I Am Joseph!
By: Chuck Swindoll
There are few who have known more about forgiveness than Joseph, an obscure slave who rose to the pinnacle of respect. He was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, unjustly imprisoned, and forgotten by a friend who had promised to help. He had every reason to sever ties with his family, vent hatred on humanity, and even slam the door on God but he didn't. Even though Joseph was tossed into the blackest of pits, he emerged with an unbelievably positive attitude toward those who had done him harm. What was his secret?
Let's pick up his story in Genesis, chapter 44, and uncover some truths from this man's life. Here Joseph is about to reveal his identity to his brothers , men who had mercilessly sold him into slavery as a young boy. Joseph is now a ruler in Egypt. A severe famine has occurred in the land, but through God's intervention, Egypt is well prepared. Joseph's eleven brothers have heard of the land's abundance and have made the long journey from Canaan to obtain food. While in Egypt, they encounter Joseph, the prime minister. What an opportunity for Joseph's revenge!
But instead of settling the score, Joseph wants to see in his brothers an attitude that God has given hima positive response toward God and toward others. So he plans two tests of their attitude in chapter 44. Let's take a closer look at verses 1-6:
"Then [Joseph] commanded his house steward, saying, 'Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the mouth of his sack. And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest [Benjamin], and his money for grain.' And he did as Joseph had told him. As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, 'Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, "Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.' So he overtook them and spoke these words to them."
Joseph had his steward place an important silver cup in the mouth of Benjamin's sack. Although I doubt that Joseph ever used to cup for divination, it "was part of the situation [he] contrived in order to test his brothers. " The point is that a silver cup of special significance to Joseph was placed in the sack. Once the brothers had traveled outside the city, they were purposefully stopped by the house steward who said, "How could you rip off the Pharaoh by taking what belongs to him? How could you take of his possessions after having been treated so graciously?" Note the brothers' response in verses 7-9:
"And they said to him, 'Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord's house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's slaves.'"
"We didn't do it!" they're saying. "There's nothing in the sacks that we weren't given. We came for grain. We took grain. Now we're on our way home to Canaan. And if you can find anything in the sacks, we will be your slaves. In fact, you may kill the one who is guilty." That's how sure they were that they were innocent.
So Joseph's steward began a search: "Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack" (vv. 11-12). And the brothers were stunned. They were absolutely shocked, because they knew they hadn't taken the cup.
After tearing their clothes in disbelief, they returned to the city (v.13) and had an audience with Joseph. Judah speaks in verse 16: " 'What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? [Now mark this well.] God has found out the iniquity of your servants."'
All right!! That's what we're looking for. That's why the test was given. That's why the test was given. That's why the cup was in the sack. Joseph had wanted to see if they had begun to read God into daily life, even into things that seemed unfair, even into misfortune, even into death. And he hears it coming out of Judah's mouth: "Before God we have been found out. We are guilty! The iniquity has been discovered." Now you and I know that Judah's going back in time about twenty years. He's referring to those days when they had taken advantage of their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery. Look at verse 17:
" 'Far be it from me to do this [says Joseph]. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.'"
Now why did Joseph say that? It's the second test. The first one was a vertical test: "Let's see if these men have gotten to the place where they read God into their daily lives." The second test was horizontal: "I know what I'll do. I'll put Benjamin in the same plight I was in two decades ago. So I'll say to my brothers, 'You can all go back free, but I'll keep Benjamin.' And let's see if they'll go to bat for Benjamin. Let's see if there's been a change in their hearts over these years."
In the words of the old German scholar Leupold, the speech that follows in verse 18 "is one of the manliest, most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man. For depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose, it stands unexcelled. " Now that's quite a statement!
Judah comes out of the woodwork. And he stands in the stead of his father and his brother Benjamin. I don' want you to miss these words. They're coming from a man who twenty years earlier had said, "Take Joseph's life. Put him in the pit. Get rid of him!" Just read his speech:
" 'Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord's ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, "Have you a father or a brother?" And we said to my lord, "We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him." Then you said to your servants, "Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him." But we said to my lord, "The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die." You said to your servants, however, "Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again"'" (vv. 18-23). "And so we went home and we told our dad about it. He couldn't stand the thought."
