When Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt from burying their father in Canaan, this interaction took place:
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Emphasis Added)Genesis 50:15–21, ESV
Why did Joseph weep at this point in the story?
Joseph certainly had a lot of things to weep about in his life. Genesis records his traumatic past in great detail. He was mistreated by his brothers and sold as a slave. He was also falsely accused by his employer’s wife and put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was subjected to multiple years of harsh treatment before he came into more comfortable circumstances.
But I don’t think that these are the reasons for his weeping in this instance.
It seems to me that in this context, Joseph is weeping because his brother still don’t understand him, even after he has shown them grace and mercy since their reunification. They still think that Joseph wants revenge.
As I consider this, I am reminded of our Savior lamenting over Jerusalem as recorded in Matthew 23 and Luke 13. Jesus, like Joseph, is saddened by being misunderstood by people that should have known better. Both Jesus and Joseph wanted the best for those who misunderstood and mistreated them.
What do we do with this? How does this apply?
Who among us can say that he/she has never been misunderstood? Who among us has not had his/her motivation questioned, even when it has been for the benefit of others? This story reminds us that we are in good company and God sees, understands, and can bring comfort to us when this happens.
This story also encourages me to do the right thing even when it will be misunderstood. Again I point to the example of Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life for the benefit of others and was still criticized and condemned.
Alas, one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in life is that I cannot please everyone. Someone will always take issue with the choices I make so I need to allow God to inform and guide those choices.
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