adultery, or abandonment. God knows the pain we cause each other and longs to help us learn to practice forgiveness.
Nowhere do we see forgiveness played out more fully in Scripture than in the biblical story of Joseph.
This six-week study explores what God has to say to us about grace and forgiveness through Joseph's story of trial and triumph found in
Genesis 37-50. As we study his dreams, his betrayers, his dysfunctional family, his struggle to forgive, and his journey toward reconciliation,
we'll find truths that echo into our own personal situations as well as practical help for answering common questions, such as:
How do I stop dwelling on the hurt?
Is forgiving someone excusing what happened?
When will I stop having to re-forgive?
Is there a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?
How can I forgive and still set boundaries?
Is it ever okay not to forgive?
Whether or not you are working through a hurtful situation right now,
you can learn from Joseph how to release your past and present hurts to
God and allow Him to do a supernatural work of forgiveness in your life. God wants to use the very things intended to hurt you as a source of blessing in your life and the lives of others.
The Participant Book includes five days of lessons for each week, combining study of Scripture with personal reflection, application, and prayer.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a Leader Guide, DVD with six 20-25 minute sessions, and boxed Leader Kit (an all-inclusive box containing one copy of each of the Bible study’s components).
About the Author
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is a contributor to Girlfriends in God online devotional as well as Proverbs 31 ministries First Five app. She is the author of seven Bible studies (The Names of God, Romans, Elijah, Numbers, First Corinthians, Joseph, and Jeremiah) and four books (Total Family Makeover, Total Christmas Makeover, 30 Days of Prayer for Spiritual Stamina, and Dare to Hope). Melissa makes her home in Pickerington, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
Read an Excerpt
The Journey to Forgiveness
By Melissa Spoelstra
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE PAIN
Genesis 37, 39
I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles.
When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.
Joseph's name means "May God add" or increase (Genesis 30:24).
Day 1: A Dysfunctional Family
We don't have to look much farther than our own front door to find a place to practice forgiveness. Living in close proximity to others provides many opportunities to hurt one another. With pretenses down, we unveil our true selves at home. Family members see what we hide from others outside our four walls — such as laziness, selfishness, anger, and favoritism.
I've heard it said that the true test of a Christian is how he or she lives at home. Families are the people committed to love us even when our flaws are exposed. Whether through birth, adoption, or the covenant of marriage, family connections often involve our closest relationships: husband and wife, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild.
What family member are you closest to at this stage in your life?
Now imagine the pain if that person was disloyal to you in some way. When that sacred trust is broken, the betrayal cuts deep wounds. Carrie said this about the fracture in her family:
How do I forgive someone who stood before God and a church full of people and vowed to be faithful until death but then deceived, lied to, and manipulated not only me but also our children and everyone we both knew in order to hide his adulteries? He then manipulated church leaders into believing I was crazy. When finally the truth was revealed and he was confronted by a pastor, he confessed. After hearing what he would have to do to redeem the situation, he packed and left. He vowed to destroy me and turn my children against me. He did everything he could to fulfill that vow even to the spiritual destruction of the children. He threw away everything we had spent years building, along with the future of enjoying family gatherings, weddings, grandchildren, and a spouse in old age. How do you ever forgive that person?
I've known many other women like Carrie who've experienced excruciating betrayal by a family member. Joseph's story of betrayal also begins at home. Actually, all of us grew up in a dysfunctional family because no family is perfect.
What are some memories of family experiences or situations that have given you the opportunity to forgive — whether recent or long ago?
Let's learn a little bit about Joseph's family so that we can understand better the nature of dysfunction in his home. I assure you that it will help you feel better about the problems in your own family. Someone asked me recently why the biblical accounts are so full of things such as polygamy, rape, murder, and all sorts of moral failures. While I've asked that same question myself, I have come to believe that one reason is to give us hope that God can work amidst our own messy lives.
Circle Joseph in the family tree below:
How many women bore children to Joseph's father, Jacob?
To understand the extent of the family drama that we will explore in our weeks of study, we need to look back at the soil where the roots of discord began to grow in this family, beginning with Jacob's family of origin. (We find the details in Genesis 27–30.) Though Jacob was his mother's favorite, his father, Isaac, had a special affinity for his twin brother, Esau, which left Jacob with a father wound. Jacob not only stole the birthright from Esau, the firstborn, but he also tricked his father into giving him the blessing intended for Esau by dressing up as his twin brother. Esau wasn't very happy with his brother's deceit and threatened to murder him. So Jacob fled to his uncle, Laban, who lived far away, and immediately he fell in love with his cousin Rachel (literally on his first day in town — the moment he laid eyes on her). We learn that right after he watered Rachel's flocks, "Jacob kissed Rachel, and he wept aloud" (Genesis 29:11).
