You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. —Genesis 50:20
"How can I know whether I have truly forgiven someone?" Joseph provides a heart-searching frame of reference by showing us how he was able to totally forgive his brothers.
Joseph had much to be bitter about. First, his brothers had treated him with cruelty and disdain. True, he had made them jealous and had not been a very nice guy—he had even been a tattletale. (See Genesis 37:2.) But selling him to the Ishmaelites was a wicked and evil act.
Second, Joseph had been falsely accused. Instead of sleeping with Potiphar's wife, he had resisted the temptation. We all like to think that God will bless us when we are faithful and obedient to His Word, but the thanks Joseph got was imprisonment.
Third, God allowed all of these things to take place.
Joseph had much to be bitter about, then, and many "offenders" to forgive: his brothers who sold him into slavery, Potiphar's wife who lied, and God who let it all happen.
The truth is, Joseph needed to be delivered from bitterness and self-pity. Joseph was full of self-pity. He says so: "I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon" (Gen. 40:15). At that point in time, Joseph had not yet forgiven his brothers, Potiphar's wife, or God.
Joseph had not forgotten his dreams. He knew that one day his brothers would bow down before him. And eventually they did. But when it finally happened, Joseph was a changed man. There was no bitterness. There were no grudges. None. Something had happened to him during those final two years in prison. Instead, when the time came, he lovingly welcomed them and forgave them with tears. It was the moment he dreamed of. But instead of punishing them, which he had the power to do, he wept. Filled with love, he demonstrated total forgiveness.
Excerpted from Total Forgiveness (Charisma House, 2002).