Hope through Hardship: Lessons from the Life of Joseph ~ #9 “The Freedom of Forgiveness”

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Hope Through Hardship

Lessons From the Life of Joseph, Part 9

The Freedom of Forgiveness

Bruce A. Hess

Well, if you would, please take out your Bibles now and turn in them to the first book of the Old Testament, the book of Genesis, and chapter number 42, in Genesis. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you and you could grab that Bible and turn in it to page 33, and you would be at Genesis 42.

Of all the mornings you want to have a Bible in your hand, this is going to be a good morning to do that, because we are going to look at a whole slew of verses and we won’t really be putting them up on the screen. So, I encourage you to grab a Bible and turn to Genesis 42.

Recently I read a very fascinating story that comes out of New York City in the 1880’s. There was this businessman named Hyman Sarner and he owned some lots on 82nd Street in New York City. What he wanted to do is, he wanted to build apartments on those lots. His lots extended to within a few feet of Lexington Avenue. But there was this very odd-shaped strip of land, it was 102 feet long, but it was only 5 feet wide, all along Lexington Avenue, virtually a valueless piece of land. But Sarner thought, ‘You know what? I ought to look up who owns that, maybe I could just buy that land. Then, when I build my apartments, we would own all the way to the edge of the street.’ So, he researched it and he found out that another wealthy businessman, named Joseph Richardson, owned that virtually valueless strip of 5-foot-wide land.

So, he researched where Richardson lived, and he went to Richardson’s home. Sarner offered Richardson (in the 1880’s) $1,000 for that 5-foot strip of land. Which is some 25,000 plus dollars in today’s value. Well, Richardson was insulted by this offer; he was incensed; he demanded that he get $5,000 for this virtually valueless 5-foot strip of land. He ended up slamming the door in Sarner’s face.  Sarner said, ‘You know what? I guess I’ll just go ahead, and I will build my apartment building anyway.’ So, he built a four-story apartment building, but as he built that building, he included windows in the building facing Lexington Avenue. He was thinking in his own mind, ‘Nothing will ever be built on that five-foot-wide strip of land.’

Well, Richardson, who was 70 years old, got ticked off that Sarner would build a building there and have windows facing Lexington Avenue. So, out of personal grudge and spite, he built a four-story building that was 102 feet long and 5 feet wide on the outside of the building. He built eight apartments in there and he vowed that he was going to live in one of those apartments. When he built that, of course, that little, tiny, skinny building blocked all of the Lexington Avenue side windows of Sarner’s building. We actually a picture to show you what this looked like. The building on the left is Sarner’s building and the little, tiny thing that you see that is so skinny is what Richardson built.

You can imagine a building where the outside measurements were only 5 feet wide, the stairs were so narrow inside that you could hardly go up them. All of the furnishings in the building had to be specially made. In fact, the largest dining room table in that building, measured eighteen inches wide.

Then—this is comical—one of the newspapers said, ‘I want to get a story on this building that Richardson built.’ So, he sent a newspaper reporter named Deacon Terry to get an interview and Deacon Terry was a rather rotund guy. When he went into the building and he was going to go up and interview Richardson in his apartment, Deacon Terry got wedged in the narrow stairway. Someone was coming down from their apartment and they tried to push Deacon Terry back down the stairs. They couldn’t budge the guy. Someone came up from below and tried to push Deacon Terry up the stairway, they couldn’t budge the guy. He was stuck in the stairway and the only way he got out is that, while being stuck, somehow he managed to strip off all his clothes, and semi-naked he was able to move through the stairway.

That building that was built by Richardson became known in New York City, as the “Spite House.” Built out of spite and built out of resentment and built out of revenge. Mr. Richardson lived in the Spite House for fourteen years until he died at the age of 84.

When we have been mistreated by other people, part of us wants to erect a “spite house.” Part of us says, ‘I’m going to live there.’ The aim is, ‘I want to pay them back for what they did to me. I want to get even for what they did to me. I want to get revenge for the hurt that they caused me.’ The goal, just as it was with Richardson, is to make someone miserable who hurt us. The problem with that is, all that it ultimately accomplishes is that you spend your precious days confined to your spite house.

