The Importance of Forgiveness
No more important or desirable characteristic can be found in the human heart than that of forgiveness. Its importance is seen in the home, the community, the nation and the church. Having a forgiving heart is an essential quality every Christian should have.
Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Someone has said, “There are three kindred spirits of the human heart—giving, thanksgiving and forgiving. Usually, where one is found, all are found.”
The Necessity of Forgiveness: Four Fundamental Reasons Why It Is Necessary o Forgive One Another
God commands it. Mark 11:25 (NIV) And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
If one is going to please the Lord he must have a forgiving heart. (Eph. 4:32). But forgiveness on mere obedience to command usually falls short of what it should be. Consider the example of the parent who makes a child say, “I’m sorry,” when, in reality, he is not sorry at all.
The example of Jesus.
1 Peter 2:21 (NIV) To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Philippians 2:3-5 (NIV) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…
Luke 23:34 (NIV) Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
As He is our example in all things, He is our example of forgiveness too. He does not require us to do something He could/would not do. Even though He had His life taken from Him, He was willing to forgive.
One who has been forgiven must forgive. Colossians 3:13 (NIV) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
This principle is illustrated by the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Matthew 18:23-35 (NIV)
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’
27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
What It Means to Forgive
To simply speak the words does not necessarily mean you have forgiven. Some say, “I won’t forget,” or “I hope I never see you again.” Such is not only foolhardy but also hypocritical and deceitful.
There are two kinds of forgiveness: divine and human. Divine forgiveness is the standard for us to follow as we extend human forgiveness. We must forgive by the “golden rule.” Matthew 7:12 (NIV) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
When forgiving, seek to do the other person good. Deny the impulse to “get even.” We must forgive with a kind attitude, removing all animosity and hatred, and be void of grudges.
When God forgives, He forgets Hebrews 8:12 (NIV) For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Acts 3:19 (NIV) Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord… There are no degrees of forgiveness. Either you forgive someone or you do not.
These verses toward the end of chapter 41 are very important to our understanding of what will happen when Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt, seeking grain for their families:
Genesis 41:50-52 (NIV) Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
Joseph named his oldest son Manasseh, which means, “making to forget.” God had caused Joseph to forget all his sufferings at the hand of his brothers (verse 51). The younger son Joseph named Ephraim, which means “fruitfulness.” God had caused Joseph to be fruitful in the land of his affliction. Joseph had no anger toward God or toward his brothers. This meant that when they arrived in Egypt, he could deal with them in love, and not in revenge.
When the famine struck, Egypt was ready for it, thanks to Joseph. Not only did the Egyptians come to Joseph for grain, but also those from other lands, including Canaan. One morning, when the last of the grain was gone, Jacob speaks harshly to his sons:
1 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?” 2 He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us, so that we may live and not die” (Genesis 42:1-2).
Jacob seems to display irritation and impatience toward his sons. Was this because they also knew that there was grain in Egypt, but were unwilling to go there? Was their guilt and fear due to the way they had treated their brother?
All the sons of Jacob make their way to Egypt, minus Benjamin. Jacob had lost one of Rachel’s sons while he was out of his sight and in the care of his brothers; he is not willing to run the risk of losing another. When the ten sons of Jacob come before Joseph, the “ruler of the country” (42:6), they fall down before him, unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy of Joseph’s earlier dreams (37:5-11).
Many are tempted to see Joseph’s response as pure revenge. His harshness is thought to be his way of making his brothers pay for their previous sins against them. This view simply cannot be accepted, because the text is just too clear.
- First, if Joseph really wanted to make his brothers suffer, he would have immediately made his identity known to them. If Joseph had wanted to terrify his brothers, he would have let them know that it was he who was the ruler of Egypt, and then he would have made them suffer.
- Second, we are told that while his brothers did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them, and he remembered his dreams (42:7, 9). I understand this to mean Joseph not only realized God had made him the leader of his family, but that this leadership should seek the best interests of the family. It was not revenge Joseph sought, but repentance.
- Third, we are told his harsh treatment of his brothers was a disguise: When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; but he pretended to be a stranger to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered, “From the land of Canaan to buy grain for food” (Genesis 42:7).
- Fourth, on several occasions, we find Joseph’s true feelings toward his brothers revealed. Twice Joseph had to go aside to weep privately (42:24; 43:30).
- Fifth, Joseph’s actions toward his brothers were not vindictive, but gracious. Twice he sent them home with the grain they purchased and with their money refunded in their sacks. The meal he prepared for them was another gift of grace. Even the suffering he caused his brothers was benevolent in its goal of bringing his brothers to repentance, so they could be reconciled.
