Forgive Past Offenses

By Kevin Freeman
Read Genesis 50:15-21

Courage in the Life of Joseph

Do animals hold grudges? Some researchers think so, and more than a few stories of human-animal encounters seem to back up the claim.

As a man was returning home in Chongqing, China, he discovered a stray dog lying in his parking space. After kicking the dog away, the man parked his car and went inside. The next morning he was shocked to find mangled windshield wipers and small dents covering the car. A neighbor informed the man that a pack of dogs had done the damage. It appeared that the offended dog found some furry friends to seek revenge.

Truman, an octopus in Boston’s New England Aquarium, disliked a female volunteer and sprayed a stream of water at her whenever he got the chance. This volunteer left for college and the spraying stopped. When she returned from college months later, Truman promptly soaked her once again.

In 2016, a few days after a poacher in India shot a tigress and her cub in the woods, the poacher returned and discovered the tigress’s mate was waiting for him, seeking revenge. The tiger attacked the poacher, who succumbed to his injuries, and continued attacking other people in the area for another two months.1

Revenge among animals may be somewhat novel, but revenge among people is all too common. Joseph’s brothers were sure they would be on the receiving end of Joseph’s vengeance following the death of their father. As second in command over Egypt, Joseph had the power to punish. He also had a justifiable grievance. His brothers had robbed him of twenty years with family – twenty years of young adulthood and of seeing Benjamin grow up – years that were instead spent in servitude and prison. Surely, they thought, he had simply waited until their father’s passing to seek his revenge, which is why they attempted to preempt it with a likely fabricated message from Jacob, pleading forgiveness for their wrongdoing.

But revenge was the last thing on Joseph’s mind, and the message drove Joseph to tears. His response reveals two keys to handling injustice. First, Joseph emphasized that vengeance belongs in God’s hands alone. “Am I in the place of God?” he asked his brothers. In his prominent position, Joseph understood that he was not simply under Pharaoh; he was under God. If he had taken matters into his own hands, it would have amounted to insurrection against the Creator.

Second, Joseph acknowledged God’s sovereign hand at work through the most painful events of his life. He declared, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” When we can view unjust actions through the lens God’s sovereignty, the desire for vengeance lessens or even disappears altogether. That desire often magnifies, however, when there is no understanding that God is in control. In a perceived dog-eat-dog world in which justice must be meted out by the aggrieved, injured parties hold grudges tightly. Joseph rejected such an outlook, which allowed him to release not only his brothers’ fate but also his own into God’s hands.

If Joseph had held a grudge, his leadership would have been in jeopardy. He would not have been able to carry out his duties effectively while holding ulterior motives. Leaders with personal agendas typically cause more harm than good. The historical landscape is littered with unfortunate examples of such behavior, often with fallout for generations as people bear the brunt of self-centered leadership. Joseph had given his wrongs over to God much earlier. During his key crisis period in leadership – the coming famine in Egypt – he led exceptionally well, unencumbered by a personal vendetta.

The Bible reveals that Joseph went a step further when speaking with his brothers. He urged them not to be afraid, promised to care for them and their families, and spoke kindly to them. Joseph was able to not only affirm that the brothers would not be punished but also to extend loving provision to them. He wanted a continued relationship with his brothers. In this sense, Joseph was an excellent portrait of our loving God. God could have chosen to extend His forgiveness of sin to believers who place their faith in Christ without any future provision or relational element. Instead, our faith in Christ comes with adoption papers as we are brought into God’s loving family!

Let your forgiveness of others be as radical as God’s and as Joseph’s. Understand that justice is in God’s hand and that God works out His good plan even through tragic events. Then, like our radically generous God, extend generosity and kindness. You’ll find yourself free to serve as God calls you, not held back by any personal agenda.


Who do you know who has been consumed with bitterness? How has this affected that person’s ability to live out his or her calling?

When have you experienced forgiveness from someone else for something significant?

What wrongs have you experienced and needed to overcome?

In what areas do you need to extend the mercy of forgiveness to someone?


Memorize Romans 8:28.

Make a list of all of the ways in which your life is different because you have been forgiven.

If you are holding on to a wrong done by someone else, forgive that person in your heart.

Final Takeaway: Forgiveness frees the giver as much as the receiver.


What do you admire about Joseph’s response to his brothers?

What do you think caused Joseph to weep?

How does extending forgiveness contribute to a person’s mental health?

Joseph went above and beyond with his forgiveness toward his brothers, promising to provide for them and speaking more kind words. How has God gone above and beyond in His forgiveness toward us?

How can we exhibit this above and beyond style of forgiveness toward others?

1(Taylor, 2018)

Elder, G. (2008, June 26). Intelligence in War: It Can Be Decisive. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from

Russel, E. (. (1970). Titanic Disaster Interviews 1912-1970. Retrieved from

Spignesi, S. J. (2012). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Taylor, O. (2018, February 4). Top 10 Times Animals Held Grudges Against Humans and Took Revenge. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from

Kevin Freeman is an associate pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.