When What Goes Around Comes Around
The brothers were scared. But what was Joseph thinking as he sensed their fear and then, as predicted in the dream he had shared with them as a youth, these frightened nomads bowed low before him (43:28)? Did he feel a moment of triumph, an “I-told-you-so?”
The clue might be found in Genesis 43:26, 27: “When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed before him to the ground.”
Now’s his chance for payback.
But the text continues with: “He asked them how they were, and then he said, ‘How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?’” Joseph saw Benjamin, his younger brother, and pronounced a blessing on him (43:29). Then he threw a huge lunch for his brothers, seating them from oldest to youngest at the table.
No gloating. No harsh words. No subtle hints about consequences arising out of their evil actions. Just kindness and civility.
Both Old and New Testaments encourage us to do the hard thing and to practice the “Golden Rule” of treating others as we would like to be treated. Proverbs 25:21, 22 is reworded by Paul in Romans 12:17-21:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil...Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Joseph was a prime example of someone who believed that God could right the wrongs done to him without his help. It’s a lesson we often struggle with learning. But the Biblical mandate is clear. In the passage from Proverbs there is an additional phrase that Paul doesn’t quote. The instruction to treat others well, even those who treat us badly, comes with a promise. Proverbs says, “...and the Lord will reward you.”
Whether or not those who treat us badly ever ask for forgiveness or learn to treat us well should not be expected. Neither of those may ever happen. But the Bible says we can count on God rewarding us for our actions in obedience to His Word. We aren’t told what that looks like, but I suspect when it happens it will be more than just mildly satisfying. It will be more than enough.