Week of Jan. 15: Remember that forgiveness is at heart of our faith
By THE REV. SAM AND HELEN ROGERS
Scripture: Genesis 45:3-15
Background Scripture: Genesis 42:1-38; 45:1-28
With Joseph in position to keep thousands of people from starving to death during a famine, the drama reaches its climax when his own family comes to Egypt for help. The entire Middle East is devastated by drought and famine—much like Somalia and Ethiopia are today. Word of the foresight and action of Egypt has traveled back to Canaan where Jacob encourages his sons to see if help can be found. Ten of the brothers come, leaving the youngest, Benjamin, with their father Jacob. (Jacob, believing he has already lost Rachel’s other child, Joseph, is not going to put Benjamin at risk!) So the brothers appear before the one who has worked this miracle of plenty in the time of famine.
Joseph recognizes them immediately, but they have no idea who this man of power is. It’s been 20 years since they have seen him. He has matured and become an Egyptian in dress, looks and language. (He even uses an interpreter to talk to his brothers.) Unwittingly, they fulfill Joseph’s childhood dream by bowing before Pharaoh’s governor (NIV).
Now Joseph seeks to test them in various ways. First, he imprisons them for three days as spies who are seeking to find weaknesses in the kingdom. Then he declares all but one may return to Canaan with food, but they must return with Benjamin. Speaking in Hebrew, they blame their troubles on what they did to Joseph. Not knowing Joseph understands, they discuss what they had done 20 years before. Reuben says: “I told you so!”
Leaving Simeon as hostage, they begin their journey home, but not before getting the food they need. In the bags of grain, Joseph has the money hidden they had paid. Why? Here is another evidence of the man Joseph has become—generous and forgiving. When the money is found, his brothers and father fear it bodes ill for the future—particularly for the life of Simeon.
Especially Jacob fears, since Benjamin must make the next journey to Egypt. He laments: “Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.” Reuben makes an impassioned promise he will see Benjamin home or have his own sons killed, but Joseph still refused and they stayed in Canaan until the food ran out.
Now it was not just a question of Benjamin’s life, but the survival of the whole family. Jacob is still adamant about not letting Benjamin go, but Judah warns they cannot return to Egypt without him, assuring Jacob of his brother’s safe return. Finally, Jacob agrees and all the brothers go back.
Jacob tells them to take special gifts, including double the money needed to buy grain, since they must return what had been hidden in the sacks of grain before. They “hurried” to Egypt and when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he ordered a dinner to be prepared at his home. It is Joseph’s steward who tries to relieve their fears about their status before his master. When Joseph comes home, he asks if their father is alive and well. When he learns all is well, his emotions finally overcome him and he leaves the room to weep in private.
The meal is a segregated one—Hebrews and Egyptians don’t eat together. Again they start for home with all the food they can haul. But the tests are not over! There is to be one more involving hiding a special chalice in the sacks of Benjamin. When they are stopped and accused of stealing, they cannot believe when the cup is found in Benjamin’s sack. Returning, they learn the punishment is to leave Benjamin in Egypt.
Judah explains that Benjamin is the last surviving son of his mother—the other being Joseph himself—and that their father will die from the grief of losing him. Please read carefully this speech in Genesis 44:18-34. Judah speaks with genuine affection for both the father and Benjamin. Judah reveals the complete inner thoughts of the family about the most important tragedy of their entire lives—the irretrievable loss of their brother Joseph. Can you imagine the effect it would have upon that very brother who understands every word?
Dramatically, Joseph finally reveals his identity. Stephen, in Acts 7:9-16, includes this moment in his speech before the Sanhedrin! In his revelation, Joseph shows his magnanimity. He forgives! Why? Is it brotherly affection? In part, yes. But there is far more! He believes God’s providence has been in and through all that has happened. His brothers willfully sinned, but God turned every adversity into opportunity. Read Romans 8: 28! In everything, God is working for good … Joseph declares: “God sent me here before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph’s act of forgiveness opened the door to reconciliation and paved the way for God’s fulfillment of the promises made generations before to Abraham. We never know what doors our forgiveness of others will open.
Forgiveness is at the heart of our faith! Jesus taught it and practiced it—even from the cross! We pray His prayer every Sunday. Too often we think forgiveness follows, rather than precedes, repentance. We make repentance a condition to be met in order to offer forgiveness. Not so with God! Paul got it right in Romans 5:8 when he wrote: “God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
In counseling, pastors often hear the opposite: “If he/she would only repent, I could forgive.” When we forgive, as Joseph did, we help people take responsibility for their actions and enable genuine reconciliation. In doing so, we do not let the acts of others take control of our lives. Joseph refused to let his brothers’ actions of the past determine how he would treat them now. As with Jesus, the victim often holds the key to repentance.