Joseph: Lessons on Forgiveness and Family Trust

By Lisa Meister

Joseph is a legend no matter how you look at his life. Be you a young admirer of his coat of many colors or a pastor gleaning out sermon after sermon, there is never a loss of admiration for what he endured and overcame. He is one of my favorite people to look at for lessons to be learned on forgiveness.

The abuse in Joseph’s life mirror SRA in many ways to me. He lived a life other than the one he was destined for due to the sins of the people in his life who were supposed to protect him. No matter how hard he tried to do right, he was thrown back down and had to start his life all over again. God was there for every part of his life, but I  am sure Joseph had a difficult time figuring out where God was or why God had not intervened.

We will skip through Joseph’s trials to one of the most difficult ones: Joseph’s brothers showing up to ask him for food. This trial begins in Genesis  42. It is interesting to note that at this time, Joseph had been second in command in Egypt for well over seven years, and had been in Egypt as a slave for many years before that. He had no idea if his father was alive or not, and did not know anything about any family members.

Joseph had the resources to send someone to enquire after his family, yet he chose not to do so.

He did not check because he came from a family that had abused him. His family wasn’t safe. He was no longer in danger. He had all of the Egyptian army protecting him at this point in his life.

He wasn’t emotionally safe with his family, and that an army cannot protect.

When Joseph’s brothers showed up for an audience to request food, Joseph was not prepared. He went off and cried. He would not have cried if he had healed from what his brothers had done to him. Then he devised a test to see if his brothers had learned anything. Apparently  they hadn’t, because when Joseph kept one brother, the others willingly left him to whatever fate Egypt had for him and went home.

Test two came with the brothers brought Benjamin back with them. Again, Joseph took himself off to cry. Think of all the years Joseph had lost with Benjamin! What a loss. Joseph was still paying the price for what his brothers had done to him.

Finally Joseph revealed himself to his brothers after they proved themselves for being willing to fight for Benjamin.

Again, Joseph, a mighty man of God, wept! 

This part of the story is very interesting because there is no record of Joseph’s brothers asking forgiveness but of Joseph assuring his brothers that God used the situation.

Joseph sent for the rest of the family and brought them all to Egypt so that they could be taken care of. He met his father and once again, wept. It is very interesting that Joseph did not keep his family close. They were sheep herders, a no-no in Egyptian culture, so he sent them to live in Goshen, far away from Pharaoh and Joseph. He did not keep his family  close to him.

Joseph did not live the life of a close and loving family with his father Jacob or his brothers even after reconciliation.

Jacob and his family lived in Egypt for seventeen years before Jacob died. Now is where it gets really interesting. Joseph’s brothers get scared that Joseph will take revenge on them now that their father was gone. So they send servants to apologize to Joseph for what they had done.

The apology came seventeen years after the reconciliation, and even then it was because they were afraid of retribution!

Joseph didn’t minimize what they did nor did he say it was okay. He merely told his brothers that he wasn’t God and that he wouldn’t harm them. Again, this shows that there is no closeness, even after seventeen years of them all dealing with the truth of all his brothers had done!

There are huge implications and lessons to be learned from Joseph.

  1. Forgiveness looks different in different circumstances. Joseph did not trust his brothers for good reasons. When there is abuse in families, the victim may be in emotional or physical trouble to be back in their life.
  2. Trust but verify. President Reagan said it about Russia and we can use it here. SRA family systems can not be trusted. A programming can be accessed through certain innocuous words or gestures that will put a survivor in harm’s way. In almost every circumstance, an SRA family cannot be trusted, even when the truth is out and accepted.
  3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the abuse never happened. Joseph was still dealing with the fall out of the abuse after his father died. I hear over and over again that survivors should keep their abuse in the past. I argue that abuse is not a once on a time line tragedy. The fallout for the survivor happens throughout life, just like it did for Joseph.
  4. Let God be judge. Joseph knew God well enough to know that the implications and complications were too much for him to deal with on his own. He knew God well enough to trust Him with the intricacies of the matter. God would deal or not deal with Joseph’s brothers and Joseph trusted Him enough for that to be okay.
  5. Let the survivor grieve. Joseph cried many times through the years over the same set of abuses in his life. Give survivors the same courtesies. The abuse was great and the fallout continues throughout different stages of their lives. Give them the space and love the through the grief.

There are so many complexities in a family for a survivor that only God can untangle it. Forgiveness gives God total control in dealing with them. Walk with the survivor to figure out how to safely walk through these complexities with God’s guidance.

Freedom is only a forgiveness away!


Photo Credit: Thank you Pedro Simao!



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