Joseph’s brothers had about 30 years to think about their horrific sin in selling him into slavery and lying to their father about his disappearance. Thirty years to be sorrowful. Thirty years to repent. They clearly realized they had done wrong:
Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Gen 42:21).
However, realizing they had sinned and repenting of that sin are two entirely different things. If they were repentant, they would have told the truth to their father. Even after their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers continue to sin against Joseph and against God. They lie to Joseph (a new sin) in an effort to cover their backs for their previous sins:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:15-17).
The brothers use their dead father as a ploy to manipulate Joseph into forgiving them. This is not repentance either. Telling someone to forgive you is not repentance. They are simply piling sin atop sin. So often, one sin leads to another. One lie has to be covered by another…and then another…and yet another.
Joseph provides an interesting and educational response:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21).
First, he recognizes evil for what it is. Sin is sin. Second, Joseph leaves the judgment of that sin to God. He does not seek revenge. Third, Joseph recognizes that God had a purpose in allowing that evil. God did not approve of it, but he allowed it to fulfill his greater purpose. Finally, Joseph was merciful. Joseph’s nieces and nephews were not responsible for the wickedness of their fathers.
So, there are lessons to be learned from both sides of this story. Hopefully we are more like Joseph than his brothers.