We’ve been doing a series of messages we have entitled, “Hope Through Hardship, Lessons from the Life of Joseph.” Today, in our study, we are going to come to the section where we find out that Joseph, despite the hardship that he went through; despite the cruel mistreatment he got at the hands of his brothers; despite the false accusation that came to him that ended up having him go to prison; we are going to see that Joseph refused to build—and refused to live in—a spite house. We are going to see that Joseph chose, as the title of today’s message says, ‘The Freedom of Forgiveness.’

Today, as we look through this section of Genesis, we are going to be looking through what I believe is one of the most moving sections of Scripture. Before we get there, I want to make three quick observations and we will revisit these observations at the end our time.

Here is the first quick observation. Number one, Joseph forgave, even before his brothers asked for forgiveness. When we have resentment and bitterness, whether it is towards others or towards God, we need to understand that resentment and bitterness is emotional cancer. Cancer is not satisfied until it invades every facet of somebody’s life.

The second quick observation. Forgiveness granted does not mean trust is restored. Trust needs to be rebuilt by someone who mistreated another and needs to be proven over time.

The third very quick observation I want to make is that forgiveness frees us to be used by God in surprising ways.

I want you to do something very special in the next few moments we have together. I want you to do all that you can to climb into the context of what is a royal drama. I want you to imagine that you are an eyewitness in the events that we are going to look at from chapter 42 through chapter 50. We are going to look at a lot of different verses today.

This is a very emotional section. As this reunion that is going to occur between Joseph and his brothers and his father unfolds, I tell you, you can get choked up. In fact, I have reflectively gone through this section several times over the last number of weeks, and I have to admit to you, every single time I get choked up. So, if you just climb into the context, you will get a feel for what is really happening. We have a lot of this story to cover.

It begins in chapter 42 and the first four verses. What happens is, remember there is a prediction of famine that was going to come, and famine comes in the land of Canaan to Jacob and his sons. He says to his sons in verse 1, “Why are you staring at one another?” ‘We’ve got to do something. Hey, I’ve heard that there is grain in Egypt.’ “Go (to that particular location) and buy some grain from that place, that we may live and not die. The ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt.” But notice verse 4, “Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin,” from the beloved Rachel, “for he said, ‘I am afraid that harm may befall him.’” So, the ten other brothers head to Egypt.

Verse 5, they come to buy grain because there was famine in the land of Canaan. And verse 6, Joseph was the ruler over the land of Egypt, and he was the one who sold grain to everyone. Joseph’s brothers came and they bow down to Joseph with their faces to the ground.

Remember, Joseph had already forgiven them. He had already made the choice to trust in God’s providence in his life; to trust in God’s presence in his life; to trust in God’s promises in his life. He had already forgiven them before he even saw them. But what we are going to see in this section is a series of tests that he gives his brothers.

First, he wants to test them about their general attitude:  how are they operating in life and the way that they think. Remember, they have not seen Joseph for thirteen years [Actually when you add in the 7 years of prosperity, it had been at least 20 years]. He was really a young teenager, now he is a grown man. Not only that, but as they appear before Joseph, he is clean-shaven, which those in the land of Canaan were not. He is wearing the royal robes of Egypt; he has an Egyptian hairdo; he has all the royal make-up on. Not only that, as they interact with him in chapter 42, we are going to see that he is talking to them in Egyptian and an interpreter interprets that into their language (verse 23). So, they have no idea, really, who they are standing before.

Look at verse 7, it says, “When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them.” He hadn’t seen them for thirteen years, but he knew who they were. Notice it says there that he spoke to them harshly. He said, “Where have you come from? And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’”

Notice it goes on to say in verse 9, now he was remembering those dreams that he had many years ago about them and he said to them, ‘I think you are spies, you have come to check out the undefended parts of our land.’ They said, ‘Oh no, no, no, no, we are your servants. We are just here to buy food.’

Verse 11, “We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.”  He says, verse 12, ‘No, I think you’ve come to check out our land.’ And, in verse 13 they say, ‘Listen, we are just twelve brothers of one man in the land of Canaan and the youngest brother, Benjamin, is with our father today and one is no longer alive.’ See, they are referring there to what they thought had happened to Joseph. Joseph insists, verse 14, ‘You are spies.’ Part of what he is doing is, he is testing them. He wants to find out if they are still devious in the way that they operate.

