“3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”NIV
“Come close to me” (4).
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
I often think of the comment attributed to J.O.Sanders, that we are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be.
The Lord wants intimacy with us. ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism – underlining mine).
Naturally speaking, we would have reason to be “terrified” of Him (like Joseph’s brothers with Joseph) – but for His mercy. That mercy makes all the difference. (You can imagine, though, the brothers being so scared when this powerful Egyptian potentate began speaking to them in their own language, and they discovered he was their brother. Would he now take his revenge on them? It seemed there was much too fear. He was so mighty, and they must have felt so weak and vulnerable before him).
Tom Hale, in his ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’ (p.195) helpfully explains the background to this moment:
‘When Judah, as spokesman for his brothers, had confessed the sin against Joseph (Genesis 44:16) and had demonstrated true repentance by offering to take Benjamin’s punishment (Genesis 44:33), the way was opened for full reconciliation to take place. We can tell from Joseph’s conduct that he had already forgiven his brothers, but full restoration of their relationship had to wait until the brothers confessed their sin and agreed to make amends for it.
The same sequence should hold true for all of the wrongs we endure in life. We ourselves must forgive those who wrong us – immediately and unconditionally (Matthew 6:14-15). However, that alone does not restore the relationship; for full restoration to occur, the one who did the wrong must confess it and do the work of repentance – which is to make things right.
In this chapter we see the joy that forgiveness and reconciliation can bring. How often we miss that joy by refusing to forgive and refusing to confess.’
It is important, then, to see the wonderful invitation in James 4:8 in its wider context (James 4:4-10). In the next sentences James goes on to say:
“Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8b-10).
The invitation to draw near to God, with its wonderful promise attached, is set in the context of a call for a thorough-going repentance. The Joseph story illustrates the point.