A Time of Testing
When someone has sinned against us, we must choose our response carefully. We may hear various voices from church leadership claiming to know what we should do. Forgive and forget are often the words they choose to say followed by a forceful push toward reconciliation.
This approach places a heavy weight of guilt on the victim of abuse if she does not comply. Shunning occurs and support is lost. In Scripture, we are told to guard our heart, yet the victim is put in a position of vulnerability without seeing evidence of change by the perpetrator.
In Scripture, Joseph experienced being sinned against by his own brothers. Sold to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver by his brothers, Joseph was taken to Egypt. Joseph experienced many transitions in his life from being in Potiphar’s house, to prison, and then to governor of Egypt.
As a famine permeated the land, Joseph was given an opportunity to meet face to face with those that betrayed him. He recognized them, but they did not realize who he was. He did not immediately embrace them with forgiving words nor invite them into his house to start on the road of reconciliation. Instead he tested them to see if there had been a heart change.
In Genesis 37– 45, the story unfolds. He speaks to his brothers through an interpreter although he did understand their words. Private conversations between the brothers revealed the intent in their hearts.
Joseph first accuses them of being spies. The brothers deny the accusation. When questioned about their family, they speak of their youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph then administers the first of a series of tests.
“You will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of your number to get your brother, the rest will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth.” Genesis 42:15-16 NIV Then Joseph places them in custody for three days.
He then ordered one of the brothers (Simeon) to stay behind in custody while the others returned home to bring the youngest brother back. Joseph observed their reaction and listened to their response as they talked among themselves for he understood their language.
Joseph not only sent the brothers on their way with grain but returned their own silver. When the brothers discovered the silver in their sacks, they were afraid.
Since the famine continued, there arose a need for the brothers to return to Egypt. Their father, Jacob, reluctantly let Benjamin go with them. Reuben offered to sacrifice his own sons if anything happened to Benjamin.
As the brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin, they not only brought back the silver that had been returned to them plus more. Meeting the steward first, they divulged the truth regarding the silver.
After being reunited with Simeon, the brothers were invited to Joseph’s house for a meal. The brothers were seated according to chronological age and then served the meal. Benjamin’s portion was five times greater than his brothers.
In the morning all the brothers were sent back home with sacks of grain. Joseph’s silver cup was placed in Benjamin’s sack as Joseph had instructed. When the brothers had not gone far, Joseph sent his steward with specific instructions to retrieve the cup.
In answer to Joseph’s accusations of stealing, the brothers stated, “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” Genesis 44:9 NIV. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. All the brothers returned to Joseph.
Upon seeing Joseph, Judah makes a plea noting the grief this will bring to their father. After dismissing his attendants, Joseph reveals who he is and reconciliation begins. Joseph’s actions were not in retaliation to his brothers’ actions long ago.
Joseph tested their:
The brothers told the truth about their whole family.
The brothers told the truth about the silver being returned to the steward
He was testing them for:
When Benjamin was given a larger portion at the meal
When Benjamin was given three hundred shekels of silver and five set of clothes
He was testing them to see if they were willing to:
Reuben was willing to sacrifice his sons if something happened to Benjamin.
All brothers were willing to return to Egypt as servants when the cup was only found in Benjamin’s sack.
Throughout the testing, Joseph had compassion on his brothers as he provided for their needs as well as their families. Often times Joseph would remove himself to weep. Reconciliation was only initiated after a period of testing.
There is much to learn from Joseph’s story. There must have been many emotions, discouragement, anger, and fear of the unknown as he was cast into another culture in a foreign land with no family in the midst of strangers. He could have been a very bitter man, but we see no evidence of this in Scripture.
Joseph wisely assessed his brothers. He desired relationship, but one in which there would be honesty and no mistreatment. The testing revealed that selfishness had been replaced with empathy for others.
During the years of separation from family, healing from the pain of betrayal had occurred. The timing was right for Joseph to move into forgiveness. He saw God’s purpose in what had happened to him.
