A Portrait of Forgiveness [Genesis 45:1–8 Study]

There are several well-known Bible stories on forgiveness, but few are as renown as the story of Joseph, a model example of forgiveness.

A Portrait of Forgiveness [Genesis 45:1–8 Study]
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  • There are several well-known Bible stories on forgiveness.
  • Parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Stephen's martyrdom in Acts 7.
  • But few are as renown as the story of Joseph here in the book of Genesis.
  • So today, we want to examine Joseph's example of forgiveness.

1. Forgiveness Is Painful (v.1-2)

  • "Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him." (v.1a)
    • VERB: "control himself" [1][אָפַק] restrain oneself from tears or anger (DCH)
      • to pluck up courage (HALOT), to hold back
      • 7x in OT, 2x in Genesis
    • In Genesis 43, when Joseph first saw his brother Benjamin after 22 years of separation, overwhelmed with emotion, "Joseph hurried out, and he sought a place to weep."
      • "Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, "Serve the food." (Genesis 43:31)
    • Joseph was able to hold back and restrain himself in Genesis 43.
    • But when Joseph hears Judah offering himself as surety, Joseph could not.
    • "He wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it" (v.2)
      • CLAUSE: literally "He gave his voice in weeping."
      • Hebrew verb translated "cried" in v.1 used 731x in OT
        • The word means "to call out."
      • But here in v2, TWO WORDS: "gave / his voice" is used 24x in OT
        • When the Israelites grumbled after hearing a bad report from their 10 spies, "all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night." (Numbers 14:1)
        • God is described as "giving his voice" 11x in the OT.
        • "The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; [God] utters his voice, the earth melts." (Psalm 46:6)
      • Only once in OT we see the "give his voice" with "in weeping".
  • Joseph's wailing was so piercing that even the Egyptians and Pharoah's household could hear.
  • Why was Joseph's emotions so intense?
  • Unable to contain the painful emotions he had bottled up these 22 years, Joseph erupted with this deafening cry.
    • Joseph had been oppressed in captivity as a slave.
    • He was falsely accused and incarcerated in prison.
    • He was isolated from his household and family.
    • He was separated from his only brother and one father.
  • All this affliction because of his brothers' treachery.
  • Forgiveness is hard because it is costly.
  • Forgiveness absorbs the hurt, pain, and loss inflicted by another person.
  • Forgiveness relinquishes the right to just compensation.
  • Forgiveness is painful.

2. Forgiveness Is Personal (v.1b)

  • "Make everyone go out from me." (v.1b)
    • If Joseph was ashamed to show his strong emotions in public, he would have excused himself like he did in Genesis 43.
    • Instead, Joseph commanded the Egyptians to leave his presence so that he and his brothers can have a private exchange.
  • Consequently, "No one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers." (v.1c)
  • The utterance of genuine forgiveness must be direct but private.
  • Forgiveness seeks to protect the reputation of the other person.
  • To accomplish this, the offer of forgiveness is concealed; it is intimate.
  • Forgiveness is personal.

3. Forgiveness Is Selfless (v.3-4a)

  • "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" (v.3a)
    • Instead of fixating on himself or broadcasting the injustice that he had suffered, Joseph expressed concern for his father.
    • At this point, the hearts of Joseph and Judah (44:33) have become one toward their father and family.[2]
    • Learning from Judah how his father Jacob agonized to sent Benjamin to Egypt, Joseph ardently inquires if his father is still alive.
  • Joseph's "brothers could not answer, for they were dismayed at his presence." (v.3b)
    • Joseph's brothers were shocked; ambushed; traumatized; frozen.
      • They could not speak.
      • It was like they had seen a ghost.
      • Joseph is alive in Egypt with absolute power.
    • VERB: "were dismayed" [בהל] - to be horrified, to be out of one's senses (HALOT); to be dismayed, feel panic (DCH)
    • Speaking about God, Job said, "Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him." (Job 23:15)
  • "Come near to me, please." (v.4a)
    • VERB: "Come near" [נגשׁ] is in the imperative with the particle na [נָא]
    • PARTICLE: na [נָא] - please, usually attached to imperatives for politeness' sake; frequently used by inferior persons in address to superior persons. (DCH)
      • Particle of entreaty (TWOT) - "Come near to me, I pray you."
    • Notice Joseph's selflessness.
      • Joseph was absorbed with the welfare of his father and brothers.
      • Instead of brandishing his position of power, he esteemed his brothers with kindness and humility.
      • Joseph said, "Don't be dismayed. Come near to me, I beg you. And they came near."
    • Forgiveness is selfless.

