The Freedom of Forgiveness
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44
He hadn’t seen them for 20 years, yet he recognized them immediately. Those 10 men had bullied him for 17 years, plotted to kill him, and then sold him into slavery. Now they knelt before him, begging for food.
“You are spies,” he accused and imprisoned them for 3 days. Their lives were in his hands now. He could execute them, and no one would question his decision. They deserved death. They were wicked men.
The Bible doesn’t reveal what went through Joseph’s mind as he wrestled over his brothers’ fate. But when he spoke to his brothers again, he said, “I fear God” and that makes me think that Joseph spent those 3 days on his knees in prayer (Genesis 42:18).
His first inclination had been to send one brother back to Canaan and keep the other nine as hostages (Genesis 42:14); he actually kept just one brother, Simeon, and allowed the other nine to go (v. 18). Joseph did test his brothers in chapters 42-45, but love, not bitterness or spite, motivated his actions. Four times we are told that Joseph wept – Genesis 42:24, 43:30, 45:1, 45:14-15—tears of compassion, grief, and joy.
God enabled Joseph to move beyond vengeance. Much later, when he revealed his identity to his brothers he said, “Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Focusing on God’s sovereignty rather than his brothers’ treachery helped Joseph respond with compassion instead of contempt or cruelty.
You may be thinking, I cannot forgive that person for what he has done. I have felt that way myself. Human reservoirs of forgiveness run dry–drained by repeated offenses, broken promises, unchanged behaviors, and unrepentant hearts.
We may not have forgiveness in us, but God has an unlimited supply. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can take the forgiveness God has given us and offer it to those who have sinned against us. Ask God to flood your heart with the living waters of His love and compassion. Experience the freedom of forgiveness.
Joseph relinquished his “right” to revenge and placed his brothers’ punishment in God’s hands. Why should we follow his example? Read Deuteronomy 32:35, Isaiah 54:17, and Romans 12:17-19.
Only Benjamin wept with Joseph (45:14). What were his older, half-brothers feeling? Their words in Genesis 50:15-21 (spoken 17 years later) shed some light on the reason they were less than joyful about their reunion with Joseph.
In Matthew 5:44 Jesus told his listeners to pray for those who “persecute you.” The Greek word is epereazo, which means “treat abusively.” Why should we pray for them? Read Matthew 5:45 and Proverbs 25:21-22.
You might also want to read Joseph: Part One.
Denise K. Loock