How Merciful Are You?
1. Why is there no excuse for this present generation in its widespread lack of mercy?
IN THIS day of intolerance and self-interest, the one acting mercifully is a refreshing blessing. It is said of the true God: “Jehovah is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. Jehovah is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works.” (Ps. 145:8, 9) And Jesus admonished us to “continue becoming merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) What an indictment of this present generation, then, are the intolerable conditions resulting from the innumerable suspicions, rivalries and animosities of peoples and nations!
2. To whom only does God’s mercy extend, and why?
2 Proverbs 28:27 says: “He that is giving to the one of little means will have no want, but he that is hiding his eyes will get many curses.” It is evident from this that God’s mercy will not extend to those ‘hiding their eyes.’ God is not a sentimentalist. His exercise of mercy is always in harmony with his other qualities and righteous standards, including his justice and holiness. (Hos. 2:19) Anyone presuming upon God’s mercy, thinking that God will continue his mercy toward that one no matter what he does, is doomed to bitter disappointment. The one showing deliberate disrespect for God’s righteous ways by his acts and course of life offends God, and the true God will rightly “shut off his mercies in anger.”—Ps. 77:9; Rom. 2:4-11.
3. What questions might help us to determine our own quality of mercy?
3 Jesus’ half brother James gave sound warning and, at the same time, reassurance when he wrote: “For the one that does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (Jas. 2:13) How merciful are you? Is it easy for you to overlook offenses that may be committed against you? or do you find it difficult to put such matters out of your mind? Are you actively conscious of the needs of those around you? or must these things constantly be brought to your attention? Are you inclined to be suspicious of others’ motives? or can you recognize and accept sincerity and lack of guile? Are you prone to be more solicitous of those who are prominent or particularly talented in some way? or can you find true pleasure in strictly spiritual qualities? If you were to weigh yourself in the balance of these questions, would you be found wanting in mercy? The result is vital, because, whether we individually are concerned or not, Jehovah’s judgment will be entered toward us individually just as he has indicated through James, and only the one practicing mercy will have mercy shown to him when brought into judgment.
4. How might a merciful person be identified?
4 The merciful person is one who does not hold a grudge, who is willing to hold back condemnation and punishment whenever circumstances will allow it, who is generous in giving both materially and spiritually, who is conscious of those in need and who shows concern for them in an active way, who does not show partiality or use his tongue in pride or jealousy, who performs his acts of charity and distributes his gifts of mercy with sincerity and humility free from boasting, who does not become so efficient in his dealings with his associates that they become to him mere parts of an “organizational machine.” The generous giving of himself, even more than of his possessions, will not go unrewarded—certainly not unrewarded by Jehovah. God’s Word says: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” And Jesus added to the proverb: “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.”—Prov. 19:17; Matt. 5:7.
DEVOTION TO RIGHT PRINCIPLES BRINGS FAVOR
5. Who was Joseph, and why was he particularly a beloved one of his father?
5 An outstanding example of one who imitated Jehovah’s mercy was Joseph the great-grandson of Abraham and the son of Jacob or Israel. Joseph was born in Syria, the first of Jacob’s two sons by his beloved wife Rachel. (Gen. 30:22-24; 35:24) Since Jacob was ninety-one years old at Joseph’s birth, Joseph was a son of his old age and came to be loved more than his elder brothers. When Joseph was six years old or thereabouts, Jacob left Paddan-aram where he had gone to obtain a wife from among his own people and, with his entire family, he returned to Canaan. (Gen. 31:17, 18, 41) He resided for a time at Succoth, at Shechem and at Bethel. Later, on the way from Bethel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s mother, Rachel, died while giving birth to her second son Benjamin; thus Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother, the other sons of Jacob being Joseph’s half brothers, born of Jacob to Leah, Rachel’s sister, and to Zilpah and Bilhah, the two maidservants of Leah and Rachel.—Gen. 33:17-19; 35:1, 5, 6, 16-19.
6. (a) What report concerning his half brothers did Joseph bring to his father, and why was this not an unmerciful act? (b) How, on a previous occasion, had Simeon and Levi shown themselves to be lacking in compassion?
