“The Power of Forgiveness”
Lesson Text: Genesis 50:15-26
Background Scripture: Genesis 50:1-26
Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 7:6-11
15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,
17So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.
18And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.
19And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
21Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
22And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.
23And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees.
24And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
25And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
26So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
To recount that understanding God's sovereignty enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers for their sins against him.
To learn that when we understand God's larger purposes, it is easier to genuinely forgive others.
To emphasize that we must learn to forgive those who sin against us based on our trust in God's sovereignty over our lives.
The holding of grudges among human beings is very common. Grudges are carried by individuals, of course, but also by entire families and larger groups of people.
Sadly, the holding of grudges is not uncommon among those who profess to be followers of Christ. Just ask some people why they left their former congregation for another church, and it becomes clear that grudges are being held. Sometimes an entire church may animosity toward another church. This might occur after a church split.
While those holding grudges may feel completely justified in their actions and attitudes, such resentment indicates a lack of forgiveness. Those who say they can forgive but not forget have not really forgiven!
At the heart of the gospel is forgiveness. And we who have received pardon from God must be willing to extend it to others (Col. 3:13).
“Last words” are what a person utters just before dying. Sometimes these are treasured by family members. Sometimes those final utterances have an unusual twist. Such was the situation when a man’s last words to his wife were to tell her that in the garage loft was a can full of silver dollars. He was the only one who knew about this treasure, and he wanted to make sure that she did not sell the property without knowing about it.
The study for today is based on the final 12 verses of the book of Genesis. Many people are able to recite the opening phrase of Genesis 1, but only a few know the final words of the book. The first four words in Genesis are “In the beginning God.” Those four words are very important. If a person understands that phrase and governs his or her life accordingly, then other things fall into place.
The last phrase of Genesis is rather sobering: “in a coffin in Egypt.” These words cause contemplation, because death is our destiny. Few of us will be buried in Egypt, but we will have a grave somewhere unless Jesus returns before we die.
“In the beginning God... in a coffin in Egypt.” Those phrases mean much. Words, as well as actions, have great significance.
At the conclusion of our previous study, we saw that Egypt was in its second year of famine. Joseph was 39 years old, having become the administrator of Egypt at age 30 (Genesis 41:46). Jacob and his family were entering Egypt. Jacob was then presented to Pharaoh, and he stated that he was 130 years old (47:9). Those facts allow us to calculate that Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born.
Interesting things take place as the book of Genesis comes to a close. As the famine dragged on, we see the Egyptians purchase their grain from the government. But when their funds were depleted, they sold their livestock to buy grain (Genesis 47:16). The next step was to sell their land and themselves to have food (47:19).
Jacob, for his part, lived 17 years in Egypt before he died (Genesis 47:28). He did two things in his final days. First, he had special blessings for the sons of Joseph, giving the primary blessing to the younger son (48:19). Second, Genesis 49 tells us that Jacob provided inspired prophecies for the sons and their descendants as they were to become the tribes of Israel. Jacob sometimes used animals as figures of speech to typify the characteristics of each tribal group. Judah was Jacob’s fourth son (29:35). It was through him that the Messiah would be born, and the five verses for Judah (49:8-12) indicate that it was the tribe of royalty.
Jacob had requested that he be taken back to Canaan for burial in the same cave where others of the patriarchal families were buried. He died at age 147 (Genesis 47:28). After the necessary days for embalming and mourning, Joseph and others honored the request of Jacob, escorting his body to Canaan so that he could be buried with his fathers (49:29-50:14).
There is a coincidence in the number 17 for Jacob and Joseph. Jacob was able to be with Joseph for the first 17 years of Joseph’s life before he was sold by brothers (Genesis 37:2). It was in Jacob’s final 17 years that father and son were together again.
DECEITFUL APPROACH (Genesis 50:15-17)
1. Why do you think Joseph's brothers were afraid of retribution (Genesis 50:15)?
Joseph’s siblings apparently have suppressed a fear for 17 years. They are concerned that Joseph has restrained himself from vengeance against them only because of the influence of Jacob, the father. Joseph had assured his brothers previously that he understood how God had brought about good from what they had done (Genesis 45:5-8).
