In this Characters installment, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel. His is a story of extremes. Joseph lost his mother in childhood, but was his father’s favorite. His father loved him, but his brothers hated him. He had dreams from God about how he would rule over his brothers, but they sold him into slavery. Purchased as a slave by an Egyptian official, Potiphar, God was with Joseph, and he rose in favor with Potiphar, but was treated horribly by Potiphar’s wife. So Potiphar has Joseph jailed, but there rises in favor with the warden. When he interprets the king’s dream, through God’s empowerment, the king releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command of all Egypt. Finally, it seems Joseph’s fortunes are settling into a good extreme. Then his brothers show up in Egypt, but now they don’t know Joseph is the governor. Shocked, emotional, Joseph throws them in prison, but eventually shows them a courageous act of mercy, giving them the grain they had come to purchase because the land was in a severe famine.
What happens next?
We learn in Genesis 43 that back in Canaan, Joseph’s brothers and father and family have eaten all the grain Joseph sent back with them. The famine has not let up, and they need more food. That means another trip to Egypt. But Joseph has thrown his family into turmoil because he said that if they come back to Egypt they must bring their youngest brother who had remained behind on their first trip. You know who that other brother was? His full brother Benjamin. You can imagine that Joseph would really want to see Benjamin, the only brother with whom he shared both mother and father. Their father, Jacob, however, loves Benjamin deeply, as he was Jacob’s only remaining connection to their mother, his wife Rachel whom he loved more than his other wives. Jacob, for this reason, had not allowed Benjamin to go on the first trip to Egypt to get food. Now Joseph has forced his hand, so Jacob concedes and sends Benjamin. That brings us to Genesis 43:15.
There we learn that once his brothers arrive in Egypt Joseph now invites them to his house. When Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, once again he is overwhelmed with emotion and has to leave the room. When he finally composes himself, they have dinner together, but remember that his brothers still have no idea who Joseph is. They think he is just an eccentric governor of Egypt, who also holds their fate in his hands, because he is the one who can approve their purchase of more food. Still toying with them, as he did on their first trip, Joseph seats them in order of age, which they think is an astounding coincidence. He also gives Benjamin five times as much food as the others! I bet Joseph had a hard time keeping from laughing as he watched them talking about this.
Joseph’s trickery continues through all of chapter 44, where he contrives to make it seem like they were trying to steal from him, and they are more distraught than ever. Some scholars believe that in playing all these games with them, Joseph is shepherding his brothers to repentance. Maybe. It’s hard to know. He plays quite an extensive ruse on them. The games reach a high point at the end of chapter 44 when Joseph, having set them up as thieves, declares that their punishment is that Benjamin must stay behind, while the rest return to Canaan. His brother Judah makes an impassioned plea for himself to stay behind in prison rather than Benjamin. Perhaps that humility and sacrifice in Judah was the turning point for Joseph.
Turn to Genesis 45:1-8, and read Joseph’s amazing response.
Joseph can’t handle the ruse anymore. He explodes in emotion and reveals himself as Joseph, the brother they sold into slavery 20 years before. His brothers are terrified and shocked.
But as Joseph keeps talking, he describes the events of the last 20 years in a surprising way. He could be bitter, angry, and vengeful. Instead he says that God sent him into Egypt ahead of them, to save their family. Joseph looks at all the years of pain and suffering and sees God’s faithfulness.
Even in deep family drama, there is hope and redemption and forgiveness possible. Even through the worst circumstances, even through our bad choices, God can and does use us when we make ourselves available to be used, like Joseph, to see our pain through God’s eyes.
Genesis 45 concludes in a beautiful fashion. Look at verses 12-15. The brothers are all reconciled, and what’s more, Joseph and the King Pharaoh invite Joseph’s whole extended family to move to Egypt and survive the famine. And that is what happens. Their father Jacob, now called Israel, moves his whole family to Egypt.
Fast forward with me to Genesis 50:15. The years have gone by and Joseph’s father Jacob has recently passed away. Joseph and his brothers keep Jacob’s wishes that they return his body to Canaan. After doing so, they return to their homes in Egypt. With Jacob dead, though, Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph will now finally take revenge on them for what they had done to him all those years before. Look at Joseph’s response in verse 20.
Amazing. He continues to see God at work. All these years later, the wounds of the past are healed. Sometimes it takes time, repeated affirmation, especially when the wounds are deep. Forgiving 70×7 as Jesus taught in Matthew 18 can mean that we have to forgive an offense multiple times because the hurt just keeps coming back.
There were many ups and downs in Joseph’s life. Trials, temptations, jail-time. But when he was close to God, though the circumstances didn’t necessarily change, he clearly saw God at work.
God is at work for redemption of what is broken. Even when we are wounded and feeling lots of deep emotion about pain that people have caused us, we can pursue healing and reconciliation. That’s what God specializes in. Maybe it seems like God isn’t there. It can often feel that way. Keep pursuing him.
What is broken in your life that you need to take a step toward healing?