A man of power and influence must maintain his composure at all times. No matter what. But this? Even Joseph, dressed in his royal Egyptian garb and in his position of high honor, can’t believe what—or rather, who—is bowing before him. Ten men, all bowed low in reverence. The bowing is, of course, standard protocol when standing before royalty, but the significance of the moment is certainly not lost on Joseph. Even after 20 long years, he still remembers.
He remembers the dreams. Remembers telling his family that they would bow down to him. Remembers the scorn, the mocking, the anger. And he most definitely remembers being thrown into an empty well, of being sold as a slave, of the years spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
And now here they are, the ones responsible, standing—no, bowing—before him! His very own brothers!
Joseph struggles to breathe, struggles to maintain his composure. He’s thankful that his Egyptian garments and his now fluent Egyptian speech don’t immediately give away his identity. He needs time. Time to think. Time to process.
His brothers, of course, have no way of knowing that he’s risen above their malice and various other misfortunes to become the second-in-command in all of Egypt. These siblings of his have no way of knowing the chain of events their jealousy and anger set into motion.
Now, seeking salvation from the famine, Joseph’s brothers—at least, all but one—are before him, hoping to buy food for their family. His family. The family he’s been robbed of being a part of. His mind reels. Breathe. Pull yourself together. Time. Yes, time is what he needs.
Playing the part perfectly, Joseph begins to quiz the brothers, accessing information he already knows. And so by holding one brother captive and demanding they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, Joseph buys himself some time.
When the brothers return, they’re quite surprised when Joseph hosts an elaborate dinner in their honor! On high alert, Joseph pays very close attention to them. He’s surprised to discover there are no signs of lingering jealousy or anger or hatred. In fact, what he hears is sorrow seeping from their voices, and at one point, open remorse for the terrible pain they’d caused their father, a pain they didn’t want to cause again.
Still not 100 percent convinced, Joseph initiates one more test. He has to be sure. Once beaten, twice sold, and all that. Revealing his identity has to come in an atmosphere of truth.
Joseph wants to believe that his brothers have truly changed. And if he’s honest, he wants nothing more than to wrap his arms around each one of his brothers and be family once again. One for all and all for one. Unity, oneness—that’s what he longs for.
But he also knows that he has a part to play. More than his brothers “proving” themselves, Joseph has to forgive completely. All of it, even the negative emotions that arose after seeing his brothers again after 13 long years.
Feelings are fickle, and Joseph learned long ago not to be ruled by them. His life experiences made it very clear to him that God is always moving behind the scenes, even when he couldn’t perceive it.
Joseph knows he simply needs to trust God with the outcome, because even when people are unfaithful, God is still faithful. And so he forgives. Joseph freely and fully forgives his brothers. Every bit of it, even up to the mixed emotions he’s currently experiencing. And at that moment, the full realization of God’s plan is revealed. His brothers may have intended harm, but God had nothing but His ultimate good in mind. And the goodness of God became Joseph’s good.
For Joseph, forgiveness opens the door to unimaginable possibilities. Destinies aren’t aborted but fulfilled as Joseph encourages his family to come and live in Egypt’s most fertile territory.
Forgiveness is a gift that keeps on giving to future generations. Our unforgiveness today affects our children tomorrow, and so on. But the enemy has no power over what has been forgiven.
Relationships are forged in adversity. Some of my greatest spiritual growth moments have occurred as the result of forgiving the unimaginable. Freedom reigns where mercy and grace are. Forgiveness brings both to the table.
There’s no end to the things said and done that need forgiving, no end to the ways we can injure, offend, or otherwise cause us to draw a line in the sand and vow not to let anyone cross it.
Joseph could have done this with his brothers. In fact, if he really wanted to, he could have had them all put to death. But in all his hardships, through all the betrayal, Joseph never let bitterness take root, even when he was thrown into prison. Joseph’s forgiveness was ultimately about his relationship with God, not his brothers. Joseph knew God’s goodness could surpass anyone’s offense—even his own family’s. It was his relationship with God that enabled Joseph to forgive freely.
Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in chains. Unforgiveness is a thief—it steals your joy, your peace, and ultimately your destiny if you allow it to fester. Like cancer, unforgiveness eats away at everything good and pure and healthy.
Ultimately, our lives are intertwined with everyone around us. No one begins life planning to hurt or be hurt. But, inevitably, it happens. Flawed humanity will always be in need of forgiveness—regardless of the asking. And this is crucial, because one doesn’t have to ask for forgiveness for you to give it; this is the beauty of forgiveness. Grace extended, freedom received.
Perhaps one day you can talk to Joseph—he’ll tell you all about it.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer who lives in Three Springs, Pennsylvania, USA. She is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.