Oh Brother, who art thou? Genesis 45
Now comes the big moment, the one in the story that has been promoted for the last two commercial breaks: we see how the brothers react when they find out that the big man in Egypt is their pesky little brother, Joseph. What will they do? What will he do?
Ah! The drama…the pain…the wondering…
Put yourself in the sandals of Judah, Reuben, and the boys. For more than a decade they have pondered life without Joseph. Maybe they have expected to see him as a slave somewhere in Egypt or along the caravan routes. Maybe they've remembered his dreams of greatness and have wondered if there would be any fulfillment of those dreams. Who really knows if those were just delusions of grandeur or if they were predictive dreams?
It's a mystery what they really thought. I can imagine, though, the dread of encountering Joseph again. Maybe they've talked about trying to buy him back from slavery if they ever find him alive. Perhaps they've talked about how fast to run if they encounter him alive and not in slavery anymore. And I would be unsurprised to find the blame game ready to run: it was Judah's fault, it was Levi's fault…
Pause here and consider this: what about Joseph? How many times in his chains did he consider what his brothers had done? Did revenge enter his heart? What about justice? Would not a few years of hard labor really be justice given to his brothers? We do not know what he thought in those years.
We only see what did happen. Joseph's one concern was this: What of the rest of the family? Are they okay?
He then goes on to make provision for all of his family, using his power and influence to bring at least 70 more people (probably more, counting servants and slaves) into a land already short on food. What has occurred here?
Grace to the brothers: Joseph now sees God at work in the sins of his brothers. That does not excuse the sin. We should never take that God works through sinners sinning as an excuse to wrong another. Rather, when we are the one wronged, we look to see how God can work this together for our good.
As we see that, it becomes easier to extend grace to those who have wronged us. Especially for those 'wrongs' that, in perspective, are not life-altering. I've been around church folks for a long time, and we get wronged far too easily. That's not your pew, and no, this person didn't attend your family member's wedding, but that's not sinful. Get over yourself.
Even the real wrongs are used by God for His purposes. There are a few things that would be worse than being sold into slavery, but not many. And God used it.
So, Joseph extends grace to his brothers. Not because he overlooks their sin but because he sees God's hand on him.
Grace to the Egyptians: why would God save the Egyptian nation as a whole at this point in history? He does not act to strengthen the power and longevity of the nations in Canaan during the famine. The Phoenicians? Nope. Only the Egyptians. Sometimes, the world around us is collaterally blessed simply by God's grace as He provides for His people. That's not wrong. In fact, that explains Pharaoh's excitement at the arrival of Joseph's family.
Grace to Joseph: bitterness and revenge destroys. God has helped Joseph respond with grace so that he is able to move forward with life.
Grace to us: why? We're not starving in Canaan in the 2nd millennia BC, are we? No, but we are starving in our souls. Without knowing and seeing God at work, we are dying inside. In this story, we see something wonderful: all of the promises of God are good and no matter what comes from this sin-soaked world, be it famine or feast, God provides the answer to his promise.