WORD STUDY – DISTURBED – בהל
Genesis 45:3,5: “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I [am] Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence… (5) Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”
Yesterday I heard a song by Norah Jones where she sang the words: “My heart is drenched in wine.” Someone translating that into another language might render it as: “My heart is drenched in fermented grape juice.” Technically, the translation would be correct, emotionally it would not convey the message that the writer intended.
In all our 150 modern English translations of the Bible, unless a translation was done by a single person rather than a team of scholars and linguists, I do not believe there are any with mistranslations. There are, however, great variances in the emotional context that a word is placed in.
I was reading in the Talmud this morning in Chagigah 4b something that I never even considered in my years of studying the story of Joseph going back to little child in Sunday School when I first heard the story. You all know the story after Joseph was viceroy over the most powerful nation in the world he revealed to his brothers his identity as the brother they tried to kill and then sold into slavery. I remember even as a child my Sunday School teacher saying: “Now children, Joseph was a powerful man and his brothers were fearful that he would take revenge and have them punished, but Joseph was a forgiving man.” The message in that statement was so powerful that I never wanted to consider any other way to interpret that scene. His brothers now confronted with the brother they tried to kill who was now one of the most powerful men in the world and could declare torture and any kind of punishment he wanted on these hateful brothers, was so full of love he just embraced them and wept. The brothers were, of course, fearful for their lives. I mean that is the only logical conclusion.
Yet, I allowed my personal bias to blind me to verse 5 which clearly tells us that the brothers were not fearful of their lives but that they were grieved and angry with themselves. The Bible is full of messages of forgiveness and this story is one of forgiveness, but that is not all it is teaching. What I read in the Talmud was just a reminder that my learning and understanding of God’s Word never ceases. What made them bahal or terrified was not fear that their brother could now indulge in whatever revenge he desired, but that they were filled with shame and remorse over what they had done. They had now matured to the point where they were no longer jealous and self centered youths. This was 22 years later, they were married and had children of their own and were now responsible adults. It was now time for reconciliation to put their past behind them and embrace their brother and let by gones by be gones.
You see the word bahal as many different renderings. Some translations render it as the brothers were terrified, some render it as stunned, others dismayed, troubled frightened, afraid or afrightened. All of these renderings are technically correct but all create an emotional context which is could lead to contradictory interpretations. If we follow the NIV and use the word terrified for bahal most of us will immediately conclude they were fearful of their own gizzard. But if we stop and consider the passage of 22 years. 22 years to contemplate what you had done to your brother, 22 years to have children of your own, 22 years of experiencing the joys and comradery of family relationships, 22 years of maturity, that alone could say that these brothers were carrying a heavy weight of guilt and remorse.
Then weigh in the verse 5 where Joseph is not telling his brothers, “Don’t be afraid, I will not harm you” but he is telling them, “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves.” This takes the story, for me at least, to a whole new level. Not only did Joseph forgive his brothers, but he so loved his brothers that his immediate concern was for the guilt they felt and his first thought was to take this burden of guilt off of them. It was not until their father died that the brothers started to consider the fact that Joseph might seek revenge. However, their immediate thought was the shame of their own transgression. How often when our sin is revealed do we first think: “Oh my, I’m going to hell.” Only later, if ever, do we consider the pain we brought to the heart of God. Here we have an example of true repentance where the brother’s first thought was regret for their transgression and only weeks and months later do they start to consider the punishment. True repentance starts with regret over our sin, not over the penalty of our sins.
It is here that I see the love of my Jesus. Think about it. Do you not sometimes feel so burdened with guilt that your sins caused Jesus to suffer and die on a cross? Yes, you accept his forgivenss, but He is offering you something else. He is so in love with you as Joseph was with his brothers that forgiveness is not enough for Jesus, He also longs and desire that we not carry that burden of guilt, not only guilt of our sin, but the guilt that our sin caused him suffering.
If we truly love someone, we will regret any transgression we do to that person. But our suffering will be because of the pain we brought that person. Even if we are forgiven, the real suffering that we must bear is knowing we hurt the person we love. If someone has wronged you, it is not enough to just forgive them, but to do what Jesus does and that is to assured them the pain we suffered from their wrong can be turned to good by God just as God took what was intended to harm Joseph and turned it into something good. (Genesis 50:20)