Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life in Goshen, the best area of Egypt at that time, being provided for by his son, Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt. During those years, the Bible tells us that Jacob’s family acquired property and had many children.
At the ripe old age of 147, Jacob understood that his days were numbered and death approached. He called Joseph to his tent and asked his favored son to swear that he would bury Jacob, not in Egypt, but take his body back to Canaan and bury him with his father and grandfather in Hebron, where Jacob’s tomb can still be visited to this day. Having been assured that his request would be granted, Jacob had peace.
It was not long afterwards that Joseph received word that his father was ill. Quickly he took his two sons to Jacob’s tent in order that his father might bless the boys that had been born to Joseph there in Egypt. The scene is dramatic and profound.
Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, ‘Behold I will make you fruitful and numerous and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession. Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are min; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance. Gen. 48:5-7
Jacob then proceeded to bless the two boys but something unusual happened. Normally the right hand of blessing was laid on the head of the oldest son and the left hand on the younger one. Jacob did just the opposite, indicating that the blessing of the Firstborn would fall to Ephraim (the younger boy). Joseph was dismayed and tried to correct his father, but Jacob held steady. In reply to Joseph’s attempt to move his hands, Jacob said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he will also become a people and he also will be great. However his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’ Gen. 48:19
With this blessing, Jacob assured Joseph that his descendants would be many, so many that multiple nations would come into being because of the generations of Ephraim. The depth of the prophetic significance of this act of Jacob, is beyond the scope of this post but it has a great deal to do with the restoration of the two Kingdoms – Israel and Judah – back into One People – a topic for a different time.
What grabs my attention here is the relationship of Joseph and his brothers after the entire family had settled in Goshen and were able to interact on a regular basis with the brother they had betrayed so many years earlier. Surely the issue of forgiveness had to be in operation big time!
Joseph had to persuade his brothers that he had truly and thoroughly forgiven them. He demonstrated that in a number of ways during the course of the narrative.
We read in Gen. 45:3 that the brothers were “troubled at his presence” when they initially realized who the Prime Minister of Egypt really was! If you remember, when he was ready to reveal himself, he commanded every Egyptian to leave the room. (Gen. 45:1) He refused to humiliate and shame his brothers in front of his servants and assistants.
This is the first of five principles that reveal what true forgiveness is. An unforgiving spirit wants other people to know how we were hurt. Joseph, on the other hand, acted just the opposite. He protect his brothers’ reputations before those who knew nothing about what had happened.
Secondly, he did everything in his power to make them feel at ease in his presence. He held no grudge. When we want the offender to feel uncomfortable around us, we betray our own lack of forgiveness toward them.
Thirdly, Joseph didn’t let his brothers entertain anger against themselves. He said, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved or angry with yourselves. It was not you who sent me here but God in order to preserve life.” Gen. 45:4-5 Joseph had learned to see the hand of God beyond his feelings and the behavior of his brothers. Seeing God’s involvement freed him to forgive his brothers from a sincere heart.
Fourth, he made it easy for them to forgive themselves when he urged them ‘Do not be angry with yourselves.’ He does not deny his hurt at their betrayal; he rises above it so successfully that he is able to help the very ones who hurt him to forgive themselves.
Fifth, he did everything he could to help them save face; to protect their reputation. It appears from the scripture that Joseph went so far as to make sure that Jacob, their father, would never know what had really happened. He covered for his brothers.
That, my friends, is a picture of total forgiveness.
It is also a picture of how God forgives. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and He remembers them no more. That promise is His response to our repentance – what a compassionate, gracious God He is!
All of us have made mistakes – some big, some small. Have you experienced the gracious forgiveness of God toward you? If you have, the next question is, have you forgiven yourself? It is irrational and prideful to stay angry with yourself when your Heavenly Father has already forgiven you.
All of us have been hurt – it’s part of life. Have you forgiven? Are you able to let it go and not talk about it to others? Do you have the maturity and grace to ‘cover’ for the one who hurt you?
Let us all ponder these five principles of total forgiveness we see in Joseph’s behavior and ask God to help us in our relationships with others to forgive as He forgives us.