One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is how to handle conflict. Because we are by nature sinful and selfish people, conflict is inevitable. The question is not – ‘How can I avoid all conflict?’, but ‘How will I handle conflict when it happens?’ Somewhere in the past I read –
What others do to me is up to them
How I respond to what they do is up to me
Some people get angry and seek revenge. Others pull up into shell and hide from the world. Yet the Bible teaches us that there is a third way and a better way to handle conflict. It is learning how to work your way through it and thus find reconciliation with whom with you have been angry. To reconcile means to restore to favor. God’s Word teaches us much about how to find reconciliation from our times of conflict.
One of the greatest examples of this is found in the story of Joseph. As you well know, Joseph and his ten older brothers had a lot of conflict.
Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. 4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
Jacob showed favoritism of Joseph over his older brothers and this caused great conflict. This conflict culminated on a day when they determined to kill him, but instead sold him to a bunch of slave traders headed for Egypt.
For the next twenty years, Joseph and his brothers went their separate ways. Yet even though they thought that this was the way it would always be, this was not the way God wanted it to be. Behind the scenes God was orchestrating the events that would bring Joseph and his brothers face to face and help them restore their broken relationship. Here’s a statement that you may hear a few times in this study –
It’s never long enough for the past to be forgotten
It’s never too late for the past to be forgiven
Let’s pick up the story by turning to Genesis 41 –
Genesis 41:1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed ; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. 7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. 8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.
9 Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day: 10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker: 11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. 12 And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. 13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it. 16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.
For years it had seemed that Joseph’s circumstances were only getting worse. He had gone from the pit to a prison. But now, in a moment of time, he is going from the prison to the palace. In one day Joseph went from being a prisoner to second in command over all of Egypt.
Genesis 41:29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: 30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. 32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
Genesis 41:33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. 35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that come , and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36 And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine. 37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
Genesis 41:46 And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. 48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. 49 And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.
Genesis 41:53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. 54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.
Genesis 41:56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. 57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
Genesis 42:1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? 2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die. 3 And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
Twenty years had passed since Joseph’s brothers had stripped him of his robe and threw him into the pit. Twenty years is a long time; but sometimes not long enough to do away with the past. Most likely, Joseph’s brothers tried many times to block out the past; yet the Lord would not let them. It is not the will of God to sweep sin under the rug; but to bring everything to the light so that sin might be confessed, forgiveness might be extended, and restoration might be brought to broken relationships.
Who would have thought that God would use a famine to begin such a process in the lives of Joseph and his brothers? The Bible doesn’t say how Jacob first heard that there was grain in Egypt. The Bible does say that the news prompted him to command his sons to go down and buy enough grain to keep them alive. “Why are you standing around looking at one another? I have heard there is grain in Egypt”, Jacob scolded his sons. “EGYPT!” Every time Joseph’s brothers heard that word, most likely their mind went back to the day when they had sold their brother to a band of merchants traveling to Egypt. None of them could have imagined what might have happened to Joseph. For all they knew, he was dead by now. Yet, regardless of what had happened to their brother, every time the word Egypt came up Joseph’s brothers experienced guilt.
How do I know that they were experiencing guilt? Consider what these verses have to say –
Genesis 42:5 And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. 7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. 8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. 9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies ; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come . 10 And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. 11 We are all one man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies. 12 And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. 13 And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not. 14 And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies : 15 Hereby ye shall be proved : By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. 16 Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison , that your words may be proved , whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies . 17 And he put them all together into ward three days. 18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: 19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: 20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified , and ye shall not die . And they did so.
21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. 22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required .
Not even twenty years had not been long enough to make the guilt go away. They still clearly remembered the anguish in Joseph’s voice as he pleaded with his brothers to spare his life. How sad it is that so many people try to go through life without ever dealing with the past.
Twenty years had passed, but now it was God’s time for there to be reconciliation. How important is reconciliation in relationships? Consider these words of Jesus.
Matthew 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Reconciliation is very important to God; so important that God went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, so that there could be a way for us to be reconciled with Him. But what does it mean to be reconciled? What is necessary in order for there to be reconciliation in a relationship?
Some teach that all that is needed is a willingness of the offended to forgive the offender. In other words, just forget the past and move on. Let bygones be bygones. It is true that we need to always have an attitude and spirit of forgiveness. Our Lord prayed from the cross – ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ (Lk 23:34) In addition Paul tells us that we should always be ‘kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ (Eph 4:32)
But sweeping the sin under the rug does not restore the relationship. It does not remove the infection from the wound. It does not make the offender face their sin and thus change. In our relationship with God, if there is no repentance there is no forgiveness. Though God is always willing to forgive and desires to do so, He forgive us when we confess our sin.
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned , we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
According to the Bible, there are three necessary steps for restoring a broken relationship:
Luke 17:1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
Rebuke sounds like such a harsh word. Jesus is not telling us to scold them and put them in their place. The purpose of rebuke is not retaliation but restoration. It is confronting someone who has sinned with the truth and holding them accountable for their actions. Actually the word rebuke comes from two other words which means to bestow honor upon something. The reason we rebuke those who sin against us is to make the offender recognize the seriousness of their sin and thus seek forgiveness.
Joseph rebuked his brothers. Actually he did several things that were similar to how they had treated him twenty years earlier. He spoke roughly or sternly to them. He accused them of being enemies. He put them in bondage. And he took away from the father his beloved son.
Why did Joseph do this? Joseph did not do this for revenge but in order to confront his brothers with their sin so that there might be restoration.
If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. (Lk 17:3)
To repent means to have a change of mind. Had the brothers had a change of mind over the past twenty years? Consider their response to Joseph’s rebuke.
Genesis 42:21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
How important is repentance in a broken relationship? I believe that it is extremely important and beneficial. We need to look no farther than Joseph’s response to his brothers’ repentance to understand.
Genesis 42:23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an nterpreter. 24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept…
Twenty years of pain and sorrow had been bottled up in Joseph. Even though the Lord had blessed him in the land of his affliction and had helped him to deal with many of his feelings concerning his brothers, there was still a great need for healing. When he heard their genuine sorrow for their sin, it opened up the floodgates of his emotions and he had to weep. He and his brothers were on the road to reconciliation.
There are many today who needed to be healed. There are a lot of broken relationships that need to be reconciled. If you are the offender, you have a responsibility to go the offended and ask for forgiveness. If you are the offended, you have a responsibility to love even your enemies and to go to them and confront them with their sin so that there might be repentance and reconciliation.
It can be a painful process and very scary, yet I can tell you from personal experience that it can be very rewarding. There is nothing like getting the infection out of the wound so that there can be healing.