I was re-reading the account of Joseph's life in Genesis several nights ago. I saw something there I had never taken note of before. I'll try, as best I can, to distill it down to the part you might find helpful.

The story of Joseph is a long one. It starts in Gen. 37. It jumps over chapter 38 and continues on from chapter 39 through 49. I'll do a quick review of the first part of his life and then concentrate on what happened in chapters 42-45.

As far as I'm aware, there are only two men (other than Christ, of course) in the Bible that do not have sins recorded against them in the record. Joseph and Daniel. The Scriptures don't call these men sinless, but no specific mention of a personal sin is recorded against them. The greatest patriarchs for Jews and Christians, Abraham and Moses, both had some significant personal failings. The Scriptures never shy away from presenting even the most noble of its characters as they were...real men with real sins. David, "a man after God's own heart", was guilty of adultery and murder. It wasn't those sins which made David God's man; it was his consistent faith and his ability to fully repent when he sinned. David never blame-shifted. He took his lumps without complaint and trusted in the mercy of God.

I set up this observation about Joseph not having any sins of his recorded against him because of what he did when he found his brothers in front of him after having been sold into slavery by them many years before. What he did in testing the depth of their repentance was no sin.

Some of his brothers had wanted to kill Joseph, but cooler heads prevailed that fateful day. They sold Joseph into slavery to be rid of him. Joseph was likely around 17 years of age when this happened. A mere youth. Then the brothers faked Joseph's death to their father. They killed a goat and smeared its blood onto Joseph's coat and presented it along with the sad tale of Joseph being torn limb from limb by a wild animal. It nearly crushed the life out of Jacob, their father. What precipitated this horrid event was the envy and hatred Joseph's brothers had nurtured against him for being the favored son of Jacob. A son born of Jacob's favored wife, Rachel. A wife who died in giving birth to her second son, Benjamin.

I recommend you read the events that followed Joseph being sold to slavery. His hardships. His unswerving integrity. His faithfulness to God and man. His optimistic and uncomplaining attitude despite the serial injustices foisted upon him by unscrupulous people. His brothers first, then Potiphar's wife. After many years and a long and undeserved imprisonment, everything turned around and Joseph found himself suddenly elevated to second in command in Egypt. Second only to the Pharaoh himself and entrusted with saving Egypt from the coming famine. A famine that God warned was coming in a dream to Pharaoh. This dream caused the series of events which brought Joseph and his God to Pharaoh's attention. The famine was promised to last for seven years after seven years of plenty. Joseph came up with the plan to save a portion of the increased abundance for the years of famine ahead. Pharaoh couldn't think of a better man to implement this plan than Joseph himself, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?" Gen. 41:38. The famine was not confined to Egypt. All the surrounding nations were affected including Joseph's family in Canaan. Peoples from the surrounding areas streamed into Egypt for relief of their want.

Which brings us to the day that Joseph suddenly finds his brothers bowing in front of him and asking to buy wheat. "Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him." Gen. 42:8. Joseph didn't reveal himself to them either. It would be months later and after some very close testing of their characters that Joseph finally showed himself to them.

What interested me in this part of the story was how seriously and almost brutally Joseph tested his brothers to see if they had changed. He was in a particularly unique position to test their characters without their knowledge...and test he did. Each test went deeper and more painfully into truth of who those men now were. Joseph had a younger brother from the same mother, Benjamin. Benjamin was not among the other brothers as they importuned the governor of Egypt to sell them food. Benjamin was Jacob's favorite after the "death" of Joseph. How would Joseph's brothers behave toward the favored youngest son of Jacob? Were they just as jealous and cruel to Benjamin as they had been to Joseph? That question had to be settled to Joseph's mind before he decided whether or not to reveal himself to them.

The first trial Joseph presented them was his insistence that they were spies. They had already revealed that there was another brother who didn't come with them. Joseph knew it was Benjamin. He then demanded that they clear his accusation against them (of being spies) by leaving one of their number behind in his prison and bring back to him the other brother they spoke of. No compliance, no more wheat, and their lives were forfeit. Joseph selected Simeon to stay in prison. Simeon was the instigator of the crimes against Joseph those many years earlier. The test of character begins.

The brothers are thrown into instant distress. They speak among themselves unaware that this "Egyptian" could understand them since he had only spoken to them through an interpreter. Their consciences were smiting them and they immediately tell each other that their present distress was the result of their sin against Joseph. "Then they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us'." Gen. 42:21.

Joseph was moved by their words. He removed himself from the room and wept. He didn't swerve from the necessity to test the depth of their repentance despite how he was moved by their words. These words revealed their awareness of their guilt and how they were blaming their present dire straights on their sin against Joseph. It was indicative of possible repentance, but Joseph needed much more proof. When he had pulled himself together, he took Simeon and put him in prison.

What follows is a series of more tests of their characters which cut closer and deeper each time. Joseph takes them back over the very same ground of years earlier to see what was in their hearts. I will not go into it here because the story is long and detailed. Read it for yourself today.

