God's Providence - turning evil into good
Genesis 45:5-8; 50:18-21
A large portion of the Old Testament book of Genesis is about Joseph. I could speak on this section of Scripture for a few months. But today I want to focus on a profound observation Joseph made. Before we get there, however, let's quickly do an overview of the story of Joseph.
Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. There were four different mothers here and Jacob's favored wife, Rachel, gave birth to two of the twelve – Joseph and his brother Benjamin. To put it mildly, Jacob favored Joseph and, to put it mildly, Joseph's brothers didn't appreciate that at all. And, in his youth, Joseph didn't really help the matter.
Genesis 37:3-10 (NIV)
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”
So the brothers sold Joseph into slavery and convinced Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
The Lord was with Joseph, and as Joseph lived a life of integrity he ends up managing the household and the assets of a wealthy Egyptian family – better. Because of his integrity, however, Joseph ends up in prison - the wife of his owner felt insulted when Joseph wouldn't get intimate with her and she accuses him of rape. So, first, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, and then while he's doing the right thing, he finds himself in an Egyptian prison.
Now because the Lord was with him in prison, Joseph ends up managing the prison.
Genesis 39:21-23 (NIV)
The Lord was with [Joseph]; [the Lord] showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
Now, in prison God grants Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. And, what does God do then? Well, two years later God gives the Pharaoh a dream that really needs interpretation. So Joseph ends up in front of the Pharaoh where they have an introductory exchange.
Genesis 41:15-16 (NIV)
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
This is really quite amazing - Joseph not only gives God all of the credit, he takes himself out of the equation by telling Pharaoh that God will give the interpretation to Pharaoh. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Joseph to insert himself as the necessary, and noble mediator.
So Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of devastating famine, Joseph recommends a plan of action - save grain during the good years so you’ll have food in the bad years. As a result Joseph ends up managing Egypt - which puts him in position to be there when the famine drives his brothers to Egypt to buy food.
Now here’s the scene we’re interested in. After Joseph’s brothers find out that the one they sold into slavery is the one they are bowing in front of (Remember Joseph’s dream?), and they’re really scared because Joseph literally has the power of life and death over them, Joseph says:
Genesis 45:5-8 (NIV)
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
Later, after Jacob dies, the brothers are again concerned that Joseph might take revenge:
Genesis 50:18-21 (NIV)
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him (Remember the dream?). “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
“Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, so don‘t be afraid - it‘s all good. God orchestrated this so that, now, I could take care of you.” What an amazing thing to say.
So, how is God involved in the events of life? What is God’s providence?
We can define God’s providence like this: God is personally involved with all things in such a way that he directs them to fulfill his purposes. What this means is that God directs the will and actions of humans to fulfill his purposes. In a world that swims in sinful intent and sinful action, God is God. God will achieve his goals and he will be glorified and those he saves will have joy - sin does not defeat God.
Ephesians 1:11 (NIV)
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…
Proverbs 16:1, 9, 33 (NIV)
vs 1) To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.
vs 9) In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
vs33) The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
God saw Jeremiah’s life like this - Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Paul saw his life like this - Galatians 1:15 (NIV)
But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…
Death of Jesus (Peter and John) - Acts 4:27-28 (NIV)
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
Do you embrace God’s plan to glorify himself as the greatest, most beautiful purpose in the universe. You know that God’s glory and our happiness are aligned. We are here to glorify God by being people that are fulfilled in him and living for him.
Are you living like Joseph did? Are you aligned with God's purpose in your action and then trusting God?