The celebration of the incarnation, Deity becoming humanity to save us from our calamity, is in the rear view mirror. 2015 is rapidly coming into view. And a taste of Torah resumes. Today’s Parsha is a classic case of something good coming from something bad. And as far as what the application of this story looks like, how forgiving enables us to be forgiven.
Our text is Genesis 45:3-8; and 14-15. It reads: 3 Joseph said to his brothers,” I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers,” Please, come near me,” and they came near.” I am Joseph, your brother,” he said,” the one you sold into Egypt. 5 And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 14 Then Joseph threw his arms around Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
Here’s the background to this situation. Pharaoh appointed Joseph administrator over all of Egypt in order to save Egypt from a severe famine, and Joseph was successful in accomplishing that. This was a famine that affected much of the encompassing region. And so the surrounding nations looked to Egypt as their primary supplier of food.
Now when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for grain, Joseph recognized them but chose not to reveal himself. Instead he wisely tested their integrity through a series of character challenges. And part of this testing was Joseph deliberately planting a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag causing Benjamin to be in danger of having to remain a slave in Egypt.
This brings us to Joseph’s brother Judah. Judah could not handle returning to his father without his youngest brother, Benjamin. He knew that if he did that, it would probably kill his father. Plus, Judah and the other brothers now realize that their situation is directly related to their evil behavior of selling Joseph into slavery, and they are filled with remorse over the way they had wickedly sinned against him.
And so Judah approaches Joseph privately and explains how it was difficult to bring Benjamin in the first place since he is the only surviving son of his mother Rachel, and that his father is very attached to him. He explains that he guaranteed the boy’s safety and that he is desperate to take his place as a slave (cf. Gen. 44:18-34). But at this point, Joseph is no longer able to control his emotions after seeing his brothers’ repentance. And so he demands that everyone immediately leave his chambers except his brothers. He wanted to be alone with them when he revealed his true identity.
Now in order to understand how all of this is a demonstration of something good coming from something bad we have to look at the big prophetic picture. When Joseph was placed in charge of Egypt’s food supply, it wasn’t just about God providentially preserving the lives of the Egyptians and the nearby world from starvation. It was also about His preserving the promise He made to Abraham, which included Israel being a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise of global blessing would be passed down through Isaac, not his brother Ishmael (Gen. 26:3–5); through Jacob, not his brother Esau (Gen. 26:13–14); and the promise of Messiah would exclusively come through the line of Judah, not his other 11 brothers (Gen. 49:10). The point is, God sovereignly chose Joseph to ensure that His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of not only land but also salvation to all nations through Messiah would be fulfilled through the line of Jacob’s son, Judah.
Now a real life in real time principle we can glean from this incident is that when someone has wronged us, we are to forgive unconditionally even though that person may not admit it was wrong or even ask for forgiveness.
Joseph had forgiven his brothers for their terrible injustices long before he met them that day. If he had not, he would have been consumed with bitterness. He would have seen this reunion as an opportunity to take revenge. Even though Joseph had to test his brothers to get answers to his questions, he was not retaliating.
Forgiveness is an act of the will. Is it difficult to forgive people who have wounded us deeply? Of course it is. Will we still have feelings of hurt, disappointment, sadness, and even anger? Of course we will. Perhaps you’ve had a family member tell you, “I don’t do forgiveness.” That can be emotionally devastating! And yet it is precisely at these moments that we must determine to affirm in our hearts that we have indeed forgiven those who have hurt us even if they never have or likely never will ask for forgiveness.
Now an interesting thing happens when we do forgiveness to the tune of 70 X 7 (Matt. 18:22). Not only are we forgiving we’re also being forgiven! Yeshua said, “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” (Matt. 6:14-15).
What does this mean? Well, the key to understanding its intended meaning and application is to recognize that these two verses are directed to believers, not unbelievers. Believers are already forgiven of their sins once and for all in a judicial sense (Heb. 10:17) when they are justified by faith in Messiah (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). But daily moment by moment forgiveness in order to maintain fellowship and spiritual intimacy with God is still critically necessary (1 John 1:9).
Here’s the deal: We cannot remain in a state of relational communion with God while also retaining an unforgiving Spirit toward those who have wronged us (Matt. 18:21-35). And so when we make a conscious choice to let go of the toxic bitterness of heart toward another individual, a bitterness which poisons and deadens our soul, something good, relational restoration with God Himself, comes from something bad. And that’s tov meod – very good!