In last week’s lesson the brothers of Joseph prepared to return to Egypt for more provisions, this time taking Benjamin with them. When Joseph saw his younger brother, the scripture records that ‘he was deeply stirred’. He quickly left their presence for he did not want to weep in front of them. He invited them to dinner at his own home and as portions of food were distributed to each of his brothers, he ordered that five times as much should be given to Benjamin.
After the meal he commanded his house steward to ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and the money for his grain.’ Genesis 44:1-2 Joseph arranged yet another test to see how his brothers would react.
They had hardly left the city when Joseph sent his personal house steward after them to accuse them of stealing his silver cup. When the brothers, horrified, protested vehemently that they would do no such thing, the steward starting examining the sacks til he found the silver cup in Benjamin’s. Their protests turned to shock and panic. Hurriedly they made their way back into the city and to Joseph’s presence. Keep in mind they still don’t know who he truly is.
Judah steps up and stands before the “Egyptian” to intercede on behalf of Benjamin for their father’s sake. In response to the accusation, Judah confesses, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants. Behold, we are my lord’s slaves both we and the one in whose sack the cup was found.’ Gen. 44:16
It is very important to note the word ‘iniquity’ in Judah’s confession. There are three words used several places throughout the Torah and the Prophets: sin, transgression and iniquity. Each has a specific meaning.
SIN means literally ‘to miss the mark.’ The Greek counterpart to the Hebrew word means ‘to miss the mark and not share in the prize’. So SIN causes man to lose a portion of the inheritance intended for him. SIN starts in the mind, in the motives, even before a physical action takes place.
TRANSGRESSION means to revolt or rebel, to break away from just authority; it implies a soul ready to pursue more and more evil; to step over the boundaries, cross over the lines into wickedness.
INIQUITY is of a different nature. Iniquity speaks not of a behavior or an individual sin but refers to the results of sin in your bloodline. Just as you inherit physical features from your ancestors, so you also inherit spiritual tendencies and inclinations. The Scripture is very clear: ‘You shall not bow down and serve them for I, the LORD your GOD am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’ Exodus 20:5-6 Notice very carefully, that it is NOT the sins or the transgressions of the fathers, but the INIQUITY – the ungodly tendencies and character traits that are handed down from generation to generation from ancestors who did not know God and/or did not repent of their wickedness. To give a simple example: how many of you have heard someone say, ‘I know I’m stubborn; everybody in my family is stubborn. It’s just the way we are.’ That is INIQUITY – an accepting and agreeing with something the Bible calls sin and considering it instead as a ‘family’ characteristic with no intent to change it.
Keeping this understanding in mind, look at what Judah said to Joseph: God has found out (or exposed) the iniquity of your servants. Judah is declaring that a recurrent sin in the family line has met its ‘waterloo’. What was that iniquity? The family tendency that has gone unchecked? The practice of covering up the truth – deception.
Abraham lied about his wife, not just once but twice. Years later, Isaac did the same thing though he was not even born when Abraham had lied about Isaac’s mother! Jacob used deception in his relationship with his brother, his father and Laban. The brothers deceived their father into thinking that Joseph was dead. Do you see the line of ‘iniquity’ from generation to generation?
The time had come to stop it. How? By confession and repentance. From verse 18 to verse 34, Judah comes clean on behalf of himself and his brothers and offers to remain as a slave of Joseph in place of Benjamin.
Standing there listening to his brother’s confession and seeing the terror on the faces of the others, Joseph could not control himself any longer. He was now convinced that their repentance was sincere and therefore, he put everyone else out of the house. Weeping he declared to the eleven men before him, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’
He drew them closer to him and explained everything that had happened since that fateful day when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. But here are the most important words he spoke to them in that moment:
‘Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant upon the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, it was God…’ vs. 5-8
We learn from Joseph certain characteristics of true forgiveness.
First of all, Joseph put everyone else out of the room before confronting his brothers with the truth of who he was. He did not humiliate them in front of the Egyptian servants.
Secondly, he made NO reference to the pain he had personally endured, but instead focused on what he had learned through it; namely, that God had a purpose and a plan for sending him to Egypt and therefore he did not blame or condemn his brothers even though what they did was deeply hurtful to him on a personal level.
Thirdly, he ‘rewarded’ their betrayal with good! In verses 9-13 Joseph instructs his brothers to go quickly and bring their father down to Egypt. He promises to care for them and provide for them for the rest of his life.
Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers was expressed with kindness, protectiveness, and blessing. Not a shred of self-righteousness or retaliation came out of his mouth. The years of suffering had turned him into a man of God. His message to us is loud and clear: Don’t waste your sorrows! Let God use them to mature you, refine you and perfect you into the man or woman He created you to be.