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Battling Bitterness

Scripture: Genesis 45:3-11

Let’s admit it: forgiving another person can be hard. Really, really hard. Sometimes it can seem downright impossible.

In 2001, Renee Napier received the phone all that all parents pray never comes. She was told that her 20 year old daughter, Megan, had been killed in an accident by a drunk driver. Renee grieved as any parent would do. She was bitter & hated the 24 year old, Eric Smallridge, who had been a great young man, but made a tragic mistake in judgment. Renee began making appearances discussing the tragedy of drunk driving. Then God put it on her heart to forgive Eric.

God showed Renee that until she forgave the young man, she would be a prisoner to anger & bitterness. She did the hardest thing she could do: she forgave Eric. As a result, Eric came to faith in Jesus Christ. Not only that, Renee even argued that his prison sentence be reduced. Eric & Renee now give presentations together, telling the horrors of drunk driving from both sides. Renee now considers Eric her adopted son. They have both found freedom in God’s redeeming love.

In our study of Joseph’s life, we have seen a man who had every reason to feel hurt, angry, & bitter. But he chose forgiveness, instead.

When we last left Joseph, he was in prison having been falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape. After a couple of years in prison, during which time Joseph rose to help administer the jail, Pharaoh had 2 troubling dreams. One involved 7 healthy cows being eaten by 7 sickly cows. The other had a healthy corn stalk with 7 good ears being consumed by 7 scrawny, withered ears. Because of an episode in which Joseph was able to interpret another dream, he was called to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. However, Joseph made it very clear that he did not interpret the dreams, God did.

The dreams meant that Egypt would undergo 7 years of abundant harvests, then 7 years of famine. Joseph was put in charge of implementing his plan to set aside 20% of the good year’s grain for the years of famine. He was made prime minister of Egypt.

Well, the dreams came to pass. After 7 abundant years, a famine struck Egypt & all of the surrounding countries, including Canaan, where Jacob & his family lived. When their food ran out, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain so the family would survive. Joseph tested his brothers to see if they had changed any for the better. And now his family was back again seeking more help.

< Genesis 45:3-4 >

While God’s warning & Joseph’s plan helped Egypt survive the famine, others did not fare so well. Jacob & his family were among those who suffered, which meant they were forced to join the many nations coming to Egypt for grain. Genesis 42-44 tells about a series of tests Joseph put his brothers through when they arrived in Egypt – tests to determine if there had been any changes in their character. It was only after Judah offered his own life in place of Benjamin’s that Joseph revealed who he was, welcoming his brothers back into his world.

Declaring I’m Joseph must have been a powerful moment for Joseph, but what happened afterward certainly could have gone differently. Joseph could have followed his introduction by asking, “How do you like my coat now? Ever been in a pit? Let me introduce you to one.” Such statements would have been justified based on the way his brothers treated him many years earlier. However, after revealing his identity, Joseph showed his true feelings & longing by asking: Is my father still alive?

What a moment for Joseph’s brothers! In an instant, the weight of their guilt & lies was exchanged for a heart-stopping realization that the next few moments might be their last. Joseph could have ended their lives simply by waving his hand. Instead, Joseph invited them to come closer.

The brothers received an invitation to be restored in their relationship. The dreamer they had once despised so severely & had removed from their presence offered them a chance to come close again. They were given a second chance: the burden of their lies removed, the relationship repaired, & forgiveness extended. Only Joseph had the power to make this happen.

< Genesis 45:5-8 >

Joseph added another amazing statement: it was all God’s plan! Not only did Joseph’s words imply forgiveness, they also allowed his brothers to see that they had all been instruments in God’s plan.

The brothers had paid a high price all their lives for the awful thing they had done to Joseph. His caring words to them were: Don’t be upset & don’t be angry with yourselves, which can also be translated, “Don’t grieve.”

Grief is such a powerful emotion. Its effects can include nausea, insomnia, & depression – all of which can last for years. The longer the grieving process, the greater its impact on the individual. Have you ever noticed someone’s demeanor & immediately knew he or she must be carrying a heavy burden? Joseph saw that in his brothers & said: Don’t be upset & don’t be angry with yourselves.

Joseph gave his brothers permission to stand tall. He said it was God & not his brothers who had sent him there to Egypt.

  • Gen. 37:25 = God brought a caravan at just the right time.

  • Gen. 40:2-4 = God put Joseph in the presence of the baker & the cupbearer.

  • Gen. 41:25-36 = God sent the dreams to Pharaoh & gave Joseph the ability & the opportunity to interpret those dreams & offer a plan of action.

God is at work in your life also, even in difficult & trying circumstances. Remember that God may be using difficult situations (& difficult people) to bring you to a better place & a closer walk with Him. Don’t hold those circumstances against the other people involved. Allow God to work through your heartfelt, honest words – words that could speak freedom & forgiveness.

< Genesis 45:9-11 >

Restoration is an amazing thing. While Sheryl & I were serving in Catawba County, a family in Lincolnton was selected for a home makeover on the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Ty Pennington & the entire crew took over the entire street for a week as the house was gutted & “made over.” The husband later told the local paper about moving back into their renovated home. He & his wife walked through the new front door onto the new ceramic tile that had replaced the old, dark brown flooring. There were new cabinets & plumbing, new lights, new closets, & a new fireplace with a beautiful new mantel. He said he could hardly remember what the house looked like before the renovation. The house, by the way, was never aired; the series was cancelled before the episode was shown!

A restored home is nice, but a restored relationship is truly amazing.

When Joseph covered his relationship with his brothers in forgiveness, all of their lives gained a new color & a new texture. The doorway of resentment & hurt was pulled down & replaced with an entrance of mutual love & concern. They started walking on a new foundation in their relationship that was no longer cracked, broken, or worn out from betrayal & lies; they walked on hope instead. It was a brand new day!

Joseph knew one man was still filled with mourning & sorrow: his father, Jacob. Joseph directed his brothers to leave immediately & to tell their father the news. They were to tell the truth this time. Jacob’s 13 years of grief finally would turn to joy; he surely would remember the dreams Joseph had spoken of as a teenager, & realize they had come to pass.

The separation between Joseph & his family involved much more than just the desert sand & rugged mountains between them. Their relationships had been broken. But Joseph wished for intimacy again. And just like in verse 4 when he asked his brothers to come closer, in verse 10 he emphasized his desire for family closeness again. Live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me.

The space between them was removed by forgiveness.

Corrie Ten Boom, the WW II concentration camp survivor, wrote, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, & the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

How can you & I incorporate forgiveness into our everyday lives? Try the following steps:

Connect with family. Take time this week to intentionally connect with a family member. Investing in your relationships is a preventative measure against bitterness & strife.

Identify your hurts. Think about the major hurts that cause you to harbor bitterness against others. Ask God to help you understand those hurts, but also to help you to forgive even as Christ has forgiven you.

Apologize when necessary. If you have wronged someone, acknowledge it. Be bold in asking for forgiveness.

It is hard to let go of the hurt that others have caused us. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible. But it is worth the effort. Why? Because the taste of forgiveness is far sweeter than the taste of bitterness. It’s a taste that Renee Napier & Eric Smallridge know well.

Let us pray.

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