James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC
Author: James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC

The story of Joseph as recorded in Genesis 37-50 is perhaps one of the more remarkable in the Bible. Perhaps the most stunning feature of the story is his forgiveness toward his hating, jealous brothers. After having been severely mistreated by them, even to the point of being sold by them as a slave, Joseph is carried away to Egypt. There he is careful to maintain his perspective of God’s sovereign oversight of his life. Through a series of events that most of us would consider misfortune, in which he was falsely accused, neglected, forgotten, and used, Joseph finds himself useful to the Pharaoh of Egypt, interpreting his troubling dreams. Through this divinely appointed meeting, God positions Joseph to save the people during an intense drought. Among those Joseph saves are his duplicitous brothers.

Genesis 50:16-21 tell us a great deal about Joseph’s heart of forgiveness.

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.


The Brothers’ Request

His brothers sought Joseph’s forgiveness, quoting their father and reminding Joseph of their father’s charge, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong” (v 17a). Some might say they were not truly repentant. They worried after their father died that Joseph might seek revenge, believing that Joseph had withheld judgment on them in favor of protecting their father in his old age (v. 15). So they asked for forgiveness (v 17b), being evidently afraid, a fear recognized by Joseph (v. 19a).

Joseph’s forgiveness

Joseph had great love and affection for his brothers (v 17c). Even though they were his offenders, he was concerned for them. He told them, “Do not be afraid . . .” (v 19a, 21a). Even though he knew that the offenses committed by them had intentions that were evil (v 20a), Joseph resolutely saw it all as part of God’s sovereign plan. He acknowledged his position under God, and therefore could not be their judge (v 19b), but rather showed them mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Joseph’s view of God’s sovereignty included their sin against him, in order that He would make provision for the people of the land, who would have otherwise starved in the famine (v 20b). He not only forgave his brothers, but continued to provide for them (v 2b) and spoke to them with kind and comforting words to them (v 21c).

This is an amazing demonstration of mercy and forgiveness. It is a forgiveness with a transformational agenda. Joseph used forgiveness as a means of blessing the very ones who had harmed him. Sound like someone else? Joseph is a picture of Christ, the ultimate Forgiver. Jesus forgives sinners, who in their very sin are treacherous toward Him. Read through the story again and think on the Savior. The story is there for that very purpose. See Him. Turn to Him. Love Him. He forgives you.