In Exodus 50:19 Joseph uttered these profoundly thoughtful words. His brothers were terrified that Joesph might be plotting revenge on them and their families for all the wrong they had done to Joseph as a boy by selling him as a slave to traders who sold him to the Egyptians. Their beloved father had died and Joseph was second in command in all of Egypt, there was almost nothing that he couldn’t get away with. So, as his brothers begged for their and their families’ lives, Joseph reminds them that revenge is God’s prerogative, not his.
If only we could remind ourselves of this deep truth, not only when it comes to revenge and grudges, but even more broadly about God’s exclusive prerogatives.
For instance, setting true moral boundaries is God’s prerogative, not ours. The world has always wanted to set the bar for morality and these days has set the bar especially low. Sexual morality, in modern times, has few “forbiddens”; honesty and truth has become a very fluid thing, changing with the individual; immodesty among women and men, it would seem, is applied largely to bare nakedness of the rawest kind; the neighbor we should love is defined by political labels; greed and materialism have become positive motivators to success and progress; the ends seem to constantly justify any means; and hatred is tolerable, if it is against one’s political opponents. The list could go on, but the truth is that we are not the legitimate setters of the bar for right and wrong; God is. We may want to set the moral boundaries, when we desire to do something sinful; but it doesn’t work that way. We must not set ourselves in God’s place.
True spiritual teachings are God’s prerogative, not ours. Somehow, the world seems to have decided that spiritual truths can be changed as easily as changing the ending of a fairy tale we don’t like. But spiritual truths are no more changeable than physical truths. That gravity pulls toward the earth, that rocks are hard, that light travels at 186,000 miles a second, etc. are physically non-negotiable laws of the natural world. And similarly, disobedience to God is sin, the wages of sin is death, Heaven and Hell are eternal places, etc. are spiritually non-negotiable laws of the spiritual world. The same God who created the physical reality also created the spiritual reality. We sin by God’s definition, we can be saved by God’s way, and we will spend eternity in places that God Himself prepared. We are not the writers of these laws or the creators of these realities, God is. We may want to be the authority for spiritual truth, when Biblical truth becomes inconvenient or is not to our taste; but it doesn’t work that way. We must not set ourselves in God’s place about spiritual truth.
Judgement, too, is God’s prerogative, not ours. I am not the judge. You are not the judge. No man-made panel, no man-made appointee is the judge. This is God’s prerogative alone. In His word He has told us what will condemn us and what will redeem us. Similarly, in His word He has told us what is doctrinally true and what is not. And God’s word even gives us examples of His judgment — that it is sure, that it is just, and that for the sinful it is severe. This allows each reader of the Scripture to accurately know for himself ahead of time, ahead of the day of judgment, how God will judge each man’s words, deeds, and thoughts — against His moral standard. And how God will judge each man’s teachings and practices — against spiritual reality. It also allows those who have read God’s word to warn others of how God plans to judge mankind. It is not my right, not any other Christian’s privilege, nor any worldling’s place to either condemn or justify anyone, on the basis of human preference. As Jesus Himself put it, (John 5:30) “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” We may think that we’d like to call the shots on judgement or whether there’ll be a judgement at all, but that’s not the way it works. We must not imagine that we can set ourselves in God’s place about judgement.
Satan, the Scripture implies, fell from Heaven through pride and trying to usurp God’s place. Joseph was indeed wise, much wiser than many, when he passed on revenge against his brothers and said, “Am I in the place of God?” Let’s recognize our real place in this world, we are human, we are the creation; we are not God, not the Creator.