For the week of December 18, 2010 / 11 Tevet 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 2:1-12
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (Bereshit / Genesis 50:15-17; ESV)
Just as God revealed to Joseph in dreams years before, God placed him in a position of power over his family. No one could have guessed the context in which this would occur. Second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph administered a massive food program which sustained not only Egypt during a severe famine, but also the surrounding region. Joseph's brothers had no clue that when they plotted against him they were seeking to destroy the very person God had planned to use to save them. In a way only God can do, he used Joseph's brothers' violent hatred of him as the means by which Joseph was put into a position to preserve not only their own lives, but the destiny of their whole nation.
Imagine what it must have been like for the brothers to spend the rest of their lives in Egypt under the good graces of Joseph. I am sure they were well aware of how blessed they were in a material sense, having suffered through the first years of the famine. At the same time, it must have been very difficult emotionally. We know this from our passage. They had figured that Joseph was only being kind to them for their father's sake. They thought that once Jacob had died, they would be the targets of Joseph's vengeance.
It is most likely that the message they sent to Joseph about Jacob's request regarding forgiving them was fabricated. But they were understandably scared of what Joseph might do to them. After all, they deserved retribution for their evil, and Joseph had it in his power to severely mistreat them.
But note Joseph's response to them. He wept. Joseph was heartbroken that they thought the way they did. As we saw last week, Joseph regarded God as having the upper hand in his ordeal. He knew that God was using him to preserve his family. He had no animosity towards them, his graciousness toward his brothers was firmly rooted in his trust in God.
I don't blame the brothers for not being quick to accept where Joseph was at. They certainly had not conducted their own lives this way. If the roles would have been reversed, then they may have taken advantage of their position of power and insist on retribution. They couldn't fathom that someone could forgive, accept, and love them as Joseph did.
I wonder if God weeps for us much like Joseph did for his brothers.
How often do we relate to God, not on the basis of reality, but from misinformed feelings? He has done everything necessary so that we could be in an intimate relationship with him. Through the Messiah he has demonstrated to us his forgiveness, acceptance, and love. It is understandable that those who refuse to turn to him in repentance and trust would feel alienated from him, but those who have been reconciled to him have no reason to fear his rejection.
One reason for being uncertain about how God relates to us could be due to serious unresolved issues in our lives. Having a sense of God's disapproval when we are involved in truly wrong things is appropriate. That sense of disapproval is a sign of God's work in our lives and should drive us to get right with him.
But other times we are uncertain in our relationship with God due to misinformed feelings. This comes from basing our understanding of him more on how we see ourselves and life, than on how God has revealed himself. God, like Joseph, grieves over our how we allow our feelings to misinform us. When we begin to base our understanding of God on his own revelation of himself rather than upon our misinformed feelings, we will begin to relate to him in the way he longs for us to.
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