Look at verse 15. “By this you will be tested; by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother (which of course refers to Benjamin) comes here!”  ‘One of you can go back, the other nine need to stay here, confined, and you need to bring back that youngest brother because surely you are spies. Verse 17, “So he put them all together in prison for three days.”

I think part of the reason why he threw them into prison for three days is he wanted them to stew [wrestle with and reflect] about all of this a little bit. But I think also, remember Joseph was taken off-guard. He didn’t know his brothers were going to show up. He was shocked and I think he needed a little time to think and the more he reflected, over those three days, he said, ‘Wait a minute now. If I only send one of the ten back it is probably going to crush my father’s heart.’

So, he adjusts the plan in verse 18. He says, “Do this and live, for I fear God; If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in prison; but the rest of you can take the grain back to your households, but you need to bring your youngest brother to me so your words will be verified, and you will not die.”

What happens at this point is they are getting this message, one has to stay here in prison, the nine can go back, but you bring this youngest brother, Benjamin, back with you. So, they get this little huddle going in verse 21. Remember this guy is speaking to them in Egyptian and it is being translated to them. They have a little huddle, and they say, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother,” referring to Joseph. You can see they had all this concern about the past events. “We saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore (now, it is coming down on us) this distress has come upon us.” Reuben, who was the firstborn, said to the other brothers, “Didn’t I tell you guys, when we did this, ‘Don’t sin against Joseph,’ and you would not listen? “Now comes the reckoning for his blood.” It is coming down upon us.”

Notice, verse 23, “They did not know that Joseph understood what they were saying.”  He remembered, obviously, his home language. But what is Joseph thinking when he hears this little huddle going on? ‘They feel guilt. They feel remorse. I had no idea what was going through their mind. They are not hard-hearted brothers like they were once.’

So, verse 24, “He turned away from them and he wept.” This is the best that he could have hoped for [with his brothers]. Then after he composes himself, in verse 24, “he speaks to them and he took Simeon, that brother, from them and bound him up to put him into prison. Then he gives orders to have all their bags that they had brought, filled with grain. Then, he says, ‘The money that they brought to buy the grain, restore every man’s money into his sack and give them provisions for the journey. And thus, it was done for them.

They return back to the land of Canaan. I want you to notice verse 30. They report to their father, Jacob, and they say, ‘We went there and the lord of the land, this Egyptian guy, spoke harshly with us and he said we were spies. We said, ‘No, no, no, we’re not spies at all.’ Verse 33, “And he says, ‘Listen, the only way I am going to know you are honest men is to leave one of your brothers with me and you can take grain back to your family. But bring your youngest brother to me,” verse 34, “that I may know that you are not spies.” They go on to say in verse 35, “As they were all opening and emptying their sacks, every man’s original money, to purchase it, was in his sack. When they and their father saw all this, they were dismayed. They thought, ‘Oh my gosh, something has happened. They are going to think we stole something.’ Jacob said, ‘You have bereaved me of my children. Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and now you are talking about taking Benjamin away from me.’”

Verse 37, “Reuben, the first-born, says to his father, ‘Look dad, if we take Benjamin back and we don’t bring him back, you may take my two sons and put them to death if I don’t bring him back to you. Leave him in my care and I will return him to you. Just let me have a shot at it.’ But Jacob’s response to this whole idea of Benjamin going back is, ‘NO! NO! I don’t want to send Benjamin back.’

As they have brought the grain and they are eating the grain, guess what happens as time passes? Eventually they run out of grain and Jacob is talking now, in chapter 43 about, ‘You’ve got to go back and get more grain.’ Basically, what they say in the first five verses of chapter 43 is, ‘We can’t go back without Benji. We cannot go back without Benjamin. We’ve got to take Benjamin back.’

Notice in chapter 43, verse 8, Judah speaks up. He says to Jacob, his father, Israel, “Look, send Benjamin with me, that we may live and not die. I, myself,” he says, this is very interesting, he says, “I, myself, will be the guarantee for Benjamin and you can hold me responsible, Dad, if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you. Let me bear the blame.”

