After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:
“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”
My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).
Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)
There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)
Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.
The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!
In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (First Corinthians 10:13)
After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!
And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!