Everyone deals with this. No one avoids hurt which results from bad treatment. The human condition inevitably struggles with lingering resentment over wrongs done. Who hasn’t relished the prospect of payback which matches the harm inflicted by someone’s evil?
Joseph certainly must have. He had every reason to after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37). Fearing the worst after their father died, those brothers definitely worried so:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” (Genesis 50:15-18 ESV)
They pitched Pharaoh’s number two, their little brother, on accepting an offer of servitude in exchange for their lives and the lives of their families. Joseph’s response stands forever as a marvel of grace and a model for peacemaking reconciliation even in the face of the worst kind of treatment:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV)
How did Joseph do it? What did he know that caused him to release arguably reasonable and deserved resentment for his brothers and bless them with fear-easing comfort?
- He knew his place – not being God. Am I in the place of God? His was not to judge. That job’s taken. He heard Paul’s words before he ever wrote them:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)
- He knew his God – working for good. 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. Once again we read foreshadowing of the apostle finding grace to heal hurts anchored in God’s sovereignty. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
- He knew his role – caring for others. I will provide for you and your little ones. Paul, Paul everywhere.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
Of course Joseph ultimately points to his greater Son, Jesus, who not only modeled such love and grace (Luke 23:34) but also empowers us to do the same through the power of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).
Are you shackled by the chains of unforgiveness that harbor resentment and plot revenge? Seek your freedom in the love-covering-a-multitude of your sins and the sins of others by virtue of the cross and resurrection.