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Justice and Revenge

2

As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
- Genesis 42:7
 
What would you do if you had the person who had hurt you most completely in your power? That’s where Joseph found himself in today’s passage.
 
Revenge. Punishment. Justice. These men bowing before Joseph had sold him into slavery, faked his death, and now were at his mercy.
 
He could have ordered them arrested and sold into slavery. That was within his power. And that, perhaps, would have been just … but just barely. Their action toward him was cruel. Would a just reprisal echo their cruelty? Who would Joseph become if he imitated their behavior?
 
Justice doesn’t have to come at the expense of your soul.
 
Joseph could have denied their request for help. Surely, that would have been reasonable. Healthy boundaries. What would be the implications of letting them back into his life? What would be the implications of letting them return to Canaan empty-handed?
 
Joseph was in a difficult situation. His choices would shape the destiny of his family for generations. And his emotions raged throughout all of the episodes we’ll read about this week.
 
Take some time today to reflect on justice, mercy, and revenge. What is your heart’s default posture in situations where you have the option to seek vengeance? What can the Lord teach you about yourself in all of this?

2 Comments

Amen, Bob! You've got some great insight into forgiveness.

Some of us have been reliving the Vietnam experience through the Ken Burns documentary on PBS for the last week. Two weeks ago I was able to attend a presentation at Elon by Porter Halyburton, a former Vietnam POW. Long story short, he told us that as he was being released from the Hanoi Hilton after 7 plus years of captivity and brutal torture, he was walking toward the bus that would carry him to the Hanoi airport for repatriation. He said he took a moment before boarding the bus, turned and looked at the prison he had inhabited and the guards who had been so brutal, and said "I forgive you". Hearing that shook me deeply. I had cold chills running down my spine as I reflected on just how much this man had forgiven. I had friends and classmates who never came home from Vietnam. I spoke to him after the talk about the Vietnam POW network who still has reunions every other year. He said that he knows of others who still carry the need for revenge in their hearts after 45 years, and he know of the toll that has taken on their lives. He has been back to Vietnam four times since his release and has met some of his former guards. All but one would speak to him and they formed a curious bond. Forgiveness seems foreign to us at the time we are being hurt, and often can occur years later, but I was struck by his immediate need to forgive his captors. A similar story comes to mind in the book by Corrie Ten Boom who forgave her Nazi guard so many years later. If you don't forgive it eats at you, not the other one.

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