No Condemnation Now I Dread
It was time for unveiling- the moment of truth for Joseph’s brothers to finally know who was the 2nd most powerful man in the Kingdom of Egypt. It was a truth which would be at least disconcerting and at most breath taking. They eventually had to face this truth which would leave them with more questions than comfort. They couldn’t figure, why was the second most powerful man of Egypt weeping like a baby? What just happened to this person, who until a few moments ago was behaving like a tyrant- threatening to take away the life of Benjamin and perhaps incarcerate rest of the brethren for life?
But suddenly Joseph couldn’t hold himself together and drove out all his servants. He wept so loud that even his neighbours- the house of Pharaoh heard him. Ultimately he declares, “I am Joseph! ”. Imagine how the brethren would have taken it in. Imagine the confusion, the trepidation, the perplexity, the bewilderment, the ‘I-don’t-know-what-in-the-world-is-happening-right-now’ feeling that the brethren felt. The Scriptures add that they ‘could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.’ So Joseph had to re-ascertain and reassure them saying, “come near me…. I am Joseph your brother.”
And to further assure them, Joseph says some of the most loving and forgiving words his brothers would have never dreamt hearing.
He said, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves”.
The Difficulty to Forgive yourself
Let’s ponder on these words. Joseph is comforting his brethren and asking them to not sorrow over the evil they rendered unto him. He is literally asking his brethren to go easy on themselves, not to be hard, not to self-condemn themselves and not to be even sorry or grieve over it! He is asking them to not punish themselves nor be angry over themselves. Let’s for a moment consider the impossibility of what Joseph is suggesting. How can the brethren not be guilty of their undoing?
It all started several years earlier, when Joseph -a young boy was getting food for his brethren. His brethren seeing him, decided to slay him. Remember, it all started with a murder plot! And if it was not for the ‘kind’ suggestion of Reuben, Joseph would have long been killed. Reuben suggested to dump Joseph into a pit. And out of all the pits they could get, they dumped him into a pit with no water, after having stripped him of his clothes. They clearly endangered their little brother’s life, for which they were guilty of an outright attempt to murder. They were further guilty of human trafficking their own brother in selling him to traders. For them, Joseph was as good as dead. They despised him and spared no thought for his life. Abduction, attempt to murder, endangering life, trafficking among others were the charges that could be leveled against them and they could easily be found guilty on all counts.
But fast forward several years, and we see a dramatic change in their attitudes. The same brethren who in a heartbeat would have killed Joseph are now rallying around Benjamin to do all what they can to spare his life. Simeon already spent months in the Egyptian prison for Benjamin sake. Judah pledged Benjamin’s safety on his own life. When the brethren learned that Benjamin’s life was in danger, they spontaneously tore their clothes and were completely distraught. Ultimately when Joseph threatened to make Benjamin his slave, Judah couldn’t take it anymore. He vouched his whole life in servitude instead of Benjamin’s. He gave an impassioned speech which reduced Joseph to tears.
The Brothers had definitely changed for good. They had come back to their senses. They were self consciously guilty of what they had done. They were more than convinced that God was recompensing them according to the evil they rendered to Joseph. This state of mind makes it all the more difficult to not be guilty. It makes Joseph’s suggestion of ‘be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves’ all the more unrealistic, all the more indigestible.
How is it even possible? No self-respecting person after having come back to his senses, will not feel guilty of his sins in the past. It is human to self condemn, to wallow in self pity and be guilty of our misdeeds. It is but rational to be angry over our foolery and immaturities. Yet Joseph wants them to move on, to not go hard on themselves, to forgive themselves and never hold themselves guilty. But unfortunately despite Joseph’s best wishes, the brethren had very little reasons to be not sorry for their sins. Knowing Joseph had become the 2nd most powerful man in Egypt was not a matter of pride but it certainly frightened them to death.
Joseph, didn’t give up. He wanted his brethren to forgive themselves and to the extent that he pulls out a concept which would hold no good even in a court of law. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life”. He pulls up the concept of ‘greater good’, the concept of ‘Sovereignty of God’. No doubt God wanted Joseph to be in Egypt to preserve their lives. But for God, there are a million ways He could have accomplished it. There was no need for Joseph to go through a pit, then through Potiphar’s house, then through prison to finally become Pharaohs right hand. God’s Sovereignty can completely exclude man. With or without the brothers’ nefarious plan of killing Joseph, God would still preserve them through famine. So no crime or sin can be swept under the Sovereignty of God. The brethren would still be guilty and have no reasons but to condemn themselves.
Hence despite Joseph completely forgiving them and asking them to not condemn themselves, the brethren could not easily let go of their past sins. Even after their father Jacob’s death (17 years later), they stilled feared Joseph to hold a vendetta against them and would any time be retributive towards them. They had little reasons to believe they were forgiven, leave alone forgive themselves. They could not but grieve over their crimes. It would be natural for them to be angry over themselves and feel sorry for what they had done.
You are not condemned !
This ‘self-condemnation syndrome’ which the brothers felt can unfortunately plague even the saints of New testament. We can so easily be wallowed in our past estate. We feel horrified when we consider our sins. Sometimes like Paul we cry out, “Oh what a wretched man I am”. It is but natural to feel sorry about our old life when we consider Lord Jesus went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We tend to hold ourselves responsible and guilty for the death of Christ (which is technically true). But alas! we completely forget that Jesus in fact died to take away the very guilt. That if Jesus was to say the same words verbatim what Joseph said, ‘be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves’, we would leap for joy !
Brethren, Lord Jesus through the Scriptures has said more. He said assertively to the adulteress women, “Neither do I condemn you”. This is exactly what He said to Nicodemus, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world”. When He was battered, scourged, marred beyond recognition and shamefully crucified on a Roman cross, He most lovingly said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Finally Paul gloriously declared, “Who is he that condemns us?” “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”and he further said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. God most expressly says, “their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more”. Therefore we can like the Psalmist acclaim, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us”
Today, we are beyond condemnation, beyond reproach! Unlike Joseph’s brethren, we have more credible reasons to not condemn ourselves. For when Christ himself chooses not to condemn us, how can we condemn ourselves? Why should we find it difficult to let go of guilt? Why should Satan or anybody be allowed to lay charge against God’s elect?
His blood has paid the ransom. The price is paid in full. So no amount of our penitential tears, our self pity, our wallowing in guilt can make us feel any more comfortable. We are beyond condemnation. We should not allow the remembrance of our past life to overwhelm us or to disqualify us.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
– C. L. Bancroft