Jacob worked for his uncle for seven years in order to marry Rachel, and on the day of their marriage he was tricked at the altar, waking up in the morning to find Rachel's older and less attractive sister, Leah, under the wedding veils. The Scriptures put it delicately when contrasting the two girls: "There was no sparkle in Leah's eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face" (Genesis 29:17). Some translations say that Leah had "weak eyes."
When Jacob expressed his unhappiness over being tricked into marrying the sister with "weak eyes" (NIV), he was given Rachel as well at the end of her sister's bridal week with his promise to work for Laban for seven more years.
According to the family tree, how many children did Leah give to Jacob?
Who was Joseph's mother?
Now, two other women bore Jacob children in this story. When Rachel struggled with infertility at first, she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob so that she could have children through her. Though Leah bore Jacob many sons, she also later gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob to increase her status through having more children.
The people who followed God during the times of the Patriarchs viewed children as gifts from the Lord. More babies meant more blessings. Social status and greater security came to the woman who bore many children because the children would provide for their mothers when they got older. With the dangers of infant death, illness, and war exponentially higher for this group of people, the more sons to take care of you the better. Infertility brought grief not only for a woman's unrealized maternal instincts but also through the scorn of others who often equated the inability to have a baby with God's punishment.
When Rachel finally gave birth to Joseph, he entered the world into a family feud between two sisters seeking status in different ways. Rachel, though favored by her husband, felt shame in her barrenness. Leah attempted to compensate for her "weak eyes" and the lack of her husband's love with many sons. Jacob, the head of the household, suffered from the lack of his father's approval and the loss of his mother's presence in his life (after fleeing his homeland), so he looked to soothe his pain in the arms of a woman.
Are you starting to feel that your family's problems aren't so unusual after all?
Read Genesis 37:1-4. According to verse 3, why did Jacob favor Joseph?
What did Jacob give to Joseph as a sign of his special favor?
Knowing a little of the family history, can you think of any other reasons why Jacob might have favored Joseph?
Joseph's birth had ended a long season of infertility for Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel. Jacob didn't hide his favoritism toward Rachel's firstborn. One would think Jacob might have understood the pitfalls of preferring one child over another after the debacle of his own parents' favoritism (Genesis 25:28). Even when bad behaviors and their consequences are modeled for us, we too can struggle to keep history from repeating itself.
Take another look at Genesis 37:1-4. How did the brothers know that Joseph was their dad's favorite?
According to verse 4, how did Jacob's favoritism affect the brothers' relationship with Joseph?
Read Through Joseph's Family Story:
Read Genesis 12.
Did you grow up in a family where you felt that one sibling was favored over another? If so, where did you fit into the scenario?
What would you say are two damaging consequences of favoritism that you have experienced firsthand or learned from watching others?
Jacob wasn't aware of the extent of damage he was inflicting on his family by overtly favoring one child over the others. As parents, we would do well to be on guard against comparing our children or bestowing special favor on one. While things will not always seem completely fair in our children's eyes, we must diligently make a concerted effort to make each one feel special and loved.
My husband and I often take our children on individual outings. These are special getaways from the craziness of everyday life to be intentional about understanding their joys and fears by asking them questions and valuing them with our time and attention. At times we've kept track of these dates on a chart so that they know when their turns are coming. I can't imagine if we were to practice this with only one child. The others certainly would feel left out.
Now, try for a moment to put yourself in Joseph's shoes. Though I'm sure he enjoyed the blessing and affection of his father, he went out to the fields sometimes with his brothers. Meals and holidays likely were spent together as well.
As a seventeen-year-old boy, what mixed feelings do you think Joseph might have had about his position in the family?
As I was growing up, I often was teased as being the favored child. When the four kids wanted to make a plea to our parents, I was sent to negotiate. From my siblings' point of view, my consequences seemed to be less and my benefits appeared to be more. Whether some of this favor was merely perceived, it left me in a strange position at times. While I enjoyed the good relationship I had with my parents, the disdain from my brother and sisters wasn't fun at all.
I wonder if Joseph ever wanted to take off his special coat when he was around his brothers or apologize for his special gift. Perhaps as a seventeen-year-old he sometimes paraded around, showing off his favor, while other times he regretted the loss of sibling camaraderie. In any case, that coat came to represent both the love of his father and the growing hatred and envy of his brothers, which we will see compounded in tomorrow's lesson.
The first step on the journey to forgiveness is acknowledging the hurt.
When you watch others receive unfair favoritism, what initial feelings come to the surface?
This week we are going to find that the first step on the journey to forgiveness is acknowledging the hurt. We can never forgive without getting honest about our pain. Joseph's brothers endured some unfair neglect because of a birth order they had no control over. Whether they intended to or not, Jacob and Joseph inflicted wounds on the brothers. And the brothers had the choice of working toward forgiveness or vengeance. While you may not be struggling with being on the wrong end of favoritism as Joseph's brothers were, it's likely that you are carrying some pain at the expense of others.
