseph suffered unjustly for 13 years as a slave and as a prisoner. And it is for the course of righteousness that Joseph suffered. Joseph obeyed his father’s instructions to keep an eye on his brothers but was attacked without reason. While serving as a slave in Potiphar’s house, his wisdom and diligence earned him the position as head servant. However, he was falsely accused and imprisoned when he refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife. Paul spoke about his sufferings at Antioch, Iconic and Lystra that led many to salvation,
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
As the values of the righteous are opposed to that of the world, reaching out to the world will incur swift and fierce resistance from the powers of darkness. Having this in mind, one has to prepare themselves in the course of being salt and light to the world. However, suffering and persecution are indications that you have become a formidable threat to the devil. In the course of doing God’s will, you will most definitely not have it easy.
The brothers suffered to have them realise their transgressions. But Joseph suffered so that he may bring salvation to Egypt and to the holy family.
Do you forgive another while at the same time hoping to exact payment from God or from a scapegoat? When God forgives, He annuls all payment from you forever. Hence, we must also forgive in the same manner as God forgives. We must never recall what was done against us in order to exact some sympathy or emotional debt.
Do you live a permissive lifestyle thinking that Jesus by His death has taken away all consequences of sin? Even though God does not require payment for our sins, we will still bear the consequences of our decisions and actions on earth. If Jesus’s sacrifice is of any benefit to us, it will have to be a new heart of love for God and the death of our sinful nature.
Are you being ostracised by people because your views are considered overly righteous and impractical? Hence, you are rethinking if it is all worth it. Be strong and steadfast, for it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 1 Peter 3:17. Trust in the Lord and be faithful to do what is right, and He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your vindication as the noonday (see Psalm 37:3,6)
Dear Lord, I thank you for cancelling all my debts and in making a New Covenant with me. Renew my heart according to your wisdom, virtues and power. Strengthen me in my hour of affliction because I have obeyed your instructions. Assign angels under my charge and cause me to rise above my troubles. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.