The old hymn says it beautifully: “Grace, grace, God’s grace; grace that is greater than all my sin.”
But the grace of God is not only great enough to “pardon and cleanse within.” It is so powerful, as Joseph’s older brothers learned in Genesis 45, that it can turn the most horrible sin you have ever committed against another, or has ever been committed against you, and make it the slave of his mercy.
“What do you mean he’s alive?” Jacob had no place to put Rueben’s words.
“I know it’s unbelievable, Father,” Rueben replied. “We hardly believe it and we saw him with our own eyes. The Egyptian lord — the one who demanded that we bring Benjamin — it’s Joseph. He’s not only alive, he’s . . . ” Reuben stumbled over the strange sentence. “He’s now ruling Egypt for Pharaoh.”
Jacob squinted skeptically. A son dead for two decades is not easily resurrected. “You are cruel to tell me such a thing unless you have no doubt.”
“I have no doubt, Father. It’s going to take hours to tell you everything. But we spoke with him. We ate with him in his house.”
Simeon couldn’t resist: “He sat us around the table in the order of our births! Before any of us knew who he was! We thought he was a magician!”
“And you should have seen how much food he placed before Benjamin!” joked Zebulun, giving Benjamin’s head an affectionate push.
Reuben continued, “He told us himself, Father: ‘I am your brother, Joseph.’ We responded just like you’re doing now. I thought he was tricking us. But after talking to him for hours there’s no doubt. It’s him. And the first thing he wanted to know was, ‘Is my father still alive?’” (Genesis 45:3).
Jacob’s stony expression didn’t change, though his eyes were wet. He moved them from son to son, lingering on Benjamin. Then back to Reuben. “But you showed me his bloody robe. He was attacked by a wild animal. If he survived, why didn’t he ever come home? Why would he go to Egypt? Joseph would never have forsaken me.”
The moment had come — the one they had dreaded the whole way home. For 22 years they had kept this festering wound of wickedness concealed from their father. But now God had exposed it. Shame bent the heads of nine sons. Judah was the exception. He had asked to break this news to their father. He had led in their sin. He would lead in owning it. “Joseph didn’t forsake you, Father,” said Judah, stepping forward. “He was forsaken. No, worse, he was betrayed.”
Jacob stared at Judah. “Betrayed by whom?”
“By his own brothers. Brothers who hated him for having his father’s favor. Brothers who hated him for having God’s favor.” Judah pushed hard the heavy words. “We actually talked of killing him, but decided instead to profit from his demise. We sold him to Ishmaelite traders on their way to Egypt. To my lasting shame, Father, that was my idea — to sell my own brother as a slave. The blood on his robe was goat’s blood. We were the wild animals.”
Jacob sat down. Anger and hope churned together in his soul. The silence was long. Then Judah said, “His dream came true.” Jacob looked up again. “Joseph’s dream; it came true. All eleven of us bowed down before him in Egypt. We sold him into slavery because of this dream, never dreaming ourselves that we were helping fulfill it.”
Rueben added, “Joseph holds no bitterness, Father. You know what he told us? ‘God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God’” (Genesis 45:7-8).
“In fact,” said Judah, “he wants us all to come live near him in Egypt to escape the famine. That’s why we’ve brought all these wagons. He said, ‘You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here’” (Genesis 45:13).
Jacob sat deep in thought for a long time. Then he shook his head and said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:28).
What Joseph’s ten older brothers did to him was heinous. They made him the merchandise of international human trafficking. They subjected him to slavery and sexual abuse. With no rights or defense, he was thrown into prison to rot. These likely left Joseph with life-long scars.
But note Joseph’s words: “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8). Neither treacherous siblings nor a woman’s lust nor the shame of prison nor a cupbearer’s neglect could thwart the purpose of God (Job 42:2) in preserving God’s people (Genesis 45:7) and fulfilling a prophecy given to Abraham (Genesis 15:13). God made evil the slave of his grace.
And he’s doing the same for you. God is doing more good than you can imagine through the most painful experiences of your life.
If you’ve sinned against someone else, do everything in your power to make things right. But know this: your sin is no match for God’s grace.
And if you find yourself in a place you do not want to be as a result of someone else’s sin, take heart. God knows, and he knows what he’s doing. Stay faithful. In time he will show you that he sent you for redemptive reasons you would have never guessed.
This meditation is included in the book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.
Trusting Jesus is hard. It requires following the unseen into an unknown, and believing Jesus’s words over and against the threats we see or the fears we feel. Through the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories, Not by Sight gives us glimpses of what it means to walk by faith, counsel for how to trust God’s promises more than our perceptions, and the way to find rest in the faithfulness of God.