“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” Psalm 32:1 New American Standard
Once upon a time there were 12 brothers who had the same father, but who had different mothers. Their father had four wives; each wife bore him sons, and he also had one daughter. In a culture where male children were prized, and female children were seen as inherent to the circle of life, this was a father to be greatly admired. However, all was not as peaceful as a loving father might hope it would be with the blessings of so many sons.
There was an incredible amount of sibling rivalry, which shouldn’t come as any surprise when we consider four distinct family groups were expected to live as one big happy family. First, there were four firstborn sons, and each would be in competition for the position as Son of the Birthright. Whomever received this blessing was given the bulk of the inheritance, and the responsibility as patriarch of the family. The rest of the siblings were to be content with token legacies, accepting the leadership of the chosen one.
Ever since Adam and Eve made their disastrous decision in the Garden of Eden, every family existing on this world spinning in space has been dysfunctional. It’s a fact, a reality–not a put down, not a guilt trip, not something to be embarrassed over! There is no other kind of family existence in a planet riddled with, infected by, sin (otherwise identified by the desire to have the world revolve around me, also known as “The God Complex”). Only three people have ever lived on this planet without Sin. The first two were Adam and Eve. They were sinless until they chose to believe the lie of the enemy that they would be like God. The third was Jesus, who lived for us, died for us, and was resurrected for us. All the rest of us, from birth to death, are filled with sin! Again, this is just a fact of life here. That’s why God provided us with this other reality, God’s Grace through Jesus obliterates any vestige of Sin or sins.
As we know, 10 of the brothers decided it was time they taught one specific brother a lesson. That he was dad’s favorite, had been given a special coat, was a tattle tale, and had boasted of dreams having all of them bowing down to him had everything to do with their animosity toward this sibling. They could not have been thinking very clearly, or even thinking at all! What did they think Joseph was going to do the minute they let him out of the pit? Did they really think they could kill one of their own brothers? Maybe so, it had been done before, and not so long after sin was first introduced into God’s perfect creation. The oldest brother, Reuben, was going to pull Joseph out of the pit and send the boy home. He figured they could deal with the fallout when they returned home. Reuben wandered off for a nap, while leaving the other brothers to search through the goodies Joseph had brought from home.
We’re told the human heart is wicked above all things. However, there are many who want to believe we are naturally good, kind, merciful, and willing to choose right over wrong. What a difference life here would be if that were a fact rather than wishful thinking. Without the intervening or interference of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we would never have survived this long. Looking around at mankind, myself included, what one sees isn’t exactly an encouraging recommendation for the natural goodness of humanity. If just for a moment we allow ourselves to consider honestly our own motivations in life, if we are willing to take a momentary peek at the color of our own hearts, what will we find? I know the prevailing color of my own heart! I also know the Interior Decorator who is remodeling, and actually removing the old and replacing it with the new. This is what He is doing for everyone who will ask. He is doing it for everyone who wants something more. Especially for those who don’t know what it is they want, they just know it isn’t what they have. The thief on the cross is a great example. Now here is where the Brave comes in, will you believe what God is telling you concerning what He is offering, what He is giving, what He has already accomplished? Will you receive the Forgiveness Jesus gave you and me on the Cross?
As Reuben lay sleeping, Judah had a blisteringly, amazing idea! Why not make some money off the contemptible brat? In the distance they could see a Midianite caravan on the way to Egypt. The brothers, unknown to Reuben as he slumbered away, flagged down the caravan and pulled Joseph out of the pit. I’d bet Joseph thought it was all over, his brothers teasing him with another nasty joke, only to realize they had sold him as a slave. They received the tidy little sum of twenty pieces of silver and divested themselves of an arrogant little thorn in the backside.
As I pointed out earlier, what were they thinking? Reuben wanted to know exactly the same thing, for now they needed to invent a convincing story their father would believe, that Joseph was never coming back! The only way that could happen was if Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. So the brothers concocted their story, killed a sheep, dipped the infamous coat-of-many-colors into the sheep’s blood, and returned it to their father with a suitable story of Joseph’s death. And that should have been that, but not one of them anticipated the guilt that crushed them every moment of every day. It was a weight so dreadful they could barely function, and when they saw the pain of mourning afflicting their father, it became unbearable. So they became the walking dead, unable to move beyond the guilt and shame haunting them every day.
Twenty years later, a famine the likes of which had never been experienced hit Canaan, Egypt, and it seemed the whole world was slowly starving to death. Then word came from south of Canaan there was grain in Egypt! If you had money, you could buy what you needed. There was a new Egyptian ruler who had prepared all of Egypt before the famine struck. Word was, if you saw him, he would meet whatever needs you might have, just make sure you brought plenty of money! Jacob gathered his sons, portioned out funds, and sent them off to Egypt to purchase what they needed to save the family from starvation.
These Sons of Jacob had no idea what awaited them in Egypt. When they arrived, they sought where they were to purchase grain. They took their place in line, waiting to present their request to the person in charge of all grain sales. How Joseph maintained his composure when his brothers presented themselves is a mystery. Maybe after years in a stoic culture he had developed what might be termed Poker Face. At one point his composure deserted him, and he had to leave to bring his emotions under control. It was then he accused the brothers of being spies, seeking weak spots in Egypt’s defenses, and had them thrown in jail for three days! So much for an easy trip to the grocery store. After three days the men are released, and told they were to bring their younger brother back with them to prove their innocence. Simeon would be kept as a hostage. The pack animals were loaded, and the brothers left knowing they would never see their brother Simeon again.
