Joseph, The Accountant Who Forgave a Debt
Joseph the Accountant Who Forgave a Debt- Genesis 50:15-21
“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.” (Gen. 50:19-21)
Joseph is known as a dreamer, a handsome man, the possessor of the coat of many colors. But Joseph could be known as an accountant. His name means “may he add.” He kept account of Potiphar’s house, then the royal prison. But more than that, he measured the seven lean against the seven full years. He kept track of what the Egyptians owed. He stored up grain for Pharaoh.
Accountants are not known for fudging. The best accountants have sharp pencils so that every detail is counted. But Joseph also knew a thing or two about grace. He knew it was God’s grace that led him from a place in Israel through a slave trade through a prison to the king’s court- as his treasurer. Joseph knew he could have been left in a pit to die by his brothers. He knew he could have been left as a slave. He knew he could have been left in prison. But he also knew the grace of God that remembered the humble person who trusts in God. The accountant, Joseph, chose to forgive that debt. He did it out of love for God. Joseph’s name means “May he add” but it could loosely be translated “may God bless.” God blessed Joseph. He did three things that helped him that can help us. He avoided trying to be God; he tried to look at things like God would; and he tried to love them like God loved him. Basically we need to know we are not God yet we need to try to imitate His grace and His love.
I. HE AVOIDED BEING A FAKE GOD- Am I in the place of God? (19- echo’s Jacob of 30:2)- What did he mean by this? The brothers were scared that he would exact revenge now that their father was dead. There are many instances, even today, when siblings are nice to each other as long as their parents are alive. But Joseph saw that God helped them all despite and through their sin. God had blessed them- not Joseph and Joseph was not going to take away that blessing. We should avoid it when people want to give us the credit for something God has done.
How do we do this today? There are two ways (Time Keller says). We say “I know better than the Bible or than God.” In the past people could accept the Bible, but we now we know better. It is primitive, narrow and wrong. The fallacy looks back in the word “now.” If you look back 80 years ago and read what they said, we say, “how wrong they were!” But could we not see that 80 years from now people will look at the stuff we say and they will cringe at some of it- they will be horrified by it, be embarrassed by it. Their now will make our now look stupid. How can you take our now and use it as the vantage point to decide what is right. If you absolutize our now and not listen. What you’ve actually done is you’ve taken your opinions and put them in the place of God.
The Second way we put ourselves in place of God is when you let people look to you to meet their deepest needs. Do not come to me for what only God can do. Culturally- the experts- the doctors, the professors, the ministers, the psychologists, we say, “we have the program. We can fix your problem. Everyone should be saying, “We can help you somewhat- every problem has components that we can help. Ultimately It is not psychology, or religion, or sociology, or anthropology that will solve your problem. Your deepest need is for God. I appreciate the football players who are easily elevated to God-like status in this game today. People like safety Malcolm Jenkins, quarterback Nick Foles of the Eagles who say that they have the best record because they have degraded ego and elevated brotherhood and God. The Patriots have them too- like Stephon Gilmore or Dwayne Allen their tight end who said, “None of my success would have been possible without Christ.” We do not put our work, our partner our child in the place of God. Nor should we allow others to put us in that place. It is grace that Joseph gives here when he says, “Am I in the place of God?” He knew God lifted him up from the pit- up from slavery- up from prison; He knew it was God who brought his brothers to him when he could help them in their time of famine. One of the greatest sadness of our society- is we try to quiet any talk about God. We leave God out- out of the news, out of our joy, out of our sadness.
II. HE TAKES GOD’S VIEW- Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, God intended it for good” (20). God is able to weave the bad into the good. He looks at things not in the short run but in the long run. He asks the question that we should ask- what would God think about this? Without God there are generally two views:
We are not pushed down by a pessimism or buoyed by a naiive positive thinking attitude. Christians are not pushed around by our circumstances. Joseph and Jesus are perfect examples of trust in a God that they trusted would help them through.
One university minister preached on this at a university right before exams. Some of you will fail. Your aspirations and your parents aspirations will be crushed. While the rest of your friends will try to compensate by drinking, or getting mad at the professor’s questions, you can take a different road. God closed a door to open a window.
Joseph was not saying that his brother’s selling him into slavery was wonderful. He was not saying that Potiphar’s wife’s lying about him was such a really good thing. He was not saying the famine that was going on was nothing but good news. But he was also not saying that plan B is not as good as plan A. Our plans change. But we cannot out-plan, out-maneuver, out power God. God looks at our lives from a higher, broader perspective. We should trust it.
The other night Biography had the story of Antoinette Huff, bookkeeper of Ronald McNair Elementary of Dekalb County Georgia in 2013. Antoinette had a hard life. Her father left her, her husband left her, her son was in a wheelchair. The bank called her that day saying they needed $14k in 7 days. Then a gunman comes in and says that she and everyone in the school is going to die. Five times she could have left the room, and that would assure her safety but also the death of the gunman. She said that God had put her there with a purpose to talk him down. She did and amazingly no one got hurt or killed. She said after it was over all she could say was “Ooh Jesus!” because she knew he had used her. Joseph- said :”this is all God. “
III. HE REFLECTS GOD’S LOVE- Instead of getting revenge, he turns the other cheek- more than that he gives them love. He is loving his enemies. He is loving the ones who threw him into a pit. He has the humility to love them- but has the confidence that God will help him and protect him. He knew God had taken care of him though he didn’t deserve it. This is the Gospel according to Joseph. This is grace in the Old Testament. He not only didn’t hurt them, he actually provided for them and cared for their children and grandchildren.
Jesus was also betrayed. Jesus also suffered unjustly. Jesus is the ultimate example of good being brought out of evil. I was in the place of God- but I humbled myself for you- died on the cross for you. Communion is a reminder of this. He came to stop our enmity with God, each other, and ourselves.
If we could take the attitude of Jesus or of Joseph- this world would change- and change for the better.
I am going to Kenya in a few weeks to do mission for our presbytery in a refugee camp where the South Sudanese have gone to escape the fighting. The Dinkas and the Nuers and Murles are fighting each other. But if they learn forgiveness- things can stop. I received this letter from a South Sudanese- Julius Agani Warson who began the courageous words saying, “This year as from January 2018 I chose to be the first to forgive you for anything that happened between me and you. Also I ask you to forgive me in your heart for any wrong I have done to you. This is how we can be reconciled.
This is it. Do not hold onto grudges. You have been hurt. You have been disappointed. Your expectations have changed. You maybe have been consumed with fear that God may take away what you have put in his place. Maybe your pride has been pulling you in the wrong direction. Instead go the extra mile of love. Come to the table- come with the people who have irritated you, said the wrong thing to you, and those who love you, helped and encouraged you. The amazing thing is this is not just a wooden table- it is not an imperfect human table- it is God’s table- a sign of peace.