Horatio Spafford knew loss and he knew adversity. Then he knew both loss and adversity at the very same time! He knew pain and suffering and heartache. But he knew something else, too. In but just a few minutes, written on a Chicago hotel stationary, at the lowest and loneliest point in his life were these words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, it is well, it is well with my soul.
At this moment of preaching Genesis 45, I am thinking about a young pastor who took his own life just a few weeks ago in a battle with depression and anxiety. I am also thinking about that old pastor preaching this morning tired, not because of age or labor, but discouragement. I am thinking about those who are feeling overwhelmed; those who are grieving and hurting; those who are in a loveless marriage; those who cannot stand the thought of facing today, let alone tomorrow. And I am thinking, how? How does a Christian overcome these all too common and real things?
It is unexpected. But the answer lies in Genesis 45. The answer lies in watching Joseph…forgive his brothers. How was he able to forgive his brothers?
Then Joseph Could Not Control Himself
Listen to verse one. “Then Joseph could not control himself.” This is a man; a man’s man. A powerful man who is about to demand that everyone leave the room except eleven shepherds from the countryside. And as soon as the massive doors of his living room are shut, he will weep aloud (v. 2). How loud? Listen to verse two. “And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” Those who have left the room will hear this cry and those in the house next door will hear this cry. But most importantly, those eleven shepherds, Joseph’s brothers, will not only hear it, but see it. Now pay close attention to verse three. “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.” Verse three is more important than we think. First, the brothers are speechless. Mark that down.
Back in Genesis 37 where this family history begins, Joseph is just seventeen years old. And out of thirteen children, Joseph is the object of their father’s affection (37:3). And to show this affection, Jacob gave Joseph the fanciest of all coats. The brothers have never received a coat like this one. In fact, Reuben the oldest, is the only brother to have ever received a new coat. The rest of the brothers only ever received hand-me-downs. But notice what happened when Joseph was given this coat. “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (37:4). The brothers were speechless. Fast forward some thirty years and again, the brothers are speechless.
And, secondly, what is foremost on Joseph’s mind? Is dad still alive? Now, he has asked this of them more than once and each time was given the same answer: yes (cf. 43:7; 43:27). It seems that Joseph is more concerned to know if dad is healthy and of a sound mind. I wonder, why? A third and quick observation to make is that the brothers are dismayed. These brothers are paralyzed by fear and are in disbelief.
And so, through his own tears – and do you know what it is like to see through tears? It is hard! Through his own tears, he calls his brothers to come near. And they came near. This drawing near is rather precious (45:4). And again, Joseph mentions that he is their brother Joseph. To help jog their memories and to prove his identity he adds, “whom you sold into Egypt.” But now witness Joseph’s quick compassion. “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here.” Notice that I read the word distressed, but most translations have the word grieved. This is just trying to capture the emotions that must be on their faces as they drew near to the second most powerful man in the world, who is most assuredly their brother! Their heart rates are zooming and they are worried. And Joseph wants to calm them and not because of how things turned out for him!
Keep looking at verse five. Why could Joseph no longer control himself? Part of the reason is what he just heard from Judah and saw in Judah and the rest of his brothers in the previous twenty verses. He saw changed men, willing to give themselves to a life of slavery in place of their little brother Benjamin. He saw changed men, unwilling to break their father’s heart yet again. He saw changed men, who loved their littlest brother simply because he was their brother. But the other part of the reason is an answer to how Joseph is able to forgive his brothers.
You Sold Me, But God Sent Me
Genesis 45:5 is the key verse and is the reason that the brothers should not be worried, should not grieve and should not be angry with themselves for selling Joseph into slavery. But keep in mind, they did an evil thing. They did sell Joseph into slavery. And here it is: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” You sold me, but God sent me. Joseph will explain this again at the end of their story in Genesis 50:20. “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.” In other words, God works out his will, his plan and his purposes even in the face of evil and man’s evil actions. When evil and loss and adversity are an obstacle, God’s will and God’s plan and God’s purpose will not be thwarted. We see this in Genesis 3. We see this in the history of Job. We see this at the cross (see Acts 2). And it is here in this history, the generations of Jacob. And this is how Joseph was able to forgive. This encouraged and enabled Joseph to forgive.
