Does the Bible ever leave you scratching your head? Do you ever feel like you end up with more questions than answers?
The story of Joseph has left me wondering for years. As I was out for my morning walk, I was listening to a sermon about Joseph. Once again, I found myself wondering one thing:
Did he know?
Did Jacob know the truth about why Joseph was in Egypt? Did Joseph’s brothers ever come clean about what they had done to their brother? Did God ever bring the truth to light?
In case you don’t know the story, I will give you a quick summary. Jacob had two wives who were sisters. He had picked Rachel but been tricked into marrying her sister Leah. Scripture is clear that Jacob loved Rachel. That’s another lesson for another day, but Rachel’s kids were favored over their 10 other brothers.
The ten brothers didn’t appreciate it.
And, to be fair, Joseph kind of flaunted his status as favorite child. He proudly wore the special coat his dad gave him. He told his brothers about the dreams he had of his brothers bowing down to him.
One day, Joseph went out to the fields to check on his brothers as his dad asked. When the brothers saw Joseph approaching, they conspired against him and planned his demise. They stripped him of his coat and threw him into a pit. They were going to kill him until a band of Egyptians came buy and purchased him as a slave.
After selling their brother into slavery, they killed an animal and put blood on his coat. They then took it back to their father and said they had found the coat. They spun a tale for their father.
Many years passed, and God blessed Joseph in Egypt. After enduring much pain and devastation, he was promoted to the second in command in Egypt. He developed a plan to save the country—and all those around—from the famine God had revealed was coming.
As the famine raged, Joseph’s family ran out of food. Jacob—now old and fragile—sent his ten sons to Egypt to buy food. As they approached the table where Joseph was selling grain, they bowed before him. I’m willing to bet his childhood dreams of his brothers bowing flashed through his mind, and he immediately recognized them.
They, however, did not recognize Joseph. Perhaps it was his Egyptian dress. Perhaps it was his position of prominence. Perhaps it was because they thought he was dead. I’m not sure why they didn’t recognize him, but they didn’t.
Joseph had a little fun at his brothers’ expense. He returned their money. He kept a brother as a prisoner. He ordered them not to return without his full-blood brother. Eventually, they returned and he revealed his identity to them.
Now, if your siblings had betrayed you the way Joseph’s brothers had, what would you do? Would you have some anger? Some bitterness? Would you lash out for the years of alienation and pain you suffered?
What if you were the betrayer? How would you feel if you realized you were standing in the presence of the one you had betrayed—and he was the second most powerful person in the country? Do you think you would be scared?
I would be terrified!
Joseph’s response was one for the ages: You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50:20) Joseph saw it all through the eyes of one who had walked so closely with God that he had an eternal perspective, one in which he understood God uses circumstances of this life to fulfill His purposes.
Joseph taught us all the power of forgiveness.
But there’s one question that haunts me: Did Jacob know how Joseph ended up in Egypt? Did the brothers ever come clean and confess what they had done? Did Joseph tell on his brothers? Did God ever allow the truth to come to light?
I’ll be honest: I have no idea. The way I read the scriptures, I kind of have this feeling that Jacob went to his grave thinking Joseph just kind of fell into the hands of some evil men on his way to check on his brothers. I’m not sure he ever knew that his own flesh and blood betrayed their brother in such an unbelievable way.
If it’s true that Jacob never knew the truth, what does that say to us about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is not dependent upon the other party’s repentance. I have no idea if Joseph’s brothers ever repented, ever confessed their betrayal. From the story, my guess is they could never bring themselves to admit the damage they had done, the selfish act they had committed. Joseph didn’t care. He could have held it over their heads until they confessed. He could have demanded an apology. He could have locked them in prison for their crimes. Instead, he simply extended grace. Regardless of how they acted, he knew forgiveness only required action on his part.
I could tell you my own story of forgiveness, of how God allowed His forgiveness to flow through me to the “other woman” even though she was still sleeping with my then-husband. She was not repentant. My ex-husband never repented. But God’s forgiveness is so much greater! His forgiveness is not dependent upon the other party. His forgiveness is full and complete—and it brings so much freedom!
Forgiveness comes from sitting with the Savior. Joseph’s initial response to his brothers didn’t necessarily ooze forgiveness. He seemed intent to harass them, to scare them. But, he had time to sit with God and think about his life before his brothers returned. He reflected on how God had lifted him from prison and given him everything a man could want. He had time to anticipate the joy of reuniting with his father. He had time to see how all the pieces of his life fit together into this amazing mosaic crafted by the God of the universe. He had time to see how God had used his brother’s actions to save the lives of many people. Joseph had time to sit with the Savior, to gain an eternal perspective.
Forgiveness sets one free. Joseph could have held on to the anger and bitterness against his brothers, but what would he have gained? His final years with his father would have been marred by the pain of his brothers’ betrayal. He could have passed on his bitterness to his own children. Instead, he chose to let go—to experience the freedom of forgiveness.
Did Jacob know the truth about what happened to Joseph? I think Joseph (and his brothers) kept the truth to themselves. I think they chose to let their father die without ever knowing the truth of how Joseph ended up in Egypt. Joseph held tight to the faith his father had instilled in him in those early years, a faith that had sustained him through slavery and prison and so many injustices. He chose to see things from his Father’s perspective, a perspective that allowed forgiveness to flow freely.
I want to be more like Joseph.