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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 50

 

 

Verses 15-17

DISCOURSE: 62

JOSEPH’S BRETHREN FULFILLING THE PROPHECY RESPECTING THEM

Genesis 50:15-17. And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph; Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

THE heart of man by nature is vindictive. It was a just observation of Saul to David, “If a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away [Note: 1 Samuel 24:19.] ?” Hence, when men have injured any person, they hate him, because they think he must of necessity have become their enemy: and, if they are within the reach of his power, they fear him, because they conclude that he will avail himself of any favourable opportunity to revenge himself upon them. It was thus with Joseph’s brethren. Their father being dead, and they being entirely at the mercy of their brother whom they had sold into Egypt, they concluded, that “he would requite them all the evil which they had formerly done unto him.” It is probable that this apprehension was strengthened by a recollection of what their father Jacob had suffered from the vindictive spirit of Esau: “The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.” Full of fear, they sent to Joseph to implore his forgiveness: which, as will be seen, they readily obtained.

The points to which we would direct your attention are,

I. The means they used to conciliate his favour—

These were certainly well adapted to the end proposed.

1. They plead the dying request of their revered father—

[What more cogent argument could be used with a pious mind than this? The dying request of a friend is sacred: and how much more of a parent, a parent of such consummate piety as Jacob! A request too so reasonable in itself, and so conducive to the welfare of his whole family! It is probable indeed that the representation which they gave of their father’s request was not altogether correct. We cannot conceive that Jacob should have entertained any suspicions about the subsequent conduct of Joseph; or that, if he had, he would have left a posthumous request to be made through his other children, when he could have urged it himself with so much more effect in his lifetime. The probability is, that he enjoined them to act in a submissive spirit towards Joseph, and not by any refractory conduct to bring upon themselves his displeasure. But, however this might be, the plea was very powerful, and could not fail of obtaining for them the favour they implored. True indeed it is, that persons of a headstrong disposition frequently forget, and that at no distant period, the dying advices of their parents — — — but it was not probable that Joseph should do so, after having so long evinced a disposition most contrary to that of which he was suspected.]

2. They unite with it their own most humble and earnest entreaties—

[However strong may be our propensity to revenge, the entreaties of a penitent offender will disarm us. It is scarcely possible for a man to revenge himself on one who lies prostrate at his feet. But there is a very peculiar delicacy in this address which they make to Joseph: in speaking to him of Jacob, they do not designate him as their father, but as his; “Thy father did command.” And when they speak to him of themselves, they do not designate themselves either as Jacob’s sons, or as Joseph’s brethren, but as “the servants of the God of thy father; “thus keeping out of view every thing which might appear presumptuous, and calling to their aid Joseph’s love to his parent, and his duty to his God. If this was the result of ingenuity, we admire it; but if of real humility, we greatly applaud it: for there is a delicacy in humility, a beautiful and lovely delicacy, which, though in words it amount to little, as indicating the spirit by which a man is actuated, is extremely valuable. The true point to be aimed at in asking forgiveness is humility: to be open and ingenuous in our confessions, to take shame to ourselves for what we have done amiss, and to make all the reparation in our power, this is the spirit we should cultivate; and it is pleasing to see these long-obdurate men brought at last to a measure of this experience.]

Reserving for a while our further observations on this part of our subject, we pass on to notice,

II. The effect produced on Joseph’s mind—

Considering how long they had forborne to humble themselves aright, he might well have upbraided them, both with their former cruelty, and their subsequent impenitence: or he might have imposed conditions upon them, as Solomon afterwards did on Shimei: or he might have pardoned them in kind and condescending terms. But the way in which he expressed his forgiveness was more eloquent and convincing than any words which human ingenuity could ever have devised: “Joseph wept when they spake unto him.”

His weeping was from mixed emotions in his mind. The human heart is susceptible of greatly diversified impressions even at the same moment. The two Marys, when they had ascertained beyond a doubt the resurrection of their Lord, “departed from the sepulchre with fear and great joy [Note: Matthew 28:8.].” Thus in the breast of Joseph, we apprehend, there was a mixture both of grief and joy:

1. Of grief—

[It must have been inexpressibly painful to him to have such suspicions entertained respecting him, especially after he had for the space of seventeen years manifested such uniform kindness towards them. A man possessed of a generous mind cannot endure that all the love he exercises should be construed as a mere hypocritical pretence, covering a rooted enmity that will break forth as soon as an opportunity shall enable him to manifest it with effect: yea, the more conscious a man feels of his own integrity, the more deeply will he feel such unfounded suspicions. If jealousy is painful to him who harbours it, it is no less painful to him who is undeservedly the object of it. This avowal therefore of their secret fears could not but inflict a deep wound on his tender spirit.

