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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2011-09-18

Text: Genesis 45:1-15

In all history there is only one man who had the distinction of making the most dramatic rise to power – from prison cell to prime minister’s office. That man was Joseph, the son of Jacob. But Joseph’s rise to power was not his finest hour. His finest hour is described in Genesis 45. It was a glorious moment of his life that came only after he had beenEgypt’s prime minister for 9 years – it was the moment when Joseph revealed himself to his 10 brothers, graciously forgave them for all their evil deeds against him and promised to nurture them and their families in the very best part of his domain.

By human standards this may not really be something to get all excited about, but in God’s eyes, what Joseph did to his brothers made him much greater than all his contemporaries. It made him the most Christ-like person in the Old Testament. And it also made him an example of grace for God’s people of all ages to follow. And this morning we will see that there are at least 3 lessons of grace in what Joseph did and said to his brothers in Genesis 45:1-15.

I. The Pardoning Grace of Joseph for His Brothers (vv.1-4, 14-5)

Let us first understand the background for this chapter: When Joseph was 17 years old, his 10 brothers were extremely jealous of him because he was their father’s favourite son and because they couldn’t stand his dreams which portrayed them bowing down to him. Their jealousy was so great that one day when Joseph came looking for them in the fields they caught him and cast him into a pit intending to kill him. But a trading caravan happened to pass by, and so they decided to sell him to a slave trader for 20 pieces of silver. When they returned home they showed their father Joseph’s coat which they had stained with goat’s blood. And so Jacob thought that his beloved son had been devoured by a wild animal. Unknown to Jacob, Joseph was alive and was now a slave inEgypt.

But God worked all things out in a really marvelous way. After 10 years Joseph became the prime minister ofEgypt. God gave him wisdom to store up sufficient reserves from the first 7 years of good harvests, so that the people ofEgyptwould not go hungry during the 7 years of drought that followed. When the drought came it was so severe that Jacob’s family inCanaanran out of provisions.

So he sent Joseph’s brothers down toEgyptto buy food. Joseph recognized his brothers when they came toEgypt, but they did not recognize him because he now looked like an Egyptian official and spoke like one. He provided them with all the food they wanted, and returned their money to them. But Joseph kept one of them inEgyptto be released only when they returned with their youngest brother, Benjamin. He did this to ensure that Benjamin was alive and well.

When the brothers brought Benjamin toEgyptthey were all taken to dine at Joseph’s house. After they had eaten and had left the house, one of Joseph’s servants was sent after them to look for a missing silver cup. The item was found in Benjamin’s sack and he was accused of stealing it. As punishment, Benjamin would have to remain as Joseph’s slave, while the 10 brothers were allowed to return home.

Actually all of this had been carefully planned by Joseph to see if they had changed their ways or not. If they went home now, leaving Benjamin to languish inEgypt, he would know that they were still as wicked as they were before. But if the 10 brothers stood up for Benjamin, and refused to leave without him, it would mean that they had changed for the better. Thankfully, they passed the test – the brothers bravely offered themselves to be his slaves, and one of them,Judah, pleaded with Joseph to let him bear the punishment for stealing the silver cup so that Benjamin could return home with the other brothers.

When Joseph heard this, his heart was so moved with emotion, that he immediately ordered all his servants to leave him alone with his brothers, and he revealed himself to them. According to v.2 his weeping was so loud that the Egyptians outside the house heard it. Why did he weep so loudly? Perhaps it was because he remembered how his brothers had mistreated him 19 years earlier – they had stripped him of his coat of many colours and left him to languish in a horrible pit.

Why had they paid no attention at all to his mournful pleas and cries to them? How could they have been so heartless as to sell him away like an animal and deprive him of his freedom? How could they leave him to fend for himself in a foreign land, with no help? It all came back to him: The pain of being abandoned without mercy, the anguish of being forsaken by his own brothers, the loneliness and separation from his beloved father Jacob and from Benjamin his little brother. Joseph had every right to be angry with his brothers because they had brought so much misery to his life.

But he was not angry with them at all when he wept. His tears were tears of joy – the joy of seeing how well they had stood up for Benjamin. They were also tears of love for his brothers – a love that seeks toforgive them for the untold pain and misery they had caused him. And it was this love that now prompted him to reveal himself to his brothers in a most tender, assuring and sensitive manner.

Firstly, when he said, “I am Joseph” (v.3) he immediately asks them, “doth my father yet live?” This would help prevent them from thinking about their sin against him. Secondly when Joseph saw how terrified they were of him, he urged them to come close to him (v.4). He may have understood how scared they were that he might use his Egyptian authority to exact sweet revenge on them. Thirdly, in v.5 Joseph tells them to stop being grieved or angry with themselves. How did he know that they felt like this? He could probably see it on their faces. Fourthly, in vv. 6-8 Joseph leads them to consider how God had used their act of selling him into slavery to save them and their families from starving to death.

