Joseph’s story can be found in Genesis. We know from Scripture that Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob. We also know that he was highly loved by his father as he was the first son through his favored wife, Rachel. Genesis 27:30 tells us Jacob “loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.” Joseph’s brothers were not happy about the fact that their father favored him and they grew to deeply resent him. Genesis 37:4 says, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” It didn’t help that Joseph began sharing his prophetic dreams to his family which showed him one day ruling over his family.
The brothers disliked the dream so much that they plotted to kill him in the wilderness. One of the brothers, Reuben objected to murder but suggested they throw him into the a cistern as he was planning to come back and rescue him. Before he could return for his brother, some merchants passed by and suggested they sell him into slavery. The brothers tell their father that he was torn by animals and show his bloodied coat to prove it.
While in slavery, Joseph is falsely accused of rape. While he is in jail he meets a few people who served pharaoh. They begin to share their dreams with Joseph and he interprets them. Those dreams go exactly as predicted. Joseph then interprets Pharaoh’s dream. Because of his prophetic abilities, Joseph is made second in command of Egypt. Joseph is shown by God that there will be seven good years and famine for seven years. As a result of this, Joseph starts up a governmental food bank.
When the famine comes as he predicts, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain. It is then that he encounters his brothers again, now remorseful, along with his father. After all the things the brothers did, many would expect Joseph to hate them, inflict harm on them or at least cast them aside. However, he doesn’t respond this way. He sees their change of heart and shows them forgiveness. In fact, he even tells them not to be angry with themselves for what they’d done to him and saying that God had sent him to Egypt in order to preserve them (Genesis 45:4-8). Pretty incredible, right? Here are three powerful lessons from Joseph on forgiveness.
There is a purpose behind our sufferings.
Often, we don’t know why we experience some of the hardships we do until we go through them. It isn’t until we’re on the other side of our suffering that we see the true purpose behind it. This is exactly what happened to Joseph. It wasn’t until he was toward the end of his life that he was able to see that God used his suffering so that he could help many others. When we take the time to trust that God is using the pain we’re experiencing for good, we know that God is working for the better in our lives and we can learn to forgive those who have hurt us.
Forgiveness is a big part of God’s plan.
When Joseph finally saw his brothers again, much had changed in his life, so much so that they didn’t even recognize him. He was second in command in Egypt and they were in need of food. We see his dreams becoming a reality when his brothers bowed down to him in respect. Many would have chosen revenge in this situation but Joseph chose the opposite. He did this because God planted forgiveness in his heart. His brothers plotted to kill him, put him in slavery and what did Joseph do? He forgave them. On top of choosing forgiveness, he received his entire family with love. This was always part of God’s plan. His brothers likely couldn’t have predicted this outcome. This just shows how incredible God is and how impactful choosing forgiveness can be.
It’s never too late to forgive.
Again, Joseph encounters his brothers again later in his life. At this point in his life, he is truly able to see God at work, especially in his family’s life. When he reveals his identity to his brothers, Joseph spoke of their sin like this, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8). After this, Joseph reassures his brothers, offering them forgiveness saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). God’s plan was in place. Joseph and his brothers had all aged and been through many of their own physical and emotional hardships, but it still wasn’t too late for Joseph to offer them forgiveness.
Forgiveness is difficult, especially when we’ve been hurt deeply by those who you love deeply. Joseph loved his family but jealousy, hate and envy initially got in the way for his brothers. Even through all of that he went through, he still forgave them. We all struggle with forgiveness at some point in our lives, but holding on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge only cause suffering. When we do this, we become both the prisoner and the jailer. The truth is forgiveness is for our own growth and happiness. Forgiveness helps us to remove pain from our hearts. Forgiveness also allows us to move on without anger, contempt or to seek revenge. There are times when we don’t feel like forgiving but the truth is, we can’t move forward in our own lives, particularly as Christians, if we are unwilling to forgive. If we call on God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we know that forgiveness is key.