But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Bereshit / Genesis 50:19-21; ESV)
The past few weeks we have been looking at a truly remarkable character, Jacob’s son Joseph. In the message, Exceptional, we looked at what made Joseph remarkable. In Are You Ready?, we saw how Joseph’s difficult circumstances prepared him to do remarkable things. Then, last week, in Joseph: The Messiah’s Mirror, we listed a number of ways in which Joseph’s life remarkably foreshadows the Messiah. But what is perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is Joseph’s lack of bitterness toward his brothers.
This must have been remarkable to his brothers too. For they had a hard time accepting that Joseph’s kindness was truly genuine. They thought he was only being nice to them on account of their father. They surmised that upon Jacob’s death, Joseph would finally get back at them for all the terrible things they had done to him. While it grieved Joseph that his brothers would think this way, their concern doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know how many people would behave as Joseph did. It’s difficult enough to get over minor offenses, let alone spending years in servitude and imprisonment due to the jealousy of one’s own family members! Yet Joseph did get over it. The injustice of the past didn’t prevent him from becoming a kind and generous leader. He exhibited no resentment toward his brothers whatsoever.
Why was Joseph like this? If this was a current news story, commentators would look for ulterior motives. Was he was being nice to them for the sake of advantageous political policy, since his being regarded as kind and generous was good for his image? Or perhaps he knew that coming down on his brothers would be more of a hassle than keeping the family peace.
But we don’t have to guess why he was the way he was. He himself tells us (and I believe him!), when he says to his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph knew his place. He knew he wasn’t God and that God has an exclusive claim on certain areas of life. He knew he had no right to encroach on God’s domain. He realized that through his difficult circumstances, even though his brothers’ motives were evil, God was at work to preserve his family. He was not going to overrule God now by bringing harm to those to whom God intended good.
Human beings possess immeasurable ability for good and evil. Created for good, we have the potential to do much harm when we forget to give God his place. This is especially true when people’s lives are at stake as Joseph’s brothers’ were. When we don’t accept our place as Joseph did, we put the most vulnerable within our society (the preborn, the infirm, the elderly, etc.) at great risk. We encroach on God’s domain when we presume that we, rather than God, have the right to determine who among us may live and who will die. The prevalence of abortion and euthanasia appear to be logical outcomes in a culture marked by selfish consumerism. Unless we accept our place, no one is safe.