Finally, in vv. 14 and 15 we see Joseph embracing his brothers, kissing them and weeping over them. All that he had said and done to them showed that he bore no resentment, no bitterness and no grudges at all against them. This clearly communicated that he had fully forgiven them! And this forgiveness instantly removed the burden of guilt and fear which they had carried for 19 years. They therefore broke their silence.

Verse 15 says that ‘his brethren talked with him.’ They shared a time of blessed fellowship with Joseph. How good it is to be reconciled, and to be at peace with one’s brothers! But all this became possible only when Joseph forgave them. What a difference the grace of forgiveness makes to one’s relationships.

Dearly beloved, perhaps there is someone in your life that you haven’t forgiven. Perhaps your spouse had said something or done something very offensive which you cannot bring yourself to forgive. Or perhaps your son has disobeyed you and till today you refuse to talk to him. Perhaps there is a fellow worshipper whom you do not wish to meet on Sunday and so you attend a different service just to avoid him. How long will you go on like this without being reconciled with your brother or sister? Do you want to learn how to forgive? If you do, this passage has 4 essential principles of forgiveness you can learn and apply.

Firstly, forgiveness should be granted privately. Joseph commanded his servants to leave the room so that he could be alone with his brothers, and no one else would hear him say to them in v.4, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.” Matthew 18:15 tells us that this should always be the first step – “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Forgiveness does not mean keeping silent about the sin or pretending it did not happen. It means dealing with the sin by going privately to the one who had sinned against you and showing love to him.

Secondly, forgiveness should be given freely and unconditionally. The one who forgives must be willing to accept the loss or pain of the offence personally instead of requiring the offender to accept it. Joseph had already done this long before chapter 45. But he did not make his forgiveness known to his brothers until chapter 45, so that they would have the opportunity to learn to repent of their sins. If you were to ask, “How can you forgive someone so freely and so unconditionally?” the answer is found in Ephesians 4:32 – “…even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Thirdly, forgiveness seeks the correction and restoration of the offender. One may have to go the extra mile to do this. In the case of Joseph, this meant withholding his true identity from his brothers for about a year while waiting for them to bring Benjamin to him. And though the harsh measures which Joseph took caused much anxiety to his brothers, they were done with their best interests at heart. When true repentance was shown, the measures had accomplished their work and the brothers could enjoy restoration and sweet fellowship with Joseph. So when someone sins against you, you must forgive him, but you may want to wait until an apology is made before you tell him you have forgiven him.

Fourthly, forgiveness must be permanent, not provisional. When Jacob died 17 years later, Joseph’s brothers thought that with their father gone, Joseph would now take revenge on them, and so they asked him to forgive them (Genesis 50:15-21). Joseph told them not to fear. Nothing can change his forgiveness. The same thing should be true of your forgiveness. Please do not set conditions for it to remain in force. Once you have forgiven someone of a certain sin, don’t ever bring it up again.

Those then are 4 principles of forgiveness that we should apply. What a tremendous lesson of grace we have learned from this passage.

Let us go on to consider another lesson of grace we can learn from it. It is about:

II. The Preserving Grace of God for His People (vv.5-8)

This lesson is found in a thought that is mentioned 3 times in vv.5-8. “God did send me” (v.5); “God sent me” (v.6) and “It was not you that sent me hither but God.” Joseph was clearly trying to emphasise that he had not come to Egypt by chance or by their treachery. God had sent him there. And God had an important purpose for sending him to Egypt: This purpose is stated in v. 5 as “to preserve life.” In v.7 it is stated in two parts – “to preserve you a posterity in the earth” and “to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Joseph could only say this on hindsight after he had already seen what God had accomplished through his stay in Egypt. At the time when he was led to Egyptin chains by a slave trader he did not have the slightest notion of God’s purpose. As a bewildered 17-year old he may have thought, “How terrible it is that I have landed in this awful situation. My life is now all messed up just because of my brothers. What’s to become of me now? Where is God in all this?”

Perhaps some of you may have had similar thoughts before. Some unexpected disaster suddenly strikes you out of the blue and you wonder why it happened to you and what will become of you. A few years ago there was a young Christian lady working in a rehabilitation centre for elderly people inMelbourne. She came from a good family, she had a good education, a good career and things were going very well for her. But one day, an old man from the centre put his car in the wrong gear. The car lurched backwards, knocking her down and leaving her paralysed from her waist down. After going through spinal surgery the course of her life has changed and she had to undergo a long agonizing process of rehabilitation.

