Did Joseph Enjoy His Revenge?

During my study of Genesis 45:1-11, I pondered the last question asked by David McCasland. “Would I be ready for revenge. Or would I be gracious because my heart had confidence in the Lord?” Naturally, I began to pray that I would never seek revenge in any situation in which I find myself, and rightly so. My motivation comes from Romans 12:19 – “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

Joseph acknowledged that to sleep with Potiphar’s wife would be a sin against God. After his imprisonment, he credited his gift of interpretation of dreams to God (Genesis 40:8 & 41:16)   But Joseph had nothing to do with his God-given gift of interpreting dreams. In fact, it was his lack of wisdom and control of his tongue that caused him to alienate his brothers in the first place, as not only did he snitch on them (Genesis 37:2), but he also flaunted his God-given gift of prophetic dreams. There is no reference to Joseph specifically or generally petitioning or praising God as did Daniel. There’s no evidence, of his initially recognizing God’s hand in his repeated cycles of misfortunes and positive outcomes. In fact, after giving a positive interpretation of the dream of Pharaoh’s imprisoned Chief Cupbearer, Joseph understandably beseeched, and relied on him to put in a good word to Pharaoh for his release. (Genesis 40:14)

But the Cupbearer initially forgot about Joseph, and it would be God again, who demonstrated that it was His hand of favor on Joseph’s life that made all the difference. He eventually recognized and understood this, but only in retrospect. To his credit, he gave God all the credit and all the glory for the first time, when he had a full view of all the events of the past (Genesis 45:7-8).

That said, Joseph may not be the best example of someone who refused to take revenge. In fact, not only did Joseph relish his revenge on his brothers, but he knowingly came very close to causing his father’s death in the process. The story of Joseph’s revenge occupies more than 6 times more Bible “real estate” than does the story of his brother’s crime. According to my count, 0.5 chapters, 17 verses & 416 words from Genesis 37:18-34 are devoted to the brothers’ crime. But 3 chapters 100 verses and 2574 words from Genesis 42:7 – 44:34 are devoted to Joseph’s revenge.

This greatly detailed saga of revenge begins in Genesis 42:7, “As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them…” He repeatedly accused them of being spies and imprisoned them for 3 days. He bound and indefinitely detained Simeon as a prisoner for what could have been months. He sent his remaining nine brothers back home, but planted evidence on them, which he then used against them to accuse them of being dishonest. He frightened them, made them tremble, caused their hearts to sink, threatened them with slavery, and demanded the delivery of Benjamin, knowing that compliance could kill his father. Genesis 42:36-38 reveals the trauma that Joseph caused his very, very old and feeble father, Jacob.

Joseph’s example of revenge is definitely not one that we want to emulate. Fortunately, his father did not die from a trauma-induced heart attack. And yet his story ranks among the epic demonstrations of the sovereignty and providence of God in the affairs of His people with palpable relevance to the Believer today. The story of Joseph illustrates a pillar of Christian philosophy – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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