Joseph was a good young man. He was seventeen when his own jealous brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders. He was taken to Egypt —away from his family and his home. This was a traumatic experience. But Joseph did not use what happened to him as an excuse. He did not become bitter. He did not become a rebel or a lawbreaker. He no doubt felt hurt and rejected. A lot of people in his shoes would have let their anger bum until they were filled with hate. But Joseph never let the past get the best of him. He went forward, like we all must if we are to be faithful. Pain can lead to anger, anger can lead to resentment, and resentment can lead to hate. But Joseph would not let his feelings destroy him. He got on with his life.
Joseph let go of what his brothers did to him. In fact, he got over what they did to him better than they did. They had a harder time living with their conscience than Joseph had living with his memory. When they first stood before Joseph, “They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen. 42:21). Over twenty years after they had sold their own brother, they could still hear his cry for mercy ringing in their memory. But Joseph harbored no hatred toward them. He was touched by their admission of guilt and had to turn aside and weep (Gen. 42:24).
When his brothers came to him again, Joseph told them who he was. He then said these amazing words: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). Joseph forgave them, but they had a hard time forgiving themselves. They had a harder time getting over doing wrong than Joseph had getting over being wronged. They had a harder time forgiving themselves than Joseph had forgiving them. They had a hard time believing that Joseph forgave them. After Jacob died, they said, “Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him” (Gen. 50:15). They sent a messenger to Joseph to plead for mercy: “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” (Gen. 50:17).
Why didn’t they believe Joseph the first time when he told them the past was over with him? They may have thought Joseph was like other men or even like themselves—untrustworthy and vindictive. Simeon and Levi had shown a vindictive side in Genesis 34 when they slew the house of Hamor. Jacob said they were “instruments of cruelty” (Gen. 49:5). But Joseph was different. He was a good man in spite of what they had done to him, and even though he had the power to take their lives, he spared them.
Learn to get over the past. This is not easy, but it must be done if we are to have the right attitude. “Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27).
West End church of Christ