Earlier in Genesis 37, Joseph was thrown in a pit and later sold by his brothers into slavery. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was favoured by his father. Added to this was Joseph’s dreams which suggested that he would rule over his brothers. Fast forward a few years and Joseph is now the Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph presides over a famine and has stored up enough grain, so people from other countries came to buy supplies. Joseph’s brothers also turned up in Egypt to buy supplies for their family. Joseph recognised his brothers, but they did not know that it was Joseph.
Joseph treated them harshly, as a test of their character. He first put them in prison and ordered them to send for their younger brother. This younger brother was Joseph’s brother that his mother bore. Joseph reasoned that if his brothers hated him, then they would also hate his brother. This is because Jacob loved Joseph’s mother more than his other wives. He was likely to cherish Joseph’s brother since he has lost Joseph. “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”” (Genesis 42:21).
Joseph wept as he listened to his brothers, as their conversation signalled remourse for their wrong doing. Despite this initial acknowledgment between them, Joseph tested them again. This time he threatened the life and safety of his brother Benjamin. Joseph’s brothers showed a willingness, to sacrifice their own lives for their brother. This provided the evidence which Joseph needed to assure him that his brothers had changed. He was now confident that he could reveal himself to them, because they were no longer a threat to his life.
Joseph had forgiven his brothers long before their visit to Egypt. What Jospeh needed to establish was whether or not he could trust them. We have to forgive anyone who has hurt us. Establishing trust is another task and we cannot give away our trust. The reality is that we can never guarantee that people will not hurt us. However, when people have demonstrated the capacity to cause you harm, it is wise to establish trust. Allow people to earn your trust and demonstrate evidence that they have changed. People do grow and change, but it is unwise to assume that time alone creates change. We need to set standards and allow people to demonstrate that they are trust worthy.