“To err is human, to forgive is divine,” penned the famed British poet, Alexander Pope.
Other than Jesus’ forgiveness of his enemies as He hung on the cross, there is perhaps no greater Bible example of divine forgiveness than the Genesis narrative when Joseph forgives his brothers.
In yesterday’s post, we discussed how Joseph recognized God’s providence in life. His father’s favoritism that resulted in his brothers envy and ultimately being sold as a slave all worked out for good in the end.
When his brothers came to Egypt the second time to buy grain, Joseph revealed himself to them. They were shocked. Dismayed. And terrified. No doubt, they began to wonder if Joseph was going to seek vengeance.
However, Joseph did not blame them for his plight. Or seek revenge. Or play the “victim card.” Instead, he extends forgiveness as he tried to console them. “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Gen. 45:5)
Joseph’s spirit of forgiveness is manifest is several ways:
(1) Tenderness of heart.
On their first visit to Egypt, Joseph recognized his brothers but accused them of being spies. However, he was testing them. When they began to discuss their past sin against Joseph, he heard them and “turned away and wept.”
On their return trip with his younger brother Benjamin, the Bible says, he was “deeply moved at the sight of his brother.” Quickly he left, “and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.”
Finally, when he could no longer restrain his emotions, he revealed himself and “he wept so loudly the Egyptians heard him.”
Forgiveness is characterized by a tender heart, moved by the emotion that forgiveness produces. Hard heartedness, coldness, and callousness does not demonstrate forgiveness.
(2) He asked about their welfare.
Prior to this, Joseph inquired about the welfare of their family and their father. Joseph was concerned about his family. Forgiveness must be rooted in genuine care for others.
(3) He was ready to help them.
Bringing them to Egypt and providing for their needs proved that Joseph really did forgive them. Forgiveness issues itself, not just in words, but in actions that offer assistance.
(4) He wanted to restore his relationship with them.
Both his words and deeds signaled to his brothers that Joseph wanted to reunite the family. As much as humanly possible, true forgiveness seeks the restoration of a ruptured relationship.
(5) Joseph possessed a God-consciousness.
When Mrs. Potiphar sexually enticed and tempted Joseph, he refused saying, How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
When Joseph was put in prison and given the opportunity to interpret the dreams of the Butler and Baker, he gave God the credit. Two years later when Pharaoh brought him to the palace to interpret his dreams, Joseph said, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Now, face to face with his brothers who hated him so much they wanted to kill him, and finally sold him into slavery, he said, “Don’t blame yourselves. Three times he said, “God sent me before.
When we truly live in the presence of God, seeking his favor and following His will regardless of the obstacles or trials, forgiveness flows from our heart because it’s who we are.
Who do you need to forgive? A friend? A neighbor? A co-worker? A brother or sister in Christ? Your mother? Father? Brother? Sister?
Forgiveness is not only a gift you give others but a gift you give yourself. It frees your heart from pettiness, bitterness, and blame.
Finally, remember the admonition of George Herbert, “He who cannot forgive others, destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman