The citizens of Feld- kirch, Austria, didn’t know what to do. Napol- eon’s massive army was pre- paring to attack. Soldiers had been spotted on the heights above the little town, which was situated on the Austrian border. A council of citizens was hastily summoned to decide whether they should try to defend themselves or display the white flag of surrender. It happened to be Easter Sunday, and the people had gathered in the local church. The pastor rose and said, “Friends, we have been counting on our own strength, and apparently that has failed. As this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, let us just ring the bells, have our services as usual, and leave the matter in His hands. We know only our weakness, and not the power of God to defend us.” The council accepted his plan and the church bells rang. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal, concluded that the Austrian army had arrived during the night to defend the town. Before the service ended, the enemy broke camp and left. The human resources had been used up. A simple action of ringing a bell, however, made the difference between destruction and salvation. The people did not know that, however. The situation is similar with Joseph. His brothers had done something terrible in selling him into slavery. However, God was going to use that act, unknown to the brothers, as a way of accomplishing His sovereign purpose. God’s providence had trumped human sin.
Last time we saw an eloquent speech that Judah gave. It was a speech acknowledging their dependence on Joseph’s good mercies. However, it was also a speech in which Judah offered to sacrifice himself for Benjamin. This noble offer was the exact opposite of what they had done so many years earlier, when they sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph now knows that the brothers have truly repented and turned away from their evil deeds. Judah’s noble speech overpowered Joseph. And so, at long last, the moment we have been waiting for, the reconciliation of the brothers.
Notice, however, that it does not happen all at once. In fact, when Joseph first reveals himself, the brothers are petrified. Here, they think, is someone whom they thought was dead, now come back to life, and was ready for revenge. They Joseph is going to take revenge on them for what they did. And so, they are petrified.
However, Joseph quickly reassures them that he means them no harm. Of course, there is some doubt on the part of the brothers as to whether this is really Joseph. So Joseph relates to them that they had sold him into slavery into Egypt. Only the brothers and Joseph know this fact. So Joseph proves to them that he really is Joseph. But then, he also gives them a bigger perspective on this whole train of events. Verse 5 is probably the most crucial verse in the entire Joseph story. Let me read it to you again: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Ultimately speaking, it was not the brothers who had sent Joseph down into Egypt. Rather, it was God who had sent Joseph into Egypt. Joseph recognizes here that God’s providence had been at work. And notice something vitally important for us here: recognition of God’s providence is sometimes the only thing that will enable us to forgive someone else. You see, the brothers had wronged Joseph for twenty years. For many of those years, Joseph had been in a very uncomfortable situation, to say the least. He had been in prison for two years, and had been a slave for quite a few more years. During all those years, he could have been nursing his grudge, making it more and more poisonous in his mind. He would have had many years to plot his revenge, should he ever get out of his situation. However, he did not do that. Instead, he came to peace about his situation, and recognized God’s hand at work in all of it. That is what enables him to forgive his brothers.
It was the same way with Jesus, you know. He was sent to the cross by his brothers. He could have been bitter about it, especially on the cross. But He knew that it was ultimately God’s work to send Him to the cross. That is why He can say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Joseph’s brothers did not know what they did, either. They thought that they were thwarting God’s plan, when in fact, they were doing the very things that helped to bring about God’s plan.
So we should be like Joseph. Has someone been hurting you? They may have been doing it for years, as it happened to Joseph. Have you seen anything, and I mean anything, good come about because of the hurt that has come to you? That could be a new way of thinking about your suffering. Maybe your suffering has made you more patient, less greedy, more sympathetic to others. Maybe you now recognize what that other person has been going through. In any case, has your suffering really been entirely evil? Hasn’t there been something good that has come out of it? If that is so, then you can forgive your neighbor, your brother or sister in Christ.
