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