Contemporary American author Marianne Williamson rightly writes, “Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” The admonition of Jesus, “Love your enemies” is more often preached than practiced. But there are also occasions when we come across with glowing instances of forgiveness. One such story is found in Genesis 45. The story of the encounter between Patriarch Joseph and his brothers is powerful enough to leave a long-lasting impression in the minds of its readers not only because of the forgiveness Joseph grants to his brothers but also because of the way he understands and interprets all the disasters that happened in his life.
Joseph who suffered a great lot for so long in Egypt as a result of the hard-hearted cruelty of his brothers could have become altogether a different man if he had harboured grudge against his brothers. Neither did he raise any complaints against God who allowed all those things happen to him. It seems that against all odds of his life, he was strongly anchored in faith and trust in God. Had he not, he would have become callous, cruel, hateful, unbelieving and uncaring. Far from becoming a ruler in Egypt he would have ended his life as a sad victim of his own negative feelings. His words to his brothers that, “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” (Genesis 45:5) indicate that Joseph was not only forgiving his brothers but was also helping them to overcome their fear, shame and guilt feeling. As he looks back to his life, Joseph can find only a mysterious and marvellous picture of God’s providence. So Joseph sends his brothers home with generous gifts to bring their father to Egypt.
Jacob could not believe the rags to riches story of Joseph narrated by his other sons. Some four decades back when Joseph’s brothers reported the death of Joseph, Jacob believed it. The multi-coloured coat torn and tainted with blood was a convincing proof for him. (Once, Jacob deceived his father Isaac, wearing the sheepskin to resemble the hairy body of Esau. Poor man Jacob was deceived by his own sons through the same tool of clothing!). But, now when they reported that Joseph was alive, Jacob could not believe. Some people are more easily swayed by fears and fake news that can discourage them than the signs that offer encouragement and hope. Weak willed people are apt to be more pessimistic than optimistic. For Jacob, the news that Joseph was alive was so unbelievable like a dead man coming back to life. It was so unexpected like the resurrection of the dead.
Joseph who was considered dead by his father, and who was written off by his brothers as gone for good, is now not only just alive but is ruling in glory. He is in a position to lavish gifts like food, clothing, money, land, cattle, servants and so forth on his family. Most of all, Joseph who “came back to life” from death offers forgiveness to his brothers who committed deadly offences against him. He tries to take away all traces of guilt from them and comforts and encourages them to start all anew. He gives direction to their lives, “Do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24). One cannot but marvel at the typological value of the story. This Joseph who is now risen to glory, leaving behind the scars of mocking, stripping, selling, desertion, slavery, false accusation, imprisonment and seeming death, is a type of his wonderful brother and saviour Jesus.
Joseph is not hostile to the Egyptians either. The one who began his life as a slave to the gentiles, is now a ruler over them. He is feeding them, caring them and securing their lives. He has also identified himself with the gentiles to a certain extend in that he received an Egyptian name – Zaphenath Paneah, married an Egyptian woman – Asenath, fathered two half- Egyptian children – Ephraim and Manasseh, lived like an Egyptian, and spoke Egyptian language. He did not pit himself against the gentiles. Instead, he served as the focal point where the Jews and the gentiles can come to meet. By serving generously a gentile nation he has become a saviour to the gentiles too.In several respects thus Joseph looks like Jesus. How about us?