Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Joseph: God's Providence

Gen 37:2–4, 23–28; 42:1-3; 45:1–11; 50:19–21

Joseph in Canaan

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, and he dreamed of a God-given special destiny. Rather foolishly he “shared” this with his brothers, who were somewhat less than delighted with the dreams (Gen 37:1–11). His favored status and sense of destiny provoked a murderous rage among his brothers. Although they planned to kill him, Judah suggested keeping him alive to sell on to the Egyptian slave trade (37:23–28). Then they splattered blood on Joseph’s coat and used it as “evidence” to support the lie that a wild animal had killed him (37:31–32).

Joseph in Egypt

Even though Joseph became a slave in Egypt, God was with him. Photiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers, bought Joseph for a household slave, and “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (39:2). On the other hand, he caught the wandering eye of Potiphar’s wife, who attempted unsuccessfully to seduce him. Outraged at his rejection of her advances, she used Joseph’s coat as “evidence” to support the lie that he had tried to rape her (39:12–18).

This false charge landed him in prison (39:20). “But the Lord was with Joseph in prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite wit the prison warden” (39:21).

Interpreting the dreams of a couple fellow-prisoners eventually brought Joseph to the attention of the Pharaoh himself, because Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted. The dream was God’s warning—given even to a pagan king—that famine was coming (Gen 41). Joseph’s wisdom in interpreting that dream landed him the job of preparing for the coming famine.

When this famine came, Egypt was ready—thanks to the strong measures that Joseph had taken in preparation for it (41:34–26, 47–49, 54). The famine that came was so widespread that it affected not only Egypt but also “all the surrounding countries” (v. 54), including where Joseph’s family still lived in Canaan (Gen 42). So Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food—from the brother they had sold into slavery (42:6)! Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph gave them a pretty rough check-out (42:7–36). He accused them of being foreign spies, took a hostage, and set them up to be accused of stealing the very money that was to have paid for their grain. The brothers were terrified of ever going back to Egypt!

But eventually they had to go back for grain. This time, the demand was that they bring Jacob’s new favorite son, Benjamin—otherwise they would all die of starvation (43:8). Jacob sent special gifts, doubled the money that had been returned, agreed that Benjamin had to go along, and then hoped for the best (v. 14).

When they got to Egypt they were treated more as guests than foreigners coming to buy supplies. They told their story about the money to Joseph’s household manager, and he told them no problem and released Simeon to rejoin his brothers (43:19–23). Joseph was overcome with emotion and had to hide for a while.

But again, he set them up, this time by hiding his special cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain—the favored son that Joseph feared to lose. Finally, this led to the brothers’ confession of their earlier sin against an earlier favored son of their father (44:20). And finally, they showed desperate concern for how their father would grieve over the loss of a favored son (44:31, 34)—a concern they had never showed for his special love for Joseph.

Joseph knew they had changed, so he revealed himself to the brothers (Gen 45). Imagine the fright that would have caused them. This brother whose destiny they had mocked now had them at his feet. This brother they had sold as a slave had already held one of them as a hostage, and was demanding yet another hostage—or he might just kill all of them!

Joseph had never read Romans 8:28, but it was his theology nonetheless:
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Rom 8:28)

Joseph told his brothers, indeed, you sent me here, but it was really God who sent me here: “Don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Gen 45:5).

Later, after Jacob died, the brothers got to fearing that Joseph would now feel free to get even without grieving his poor old father. But Joseph restated that same theology of God’s good providence: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Gen 50:20).

No matter what happened, God’s promise to Abraham would never fail. If a beloved son had to be sold into slavery, God would send someone ahead of his elect family to prepare so that a looming famine didn’t kill all of them. Abraham’s family would keep on growing, until one day, Jesus, his greatest descendant, would come to save all the families of the earth.

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments


  • Maybe you have some things happening in your life that seem impossible line up with God’s good purposes in the life of you and your family. Just think of how impossible it would have been for Joseph to understand how anything good could come of his slavery in Egypt. But he viewed that all through they eyes of faith (Gen 45;5; 50:20). Reaffirm your faith in the truth of Romans 8:28—no matter what.


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