By Sam E. Stone
Joseph is one of the most outstanding figures in the Old Testament. His life teaches us that the actions of evil people cannot really hurt us as long as we stay true to God and do what he wants us to do. Joseph experienced at least five major temptations during his life: favoritism in the home (Genesis 37:3, 4); bitterness as a slave (39:1); immorality in secret (39:6-12); discouragement at obstacles (39:13-20); and revenge at opportunity (50:15-21). It is this final temptation that we study today.
Although he had “passed the test” earlier when he could have punished the brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph was given a final opportunity to get even when his father died. The reality that this might happen was not lost on the brothers!
Following their return to Egypt from burying Jacob, Joseph’s brothers were afraid. They said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Esau planned similar retribution when he intended to kill Jacob as soon as their father Isaac died (Genesis 27:41). The brothers sent a message to Joseph quoting instructions left by their father before he died. “This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.”
Some people believe the brothers made up this appeal as a self-serving plot to save their lives. C. F. Keil notes, however, “There is no reason whatever for regarding the appeal to their father’s wish as a mere pretense. . . . How far Joseph was from thinking of ultimate retribution and revenge, is evident from the reception which he gave to their request (50:17).” Upon receiving his brothers’ message, Joseph wept. The brothers threw themselves down before him and said, “We are your slaves.”
Joseph met this final and perhaps greatest temptation in his life by maintaining a pure purpose. Showing mercy to his brothers was in the spirit of Christ on the cross. While Jesus was dying there, he forgave those who had caused him unspeakable pain and sorrow. This is the spirit the apostle Paul commands all Christians to show (Romans 12:19-21).
Once again Joseph explained how their wrong actions had been used by God to accomplish a good purpose. “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Earlier he had told them, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (45:7). He reiterated this message to them again: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” E. F. Kevan writes, “He makes his brothers face a very ugly fact and then points out the overruling of the hand of God in the whole matter.” This passage confirms the principle found in Romans 8:28.
Joseph had two sons—Ephraim and Manasseh. In his later years, he was blessed by getting to see his great-grandchildren. He told his brothers of his impending death. At the same time he reassured them. God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Canaan had been promised 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).
He then directed his brothers to be certain that his bones were carried from Egypt when the family returned to the promised land. When he was 110 years of age, Joseph died. His body was embalmed and placed in a coffin. His remains were kept in Egypt for 360 years, when they were carried back to Canaan at the time of the Exodus. Joseph was eventually buried in Shechem, in the piece of land that had been bought by Jacob (Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32). C. C. Crawford observes, “Joseph’s faith proves that he was never a prey to the paganism of the Egyptians, but to the end of his life cherished faith in the God of his fathers.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.