" 'But we said, "We cannot go [back] down [to Egypt]for we cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us." And your servant my father said to us, "You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, 'Surely he is torn in pieces,' and I have not seen him since. And if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you'll bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow [ I'll die prematurely]"'" (vv. 26-29).
Judah is pleading for his youngest brother. He is pleading for his father. Twenty years before, he couldn't have cared less what his father thought. But now Judah says, "We can't do this to our dad. We can't do this to our brother." He continues in verses 30-33:
" 'When I come to your servant my father [when I go back to my dad], and [Benjamin] is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad's life, it will come about when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die.Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad, and let [Benjamin] go up with his brothers.'"
That is the height of a sacrificial attitude. Judah is saying to this official whom he doesn't know is his brother, "Don't let that happen! Take me instead. Send Benjamin back. His absence would surely cause my father's death."
Do you know what these men are? They are transformed men. A transformation has occurred in their lives and Joseph sees it all. That explains why, when you get to chapter 45, he takes off the mask of secrecy. Let's linger here, because this is where the real climax happens.
"Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, 'Have everyone go out from me.' So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers" (v.1).
All the Egyptians had left, all of the soft-footed servants of the court had left.all except the eleven brothers who were now trembling before him. They didn't know what to expect. Joseph loses his composure, and "he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the house of the Pharaoh heard it" (v.2)
Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph!" He speaks now in the Hebrew. "AAA-NEE-YO-SAPHE!" And the brothers respond, "What? What did you say?" "I am Joseph!" (v.3a). It's an unbelievable moment.
"His brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence" (v.3b). That's putting it mildly. It means that they began to tremble. They were terrified. They couldn't believe their ears! "I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt." But this was the best-kept secret in Canaan. That story had never been told by any of those brothers. How would this official have known if he were not, in fact, Joseph? He couldn't have known.
I don't think there is any way to adequately describe the emotion at that moment. If you have ever been in the situation of not having seen a loved one for fifteen or twenty years and then your eyes look upon him you don't need it explained. My daughter-in-law Debbie writes words that may very well have happened:
When my eye first caught sight of you I wanted to rush into your arms and embrace my faded memories in the flesh. But fear paralyzed my steps and I stood desperately clutching the strap of my purse as if it were the only thing keeping me on my feet.
Your hair had grown gray and, as I scanned your face, The lines appeared more frequent and deep than I had remembered. Your shoulders stooped a little lower and I wondered if the internal changes had been as great. At that moment I met your eyes and my anxiety dissolved in their warm blueness. I started to cry at the sight of your smile. You see, it was the same. I ran into your arms and the tears rolled down my face as these familiar words reached my ear, "I love you!"
If you can read Genesis 45 and not be caught up in the same imaginary journey, you have not done justice to the text of God's truth. There is an overwhelming sense of emotion that is felt by these brothers, which included feelings of intense guilt. That's why Joseph says what he does in verse 5. He holds out grace in abundance: "And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves."
Look at that support! Can you believe it? When faced with people who had done him wrong, the average individual would say, "Get on your knees and stay there! You think you know what humility is all about. Just wait until I unleash it all on you." But Joseph's a changed man. And his first statement is a supportive one.
By the way, Joseph could never have done that if he had not already forgiven them. You cannot embrace an enemy whom you have not forgiven. There's no way. And they weren't his enemies. Why? Because of his perspective. Look at the perspective that follows his support in verse 5:
" 'Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God has sent me [notice those words] before you to preserve life.' "
I love that. He's saying, "It wasn't you who pulled that off; it was God. It was my sovereign God who looked far into the future and saw the needs of this world. He chose me to be His personal messenger to solve the famine problem. You thought you had done evil to me. But I'll tell you, it was God who went 'before you to preserve life.'" That really is divine perspective.
Hold your place here and look at my favorite verse in Genesis: chapter 50, verse 20. Joseph is speaking to them at a later time, and they're still wrestling with guilt. When you've done something as bad as those boys had done, you can live with guilt for a long time before you finally forgive yourself. I think, frankly, the last one we forgive is often ourself. And these boys are still fighting with that. Joseph responds in verse 20: " 'And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.'"