What I want to draw your attention to is how Joseph's close and almost (seemingly) cruel testing of his brother's level of repentance for their vile acts against him is a righteous act on Joseph's part. There is no Biblical condemnation of his need to see whether or not these people were safe for him to be around and safe for him to grant favors to. No superficial glossing over of the past was done. No demand for a few words of apology as if that would prove anything at all about their characters. It was in Joseph's heart to protect and nurture his family as was proven by the grand favors given after he eventually revealed himself to his brethren. But he was not going to grant these favors on evil and unrepentant men. He must first prove them. Are they worthy of mercy because their repentance runs deep and true? Or must he remain anonymous to them and resist his desire to preserve them and hold them close? His brothers' reactions to the tests would give Joseph the information he needed in order to proceed. Notice that the tests did not depend on Joseph's brothers' words. They were judged on their actions. Repentance can never be determined on the weight of naked words alone.

Here is a greatly detailed Biblical account of someone going to some significant lengths to prove whether or not their abusive family members were truly repentant and safe to be around. If it was a sin for Joseph to do this the Scriptures wouldn't have failed to say so. But that isn't the record. The record reveals Joseph to be a righteous and honorable man as well as having great wisdom. What did wisdom and integrity and righteousness demand? A full revelation of the motivations of the hearts of his formerly hateful and vengeful brothers. There is no doubt at all that Joseph wanted them to pass his tests. He greatly missed his family and wanted nothing more than to embrace them. But he over-rode these desires with the absolute need to determine first if those he wanted to embrace were safe to embrace. Joseph was not testing from a sense of vengeance in his own heart. This is made clear. His motive was simple and straightforward. Have my brothers changed and are they safe to reveal myself to?

The first person to tell us we are wrong, bad, and cruel when we demand a clear demonstration of repentance is the malignant narcissist. The next person to tell you it is wrong to expect this clear demonstration are the Christian do-gooders who have bought into a mindset that expecting unequivocal signs of repentance is itself somehow sinful. Their ill-conceived advice and admonishment are not in accord with the Bible record. The story of Joseph tells us it is not wrong to test for repentance. It is the course of wisdom and integrity. To state it in the positive, it is right and good and wise to test for repentance. Not to be cruel to our former abusers, but to ascertain whether or not someone is sufficiently changed so that contact with them no longer presents a danger to life or liberty. If someone is unwilling to bear the test they leave you with no way to assume they are repentant.

The story doesn't tell us outright that Joseph would not have revealed himself to his brothers if they failed his testing. Logic tells us this. Joseph's first instinct was to conceal himself from them. If they failed his tests, he would likely have never shown himself to them. He may have granted them a few anonymous favors to keep his father and Benjamin alive, but any relationship would have very likely been "at arm's length". I realize that I now have entered into a bit of speculation, but it doesn't seem to be wild speculation. It is based on Joseph's behavior and his immediate instinct to not say, "Hey, guys! Hey, it's me!!". He proceeded so cautiously as to readily support the supposition that not ever revealing himself to them was an option he was keeping open.

It is also not insignificant that Joseph never sought out his family even after he was free to do so. He apparently was content to live on the assumption that it would not be wise to seek them out since the majority of the family (his ten brothers) had thrust him so cruelly from themselves. The only reason he found himself testing his brothers was because, through no choice of Joseph's, they suddenly ended up in front of him. Joseph had been content to let God guide his life through circumstance. He didn't force any outcome by pining or lusting for what he didn't have. In this particular case, he had no family. Yet, he takes life's lemons and trusts God to help him make lemonade with it. We see this attitude demonstrated all through his life. When circumstance thrusts his brothers in front of his face, he then dealt with what was before him as wisdom would demand he should proceed from there. I find it quite interesting that such a good and righteous man didn't feel obligated to seek out his family. The estrangement was forced upon him, but he didn't sin by maintaining the estrangement. I think this may apply to many of us as well.

I think the record is also clear that Joseph had long ago forgiven his brothers because his heart was very soft toward them though he hid that fact from them for some time. Notice, though, that his generally forgiving attitude toward them didn't mean he trusted them without solid proof of repentance on their part. He felt under no obligation to reveal himself to them without this proof. He was not willy-nilly handing out forgiveness to his abusers. His forgiveness wasn't cheap grace. What you do in the privacy of your own heart should not cause you to skip the necessary step of proving the depth of the abuser's repentance before openly showing them your forgiving spirit and trusting them enough to stay in their company. Telling an unrepentant narcissist you forgive them is a travesty and violation of true forgiveness. They will take your cheap grace and throw it in your face along with greater abuses.

Please also take note that Joseph's tests of this brothers were not done in a day. He gave them multiple tests, each time circling in closer to bring out envy and anger if it was in there. The testing period was not short. It likely lasted for many months as it involved multiple trips from Canaan to Egypt and back again. Each time they waited until they ran out of food to go back to face the scary governor of Egypt. One doesn't test the depth of someone's repentance in a single encounter or a single day. Time is necessary in this process. The narcissist is angry if you show any expectation that they prove their repentance over time. This alone should prove to you that their hearts are unchanged and they are unsafe to your life and liberty.

I know I was grateful to discover this detailed record of a righteous man doing some very close testing of the characters of his former abusers. I hope that you find comfort and affirmation from this as well.

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