Ilsa suffered a lot of harm from many, many people when she lived as a young woman in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. (Ilsa was the woman we read about in our last article.) Then of course she was never in a position to seek vengeance. Her traumatic experiences had been in another country more than fifty years before. At that time she had been a vulnerable young woman in a country occupied by a foreign army. But what if she had had an opportunity for revenge back then? Would she have taken revenge? The reality was that there was no one to whom she could appeal. She just had to live with her memories for all those years. And there were many. It seemed to her that there was no chance of any closure and that her life would continue to consist of times when memories would come flooding back. With the memories often came the emotions associated with them. She wondered if she could ever be free.
Her healing came when she began to decline rapidly in health. She realised she needed to get rid of “all that stuff” that was always in her thoughts and memories. The good news is that she found an answer. She could learn to forgive those who had hurt her and let the hurtful things go. With some help and by God’s grace she was enabled to forgive all those people she remembered who had harmed her. Now there was closure. She was able to move on in life without wanting vengeance and as a result enjoyed dramatically improved physical and emotional health. The memories whenever they did return no longer had an emotionally crippling effect on her. She was free!
How about us in this 21st century? If it was possible for us to seek vengeance on those who had harmed us, knowing that we could get away with it, would we be tempted to do so? Such a temptation faced Joseph as he faced his brothers who had sold him into slavery. To punish or to forgive? That was the question! We see the answer in the first of the Old Testament passages we will be examining in this and in future articles.
1). GENESIS. Chapters 45 to 50. Whom Joseph forgave
Whom did Joseph need to forgive? Was he able to do so? Obviously he needed to forgive his brothers. They had sold him into slavery. He finished up far from home in Egypt. But God’s hand was on him. In the providence of God he rose to be second only to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Many years later when his brothers came to buy grain during a drought in Canaan he recognised them. He could easily have wreaked vengeance on them. But he didn’t. Joseph had a choice as he looked at his brothers.
One option was to cause them harm for the pain they had caused him. Because of his status in Egypt and the fact that his brothers were “foreigners” in Egypt he could easily have done so. No one but Joseph (and God) knew that these men were Joseph’s brothers. If he had put them to death no one but Joseph would have known that he was wreaking vengeance on his own brothers for their sin against him. It would have been so easy for Joseph to take revenge.
Joseph’s other option was to forgive them. That is what he chose to do. We see in the story many of the factors involved in true forgiveness.
Joseph did not live in denial. He recognised that his brothers had sinned against him. He knew that their sin had caused him to go through great anguish in Egypt. He didn’t deny what had happened but he chose to forgive them of their sin. (We will see in later articles that the reason some people can’t experience the release that forgiveness brings, comes from the fact that they are in denial of the sin committed against them. If you can’t see people as being guilty you can’t forgive them, even though they caused you much grief. It’s only as you recognise the sin of those who hurt you and make the decision to forgive those people, that the release and peace come.)
He wanted to bless those who had made his life so difficult. His generosity to them astounded them. He was seeking their best interests (which we will see later is a mark of Christian love.) Instead of dwelling on the hurt he had received in the past, he saw that God had over-ruled in what had happened. We can imagine what a shock it was when Joseph announced to them, Genesis 45:4 … “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. His brothers may have sold him into slavery but Joseph saw that God had over-ruled his brothers’ sin to bring him to Egypt for a special purpose.
He saw the bigger picture. He saw that God can use any experience to His glory and to the benefit of His people. The brothers’ sin had been overruled by God for Joseph’s ultimate blessing, for the blessing of his family and for the blessing of the Egyptian people. Genesis 45:7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Joseph could easily have seen himself as a victim, which he indeed was. But “victim mentality” gets one nowhere. Evil is always evil. Sin is always sin. Evil and sin always cause harm to those sinned against. There ARE victims as a result of other people’s sin. However the good news is that people can move from being “victims” to becoming “victors” in life by the grace and power of God.
When Joseph’s father Jacob died, his brothers were afraid that Joseph might at that time pay them back for the evil they had committed against him. His true forgiveness was again seen in the reassurance he gave them. Genesis 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” His forgiveness was motivated by his genuine compassion for his brothers, 21…Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Sometimes the deepest hurts we experience in life come from members of our own family or extended family. That’s what Joseph experienced. We see in this biblical example of Joseph how true forgiveness operates towards those who could never deserve or earn it.
There may be those who wonder, “How could Joseph have been so forgiving towards his brothers?” The answer is given in the text in Joseph’s complete trust in God. He believed that He over-ruled in all the various circumstances of his life. The Lord’s hand had been on him, protecting him and exalting him so that he could bring blessing in the lives of countless people. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers brought great blessing into his life, and in the lives of his wider family.
Ilsa? She didn’t ever become number two in the land of Egypt, or in any other land for that matter. In fact she wouldn’t have been recognised as important by many people throughout her lifetime. But God knew her need. When she asked Him to help her forgive all those people, He gave her the grace to do so in an amazing way. So amazing that I was astonished and delighted with the change in her. Her own Pastor praised God with me for the healing He worked in her.
We will read of others in the days ahead who learned to forgive and knew great blessing and healing as a result.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER by Groups or by Individuals. (Added on Thursday 11th August 2016)
Ques 1). Do you think that people often live in denial about the hurts that people caused them? Why do you think that is so?
Ques 2). In the story of Joseph what sort of thoughts could have been going through his mind when he recognised his brothers when they came to Egypt for food? Have you had similar thoughts when you met someone who harmed you in the past?
Ques 3). In what way did Joseph see “the big picture” when confronted with his brothers?Is it always possible to see “the big picture” when you are going through difficult times caused by other people?
Ques 4). Joseph had been a victim at the hands of his brothers. Why do you think he did not have a “victim mentality” that could have made him want to seek revenge?
Ques 5). Why do you think Joseph was so forgiving towards his brothers? Are there things in his example that could help us to forgive others if we were to imitate them?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.13. Posted on Friday 4th March 2011