15 ¶ And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. 16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
We have no evidence that Jacob told his sons to make this request of Joseph. As far as we know this is pure self-interest and understandable as the brother whom they abused is the second most powerful man in their world’s great superpower. They plead with Joseph, through a messenger, not to seek revenge and then further the plea in person. But, they do admit the evil that they did to him in restraining him in the pit and selling him into slavery into Egypt those years ago.
Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then, he gave an important statement about God’s permissive will that we all must understand if we are to understand reality. This is akin to understanding through the book of Job how all reality, even the most simple thing like dust turning into a clod of dirt in a farmer’s field (see Job 38:38), is a function of His will. Man chooses to do evil; malicious violence, with harmful intent. God can and does use that bad intent to accomplish something for His purpose. You can’t escape His will, though try as you might.
This does not make our evil acceptable. The follower of Christ who believes in His resurrection and that He is the visible image of God, the body of God, and to see Him is to see God, and is the only way to God the Father, in other words, a Christian, is not to do evil so that good may come. In Romans 3 Paul condemns those who twist His words to make it sound like that is what he is implying, that we may do evil that good may come. Instead, we are to seek God’s complete and perfect will as he said in Romans 12.
Romans 12:1 ¶ I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
We are to keep our minds focused on what is right and good.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
And to permit the fruit or proof of having God’s Spirit indwelling us to shine from us.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Any so-called Christian who professes that they are willing to do evil so that God may bring something good out of it should be removed from the congregation and you should have no fellowship with them. You only action should be to pray for them, that they may be genuinely saved at some point before it is too late.
God used Joseph’s brothers’ human frailty and hatred of him as a youth to set up His temporal salvation of the people He was creating for Himself.
Joseph forgave and did not seek revenge for wrongs done to him. The Bible speaks often of forgiveness, particularly under the Law where there was a judgment for not forgiving.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Paul told us that revenge belongs to God.
Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
Joseph understood these things more than most Christians, particularly in dealing with wrongs done to them by the members of their own family.
Jesus forgave His brethren, the Jews, on the cross, for their ignorance.
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…
A willingness to forgive is a fundamental Christian principle although it does go against the American ideal of demanding respect from others and getting fired up if we don’t get our “propers.” In fact, we are so jaded that we will treat someone else in a cruel or thoughtless manner and then become incensed when they respond negatively. We then talk about forgiving them, as Christians, ignoring the fact that we were the original malefactors.
Joseph was abused by his brothers; kidnapped and sold into slavery. He rose to prominence in his new surroundings and was able to turn around and help his own family survive. He realizes God’s hand in these events and does not turn and rend his brothers. He promises to care for them and their families and does so. There are many lessons here for those of us going through trials and tribulations with our families. We must always realize, in every thing, God’s hand in the affairs of men who think they are in control, when they are not. Joseph is a prime example we should follow not some character in an action movie about ‘get-backs’ on people who have hurt you. Remember, though, the brothers are repentant. Forgiveness can only include restoration when there is repentance. That is an important lesson to learn, as well, as some fundamentalists demand women who are abused not only to forgive their tormentor but to restore a sincerely unrepentant tormentor to a position where they can do more harm.
Still, the important thing in this passage is the quality of Joseph’s forgiveness as he recognizes how God acted in his life. We see this more often than we admit if our eyes are open.