One Big Story, Only One Hero
I love the story of Joseph (the son of Jacob): a young dreamer who continues to be faithful to the Lord even when every circumstance screams, “There is no God! And if he does exist, he hates you.” I mean truly, this guy can never catch a break!
As I was reading through Genesis these past couple weeks, something new stuck out to me in the story. Often I view Joseph’s story as a stand-alone narrative and I forget that he lived a few years of life prior to his brothers tossing he and his pretty little coat into a pit.
In order to understand the connections, we need to go back a few chapters and review Joseph's father, Jacob. Here are the cliff’s notes to his story, but I would obviously encourage you to go back and read it all for yourself, because I’m a pastor.
Jacob, who was later renamed “Israel,” was the second born in the house of Isaac (Abraham’s son) and was a momma’s boy (in part due to the angelic visit Rebekah received concerning Jacob). Isaac’s first son was Esau. Esau was a big strong hunter, a hairy man, and Isaac’s favorite. The firstborn of a family in the Ancient Near East was the favored child. Esau had what is called the birthright (a double portion of the paternal inheritance), and would also receive the blessing from his Father for being the first-born. Jacob, with his mother's help, would eventually take both of these rights from his brother (Gen 25 & 27).
So Jacob takes the birthright and steals the blessing, both of which belonged to Esau, and Esau is not happy about it! Esau reveals his intentions to kill his brother Jacob as soon as they are done mourning their father's death (Gen 27:41), but Jacob flees before Esau is able to exact his revenge.
Fast forward a few years, wives, and kids later, and Jacob hears that Esau is “coming to meet him” with 400 men at his side. Jacob is gripped with fear because he knows the wrong he has done to his brother by stealing his inheritance and his blessing. Jacob tries to send a few peace offerings, but no gift is going to appease his older brother. Finally, he realizes he simply must face Esau and beg for his life. Jacob carefully divides his family into groups based on who is most important to him: maidservants first, then Leah (his least favorite wife) and her kids, and finally Rachel (his most favorite wife) and his two sons Benjamin and Joseph! Chapter 33 says he then went ahead of them and bowed down on the road before Esau.
Jacob truly believed that Esau was going to kill him, and yet verse 4 reveals Esau’s heart towards his brother, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him, he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” This kind of reunion and embrace reminded me of another Bible story: Jesus tells a beautiful story of a wayward, younger, son who steals an inheritance and then faces the reality of his wrongdoing (Luke 15:11-32). When the “prodigal” son returns to his Father’s house to offer himself as a slave, he is greeted in much the same way, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Forgiveness. And not simply the kind that says, “I forgive you but I am still so mad at you.” No, this is forgiveness with kisses. The kind of forgiveness that not only says, “I have absorbed all the wrongs you did to me, but also I have missed you dearly and I love you.” Forgiveness is a beautiful gift, a godly gift.
What stuck out to me this time, like never before, is that in Genesis 33, when Jacob is forgiven of all of his deceitfulness, there is a boy in the back of the line, watching all of this take place. Joseph, the son of this deceitful man, has the opportunity to watch his uncle show grace and mercy to his whole family. Why does this matter? Because this is just the beginning of Joseph’s story. He is about to journey through a life of incredible betrayal and “unfairness.” His own flesh and blood will turn on him and sell him into slavery. From there he will be falsely accused of attempted rape and end up in jail. At some point, you have to wonder if he believed that God too had turned his back on him. And yet we have no mention of Joseph losing faith or becoming bitter. Instead, he continues to trust the Lord.
One day Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh's dream. When asked if he can do it, he says no, but God can. And God blesses him with the interpretation, launching him into the favor of Pharaoh and Joseph, all of the sudden, is second in command of Egypt.
Fast forward once more to the years of famine. Jacob’s other sons, the ones who sold Joseph, are told to go get food from Egypt. There they are brought face to face with their brother. The last time they saw him he was in the back of a slavers cart on his way to Egypt. This time Joseph holds all the power and could do anything that he wants to his brothers and yet he chooses compassion and forgiveness. His brothers come and throw themselves before him begging to be his slaves, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-20).
Forgiveness. Not the kind that remains bitter and forgives out of duty. Rather, Joseph is kind and loving towards his brothers. He recognizes the bigger picture and how it all fits into God’s story. He is intimately aware of God working in all of the details. In this, he is an image of Jesus. He follows in the footsteps of his uncle, forgiving the sins of his family, absorbing the wrongs they committed against him, and welcoming them into a relationship once more.
But don’t forget, there is only one hero. Jesus is betrayed by his closest friends, family, and the world. Though he was without sin (had done no wrong), he faced a criminal's death, on a cross, as the ultimate act of forgiveness. He absorbed the sins of the world, bearing the punishment so that you and I would never have to. His heart was full of compassion and love. Even on the cross, he pleaded on behalf of his torturers saying, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In the midst of their brokenness, humanity put Jesus to death. But what man intended for evil, God intended for good to accomplish the saving of many lives (Gen 50). You see without this senseless killing, without the death of Jesus, you and I would face the just penalty for our sins. We would be left alone to face eternal separation from God. But by grace, through faith, in Christ we are brought into relationship with God!
Tanner Fox is the Minister for Mission at First Pres. He’s a recent grad of Reformed Theological Seminary and holds deep affection for people, movies, sports and Jesus Christ. As Minister for Mission, he leads the charge to help you love and serve the city and the world. firstname.lastname@example.org