Now, it is here that we need to be careful. Some people that forgiveness means saying that they have forgiven the person. That is an entirely inadequate definition of forgiveness. A lot of people in our church think that that is the correct understanding of forgiveness. It is not. Forgiveness means never mentioning it again. This is not to say that the sin was a light unimportant thing. However, it does imply the hard idea of not mentioning that sin again. Joseph only mentions to his brothers being sold into slavery when he is trying to reassure them that they really are forgiven. Joseph doesn’t go to all his friends and relatives to tell them about what his brothers did to him. Quite the opposite, in fact. He makes everyone leave the room while he is reconciled to them. He doesn’t want anyone to know what his brothers did. Joseph’s love covers over the brothers’ sin, rather than bringing it to light. Forgiveness means that we do not take any kind of revenge. Joseph never takes revenge. Jesus never took revenge on those who crucified Him. As a matter of fact, in the book of Acts, we learn from Peter’s speech that many who had actually called for Jesus’ crucifixion came to Christ later! This is what Scripture says, “While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us.” That is, while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. How willing are you to serve someone who just wronged you?
We go on to notice a few other important things about the first part of the passage. Verse 7 is important. The idea of a remnant is a strong OT idea. There is always a remnant of true worshipers of God. Even in the time of Elijah, God had His 7,000, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The remnant idea is like a thread going through the entire OT. Every time Israel is judged for her sin, a remnant comes back. It is not very many, but it is always there. The remnant keeps coming back and coming back. But it also gets smaller and smaller, until finally there is a remnant left of only one person. That one person is Jesus Christ. If we are in Christ, then you see that we are part of that remnant. We are the remnant which is left alive on the earth. We are the remnant about which Joseph is speaking. But we are only the remnant of God if we have a Brother who will take care of us. Joseph was the brother to the Israelites. Jesus is our Brother now.
In verse 15, we see that the brothers are talking with Joseph. This is not a meaningless detail thrown in for good measure. No, we need to remember 37:4, where it says that the brothers were not able to speak peaceably to Joseph. Now they are able to speak peaceably to Joseph. Full reconciliation has happened.
The second part of our passage shows Pharaoh’s reaction to the news. Pharaoh is delighted with the prospect of helping out the family of Joseph, especially since Joseph has done so much for him. And so he makes a very generous offer that the brothers cannot refuse, since Egypt is the only place that has food anyway.
The third part of our chapter shows the brothers going back to Israel to retrieve their families, so that they can come back and live on the fat of the land. Verse 24 gives us a very interesting little side-light into Joseph’s wisdom. He knows that the brothers are going to have to tell Jacob what happened. But if Joseph is still alive, then they will also have to tell Jacob about their own lie. Years of deception will have to be unveiled. It might well make the brothers quarrel on the way. Can’t you imagine them saying things like, “You were the one who argued for the pit.” “No, but it was you who thought of selling him to the caravan.” “You never like him anyway!” Faced with the prospect of Jacob’s dreadful wrath, they might well quarrel on the way. But Joseph knows that telling Jacob about Joseph will be news that is good enough to make the brothers’ job easier than it would have been had Jacob found out in another way. Joseph also does not want them to go back to their old ways of thinking.
Do we want to go back to our old ways? If we are truly converted to Christ, then we should love one another. We should not quarrel on the way to heaven. That is not our purpose in life. Our purpose is to show Christ’s love to one another. You cannot show Christ’s love if you are bickering and fighting with one another. You cannot show Christ’s love if you are gossiping, or holding grudges. You cannot show Christ’s love if you hold something against someone. We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper next week. If you have anything against anyone else in the church, then you need to resolve it before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. This is very important.
Finally, in the fourth part of the chapter, we see Jacob being told about Joseph. At first he cannot believe it. He was stunned; literally, “his heart went numb.” But then the brothers showed him all the wagons from Egypt, and all the gifts (far beyond anything the brothers could have brought with them with the kind of money they had taken with them). So then he believes. The last interesting detail in the chapter comes in verse 28 where we see Jacob’s other name “Israel” being used. Jacob is the old man, whereas Israel s the new man. Only the new man believes in God’s promises. That is why we see the new man believing.
So we have seen that God’s providence was the basis for Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers. We know that God has greater purposes for our suffering, and therefore we can forgive. Forgiveness does not mean merely saying that we have forgiven someone. It also means fellowship with that person again, talking with them peaceably, as the brothers did with Joseph. Forgiveness means forgetting, and not continually bringing it up, either to them, or to anyone else. Love covers over a multitude of sins. We should not quarrel on our pilgrimage. Instead, we should be loving to all. We should believe in Jesus Christ, who is alive. We should not be doubting, but rather believe that Jesus, who is the Greater Joseph is alive.