I don't know what that says to you today. I don't know where you are right now, and I don't know the skin in which you live or the memories that surround you. But I do know humanity well enough to know that most of you, at some time in your life, were ripped off badly by someone, so you're faced with a similar conflictand your perspective is cloudy. You remember the manipulation. You remember the wrong. You remember the unfair treatment. You remember the pain, the hurt, and the rejection. You remember that you were dropped off like a bad habit when you truly deserved the opposite treatment! You had given and given and given and you were cast away. Evil was done to youand it was meant to be evil! Joseph describes it in verse 20. "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."
Turn back to Genesis 45 and observe the results of Joseph's divine perspective: " 'Come down to me, do not delay. And you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have'" (vv. 9b-10).
Sounds like the "grapes of wrath" will be coming over from Canaan, doesn't it? Joseph's family would come with all of their belongings, and they would literally move in right next to Joseph! Would you want to do that with a person who has wronged you? There is usually one thing you'd like between you and that enemydistanceunless he's fully forgiven.
But Joseph has no use for distance. He had forgiven his brothers years before this encounter. In a beautiful manner, the writer of Genesis opens the door a little earlier in chapter 41 and lets us see what Joseph was really likewhat he was really thinking.
"Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potipher, priest of On, bore to him. And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household [God has "manassehad" me].' And he named the second Ephraim, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction [God has "ephraimed" me]'" (vv. 50-52).
The name of each son is a play on words; Joseph tagged these boys with reminders of God's activity in his life. What was the activity? Let's take Manasseh. Nasah means "to forgive"it's the root of the name Manasseh. But in this particular instance, as best I can understand, it means, "to take the sting out of a memory." Isn't that neat? He names his son Manasseh because God has come to take the sting out of his troublesome past. God didn't make him forget what happened, because he talks about it with his brothers, but God did allow him to get over the sting of it.
Before I go to the next name, I want to add something. There are some of you who are Josephs and, if you are not careful, you will use your authority in a most unfortunate manner. You will get back at the brothers in your life from Dan all the way to Reuben, or your mom, or you dad. Give birth to a Manasseh! Ask the Lord God to come and erase the sting of your memory only God can do it.
The next name, Ephraim, is a positive, affirming name, which means, "God has made me fruitful." It's the idea of double benefit, multiple blessings. "He has caused me to be fruitful in abundance."
Bad memories need not defeat us. Now I know it's one thing to say that, but I want you to know I'm living it. I have some bad memories exactly as you do. Some of them I was responsible for; some of them someone else was responsible for. But they need not defeat anyone. You may need the help of a friend or a professional person in order to turn old wounds into stingless scars. But I plead with you; I affirm that need to get rid of the sting and make room for ministry. It's the would that qualifies you to counsel and help others.
I long to hear exhortations on the attitude of the Christian. How seldom they are said. We go through the Sunday motions and the religious exercises. We pack a Bible under our arm, but we keep a list of those people who have wronged us. And you just wait. In our own way we'll get backit may even appear to be a little religious.
But I see Joseph as supportive, generous, and unselfishfilled with a divine perspective on life. He implies in Genesis 45:13-15, "You can't wait!" " 'Now you must tell my father of all the splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.' Then he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept; and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all of his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him."
I'll bet they did. Joseph must have thought, "We've got about twenty years to get caught up on! Sit down and let's go over it. We've got a lot of things to talk about."
As we leave these pages in Genesis, three thoughts come to the surface. Number one: When I'm able to see God's plan in my location"God sent me"I'm getting the right attitude. Number two: When I'm able to sense God's hand in my circumstances" He made me" I'm getting the right attitude. I don't begin the day gritting my teeth, asking "Why, why do I have to stay in this situation?" He made each of us where we are. Either that or He isn't sovereign. Number three: When I'm able to accept both my location and circumstances as good, even when there's been evil in the process, my attitude will be right.
If you are one who is in this category one who had endured unfair treatment and has a right attitude, you become for many of us a trophy of what grace is about. Our Savior is not on the earth anymore. So we don't have a perfect model that says, "This is the right response when wrong treatment has been given." But He's left people all around us to model that message.
