Joseph: Forgiveness Instead of Vengeance (Gen 43-45)

Joseph_weeps
Owen Jones Courtesy of OldBookArt.com

It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold. I am not sure if that is true, but I do know that it is a dish that does not satisfy. Revenge may feel good, but the good feeling sours quickly. In fact, revenge never satisfies. Vengeance is a trap of the Devil meant for your destruction. Laura Hillenbrand wrote in her book Unbroken, “The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when their tormentors suffer.” Vengeance promises freedom but never delivers because “vengeance belongs to the Lord” (Rom 12:19), not to us. How can we avoid the trap of vengeance? Consider:

  1. A Test of Jealousy (Gen 43). In Genesis 43, it is year 2 of the 7 year famine and Jacob’s family is quickly running out of food. Previously, Jacob resisted sending Benjamin down to Egypt with the other brothers even though Simeon was in an Egyptian prison. Jacob, seeing no other option, finally sent them down for more grain saying, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin” (Gen 43:14). When the brothers arrived in Egypt, they were brought to Joseph’s house for a meal. Joseph, still unknown, used this meal to test his brothers. Joseph ensured that his younger brother Benjamin was privileged above the others. Would this favoritism expose their jealousy of Benjamin? Joseph did this to see how the other brothers would react.
  2. A Test of Repentance (Gen 44). After the meal, Joseph tested his brothers again. He told his steward to “put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest” (Gen 44:2). After the brothers left, Joseph’s steward overtook them on the road. The steward found the cup in Benjamin’s sack and said he would enslave Benjamin as punishment. Judah spoke up in defense of Benjamin and offered to take Benjamin’s punishment. It is important to note that Judah was willing to sacrifice himself on behalf of Benjamin. This is significant because 20 years earlier Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:26-27). Judah’s impassioned speech is based on concern for his father. He is willing to suffer loss for the sake of others. Joseph’s tests are over at this point.
  3. Forgiveness instead of Vengeance (Gen 45:1-15). After Judah’s speech, Joseph could not contain himself any longer and he revealed his identity to them. In doing so, he chose forgiveness instead of vengeance. How did he do it? Consider:
    1. Choosing Forgiveness. Joseph never forgot what his brothers did to him. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” While he never forgot what his brothers did to him, he never allowed their sin to destroy his confidence in the Lord. Joseph’s love for the Lord was greater than his hatred for his brothers. He was able to forgive his brothers. Forgiving does not mean forgetting; it means refusing to avenge yourself and use what has happened as a weapon against someone else. Forgiveness is not weakness. It takes great faith to forgive.
    2. Refusing Vengeance. Joseph forgave his brothers and told them, “You shall dwell in the land of Goshen…there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have do not come to poverty.” Joseph demonstrated his forgiveness by refusing to avenge himself and instead sought to be a blessing to his brothers. He promised to take care of them all. Joseph cared about them. He was freed from thoughts of revenge and was filled with love. God’s love breaks the bondage of hatred.
    3. Trusting God. How was Joseph able to forsake vengeance and choose forgiveness? The answer lies in what he told his brothers in verse 5, “And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.” He then said, “God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” Joseph was able to forgive because he knew that God—not his brothers—was in control of his life. Joseph was able to see the goodness of God at work, even bringing goodness out of the evil of others. He trusted that God was guiding his steps.
  4. A Joyful Celebration (Gen 45:16-28). After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, word got out to Pharaoh. Pharaoh rejoiced with Joseph and instructed him to bring all of his family to Egypt. They shall dwell in the land of Goshen and be protected during the remaining five years of famine. When the brothers got back to Jacob they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Upon hearing this, “Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them.” Remember, Jacob was presented with Joseph’s coat 20 years earlier and was led to believe he died. Now he is told that Joseph is alive and ruling Egypt. But, after seeing the good and materials, “the spirit of their father revived. Then Israel said, ‘Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.’“

Francis Bacon once wrote, “This is certain, that a man who studieth [is consumed with] revenge keeps his own wounds green [fresh], which otherwise would heal, and do well.” In order for our wounds to heal, we must go to our Healer. Let God avenge you and heal you. Do you want to be freed from the bondage of vengeance? Hand it over to God and trust that He will repay justly. Receive from Him peace that will allow you to forgive others. Vengeance is a trap. Avoid it at all costs. Entrust yourself to Jesus. Choose forgiveness and forsake vengeance.