As Christians, we sometimes find it hard to forgive. Somehow we feel justified in being angry and bitter against those who wronged us and that they should suffer for their offenses. We do ourselves much harm if we continue to hold on to this unforgiving attitude. Ron McManus puts it in an insightful way, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26, 27). However, in Genesis 50:15-21, we have a very touching story of the way Joseph forgave his brothers. In a deeper sense Joseph’s actions also reflect the love and forgiving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to us. The brothers of Joseph faced a real dilemma after their father’s death. As long as he was alive, their relationships to Joseph would be secured. But now they were uncertain whether Joseph would treat them well. So they sent a message to Joseph reminding him of their father’s plea on their behalf (Gen. 50:16). But to their surprise, Joseph not only did not harbor any grudge but he graciously forgave them.
We can draw some lessons from this episode. First, we can rest in the faithfulness of God to keep His promise. Christ died for us and therefore we have the assurance that our sins will be forgiven (1Jn.1:9). We need not be afraid of God’s condemnation any more (Rom. 8:1).
Second, when others wrong us, we must not look at our own hurt or loss but we must look for God’s purpose in that situation. Joseph comforted his brothers, “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.” (Gen. 50:20). Sometimes, God allows us to suffer not only for our own good, but also for the greater good and purpose – in bringing salvation to others.
From Joseph’s brothers’ attitude and actions, we learn how we should ask for forgiveness. First, they did not take Joseph’s goodness for granted. Second, they were deeply aware of their own sinfulness and fearful of retribution for their past misdeeds, and they humbled themselves and personally asked for forgiveness. What a change in their attitudes then and now! Before, they hated him because of his dreams: “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” (Gen. 37:8). Now, they prostrated before Joseph, “… they said, Behold, we be thy servants.” (Gen. 50:18).
That’s the attitude God wants us to see in us when we come before Him and when we make right with others. Remember, the Lord forgave us, so we must freely forgive others.
Rev. Mark Tay