Why Forgive?

A sermon on Genesis 45:1-15 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 11/7/04

One time Peter went up to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

Do you remember what Jesus said to him?

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

The Bible tells us again and again and again that we are to forgive those who sin against us.

Indeed, Jesus says:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

So the command is clear: Forgive!

But why should you forgive? Why does forgiveness make sense?

Matthew 6:14-15 tells us God won’t forgive us unless we forgive others. That’s a strong motivation, but it doesn’t explain why forgiveness makes sense.

Indeed, on a human level, we can think of many reasons why forgiveness doesn’t seem to make sense.

The Bible recognizes the truth in these statements. No book takes sin more seriously than the Bible. Sin is horrible. It destroys people. It destroys relationships. God hates sin.

So why doesn’t God just say to us, “That’s right, sin is horrible! So when someone truly sins against you, you be sure and get him back!”

In today’s text, we have one of the greatest examples of human forgiveness in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. They are now in his power. He could kill them all, or imprison them for life. Or if that seems too harsh, he could try to work out perfect justice:

Wouldn’t that be just? Wouldn’t that be right?

But he doesn’t do that. I want us to study this text today to find out why. And if you really understand this reason, it will completely transform your attitude towards forgiveness. So we will look at today’s text under four headings:

The Depth of the Brothers’ Sin

Consider the depth of the brothers’ sin in two ways: The nature of the sin, and the impact of the sin on them.

The Nature of the Sin

What are these brothers guilty of? They conspired to murder Joseph, didn’t they? And although they didn’t in the end carry out the murder, they certainly were angry with their brother – and this sin, says Jesus, is subject to the same punishment as murder.

Furthermore, they committed this sin against a member of their own family. Since our obligation to family members is greater than our obligation to others, a sin against a family member is more serious than the same sin against others. Consider 1 Timothy 5:8:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

In addition to the act itself, the brothers then covered up their sin for 22 years. They lied to their father, deceiving him into thinking that Joseph was dead by giving him the bloodied coat of many colors. And that was not a one-time lie. How many times during those years did they hear Jacob mourn Joseph’s death – but they said nothing?

So these brothers took part in a conspiracy to murder their own brother; they sold him into slavery; they deceived their father about the crime; and they lied to continue the cover-up for 22 years. These are horrible sins.

The Impact of Their Sin on Them

The depth of their sin is also shown by the heavy sense of guilt that we noted last week. This guilt is weighing on them so much that whenever unexpected events happen to them – whether those events are good or bad – the brothers think they are being punished.

We see this when Joseph decides to keep a brother in prison until they bring Benjamin to him, and when they find their silver in their sacks. In both cases, the brothers sense of guilt comes out, as they interpret both events as punishment – even though the return of the silver is simply a gracious act on the part of Joseph. We see this again when the brothers are invited to dine with Joseph. They fear punishment! They know their guilt, and that guilt eats away at them day after day after day.

We see that sense of guilt again in today’s text:

45:1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, "Make everyone go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

“Is my father still alive?” Why does Joseph say that? He knows his father is alive - Judah has just mentioned his father 15 times in his 17-verse speech! But Joseph is overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of seeing his father, and so is incredulous.

Also, Joseph is overjoyed at the evidence of a change of heart in Judah and his brothers. Judah is clearly repentant; he clearly loves his father; he and his brothers clearly have no desire to harm Benjamin. So Joseph weeps for joy.

But how do the brothers react to Joseph’ disclosure? They can’t say anything. They are “dismayed at his presence.” The NIV translates this verb “terrified,” and that’s an appropriate translation. They believe at long last that their sin has caught up with them. After:

now, at long last, they cower before the one they wronged. Remember, Joseph has spoken harshly to them. They are guilty. The one they wronged has the right and the power to wreak revenge. They know they deserve death. They can only acquiesce.

So they are silent. They offer no excuses. No defense. They quietly fear the judgment that they deserve.

Do you recognize your sin?

Do you acknowledge its depth?

Or do you try to belittle it, make excuses for it?

Do you come into God’s presence - yes, even to this communion table in front of me - knowing that God has a perfect right to kill you and send you to hell? Knowing that you have so violated the purpose for which you were created that Your maker can throw you out like we would throw out a cracked coffee mug?

The brothers knew their sin, and trembled at the presence of Joseph.

Do you know your sin, and tremble at the presence of God?

The Extent of Joseph’s Forgiveness

Genesis 45:4a So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near.

Oh, the call to come near! When Joseph could say instead, “Be gone from me! To the executioner!” But he says, “Come to me!”

Jesus says the same to us: “Come to me.”

And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. [That is, “You are guilty!”] 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here (Genesis 45:4b-5a, emphasis added)

Stop there. Put yourself in Joseph’ shoes:

Or let’s put it more generally: Isn’t it good for sinners to be angry at and distressed by their sin?

Yes it is. Speaking of those who recognize their sin, James writes:

Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:9

If there is no true sorrow for sin, there can be no true repentance

But do you see? The brothers already gave much evidence of such mourning. We see this most profoundly in Judah’s speech. But even back in chapter 42, we see such mourning when Joseph declares they must bring Benjamin to him, and that a brother must stay in Egypt to guarantee that that happens:

Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us." Genesis 42:21

So Joseph is not saying, “Never mourn about your sin.” He’s saying, “The time for mourning is past! The burden of guilt is lifted! I forgive you completely!”