There is no way their father would allow Benjamin to travel to Egypt. As if things weren’t bad enough, they found all their money placed in the sacks of grain they had just purchased! Not only are they suspected of being spies, they are thieves also! That must have been the longest trip home ever experienced by a band of brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers arrived home they had quite a story to relate to the family. It’s a story their father is none to happy to hear. Jacob inquired of his sons, “Why did you tell the Man about your younger brother?” Reuben replied, “The Man accused us as spies, we tried to convince him we were not spies, just brothers come to purchase food for our family. In telling him we mentioned all our brothers, Benjamin, and the one who is no more.”
Jacob did exactly what they knew he would do, refused to allow Benjamin to accompany them to Egypt. But they also knew the food could not last for ever. Once again they were forced to venture to Egypt, and to face the Egyptian who had made it clear what was expected if they were to buy any more food from him. The situation was dire enough Jacob relented, knowing if he didn’t send Benjamin, the entire family would die of starvation.
Jacob had his sons take some of the small portion of delicacies they still had to give as gifts to the Egyptian. Also, he sent double the money to return what was sent back from the first excursion. Then Jacob, with a heart filled with fear that this might be the last time he would see the youngest and last of his beloved Rachel’s sons, sent them on their way. All Jacob could do was wait and rest upon the promises God had given over and over to him, his father, and his grandfather, that they were to become a mighty nation!
When the entourage arrived in Egypt, they were escorted to Joseph’s home, which filled them with apprehension. What could this wily Egyptian be up to now? As they entered Joseph’s home water, soap, and towels were provided to refresh the brothers before the meal they would eat with the Egyptian. The brothers found they were seated according to their birth order at a separate table. A double portion of food was set before Benjamin, the youngest. This honor was generally given to the eldest, the firstborn son. As all this was transpiring, Joseph watched each of them very carefully, very intently. How, he wondered, would they respond to the privileges given the youngest? Had they changed? If so, had the change been for the better? Or are they worse than they were when they sold him into slavery?
The meal finished, the Steward was given instructions to return all the money, and to place a certain Silver Chalice in Benjamin’s sack of grain. Before the little caravan could reach the city gates the Steward arrived and accused the brothers of stealing the incredibly valuable Silver Chalice, a cup used by the Master for Divination. Of course the brothers protested their innocence, and as proof, stated if the article in question was found, they would all become slaves. The Steward’s only agreement was the one who had the cup must become a slave. And the cup turned out to be in Benjamin’s baggage!
Their father’s worst fear had just become reality. The brothers have no idea what to do as they accompany the Steward back to Joseph’s home.
What would I do? I don’t know! Generally, when I know I’m completely innocent of any wrong, I tend to become very militant, to fight for my rights! However, I’m a firstborn son, we tend to be more confident of being right. This doesn’t mean we are always right, we just think we are. Benjamin, as the youngest, favored son is taken care of, his needs met, probably very pampered, and he has older brothers to stand up for him! As Judah does now. Judah, the very one who sold Joseph down the river, offers to take the place of Benjamin, the innocent in place of the guilty. At this moment Joseph clears the room of everyone except his brothers.
To their complete shock and utter amazement, Joseph declares himself to his brothers! “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they did so. And he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt!’” Genesis 45:4
Where do you think those brothers wanted to be right about that time? Now here we are again at the really Brave part of receiving forgiveness in Grace. Will you believe you are or have been forgiven when that is what you have been told? Do you walk away with a clean heart and mind, or are you still dragging all the baggage of history, your history, behind you! Unfortunately, I find I’m one who turns around still dragging weight not mine to drag anymore. It’s not mine because I’v been forgiven, set free, covered by Grace!
So, why am I still trapped into believing the lies of an enemy who was defeated long ago? Personally, I think that just as the desire to be God became a part of our DNA in the rebellion in the Garden of Eden, so did an inherent belief in the lies of the enemy. That’s the reason we need new hearts and minds, the old ones are filled with the poisons the enemy has been using to destroy the human race, to destroy the Children of God. The only answer I know is asking God to place in us an affinity for Him, for His Truth, and a new heart filled with desires reflecting Him, filled with the knowledge we are in the amazing process of Grace every moment of every day. No matter what we think, or see or feel, we are there because God put us there!
How do I know receiving forgiveness is so challenging? Well, first by my own experience. Secondly, by the experience of people I love, as I watch them suffer with guilt that is not theirs. Thirdly, as God has revealed the challenge that seems to accompany forgiveness, the difficulty in taking it into our very selves.
After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers came to him, wondering if finally he would take his revenge on them. (Genesis 50:15-21) They didn’t receive the forgiveness Joseph gave. In effect, it was as if the forgiveness had never been given.
Fast forward through the millennia to Jesus as He related a parable of forgiveness not received. A massive debt is forgiven one man, a debt he would never be able to repay. As the one pardoned leaves, he encounters a man who owes him a days wage. When the man owing a days wage pleads for mercy, the so-called pardoned man has his debtor thrown in prison until the debt is paid! When the creditor of the pardoned man hears of this injustice, he voids the pardon, and has the debtor and his family thrown in prison until the debt is repaid. The one who had the massive debt forgiven did not receive the forgiveness! Judas and Peter are another example, Peter accepted forgiveness and Judas could not, so he took his own life in despair.
As important as is the giving of forgiveness, receiving forgiveness is just as important! If we can’t receive forgiveness, we will not be able to give it, that’s why it’s addressed the way it is in the Lord’s Prayer. We can’t give something we don’t have, and if we don’t receive it, we won’t be able to give it. That’s just the reality of life in a broken world, with broken people who are loved by a God who pours Grace over us continually. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
“… for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28 New American Standard
“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Acts 10:34 New American Standard