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Joseph and Forgiveness

"He knows his place." It's an icy-cold insult that hangs frozen in the air. Like a knife, it can open the wound of low self-esteem. It is usually spoken with an air of superiority or condescension. It leaves no doubt as to where a person stands in life's pecking order.

Genesis, the first book in the Bible, tells the story of Joseph, a man who is "put in his place" by his jealous brothers. They beat him, throw him into a well and leave him for dead. But God has a plan for Joseph. God rescues him and guides him to Egypt where, because of his ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dreams, he becomes the chief administrator in the land. Joseph is later reconciled with his brothers and together they enjoy great prosperity.

But the story does not end there. When Joseph's father dies, there is great mourning throughout Egypt. Joseph asks the Pharaoh for permission to bury his father in the land of Canaan in order to fulfil his father's last wishes. Permission is granted and Joseph and his brothers make arrangements to take their father home for burial.

Upon their return to Egypt, however, the brothers develop a sudden case of weak knees. It suddenly hits them that maybe Joseph only forgave them because of his intense love for their father Jacob. Now that their father is gone, well … the deal is dead! Joseph will finally get his revenge.

They tell Joseph that their father's dying request was that he forgive them their past offences. Then they offer themselves to Joseph as his slaves. Joseph might easily have said: "They know their place." Who would have blamed him? In spite of Joseph's brother's best efforts to disown him and even to end his life, God had seen fit to promote him. Now, Joseph sits in authority over his brothers and holds their fate in his hands. He can use the power of his office to give them what they deserve.

Joseph understands that only God has the power to forgive people for their sins.

But Genesis, Chapter 50:17 says that Joseph wept when he heard what his brothers had said. What does he reply instead? He turns the phrase around, bending it into a question. He asks: "Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good."Joseph understands that only God has the power to forgive people for their sins. And he knows that it is only through God's grace that their situations are now reversed. Joseph forgives his brothers, assuring them that he will provide for them and their children. Instead of seeking revenge, Joseph repays their evil with good. He practises humility because He knows his place in God's plan.

When people hurt us, it is difficult not to want revenge. Just ask Joseph. But we all need the grace and forgiveness that comes from God. That includes the thorn in your flesh who sits next to you at work, and even your interfering relative who thinks he has all the answers.

When we are truly sorry for our sins, God forgives and forgets. He asks us to do the same for others. We have no right to judge others—as though we were in God's place. Instead, we must do our best to heal broken relationships. Joseph didn't hold a grudge against his brothers. Instead, he allowed God to use him to repair the damage that had been done.

What about you? When you feel like you may be harbouring resentment, remember the story of Joseph. We are all sinners, in need of God's grace. And it is only through His grace that we can truly forgive others.

Questions for further reflection:

Read Joseph's story again in Genesis, Chapter 50.

  • What do you learn about his relationship with God?
  • Do you tend to seek revenge or forgive people when they hurt you?
  • Are you holding any grudges? If so, ask God to help you forgive.
  • What can you do this week to show others the forgiveness of God?

Faith & Friends, July 2001,




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