However, the brothers apparently have not forgiven themselves for what they did in selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:28). Now that Jacob is dead, they reason among themselves that Joseph may feel free to get even with them. They also may be expressing how they would react if they were in Joseph’s shoes.
Some have difficulty in accepting forgiveness, and feelings of guilt continue through the years. Joseph’s spiritual maturity is validated by how he extends forgiveness to those who have injured him and then demonstrates that forgiveness by his subsequent actions. Joseph does not hold a grudge, but the brothers have trouble believing that.
After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers feared that vengeance might finally be meted out against them for what they had done to Joseph many years earlier. However, there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that they had any grounds for those fears.
It is probably safe to assume that the brothers were afraid because of their own guilty consciences. Joseph had forgiven them and tried to assure them that all was well between them. But they probably found it hard to believe that anyone could completely forgive such a wrong as they had perpetrated upon their younger brother. Perhaps one of the reasons they found it hard to comprehend such graciousness was that they would not have acted this way toward Joseph had he been the one who had mistreated them.
It is probably true that those who have the greatest difficulty believing God would forgive them of all their sins are those who have difficulty forgiving others. This is also true of those who have never been shown genuine forgiveness even when they have admitted their errors to those they have offended.
2. What story did Joseph's brothers concoct (vs. 16,17a)?
Interestingly, the brothers followed the same pattern that Jacob had established when seeking peace with Esau, whose vengeance he had feared (Gen. 32:1-21; 33:1-17). First, he sent messengers ahead; then he came personally to meet Esau. Likewise, after the messenger came to Joseph, the brothers themselves appeared. As foreseen in Joseph's dreams years earlier, they presented themselves as his servants.
These men demonstrate another character weakness by using a third party to deliver their apprehensions to Joseph. Ideally, they should go to express their concerns personally. Even so, what they do provides an opportunity for them to determine how Joseph reacts to what is said.
Since Jacob's sons did not believe they had been truly pardoned by Joseph, they concocted a story to protect themselves from any negative actions he might take against them. That these men still thought it necessary to tell lies indicates that Joseph's sterling character traits had not rubbed off on them.
Consequently, a message was sent indicating that among Jacob's final requests was that Joseph not execute vengeance upon his brothers but instead forgive them. Of course, Joseph had already forgiven his brothers, but they were unwilling to believe that was true.
While their father lived, they thought themselves safe under his shadow; but now that he was dead they feared the worst from Joseph. A guilty conscience exposes men to continual fright. Those who would be fearless must keep themselves guiltless" (Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary, Zondervan).
3. Why do you think Joseph wept when he heard his brothers' story (v. 17b)?
When Joseph received this message from his brothers, he wept. While we are not told the reason for his weeping, we can imagine he was disappointed that his brothers did not believe that they had been forgiven many years before. If he also concluded that the story they told was a fabrication, he may have been weeping because his brothers were resorting to their old tricks rather than acting as men of integrity.
That Joseph wept on a number of occasions (Gen. 42:24; 43:30; 45:2, 14; 50:1) reveals that he was a very sensitive man. To be sure, people express their feelings in a variety of ways, but Joseph could express his emotions openly and unashamedly.
Joseph's brothers, however, certainly seem to have been more callous. When they deceived Jacob about Joseph's disappearance, they were unmoved by their father's grief (Gen. 37:34-35). Nor were they influenced by the pleas of Joseph when he besought them not to harm or sell him (42:21-22). Being the kind of men they were made it difficult for them to fathom the depth of love Joseph had for them in spite of their evil actions against him.
"What the men should have done was sit down and calmly review all that Joseph had said to them and done for them. In many tangible ways, Joseph had demonstrated his love and forgiveness and had given them every reason to believe that their past sins were over and forgotten. They really had nothing to fear" (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Cook).
The genuineness of the forgiveness Joseph extended his brothers can certainly be seen in his willingness to treat them as if nothing had happened. That is the very way we must act when we forgive others.
DIVINE ASSURANCE (Genesis 50:18-21)
4a. What did Joseph's brothers offer to do when they came before him (v. 18)?
Soon after the messenger informed Joseph of the purported request of his late father, Joseph's brothers also appeared before him. Falling prostrate before the man who was second only to Pharaoh, the brothers pleaded, "Behold, we be thy servants." While the word rendered "servants" can have various meanings, here it indicates "slaves." What they were saying was "Do not punish us. We will be your slaves for the rest of our lives."
