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Gen 45-47: Learning to Forgive Like Joseph Print E-mail
Monday, 20 February 2006

There is currently a movie out about the men who died with Jim Elliot trying to take the gospel to the Auca Indians in 1956.  The whole story of these men and their wives is incredibly gripping (I would recommend the movie as well).  One of the most moving parts of their story is the fact that the wives of these men actually continued in trying to take the gospel to these Indians.  And by their faithful preaching of the gospel many from the tribe came to know the Lord.

Can you imagine the difficult task of sharing the gospel with the ones who killed your spouse?  What forgiveness it must take to take the good news to those who had done such a horrible thing.  Yet, these ladies did forgive these men and they pressed on in their service to God.

How do you have that much forgiveness?  Surely the Lord would not be calling us to forgive like that, I mean there has to be some limits right?  Yet, as we read to begin our service the Lord is calling us to forgive others.  The Lord taught the disciples to forgive the brethren and Peter came back with a question I think we ask often, “How many times do I have to forgive, seven times.”  Jesus responds by essentially telling Peter that you forgive them as many times as it is needed.  This is indeed amazing teaching.  I mean sure forgiveness is a virtue but as many times as needed?

However, this is not a new concept in the Scriptures.  Granted, the context of Jesus’ ministry and His teaching is unique, but the idea of true, genuine forgiveness is not introduced at Matthew 18.  No, it is modeled for us by Joseph in the book of Genesis.  So, then, how does Joseph model true forgiveness in the text?

First, Joseph models that true forgiveness is aware of God and His sovereign plan.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the Bible presents forgiveness as easy.  No, we know from the text and it is confirmed by our experience that forgiveness is a hard task.  We have probably all struggled at some point in our lives with the call to forgive.  It is hard.  One of the moving parts of the Joseph narrative is his tears.  Look at 42:24, 43:30, and 45:1-2.  Joseph loved his brothers, yet, their sin against him was real.  The suffering they caused him in his life cannot be ignored or overlooked.  Their crimes against him were great.  Thus, to conclude that the Bible is teaching us from Joseph’s life that forgiveness is easy is a wrong conclusion.  No, the struggle is real and the forgiveness is hard.

So, then, what is it that moves him to forgive his brothers?  Is it just because they were blood and they were a tight nit family?  Is it because enough time had passed and it really was not a big deal anymore?  Is it because Joseph is now the ruler in Egypt and all’s well that ends well?  No, according to the text, none of these are the main motivation behind Joseph’s forgiveness.  So, what is according to the text?

Look at 45:4-9.  Over and over again we are told the reason why Joseph is able to forgive his brothers.  He sees beyond what they did and their malice towards him to God and His grace.  Joseph sees clearly that God had a plan for his life to save many men and women from death due to the famine.  Joseph forgives his brothers because he recognizes that God had a plan.  He understood that God could take what his brothers meant for evil and use it for good.  An idea we will look at more next week as we cover chapters 48-50.

In the end, Joseph simply focused on God and His plan and was able to forgive his brothers.  Now you might interrupt me at this point with this thought: ‘OK, that worked for Joseph since he was able to save people from the famine, but how does that work for me?  I mean, how does God’s plan give me strength and motivation to forgive?’

In order to answer these questions, we must begin by considering what we know of God’s plan for us.  As we have talked about throughout the book of Genesis, following the Fall, we begin to see the early moves of the history of Redemption.  Even with Israel, God is not so much building a nation as He is preparing to send Christ.  The goal of His work in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament is to send His Son to redeem a people for Himself.  Paul speaks of the plan of God in Ephesians 1:3-10.  Look at that with me.  Thus, before the foundations of the world, even before the Fall, God had a plan to send His Son to purchase our adoption so that God might unite all things in Him in the fullness of time.  This is the plan of God.  Everything is moving toward a summation of all things in Christ.

Where do we fit in to all of this?  By grace, through faith, we are those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, those whose trespasses have been forgiven according to the riches of His grace.  God has taken us, a wicked, rebellious lot, and has sent His Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be redeemed and reconciled to Him to the praise of His glory (see Ephesians 1:11-14).  We have been forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Christ!  We have been purchased by His death, justified by His resurrection, and raised to walk with Him in newness of life, all by the sheer grace of God which He so freely lavished upon us.

Thus, in light of such a glorious plan of God that includes the overwhelming forgiveness of our sins that cost Christ His life, how could we not forgive others?  You may say, ‘Well Joseph knew so much of God’s plan,’ I say he knew very little in comparison to those who live after the time of Christ and the writing of the New Testament.  We know so much more of the glorious plan of God to redeem a people and forgive their sins, yet, we do not forgive like Joseph.  You might come back: ‘Yeah, but Joseph knew specifically how he was to be involved in the plan of God and he was able to save numerous lives.’