Joseph’s actions toward his brothers, in their first and second visits to Egypt, are very carefully planned and orchestrated to bring about his intended result. When Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, they were terrified and blurted out information about Joseph’s father and younger brother he yearned to know, yet without his brothers realizing who he really was. Joseph could carefully interrogate his brothers about “family” matters, under the guise of protecting the land of Egypt from spies.
Having learned that both Jacob and Benjamin were alive, Joseph set out to accomplish the next phase of his plan – bringing Benjamin down to Egypt. The purpose for this will soon be evident. Joseph’s brothers had insisted they were ten brothers, and not spies, and they had yet another brother at home.
Joseph caused it to appear he was merely putting the truthfulness of their words to the test. They said they had a younger brother, so let them prove it by bringing him with them the next time they came. And to assure they did return, he would keep one brother prisoner. Initially, Joseph threatened to keep all of the brothers in prison and to send back just one brother. He knew this would not allow them to transport a sufficient quantity of grain, and so he eventually reduced the number of prisoners held to one – Simeon (42:24).
The response of Joseph’s brothers to their incarceration and to Joseph’s words is most important to the story:
21 They said to one other, “Surely we’re being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress has come on us!” 22 Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy’, but you wouldn’t listen? So now we must pay for shedding his blood” (Genesis 42:21-22).
More than 20 years after they had sinned against their brother Joseph, the events of that day were vivid in their minds. They recalled his pleading with them and their total lack of mercy. They understood this was a kind of “day of reckoning” for their sin. I would submit they were genuinely sorry for what they had done, but they were not yet fully repentant. This would come in time.
Joseph was standing nearby and heard their words, but they had no idea that he could understand what they were saying. He was deeply touched by their words and had to leave their presence so that he could cry (42:23-24). Joseph bound Simeon before their eyes to impress them with his resolve about seeing Benjamin when they returned. He then ordered for their sacks to be filled with grain and for provisions to be supplied for their journey.
The brothers then set out on their journey, no doubt discussing what they would tell their father. One of the brothers opened his sack of grain when they stopped for the evening and was shocked to find his money in his sack of grain. You would think that any son of Jacob would have rejoiced. It would be like putting money into a vending machine, getting what you had selected, and then finding your money in the coin return. But the brothers were greatly dismayed. Looking at one another, they said, “What in the world has God done to us?”(42:28). They completely failed to see the kindness of Joseph in this and saw only the judgmental hand of God. God had not done something for them; He had done something terrible to them.
They returned home and told their father all that had happened to them in Egypt. Jacob had certainly noticed that Simeon was not with them, and they explained why the ruler of Egypt had kept him prisoner. This discussion took place as the bags of grain were being unloaded. When the bags were opened, the brothers discover that every one of them had their money in their sacks, and they were most distressed. Jacob could only think of himself:
Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36).
Jacob could not have been more mistaken. His appraisal of the situation was precisely the opposite of reality. He was not concerned about Simeon as much as he was himself. He blames his sons for his loss of Joseph, and now, of Simeon, and he blames them for also wanting to take away his youngest son, Benjamin. His sons were “causing all things to work together against him,” or so he supposed.
Ruben now comes through with these comforting words of assurance:
“You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will bring him back to you” (42:37).
There was nothing more to be said regarding this matter at the moment, because Jacob flatly refused to allow them to take Benjamin with them. In Jacob’s mind, there would be no more discussion of this matter.
Jacob’s Seven Laws of Leadership
Procrastinate: Whatever problems arise today are best dealt with tomorrow. Jacob delayed acting decisively on the issue of sending Benjamin to Egypt until the situation reached crisis proportions.
Minimize: No problem can possibly be as bad as it seems. If the first principle betrays a “manana mentality,” the second attempts to minimize the problem to the point where it is hardly worth thinking about. If a problem is not serious, then it can be put off indefinitely.
Lie: In a crisis, honesty is often not the best policy. Jacob still had a lot of the old deceiver in him. He believed that good communication only causes problems. He thought that the less others knew about him, the better off he and his family would be. Jacob’s sons were thus rebuked for telling Joseph any facts about the family.
Always look out for number one. Jacob’s leadership was focused on seeking his own interests. It was Judah who urged his father to think of others rather than himself (cf. verse 3).
