More on “God did it”
Genesis 50: Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good….
For over 20 years Joseph’s brothers carried the secret guilt of what they did to him. Now, even though Joseph has forgiven them we see that they haven’t yet forgiven themselves. The reason for this is that, if their roles were reversed, they’d still be holding a grudge. When their father dies they’re afraid that it was for the sake of Jacob that Joseph never took revenge on them. When Joseph realizes what’s happening he assures his brothers that he has no intention of striking out at them. Through the years Joseph has had lots of time to think about the flow of events in his life and he’s developed an insightful theology about it all. On one hand, he knows that it wasn’t God who planned evil things against him. Clearly, it was his brothers who did this and Joseph makes no attempt to say the Lord was behind their evil deed. On the other hand, Joseph sees that when his brothers did their worst that they couldn’t derail God’s ultimate plan. God moved in and redeemed their evil act, turning it into good for Joseph and even for those evil-deed-doing bothers. Earlier, Joseph told his brothers, concerning his being sold into slavery, that “God did it.” Now we see that, while this statement isn’t wrong, it’s incomplete. When people act in their own free will to do the wrong thing God has a knack of stepping in and transforming it into something good. My friend, considering that this conversation takes place over a century before the Ten Commandments are given that’s a pretty mature theology.
Take away: God doesn’t do bad things to accomplish his will, but he’s capable of working through bad things to bring his purposes to pass.
Cross armed blessings
Genesis 48: He thought he had made a mistake.
With his aged father, Jacob, now close by Joseph brings his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to meet their grandfather. It’s a big moment for all involved and Jacob prepares to bestow a blessing on his grandsons. Joseph carefully places his first born at the right hand of his father, making Manasseh the primary blessing receiver but Jacob simply crosses his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim. When Joseph corrects his father Jacob responds that he knows what he’s doing and proceeds with the blessing, declaring that both boys will be blessed, but Ephraim will be greater and that his descendants will be a blessing to the whole world. As often happens with God we have here a surprise event that gets our attention. The fact is that the Lord loves blessing unlikely people. He takes those who shouldn’t have much of a chance at life and uses them in wonderful and unexpected ways. This passage hints at the “unexpected” nature of the blessing when Jacob says others will be blessed through Ephraim. In fact, the real difference between the blessings given to these brothers is that one will be used to bless others.
Take away: In God, we’re both blessed and used to bring blessings to others.
Seeking God’s direction
Genesis 46: I’ll go with you down to Egypt.
The news that not only is his son Joseph alive but that he’s running the entire country of Egypt is almost more than Jacob can absorb. For over 20 years he’s thought his son was dead, killed by a wild animal. Now, he’s to leave the land promised to his grandfather, Abraham, and join Joseph in Egypt. With a region-wide famine ravishing the land and Joseph calling him to Egypt Jacob is ready to go; well, almost. As he begins the relocation of his family, Jacob stops at Beersheba. This is the site of a well that was dug by his ancestor Abraham. It was also a favorite location of his father, Isaac. Jacob comes to Beersheba to seek the face of God and the Lord doesn’t disappoint. The promise is a wonderful one. God will go with Jacob to Egypt and he’ll prosper him there. When the time is right, Canaan will be given to his family, just as the Lord promised Abraham. With this promise ringing in his ears, Jacob leads his family to Egypt. I really like all I see here. Jacob’s returning to holy ground to seek God’s direction makes perfect sense and the response of the Lord proves the wisdom of this action. I need to remember to seek God before making big decisions. Actually, come to think of it, I need to practice for the big decisions by seeking his face in the minor ones too.
Take away: It makes good sense to seek the wisdom of God as I make decisions in my life.
Can’t we all just get along?
Genesis 45: Take it easy on the journey; try to get along with each other.
Having revealed his true identity to his brothers Joseph informs them that the famine will continue for another five years. He urges them to relocate to Egypt where he can take care of them. As he sends them back to Canaan he adds, “Take it easy and try to get along.” Isn’t that an odd statement? They’re returning home with lots of good news. Joseph is alive, he’s a powerful man, and he’s going to take care of them all. It’s been over 20 years since he spent time with them, but he’s experienced firsthand the results of the rivalry among them. With that in mind he cautions them against disagreements in their number. Centuries later, Paul says something similar to the Christians at Rome: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro 12:18). Apparently even people with good news and better things to do sometimes fail to get along. Joseph wants his brothers to keep the big picture in mind. Paul wants the same thing for the church. Once in a while, maybe all God’s people need to be reminded to take it easy and to try to get along.
Take away: Getting along sometimes takes real effort on our part, but it’s a worthy goal.
You’ve got to be kidding!
Genesis 44: God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.
“God was behind it”?? Joseph, you’ve got to be kidding! This was a bad series of events. You’ve been sold into slavery, lied about, imprisoned, forgotten – and God was behind it? What school of theology did you attend anyway? Do you really believe God would send you into such difficult circumstances? God only sends nice things into our lives – you know, “God is love,” “Name it and claim it,” “Health and wealth” — that sort of thing.
Uh, what’s that I see? It’s a shadow that looks a lot like a cross. The cross…God was behind it…saving lives.
Never mind…I get it.
Take away: God will do whatever is necessary to bring grace into the world and into our lives.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
Genesis 42: Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother.