With an impending global financial crisis, the course of many lives may similarly be changed. People who lose their jobs will have to change their lifestyle and their well-made plans. Some of us may end up in situations or places we do not like to be in. And this will prompt the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

In 1981 a rabbi named Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, “When bad things happen to good people.” It became a bestseller. In the book Kushner claimed that God is all-loving – He only wants good things to happen to good people. He explains that bad things happen to them because God is not all-powerful. He cannot prevent them from happening because of His own limitations. Hence Kushner says that we should not blame God for any bad thing that happens to us. We should love Him and forgive Him for not being able to keep us free from bad things.

Dearly beloved, if this is your view of God, please know that it is not based on the Bible at all. The words which Joseph spoke to his brothers bear wonderful testimony to the truth that God is both all-loving and all-powerful. He said to them in v.5 of our text, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”

Could God have prevented the 10 brothers from selling Joseph as a slave to Egypt? He certainly could. Why then did He not prevent this bad thing from happening to Joseph? It is plainly because He wanted to preserve life, and Joseph was the means He had chosen to use to accomplish this. And so He allowed the brothers to sell Joseph in order to bring him into Egypt. Let us look at what Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 – “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” According to Joseph, God is so great that He can even use bad things that happen to good people to accomplish the most glorious results!

I trust that we will learn this lesson of grace well and apply it to ourselves whenever things seem to be going wrong. We can be assured that whatever happens to us, God’s preserving grace will keep us. We may not understand how this can possibly happen right now. We must simply trust God to work things out. And perhaps like Joseph, we may one day be able to look back and see the results of every setback, every loss and every disaster in our life, and testify of the blessings they have brought to ourselves and to others.

We come now to the final lesson of grace that we can learn from what Joseph said and did to his brethren. It is:

III. The Promised Grace of Joseph for His Family (vv.9-13)

In vv.9-13 Joseph tells his brothers to bring their father and their own families fromCanaantoEgypt. And he promises in v.10 and 11 that he will nourish all of them in theLandofGoshenso that they will be near him and will not lack any provisions during the 5 remaining years of famine. Now this is quite a huge promise for anyone to make. Can Joseph keep his promise? Yes, he certainly can – God has put him in an excellent position to do so. Joseph was now the lord or master of allEgypt. TheLandofGoshenwas his to give to whomsoever he wills. And all the wealth ofEgyptwas at his disposal.

Dearly beloved do you know that God has given you a Brother who is many times better than Joseph? This Brother of yours has also made great promises to you. He promises to nourish you with every spiritual blessing, so that you will not lack any good thing. This Brother has also promised to give you a Land that is much better thanGoshen– a Land where you will be with Him forever. Can this Brother of yours keep His promise? Yes, He most certainly can – because God has put Him in an excellent position to do so. He has put all things under His feet (1 Corinthians 15;27). All power has been given unto Him in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). This Brother I am talking about is Jesus.

This is one of the most amazing lessons of grace we can learn from Joseph. It comes from the fact that his life and ministry provides us with a unique preview of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The grace that Joseph promised to his family shows us the grace that Jesus has promised to us. Let us consider some striking parallels between Joseph and Jesus: Like Joseph, Jesus is the beloved Son with whom His father is well-pleased. Like Joseph, Jesus is sent by God to save His people from death. Like Joseph, Jesus was humbled and ill-treated before He was greatly exalted. Like Joseph, Jesus loved His brothers and forgave them. Like Joseph, Jesus went ahead of his brothers to prepare a dwelling place for them. Furthermore, Joseph was believed to be dead and the news that he was alive in Egypt must have seemed like his return from the dead. Isn’t this a striking preview of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

There is one more striking parallel between Joseph and Jesus, and this is one that ought to move us to action. Just as Joseph made his brothers bear good news about himself to his father (v.9), Jesus has made us bearers of the Good News about Himself to sinners. The 10 brothers were to tell their father that Joseph is alive, and that he is the lord of allEgypt. 

We are to tell sinners that Jesus is alive and that He is Lord of all. The 10 brothers were to tell their father that Joseph says, “Come down unto me and I will nourish you.” We are to tell sinners that Jesus says, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Joseph wanted his brothers to bring their father to him quickly, with haste (vv.9,13). This is because he loved his father who did not have many more years left. Jesus wants you to be just as earnest in bringing sinners to Him because He loves them and there is not much time left for them to come to Him and be saved.

Dearly beloved, you have a heavenly Brother who is so much better and greater than Joseph. He has been so gracious to pardon you for all the sins you have committed against Him. He has been so gracious to preserve your soul from eternal death. And He has promised to nourish you with all the power that is at His disposal. Will you not obey His command to bring His good news to others? May these lessons of grace that we have learned from the way that Joseph dealt with his brothers help us all to be good brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25