The events that occur between Joseph and his brothers are unfolding slowly. For me, attempting to glean some message of inspiration from each chapter feels like I’m trying to squeeze water out of a handful of desert sand. Sometimes that’s how it is with God’s Word. Sometimes, the text is simply less ‘spiritual’ or at the very least, less interesting as is the case with some of the genealogies that we’ve been through. Sometimes, if we’re honest, the problem is with us as we have other things on our mind or we’re just not that into it.
This, if anything, is the point of this journey through Genesis. It is an attempt to show practically that God’s Word never returns void, and that Paul was right when he wrote to Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and is profitable”. Sometimes we have to reach for it, as I will be doing with this chapter, but that’s not really a bad thing, is it? If I work hard at trying to get something out of scripture, it will at the very least signal that I WANT to get something out of it, and that’s certainly an appropriate attitude to have when studying God’s Word.
I believe that Joseph is still holding out because he is waiting for that one moment that will just grip his heart to forgive his brothers. He has given them plenty of opportunities and they seem to be showing good character. They haven’t lied to him. They’ve done what he’s asked. When they find silver in their sacks, they go back to him and apologize. They bow down before him in humility. What is he waiting for? I think he’s still torn. He wants to go there…to forgive his brothers, but he’s dwelled on the hurt they caused him for so long that it’s become a cancer in his very soul. Something inside is holding him back like a dam blocking a river’s flow. Whatever capacity he has for love, it has been contained behind this immovable obstacle.
As a pastor, I’ve been able to witness firsthand lives being changed by the power of Christ. I’ve seen hearts of stone melt like butter from the warmth of the gospel message. If there is one thing that these experiences have taught me it’s that we’re all the same in this regard: we all respond powerfully to a message of self-sacrifice. Nothing impacts the emotions of the human spirit more than witnessing someone offering to take punishment or hardship in the place of someone else so that they won’t have to. It is a story that has been idealized in legends and revered in films like Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars, The Matrix and Independence Day, among others. It’s no coincidence that the characters who die in place of others in “The Green Mile” and “Man on Fire” have the initials “J.C.”. It’s in our nature…we are predisposed to respond to a message of sacrifice, like the message of the cross. Jesus said it this way…
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13
So what it is that finally breaks the dam in Joseph’s heart and allows for his emotion to come pouring out like a flood? It’s listening to his brother Judah, begging to be imprisoned in place of his younger brother, Benjamin. Whatever hatred for his brothers might have been rooted in Joseph’s heart, the impact of Judah’s act was simply too great, and that hatred was washed away by overwhelming river of love.
I love that. Joseph’s heart was moved in many ways by the same emotion that has drawn all believers to the gospel message. It’s an emotion only felt by someone who has experienced someone dying for them, being sacrificed in their place. I have experienced that first hand and the love I feel as a result is enough to allow me to forgive thousands of wrongs against me. Thank you, Lord, for taking my place. May I always respond to that act by forgiving others and loving them in spite of what they might have done to me.