“When the brothers of Joseph saw that their father had died, they said, ‘What if Joseph bears a grudge—he will surely return to us all of the evil that we did to him.’ So they sent an instruction to Joseph saying, ‘Your father gave an instruction before he died saying, ‘Thus you will say to Joseph: please lift the transgression of your brothers and their sin as they have done evil to you.’ And now, please lift the transgression from the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when this was said to him. His brothers also came and prostrated themselves in his presence and they said, ‘Behold, we are as your slaves.’”
“And Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in God’s place? But you, you planned evil for me; God planned good. For on account of these doings, many people are alive today. So now, do not fear. I will provide for you and your children.’ Thus, he comforted them and spoke to their heart.” (Genesis 50:15-21)
Of all people who would have had the “right” to hold a grudge against those who had harmed him, it would have been Joseph. His brothers were not only jealous of him for the favor that his father showed to him. They abused him and stripped him of the precious robes that his father had given him (remembering for a moment that clothes had an important symbolic function in the Old Testament for they conveyed your position in a family or in the courts—the disrobing of Joseph by his brothers was an act of disowning him from their family). Then, they tossed him into a pit and sold him into slavery rather than killing him. While Joseph ended up in a position of great authority in Egypt, he also spent many years in Egyptian prisons after his encounter with Potiphar’s wife. He had every reason to want revenge against his brothers and after their father died, that is exactly what his brothers feared. Now, the brother whom they had abused was the most powerful man in the land next to Pharaoh. From a worldly perspective, these brothers were right to fear for their lives.
But God’s people don’t live according to a worldly perspective; they live according to the Word of God. And when God forgives, there are no grudges that remain. As David writes in Psalm 103:
As distant as the east is from the west,
He will remove out transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion on sons,
Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.
Because of the fullness of the work of Christ, the forgiveness that is offered in his blood is so full and complete that there are no remnants or blots of that sin left upon our account. Not even the impression of the sin (as a pencil leaves an impression in the paper even after the pencil mark is erased) is left after Christ has washed us clean.
Unfortunately, because of our fallen state, we have trouble letting go even after sin has been forgiven. As I mentioned above, if you only remove the surface part of a weed from the ground, it won’t be long before the weed returns. Holding on to anger over sin when we have offered forgiveness is not God’s way; it is the way of the world and the way of the world’s master, Satan.
What we must understand is that the only reason for holding on to that anger and frustration is so that we might be able to retaliate sometimes down the road. As I was growing up, there was a series of novels by Lloyd Alexander that I used to like to read and a statement was made in one of those novels that has remained with me to this day. When asked about revenge, the older, wiser character responded, “Revenge is not sweet, but is a bitter dish to dine on with little nutrition to add.” Friends, vengeance does not belong to God’s people, but belongs to God alone (Deuteronomy 32:36, Romans 12:19).
God has stated that he will bring vengeance against his enemies and he has also promised that he will order all things in this world—both good and evil—for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Thus, when you seek your own revenge, what you are saying is that you doubt God’s ability to bring about good from evil deeds and that you doubt God’s capacity to avenge his name. Beloved, this is a very dangerous position to take, because in doing so; you have placed yourself above God in your capacity to right the wrongs of others.
Friends, let Joseph’s model always remind us that God is in control of events around us. He will provide for our needs and in his timing, he will right the wrongs that have been done to us. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to forgive only on the surface and cling to the desire for revenge—for this is not forgiveness at all.