It is the end of Jacob’s life. Genesis 49 records the blessings that Jacob gives upon his twelve sons. Verse 28 declares that Jacob blessed his sons “blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” His final command was to be buried in the cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan. Genesis 50 records Joseph keeping his father’s wishes. Joseph has the body of Jacob embalmed and a large entourage including the brothers, the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of the household, and all the elders in the land of Egypt. Joseph and his brothers bury their father in the cave and return back to Egypt.
But now the brothers are afraid and it seems to be a reasonable fear. If you remember, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers he needed his brothers to go back and bring his father to Egypt. When Jacob arrives in Egypt it is a sweet reunion. Joseph is surely not going to execute vengeance on his brothers in the land of Goshen in Egypt. What is Joseph going to tell his father if he brings wrath upon his brothers? But now Jacob is dead and the brothers are afraid. Genesis 50:15 records their fear. “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So the brothers send a message to Joseph says that Jacob gave a command before he died to forgive these brothers because they did evil to you.
Genesis 50 wants us to consider a final question concerning Joseph. Is Joseph going to forgive his brothers? The brothers are begging for forgiveness for what they have done. Will there be forgiveness? What will Joseph do to his brothers now? Will Joseph throw his brothers and their families out of Egypt? Will he enslave them? Will he have them killed? Joseph possesses all the power. No one would know the better as the second in power over Egypt if he harmed or killed his brothers. After the message comes to Joseph, the brothers come before Joseph and essentially beg for their lives. They say to Joseph, “Behold, we are your servants” (Genesis 50:18).
But Joseph is able to forgive. Listen to what Joseph says in verse 21. “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:21 ESV) How can Joseph do this? How does God make it possible for us to forgive after being harm so severely by others? After all these brothers did to him, how is Joseph able to forgive the wickedness that was done against him? There are three answers found in these scriptures that will help us forgive those who sin against us.
Vengeance Belongs To God, Not Us (50:19)
Joseph finds his brothers’ concern for vengeance to be something he could not consider.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? (Genesis 50:19 ESV)
Joseph’s answer is very simple. He is not the judge over these matters. It is not up to him to bring wrath upon another person for what they have done to me. I am not in the place of God that I have any right to punish another person for what they have done. But this is exactly what we often want to do. We want our “pound of flesh.” We want to make the other person pay. We want to see them punished. We want to make sure that the person gets what he deserves. As such we destroy relationships. We destroy our marriages because we need to make the other person pay for the hurt they have inflicted upon me. We destroy friendships because we need to see that person punished for what they have done. We harm others as if we have some sort of right to pass judgment over another. But we are not in the place of God and we have no right, no matter how badly we have been hurt, to lay our punishment upon that person.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17–21 ESV)
We forgive others because there is not another option. We are not in the place of God. We do not have the right to execute our anger on others. This is a right that is reserved for God alone. If there is a judgment that needs to be made, God will be the one who will take care of it. God will be the one who right the wrongs that have been committed. God will be the one to take care of the injustices of the earth, not us. Joseph recognizes his position. He may be the most powerful person in Egypt. But he has no right to use his power for punishment, anger, or vengeance. Such judgments are left for the Lord to handle. Joseph understood this.
Think about what we are saying when we refuse to forgive. Not forgiving means that we are in the place of God and that we need to avenge. What we are saying is that God’s wrath is insufficient. A lack of forgiveness reveals an amazing amount of pride and arrogance that we are able to ask God for forgiveness and he does forgive us, but when someone comes to us for forgiveness we refuse to do so!We are saying that we cannot rest on God to handle the situation but must take action ourselves. God gives us the grace to overcome by resting in the knowledge that God’s wrath stands against those who harm his people. I do not have to do God’s job. God will take care it and we do not need to do anything.
The Sovereignty and Providence of God (50:20)
But Joseph has another basis for his ability to forgive his brothers who have so grievously wronged him. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV) This is a shocking revelation for us to consider. Notice that the brothers are not acquitted of what they have done. What his brothers did was wicked and wrong. Joseph says that what they did was meant as evil against him. They are not excused. But consider the rest of what Joseph says because it is our hope and God’s grace to overcome: “But God meant it for good.” Knowing that God can use the wickedness of others as the means for his purposes releases me so that I can be forgiving of others. The belief that God is working today allows us to let go of the wrongs, the sins, and the hurts committed against us and look to God’s grace to overcome.
We saw in Genesis 45 that God is able to use the actions of sinful people to accomplish his purposes. Hope in our lives comes from the knowledge that is able to take these circumstances and do amazing things with it. Joseph adds another piece of hope and help in what he says to his brothers. “God meant it for good.” It can be hard to understand why God allows the things that he allows in our lives. We know that God is not the cause of evil and cannot do evil (James 1:13). God does good to his children. This means that things that happen in our lives can be used for our good or for the good of others. This does not mean that what we are going through is good. What we are enduring may not have anything good about it. But God allows things in our lives to happen for our own spiritual good, perhaps for our own well-being, and perhaps for the good of others. Notice that Joseph does not say that this had been good for him in his life. But it was for the good of others. This is the hope that we find in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
The greatest good God can cause in your life is the salvation of your soul. We need wake up calls. We need difficulties to happen to us so that we will look to the God who desires to save us from our sins. Who knows what your pain is able to do for good in the lives of others? Who knows what your suffering is able to do for the glory of God and his kingdom? So I am able to forgive because I know that God is working in my life for my good. This is the grace of God that teaches me to put away all sinful actions that I want to do when I am hurt or suffering by the hand of others.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)
But I want to be bitter at people who hurt me! But God is working in my life and accomplishing things that I cannot see or understand for his glory and my good. But I want to be angry! I want to slander those who slander me! I want to return to them what they are doing to me! They do not deserve my kindness! They do not deserve my forgiveness! Remember that we are not in the place of God and what others intend to be for evil can somehow by used by God for my good. What hope this gives us in life when we are hurt! God’s grace is seen that our pain can accomplish more than the hurt we feel.
Faith In The Promises of God (50:22-26)
The book of Genesis ends with Joseph showing the same faith as his father Jacob. His hope is in the land of Canaan, God’s promised land, and he does not want his bones to be left in Egypt. Further, Joseph expresses great faith that God is going to lead his people out of Egypt and take them to that land. Hope in the promises of God is what gives us the faith to forgive. Our eyes on something more important than this land helps us forgive those who have hurt and wronged us.
I want to conclude with the hope that is found in the blessing Jacob declares on Judah. Listen to the blessing on Judah:
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk. (Genesis 49:8–12 ESV)
The lion of the tribe of Judah is going to come and he is going to rule as king (“the scepter will not depart from Judah”). Tribute and the obedience of the people will come to him. In his day there will be plenty of blessings for everyone as he stands with strength and power. Beautiful imagery of one who is to come that gives hope to all those who belong to him. The book of Revelation pictures Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5 ESV)
Jesus comes and he deals with our enemies and brings redemption to those who put their faith in him. This is our greatest grace and greatest gift so that we can overcome. Our hope is in the rule of Jesus. He is reigning now, putting enemies under his feet. Stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. God is acting for your good.