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Joseph: Do Not Seek Revenge or Bear a Grudge
Life Lessons from the Old Testament Sermon Series
Genesis 50:15-21

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—July 19, 2009


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,” and in our Summer Sermon Series on Life Lessons from the Old Testament all of the examples we have looked at so far have actually been negative examples that we should learn not to follow.  Adam and Eve not being content even when God gave them paradise, but ruining it all by falling for Satan’s temptation with the forbidden fruit.  Abraham and Sarah ing the marriage relationship with adultery and polygamy.  Isaac and Rebekah showing favoritism toward their children, with disastrous results for their family.  Jacob deceptively stealing his brother Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Finally, today, we come to a positive example, an uplifting and inspiring life lesson for us to follow.  The life lesson we learn from Joseph in today’s Old Testament Reading: “Do Not Seek Revenge or Bear a Grudge.”

If anyone had reason to hold a grudge, it was Joseph.  Joseph is one of the most interesting characters of the Old Testament.  The favorite son of Jacob, his jealous brothers throw him into a deep pit, sell him into slavery, and then lie to their father that his favorite son is dead.

But then the tables turn.  Joseph has the chance to get even, to take revenge on his brothers.  The slave traders take him to Egypt, where Joseph eventually becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

“Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’  Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.  He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, ‘Make way !’ Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

When a famine strikes, Egypt is the only country with food, because the Lord revealed the famine to Joseph in advance and he wisely prepared by storing up enormous quantities of grain.  “And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”

So, the stage in this drama is set for Joseph to finally get even, to take revenge on his brothers.  Many years after they sold Joseph into slavery, the sons of Jacob go down to Egypt to buy food.  Little do they realize that their brother Joseph is no longer a slave, and he is not dead as they lied to their father.  Joseph is alive and well and ruler of all Egypt!

“What if Joseph holds a grudge?”  But, even though his brothers had grievously sinned against him, Joseph doesn’t take revenge, Joseph doesn’t mete out punishment upon his brothers, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  Instead, he forgives his brothers, he welcomes them with a flood of tears, he gives them food, he even brings them and the entire extended family to live in the land of Egypt:  “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land. . .  Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food.”

Father Jacob is overjoyed that his favorite son isn’t dead after all.  As long as the old man is alive, Joseph is good to his brothers and their families.  But then Jacob dies.  And once again the stage is set for Joseph to get even, to take revenge, to mete out punishment upon his brothers.  That brings us to our text, today’s Old Testament Reading:

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’  So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: “This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.” Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said.  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.”

“What if Joseph holds a grudge?”  But, once again, Joseph does not take revenge, Joseph does not mete out punishment upon his brothers, Joseph does not hold a grudge.  Once again, Joseph forgives his brothers and shows them undeserved love.

How many times have you been in Joseph’s situation?  Perhaps someone has truly done you wrong, has grievously sinned against you, as Joseph’s brothers did against him.  But, unlike Joseph, when you had the opportunity to get even, you took your revenge, or you are still waiting for the chance.  Are you even holding a grudge right now, as you sit here in the Lord’s house?  Do you have in your heart a secret or not-so-secret grudge?  Perhaps a long-standing grudge?  Against someone in your family, someone at work or school, even someone at church?  Are you unwilling to forgive and forget like Joseph?

We see in Joseph’s actions toward his brothers an example of the attitude you should have toward others, and a beautiful picture of God’s attitude toward you.  Just as Joseph’s brothers grievously sinned against him, you and I have all grievously sinned against the Lord and against one another.  Because of our sins, we deserve to have God’s wrath and punishment meted out upon us.  But, like Joseph, God doesn’t hold a grudge.  Like Joseph, God forgives you and shows you undeserved love.  As St. John writes, “This is how God showed his love for us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through him. . .  he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Just as Joseph “reassured [his brothers] and spoke kindly to them,” in his Word the Lord reassures you and speaks kindly to you the Gospel, the Good News, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God. . .  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Just as Joseph welcomed back his estranged brothers with a flood of tears and reunited his family, through the flood of Holy Baptism, the Lord has made you “born again” as his own child and welcomed you back into the family of God.  As St. Paul writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  St. John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Just as Joseph gave his brothers and their families food to nourish their bodies, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion the Lord gives you spiritual food to strengthen you in the true faith unto life everlasting.

Just as Joseph gave his brothers land in Egypt where they could live temporarily, the Lord bestows upon you an eternal home in heaven.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms, “Jesus promises, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

The story of Joseph’s love and forgiveness toward his brothers is a true, historical account, but it is also like a parable symbolic of God’s love and forgiveness toward you.  Just as Joseph “reassured [his brothers] and spoke kindly to them,” God reassures you and speaks kindly to you in his Word.  Just as Joseph welcomed his brothers back with a flood of tears, God welcomed you back into his family through the flood of Holy Baptism.  Just as Joseph provided his brothers with rich food, through Holy Communion God provides you the richest spiritual food to nourish your soul.  And just as Joseph gave his brothers a temporary dwelling place on earth, God promises you a permanent home in heaven.

“Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  Are you still holding that grudge?  Right now, in your heart, forgive.  Forgive because the Lord forgives you.  Forgive the same way the Lord forgives you, as Joseph did toward his brothers: completely, totally, unconditionally.

As the Lord declares in Leviticus, “’Do not hate your brother in your heart. . .  Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”  Follow the example of Joseph.  Give thanks to God for loving and forgiving you.  Show thanks to God by loving and forgiving others.


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