Genesis 50:16-19 “(Joseph’s brothers) sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’”
Take a moment to think through your own relationships. Do you have any in which forgiveness is missing from the picture, either because it hasn’t been communicated clearly, or because you haven’t offered it? How does the picture look? Tense? Hurt? Suspicious? Angry? Cold? Silent? What are the prospects for reconciliation?
Maybe we feel we are justified in holding a grudge, in withholding the olive branch, because we were wounded deeply. It wasn’t just a one-time insult. It wasn’t a single confidence betrayed. It wasn’t an accidental attack on my reputation. Maybe we aren’t convinced they even want our forgiveness. They haven’t come to us to ask for it yet.
But living in unforgiveness is a miserable way to live, isn’t it? It’s like going around with an emotional open wound. The pain is always present. It always runs the risk of getting dirt in it, getting infected, and festering up into something inflamed and ugly.
We can’t force others to desire or receive our forgiveness. But God does expect us to desire to give it. It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer, “…as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our relationship with him is the other and greater relationship we need to consider when people we know need to be forgiven. Jesus once said it just this plainly: “…if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). With him, too, reconciliation requires forgiveness.
Joseph knew that his brothers needed more than his word of forgiveness. “Am I in the place of God?” He put this in the form of a question, but the answer is obvious. It was not right for Joseph to stand in judgment over these men who were sincerely sorry. God himself forgave them. Our world may make too much of the “who are you to judge others?” question. It uses it to excuse or defend things that are selfish and hurtful, as though there were no standards of right and wrong.
But there is a proper time for us to be reminded that God is the ultimate judge. When someone offers sincere regret and apology, where there is genuine repentance, it is not for us to conclude the offense was too great to be forgiven. We can’t claim moral superiority or control someone else’s fate. Like Joseph, we are not in the place of God.
Actually, the opposite is true. We are not in the place of God. But God did stand in the place of us. He stood in our place, not as judge, but as sinner. When Jesus went to the cross, God was in the place of each one of us, being judged for the sins that we have committed. The judgment on our sin has been given and the sentence served. The Lord is intent on us knowing that all has been forgiven just so that we don’t end up living under the kind of fear and insecurity toward God that Joseph’s brothers had toward him. Our Lord has purchased and given the forgiveness that not only reconciled him to us. It gives us faith in place of fear, and reconciles us to him. That’s the comfort of forgiveness given.