Jacob says to them, in verse 11, “If it must be so, we’ve got to eat, we can’t have all of our family starve to death. Take some of the best products of our land in your bags and carry them to this guy as a present and bring along a little balm, a little honey, some aromatic gum, some myrrh, some pistachio nuts, some almonds. Let’s let him know that we really like him, and we want to give these gifts to him.” Then he says, in verse 12, “You need to take double the amount of money in your hand. The original money to buy the grain and more money to buy more grain and okay, go ahead,” verse 13, “take your brother also, take Benjamin, and arise and return to the man.” Verse 14, “And, may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of this guy, so that he will release to you your other brother, Simeon, and Benjamin. As for me, I am bereaved of my children. I am bereaved.”

So, they go back. Now there are ten other brothers, because Simeon is in jail, Benjamin included in the group, who show up. Notice verse 16, they get back to Egypt and it says there that Joseph saw Benjamin with them and he said to his house steward, ‘Bring the men into the house.’” You must understand, we are not talking about some little apartment that Joseph had. Before when they had met him, he had met them in an official government area. This time Joseph says, ‘Bring them to my house,’ which you have to know, was a palace, second only to that of Pharaoh. ‘Bring them to my place, personally, I want you to bring them there. Slay an animal and make ready, for these men are going to have lunch with me at noon.’

The steward did as Joseph said, and he brought them to Joseph’s house, his plush palace. But, notice, the brothers were afraid because they were actually being brought to his house. They said, ‘This is because of the money that was in our sacks the first time and we are being brought in because he wants to seek an occasion against us; he wants to fall upon us; he wants to take us as slaves and all of our stuff.

As they come near to Joseph’s house steward, in verse 19, they say, ‘Hey, the first time we came,’ verse 21, ‘we came and we were opening our sacks after we left, and everybody’s money was in the mouth of their sack. All of our money was still there. But we’ve brought it back and we’ve also,’ verse 22, ‘brought down our money in our hand to buy new food, but we don’t know who put the money back in our sacks.’ Verse 23, the steward says to them, ‘Be at ease, do not be afraid.’ This tells you something of Joseph’s influence on his own steward. ‘Your God, and the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks. I am the one who put the money there.’ Then, he brings Simeon out to them.

Joseph eventually comes home to the plush palace, verse 26, and when he did, they brought out all these presents they had brought to give to him and they bowed before him on the ground. Notice verse 27, he asks them first about their family, ‘Is your old father, is he still alive? The one of whom you spoke?’ And they said, ‘Yes, yes, he is still alive.’” Verse 28, ‘He is still alive.’ They bowed down in homage. Then notice verse 29, as he lifted his eyes, looking at them, he saw his brother, Benjamin, his mother, Rachel’s other son, and he said, “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke to me?” Joseph turned to Benjamin and said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.”

It was the first time he had seen his brother in thirteen years {actually 20], and he gets emotional. Verse 30, “Joseph hurried out at that point because he was deeply stirred over his brother, Benjamin, and he sought a place to weep, and he entered his chamber and he wept there.” How long, I don’t know. That is how moving it was. He was just thinking about it. ‘My dad is still alive. My closest brother is right there in the next room.’ A very emotional scene that happens.

Eventually he composes himself, verse 31, he washes his face, and he comes out and he says, ‘Serve the meal, it is time to have lunch together.’ What is interesting, we learn from verses 32-34, is that there are three groups of people. There are three tables set up for lunch. What happened was, there was a table for Joseph, there was also a table for the eleven brothers, and then the Egyptians, who ate with him, had a table by themselves. Why is that? “Because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, because that is loathsome to the Egyptians.” ‘We don’t want to hang out with those people from Canaan, not at all.’ What was interesting is, you have the three tables, you have Joseph’s table, you have the brothers’ table, and you have the Egyptians eating over here—what was interesting at the brothers’ table is, they had their places set in exact birth order, from Reuben on down to Benjamin. Verse 33 says the brothers were looking at one another thinking, ‘How in the world did that happen? That is weird! How did he know our exact birth order?’

In verse 34 Joseph steps up and he is the one who decides to serve his brothers and he takes food from his own table, and he brings it over to the brothers’ table. But notice in verse 34, Benjamin’s portion that he delivered was five times as much as any of the other brothers. “But they feasted, and they drank freely with him.” Pretty amazing stuff.

