Genesis 50:20

‘“you meant evil against me, but
God meant it for good”’
(Genesis 50:20)

‘Stuff happens’ in life, even ‘“evil”’ in this verse. However, God has an amazing way of using and turning such things around, for our ‘“good”’. It’s the message of the Bible, even from this very first book of Genesis. God has a ‘good’(Romans 8:28) plan, and we’re to listen and learn from the ‘testimony’(Hebrews 11:2ff.) of its pioneers, like Joseph here.

He was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel), who was the grandson of Abraham. God had said to Abraham, ‘“I will make of you a great nation… All the families of the earth will be blessed through you”’(Genesis 12:2-3). So this was the plan’s foundation, Joseph and his brothers, heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

However, they were ordinary flawed people, just like us. Jacob favoured Joseph ‘more than all his brothers’(Genesis 37:4), so they became filled with ‘“jealousy”’(Acts 7:9). On top of that, Joseph told them about some dreams he’d had, in which he saw them bowing down to him, so ‘they hated him all the more’(Genesis 37:5), even plotting ‘to kill him’(Genesis 37:18)! In the event, they ‘threw him’(Genesis 37:24) into an empty water store instead, then sold him to some passing traders, who took him to Egypt, where he was ‘sold’(Genesis 37:36; Acts 7:9) to an Egyptian official. Although now effectively a slave, God ‘made all that he did prosper’(Genesis 39:3ff.) such that Joseph was made ‘overseer’(Genesis 39:5) in his owner’s household. However, after refusing some sexual advances from ‘his master’s wife’(Genesis 39:7ff.), who then falsely accused him of the opposite, Joseph was thrown into ‘prison’(Genesis 39:20). Nevertheless, God was still ‘with Joseph’(Genesis 39:21ff.). Even in the prison he was given some responsibility. Also, God enabled him to interpret prophetic dreams. Hope was raised that one such interpretation might pave the way for his release, but its beneficiary, Pharaoh’s ‘chief cup bearer’(Genesis 40:2ff.), let Joseph down, and he was left to languish in prison for ‘two full years’(Genesis 41:1ff.). Eventually, however, this contact provided opportunity for Joseph to interpret a prophetic dream for ‘Pharoah’(Genesis 41:1ff.), about an impending famine. This led to Joseph’s release, and him being put in charge of ‘“all the land of Egypt”’(Genesis 41:41), to organise grain storage in seven years of plenty that would precede the famine. Seven years later, when the famine came, Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt in search of food, where they ‘bowed themselves down to him’(Genesis 42:6), fulfilling the original prophetic dream. Finally, after much toing and froing, Joseph revealed his hidden identity to the brothers, reassuring them, ‘“don’t be grieved… that you sold me here, for… God sent me… to preserve… a remnant”’(Genesis 45:5-7), i.e. ‘“you meant evil… but God… good”’.

There are a number of things we should note and be grateful about in this. Most obviously, God can use/turn our weaknesses, mistakes and sins into blessings. Jacob’s overt favouring of one son, and Joseph’s at least slightly ‘arrogant spirit’(Proverbs 16:18) as a youth, provoked his brothers’ obvious sin, which eventually rescued them from famine! Amazingly, this eventually led ‘“to”’(Genesis 49:10) the ultimate similar example, the cross, where mankind conspired to crucify Jesus, who ‘God sent to be an atoning sacrifice’(Romans 3:25) for our sins, so becoming the very means of our salvation! It’s the same double purpose – our sinful purpose, used, turned and even planned for our good, ‘“the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God”’(Acts 2:23), planned from ‘before the foundation of the world’(Ephesians 1:4)!

All of this is the ‘good… according to His purpose’(Romans 8:28ff.) mentioned above, which those who have ‘“ears to hear”’(Luke 8:8) now listen for and receive, similar to God’s ‘“remnant”’(Genesis 45:7, cf. Ezra 9:8; Jeremiah 23:3; Romans 9:27&11:5, etc.) who Joseph mentions. This theme runs throughout scripture, the equivalent of ‘“those whom the Father gives me”’(John 6:37) in Jesus’ teaching, who Paul describes as ‘Christ’s… Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise’(Galatians 3:29).

As such we can expect God to be with us, as ‘with’(Genesis 39:2-3; Acts 7:9) Joseph, yet ‘tracing’(Romans 11:33) a similar mysterious path. We might be blessed by gifts and abilities, encouraged by providential circumstance, perhaps even guided by ‘“dreams”’(Joel 2:28, cf. Acts 2:17&16:9-10) etc., certainly by words in season from ‘the word’(Hebrews 4:12) or wise counsel. However, alongside that we’ll likely encounter rejection, unjust situations, being let down, and worse, ‘as servants of God, in great endurance… afflictions’(2 Corinthians 6:4ff.).

So patience is required, which Joseph seems to display well, and we should be ‘kind to one another’(Ephesians 4:32, cf. Genesis 50:21), like Joseph to his brothers, embracing God’s pure ‘grace’(Ephesians 2:8) to all the redeemed.

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