Life is full of insults and assaults. There are times it seems that hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t try to undermine or hurt us in some way. The sources of harm are countless. We might find ourselves the victim of a crime, betrayed by a spouse, or deceived by a friend.
The injury may be small or large, but after the initial shock, our natural reaction may be to seek revenge. If someone cuts us off on the way out of a crowded parking lot after a concert or sporting event, we blast our horn while our blood boils. When someone delivers a cutting remark in our direction, our mind spins into appropriately nasty retort mode. If a business associate undercuts us, we fantasize about embarrassing them publicly or destroying their career.
Now think of the harm Joseph’s brothers caused him. They threw him into a hole in the ground to die, then thought better of this approach when the opportunity arose to sell him as a slave. Nice, huh? Later, his boss’s wife falsely accused him of rape. When in jail he interpreted the dreams of two important fellow prisoners. When they were sprung, the one who survived promptly forgot all about Joseph, leaving him there to rot. If anyone had a right to be angry about the way life was treating him, it was Joseph.
This background helps us understand why Joseph’s brothers worried about their fate when their father died. They presumed that Joseph was, underneath, like everyone else — that their father’s death would pave the way for payback.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. (Genesis 50:15-17)
Joseph wasn’t blind to the injury his brothers had brought on him: “You meant it for evil,” he reminded them simply. Then, amazingly, Joseph added the clincher: “but God meant it for good” (see Genesis 50:20). He looked back over his life and recognized that even the horrible things that had happened had a purpose. God used every one of them to bring him to a position through which he could provide the people of God with food during a devastating famine. Without this series of events in Joseph’s life, Jacob’s family might have died.
This is what Paul, in Romans 12:14-21 says about revenge:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It’s unlikely that Joseph always had a clear view of God’s plan for his life. Neither do we. It comes down to a matter of trust. We may even go to the grave not knowing why bad things have happened to us. But God worked through the negative events in Joseph’s life to pave the way for Moses. And David. And, through the family line, eventually the Messiah.
God knew what he was doing in Joseph’s life. Can you imagine what he might have in mind for yours?
1. How do you react when someone hurts you?
2. The next time you pause to pray, look back on your life and try to discern the path on which God has been leading you. Pray for wisdom and insight to know which way to go at the next fork in the road.
Drawn from the NIV Men’s Devotional Bible.