When we come to chapter 44, it is going to be the second major test. He is trying to figure out, ‘Can I trust these guys?’ He is wondering, ‘Are you willing to defend Benjamin? You weren’t willing to defend me. Are you willing to protect your father, Jacob? Do you have his desires above your own? You didn’t with me.’ So, he proposes a little test. Chapter 44, verse 1, he tells his house steward, ‘What I want you to do is, I want you to fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, put everybody’s money back again in the mouth of the sack, but here is what I want you to do differently. I want you to take my personal cup,’ the silver cup of his exalted position, ‘and I want you to put it in the mouth of the sack of the youngest brother,’ which of course was Benjamin. Of course, the steward did exactly as he was instructed. So, they began to move on out, to return back to the land of Canaan.

In verse 4, when they hadn’t gone very far, Joseph says to his house steward, ‘What I want you to do is, I want you to go catch up with them and when you catch up with them, I want you to say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good?’ So, that is exactly what happens. He catches up with them and he says, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good?’ And they say to him, verse 7, ‘What do you mean? We didn’t do anything at all. We haven’t done anything wrong. If there is this missing cup, if any one of us,’ verse 9, ‘took it, let that person die and we will all be slaves of this Egyptian leader. So, the steward says, ‘It will be according to your words. We will do it exactly as you stated.’ So, each man, verse 11, lowers their sack to the ground, each man opens his sack, and he searched, he started with the oldest and worked his way through all the eleven brothers, ending with the youngest. And, of course the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, just as Joseph had told him to do.

Notice their response: they tear their clothes, which is utter frustration [and despair], ‘What are we going to do? We need to go back; we need to talk to this Egyptian leader.’ So, they all returned to face Joseph. When they get back, verse 16, Judah says, ‘What can we say to you? We can’t justify ourselves. God has found out the iniquity of your servants.’ In other words, ‘We’ve done some bad things in the past, it is coming back to haunt us. Far be it from us to do this.’ Remember the whole story he goes on to relate down in verse 18 and following, ‘Remember how you asked us about our father, and you asked about the brothers and the youngest brother?’ Notice in verse 20, he said, ‘Remember how we told you that we had an old father, and he had a little child of his old age, but his brother,’ that would be Joseph again, ‘is dead. So, he alone is left of his mother and his father really, really, really, really loves him.’ He goes on basically to say, ‘We can’t go back without him. It is going to break our father’s heart. It is just going to crush his soul if we do that.’

Then, in verses 32-34, Judah makes an offer to Joseph. He says, ‘Listen, I want you to understand, sir, that I became surety for this young boy, to my father. I said to my father, “If I do not bring him back to you, then you let me bear the blame.” So, here is the deal, please let me, Judah, remain here. You can kill me if you need to, you can imprison me, but let the young boy go back with his brothers, for how shall I go up to my father if he is not with me? For I fear,’ verse 34, ‘that the evil would overtake my father.’

What is Joseph thinking? ‘These aren’t the same brothers! The hearts of my brothers have been changed.’ Remember, Judah was an instigator of selling him off into slavery and Judah has been changed and Joseph is deeply stirred by all of this. Look at chapter 45. Then Joseph could not control himself before those who were there and he cried, ‘Have everyone go out of here.’ And he wept, verse 2, so loudly that the Egyptians heard it and the household of Pharaoh, which was nearby, heard him wailing away. He is crying because he is thinking, ‘My brothers have truly changed. I have changed. I have grown. They, too, have grown. God has been at work in their hearts.’ And, he is weeping, weeping over it all.

Then, eventually, he composes himself. This is an amazing story here. Verse 3, then Joseph comes to his brothers, and he says this, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ Look at his brothers. They couldn’t answer him because they were thoroughly dismayed. They were, ‘What in the world is going on here?’ Verse 4, Joseph says to his brothers, ‘Please come closer to me.’ They came closer and he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into slavery into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.’

Look at verse 7, ‘God sent me before you to preserve you for a remnant in the earth, to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, ultimately, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ He says in verse 9, ‘Hurry, you need to go tell my father, Jacob, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son, Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come to me. Do not delay. Dad, you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall me near me, Joseph, and you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.  I will provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come. You and your household and all that you have would be impoverished if you did not come to me. Behold, Dad, your eyes see and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, I am still alive. Benjamin is still alive, and it is my mouth, Joseph, who is speaking to you. You must tell my father of all of my splendor in Egypt and all that you have seen, and you must hurry and bring my father here.’