4b. How did Joseph respond to his brothers (v. 19)?
The initial words of Joseph ("Am I in the place of God?" v. 19), are designed to remove the fears of his brothers. Joseph realized that if the consciences of his brothers were still bothering them, they needed to bring this to the Lord, not to him. He had forgiven them long ago, whether they were willing to believe it or not. They had absolutely nothing to fear from him, as he was not going to put himself in the place of Yahweh and act as their judge.
He will say the same thing again in verse 21. For 17 years, Joseph has been faithful to what he said he would do for these men and their families. He is not going to change now.
Similarly, we must be willing to forgive those God has forgiven. To be sure, in some circumstances it is proper for wrongdoing to be openly acknowledged before granting forgiveness and restoration (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4; 1 Tim. 5:19-20; James 5:16). Generally speaking, public sin should be publicly confessed; private sin should be privately confessed. When we think a person may not have truly repented, we should give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for a while. If there are no fruits of repentance, we may conclude that there has been no change of heart. Even so, God is the only one who can judge in these matters, not us (Rom. 14:10-12).
5. How did Joseph view all the difficulties of his life (v. 20)?
Joseph's statement in Genesis 50:20 is truly amazing considering all he had been through; yet it testifies to the fact that he lived by faith. The brothers’ mistreatment of Joseph was done with improper motives. But the things that happened 39 years before were used to bring about good. The two little words “but God” are very important in the ebb and flow of the biblical record and the events of history (examples: 1 Samuel 23:14; Acts 13:29, 30).
Joseph not only saved the lives of his family, but also the lives of Egyptians and others during the famine. The brothers seem to be concerned only about themselves at this point, but Joseph reminds them of the bigger picture: God has used Joseph as a man of faith to provide food for thousands.
6. Besides not punishing his brothers, what else did Joseph promise them (v. 21)?
The repetition from verse 19 helps assure Joseph’s brothers of the sincerity of his words. The death of their father should not be a source of alarm. Joseph uses the opportunity to remind them that he will continue to make sure that they and their families receive what they need. This will be in addition to what they provide for themselves through their own efforts. All the events of recent years should convince them that God cares. There will be suffering in the future, but God will use it to take His people back to Canaan.
The word kindly does not carry the full impact of what is written. The original language literally says that Joseph is speaking “to their heart.” That makes it more meaningful.
JOSEPH’S FINAL DAYS (Genesis 50:22-26)
7. How long did Joseph live (v. 22)?
Verse 22 summarizes Joseph’s final days. With Joseph now at age 110, simple arithmetic reveals that it has been 54 years since Jacob died. Thus it has been 54 years since Joseph renewed his promise that he would do his part to provide for others in Jacob’s family. Joseph was 39 when the family came from Canaan to Egypt, and he was 56 when his father died 17 years later (Genesis 37:2; 41:46; 45:6; 47:9, 28). It is an interesting coincidence that Joseph’s most famous descendant, Joshua, lives to be the same age of 110. Joshua will be a descendant of Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son.
The famine ended many years before, and the Israelites are flourishing as they live in the land of Goshen (Exodus 1:7). The prophecy to Abraham that his descendants will spend 400 years in a foreign land is moving along the road to fulfillment (Genesis 15:13). At this time there is no oppression or other reason to leave Egypt, but that will change as the centuries pass (Exodus 1:8).
While he did not live as long as Jacob, Joseph did live to the age of 110. His two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, born to him by his wife, Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest (41:50), are also mentioned in these concluding verses in Genesis.
Later in Israel's national history, descendants of these two sons would be given land inheritances in Canaan. Obviously, Joseph would not live long enough to see this come to pass. He did, however, live long enough to see his own great-great-grandchildren, "and probably he saw his two sons solemnly acknowledged as heads of distinct tribes, equal to any of his brothers" (Henry).
8. What does the expression "brought up upon Joseph's knees" mean (v. 23)?
Joseph’s longevity allows him to see his great-grandchildren through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph’s great-grandchildren through Manasseh have a distinctive figure of speech used about their being on “Joseph’s knees.” This means that Joseph is treating them as his adopted children.
