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Joseph and the Grace of Forgiveness

April 18, 2024

Glynn Young

I was reading the Book of Genesis, and I was overwhelmed by grace. 

My read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan this year started with the book of Genesis, the gospel of Mark, and the book of Psalms. It’s a five-day reading plan,1 allowing the weekends, or whatever your two off-days are, to catch up if you get behind.

Genesis, Mark, and Psalms are familiar territory. Genesis offers few surprises; it’s a story of man’s fall, God’s provision, the incredible dysfunction of people and families, and what God accomplishes in spite of our very best efforts. You consider the failings in your own life, and you realize you can’t fault Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Laban, Jacob and his wives and sons, and the Egyptian officials surrounding Pharaoh. You share their failings.

These stories are familiar; I’ve heard them and studied them since I was in Sunday school as a toddler. In my reading plan, it was becoming almost too familiar, and I found myself hurrying through the text.

Until chapter 37, where the story of Joseph begins.

I don’t know why, but I began to read slowly and carefully, even rereading some passages and stories. It wasn’t that I was finding things I’d never noticed before or was seeing something in a verse here or a verse there that I had previously missed.

This was more like a pressing need to slow down and read slowly.

Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph ends up owned by Potiphar, captain of Pharoah’s guard. He does his work well—so well that Potiphar puts him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him to shift blame for her intended adultery, and Joseph is sent to prison. Even there, his leadership abilities are recognized, and he’s put in charge of all the prisoners. Eventually, he comes to interpret Pharoah’s two dreams, and Pharoah sees what Potiphar and the prison commander had already seen—Joseph’s leadership abilities. He’s put in charge of running almost everything in Egypt, and his actions, which sound almost ruthless, will save the country and even the surrounding region.

When his brothers arrive to buy grain, he knows who they are, even if they don’t recognize him. He “speaks roughly to them,” treating them like strangers. He accuses them of being spies, and he won’t release them until their younger brother is brought to Egypt. He hears them talk among themselves: they don’t realize he understands every word. Joseph hears Reuben’s remorse over what they did to their brother, “then he turned away from them and wept.” 

I understood what was happening. Joseph was so overcome by seeing and hearing his brothers, so overcome by the expression of remorse and regret at what they did to him, that he was brought to tears. 

I’d heard and read that before. Many times. This time, it hit home. Hard. I don’t know why; nothing was happening in my own life right at the moment that would lead me to connect with the verse, and this part of the story, like I was. 

Forgetting my plan schedule, I read on. When his younger brother Benjamin is brought to Egypt, Joseph sees him and has to physically remove himself from the room to find a private place to weep. Reuben’s remorse—the long-delayed day of reckoning for what they did to Joseph—is at hand. But the reckoning is for all of them—the brothers, Benjamin, and Joseph himself.

At some point, Joseph realizes what the whole point of what happened to him really is about. God took the evil of his brothers to sell him into slavery and turned it into the salvation of the Hebrews. A small evil act in the life of a family became a monumental event in the life of a nation. For that is what will happen; the Hebrews will be saved from the famine, and it all started with Joseph’s brothers being jealous of their father’s favored son. 

And right there is the arc of the entire story of Genesis. All of the ugliness of the stories of immorality, incest, rape, jealousy, murder, trickery, and fraud will be turned to good. Instead of destruction, there will be the grace of forgiveness and salvation. I’d often thought of Genesis as a rather shocking way to introduce the Word of God, but reading the story of Joseph, I realized it was absolutely perfect. Mankind’s sinfulness, and God’s grace of forgiveness and salvation, have been the story from the very beginning. 

I was overwhelmed. I did something that I’d never done before while reading Genesis. Like Joseph, I was so moved that I turned aside and wept.

1 Mark Roberts, The Five Day Bible Reading Program, (Bedford, TX: Lower Light Publications, 2024)

The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Sandi says:

    “God took the evil of his brothers to sell him into slavery and turned it into the salvation of the Hebrews.”

    This hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes. Yes, of course. That is the whole story, every bit of it.

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