Joseph Forgave His Brothers. Could I?

I have two older brothers. Even though our relationship has not always been a shining example of love and consideration, there are a few things I knew they would never do: dump acid over my head, turn me into a werewolf, and sell me into slavery, among others. Notwithstanding the fact that a portly 15-year-old would probably not fetch much on the open market, there is still a whole host of legal (and ethical) problems that stand in the way.

Joseph’s brothers didn’t have that issue. Hated for his apparent arrogance and jealous of his father’s affection for Joseph (Genesis 37:2), the other eleven plotted together to throw him into a pit to fabricate his demise. However, when an opportunity arose to make a little money off of their troubles, the immoral entrepreneurs quickly made arrangements to sell him into slavery in Egypt.

The next thirteen years (Genesis 37:2; 41:46) of Joseph’s life are atypical of your average teenager/young adult, to say the least. Joseph is sold to a high ranking Egyptian official named Potiphar and eventually ascends to the rank of house supervisor, only to be later thrown in prison due to a false rape accusation by Potiphar’s lustful wife. While incarcerated, Joseph then interprets two dreams – one for a baker and the other for a cupbearer – that eventually come true within a few days. Joseph is somehow forgotten in the midst of these events, and languishes in prison for another two years (Genesis 41:2).

There are now several people that Joseph could have been mad at: the cupbearer (for forgetting about his positive dream interpretation), Potiphar (and his adulterous wife), and, most especially, his eleven brothers that sold him into slavery in the first place. There was plenty of justice to go around, and thirteen years is a long time for any one man to plan revenge.

By the time Joseph reunites with his brothers nearly twenty years after he is thrown into the pit by his brothers, the tables have certainly turned. Joseph went from a forgotten and abandoned runt sold into slavery by the people that should have loved him the most to the second most powerful figure in the entire known world. Joseph not only has the power to restrict food sales to anyone he desires, which is effectively a death sentence in a time of famine,  but also to outright execute anyone for virtually any reason he saw fit. His brothers had every reason to worry about what Joseph might do now that his father was gone.

A lesser man might have seized the opportunity to exact revenge for a past wrong, but Joseph operated by a singular guiding principle borne out through the events in his life, communicated in Genesis 50:20: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Joseph’s unfortunate slavery secured an entire nation’s future, not to mention that of his family and future generations. And while it originated in hatred and jealousy, God worked the punishment of His child into a blessing for the ages.

Would you have seen it like that? Would you have recognized that in every evil circumstance the light can still shine through? Would you have recognized that there is a difference between what happens to you and how you react to it? Would I have understood that no matter the physical outcome, my obedience to God is the only thing that truthfully matters in this world? I know what I would have done, and it wouldn’t have been pretty.

We have to remember to leave room for the wrath of God (Romans 12:19), and as much as it relies on us, to “live peacefully with all men” (Romans 12:18), as Joseph did with his brothers. Nothing Joseph could have done would have erased the last twenty years of pain, but seeing the victories that were accomplished through his suffering, I’m not sure he would have wanted to. God can create triumph out of any trial, provided we keep our injustices in the proper perspective.

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