Pass the buck: As much as is possible, see to it that others receive the blame for your mistakes. Jacob sought to place the responsibility for his troubles on Judah and his brothers, because they told the truth (43:6). A good leader is one who is willing to accept responsibility for his mistakes.
Bribe: If our efforts to solve a problem fail, add money. Jacob hoped that his presents, along with a double payment, would help achieve his desired ends.
Get religion: Call on God for help, but don’t get your hopes up. It is no accident that Jacob mentions God last. It never seemed to occur to him (as it did to Joseph) that God was actively involved in all of his troubles. His wish that God would be with his sons is only a last ditch effort, when it should have been his first line of defense. “Foxhole religion” is not new, nor is it a thing of the past. Jacob’s words, “As for me, if I lose my children I lose them” (43:14), is not an expression of great faith, but sounds much more like fatalism.
Jacob’s response to this family crisis is pathetic. He does everything possible to avoid facing the problem. He attempts to send his sons to do an impossible task, therefore putting them at great risk. His great concern is for himself and his own well-being. He has to be forced to act. Jacob is no hero in these chapters. Joseph certainly is, exemplifying godly leadership. But there is another leader who begins to emerge in chapter 43 – Judah, the brother who earlier suggested they sell Joseph into slavery, the man who married a Canaanite wife, and unwittingly fathered his own grandson (as it were) through Tamar.
Jacob is pathetic as he whines about the way his sons have mistreated him by telling “the ruler of Egypt” about Benjamin. Judah now stands tall, taking charge of the situation and gently rebuking his father:
3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we’ll go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we won’t go down there, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’” 6 Israel said, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had one more brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us thoroughly about ourselves and our family, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we answered him in this way. How could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” 8 Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me and we will go immediately. Then we will live and not die—we and you and our little ones. 9 I myself pledge security for him; you may hold me liable. If I do not bring him back to you and place him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 But if we had not delayed, we could have traveled there and back twice by now” (Genesis 43:3-10).
Judah and his brothers had certainly sinned in selling Joseph into slavery, but they were not the ones putting their families at risk at the moment. They had only told “the ruler of Egypt” the truth when he pressed them hard about specific details concerning their family. It was Jacob who had refused to face up to the situation, and who refused to release his youngest son. He had waited far too long to act. And now he wanted his sons to face “the ruler of Egypt” without complying with his demand to bring their youngest brother with them. This was nonsense, and Judah made it clear that they were not going back to Egypt without Benjamin. Judah himself became surety for Benjamin’s safe return.
Jacob had no other choice than to do as Judah said. If he did not send Benjamin with the others when they returned to Egypt, they would all die. This was a sacrifice Jacob was forced to make. And so he instructed his sons to take double their money with them, along with the finest gifts they had at hand: a little balm and honey, spices and myrrh, pistachios and almonds (43:11-12). Off the sons of Jacob went, to Egypt, including Benjamin.
Joseph saw them coming, this time with Benjamin. He instructed his servant to bring the men to his home and to prepare a fine meal for them to eat. The brothers could only imagine the worst possible outcome:
But the men were afraid when they were brought to Joseph’s house. They said, “We are being brought in because of the money that was returned in our sacks last time. He wants to capture us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys!” (43:18).
Their sense of guilt overwhelmed them. They could not imagine this “ruler of Egypt” doing anything benevolent for them. They feared they would be punished by the same fate they had brought upon their brother Joseph.
The brothers were quick to explain about the money they had found in their sacks, and the servant carefully chose his words to speak the truth, yet without disclosing Joseph’s identity or his plans for them:
19 So they approached the man who was in charge of Joseph’s household and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 They said, “My lord, we did indeed come down the first time to buy food. 21 But when we came to the place where we spent the night, we opened our sacks and each of us found his money—the full amount—in the mouth of his sack. So we have returned it. 22 We have brought additional money with us to buy food. We do not know who put the money in our sacks.” 23 “Everything is fine,” the man in charge of Joseph’s household told them. “Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them (Genesis 43:19-23).
The servant did everything he could to extend hospitality to Joseph’s brothers. First, he brought Simeon out to them, and then he brought them all into Joseph’s house, where they were given water to drink, and their feet were washed. Their donkeys were also fed (43:24). The brothers braced themselves for the appearance of the “ruler of Egypt.” They must have given great attention to the presentation of the “gift” their father had sent with them. I can see them laying all of these things out very carefully, as one would arrange a display in the window of large department store. They wanted everything to be perfect. They hoped that Joseph would look at their gift and say something like this: “Oh, pistachio nuts! You shouldn’t have. Why I haven’t tasted a pistachio nut for years. And smell those spices! You men are just too kind.”
