Things Left Undone
Genesis 39:19-20; 45:15-16
Throughout history, when a new king or queen comes to power, one of the first things they do is take retribution against those who have wronged them. They no longer have to be diplomatic and often swiftly and brutally destroy their old enemies. Even King David told Solomon to take out his old enemies once he was gone. There are numerous stories of British and European royals wiping out people and entire families they hated when they came to power.
Now consider the story of Joseph. When his brothers came and, not knowing who he was, asked him for help, he had mercy on them. He did test them to see if they had truly repented, and his testing revealed how much they regretted what they had done. Joseph was very wise in what he did, but he was also very wise in what he did not do. And the things he did not do were crucial in showing the Egyptian people and the world he would impact the true heart of the man Pharaoh had named as ruler of all Egypt.
Based on the narrative in Genesis, it seems likely, although it can’t be stated conclusively, that Pharaoh and his court were not necessarily familiar with the full story of Joseph’s tragic family circumstance. I venture to say this because Pharaoh was pleased when it was told to him that Joseph’s brothers had come. Pharaoh showed great courtesy to them and told Joseph to bring the entire clan to Egypt. If Joseph had made an issue about the mistreatment he had received from his brothers it seems likely that Pharaoh would have been suspicious and guarded about welcoming such a group into his kingdom. Therefore, it does seem reasonable to think that Joseph was discreet about his past and what his brothers had done to him and did not take opportunity to air his grievances even after he became ruler of Egypt. But for self-exoneration, it would have served no purpose and likely could have complicated the situation with his brothers when they did show up. And there is another significant thing that Joseph did not do when he became ruler.
Earlier in the narrative Joseph had become a trusted slave in Potiphar’s house. His master’s wife was attracted to him, so she made a pass, but he said no and ran from her. She was so insulted that she accused him of trying to force himself on her. The master was enraged at Joseph because of his wife’s accusation, and Joseph ended up in prison. God then used that situation to bring Joseph into Pharaoh’s presence.
After becoming the de facto ruler of all Egypt, Joseph married the daughter of a high-level priest and had a family, and the story progresses to his saving not only Israel, but the world around Egypt as well (Gen. 41:57). But the thing missing in this story is Joseph taking revenge on Potiphar and his wife after he became ruler of Egypt. It is conspicuous by its absence. Not taking revenge would have been looked on with amazement by royalty. They knew why he had been imprisoned. Such benevolence would be an astounding thing by someone in the ruling class. And this truly amazing story of Joseph, the new wise and benevolent ruler, would spread across the land, and the Egyptian people would see that Joseph was a ruler like no other (Gen. 41:46).
God mightily used Joseph not only because of the wonderful things he did, but also because of the wonderful and gracious things he did not do. What a picture of Christ! Think of all the people Jesus could have taken revenge on after his resurrection, after all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matt 28:18). Instead, he shows mercy and invites his enemies to come to him and tells them he will save them from being condemned for all the things they did to him. He even tells his disciples that his message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Our Lord’s focus was redemption of sinners and glorifying God.
We should consider how we will glorify God by not doing certain things. At times, we feel we have every right to air our grievances in a public way or to complain to family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers about how unjustly we have been treated at some point. But think of Joseph: If he had complained or taken retribution for all the wrongs done against him by family and the people he worked for, how that would have so limited, and possibly even ruined, his story and his ability to foreshadow Christ and ultimately to glorify God.
Brothers and sisters, Christ has given us the spirit of forgiveness and peace. May we be careful to glorify Him in all that we do, and not do.
Prayer: Father grant me grace to see how I can glorify you in all the things I do, and how I can likewise bring glory to your name by refraining from doing things that ultimately serve only my purposes. In Jesus name, Amen.