6 Joseph’s ten half brothers did not display the same devotion to right principles that Joseph manifested from an early age. When he was seventeen he was tending sheep in association with the sons of Jacob by Bilhah and Zilpah. Though younger than his brothers, Joseph demonstrated more zeal for his father’s interests than these half brothers and dutifully brought a bad report to his father. (Gen. 37:2) He was not acting unmercifully in so doing, because these brothers were following a course of wrongdoing and Jacob was entitled to be made aware of it. This devotion to right principles may have contributed to Jacob’s love for Joseph. But, instead of Joseph’s brothers profiting from Joseph’s example, they demonstrated a jealous attitude and displayed the same harsh spirit toward him that had caused them, under the leadership of Simeon and Levi, to massacre the men of Shechem who were attempting to establish friendly relations with them and who were defenseless at the time. Although they claimed their slaughter of the Shechemites was justified, their father Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, the leaders in the attack: “You have brought ostracism upon me in making me a stench to the inhabitants of the land,” and many years later Jacob referred to the anger of Simeon and Levi as cursed, “because it is cruel, and their fury, because it acts harshly.” (Gen. 34:1-31; 49:7) Because of their lack of compassion, when they saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers and had a long, striped shirtlike garment made for him (perhaps similar to those worn by persons of rank), “they were not able to speak peacefully to him.”—Gen. 37:3, 4.
7. What dreams did Joseph have, and how did his father and half brothers react?
7 In time Joseph had a dream that he reported to his brothers. In his dream all the brothers were binding sheaves in the middle of the field when his sheaf got up and stood erect and the sheaves of his half brothers proceeded to encircle it and bow down to his sheaf. At this his brothers began to say to him: “Are you going to be king over us for certain?” and they found further reason to hate him. The account continues: “After that he had still another dream, and he related it to his brothers and said: ‘Here I have had a dream once more, and here the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ Then he related it to his father as well as his brothers, and his father began to rebuke him and say to him: ‘What does this dream that you have dreamed mean? Am I and also your mother and your brothers for certain going to come and bow down to the earth to you?’ And his brothers grew jealous of him, but his father observed the saying.” Jacob evidently recognized that the dreams might be significant. Though it might seem that Joseph was manifesting an attitude of superiority over his brothers, he was, in fact, merely relating what Jehovah had revealed to him, a circumstance that gave his brothers further opportunity to manifest their heart condition.—Gen. 37:5-11.
JEALOUSY BREEDS MURDEROUS HATE
8. How did Joseph come to be away from home with his half brothers, and how did his brothers view the matter?
8 His half brothers now went to feed the flock of their father in the vicinity of Shechem while Jacob was dwelling at Hebron. Jacob became concerned for their welfare, perhaps having in mind the animosity that had been stirred up against him and his sons in this vicinity on their way out of Syria. Though it must have been an unpleasant assignment for him in view of his half brothers’ animosity, Joseph did not hesitate to go for Jacob to see if they were safe and sound and whether the flock was safe and sound. He finally located them near Dothan, but, before he could get close by them, they caught sight of him from a distance and began scheming to put him to death.—Gen. 37:12-20.
9. What did Reuben plan to do, but what finally happened to Joseph at the hands of his brothers?
9 Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, tried to deliver him out of their hands, “in order to return him to his father,” out of concern for his own liability as the firstborn for Joseph. (Gen. 37:22-30) Apparently Reuben was not present when a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by on its way to Egypt coming from Gilead. Judah proposed that Joseph be sold to them instead of their killing him and covering over his blood. The brothers agreed and, though Joseph pleaded for mercy, they sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces. Then they took Joseph’s long garment, which they had taken from him, slaughtered a male goat and dipped the long garment in the blood. When it was later shown to Jacob, he was convinced that a vicious wild beast had devoured his son, and so great was his grief that he refused to be comforted. Eventually the merchants brought Joseph into Egypt and he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, the chief of Pharaoh’s bodyguard.—Gen. 37:21-36.
10. How is this an example for us today, and what benefit to Joseph would be forthcoming from his sufferings?
10 This murderous hatred that Joseph’s half brothers had manifested in such a violent way and their callous lack of concern for their father stand as a warning example to any today who may harbor animosity toward their spiritual brothers in the Christian congregation. Jesus said: “Everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.” (Matt. 5:22) But Joseph was being prepared to become a great blessing to his people, and the suffering that he experienced was to refine him for this great responsibility.