Here is something that they completely missed. The gifts that they brought did not serve their purpose at all. Joseph was not pleased by their gift; their gift was, in fact, a reminder of their sins against him.
They got their gifts ready for Joseph’s arrival at noon, for they had heard that they were to have a meal there (43:25, emphasis mine).
Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and take a gift down to the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachios and almonds (43:11, emphasis mine).
When they sat down to eat their food, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh down to Egypt (37:25, emphasis mine).
It has taken me a long time to see this, but when you look carefully at the three passages above you realize that the “gifts” they brought to impress Joseph with their kindness were actually reminders of their cruelty to them. Several of the items that Joseph’s brothers brought him from the land of Canaan were the same things the Ishmaelite traders carried with them down to Egypt, along with Joseph. The smell of those spices that accompanied him to Egypt must have been burned into Joseph’s memory. The very odors that Joseph may have come to despise, because of the associations they had with his slavery, were now the odors that greeted Joseph as he walked into his house. Did his brothers think their gift would win this ruler over? This scheme was very true to the character of Jacob, who suggested it, but in reality, it would have been counter-productive had Joseph allowed it to sway his emotions.
When Joseph arrived, his brothers bowed before him, once again fulfilling the dreams he had years earlier (Genesis 37:5-11). Joseph seems not to have even noticed their gift, so carefully arranged to capture his attention and win his approval. Joseph only had eyes for his younger brother, Benjamin. Joseph was so touched by the sight of his brother, he had to leave the room to weep in private. He then washed his face and returned, giving the order, “Set out the food”(43:31). The servants set out three separate tables: One for Joseph, one for his brothers, and one for the Egyptians who ate with Joseph. Joseph seated his brothers according to their birth order, which must have both amazed and puzzled them: “How could he know?” It was a royal feast, and I’m sure that Joseph’s brothers (who had run out of grain some time earlier) would have appreciated it. I’m also certain they had all they could eat. But Joseph did something that was most
unusual – he made Benjamin’s portions five times greater than those of his other brothers. In preparation for the test ahead, Joseph was not going to minimize the fact that Benjamin was the favorite son of Jacob; indeed, he wanted to emphasize this fact. By the time the meal was over, they had their fill of both food and drink. I have a feeling this was to give his brothers an artificial sense of confidence and to dull their senses for the moment.99
Joseph then gave very careful instructions to his servant. He had him fill his brothers’ sacks with grain, once again placing their money in each man’s sack. This time, however, one more item was included – Joseph’s “silver cup.” This cup was to be placed in Benjamin’s sack, along with his money. After the men were sent on their way, Joseph’s servant was to pursue and overtake the brothers as they were leaving Egypt. They were to be accused of stealing Joseph’s cup, the one that he “used for divination” (44:4-5).
There is no need to be distressed over what we read here. Joseph did not actually use this cup for divination. This was part of the servant’s “script,” which Joseph instructed him to say. It was a part of Joseph’s disguise. When Joseph instructed his servant to hide this cup in Benjamin’s sack, he simply referred to it as “his silver cup” (44:2). But for the sake of his brothers, his servant was to call it the cup that his master used for divination. Joseph wanted to continue the masquerade a little while longer, and this line helped maintain his disguise.
When Joseph’s servant overtook the brothers, he did just as his master had instructed him – he accused these men of returning evil for good by stealing his master’s divining cup. The brothers were shocked that they would be accused of such a crime. They were confident that none of them had stolen this cup, and so they overreacted to these charges. They prescribed the punishment for themselves, should any one of them have stolen this cup:
“If one of us has it, he will die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves” (44:9).
Joseph’s servant then responded to this statement, prescribing what the punishment would be for stealing the cup:
He replied, “You have suggested your own punishment. The one who has it will become my slave, but the rest of you will go free” (44:10).
I’m sure that each of these men was extremely confident as he lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. What a shock it must have been for each man to find his money in the mouth of his sack, just as they had before. It would be something like being pulled over by a policeman, and having him search your trunk for money that was stolen in a bank robbery. Confident you did not have the money in your car, you pop open the trunk, to see it filled with automatic weapons. I would imagine fear began to grip the heart of each of these men as they discovered their money in their sacks.
The worst was yet to come. When Benjamin’s sack was opened, not only was his money found, but also Joseph’s silver cup. These brothers tore their clothes in anguish, loaded their animals, and made their way back to face the music before “the ruler of Egypt.” When they arrived, Joseph continued his disguise:
“What did you think you were doing? Don’t you know that a man like me can find out things like this by divination?” (44:15).
