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Posts Tagged "Genesis 50:15-21"

But God Meant It for Good

July 05, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

A couple of people have mentioned to me, in the last few weeks, that they think we may be in the last times, because of all the Covid problems and so many unsettling things going on. This is a situation worth thinking about, since the Bible clearly says that there will be an end to all things and that we need to prepared, by continued faith in our Savior. At the same time, even nearly 2,000 years ago, our Lord Jesus predicted, “In the world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Troubles and challenges will come. And early Christian leaders like Paul were telling people, “When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:4).

Joseph certainly knew this reality of affliction and trouble, in our Old Testament lesson. If you remember the story, Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and clearly his father’s favorite. (You can read the entire story in Genesis, chapters 37-50.) His brothers were jealous of him and became more and more angry and frustrated with him, over time.

His father compounds the problem by giving Joseph something he gives to him alone - a coat of many colors. And finally, Joseph has two dreams which he interprets to mean that his brothers and even his father would one day bow down to him. That was the last straw for his brothers. They decided to kill him and be rid of him.

But one of his brothers, Judah, convinces the others to sell Joseph as a slave. They could then get some money for selling him and still be rid of him. They kill an animal and put its blood on his coat of many colors, pretending he had been killed by a wild animal. Father Jacob is devastated by hearing of the supposed death of his favorite son.

And Joseph is only 17 years old when he is sold as a slave and taken to Egypt. If you were Joseph, what would you be thinking about your brothers and the evil they did to you? And what would you think about God? Why in the world would He have allowed such a thing to happen? We don’t know all of Joseph’s thoughts, but he was sold again, in Egypt, as a house slave to Potiphar, captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt.

What we do know is that, by the grace of God, Joseph kept his faith, and the Lord was with him, and over time, he became an important, faithful slave and leader for his master; and Potiphar even recognized that the Lord, the one true God, was with Joseph.

All went fairly well, though he was still a slave, until Potiphar’s wife wanted him to do wrong things with her. She kept after him and after him, though he kept refusing, until he finally had to say, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Joseph had done exactly the right thing; but then Potiphar’s wife turns against him and lies and betrays him, and Joseph is thrown into prison. Prisons in those days were horrible. Joseph called it “the pit.” But he was there for at least several years.

Again, the Lord was with him and helped him survive. God also gave him the gift of being able to interpret dreams; and Joseph meets the cupbearer of Pharaoh, who had fallen into disfavor with Pharaoh and was thrown into prison, also. Joseph interprets a dream of his, exactly, and the cupbearer is soon released from the prison and returns to serve Pharaoh.

The cupbearer quickly forgets about Joseph and his help, though, and for two more long years, Joseph sits in the prison, that pit. Finally, the Pharaoh himself has some dreams that none of his advisors can understand or interpret. The cupbearer remembers, at last, and Joseph is called out of prison to see the Pharaoh.

Joseph is able, by God’s power, to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. He tells that seven very prosperous years are coming for Egypt followed by seven years of famine and trouble. But with careful planning and God’s blessings, plenty of food can be stored up in the good years, and the people can then make it through the lean years, too. Joseph himself is chosen to be the architect of the plans for Egypt, for even Pharaoh says, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”

All goes well for Joseph and for Egypt, and it is during the years of famine that his father, Jacob, sends some of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, because that is the only place around to buy food. Joseph recognizes who the brothers are, but they do not recognize him. He gives them a rough time, for a little while, to test them and see if his father and younger brother are still alive. Then Joseph reveals who he is, forgives his brothers, and arranges, with Pharaoh’s permission, to move his whole family to Egypt where they can be safe and well for several generations.

As our text (Genesis 50:15ff) begins, though, the brothers are not so sure about all this. When Father Jacob dies, they are afraid that Joseph would now punish them. Maybe he had only been kind to them because their father was still alive. They beg and beg, in the name of Jacob and of God, for forgiveness; and they fell down before Joseph, saying, “Behold, we are your servants” (v.16-18). It was exactly what had been predicted so many years before, in the dreams that Joseph had, that had them so upset.