As a famine crushes the region only Egypt, under Joseph’s rule, prospers. Soon, those from the surrounding nations are coming to Egypt, ready to pay any price for grain. In time, aged Jacob sends his sons to Egypt and for the first time in the over 20 years since they sold him into slavery the brothers come face to face with the one they terribly mistreated. When they don’t recognize him, Joseph uses his authority to find out what kind of men his brothers have become. If one of them is put in jeopardy, will they abandon him as they abandoned Joseph long ago? With Simeon held back, the others are free to go. As I hear the conversation they have I’m taken with the enduring and debilitating power of guilt. They say to one another: “Now we’re paying for what we did to Joseph.” The truth of the matter is that all these years they’ve been paying for their terrible deed and dark secret. These are men haunted by their past and I have the idea that through the years they’ve thought or said these words every time some unexpected difficulty rose. People think they’re getting away with something just because no one knows but that’s never true. Not only is it untrue on the big stage, at the Judgment Day level; it’s also true in day-to-day living. In this case it’s a wound that time will not heal and the only resolution is to confess and take appropriate action to make things right.
Take away: Some things never heal until they’re exposed to the light.
The coming crisis
Genesis 41: Egypt was the only country that had bread.
Joseph rises to power in Egypt based on some of the king’s dreams. When the king is troubled by the dreams and wants someone to explain their meaning to him, Joseph, under the inspiration of the Lord, comes through. His new job is to take advantage of the coming seven years of bounty in preparation for the following seven years of famine. Joseph does such a good job of this that, once the famine hits, Egypt has enough grain for its own citizens and plenty to sell to surrounding nations too. I know there’s a huge difference of scale, but we’re expected to do the same thing in our lives. We may not have a vision or a dream or some other specific advance knowledge of what’s coming but we do know this: every person goes through both good days and bad. That’s not only true of our financial picture, it’s also true spiritually. I need to take full advantage of times of spiritual refreshment. Right now I may have extra time to spend in the presence of the Lord, to bask in the light of his love. Later on, a crisis will come (note: I didn’t say “might come”) when there will be no time for quiet reflection on spiritual truths. I need to fill the storehouse of my life with the good things the Lord is providing for me right now so that when I need them, they’ll be there to help me through troubled times.
Take away: What am I “storing up” now that will help me when it’s time to make a withdrawal?
From Jailhouse to Penthouse
Genesis 41: Joseph was in charge of the entire country of Egypt.
Within a matter of hours Joseph is elevated from being a prison trustee to being second only to the king. After years of misery God’s plan unfolds and in a matter of hours an event greater than Joseph’s highest hopes is realized. This is so sweeping a change that even Joseph must have problems grasping it all. Beyond that, there’s a feeling of “rightness” about it. Joseph takes off his prison garments and puts on those of royalty and, well, they fit him perfectly. He immediately begins to discharge his duties with authority. You see, he was born for this moment. It was a terrible thing when he was betrayed by, first his brothers, and then Mrs. Potiphar. However, at the same time, the Lord used those events to prepare Joseph for what was coming. Those years in jail were long and unwelcome, but the Lord used them to Joseph’s benefit. I haven’t been as low and I’ve never risen to the heights described in this story. However, I’ve found that the Lord is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes. I’ve also found that when it all comes together it all fits perfectly. In fact, it works so well that, if I’m not careful, I miss God’s hand in it and chalk it up to being merely a natural flow of events.
Take away: God is incredibly patient in accomplishing his purposes, but the end result is just right.
Genesis 40: Don’t interpretations come from God?
Joseph’s situation deteriorates from his being a slave to his being a slave in prison. However, even there God’s with him and, while his life is not that of a favored son, he does rise to a position of authority in this limited world. The most significant thing that happens to Joseph during these years is his contact with the disgraced cupbearer of the King. When he, along with another prisoner, has disturbing dreams Joseph offers to interpret them. With God’s help Joseph is right on in his interpretation and that lays the foundation for the next chapter in God’s plan for him. It’s interesting to think about God speaking to people through dreams and I have to confess that if the Lord has ever spoken to me in that way I missed it entirely. Still, the Bible has several stores of people having dreams and visions from God. Even the Apostle Paul received his “Come over into Macedonia” request in a dream. I’ve concluded that I don’t think about God-given dreams very much for two reasons. First, unlike those whose stories are in the Bible, I have the Bible as a communication from God. Everything I need to know for my salvation is found there. If I want to know what God is saying to me, I need to spend less time dreaming and more time reading his Word. Second is, I think, lack of expectancy. Godly people of the Bible weren’t surprised to hear from God via their dreams. In some cultures, that amounts to just so much superstition. However, they knew they served the Living God and that he is a Communicating God. With that in mind, it may be that I need to keep praying the child’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” as a sincere request that the Lord watch over me through the night. I might even want to extend to the Lord an invitation to inhabit my dreams if he so desires.
Take away: Let’s be open to hear from God in any way he chooses to communicate.
Hell hath no fury…
Genesis 39: How could I violate his trust and sin against God?
The Ten Commandments, with the “no adultery” and “no coveting” rules, are 500 years into the future but Joseph already gets it. He’s gone from being the favorite son to being a lowly slave. His intelligence, honesty, and God’s blessing put him on the fast track in Potiphar’s household, but he’s still a slave, a piece of property. When Mrs. Potiphar becomes infatuated with him Joseph refuses to play along. There’ll be no fling with the boss’s wife for him. Joseph doesn’t need Moses or Laws written in stone to tell him that that would be a betrayal of Potiphar and a sin against God. Even though Mrs. Potiphar doesn’t like Joseph’s insistence on sexual purity he stands his ground (well, better put: he flees as fast as his feet will carry him!). I’m impressed with this young man who takes his commitment to God seriously even in the face of sexual opportunity. For him, he’ll hold to God’s beautiful standard of sex only within marriage. As we see in this story, and as we see in the lives of people today, individuals who have standards and hold to them are in a position to be especially blessed by God and to be a blessing to others.
Take away: God can use people who hold to his standards.