The biblical character of Joseph in the Old Testament period is a classic example of one who was repeatedly being mistreated by others. During the first thirty years of his life, Joseph probably experienced more injustice than any biblical character other than our Lord, Jesus Christ.
In Genesis 37, we would remember that Joseph was mocked and rejected by his older brothers when he sincerely followed his father’s instructions to find out how they were doing at Shechem. Moreover, Joseph was also physically abused by his older brothers and they orchestrated an evil plot to sell him as a slave to the Midianite traders.
Besides that, we would also remember the account of how Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph to commit fornication with her as well as how Joseph was falsely accused of sexual harassment. Specifically, Joseph was unjustly removed from his high-ranking position in Potiphar’s household and put in prison for doing the right thing (Genesis 39).
Furthermore, the Bible also tells us in Genesis 40 regarding how Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of the two high-ranking officials of Pharaoh, namely the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, only to be forgotten by the former whom he had helped and encouraged the most.
As we ponder on the life of Joseph, we would agree that Joseph knew first-hand what mistreatment really was. How painful was it for Joseph to be betrayed by his own family members? How unfair was it for Joseph to be falsely accused and eventually be imprisoned for doing the right thing? And how disappointed and depressed Joseph would have felt when he was forgotten by the man whom he had helped?
These are some of the negative thoughts that would inevitably surface in Joseph’s mind as he grappled with the painful circumstances in his life. Nevertheless, we can learn two important principles regarding how Joseph dealt with bitterness and injustice.
Principle 1 – We must not allow bitterness to wither our souls.
For most of us, someone at some point in our lives might have done something that causes us to feel mistreated. It might have involved a family member, a teacher, a friend, or an employer. It might have happened at home, at church, in school, or at the workplace. And it might have involved harsh words, rejection, a rumour, physical abuse, false accusations, or unjust criticism. Such mistreatments which we experience in our lives would have resulted in much pain, anger and bitterness in our hearts.
In such circumstances, one may easily fall into the temptation to lash back or seek revenge on the person who has mistreated us. But let us be wise and take heed to what the Bible says in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” In this regard, it is important for us as Christians to realise that unresolved anger will lead to bitterness in our hearts and cause one to sin against God.
Brethren, besides sinning against God, we also need to be mindful that bitterness and an unforgiving spirit are intensely self-destructive, and in the process hurting not only other people, but also hurting ourselves as well.
Bitterness affects us emotionally when we repeatedly replay the painful episodes in our minds. This can take the form of voicing our anger on social media platforms. Moreover, our physical health would be negatively affected due to the onset of symptoms of depression and high blood pressure caused by prolonged bitterness in our daily living.
Most importantly, bitterness will seriously affect our spiritual relationship with God because it creates a high barrier between Him and His children. When Christians choose to harbour an unforgiving attitude towards others, the Scriptures make it very clear that God’s children would receive no forgiveness from their transgressions unless they purposefully change their hearts in repentance (Mark 11:25-26; Colossians 3:13; 1 John 4:20-21).
Principle 2 – We must not allow ourselves to turn against God; rather we must turn to God even more.
It may be the case that Christians who are being mistreated by others may allow their bitterness to be directed against God. In these circumstances, they may put the blame on God for allowing such mistreatments to happen in their lives. Now, let’s take a moment to consider all the mistreatment that Joseph had experienced. Why was Joseph able to handle these incredible and persistent mistreatment so well?
As a human being, Joseph is not perfect and I perceive he would be tempted at times to blame God for the unjust treatment that he had encountered in his life. However, what is admirable about Joseph was that he did not allow himself to turn away from God despite the trials and tribulations in his life.
Rather, Joseph grew in his relationship with God. He put his trust in the Lord to help him endure and overcome the crisis and challenging life situations. In this respect, we can take comfort in the Bible when we read Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
As the family of God at Jurong, we can learn much from the Old Testament character of Joseph on how he had overcome bitterness in his life. No matter what the emotional or physical pain, we must not allow ourselves to become bitter toward God; for if we do, we will only compound our problems.
Let us, therefore, learn to depend on God for strength and wisdom to help us overcome a heart of bitterness and an unforgiving spirit when we are found wanting in our daily Christian living.