I almost don’t want to write about Joseph. He gets so much attention, and so many people have written and preached about him so much better than I ever could.
Whether he was a brat as a kid or not, he was a faithful worker. He did his best with whatever he was given without malice or manipulation. Some of my favorite sermons have been on his example of working within the situation. Of course, we don’t know his private prayers. He may have prayed as David sometimes did, calling down curses and vengeance. He may have been bitter. It is possible he didn’t give in to Potipher’s wife not out of loyalty but because he feared the consequences. None of that really matters, because of the work he did.
If he felt that way, if he dwelt in that negativity, it would have done nothing but make his own life more miserable. If he focused on the work, decided to be grateful for the opportunities he was able to win for himself, he would have found himself far more comfortable in his situation by the simple virtue of choosing to be. Either way, he got the work done, and he got it done well.
What strikes me, though, every time I read his story, every time, is when, faced with his brothers, he turns away and cries. He listens to them discussing their situation, determining that it is the punishment for their crime against him, and he weeps.
They come before him. He treats them roughly, accuses them of a crime for which he could have them executed. He demands that they bring him his brother, and he arrests them. He could have hated them. He had reason to hate them, certainly. But it had been more than twenty years at this point. I imagine what he felt was much more complicated than anger.
How…homesick must he have been? How angry, sure, but also afraid? Did they still hate him? They sold him into slavery, wanted to kill him, maybe not just because of the dreams, but the dreams didn’t help, and now the dreams have come true. They have bowed before him. How much more would they hate him now? Would he ever belong to them the way they belonged to each other? How outside he must have felt.
And then they spoke of what they had done to him. They spoke of it with regret, admitting to each other how truly evil it had been. Was this regret they carried with themselves, or was it just because they thought they were being punished for it? After twenty years, would they have made the connection if it weren’t something they carried daily? I repeat, how outside must he have felt?
Success doesn’t free us from a painful past. A comfortable life doesn’t necessarily heal the wounds we’ve been given. It might give us the space to heal, the time, the people we can confide in, who will support us, but that is still a choice. Just as doing the work and being grateful for the opportunities are choices we have to make, so are forgiveness and healing. And that’s never easy. And encountering those who played a part in the pain will always be difficult.
He did let them sit in captivity for three days, after all, stewing in their fear as he had once done. He did test to them to determine whether they were safe to confront, to inform the new boundaries he would need to establish. How honest would they be about the money? How far would they go to protect Benjamin? He’d changed quite a bit in twenty years. Had they really changed at all?
I like to think he’d already chosen forgiveness, that he was evaluating the wisdom of reconciliation. It’s also possible, though, that he was punishing them a bit, deciding not just whether to trust them but also whether to forgive them at all. Either way, in the end he chose forgiveness, he chose reconciliation. In the end, he chose healing.