Then, notice verse 14, “Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck, and he wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Joseph kissed all his brothers and he wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.”

Now, guess what? Pharaoh finds out what is happening, that Joseph’s brothers are there. Look at verse 16, “Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Joseph’s brothers had come,” what do you think his response was? It pleased Pharaoh and his servants. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Tell this to your brothers. Load up everything that you need and go to the land of Canaan and take your father and their households and I want you to come to me, here in Egypt and,’ listen to this, ‘I am going to give your family the best land of Egypt and you will eat of the fat of the land. Take wagons, Egyptian wagons, and go get all your little ones and your wives and bring your father and come.’

Verse 20, ‘Don’t even concern yourselves with bringing your stuff because the best stuff of all the land of Egypt is yours.’ So, that is exactly what they did, verse 21. Joseph gave them the Egyptian wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh and gave them all the provisions. He gave them changes of garments, but to Benjamin, ahhh, his closest brother, he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments. To his father he sent ten donkeys, fully loaded with all the best things of Egypt and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and sustenance for his father on the journey.

“So, he sent his brothers away, verse 24, and as they departed, he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel on the journey.’” Some people, some commentators think he said that to them very sternly. I personally think he said that to them with a smile, maybe a little wink, because he knew his brothers had changed. That was part of the past.

Notice they show up, verse 26, they get back to see Jacob, and they say to Jacob, ‘Joseph is alive, and Joseph is the ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ But Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. So, they began to tell him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken, everything that had happened, all the wagons, all the stuff. “Then, Israel says,” verse 28, ‘It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Chapter 46 is really a whole story about the move of the extended family to Egypt. We learn in verse 27 of 46 that there were seventy of them that went back. Look at verses 29 and 30 in chapter 46. They are coming back and “Joseph prepares his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel and as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.”

In chapter 47 they come back. Notice what Pharaoh says to Joseph, again, reiterating what he had said earlier, verse 6, he says, “The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land, let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock.”  Can you imagine the reunion that they had? Can you imagine the reunion that they had???

Look at verse 28, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of his life was one hundred and forty-seven years.” Verse 29, when the time came for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and basically said to him, ‘I have a favor. I don’t want to be buried here. Will you take me back to the land of Canaan? Take me back to the land of Canaan.’

Chapter 50, verse 1, Jacob dies, and Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. Then, Pharaoh, again, speaks in verse 6, he says, ‘Go up and bury your father, remember he made you promise.’ So, Joseph went to bury his father and with Joseph went all the servants of Pharaoh. Pharaoh sent all his servants and all the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, all went to see that Jacob would be buried.

Then look at verse 15. Jacob is now buried, and the brothers get nervous again. ‘What if Joseph just forgave us because of Dad? What if he is going to get back at us now that Dad is gone?’ So, they send a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father said this before he died, ‘Would you please tell Joseph, ‘Verse 17, ‘to forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin for they did you wrong.’ When they said that to Joseph, he wept again. He wept before them. The brothers came and fell down before Joseph and “Joseph said to them,” verse 19, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

I want to revisit, for a few moments, the three quick observations we began with at the beginning. Observation number one, Joseph forgave even before his brothers asked for forgiveness. See, men and women, when we forgive, we choose not to hold a grudge. We choose not to build or live in a “spite house.” Archibald Hart said this, “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.” When it came to emotional cancer, Joseph said, ‘No thanks.’

When someone has mistreated you and we think about forgiving them, one of the questions that comes to our mind is, what about justice? Are they going to get away with their evil actions? In the New Testament, in Romans 12:19 gives us good perspective here. It says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD.”  That is a promise from God. We need to leave revenge to the God of the universe who specializes in justice. You see, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we eliminate justice. It just means that we entrust it to God.

The second principle. Forgiveness granted does not mean that trust is restored. See, trust needs to be rebuilt. It needs to be proven over time. When are mistreated and we choose not to hold a grudge, we are also cautious about trusting another person again until they are proven. Joseph did not have resentment towards his brothers, but he still tested his brothers so that they could demonstrate that they had earned his trust.