Joseph wanted these men to think that there was nothing about them he did not know, or could not find out. (After all, he had already arranged their seating according to their birth order.) And now he had a silver divining cup, by which he could discern the truth (or so he claimed). The message was clear: It would do them no good to lie.
Judah assumes the leadership, and speaks on his brothers’ behalf:
16 Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has exposed the sin of your servants. We are now my lord’s slaves, we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.” 17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose hand the cup was found will become my slave, but the rest of you may go back to your father in peace” (44:16-17).
Judah’s answer is most interesting and most encouraging. I am convinced that Judah knew that Benjamin had not stolen this cup, just as each of them had not stolen the money they had paid for their grain. Judah rightly discerned that this was God’s way of dealing with them. Thus he says, “God has exposed the sin of your servants” (verse 16). I don’t think Judah meant to say, “We stole the money, and we stole the silver cup; God knows it, and He has exposed our sin.” I think Judah’s words really mean: “We sold our brother into slavery (something you would not know about or appreciate, ruler of Egypt, so I won’t go into this in detail), and God is now bringing about our punishment for that sin. We didn’t do what you are accusing us of doing, but we did something far worse, and so we will plead guilty.” Thus, Judah both confesses for all of his brothers and submits to the penalty of slavery for all.
This is real progress for Joseph’s brothers, but they have not yet fully manifested true repentance. And so Joseph declines Judah’s offer. Joseph’s response can be roughly paraphrased in this way: “Oh no, it would not be fair to punish all of you for the crime one of you has committed. The punishment must be that the one in whose sack the cup was found shall be my slave, and the rest of you are free to go home to your families.”
Here was the greatest test of their lives. They could seize upon Joseph’s words, denounce Benjamin for stealing, and go home to Canaan free men, leaving Benjamin as one of Pharaoh’s slaves. In effect, they could do to Benjamin exactly what they had done to Joseph. How easy it would have been to simply walk away and leave Benjamin, just as they had forsaken Joseph.
This is truly Judah’s finest hour. He is the one who made himself surety for Benjamin (42:9). Now, he fulfills his promise to his aged father. Judah steps forward and asks to speak to the “ruler of Egypt.” Judah explained how it had come about that they had told him about their younger brother, Benjamin. Since his older brother is dead, Benjamin is now the only remaining son of their father’s wife, Rachel. Because he insisted that they bring this younger brother to Egypt, they did so, but in spite of their father’s strong protests. The boy’s father is now elderly, and if this son does not return, it will kill their father. Judah told “the ruler of Egypt” that he had become surety for the lad with his father, and thus he begged him to allow the boy to return to his father, and to take him as his slave. Judah begged to take the place of Benjamin, in order to spare his brother’s life, as well as the life of their father. Judah, the one who cast the blood-drenched tunic at his father’s feet so many years ago,100 now pleads with Joseph to have compassion on their father, as he does.
It was too much for Joseph. He could restrain himself no longer. Indeed, he need not restrain himself any longer. He could reveal his true identity because his brothers had finally demonstrated true repentance. Joseph ordered everyone to leave the room, except for his brothers. He wept loudly and told them he was Joseph, their brother. He asked if his father was still alive. The brothers were in shock. They could not believe what he was telling them. He asked them to come closer, and they did. He repeated that he was the brother they had sold into slavery in Egypt. He quickly encouraged them not to be upset or angry with themselves, because God had used their sin to bring about good, not only for Joseph, but for all of Jacob’s family. This was God’s way of providing for the children of Israel during this time of famine.
Joseph then sent his brothers back home to bring their father and their families down to Egypt, informing them that there were yet five more years of famine ahead. The story goes on to describe the arrival of Jacob and his family in Egypt. God provided for them to have a place of their own in the land of Egypt – the land of Goshen – where they could keep their flocks. Eventually, they would purchase property there and prosper. In this way, God brought Israel (all 70 of them) to Egypt.
In his final days, Jacob begins to manifest the fruits of faith.101 When standing before Pharaoh, Jacob admitted that his life had been shorter and more unpleasant than that of his predecessors:
7 Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and presented him before Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” 9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are one hundred and thirty. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.” 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence (Genesis 47:7-10).
I believe that by saying this, Jacob admitted to having lived out most of his life in the flesh, striving with God and with men. It took him all this time to see that his striving was not a life of faith, and it did not produce peace.