At the same time it must be distressing to Joseph to see, that, after all they had witnessed of piety in their father Jacob, and all the reason they had to believe he was possessed of the same divine principle, they should betray such ignorance of religion, as to suppose, that, where the lowest degrees of it existed, a vindictive spirit could be indulged. If indeed they thought him a determined hypocrite, they might suppose him capable of harbouring such resentment: but, if he had any hope of forgiveness from God himself, he never could suffer such feelings to rankle in his breast. Whilst therefore they doubted the influence of true religion in him, they shewed, that they were in a very great degree strangers to it themselves: and this discovery must have been painful to him, in proportion to the love he bore them, and the desire he felt for their eternal welfare. Hence that expression of his, “Am I in the place of God,” to whom exclusively “vengeance belongs,” and whose prerogative, if I avenged myself, I should usurp [Note: Romans 12:19 with Genesis 50:19.] ?]

2. Of joy—

[Whilst they thus betrayed an ignorance of genuine religion, they gave by their voluntary humiliation some reason to hope that the seeds of true piety were springing up in their souls. And this hope doubtless filled him with holy joy. Say, any of you, who have wept over an abandoned child, or the impiety of a friend or brother, what joy has not sprung up in your bosom when you have first seen the obdurate heart to relent, and the tears of penitential sorrow to flow down, so as to justify a hope that a work of grace was begun in the soul! How have you secretly lifted up your heart to God in devout aspirations, to entreat, that he would confirm the rising purpose, and perfect in their souls the work he had begun! Doubtless then, in such a pious mind as Joseph’s, the very first dawn of piety in his obdurate brethren could not but cause the tear of love and gratitude to start from his eyes.

Another thought too, that could not fail of rushing into his mind, and filling him with adoring gratitude to God, was, that in this act of humiliation his brethren had voluntarily fulfilled those dreams which they had before accomplished only from necessity and constraint. To trace the ways of Providence, and especially to see how mysteriously God has dealt with us, and made all things to work together for our good, is one of the sublimest enjoyments that we can experience on earth; and I doubt not but that it will constitute in no small degree the blessedness of heaven. Well therefore might Joseph now weep for joy, more especially as the exaltation which all his previous trials had led to, enabled him now to requite, not evil for evil, as they feared, but good for evil, and to “overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:20-21.].”]

From hence then we may learn,

1. To ask forgiveness of those whom we have injured—

[This is a hard task to an unhumbled spirit: but it is indispensably necessary: nor can any man be upright before God, who will not submit to it. To approach the table of the Lord without first endeavouring to conciliate our offended brother is directly to oppose the command of God, who says, “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way:” “Go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift [Note: Matthew 5:23-24.].” Many will be the excuses which we shall be ready to offer for our neglect of this duty; — — — but the command of God is plain and express; and a compliance with it is indispensable, to prove that our penitence is sincere: nor can we ever obtain forgiveness from God, if we are too proud to solicit forgiveness from man.]

2. To forgive those who have injured us—

[This is a far easier duty than the other; because, whilst a compliance with the other humbles us, the performance of this elevates and exalts us. Is it asked, “How often shall I forgive an offending brother? till seven times?” I answer, Yes, and “till seventy times seven [Note: Matthew 18:21-22].” Nor is our forgiveness to be merely negative, such as consists in a forbearance from retaliation: no; it must be real, cordial, permanent: for in the parable of the unforgiving servant who is represented as cast into prison till he shall have paid the uttermost farthing, we are warned, “So also shall your heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses [Note: Matthew 18:35.].” Let not any one then say, ‘I cannot forgive, or, Though I forgive, I cannot forget:’ for we must, in the mercy which we extend towards man, resemble that which we ourselves hope to receive from God; and must “forgive our brother as completely and cordially as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us [Note: Ephesians 4:32.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 50:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-50.html. 1832.

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