“If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households.” Genesis 42:19
Joseph’s life was filled with injustice and pain. He was sold as a slave by his own brothers, an act that separated him from his father and everything that was familiar to him. He was sold by the traders to Potiphar in Egypt, accused wrongly later on of raping Potiphar’s wife, then sent to prison. It was the kind of life, which when viewed through human lenses, would make us think that such a man could only have a future of seclusion and perpetual doom.
Yet God was on his side. Only an act from God Himself would be able to turn this foreign slave into the second highest official in the most powerful kingdom of the ancient world!
Joseph’s fortunes turn in God’s miraculous plot twist of events, and Joseph finds himself sitting as governor of Egypt. It is at this point when ten men— the very brothers who sold him— appear before him and ask to buy food.
We see the struggle in Joseph’s heart. The appearance of his brothers opens a well of painful memories. He recognizes them immediately and answers them harshly. He accuses them of being spies, and then he tests them. He throws them into prison for three days and tells them on the third day that he would hold one of them as slave till the youngest brother appeared before him.
He was certainly testing them, yes, and it can be argued that this could have been a simple ruse in the brilliant man’s mind to get them to feel remorse, but Joseph’s actions reflect the tug-o-war in his heart, revealing to us how close he was in making history repeat itself. For Joseph was a man who knew wrongful accusation, prison life, and slave existence. In this “twist” of fate, he now had the power to repeat the wrong done to him and inflict his very wounds on his brothers. He accused them wrongly, sent them to prison, and took one of them, Simeon, as a slave. These were Joseph’s very wounds, and they were coming back to life again—in the opposite direction!
And yet we see God working in his heart. “On the third day, Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live, for I fear God…” If Joseph did not know the heart of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—if he did not fear God—imagine what would have happened to his brothers!
In the first and succeeding visit of the sons of Jacob, we find moments when Joseph would weep. It was his wound opening; his emotions reminding him of the pain and injustice and betrayal from the very people one should trust most: family. With Benjamin appearing before Joseph on the second visit, we can also imagine Joseph’s longing to embrace him and the ache he must have had in remembering the face of his dear father.
We can be sure that God wanted to heal Joseph completely. God also wanted to heal his broken family. Furthermore, God was going to give Joseph the vindication that only He could give.
When Joseph developed a ploy to keep Benjamin with him in Egypt by arranging to take the youngest brother as a “slave,” it was Judah, the very brother whose idea it was to sell Joseph as a slave years back, who comes to the defense of Benjamin. Judah begs Joseph to consider taking him instead as slave, in the place of Benjamin.
And this breaks Joseph into pieces. Joseph weeps loudly. The ocean of pain is released from his heart. It could have been his story all over again where this time—only this time— his brother Judah stands up for Benjamin, willing to take his place. Oh, what a wound is opened in Joseph’s heart and what a realization that now, the very brothers who failed him were not going to fail Benjamin.
Joseph then reveals who he is, and soon after, is reunited with his father and the whole clan of Israel. The Bible tells us that “As soon as Joseph appeared before him [Jacob], he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.” They were tears of joy and ache—an immense heartbreak being given balm as words of love and reassurance were uttered by father to son, and as the son wept vulnerably to his “Daddy.”
The story of Joseph comes with so many learning, so many angles, and the angle of forgiveness is one that should not be missed. When we don’t forgive others for the wounds they inflict on us, we have the potential to wound other people in the same way.
Despite the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s life, he matured in grace. He who could still see the hand of God moving in his life. In Genesis 45:4, he says to his brothers, “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. For two years now there has been a famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
When wrong is done unto us, we will have the choice to turn our eyes toward God and to see answers through His eyes. We have the choice to forgive those who wronged us, too. In our struggles with choosing to forgive people, let us never forget that unforgiveness brings with it the danger of repeating history—where the very wound inflicted on us becomes the scourge we can possibly inflict on others. This is why it is so important to find our healing in God. We do not want to become like the very people who wounded us in the first place.
Let’s take his moment to check our hearts for any unforgiveness, pain, resentment, and brokenness. Let’s give our hearts to the Lord and let him speak His love over any injustice done to us. It is his heart to heal us completely.
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.