Who has contributed to the hurt you are currently feeling?
Have you ever read Bible stories like Joseph's and wondered if God has favorites? Jacob favored his son Joseph, so perhaps God has some favorite children too. Check out the online Digging Deeper Introductory Article, "Does God Have Favorites?" (see AbingdonPress.com/Joseph).
What does that pain look like in your world right now? In other words, how are your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and actions affected by the actions or inactions of this person or persons?
Today we've looked at the first milestone on the journey to forgiveness. Rather than sweeping our feelings under the rug or pretending we aren't hurt, it is important to acknowledge what we feel. Ultimately, we cannot forgive without acknowledging the offense.
Talk with God
You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book. (Psalm 56:8)
Tell God how you feel about whatever hurt you have identified. He saw it happen. He longs to listen and talk with you about it. He has collected every tear. Acknowledge the hurt to the One who cares more than anyone else on this planet and who offers His comfort to you.
The original meaning of the Hebrew word for Joseph's coat "is 'a coat of extended length,' literally, a coat that extends to the hands and feet." It wasn't until the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures (the Septuagint, also known by the Roman numeral acronym LXX) when the coat is referred to as colorful.
Day 2: Fuel to the Fire
Mark hired his friend John to work for him in his business. The two became very close as they worked together, worshiped at the same church, and even took many trips together to places such as Europe and the Caribbean. Mark footed the bill for these vacations and many other activities out of his generosity. Then things began to change in their working environment. John began to show up late, miss meetings, and blow off important deadlines. Though Mark spoke to John regularly about his lapses, nothing changed. Mark tried to overlook as much as he could because of their friendship. However, frustration began to mount among the other employees of the company until they eventually banded together for an intervention with Mark. Their exasperation with John was so great that they all threatened to quit if John was not let go. After much wrestling with God, Mark broke the news to John, hoping that by not working together they might have a shot at repairing their friendship. Yet things went from bad to worse in their relationship after John left the company. Their story is still being written as they daily seek to sort through the facts, the fiction, and their feelings. Not a day goes by that Mark doesn't ponder the pain and wonder what happened for such a great rift to come between two brothers in Christ and what he might have done differently.
I, too, have felt the sting of pain in friendship and have questioned myself about what part I played in contributing to my own friends' problems. If we have played a role in creating the circumstances that have led to our injury or betrayal, are the others involved still to be held accountable for what has happened? If we have been provoked by another person, can we excuse our reaction? These are the kinds of practical questions that often torment us. Clarifying who and what warrants forgiveness is vital in our journey toward healing.
Yesterday we explored some of the bad blood between Joseph and his brothers. What are some of the reasons you recall that Joseph's brothers "couldn't say a kind word to him" (Genesis 37:4)?
Today we delve into Joseph's behavior to see if he added any fuel to the fire of his brothers' hatred, and we will consider how forgiveness applies when we've played a part in a conflict.
Read Genesis 37:1-11 and fill in the chart below, noting what each party said or did to the others:
I sometimes wonder why details are left out in the biblical text. I want to know exactly what the brothers did that led Joseph to report on them. Was it a major offense, such as harming the sheep or stealing? Or was Joseph overzealous and getting them in trouble for taking too many work breaks or neglecting some minor shepherding procedure? When things aren't clear in a passage, it causes us to search and interact with God to discern truth from His Word. First Corinthians 13:12 assures us that one day we will have all the details: "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."
Though I'm glad that one day we'll get the full story, for now I have some questions about this part of the story:
Should Joseph have tattled?
Should Joseph have shared his dreams in the manner that he did?
Was he guilty of fueling the fire of jealousy?
What are some other questions you have regarding this passage?
What questions do you have about how you might be contributing to the friction related to a strained situation in your own life?
Some scholars maintain that Joseph shouldn't have shared his dream. "Even if the dream came from the Lord, it was for his own encouragement, not for their edification, and he was very unwise to insist on telling it to them." Other commentators disagree: "Perhaps Joseph might have been more diplomatic in the way he reported his dreams, but surely he was right in sharing them with the family." While the dreams came from God, perhaps Joseph communicated them insensitively. We don't apologize for our dreams, job promotions, or exciting news, but we must be careful to show tact when choosing with whom and how we share them.
Excerpted from Joseph by Melissa Spoelstra. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Week 1 Acknowledging the Pain Genesis 37, 39 10
Week 2 Waiting to Be Remembered Genesis 40 38
Week 3 Dreams Coming True Genesis 41-42 68
Week 4 The Roller Coaster Ride Genesis 43-44 98
Week 5 Grace and Boundaries Genesis 45-46 132
Week 6 Moving Forward Genesis 47-50 168
Recommended Reading 204