Joseph’s 10 brothers (excluding Benjamin) are solemn and grim. They bow in front of Joseph in a servile groveling manner. They remember vividly the heinous wrong they have committed against Joseph. They performed treachery against him, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and lied to their father, implying that he was dead.
To their amazement, the brothers discovered Joseph alive in Egypt. Jacob and his family had been rescued from starvation and had witnessed Joseph’s salvation of Egypt and surrounding nations from famine. Subsequently they had moved from Canaan to Egypt. Now their father, Jacob, is dead. The brothers recall vividly that Joseph never levied retribution against them, revenge they knew they deserved. As they cower before Joseph they feel paralyzing guilt and nagging dread (see Gen. 50:15-18).
These sons of Jacob are foreigners, humble herdsmen. Now their once-hated brother is prime minister of Egypt. Enthroned in pomp and splendor, having literally saved Egypt and the surrounding nations from annihilation, he is one of the most powerful rulers in the world, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph’s wisdom and administrative genius is unmatched, his God-given ability to understand and interpret dreams legendary.
So the burning question on the minds of Joseph’s brothers: Has the time come for Joseph to get vengeance for their hatred and heartless deeds? As they lay prostrate before him they remember his childhood dream of them bowing before him (Gen. 37:5-11) and realize the accurate fulfillment of every aspect of his dream. Now he has absolute power over them.
What is Joseph’s revenge against his helpless brothers? The answer is beautiful and instructive. He graciously and magnanimously forgives them and, even more, offers them unbridled kindness. It is one of the most gracious and illustrative examples of forgiveness in Scripture.
Joseph says to his brothers: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:19, 20).
Note the four take-away revenge principles of forgiveness Joseph used that can instruct each of us:
Resolve forgiveness. Joseph chose to adopt forgiveness as a guiding life principle. It was seen in every aspect of his life: when dealing with his brothers; with Potiphar and his wife’s false accusation and imprisonment; and in his attitude toward the forgetful butler. In each case there is no intimation of malice and retaliation toward those who wronged him.
Speak forgiveness. Joseph practiced words of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. He avoided rehearsing the wrong others had done to him. He was a realist who spoke the truth to things as he saw them before and during his imprisonment, yet his mind-set was not acidic and caustic. Instead, Joseph was positive, progressive, and solution focused (see Gen. 40:6, 7; 50:21).
Embrace forgiveness. Forgiveness was never an add-on or a legalistic must-do with Joseph. His life was fragrant with the aroma of selfless forgiveness. He embraced the virtues of forgiveness and viewed all of life in the context of God’s providence.
Do forgiveness. Literature abounds with words and prose about the beauty of forgiveness, but Joseph’s story is saturated with practical examples of it. It focuses on the deeds and the disciplines of compassion. Joseph acts out forgiveness with a benevolence that borders on the divine.
Joseph’s revenge is not payback, reprisal, retribution, or even justice; it is forgiveness! Joseph’s attitude and actions may seem out of reach to the average person, but we can grasp forgiveness and its benefits if we embrace it as a way of choice, speech, attitude, and action.