PASTOR’S CORNER, David Harris, Fellowship Baptist Church, Liberal

 

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘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.” (Genesis 50:15-18, NIV)

The terror of Joseph’s brothers at the death of Jacob is both tragic and understandable. Even though they’ve been living in Egypt with Joseph for seventeen years, the thought of Joseph taking revenge has always been at the back of their minds. All this time, they had harbored the fear that Joseph was just waiting to crush them for the evil they had done.

Their fear was based on the assumption that the only restraining factor in Joseph’s life was the presence of Jacob. With Jacob in the grave, and the funeral dinner over, Joseph would be free to make them miserable. Because of their irrational fear, they concoct a scheme. They send a messenger with a letter to Joseph, hoping to soften him up before they throw themselves at his feet saying “We’re your slaves!” After all these years of living in blessing, they reverted to the old conniving ways of their father. They assume Joseph’s resentment is so deep-seated the only way to save themselves is to steer around the truth.

They take it for granted that with his father gone, Joseph’s wrath will be unleashed. They also assume because he was made a slave, he will want everyone to be slaves. Of course this would have been the epitome of resentment. “You will now experience at my hands what I have experienced at your hands” is resentment in a nutshell. You and I know this because we have been resentful ourselves. And they assume that resentment must, under the surface, be in Joseph’s heart. But notice what happens next:

“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, NIV)

Do you see how radical this is? Joseph tells them plainly: “you don’t have to be afraid of me!” Why shouldn’t they be afraid of Joseph? If anyone had bottled up resentment, wouldn’t it be Joseph? If anyone in the world was waiting for dear old dad to die before the executions begin, wouldn’t it be Joseph?

Resentment over forgiveness seems the obvious choice. But Joseph doesn’t choose resentment. He chooses forgiveness. Why? And herein lies the very heart of the entire Joseph saga, summed up in one potent question: “Am I in the place of God?”

After being hurt again and again, why does Joseph make the same choice again, and again? He knew he wasn’t God. Joseph being fully aware of his not-Godness was freeing. It freed him from holding a grudge, because the consequences for their sins didn’t have to be his negative emotions toward them. It freed him from unleashing his wrath because he was not the Judge of all the earth. It freed him from spending his waking moments figuring out how to punish them because that was above his paygrade. In simplest terms, Joseph letting God be God meant Joseph did not have to pretend to be.

Who is easiest to resent, hardest to forgive? When you’ve identified that, you have found the area of your life where you will be most tempted with playing God. Get in your place, and let God be in his. Say “no” to resentment, and “yes” to forgiveness. It will free your enemies. But more than that, it will free you. Joseph’s refusal to cave to the pressures of resentment freed him to be loving, generous, and incredibly kind to people who didn’t deserve it. Will this be your story?

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