The First Earthly Illustration of Forgiveness
There are many landmark moments in the history of our world that change the way civilization operates from that point forward. A few examples include the discovery of penicillin, X-rays; the smallpox vaccine; discovery of the genetic code, the first flight, electricity; light bulbs, and the telephone. There is another illustration along these lines but of much more import in this week’s parashah. This act of human behavior had a greater influence on the course of history than any of the aforementioned events in more than one way. The event is where Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and then, while they are speechless as they stand in total shock, Joseph tells them: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that G-d send me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But G-d sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d.” (Gen. 45:4-8).
This is the first example of human forgiveness in G-d’s Torah. But this is not the most important lesson. As Messianic Jews we have the rest of the history of the Jews and Israel through the Messiah’s unmerited kindness in providing the B’rit Chadashah. We can easily relate this event prophetically to the life of the Messiah Yahshua. He too was sold. He too was sent by YHVH in the role of Father to provide the way of salvation before His reappearance as Messiah ben David and not Messiah ben Yosef as He first appeared. There will be seven years of spiritual famine during the time of the Tribulation except for the 144,000 who are sealed to serve HaShem through the Tribulation to witness our brothers from Judah. There will only be a remnant saved when all is said and done as stated by Yahshua in Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27. What a perfect illustration for our spiritual learning!
Another important aspect of this teaching is that we must realize G-d does not forgive everyone who He already knows will turn from Him or remain rebellious. This fact is one many Christians simply will not accept. G-d did not forgive the generation of the Flood, the builders of Babel, or the sinners in Sodom. When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom, he did not even ask G-d to forgive them. He beseeches G-d to save the innocent. Furthermore, G-d did not forgive the first generation of Israelites in the desert. He forgave the sin addressed by Moshe in his prayer on behalf of the people, but G-d makes it very clear that generation would not make it to the Promised Land (Num. 14:20-24).
Joseph’s brothers understand the word “forgive” but perhaps not the concept. They probably expected revenge at a later date or a change in the relationship between them and their brother even if he did not take revenge. Joseph weeps when he hears the words of his brothers because this confirms they do not understand the complete forgiveness Joseph bestows on them (Gen. 50:16-18). As we read this passage, think of the many reinforcing statements Yahshua made to his disciples and others who repeatedly ask Him about his teachings and the concept of forgiving others.
They sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he did: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers for the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the G-d of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” It is incredible that the 144,000 from the 12 tribes who will be witnessing for the Messiah Yahshua during the Tribulation will be witnessing to none other than Judah and we find Judah approaching Joseph in the first sentence of this parashah! Recall that Judah (praise) was Leah’s son and Joseph (may he add) was Rachel’s. We can apply this event to prophecy again as we understand “Joseph” will be witnessing to Judah” as is the case in our parashah. Now, there will also be some from Judah, Benjamin, and Levi who make up the 144,000 who will be sealed. However, these will only make up 36,000 of the 144,000. Therefore, the majority of those sealed will be from the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom that will be called out and back by G-d to serve him in the role of witness to Judah.
The concept of forgiveness seems to have its origins in the Torah; no surprise. Reading an excerpt from an article by rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks we find information from a book written by David Konstan who argues that there is no indication of the concept of forgiveness in the Greek literature. Konstan also posits that the first encounter where forgiveness appears is in the Hebrew Bible, with the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. Of course as Mesianic believers, we know this was no accident. G-d always provides examples to show us how He wants us to relate to Him and to our fellow man. He showed us forgiveness from the human perspective using Joseph, with a repeat example in a different context by Yahshua himself. Now, let’s look at the three stages of this encounter that are consistent with the process of repentence and subsequent forgiveness. Remember, G-d never changes; neither does the requirements for entering His Kingdom.
First, the brothers admit they have done something wrong:
They said to one another, “Surely we deserve to be punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”… They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter (Gen. 42:21-23).
Admission of guilt is the first stage of repentence.
Next comes confession; but not only individual guilt. These brothers admit collective responsibility unlike Christians who attempt to place the blame for Yahshua’s sale and death on “the Jews.” Although Judah proposed the crime, all of the brothers except Reuben went along with it. Similarly, although Judas did the actual selling of Yahshua to the Romans, every man was responsible for His death. It was for the death indictment due to Adam’s fall that necessitated the ultimate pure sacrifice for atonement that only Yahshua could fulfill. Let’s look at the statement Judah makes:
After the second meeting, Joseph has hi special silver cup planted in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers are restrained and returned to Joseph. They are informed that Benjamin must stay as a slave. Judah replies “What can we say to my lord? What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? G-d has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves; we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.” (Gen. 44:16).
The final step is a change in behavior. Judah says “So now let me remain as your slave in place of the lad. Let the lad go back with his brothers!” (Gen. 42:33). Judah is now willing to become a slave in order that Benjamin may go free. This is what the sages including Maimonides define as complete repentence that is supported in G-d’s Torah; the Tanakh and the B’rit Chadashah. That is, when you are presented with similar circumstances in which you sinned and you respond according to G-d’s Torah, you do so because you have changed.
Forgiveness exists in an environment where repentence occurs. To repent implies free choice and the ability to change our behaviors; to overcome those aspects of our human nature that are not consistent with G-d’s Torah. It also implies responsibility for our actions that is played down in American society. The concept of personal responsibility, repentence, and forgiveness did not exist in the Greek or any other pagan culture. If you live in America as I do, all one need do is look around at the degradation of society and what is being taught (or not) in the home and in our schools and various religious institutions.
Forgiveness establishes the possibility that we need not be eternally damned for sinful acts. There is a Way to be reconciled to G-d. That way is through Yahshua HaMoshiach. Because YHVH/Yahshua is Echad (One), for those who never have the opportunity to “hear” of Yahshua may be reconciled to G-d wherever they may live and in whatever culture to which they belong. For G-d has made Himself known to all men and there is no excuse for not following that innate consciousness given to all men as part of the soul (Rom. 1:18-23). It is our responsibility to seek His face. May we do so with the zeal and perseverance of the Maccabees and others who loved G-d above all else.
- Tamah Davis