Our Bible reading today records the death of the Patriarch Jacob and the procession from Egypt to Canaan for his burial. (Gen 49-50)
After Joseph and his brothers return to Egypt, they were fearful, now that their father was dead, Joseph would exact revenge on them for selling him into slavery. So they sent a messenger to Joseph to remind him of their father’s wishes for Joseph to forgive them for their terrible wrong toward him. In fact, his brothers literally fell down on their faces and begged, “Behold we are your servants.”
How would you react to such a situation? How do you suppose most people would react? Especially when they are in a position of power to issue almost any kind of edict that would have to follow. They could be imprisoned by Joseph’s decree. They could be executed if he so commanded.
The Bible says when they said this Joseph wept. Then he responded:
“Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now, therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:19-21)
Joseph’s response provides a wonderful insight into his character and speaks volumes to us about how to deal with those who wrong us. Joseph didn’t blame them for any heartache he initially suffered. He didn’t blame God. Nor did he use his position to seek retribution against his brothers.
It’s worth noting that Joseph didn’t deny he had been hurt. That his brothers had injurious intentions. That their motives were impure and ungodly. They hated Joseph and wanted him out of their lives. God’s providential care of Joseph did not eradicate the evil they committed.
However, Joseph’s attitude was, “Am I in the place of God?”
That’s a great lesson for us to learn today. We need to be careful of not assuming God’s place.
It’s not our place to exact revenge on others for their wrongs. Regarding relationships with those who have sinned against us or hurt us in some way, the apostle Paul offers this divine instruction.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-19).
I once heard a fellow speak in a seriously threatening way about someone who’d wronged him, “I don’t get mad. I get even.”
Charles Spurgeon correctly observed that “revenge, lust, ambition, pride, and self will are often exalted as the gods of man’s idolatry.”
When it comes to vengeance, am I in the place of God?
This question is also appropriate in other situations we face. In justifying a course of action or a decision that is at best questionable, and at its worse wrong, some folks say, “I think this is what God wants me to do.” Or “I know God wants me to be happy.” Or “I feel like this is the will of God for me.”
It is well to remember the words of Jehovah recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Furthermore our knowledge is finite, our perspective is limited and our wisdom is flawed by worldly influences. Proverbs 3:5 admonishes, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
Am I in the place of God?
Some religious leaders put themselves in the place of God by issuing edicts, making rules and enforcing regulations on others that God has not revealed or required. In some circles, men have even elevated themselves to a God-like position before their followers. Paul warned of this attitude when he condemned “the man of sin…who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
Let’s not be guilty of presuming we know God’s mind other than what he’s revealed. Nor placing ourselves in a position that supersedes, circumvents, or supplants God’s Word.
Am I in the place of God? Are you? Is any preacher or pastor?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman