Most of us have been betrayed. Perhaps we were abused as a child, abandoned by a spouse, falsely accused, denied what was promised, lured into trusting the untrustworthy, or deceived into commitment. Betrayal struck Joseph the son of Jacob more than once.
Joseph’s ten older brothers were jealous that their father favored Joseph and sold him into slavery when he was seventeen. He served his slave master Potiphar faithfully, but Potiphar jailed him after hearing a false accusation. An inmate he’d aided forgot his promise to help clear his name, leaving Joseph imprisoned until he was thirty.
Yet Joseph triumphed over these betrayals. How did he do it?
Joseph stayed faithful to God
Joseph lived and spoke in such a way that his faith in God was obvious and caused his new master, Potiphar, to believe Joseph’s successes were God-given (Genesis 39:3). Rather than seeing his hardships as justification for abandoning God, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph rebuffed her, saying, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (39:9). In prison and before Pharaoh, Joseph made his faith and trust in God known (40:8, 41:16).
Joseph served faithfully wherever he was
Instead of allowing injustices to poison his attitude, Joseph served Potiphar and the prison warden faithfully and fully. Both promoted him to their most trusted positions (39:4, 22). His faithfulness in low positions developed character as well as administrative and leadership skills he later needed as Pharaoh’s second-in-command.
Joseph embraced God’s blessings in the midst of suffering
Joseph recognized God’s presence and blessing under Potiphar and the prison warden (39:2, 21). When Pharaoh released him from prison and promoted him, he said God made him forget his troubles and his father’s household, and made him fruitful in this land of suffering (41:51-52). He didn’t whitewash his difficulties, but he embraced God’s blessings in the midst of hardships.
Joseph restored relationship with repentant betrayers
When Joseph’s older brothers came to buy grain from him during a famine more than two decades after betraying him, they didn’t recognize him. This allowed him to test whether they had changed, for forgiving doesn’t require restoring relationship with those who have intentionally wronged us and remain unrepentant.
Joseph told them to bring his younger brother, Benjamin—his father’s favorite after Joseph—upon their return. When they did, he served a meal during which he watched the brothers when he gave Benjamin five times the food he gave the rest. He then arranged matters so the older brothers would think Benjamin had stolen a silver cup and they could therefore legitimately abandon Benjamin to slavery, just as they had abandoned Joseph so many years before. Their responses showed Joseph two things:
- The brothers admitted their sin. Joseph overheard his brothers’ regrets over sinning against Joseph and their admissions that they deserved punishment (42:21-23).
- The brothers had changed. The brothers didn’t respond jealously when he showed Benjamin favor (43:34). All the brothers tore their clothes in anguish when the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s possession, rather than gloating over his fall (44:13). Judah offered to take Benjamin’s place as Joseph’s slave (44:33), proving they had no intention of abandoning the youngest.
Satisfied, Joseph revealed himself and offered not just restored relationship, but provision (45:9-11).
Joseph recognized that God used the betrayals for good
Joseph’s understanding of the good God had brought through his sufferings was so ingrained in him that immediately upon revealing himself he was able to tell his brothers not to be angry with themselves over what they had done to him, for God had used it to save lives (Genesis 45:4). It is here that his faith in God’s hand in his life is most poignantly portrayed, for he shows not a hint of bitterness. Yes, God had allowed him to suffer, but God had worked all for good.
Joseph forgave his brothers
Joseph’s faith in God’s working all the events of his life for good enabled him to fully forgive his brothers. After their father, Jacob, died the brothers feared Joseph’s wrath and offered themselves as slaves. Joseph’s speech to his brothers demonstrated five foundations for forgiveness:
- Don’t be afraid—Joseph offered mercy and assured them he would not enslave them as they deserved.
- Am I in the place of God?—Joseph refused personal vengeance, for he knew only God can avenge wrongs (Romans 12:19). Indeed, only God can justly avenge for only God sees the heart.
- You intended to harm me—Joseph forgave without minimizing or excusing. True forgiveness forgives actual wrongs without excusing them as being less serious than they are. He didn’t base his forgiveness on a false assumption of ignorance or weakness; rather, he forgave intentional sin.
- God intended it for good— Forgiveness requires faith that God can and will work all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Joseph believed God intended his sufferings for good, and he helped his brothers see that God worked their failings for good.
- I will provide for you—Joseph offered grace by extending undeserved blessings.
Triumphing over betrayal requires faith in God’s power and love: He can and will work all things for our good.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. ~Genesis 50:19-21
For more on the life of Joseph, see The Story lesson 3.