A young man named John was born into a Christian home and lived under Christian influence in Great Britain years ago. His parents died while he was still young, and he became a wandering waif in the streets of London. He lied about his age and joined the Royal Navy, where he learned to navigate a ship-became good at it. And then he deserted, he ran from the navy.
John escaped to Africa where, because he was starving, he became part of a home that had a harem. The leader of the harem was a black woman who took delight in mistreating this young, white Britisher. She threw his food on the floor, much of it rotten, and made him eat it like a dog. She tied him to a bed and beat him with a lash on several occasions. Unable to stand the treatment any longer, he escaped to the African coast and built a fire on the shore to attract the attention of a passing ship. The trade vessel stopped and sent a boat, and he became a navigator for the ship.
But John was a profligate prodigal, given to drink. He opened cases of rum on one occasion and everybody on ship got stone drunk. He was beaten and thrown into the hold of the ship. He was brought up to be beaten again, but was knocked off the ship into the water, and then harpooned by the skipper to save his life. Until the end of his days, John carried a scar in his side you could put your fist into. Dragged back on board ship, he was dropped back in the hold to die. And while there, he came to himself. God got ahold of his attitude. "This is no way for me to live my life!" John realized, "There is a better way." And he turned his heart back toward God, becoming a trophy of grace.
Before John died, not only was he a successful merchant, but he also began to write poems that were later put to music. John Newton wrote "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," and his best known, "Amazing Grace!"
"How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours" is one of his greatest that we don't sing anymore. Notice these words: "How tedious and tasteless the hours/ When Jesus no longer I see!/ Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers,/ Have all lost their sweetness to me./ The midsummer sun shines but dim;/ The fields strive in vain to look gay;/ But when I am happy in Him,/ December's as pleasant as May."
Do you know what Newton is saying? He's saying, "When your attitude is right, you reveal the grace of God! December's as pleasant as May!" It doesn't matter what time of year it is. It doesn't matter where you live smogville Los Angeles or some charming, tropical paradise. You don't have to have paradise to be happy! You don't have to have some clear sky to make it! You make it because the heart is right. That's how Joseph made it in the pit, as well as on the pinnacle. That's how you're going to make it as a divorcee, a widow, or a widoweras an abandoned orphan, a forgotten man, or an abused individual. That is the only way you can make it without shriveling into a bitter, cranky old person.
I believe Thomas Jefferson was right in saying, "When the heart is right, the feet are swift." Part of the reason we are so sluggish in carrying out the application of God's truth is that your heart isn't right. It isn't right toward that person who never did fully pay back what he owed me. The heart isn't right toward the person who divorced me "I mean, he's got a dept to pay"; "She did me wrong." The heart isn't right toward a God who took my mate or a child who took advantage of me or a parent who abused me. That's why the feet aren't swift because the heart isn't right. And I want to tell you something. It takes God to make the heart right. That's the beauty of Joseph's life. When I have a wrong attitude, I look at life humanly. When I have a right attitude, I look at life divinely.
Is your heart right? Well, check your feet. Are your feet swift? Do you move away from people or are you moving toward them? Are you engaged in the business of healing or hurting? Are you adding pressure or relieving it? Bringing joy or squelching it? Are you becoming a bitter, cranky old man or woman even though you're not that old? Maybe you've thought the answer is tied up in some great achievement, and that's where you've been putting all your marbles but those dreams are falling by your side. Greatness is tied up in being related to the right Person who is in the business of changing hearts. I invite you to the only way out of the pit, the only relief from yourself, the only solution to bitterness Jesus Christ, God's dear Son, who demonstrated to us for all time what grace and forgiveness are all about.
Lord God, the fog of the flesh blocks out our ability to see Your plan, and our selfishness pushes away Your hand because we want our way. And so our location and our situation become irksome assignments of life. And our Decembers become barren, cold, lifeless. Show us through Newton's words, and more importantly through the life of Joseph and Your Word, that the only way to find happiness in the grind of life is by allowing You to control our attitudes toward people, toward circumstances, toward ourselves. Make our feet swift to do what is right. In Jesus' name, amen.