The events were all part of a larger picture for he states, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Genesis 45:5 NIV
Key points to remember:
Don’t let your desire for relationship blind you to evidence of a heart change in the offender.
Test the evidence for a long period of time to see consistency.
Don’t let the offender or others pressure you into reconciliation.
Ask for God’s discernment to determine if repentance is real or manipulation.
By Paula Silva ©2011 FOCUS Ministries, Inc. July/August FOCUS Newsletter
Thank you Paula!
Thank you. I am feeling so confused with my situation. I know that God is leading me to a separation and if I must divorce to protect myself and my boys financially and emotionally. I pray daily for a transformation because I love him, however there would have to be consistent evidence as you wrote about and right now he is still living for himself only and has not even acknowledged that what he is doing is wrong. You helped me greatly to really look at what God wants for my life.
Thanks for the reminder, Paula. I know that it was who God directed me and my children to leave my abusive minister/spouse a year and a half ago. His circumstances have hindered him from being able to come around at will but we still see him every few months. I see God’s hand in this arrangement.
Each time he visits, I begin to wonder if repentance has taken place so I pay attention to everything he says and does. I told him several months ago that reconciliation will not take place without extensive counseling to which he replied that the Holy Spirit is his counselor. We recently invited him to join us for a Sunday morning house church services; he did most of the talking then closed with a prayer thanking God for “restoration”. We hadn’t seen him for 4 months, we don’t know where he lives, he still does not provide for his children (4 teens), etc. During this time, he secretly criticized me to the kids because I purchased shoes for one and not all (couldn’t afford to) but the Lord had allowed me to find out that he had enough to purchase shoes for them all.
God continues to protect us by divine revelation lest I let my emotions be manipulated and try to make something happen that just isn’t His plan for us.
This article was so good! I am sick to death of all the people who think everything is just hunky dory between my hubby and me. I’ve put up with his verbal abuse for 20 years (and some mild pushing or kicking me in bed very occasionally).
My husband has poisoned my children so that they do not obey me (he’s constantly contradicting me in front of them) if not convenient to them, and my son often treats and speaks to me like his father does.
Even with knowing I’m in an abusive relationship, hating how my husband has treated me (and sometimes the kids over the years…,) and how it’s effected my health, I’m still confused as to what to do, even though I want out. I don’t love him any more and haven’t for many years even though I tried to convince myself that I did and that I just needed to keep forgiving him, and burying the pain.
It’s like wanting to jump off a moving train that’s derailed. I don’t have a very legit Biblical reason for leaving. I’d feel better if I found evidence that he was still viewing porn, but he now has his own lap top that I’m not allowed to use, and I don’t know his password.
I can’t see myself ever leaving which scares me, too–I can’t work full time because of disabilities (that he sometimes supports me with and other times mocks and belittles me for) and would be living like a pauper especially with all of my weird health issues and needs. (I need natural remedies over drugs (that don’t work for me) which is not covered by insurance.)
I feel very trapped and can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with him after the children are gone (the last one is graduating high school in four years).
To be disrespected in your by both your husband and children creates an environment in which you cannot flourish. It effects one’s spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.
You feel that you do not have a Biblical reason for leaving, but do you have a reason that comes from God. There is hardness of heart and abandonment can also be considered. Continue to seek God and he will show you the way.
God has given us our life and we need to be good stewards of it. Abuse is a very destructive force to human life.
There are options on can put in place to not allow further destruction.
1. Figure out the unknowns and leave
2. Emotionally detach
3. Create you own life within your marriage
4. Develop a support system of friends, extended family, people from church, counselor
5. Find fun things to do with friends in order to prevent isolation
There probably are many more that you can think of for you alone know your situation best. God is a God of Justice. He will hold the offenders responsible.
Your situation is serious and has taken a great toll on you. FOCUS Ministries can also be part of your support system. Just [email protected]. We do care and so does God.