Jesus says the same to us. God forgives the repentant sinner completely. That same passage in James that tells us to mourn for our sin continues:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10 

He will exalt you! He will lift you up from your mourning, so you need not mourn again! Or as John puts it,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

So if you have confessed your sin before God, if you acknowledge you are guilty and Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you need not continue to mourn. Rejoice! God forgives you! God cleanses you! The guilt is gone!

The Reason for Joseph’s Forgiveness

So Joseph forgives them completely – but what reason does he give for doing so?

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5 (emphasis added)

Joseph emphasizes this point by repeating it three times:

For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve FOR YOU a remnant on earth, and to keep alive FOR YOU many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. Genesis 45:6-7, emphasis added.

So why does Joseph say they should not be distressed or angry with themselves? First, he says, “God sent me here to preserve life”that is, the life of the Egyptians, the life of the citizens of the surrounding countries. But then secondly he says, “God sent me here to preserve YOUR life and the life of all the descendants of Abraham.”

So Joseph is saying, “Do not be angry with yourselves, because God is in control! God used even your sin for His glory and your good!”

Do you see? God used their very sin - the sin they hated, the sin that led to their guilt – to save not only the Egyptians, but to save them! The perpetrators of the evil deed are saved by God’s working through that very evil deed! This is grace indeed.

It’s very important for you to understand what Joseph is saying here, and how it applies to you. Joseph says, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves any longer. I forgive you. And God is sovereign. He is working out His good purposes, even through your sin.”

And the same is true for us. Our God works all things together for the good of His people. We too can have freedom from the guilt of our own sin, because we know that God is in control, and He will use even our sin for His good, sovereign purposes.

Sometimes we feel, “I blew it! My life is now a mess. I’ve disobeyed God so much that I’ll never be able to get back to where I should be.” We think we made decisions that made our life crooked, and there is no way ever to straighten it out.

Does sin have consequences? By all means. Remember, Joseph was in slavery and prison for13 years! He never got those years back.

But God uses the very consequences of our sin to make us effective for Him. In Joseph’s case that is quite clear:

If this chain of events is broken at any link, the final outcome changes. Every sin against Joseph had to happen if Joseph was to play the role God planned for him.

And the same is true for you.

You are responsible for your sin.

You must see the magnitude of your sin and repent with sorrow.

But you can then trust the all wise, all-knowing God to use that very sin to equip you for service in ways that you cannot imagine.

Why does Joseph forgive? Because God is sovereign. He controls all things.

The Consequences of the Brothers’ Sin

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.' 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 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." 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. Genesis 45: 9-15

I love that last sentence: “His brothers talked with him.” They had been afraid to speak, anticipating their punishment. Now, presented with Joseph’s forgiveness, they speak. What do you think Joseph and his brothers talked about? They had much to say, didn’t they?

And Joseph must tell them his story – the details of how their sin worked to God’s glory and their salvation: Potiphar, the false charge, the dreams in the prison, Pharaoh’s dream.

So what are the consequences of the brothers’ sin? The salvation of their family, and the healing of their family relationships!

But there are even more distant consequences. Not only is the family saved from starvation, not only are the brothers saved from jealousy and bitterness, they are also saved from the influences of the Canaanite culture that threatened to destroy them as a people. The Canaanites wanted to assimilate with Jacob’s family. In chapter 38, Judah goes furthest, leaving the family and virtually becoming a Canaanite. All of the brothers are heavily influenced by the culture around them.

But the Egyptians despise shepherds, and have no desire to intermarry with these foreigners. In Egypt, the family of Jacob becomes more than two million strong, with a distinct identity. That could never have happened in Canaan.

Furthermore, the sin of the brothers and the succeeding events are all necessary for God to glorify Himself 400 years later in the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Sinai, the conquest of the land of Canaan. All these are wonderful pictures of the work of Jesus.

And eventually Jesus himself is born of Judah’s descendants – because the brothers sinned and sold Joseph into slavery.


Sin is ugly. Sin is serious. Sin is rebellion against God

But, friends, our God is so mighty, so wise, that He uses even the evil acts of evil men to accomplish His good and perfect will.

We’ve seen how you can apply the lesson of Joseph and his brothers to help you escape the trap of guilt.

We’ve seen how you can be forgiven, how you can have all guilt removed, knowing that God is in control.

But, my friends, there is a flip side to this message: Will you forgive others?

What is the worst sin that someone has committed against you? Who committed that sin?

Have you forgiven that person?

Why should you forgive that person?

There are at least two biblical answers to that question that we haven’t touched on today:

1)      If you belong to Jesus, God has forgiven you much more. (Matthew 18:23-36)

2)      God is the one who will see that justice is done. Every sin will be paid for, either by the person who committed the sin, or by the blood of Jesus. You need not institute justice.

But Joseph doesn’t mention either of these reasons. Instead, Joseph says, “I forgive you because God is sovereign!

God will not allow any sin to happen that will thwart His good purposes. So any sin committed against you has a purpose. Your suffering is not pointless. You may eventually see the point; you may in your lifetime understand why that sin had to happen – as Joseph did. You may not. But God is in control. In the end, that evil act will not have an evil outcome.

So forgive! Why? Because you know that God is sovereign, even over evil.

Have you forgiven?

Have you been forgiven?

What Joseph did for his brothers, Jesus does for us.

Joseph said, “Come to me!” Jesus says the same to us.

So come to Him! Even now. Even to this table. Forgive. And be forgiven.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 11/7/04. Commentaries by Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan, 2001), and James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary: Volume 3, Genesis 37-50, Baker, 1985, 1998) were helpful in the preparation of this sermon.

Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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