Selected Scriptures from Genesis
God allows bad things to happen to His children. We know this to be true because bad things have happened to us. The Scriptures teach us that God, who has the power to prevent these bad things, instead chooses to use these "bad things" in such a way to bring about a most blessed outcome. And this is precisely what we find in the life of Joseph.
Joseph came from a wealthy family--a family that was the special recipient of God's favour. But we should also note that Joseph came from, what we would call today, a "dysfunctional family". Joseph came from a household with one father, two wives, two concubines, 12 sons, and 1 daughter. Two of his brothers were guilty of mass murder; another brother had sexual relations with his father's concubine. Needless to say, this was not a happy household.
Not helping the matter was the fact that Jacob openly favoured Joseph over his other brothers. And, as a sign that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his sons, Joseph was given a long robe with sleeves. (I was impressed to see that our pew Bible rendered this accurately. Most of you, I am sure, when you think of Joseph, think of his multi-coloured coat. The words used in the Hebrew, however, tell us that this was a full-length robe--the words say nothing about colour. The significance of the long robe with sleeves is that it was typically worn by someone who was not required to work. The more common, sleeveless, garments were worn by the working class.) This open kind of favouritism, we are told, caused the brothers to "hate (Joseph), and they could not speak to him on friendly terms"(37:4).
Joseph only made matters worse when he began telling his brothers about the dreams he was having--dreams that predicted that his brothers would, one day, bow down before him. We are not surprised then, to read in 37:8 that "(Joseph's brothers) hated him even more for his dreams and for his words."
We get a glimpse of how intense the hatred is towards Joseph when we read in 37:18 that "when (the brothers) saw (Joseph) from a distance . . . they plotted against him to put him to death." By the time Joseph reached them, the oldest brother, Reuben, was able to talk his brothers out of killing Joseph and so we read in verse 23 that, "they stripped Joseph of his robe . . . and they took him and threw him into the pit"(37:23, 24). It was not too long after that, Joseph was sold to Midianites traveling to Egypt who, in turn, sold Joseph to Potiphar, Pharaoh's officer (37:36).
What a terrible crime! Joseph, stripped of his coat and his dignity, was sold by his own brothers to merchants traveling to a foreign land. And I question whether Joseph, Egypt-bound and strapped to the back of a smelly camel, was thinking about the good thing God was planning for him. And I know that we too, struggle to see the good that God is planning in the midst of our pain.
In chapter 39, verse 2, we should be comforted as we read that "the Lord was with Joseph". And it was not the case that God simply stood by Joseph as a helpless bystander, but we read "the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man." And seeing "how the Lord caused Joseph to prosper in all he did . . . (Potiphar) made (Joseph) overseer in his house, and all that he owned he put (Joseph) in charge of"(39:4).
Things were looking up for Joseph. He was turning heads. But then he turned the wrong head. Joseph's success and attractive appearance (39:6) caught the eye of Potiphar's wife and she demanded that he sleep with her (39:7).
Now Joseph may have lost his coat, he may have lost his freedom, but Joseph had not lost his character. Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar's wife with the strong rebuke, "How could I do this great evil, and sin against God?"(39:9).
The situation then went from bad to worse for Joseph. Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of making advances on her, and so we read in 39:20 that "Joseph's master took him and put him in jail".
I wonder what Joseph thought about the providence of God at this point! He has been sold to foreigners as a slave by his own brothers, and now, his attempt to be faithful to God has landed him in jail. Where is the providence of God?
Joseph may not have seen it at the time, but the author of Genesis makes sure that we do not miss it, for in the verses that follow Joseph's jailing we are told, "But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailer. And the chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail . . . The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph's charge because the Lord was with (Joseph); and whatever he did, the Lord made him prosper"(39:21-23).
We are not told very much about what happened during the two years Joseph spent in prison. We are told, however, that Pharaoh's cupbearer and chief baker were prisoners with Joseph. And both the cupbearer and the chief baker came to Joseph to have their dreams interpreted. For the baker, Joseph predicted his execution, and for the cupbearer Joseph predicted that he would be restored to his office in 3 days. Joseph then requested of the cupbearer, "remember me when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of here"(40:14).
Sadly, however, we are told in the final verse of chapter 40 that "the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him"(40:23). But "it just so happened", that Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted as well. At that point the cupbearer did mention Joseph and so Joseph was called upon to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Joseph then interpreted Pharaoh's dream, predicting the years of famine that lay ahead.
In chapter 41, we read Pharaoh's response, "Since God has informed you of all of this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you"(41:39,40).
We are told that Joseph is 30 years old at this point. He has gone from a slave to a prisoner to the Prime Minister of Egypt. And we are told that when the famine hit, people from every land came to Egypt looking for food, and it was Joseph's job to sell and distribute the food as he saw fit.
Do you remember the promise God made to Abraham--to make him "a great nation"? Well, that nation to be was in great danger and so Jacob said to his sons, "go down (to Egypt) and buy some (bread) for us . . . so that we may live and not die"(42:1,2).
Are you beginning to see the providence of God in the life of Joseph? God was indeed causing all things to work together for good in the life of Joseph. God allowed some terrible things to happen to Joseph, but He allowed them knowing He could use those things for holy purposes.
The next few chapters tell the story of how Joseph hid his identity from his brothers as he provided them with the food they needed to survive. But eventually, Joseph is overcome by emotion.
We read in chapter 45 that "he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am Joseph! . . . I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt'"(45:1-4).
At what point Joseph understood that God had everything under control, I do not know. But in 50:20, we see that Joseph clearly understood God's providence when he says to his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."
This is providence. The will of Joseph's brothers was working concurrently with the will of God. God did not coerce Joseph's brothers into hating him and into selling him as a slave, that came naturally to them.
The brothers' will was to sell Joseph with the intention of doing harm to him. God also willed the sale of Joseph, but God's intentions were quite different. God willed Joseph to be sold knowing He would use that to save Israel from perishing.
If we trace God's providence in the life of Joseph we can clearly see God's wisdom in allowing all of these things to happen to Joseph.
First of all, if there was no fancy coat, perhaps there would have been no jealousy among Joseph's brothers. No jealousy, no selling Joseph to Midianite traders. And if the Midianite traders had been traveling in a different direction, Joseph would never have gone to Egypt. No Egypt, no selling to Potiphar. If someone else bought Joseph, there would have been no encounter with Poitiphar's wife. No Potiphar's wife, no prison. No prison, no meeting the baker and the butler. No meeting with the butler, no meeting with Pharaoh to interpret his dream. No meeting with Pharaoh, no promotion to prime minister. No promotion to prime minister, no way of feeding his family during seven years of famine. No food for seven years, Joseph's family dies. No family, no Israel. No Israel, no Jesus. No Jesus, no cross. No cross, no salvation.
Well isn't it *lucky* that Joseph owned a fancy coat?! No! God leaves nothing to chance, luck, or fate. God knows what He is doing. God knows what He is doing even when He allows us to suffer. We may not see this at the time and so we must trust the promise He gives us in His Word--the promise that "God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God"(Rom.8:28).
You may find yourself in a terrible situation at the moment. I want you to be encouraged by the fact that God is with you and He is not a helpless bystander, but He is the all-powerful, all-wise, God of the universe. And knowing this to be true, we are comforted by the promise that--in our life--God is working all things for our good and His glory. Thanks be to God! Amen.