The third principle. Forgiveness frees us to be used by God in surprising ways. Do you ever think about it? What would have happened if Joseph just left his family to die down there in Canaan? What if he would have executed his brothers, he had the power to do that, the moment that they showed up? If he had done that, if he hadn’t forgiven his brothers, he never would have been the savior of Israel, which is the surprising thing that God brought in his life because of his forgiveness. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Forgiveness frees us to be used by God in surprising ways.

I want to close by sharing with you the story of Christine Caine. Max Lucado does a great job of so eloquently describing her story. He says of Christine Caine, “She is an Australian spark plug, five feet, three inches of energy, passion, and love. To sit down with Christine is to share a meal with a modern-day Joseph. She is at war with one of the greatest calamities of our generation: sex slavery. She travels three hundred days a year. She meets with cabinets, presidents, and parliaments. She stares down pimps and defies organized crime. With God as her helper, she will see sex slavery brought to its knees.

Pretty impressive for a girl whose world was turned upside down. At the age of thirty she stumbled upon the stunning news of her adoption. The couple who raised her never intended for her to know. When Christine happened upon the truth, she sought to track down her biological parents. The official records of her birth told her this much: she was born to a Greek mother. The box designated “father’s name” bore the word, ‘unknown.’ Christine recounts how she lingered over this word, trying to understand how someone so important to her could be reduced to simply this…seven letters, one word, and that single word seemed so inadequate. But there was more. Next to the box marked “child’s name” was another seven-letter word. It sucked the air out of her. ‘Unnamed.’ Father unknown, child unnamed. According to the document Christine Caine was simply this, birth number 2508 of the year of 1966.

Abandoned by those who conceived and bore you, could anything be worse? Actually, yes. To be sexually abused by members of your adopted family. Time and time again they took sexual advantage of her. They turned her childhood into a horror story of one encounter after another. Twelve years of unbridled and ugly evil. Yes, what they intended for evil, God used for good.

Christine chose to not heed the hurts of her past, but the promise of her Heavenly Father. She laid hold of Isaiah 49:1, “The Lord has called me from the womb, from the matrix of my mother He has made mention of my name.” Christine made a Joseph-like decision to forgive and to believe in the God who believed in her.

Years later when she heard of the plight of the girls caught in the sex trade, she knew she had to respond. When she saw their faces on missing person posters and heard of the abuse at the hands of their captors, something she could identify with, this unnamed, abused girl set out to rescue the nameless and abused girls of her day. Satan’s plan to destroy her actually emboldened her resolve to help other people. Her A21 mission has offices now around the world, they combat human trafficking, they establish prevention programs in schools and orphanages, they represent victims as legal advocates and they give them refuge in safe houses, then restoration in transition homes. As of now, several hundred young women have been assisted and released from the sex trade.”

Christine refused to build and live in a “spite house.” She chose to forgive and trust God to deal with the justice and therefore was free to be used by God in a surprising way. The freedom of forgiveness, men and women, will keep us from building a “spite house.” If we are currently living in a “spite house,” if you are maybe right there today, (the Holy Spirit is saying) it is time to move out; it is time to forgive; it is time to trust God to deal with the justice. It is time to enjoy the freedom of forgiveness because when you do that, you are free to be used by God in surprising ways.

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You so much for loving us. We thank You for the tremendous story of Joseph and for the freedom of forgiveness. We need to remember the lessons we learn from him. Father, we thank You that You are so much bigger, You are so much better, You are so much greater than we are. We just rest in You and we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

Joseph week 9

Describe any time in your life where you lived for a while in a “Spite House.”  What helped you to “move out?” 

If you are still “living there,” what needs to happen for you to effectively “move out?”

Why is it hard to forgive people before they ask for forgiveness?

In this part of the story what character qualities of Joseph’s stand out to you?  What factors do you think played into his display of character?

What character qualities do you see in Joseph’s brothers at this point?  How do you think they developed them?

When was the last time you shed tears?  What prompted it?

People tend to retaliate and seek revenge in different ways.  Some tend more to strike back verbally, while some others tend to withdraw emotionally.  Which tendency best describes you?

Be transparent.  Have you forgiven those you have wronged you (please withhold names)?  If not, what is “holding you back?”  What needs to happen so you can free yourself from emotional cancer?

Think of a person who has violated your trust.  How did you, or how could you, help them to rebuild trust?

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned about forgiving others?

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