The same language is used for Jacob’s “adoption” of Joseph’s sons when Jacob pronounces blessings on them (48:5, 12). This means they were counted, or treated, as his own. Here, "Joseph adopted Manasseh's grandchildren just as Jacob adopted Joseph's children" (Wiersbe).
9. How did Joseph know that God would visit and deliver Israel (v. 24)?
Abraham died 76 years before Joseph was born, so Abraham was a great-grandfather whom Joseph never saw. The promise that the Lord made to Abraham about giving the land of Canaan to his descendants is still being passed down almost three centuries later. It is vividly remembered, and it will serve to give hope to future generations when they leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Exodus 6:4, 8).
Joseph is convinced that that promise will be fulfilled. In his final moments, he encourages his family and reminds them of the promise that the Lord had made (v. 24 of today’s lesson). Joseph realized that the Lord was not going to leave Israel permanently in Egypt. Canaan had been promised to them as a permanent possession. The promise about the land of Canaan was given to the patriarchs on several occasions—to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15,17), to Isaac (26:3) and to Jacob (35:12; 48:3,4).
10. What did Joseph make his family promise to do after his death (vs. 25, 26)?
Joseph does more than just remind his kinsmen of the promise. He has them enter into “an oath” that when God is ready for them to go to Canaan they will carry his bones with them as they go.
This commitment to Joseph is passed down to future generations, and at the time of the exodus someone fulfills what Joseph has committed them to do; Exodus 13:19 states that Moses takes the bones of Joseph as the Israelites leave Egypt. Joshua 24:32 records that Joseph’s bones are buried at Shechem, a part of Canaan that is assigned to Joseph’s older son Manasseh (Joshua 17:7). This vow is also mentioned in Hebrews 11:22, and there it is given as an example of Joseph’s faith in believing that there would be an exodus from Egypt.
Thus Joseph’s final resting place is where he, at age 17, had been sent to check on his brothers. At that time, he had been informed that they had moved on to Dothan, just northwest of Shechem (Genesis 37:12-17). Joseph’s initial destination as given to him by his father, Jacob, becomes Joseph’s burial site.
Standing on the Promises
A preacher once developed a sermon in which he said that the Christian faith rests on several pillars, and one of the pillars is the promises of God. There are promises to individuals and nations that were made and fulfilled, and there are promises that are still waiting to be fulfilled. Since God has always kept His promises in the past, we can have assurance that He will keep the promises that are yet to be fulfilled.
The promises about the birth, ministry, and death of the Messiah are found throughout the Old Testament. For example, Jesus was born of the seed of a woman per Genesis 3:15, and He was born in Bethlehem as Micah 5:2 prophesied. Jesus was a descendant of David (Psalm 89:3, 4; 132:11), and this is shown in the first chapter of the book of Matthew. Many of the things that are a part of Jesus’ ministry are given in the book of Isaiah, and that great prophet also wrote about the suffering Messiah who bore our sins (Isaiah 53).
The theme of promise is developed by the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3. He emphasizes the fact that the great Day of the Lord will happen. Jesus will return, just as He promised. The final words of this great apostle warn that there will be those who scoff at God’s promises, but they forget that the promises made in the past were fulfilled. Peter gives the flood in the days of Noah as one example of God’s keeping His promises.
Peter also includes a warning about being carried away with the errors of the wicked (2 Peter 3:17). Peter then concludes his epistle with two commands: The Christian is to grow in grace and to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. To grow in Christ is an imperative, and growing in knowledge involves having faith in the promises of Jesus—that He will return, just as He said.
Almighty God, Your love and forgiveness are more than I can comprehend. Help me to forgive others, just as You have forgiven me. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises.
1.Uncontrolled fear can cause us to doubt and lead us to sin (Gen. 50:15-17).
2.Wise is the person who understands that the right to vengeance belongs to the Lord (Gen. 50:18-19; cf. Romans 12:19).
3.Even the wicked choices of men can be used by God for the good of His people (Gen. 50:20).
4.One can always choose to be kind (v. 21).
5.Every believer should be pointing others to the promises of God (vs. 22-24).
6.True faith in God will equip us both for living and for dying (vs. 25,26).