by Cora Alles
What is the worst thing someone has done to you? When have you felt most justified to be angry and hold a grudge? I can think of times when I felt like it was perfectly reasonable to be bitter and upset when the other person who wronged me did not deserve a second chance. Now imagine if your siblings sold you into slavery in a foreign country and lied to your parents, claiming you were dead. You are immediately taken from a place of love and safety to a life of servitude, false accusation, and prison. If there was one man who had justification to harbor resentment, I think it would be Joseph.
Defying the normal human response to that kind of treatment, Joseph forgave his brothers, treated them kindly when they came to Egypt asking for food, and invited them to live with him. After their father died, however, the brothers once again started fearing that Joseph would retaliate for their evil treatment of him. In Genesis 50:17, they sent Joseph this message: “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” While Joseph had fully forgiven them, his brothers had not fully accepted Joseph’s forgiveness.
Joseph’s response is beautiful. First, he wept, saddened by their lingering guilt and hurt. He said, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...so do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-21). Then he “comforted them” and “spoke kindly to them” (v. 21). I find it ironic that Joseph is the one comforting his brothers in this situation when he was the one who had been harmed!
Why was Joseph able to forgive his brothers, despite the incomprehensible deeds they had committed against him? Because he realized God had used his siblings' deeds for greater good. When we reflect on what Christ has done for us, recognizing His offer of undeserved forgiveness should move us to extend this same grace to others. As C. S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
The story of Joseph and his brothers is a powerful lesson in forgiveness. Joseph was humble enough to recognize his own sin. He was not more righteous than his brothers, and he continued to love them even when they had wronged him in such a painful way. In the words of John Calvin, “Ignorance of our own faults is the only cause that renders us unwilling to forgive our brethren.” Furthermore, we can learn from the brothers’ reluctance to truly accept forgiveness. Do we really believe that God forgives us fully? Or do we try to earn that forgiveness by trying harder, praying more, or being good?
When we feel the lie fill our hearts and minds that we need to ask again or work for God’s forgiveness, it’s important to remember Joseph’s story. Rest in the knowledge that God’s mercy is bountiful and sufficient. We are fully forgiven through faith in Jesus; there is nothing else required. And when we remember the lavish grace God has extended to each of us, without anything we have done to deserve it, may we respond by showing that forgiveness to others.