Friday, June 24, 2011

Genesis 50:15-21 Fears and Forgiveness

Now that Jacob was dead, Joseph's other brothers began to worry that perhaps Joseph had not really forgiven them at all, but had merely waited until their father died in order to avenge himself.  In their minds, this seemed entirely reasonable.  After all, they had planned to kill him.  Also, they had callously watched -- and profited from -- Joseph being sold into slavery, knowing full well that this was also a kind of death sentence of its own.

Besides, Joseph was now a very powerful person in Egypt.  He was second only to Pharaoh himself.  No doubt he could do whatever he wanted to do.  No one would question his actions if he decided to have them punished or even killed.

"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, 'What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?'  So they sent word to Joseph, saying, 'Your father left these instructions before he died:  "This is what you are to say to Joseph:  I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly."  Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.'  When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him.  'We are your slaves,' they said.  But Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don't be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.'  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them."  (Genesis 50:15-21 NIV)


Did Jacob really leave this message for Joseph?  Or were the brothers merely lying because they feared retribution?  It could go either way, but I suspect the latter, because v.15 sounds like they were making up a plan on the spot, rather than remembering a message which their father had left with them.  It appears that they are now back in Egypt after burying Jacob in Canaan, and Joseph has returned to his duties as Pharaoh's prime minister.  The brothers no doubt feared that Joseph might become angry with them as he reflected upon his father's death and the many years which had been taken from him when he was sold into slavery.

Joseph weeps when he receives their message.  Whether he wept because he believed that the message really was from Jacob, or because he couldn't believe that his brothers still worried about the sincerity of his words to them is uncertain.  Either way, he knew he had to speak with his brothers.

Joseph probably was busy with his duties for Pharaoh.  He had the power to come and go as he wished, but I think he would not just drop everything and rush to Goshen to settle this personal matter.  Either he summoned the brothers to come to him, or they came on their own accord as a follow-up to their own message.  When they arrived, they threw themselves down before him, an action which immediately makes us recall the dreams which Joseph had told them about many years previously.

Joseph immediately reassures his brothers that he bears no malice towards them.  In fact, he sees the things that have happened as all part of God's plan to bless and save many lives.  Note, however, that Joseph does not minimize their sinful actions.  He clearly states that he is aware that they had actually intended to harm him. (v.20).  His loving decision to forgive them is all the more highlighted by the fact that he knew they deserved to be punished.  Not only that, but he goes far above and beyond mere civility by speaking kindly to them and continuing to provide for their needs.

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