LifeWay Family Bible Series for Aug. 31
Grasp the sovereignty of God, as Joseph did
By Tim Owens
First Baptist Church, Bryan
At the end of Genesis 49, one reads the record of Jacob's death. There was a time of mourning in Egypt for 70 days. Pharaoh sent all the dignitaries of Egypt with Joseph and his family, and together they made the pilgrimage to Canaan. There they buried Jacob in a cave at Machpelah, where his ancestors were buried.
Upon their return to Egypt, it was 39 years since the 10 brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. They had lived for 17 years in Egypt, where they were treated as royalty by Joseph, Pharaoh and all the Egyptians.
After the death of their father, the brothers expressed a concern in Genesis 50:15-18: “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: “I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.”' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
After 39 years, the brothers came and confessed their sin all over again. In essence, they said, “It has only been because of our father that you have not taken revenge on us; surely now you are going to take your revenge.” They refer to their father's will, and they say, “Our father said before he died that you are to forgive us.”
Joseph wept because he thought: “What am I going to have to do to convince you that I have forgiven you. I have treated you like royalty for 17 years. We are brothers. We are back in fellowship with one another. We are reconciled. Can't you accept the forgiveness I have offered? What more do I have to do?”
This encounter reveals as much about the brothers as it does about Joseph. It is as if they expected Joseph to react like they would have reacted. In practice, most people believe, “You think like I think,” or at least, “You should think like I think.” Could it be that the brothers knew how they would have reacted in a situation like this? Could it be that they knew they would have finally reacted with revenge if they had been in Joseph's shoes? They were minimizing the power of God at work in Joseph's life. Joseph was a man who truly understood the depravity of his own sin, and he had experienced the power of God's grace and forgiveness in his own life. Out of the overflow of his humble gratitude toward God, he extended genuine forgiveness to his brothers. This is a spiritual reality: Only those who grasp their own sinfulness and who have embraced the grace and forgiveness of God can be tender and forgiving toward others who have sinned against them.
Here is Joseph's response to his brothers: “But Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).
One of the greatest verses in all the Bible is in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Paul would say it like this, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Oh, that God's people might grasp the sovereignty of God, as Joseph did. What a difference it makes when believers see the hand of God even in the adverse circumstances of life.
The study of Joseph should lead God's people to incorporate these lessons into everyday life. First, bring the guilt of sin to the cross of Christ. Nothing weighs a person down like guilt. Every human being, because of sin, is guilty before God. God has provided forgiveness through his Son. Living with guilt is unnecessary. Accept God's gracious offer of freedom by repenting of sin and turning in faith to Christ.
Second, don't grow old with bitterness. Looking for revenge will make one misinterpret every good thing that God is doing.
Third, forgive anyone who has caused hurt. Forgive others freely.
When Christians deal with guilt under the blood of Christ, when Christians eliminate bitterness, when Christians freely forgive all people–God will bless and use their lives in ways that perhaps, up to the present moment, have only been a dream.
Questions for discussion
Why did Joseph's brothers expect him to deal harshly with them? Have you ever had false expectations of how someone would deal with a situation?
What are some ways to rid your life of bitterness?