4. Forgiveness Acknowledges Sin (v.4b-5)

  • "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt." (v.4b)
    • For the first time, Joseph speaks to his brothers with his own voice.
      • Beforehand, Joseph had spoken through an interpreter to conceal his true identity.
    • Joseph discloses information that only Joseph would have known.
      • He reveals the truth that he was sold to Egypt by his brothers.
      • Only Joseph could have known. Joseph leave his brother no doubt.
      • Despite his change in physical appearance, this is Joseph's voice.
      • Only Joseph knew his brothers' sin. This is Joseph.
    • Notice that the brothers did not confess their sin.
      • Rather, Joseph introduces and identifies their sin.
      • Forgiveness does not require a confession by the perpetrator.
      • But forgiveness necessitates the identification of the sin.
        • Example: The Bible gives no record of Peter confessing his sin for three times denying Jesus.
        • John 21:15-19 - Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" three time. He gave Peter a second chance to privately respond.
    • "Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here." (v.5a)
      • VERB: "be distressed" [עצב] - to be grieved (DCH)
        • As a verb, ʿṣb [עצב] indicates a state of mental or emotional distress. This word denotes, "a serious inward agitation." (TWOT)
        • "The LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." (Genesis 6:6)
      • VERB: "be angry" [חרה] - to become hot, wrath is kindled (HALOT)
        • "As soon as [Potiphar] heard the words that his wife spoke to him, 'This is the way your servant treated me,' his anger was kindled. (Genesis 39:19)
        • Judah said to Joseph, "let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself." (Genesis 44:18)
    • The only other time these two verbs are used together is in Genesis 34:7.
      • "The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant [distressed] and very angry, because [Shechem] had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done." (Genesis 34:7)
    • The human response to the revelation of heinous sin is distress and anger.
      • Distress because of the heavy weight of guilt incurred by sin.
      • Anger because of the gross injustice manufactured by sin.
    • Joseph says to his brother: Don't be grieved; don't get angry.
      • I required from you nothing.
      • Your sin I have pardoned.
      • You are forgiven.

5. Forgiveness Acknowledges God (v.5b-8)

  • Joseph's mind was saturated with thoughts of God.
    • Speaking to Potipher's wife, Joseph said "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9)
    • To the chief baker and cupbearer, Joseph asked, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Genesis 40:8)
    • "Joseph answered Pharoah, 'It is not in me; God will give Pharoah a favorable answer.'" (Genesis 41:16)
    • Joseph declared to his brothers, "So it was not you who sent me here, but God." (Genesis 45:8a)
  • Despite his brothers' malicious intentions, Joseph acknowledged that all was orchestrated by the hand of God.
  • God is sovereign, and He works all things with divine purpose.
  • Joseph recognized two purposes for God sending Joseph to Egypt.
  1. First, God sent Joseph to preserve life. (v.5b)
    • The famine has been in the land for two years. (v.6)
    • Yet five more years of famine with no food will remain.
    • Joseph was appointed by God to preserve the lives of the Egyptian people.
  2. Second, God sent Joseph to preserve his family a remnant. (v.7a)
    • Not only was Joseph appointed to save the Egyptians.
    • He was appointed to deliver his familiy from impeding death and destruction.
  • So although evil made Joseph a slave in Egypt, God raised Joseph as ruler of Egypt for the purpose of salvation.
    • God will save the Egyptians through Joseph, and God will also rescue Jacob's family as a remnant.
  • Because Joseph was fixated on God, he was ready to forgive.
  • "Forgiveness is the most godlike act a person can do. You are never more like God than when you forgive."[3]
  • What was Jesus' response as he was being crucified on the cross?

"And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:33-34a)

  • Turn with me to Luke 7:36-47, the Parable of the Two Debtors.
    • Read Luke 7:36-47
    • When you grasp the depths of God's forgiveness, you will love God.
    • You will also forgive others.


  • I leave you with two questions:
  • First, have you experienced God's forgiveness?
    • To receive God's forgiveness, you must repent and believe in Jesus.
    • "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
  • Second, who do you still need to forgive?
    • Jesus said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)
    • Like Joseph, Like Jesus, you must forgive.
  • Forgiveness is hard. It is costly. But Jesus paid the price.
    • "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

  1. WO Syntax 36.2.3 - verbal complement completing preceding verb. ↩︎

  2. K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 812. ↩︎

  3. John MacArthur's sermon Reasons to Forgive, Part 2 (90-394) ↩︎

Bible Studies on the Story of Joseph

  1. Introduction to the Joseph Narrative in Genesis
  2. Joseph the Dreamer (Genesis 37:2–11)
  3. Joseph Sold to Slavery (Genesis 37:12–36)
  4. Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
  5. Joseph Tempted by Potiphar's Wife (Genesis 39)
  6. God Remembers Joseph in Prison (Genesis 40)
  7. Pharoah's Dreams Interpreted (Genesis 41:1–36)
  8. Joseph Made Prime Minister (Genesis 41:37–57)
  9. Jacob's Sons' First Trip to Egypt (Genesis 42)
  10. Jacob Accepts Judah's Guarantee (Genesis 43:1–14)
  11. Joseph Reunites with Benjamin (Genesis 43:15–34)
  12. Joseph Plants His Silver Cup (Genesis 44:1–17)
  13. Judah's Plea for Benjamin (Genesis 44:18–34)
  14. Judah Becomes Surety for Benjamin (Genesis 44)
  15. A Portrait of Forgiveness (Genesis 45:1–8)
  16. It Is Enough (Genesis 45:9–28)
  17. Prepared to Die (Genesis 46)
  18. God Rescues Egypt (Genesis 47:1–26)
  19. "God Will Be With You" (Genesis 47:27–48:22)
  20. Lion of Judah: When All Is Said and Done (Genesis 49)
  21. God Meant It For Good (Genesis 50)