“When We Have Been Wronged” Adopt the Joseph Attitude: Vengeance belongs to God

by Steven Chan

11 May 2008

Some of you may recall that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in a foreign land (Egypt) where he suffered mixed fortunes – as a trusted steward of Potiphar (an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard – Gen 37:36) and later thrown into prison because of a false accusation by Potiphar’s wife – and subsequently rose to be the right hand man of the Pharaoh of Egypt because God was with him: “The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man;… and his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. (Gen 39:2-4).

After his father’s death, his brothers were worried about what Joseph would do to them because of the evil that they had done to him earlier in his life (Gen 50:15), when blinded by their jealousy they took him from under his father’s protection and love, and sold him into slavery.

Many relationships have been soured and remained soured due to some wrongs done by someone in the past.  It is tragic that such relationships remain cold and in the case of some married couples, they remain in a “cold war” or where “silent” treatment is the norm. Due to the terrible evil and wrong committed by his brothers against him, Joseph could have felt entitled to treat them in a cold manner. But he did not! Have you ever wondered why?

Joseph was a man of God who sought always the counsel and guidance of the Lord as to how he ought to behave. When his brethren were much disturbed by what evil Joseph may do to them, Joseph made this incredibly gracious statement to them in Gen 50:19-21:-

“Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

We note that Joseph loved the Lord and realized that vengeance belongs to the Lord – which we would do well to remember as well: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:18-21).

Some of us would be very upset with what others have done to us – so much so that we would not even speak to such a one – but notice the graciousness of Joseph who said, do not be afraid, I will provide for you and for your little ones – and he comforted them and spoke kindly to them!! He did not adopt a silent treatment towards them. Instead, he said that he will provide for them; and he even went further to “comfort them and spoke kindly to them!”

In Matt 5:44-48, Jesus said: “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Joseph lived a by a different standard of behaviour. He behaved in a way that honoured God because he acknowledged that it was not for him to take the place of God and take revenge on those who had done evil to him.

Have you wondered that when we have been ill-treated by others and we respond in a vengeful or unforgiving or retaliatory manner (either by silent treatment or by avoiding such people or by our countenance or our raised and angry voice of disgust) that we could well be usurping the place of God!!- because vengeance belongs to God? Vengeance refers to action taken in return for an injury or offence such as ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (Matt 5:38) or even an unwillingness to re-establish a healthy relationship or to be at peace with one another (by the way, ‘silent treatment’ is not the peace that the Bible requires of us in Rom 12:18 – ‘cold war’ is not the kind of relationship that should subsist among brethren). Living peaceably is feeding your enemies and doing good to them; it is like Joseph assuring them that he would provide for them – in every way possible – both financially and in all other needs – as well as going the extra mile to comfort their troubled hearts and minds, as well as speaking kindly to them! What a great and supreme example that Joseph has left for us to imitate!

Brethren, this is a very important aspect to consider because the Bible warns “every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20). In Matt 6:14-15, Jesus taught thus: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Our own relationship with God depends on whether we are prepared to forgive others who have wronged us. Our own anger and disappointment with those who have down us wrong often blind us to the right behaviour that would honour God – have you ever thought that through your bad experience you have the opportunity to honour God by how you would respond under such circumstances? Or would you rather think and dwell only of your own hurt that you have suffered? “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”(1 Peter 4:16)

Joseph could forgive his brothers because (i) he realized that vengeance belongs to God (and hence, it is not for him to act in place of God) and (ii) he appreciated that God was in control even when his brothers did evil to him. Even though the exact word of forgiveness was not used in the recorded account, it was apparent that Joseph had forgiven them as demonstrated by his words and actions: “do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones. And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

What a great example Joseph has provided for us today – in terms of the higher moral ground that we should take when others have wronged us – not merely not returning evil for evil, but doing good to those who have done evil to us! It demonstrates respect for God’s authority in matters of “righting” the wrongs done to us – God is the judge. “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9) “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11-12). “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Rom 14:12-13).

If we all adopt the attitude of Joseph when we are wronged – whether in a marriage relationship or in our relationship with our brethren, friends, neighbours and colleagues, we would have respected God’s authority in dealing with such matters and NOT usurp God’s position or role in such matters by taking matters into our own hands. “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:10). May God be glorified by how we behave in our lives (Matt 5:16).