Sunday, November 18, 2007

Virtues Part 1: Forgiveness

While I certainly intend to continue my dissection of sin, its subtleties, and how I've come to identify it, God has instructed me to not gloss over some of the optimistic messages in the Holy Bible. Too often, we focus on the negative. There's no mincing words about that. If you are a true believer who walks with Jesus Christ, then you understand that He is there for all events in your life; He relishes in sharing your joy as much as He bleeds His heart to erase your pain. With that in mind, and before I delve too deeply into the book of Exodus, I want to bring our attention to Joseph, son of Jacob.

Quite simply, Joseph gets a raw deal from his brothers. I will make a very concerted effort to focus on Joseph's forgiveness instead of his brothers' jealousy, but you'll soon understand, if you don't already, just how pivotal sin is to this story. In fact, as I've said before, evil always claims the right of first offence. God, though He knows which of us will sin and when, does not administer unwarranted punishment, i.e. we are permitted to choose unwisely out of respect for the freedom we are given. In terms of Joseph's brothers, they are envious of the fact that Joseph is the chosen one among his generation*, that they will ultimately be called to serve him as a means of pleasing God**, and that they seem to feel that only God Himself has the right to direct their services.

* Genesis 37: 3-4 "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him."

** Genesis 37: 5-7, 11 "And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to me ... And his brethen envied him; but his father observed the saying."

Now, we all have our own crosses to bear. I think I should note a stark difference between the times described in Genesis and our times. As Christians, we often say that we should allow God to fight our battles and hand over anything that troubles us. But because Christ had not yet walked the earth and hadn't yet paid for the sinful debts of these people, they had even less of a leg to stand on than we do. It's not something that will really detour my train of thought here, but I just want to emphasize an important point that should give us hope. I don't know the intimate circumstances of how God ultimately dealt with the souls of Joseph's brothers, but I know that Christ is an unbreakable olive branch for those of us willing to accept it. Now then, onto what Joseph's brothers did with their jealousy: they indulged it.

Genesis 37: 12-14 "And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And [Joseph] said to [Jacob], Here am I. And [Jacob] said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again."

At this point, Jacob is a well-established man of God. I don't want to get too far off into tangent to describe his exploits, but they are well documented in previous chapters. As such, it's very intriguing that Jacob is the one who ultimately leads his chosen son to strife.

For me in particular, this is a very poignant issue. It's been shockingly easy for me to align my situation with God's will, but I find myself plagued with my insecurities when God asks me to do things for other people, to varying degrees and based on the circumstances. I just feel in general that this part of my life is in such a state of rebuilding that I wouldn't want to share that burden and that need for healing with others. It's something I'm working on, but I've come to feel intense moments of guilt when I see, in hindsight, that I might have been someone's shield if I trusted God's faith in me as much as I trust my faith in Him. Now then, back to Joseph:

Genesis 37: 18-21, 26-28 "And when [his brethren] saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him ... And Reuben heard it, and he delivered [Joseph] out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him ... And Judah said unto his brethren, what profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Ishmeelites merchantmen; and they ... sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and [the Ishmeelites] brought Joseph into Egypt."

There are some conflicting things about the above passages. Judah, for instance, displays a fear of God in that he doesn't want to spill Joseph's blood. Conversely, he is willing to sell his brother for profit, as if God could possibly endorse that action. It is very easy to think we are doing God's will when we are doing some of it, but the fact remains that to be a true follower of Christ is to serve Him eternally, not to choose which services to pay.

Skipping ahead, a lot happens in Egypt. Joseph is sold into slavery, framed, and imprisoned. He will later find grace in the eyes of the Pharaoh by successfully interpreting the fate of two of his servants. Joseph will reach tremendous acclaim by interpreting two of the Pharaoh's dreams, predicting seven years of abundant harvests, which are to be followed by seven years of famine. Satisfied with Joseph's interpretation, Pharaoh grants Joseph a seat of nobility and control over the country's supplies, which Joseph accepts quite earnestly. Joseph preserves and stockpiles extraneous food so that the country might survive the famine. As it will come to pass, his brothers eventually approach him to buy some of this food. The details are very intricately described in the scripture, and it's not that I don't think them important, but I would like to keep focus and fast forward to the point where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, during a second expedition they will take to Egypt to purchase food for the land of Canaan.

Genesis 45: 4-8 "And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt."

Phew! How much happens here, in light of Joseph's forgiveness? Much, I'm afraid, and I will do my utmost to describe it. First, let me try to break down everything that happens when one party forgives another, as evidenced above:

1) The forgiver relinquishes his anger.
2) The offender is relieved of guilt, provided a willingness to self-forgive is present.
3) Amends are made between both parties.
4) All those involved are healed in the eyes of God, as clinging to anger or guilt can only drive a wedge between God and oneself. This is not meant to be a loophole for sidestepping repentance, but it is certainly part of the restoration process.
Secret answer 5) In this case, I wouldn't say that Jacob's hands were free of responsibility, as he identified the potential for all that happened between his sons. However, as Joseph so carefully illustrates, even Jacob's role in this can be traced back to God.

I genuinely believe that, while it is never a good thing to stray from God's path, the return trip is inherently possessed of valuable lessons. What is truly damning is not learning from them. In case any of us have forgotten, let us remember that God is so loving that there is nothing we could do that would prevent Him from accepting us, provided we should return to His grace and obey Him faithfully before death claims us. That, as Pastor Jim so brilliantly explained this morning, is one promise you can take to the bank. Not to mention the only one you need. However, those of us who can't seem to forgive ourselves for things we've repented are in for a very rough go of it. Trust me, I can sympathize.

May God bless you all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher's interpretation of the story? (here: ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I'd like to hear other opinions.

6/2/08 12:35  

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