The second thing Jacob did in his last days was to bless Joseph’s two sons:
1 After these things Joseph was told, “Your father is weakening.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has just come to you,” Israel regained strength and sat up on his bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “The Sovereign God appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will multiply you. I will make you into a group of nations and I will give this land to your descendants as an everlasting possession.’ 5 “Now, as for your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, they will be mine. Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine just as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 Any children that you father after them will be yours; they will be listed under the names of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 But as for me, when I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died—to my sorrow—in the land of Canaan. It happened along the way, some distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there on the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he asked, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are the sons God has given me in this place.” His father said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” 10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of his age; he was not able to see well. So Joseph brought his sons near to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see you again, but now God has allowed me to see your children too.” 12 So Joseph moved them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 Joseph positioned them; he put Ephraim on his right hand across from Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh on his left hand across from Israel’s right hand. Then Joseph brought them closer to his father. 14 Israel stretched out his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, although he was the younger. Crossing his hands, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, for Manasseh was the firstborn.
God prepared Joseph for leadership by the suffering he endured. None of Joseph’s suffering was wasted time or energy. During the time of Joseph’s slavery and imprisonment, he learned the language and the culture of Egypt, something he would need in the years to come, but this was not apparent at the time of his suffering. God allowed Joseph to be falsely accused by Mrs. Potiphar, and thus to be cast into prison. But this was a prison for political prisoners. Therefore, men like the king’s “butler” and the “baker” were placed under Joseph’s care. This was the perfect opportunity for Joseph to learn the proper protocol for a high level government official, as he was soon to be. No suffering of Joseph (or of any saint) is ever wasted.
The second element of leadership is servanthood. I fear that in his youth Joseph was not the servant to his brothers he should have been. He seems to have been unwise in the way he used his authority. I don’t think that one could say Joseph was truly serving his brothers at this point in his life. Joseph must have reflected on the anger his brothers displayed toward him. He must have perceived it was the way he exercised his authority over them that enraged them. The first thing they did was to strip his robe from him. They must have taunted him about his dreams.102 Joseph came to understand that a position of power and authority is a place of service, not of status. Thus, having learned the lesson of servanthood,103 when Joseph was put in charge of the butler and the baker in prison he used his position to minister to them, not to lord it over them.
The third element of spiritual leadership is that of sovereignty. Through his suffering, Joseph came to a much fuller understanding of the sovereignty of God. Even before his brothers arrived in Egypt, he recognized that God had sovereignty employed his adversity to bring him blessing (41:51-52). He told his brothers this when they feared that he would retaliate for all the evils that had been done to him:
7 “God sent me ahead of you to preserve you on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now, it is not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me an adviser to Pharaoh, lord over all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).
20 “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. 21 So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:20-21).
The fourth element of spiritual leadership is that of stewardship. A steward does not own the things that are under his control. The clearest expression of his “steward” mindset is found in Joseph’s response to Mrs. Potiphar, who urged Joseph to “possess” her:
8 But he refused, saying to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not give any thought to his household with me here, and everything that he owns he has put into my care. 9 There is no one greater in this household than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9)
The fifth element of spiritual leadership is what I wish to call “secular savy.” Often there is a false distinction drawn between spiritual and secular leadership. Joseph was a skilled spiritual leader in whatever situation he was placed. He was a “spiritual leader” in the home of Potiphar, because Potiphar saw that the hand of God was upon him:
2 The Lord was with Joseph. He was successful and lived in the household of his Egyptian master. 3 His master observed that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he was doing successful (Genesis 39:2-3).
When Joseph declined the proposition of Mrs. Potiphar, he explained his actions in spiritual terms (39:9). When Joseph ministered to the butler and the baker in the prison, he did so in spiritual terms:
7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” 8 They told him, “We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.” Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me” (Genesis 40:7-8).
The same was true in his ministry to Pharaoh. The butler very carefully avoided any spiritual reference to Joseph’s ministry to him (41:9-13), but when Joseph ministered to Pharaoh, he repeatedly gave all the glory to God:
Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:16).
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Both dreams of Pharaoh have the same meaning. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:25).
“This is just what I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do” (41:28).
Joseph was a spiritual leader, doing a secular task. All too often Christians suppose that spiritual leadership requires a spiritual environment. They feel that “full-time Christian work” is superior to “mere secular work.” I think this text (and many others) prove this thinking to be wrong. Joseph had a great spiritual impact on those with whom he came in contact through his secular employment. Think also of men like Daniel.