The View From 32,000 Feet
Genesis 50: 15-21
For years 10 of Jacob’s sons had lived with a terrible secret. They had sold their own brother Joseph into slavery and had let their father, Jacob, think he had been killed by wild animals. It had all seemed so appropriate at the time. The arrogant little dreamer and daddy’s favorite hadn’t been so cocky in the end. He had cried and pleaded for his life when they let him down into an old well. Most of the brothers hated Joseph so much they were ready to let him die. Only Reuben and Judah had second thoughts. Judah finally had convinced them to sell the boy into slavery for 20 pieces of silver instead of letting him die. Yes, they thought, the spoiled brat has finally gotten what he deserves.
What the brothers hadn’t counted on was the depth of sorrow Joseph’s apparent death would cause their father. It was one thing to hurt the dreamer. It was quite another thing to see their father grieving away his life. Their hearts were torn, but it was too late. No one dared breathe a word of what had really happened. Perhaps time would heal his sorrow. But, of course, time didn’t heal. The hurt remained in Jacob’s eyes, and nightmares haunted the brothers’ sleep.
As bad as the situation was, the brothers never could have imagined what would happen when they had to go down to Egypt to buy food for their starving families. Joseph wasn’t only alive, but he had the authority of Pharaoh himself. At first he hadn’t revealed himself to them. He had tested their integrity. He had jailed Simeon and forced them to bring his younger brother Benjamin to Egypt. But, when he saw Benjamin, it was too much. Joseph was so overcome with emotion that he fled the room and found a place to cry alone. Later, when he revealed himself to his brothers, he first sent the servants out of the room and then began to weep. He cried so loudly that the whole palace could hear. Through his tears he proclaimed, “I am your brother Joseph!” Stunned, “his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Gen 45:3). The years of keeping the secret and the years of deceiving their father, were all undone. Now their father would know their evil and Joseph would certainly get his revenge.
But Joseph made it clear that he didn’t want revenge. “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance,” he declared (Gen 45:7). But the brothers didn’t hear him. Their minds were swimming. Guilt and panic were overwhelming them. Joseph hugged Benjamin and kissed each of them, but they didn’t trust him. Guardedly, they began to talk with him. Joseph was so animated and seemed genuinely happy to see them. He was excited about seeing their father, Jacob. He wanted them to bring their families to Egypt, where he could provide for them. He acted as though their betrayal were really a blessing. Surely he was deceiving them! Surely he would get his revenge when the right moment came. They couldn’t trust him.
The years that followed were filled with blessings. Their father, Jacob, seemed to be reborn when he was reunited with Joseph. Pharaoh gave them land in the rich delta area of the Nile. Their families and livestock prospered. Yet the brothers couldn’t really enjoy the prosperity. They had no real peace or joy because they kept wondering when Joseph would exact his revenge. It was incomprehensible to them that their betrayal could truly be forgiven.
Over the years the brothers began to develop a theory. “Joseph is being nice to us for the sake of our father. When he is gone our lives will be in danger.” So it was that they made a plan. After Jacob died, they would tell Joseph that their father had wanted their lives to be spared.
The dreaded day finally came. In his 147th year, Jacob died. At his request, Joseph and the brothers took his body back to Canaan to be buried in the family plot. After returning to Egypt, the brothers asked for an audience with Joseph and told him, “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 sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father” (v 17). Joseph wept!
When the brothers came before Joseph, they threw themselves, down saying, “We are your slaves” (v 18b). Joseph sighed! How could he assure his brothers that they truly were forgiven? How could he help them be free of their guilt? How could he remove the foreboding cloud of fear from their lives?
He answered, “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” (vv 19–21).
Joseph invited his brothers to see the bigger picture—the view from 32,000 feet. God was at work here keeping the covenant promises he had made to Abraham and Isaac. He was building a nation. He was preparing a people for the Promised Land. He was preparing a blessing for the peoples of the world. Like his great-grandfather Abraham, Joseph believed these promises and, in faith, he was content to wait on God. Because of the joy set before him in these promises, he was willing to suffer harm from his brothers without revenge. Because of the joy set before him, he was willing to forgive and let the promises unfold.
Joseph lived his life fully, joyfully, free from the poison of revenge, trusting God’s promises. His brothers lived little lives, lives filled with jealousy, revenge, guilt, and dread. They constantly worried about how they might pry loose a little happiness for themselves. Joseph invited them to share his joy, to accept forgiveness, to lift their eyes from themselves to God.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept his promises. He remained faithful to the bigger picture. In the fullness of time, he sent his Son, born of Mary, a descendant of Abraham. Like Joseph, Jesus suffered at the hands of his own people. They sold him for 30 pieces of silver. But, unlike Joseph, his life wasn’t spared. They hung him on a cross to die. For the sake of God’s bigger picture, for the sake of a people saved for an eternal promised land, for the sake of the joy set before him, Jesus committed his life into the hands of God. Three days later God was faithful. He raised Jesus from the grave! He raised Jesus to offer forgiveness, not revenge, to those whose sins nailed him to the cross.
Jesus weeps for us, for the world, when he sees us missing the joy and beauty that surround us because we are consumed with prying a little happiness from life through deception, when he sees us living unforgiven lives. He invites us to join Joseph in seeing the picture from 32,000 feet, trusting God’s promise—the promise that there is forgiveness in the blood of Jesus. Those who believe in him are heirs of the eternal promised land. Trusting this promise there is freedom—freedom from guilt, freedom from fear, freedom to forgive, and freedom to see and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.