Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSV)
Are we in the place of God?
When it comes to exacting revenge, we shouldn’t presume to stand in the place of God, even though sometimes we really want to.
Surprisingly Joseph doesn’t choose to repay his brothers for selling him into slavery even though he would have every right to do so. In our lives there are so many times we want to take our pound of flesh from everyone who has wronged us, and we want to play the tit for tat game.
The problem with playing tit for tat- exacting our own revenge- is that we don’t have God’s perspective on the purpose of events in our lives.
Joseph’s brothers had no idea that the pesky younger brother who was their father’s favorite would be transformed from being a slave into a savior.
In some ways Joseph teaches us about one of his descendants- Jesus- Who became the suffering servant and ultimately the Savior of all.
Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice and joined us in our humanity. Humanity rewarded Him by hanging Him on a tree to die.
Yet God’s mercy and grace abound even when we betray our fellow humans. Like Joseph, Jesus comes to us as a brother, a friend, and offers us provision in our times of desperation and need instead of the vengeance we deserve.
Joseph ended up in Egypt for the very purpose of preserving his family- a family that includes Jesus’ ancestors. God knew what was happening to Joseph was ultimately for good even though Joseph’s brothers intended their actions for evil.
How do we know that the cruelty someone else inflicts on us today may not end up as a means for us to glorify God?
Sometimes being merciful is hard. It’s difficult to forgive when we have been wounded. But sometimes that’s God’s plan for us, to forgive the unforgivable and love the unlovable.
We may not stand in the place of God, but we can trust that He stands with us, and that He will give us what we need to do the good things He intended for us to do. Even when it’s hard. Even when we want revenge.
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)