Yet, think again of Matthew 18.  We get the awesome privilege and calling to live together in community as the people of God to be a constant witness of the love and forgiveness of God in Christ.  Thus, Jesus commands us to love and forgive and fight for one another in Matthew 18, so as to do our part in displaying the glorious forgiveness of God for sinners. 

We see all this come together in the parable that Christ tells Peter to answer his question about how much should we forgive.  In the parable, as we read earlier, we are represented by the man who comes to the King and is forgiven 10,000 talents, an unbelievable amount of money in Jesus’ day.  Brothers and sisters, this great amount only points to the unbelievable debt that we have been cleared of through Christ.  Then, the man in the parable goes to one who owes him very little in comparison.  Actually, it is still a considerable amount of money, but nothing in comparison to what the King forgave the man.  And what does he do?  He has the audacity to not forgive the man his debt and has him thrown in prison.  Do you see the point?  How can we not forgive one another when so much has been forgiven us?  Jesus takes it a step further and concludes the parable by making the point that if we do not forgive one another, then we cannot expect to be forgiven by God.  In other words, if God’s unbelievable grace in forgiving us our sins does not move us enough to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we seemingly do not understand the weight of our sin and glory of the gospel and are probably showing ourselves not to be believers.  Very serious words from our Lord.

So what do we do to fight for forgiveness?  We focus on the sovereign plan of God and just how much we have been forgiven in Christ.  In this we will be motivated to forgive as Joseph forgave.

Second, Joseph models that true forgiveness leads to reconciliation.

I think there are basically two types of forgiveness.  Granted, I am sure that there are more, but for our purposes let’s consider two major types.  First there is forgiveness for the sake of tolerance.  Basically, what this means is that the person may forgive (or at least say he forgives), but that does not mean that his overall attitude toward the other person is really going to change.  They will say things like: ‘Sure I forgive him, but I just do not want to talk to him because he hurt me too bad.’  Thus, they will tolerate the person that has been ‘forgiven,’ but they will not seek to be reconciled.

This leads to the second type of forgiveness, namely, forgiveness for the sake of reconciliation.  This type of forgiveness longs to be reconciled with their brother.  It longs for things to be cleared up.  Granted things may not be the same as they were before, but the forgiveness will lead to true reconciliation between the two parties.

Joseph’s forgiveness is an example of forgiveness for the sake of reconciliation.  Consider the rest of our passage this morning.  For example, look at 45:14-15, 47:11-12, 27, 50:15-21.  All of these passages demonstrate that Joseph longed to be reconciled to his brothers.  He talked with them in Egypt, he brought them from Canaan and provided for all their needs, even after their father died, he continued to provide for them and love them (even though they doubted it).  Thus, Joseph did not forgive but keep his distance.  He did not allow his brothers sins to cripple their relationship.  No, he forgave them and was reconciled with them.

In fact, we should note that this reconciliation was part of God’s plan for Israel.  When we come to the book of Exodus, we may wonder how Israel ended up in Egypt and not in Canaan.  Well, Joseph’s forgiveness plays a part in all of this.  Through Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, God keeps Israel alive (45:6-7), He moves them to Egypt (46:1-7), He keeps them separate from the Egyptians by Joseph’s power and wisdom (46:34), and He blesses them greatly while they are in Egypt (47:27).  Thus, we see God continuing to work out His plan in the life of Israel and He uses Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers for this purpose.  All of this prepares us for the book of Exodus and the continuance of God’s faithfulness to His promises to Abraham.

Thus, we have to conclude that Joseph forgave for the purpose of reconciliation.  And let me just say for the record, forgiveness for the sake of tolerance is not biblical forgiveness.  Tolerance is not what Jesus is after in Matthew 18.  No, true, biblical forgiveness leads to reconciliation.  Anything else is really no forgiveness at all.

In our passage we see Joseph as a model of biblical forgiveness.  As we have pointed out before with Joseph’s suffering, he is a type of Christ in the Old Testament.  His forgiveness of his brothers is not only a model for us, but it also points another suffering servant who will forgive and provide life for His people, namely Jesus Christ.  Thus, Joseph points us to Christ.  He points us to the true forgiveness that we have in His blood.  He points us to the great plan of God to redeem a people by crushing Christ under the weight of His own wrath for their sin.  In the end, we are forced to ask a simple question: In light of such a glorious plan of redemption, how could we not forgive others and labor for reconciliation?  May God grant us grace to forgive, even as we have been forgiven in Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 February 2006 )

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