But Joseph is full of mercy and forgiveness for them. He knew that God had been so merciful to him and had helped him so much through very difficult times. He had to be merciful also, in thanks to His Lord. So, he says those beautiful words, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Is it my job to judge and condemn? No! “You meant evil against me, but God means it for good ... that many people should be kept alive, as they are today…” by all the food available to them (v.19-20).

And Joseph is also thinking of the promises of God to his own family. Earlier in Genesis 45, Joseph had told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth … So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:7-8).” And in our text, Joseph not only forgave his brothers, he helped them. He said, “‘Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (50:21).

God used Joseph and even the evil acts of his brothers to advance His whole plan of salvation and spare those sons of Jacob. He grew their little group of about 70 people into the great nation of Israel, the Jewish nation, a people about whom we read in the whole Old Testament. They had plenty of ups and downs too, but from a “remnant” of them, the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus, would come. As the book of Romans tell us, “From their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (9:5). The brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!

But could that be said about us, too, in the midst of all the ups and downs we face in our lives, still today? We know, from the whole of the Scriptures, that what God wants to give us and His world, above all, is His love and mercy and forgiveness. “God so loved the world,” we know from John 3:16. And John 3:17 says, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” And it was through His Son, being condemned to die for us, in our place, on the cross, for our sins, that forgiveness and life and hope have come to us.

We have, by the grace of God, come to be baptized and to believe for ourselves this wonderful Good News in Jesus our Savior. And we have the promise of God in Romans 8: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him,” (the Christ), “graciously give us all things?” (8:32) But that does not mean all things we want or think are right for us. Joseph has to remind us in our text, “Am I in the place of God?” Do I know, better than God, what should happen? Romans 8:26 also reminds us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not even know what to pray for, as we ought.” Isn’t that so true, in confused, uncertain times?

And when the troubles and evils of this sin-filled world pile up for us, it is very difficult. We wish for instant answers and quick solutions, not years of uncertainty, as Joseph had to go through. It is so hard, also, for us to show mercy to others, when our own burdens seem so heavy; though Jesus tells us, in our gospel lesson, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). But, by faith, we do try to hang onto that promise, also from Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” - His purpose and plan, not ours.

Maybe you heard the news from the Purdue News Service this past week that one of Purdue’s women’s basketball players was to have had ankle surgery earlier this year. Covid came along, though, and all but emergency surgeries were postponed. There have been more and more delays, and now, this student will have to miss the whole upcoming season. She can “redshirt” for next season, but things are not going at all as she expected. Now this might not seem like a big deal in the whole scheme of things going on in the world today, but whatever troubles we face, big or small, whoever we are, are very real and important for us - and for people of Indiana, basketball is always important and a big deal!

Coach Sharon Versyp said, “It was crushing news” to hear this. But I am very glad that Purdue’s News Service also chose to include this reaction from the student herself. She said, “Sitting out this season will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face in my life … But I keep reminding myself that God has a reason and a plan for everything.” Here is a young woman who is living by faith and trusting that God can and does work for good, somehow, no matter what the circumstances. She is honest, too, and says, “I keep reminding myself.” We all have to keep hearing these promises of God, don’t we, to stay strong? It is not easy. And this student also said, “I’ve stayed focused on the positives.” She knows her Lord and can see many, many blessings in spite of her setbacks. She is a good example to us, and we pray that she will be back next year, better than ever.

But sometimes, some of the best witnesses and encouragers for us are also those who don’t get better, whatever their problems and struggles are, even with many prayers. We have certainly known people like this and have some of them in our own congregation. The Lord helps them to carry on, even with many limitations, and they are a great light and witness for Him; and the Lord is especially working good for us through them and their faith and perseverance and example.

For all of us, whatever our situation and struggles, the apostle Peter, in his first letter, writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time” (in His own good time), “He may lift you up” (1 Peter5:6). We pray that the Lord lifts us up to good health and better times, soon. But for some of us, the Lord may choose to lift us up to heaven, to eternal life, which we know is ultimately “far better” (Philippians 1:23). So, Peter says, “Cast all your cares (all your anxieties) on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And he really is working for your good, too.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for you (Philippians 4:7).

Amen

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