When Joseph is sold into slavery, his dream of leadership seems permanently derailed. But once the brothers’ betrayal begets his destiny, the power dynamic shifts—now the perpetrators bow before their victim. With his brothers at his feet, will Joseph accuse or accept them? The answer is both, and at the end of his ruse is redemption none of them could have imagined.
To get the most out of this Bible study, read Genesis 37 and 42-45. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these chapters. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. And above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passages: Genesis 42:1-38; Genesis 45:1-28
When Joseph last saw his brothers, he was pleading for his life from the bottom of a cistern as they conspired to sell him to passing traders.
Coming face to face with his betrayers more than 20 years later, Joseph is no longer at their mercy.
Joseph immediately recognizes his brothers, but since they don’t recognize him, he assumes a harsh interrogatory tone (Gen. 42:7-8). Then in Genesis 42:9, the tension’s kicked up a notch: Joseph hurls an out-of-left-field espionage accusation against the brothers when he remembers his dreams about them. (See Gen. 37:5-9.) Why do you think the memory triggers this specific approach?
Considering how his brothers treated him as a teenager, Joseph’s actions may seem vengeful. But look at Genesis 42:4 and Genesis 42:13-20. What is he actually trying to accomplish by threatening and imprisoning his older brothers?
Note their response (Gen. 42:21). Though decades have passed, the brothers connect their current distress to their past betrayal and assess their circumstance as retribution. What does that tell you about the effects of unresolved guilt?
Continuing the Story
Leaving Simeon in Egypt as collateral, the others go home with grain and heavy hearts. The only way to retrieve their imprisoned brother and buy more grain is to bring Benjamin before a seemingly delusional and unhinged royal administrator. Jacob is adamantly opposed to putting the boy at such risk. But hunger has a way of dismantling even the strongest objections, and the dwindling food supply forces the patriarch’s hand.
Relinquishing Benjamin—who, as far as Jacob knows, is the only remaining son of his favorite wife—must be a reminder of his agony at losing Joseph. How does seeing Jacob’s reluctance through a lens of past trauma reframe what could seem like selfishness or favoritism?
With starvation on the horizon, Jacob is forced to risk the exact heartbreak he’s been avoiding since Joseph’s presumed death. Yet in doing so, he paves the way for reunion with Joseph—an outcome he surely never imagined possible. What is the connection between risk and reward? What roles do trust and desperation play? Thinking of your own life, have you ever had to face the prospect of reliving a painful moment? Did you risk trusting God for a different outcome? Why or why not? What relationship do you see between acting on faith and healing and/or redemption?
Jacob is forced to risk the exact heartbreak he’s been avoiding since Joseph’s presumed death.
Apprehensive and humbled, the brothers again travel to Egypt, this time with Benjamin in tow. Invited to Joseph’s residence for lunch, the brothers feel grateful but unnerved to see they’ve somehow been seated in correct order by age. Then, when it’s time to leave, any prior sense of relief is shattered by accusations of thievery. They are brought back into the presence of their Egyptian nemesis, who is certain to claim their lives as punishment, either in slavery or death. Or so they think.
Forgiveness reframes transgressions and trauma in light of God’s merciful sovereignty, opening the door for redemption and healing.
Reread Genesis 44:14-17. How is this scene similar to what took place years earlier in Genesis 37:23-28? Consider that the present situation has been covertly orchestrated by Joseph. Why do you think he positioned his brothers in almost the same scenario, where they could yet again benefit by abandoning their father’s favored son into slavery?
Note Judah’s transformation (Gen. 37:26-27; Gen. 44:33) and the subsequent emotional self-disclosure by Joseph (Gen. 45:1-2). How is the moment redemptive for both victim and perpetrator?
Reread Genesis 45:4-8, paying particular attention to verse 5. How does Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers beget a generous attitude toward them? Instead of focusing on their betrayal, Joseph redefines the story as God’s plan. How does recasting it this way relate to his generosity and forgiveness?
To forgive does more than absolve sin. It reframes transgressions and trauma in light of God’s merciful sovereignty, opening the door for redemption and healing.
REMEMBER Forgiveness reframes.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
Forgiveness is a function of trust. Holding grudges and keeping score reveals that we may not fully believe God is on our side, working in His perfect timing to fulfill every promise.
Is there anyone in your life you’re struggling to forgive? If so, are there certain fears associated with the thought of letting go—such as, What if they hurt me again? What if they never change? Is it possible I’ll never recover what I lost? Write down your anxieties and pray through each one with the Holy Spirit. What would trusting God with your worries look like? Is it possible that at some foundational level, you feel responsible to take care of yourself? What if you purposefully entrusted your needs to God?
In Matthew 6:12, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” What impact does it have when you approach forgiving others with the mindset that you also are a sinner in need of forgiveness?
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus warns, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” To some, these words might seem like a divine threat. Jesus, however, was revealing that God does not view forgiveness as an independent transaction. Rather, He sees it as a communal experience meant to simultaneously revive our relationship with Him and with others. How does viewing forgiveness as an exercise in interconnectedness change your perspective on individual grudges?
To forgive is to trust, and to trust is to be vulnerable. What makes this hard in your situation? It may be frightening to let go, but with release comes freedom—and that’s always God’s goal for our lives.
Illustration by Adam Cruft