JOSEPH SUSTAINED IN JEHOVAH’S MERCY
11. How did Joseph react to his bitter experiences, yet what further trials awaited him?
11 Never did Joseph permit his bitter experiences to sour him and turn him away from the true God. On the contrary, he relied all the more on the saving and preserving power of Jehovah, and because of it all the works of his hands were blessed. His diligence in Potiphar’s service in due time caused him to be elevated to the position of superintendent in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to seduce Joseph, who remained firm in his determination not to sin against his God. Foiled in her efforts, Potiphar’s wife now falsely accused Joseph of attempted rape and, when Potiphar believed her story, Joseph was thrown into prison.—Gen. 39:1-20.
12. (a) How was Joseph treated in prison, what experience did he have with two servants of Pharaoh and how did it encourage him? (b) What circumstances led to Joseph’s release from prison?
12 For a time Joseph was treated harshly in prison. (Ps. 105:17, 18) However, his diligence and reliance on Jehovah again were rewarded with further responsibility, and his exemplary conduct under adverse circumstances resulted in his being placed in a position of trust over the other prisoners. These came, eventually, to include two servants of Pharaoh, his chief cupbearer and his chief baker. Later on, they each had a dream and the next morning were downcast because there was no one to interpret their dreams for them. Joseph, sensitive to their need and with due credit to Jehovah God, interpreted their dreams for them and, just as he revealed it to them, so it occurred. The chief cupbearer was restored to Pharaoh’s favor within three days, while the chief baker was hanged within the same period. Unquestionably encouraged by Jehovah’s favor to him in giving him the interpretations and undoubtedly reassured as to the divine origin of his own dreams, Joseph urged the chief cupbearer to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of Joseph, and he agreed to do so. But the cupbearer, out of prison, forgot it until two years later when Pharaoh himself had dreams that he could not understand. When all the magic-practicing priests of Egypt were unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, the cupbearer recalled his experience with Joseph and related it to Pharaoh. Immediately Joseph was brought from the prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.—Gen. 39:21–41:14.
13. What was the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, and how was Joseph rewarded by Jehovah for his forbearance during his trials?
13 Now the record of forbearance that Joseph had built up and the compassionate attitude he had maintained during his trials were to be rewarded. Again giving credit to Jehovah, Joseph interpreted the two dreams of Pharaoh, explaining that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then advised Pharaoh that Jehovah had given him an answer of peace and described how Pharaoh could prepare for the years of famine during the years of plenty. Pharaoh recognized in Joseph himself the able food administrator who would be needed and appointed him to this position, making him second in the kingdom and giving him all authority to organize the work of storing up grain against the years of famine. Such great quantities did they store up that finally they gave up counting it. Joseph was also given a wife, Asʹenath, the daughter of Potiʹphera, a priest of On, who bore him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.—Gen. 41:15-52.
TRUE REPENTANCE MAKES ROOM FOR MERCY
14. What opportunity presented itself to Joseph in his exalted position, and how was his mercy to be put to the severest test?
14 Now Joseph was indeed in an enviable position. The lives of the people of Egypt, including the lives of Potiphar and his wife, were in his hands. But there was no danger to any of them. Joseph had already proved himself to be a forgiving and a merciful man, not one to be vengeful or vindictive. Still, his mercy was going to be put to the severest test. This occurred when the famine had spread to all the earth and peoples from all the earth came to Egypt seeking grain. One day, when Joseph was caring for his duties and compassionately providing food for the starving nations as well as for the Egyptians, his ten half brothers presented themselves before him and bowed down with their faces to the earth. Immediately Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed respecting them and, though he recognized them, he made himself unrecognizable to them and spoke to them only through an interpreter. How would he deal with them? After more than twenty years, their time of judgment had arrived. Since they had acted without mercy they deserved to be judged without mercy and, acting as Jehovah’s representative, Joseph could not violate Jehovah’s justice. Still, Joseph was not a vindictive man, and he would have to render an account to God for his course of action toward them. So, with wisdom from above, he put them to the test.—Gen. 41:53–42:8.
15. (a) How did Joseph treat his half brothers, and with what end in view? (b) How did his half brothers react to this turn of events?