In these few verses, Genesis 45:5-13, Joseph mentions God by name, his hand and his activity through it all, five times. This is what held his view through it all. It is like Joseph is saying that when peace like a river came his way or when sorrows like sea billows rolled, whatever his lot – the pit, the prison or the palace, God taught him to know that it was well, it was well with his soul. And what makes a soul well no matter the lot? Not merely that God works out his will, his plan, his purpose even in the face of evil, but what makes a soul well is knowing who God is. This is what has been happening in Genesis. We see it in Genesis 1. He is the Creator God, the God of creation. He is the God who sees and looks after me (Genesis 16:13). He is the God who listens (Genesis 18:20). And He is merciful and gracious (Genesis 18:22-26). He is the God who is with me (Genesis 21:22). He is the God who keeps me (Genesis 28:20). And he is God Almighty who is able and who is willing to do abundantly more than I could ever ask or imagine (Genesis 43:14).
This is the God Joseph knew and how he was both encouraged and enabled to forgive his brothers and to be forgiving. And the question is, how might I know this God? And by the way, he desires to be your God (Exodus 6:7). I want us together to listen closely to four verses. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). God has taken the initiative and has made himself known. Now listen to John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The words grace and truth are the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament words steadfast love and faithfulness. The knowledge of who God is, is fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ. And now listen to Jesus’ own prayer as he faced the glory in the suffering at the cross. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And the question is, do you know Him? This is the how to our big question. And in the how, you are more than able to face tomorrow because “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”” And we can then say, “Surely he has taught us to know!”
After That His Brothers Talked With Him
And watch this! It is Genesis 45:15. “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.” The is the effect of it all! The is the effect of a person whose view is being held by who God is and how God works in the face of loss and adversity and pain and suffering and heartache. His brothers, twice speechless, now could not stop talking with him. And what did they speak of? I am going to take a wild guess and say it started something like this: How great is our God! Or maybe even, amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
But I want us to notice Genesis 45:9. Before the brothers are unable to stop talking with Joseph, Joseph has this one request. “Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.’” The first sentence that Joseph needs and wants his dad to hear from his brothers, is what God has done. God is the subject of this first sentence!
But Dad Did Not Believe
Pharaoh catches wind that these eleven men are Joseph’s brothers. Now, he does not know the whole back story, but with much joy he commands Joseph to have his brothers load their wagons and go home and bring back themselves and their dad to Egypt. And he sent loads of gifts – good gifts and donkeys and food. And when they return, Pharaoh has promised to give them the best of the land of Egypt (45:16-23). And here is something interesting. Joseph gives his brothers a change of clothes, perhaps really fancy clothes, but he gives Benjamin five times as many fancy clothes. I wonder what this is reminiscent of? And he tells his brothers to not quarrel on the way home (45:24).
And here is what I want to get to. The brothers get home with all these wagons full of stuff. The first thing out of their mouths, to dad, is that Joseph is still alive and ruler over all of Egypt. Watch verse twenty-six. Dad does not believe them. Why? Is it because he knows his sons’ true character? No; it is because he had not yet heard the words of Joseph. What are those words? It is Genesis 45:9. And it is not merely that Joseph is alive, but it is what God has done. And it is who God is. And it pricks Jacob’s knowledge of who God is. And he realizes in this moment that God has been faithful to his word, his promises, those two dreams! And watch what happens. “But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (45:27). The word of the Lord revives the soul! Or, God too has taught Jacob to know!
And we must end with Jacob’s response. “It is enough!” This word enough, could also be translated as abundance. It is like Jacob is saying, “God has done abundantly!”
And so the Christian presses on. The darkness may last longer than hoped. Things may grow even more overwhelming. But we take heart. God is God and he will abundantly do his will, his plan and his purpose.