15 Acting harshly toward them, he accused them of being spies, and when they professed their innocence and related to him that they were all sons of one man and that another brother was still at home, he bound Simeon before their eyes and told them that he must remain in custody until they returned with their other brother. Struck to the heart, his brothers revealed a completely repentant attitude, accepting this calamity as retributive justice from God, “because,” as they said among themselves, “we saw the distress of [Joseph’s] soul when he implored compassion on our part, but we did not listen.” Joseph, overhearing them, though they were unaware of it, was deeply moved himself and turned away from them in tears. However, their testing was not yet accomplished. There must be no doubt of the sincerity of their repentance. Loading their receptacles with grain, Joseph secretly had their money restored to them in their sacks, and sent them home, keeping Simeon in custody.—Gen. 42:9-28.
16. (a) How did Benjamin finally come down to Egypt, and how did Joseph react on seeing him? (b) To what final test did Joseph subject his half brothers, and how did it turn out?
16 Eventually their grain was used up and it became necessary to return to Egypt. But they had been warned not to see the face of Egypt’s food administrator again unless their brother was with them. Jacob, fearful of losing the only remaining son of his beloved wife Rachel as he had already lost Joseph, kept refusing to let him go, until finally there was no other way out. Judah promised to be security for him. When they appeared before Joseph and Joseph saw his own full brother Benjamin with them he could not restrain himself. His inward emotions being excited toward his brother, he withdrew to an interior room and gave way to tears. Then he put his half brothers to the final test. By a ruse he made it appear that Benjamin had stolen a valuable silver cup and demanded that Benjamin be left behind as his slave while the others returned to their home and their father. Heartbroken and grieving because they knew that the loss of his beloved Benjamin would bring their father’s gray hairs down to the grave, they pleaded with Joseph to restore Benjamin to them for their father’s sake and, finally, when Judah volunteered to give himself in place of Benjamin, Joseph could stand no more and, breaking into tears, he revealed himself to his brothers, saying: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not feel hurt and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you.” Joseph, at Pharaoh’s bidding, then arranged for Jacob his father to come to Egypt with all his household, and the best of the land of Egypt became theirs.—Gen. 42:29–47:31.
STANDING IN JUDGMENT WITH A RECORD OF MERCY
17. (a) What emphasizes the extent and quality of Joseph’s mercy, and why can we be reasonably certain that mercy was a characteristic quality of Joseph? (b) How can we personally profit from the examples of Joseph, Jesus and Stephen?
17 The extent and quality of Joseph’s mercy are emphasized by the circumstances under which it was exercised. Cruelly, even murderously, dealt with by his half brothers, maliciously accused falsely by Potiphar’s wife, harshly and unjustly imprisoned by Potiphar, thoughtlessly and ungratefully forgotten by the chief cupbearer whom he had compassionately comforted, Joseph gave no thought to retaliating in kind when it was within his power to do so. On the contrary, he lovingly and with deep and sincere consideration cared for all their needs, extending his compassionate interest to all his father’s household and to all the people of the nation of Egypt. Surely this quality of mercy was not something that Joseph acquired only after he was exalted to a position of prominence and power. Rather, the mercy that Jehovah exercised toward him during his trials, preserving, sustaining and reassuring him, stands as a testimony of the forgiving and merciful attitude that Joseph must have maintained through it all. This seems quite certain from the rule that Jesus stated: “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) It is much like Jesus’ own attitude on the torture stake when he was about to die and he said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” and like that of Stephen when being stoned to death and he cried out: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60) The merciful attitude displayed in each instance was rewarded by Jehovah.
18. Why should our exercising of mercy be of particular concern to us?
18 Does it not clearly appear, then, what our interest should be in exercising mercy? Paul assures us that “each of us will render an account for himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12) How reassuring it is to know that “mercy exults triumphantly over judgment”! Whether at some critical point during the present time, or in a fast-approaching Day of Judgment (2 Pet. 3:7), how we will fare in rendering an account for ourselves before God and his appointed Judge, Jesus Christ, will, among other factors, depend upon the record of mercy our account will show. Following consistently Jesus’ commandment to love, under all circumstances, will help to fill that record and, at the same time, contribute to Jehovah’s praise and to the peace of the congregation.
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Despite Joseph’s pleas for mercy, his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver
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Though Joseph’s brothers had dealt mercilessly with him, he did not retaliate but showed his repentant brothers compassion and cared for all their needs