Intended for Good (Part Two)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

To restore relationships, we must act according to God’s word. To approach situations in conformity with God’s word, we must understand it. We need to be convinced that the leading person in the God’s plan is God himself, and not ourselves or the other person. This God-focus is often alien to how we act. But observe Joseph’s good and godly reply.

First, Joseph brought God into their problem. He directed them to replace their fear of retaliation with a fear of God. It is like Joseph said, “Make your peace with God, and then you will find it an easy matter to make your peace with me” (Henry). I think you will find that most believers will have a responsive heart to requests for forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35), though granting forgiveness might not happen without an internal struggle. As a godly man, Joseph knew that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and he was content to leave that to God. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21 NIV). It is very tempting to want to even up the score a little, isn’t it? Even when you’re right, you must resist the desire for personal revenge.

Joseph had already forgiven them, but had they made things right with God? There is a scene from Chariots of Fire, which is almost certainly fictitious, and used by the script writer to express Eric’s inner struggles. Jenny said to Eric after he missed a service, “It’s not me you have offended.” God was in his thoughts. While it is good to seek a restoration of relationship with another human we have offended, we must seek God’s favor above all. Do not make an idol out of your relationship to another man.

Second, Joseph explained God’s providence to them. They had intended evil; they truly had sinned. Notice that Joseph didn’t minimize their sin. When you counsel someone, don’t minimize their sin, but maximize God’s grace. Yet, Joseph made it clear that God had intended good. He can use a bad situation to produce a good end. Remember Peter’s words. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23 NIV). God and people can intend two contrary purposes in the same incident, but God’s ultimate purpose will prevail (cf. Proverbs 16:1, 9). Joseph also reflected God’s character to them. He promised to provide for them (cf. Matthew 5:44-47).

We ought to imitate Joseph’s excellent attitude and actions. Learn to return good when you have received evil. And so, Joseph spoke words of assurance and kindness (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). When we speak this way, we keep the instruction of the Lord Christ. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part One)

Genesis 45:4-15

We are unusual creatures. God has blessed us with rational minds, but we do not use them as we ought. On the one hand, we are content to know very little of what we ought to know. On the other hand, we want to know very much about what is not our business to know. If something bad happens, we demand a full explanation. “I want to know the reason for this!” But if something good happens, who cares to find out the reason? We must also work with inadequate source material. We have experienced numerous events, but we do not know God’s reasons for the events. Even Biblical characters had to live with the mystery of providence. Some of them knew what God was doing. However, they had difficulty understanding why God acted in a particular way; for example, Habakkuk. We must also recognize that even the experience of talking with the Lord did not guarantee an explanation for Abraham or Job.

In this passage, we have at least a partial explanation for the suffering that the members of Jacob’s family went through. Even here, however, there is no account of why God chose to act in this way. There are still areas that God reserves to himself. It is not our business to pry into them. To get on many websites, you need to know the password. If you don’t have it, the information is none of your business.

Let’s begin by viewing God’s good purpose (45:4-7). The explanation was given within a context of love (45:4).

Joseph invited his brothers to draw near. The tenderness of love seeks fellowship. This is the way God approaches his people. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NIV). Come near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8a NIV).

Joseph provided reassurance of his identity. This was a clear sign that he really knew them. He pressed the point home that he was their brother. “He did not intend this as an accusation because he immediately continued by telling them that they should not be distressed or angry with themselves for what they had done to him” [Aalders, Commentary on Genesis).

Joseph’s explanation emphasized God’s will and activity. 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 be no 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 (45:5-7 NIV).

Having seen their repentance, he persuaded them not to punish themselves about their sin (45:5).

Joseph is a good example of a generous spirit. Though we should not excuse our own sins, we should seek to comfort the repentant with gentle words. He told them that God had sent him to Egypt and why he had sent him.

Someone might ask, “Hadn’t his brothers sold him as a slave?” Yes, but Joseph did not look at second causes. Instead, he honored God in all that has happened. The attitude of worship dominated his life. He told them what would surely happen in the near future. For years God had worked toward this time, and there was still more of this particular plan to unfold. God’s arm has a long reach.

Dear readers, let us all humble ourselves by calmly resting in the knowledge that right now the Lord God is working out his plan of salvation for the salvation of many around the world. We all are part of his good purpose. Who knows, the turmoil in your life might work out for the salvation of many? The great slogan in Philadelphia Sixers’ basketball has been “Trust the Process.” Let us trust God’s process.

Grace and peace, David

Three Prisoners (Part Two)

Genesis 40:1-23

Difficult times in our lives are opportunities for God to work and for us to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. They are also occasions for God to develop us to serve him and others in new ways. Though Joseph was in prison, the Lord was with him. That was all that was needed to prepare Joseph for his life’s mission. What happened? Joseph became an interpreter of dreams (40:5-19).

At this point, we observe the mingling of God’s providence and human responsibility. They are seldom far apart, though we might not observe both. God caused the cupbearer and the baker to dream about their future in a figurative way. The Lord has immediate access to the spirits of people, which he can use for his own plans (Proverbs 21:1). Joseph rightly inquired into the cause of their dejection. Evidently, dreams like theirs came with a certain terror to their minds (41:8; cf. Daniel 2:1; Matthew 27:19). Their faces revealed their inward turmoil (cf. Nehemiah 2:2). Joseph spoke with compassion and kindness. This act of kindness led to his release from prison. Regardless of the outcome, we ought to care when our neighbors sorrow. In this case, God used his concern to help him.

Joseph heard and interpreted the dreams. He began by honoring God (40:8). They were locked into a pagan, worldly approach to the subject. “Go to the experts; they can help you.” But they had no “experts” to turn to. Our country has heavy traffic in astrology, seances, counseling, and such things to find solace. Everything except humble, believing prayer. Joseph pointed them to the living God. It was like Joseph told them, “This is beyond human ability. You need God to intervene. Perhaps he will reveal the meaning of your dreams. I will intercede with him for you.” The revelation of the future is God’s business. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ (Isaiah 46:10 NIV). In our witness to our neighbors, we should reassert the proper relation between God and mankind.

Joseph told the chief cupbearer a favorable interpretation. He assured him that he would be restored to his old position in three days. Great changes can occur quickly. Note well: Joseph could foresee the chief cupbearer’s release, but not his own. A godly man with insight does not know everything. He asked the chief cupbearer to remember to show kindness to him. While we ought to patiently endure suffering, we also should use lawful means to get release from it (cf. Matthew 10:23). Joseph spoke the truth about his case without disparaging others. “When we are called to vindicate ourselves we should carefully avoid, as much as may be, speaking ill of others” (Henry).

He told the chief baker an unfavorable interpretation. As God’s minister, Joseph must tell the truth. False comfort of the ungodly is damaging to their souls. Clearly, the second man also looked for hope. “Here’s a fellow with some good news.” But he had only death to prepare for. God gave the baker a rare gift. He knew in advance the day of his death. The Bible does not say what use he made of this warning. If we knew the day when the Lord Jesus was returning, would we live differently?

The interpretations of the dreams happened (40:20-23). The occasion was an ancient birthday party for an absolute monarch. There is nothing wrong with such celebrations, provided they bring honor to God. Pharaoh celebrated by demonstrating his power. “I can restore or condemn men as I see fit.” But in reality, these things are in God’s hands. However, the chief cupbearer forgot Joseph. “This was probably no more than the usual lack of concern on the part of the high and mighty for the lowly and the disadvantaged” (Aalders). Whatever the reason, God had his hand in it. His time had not yet come for Joseph’ s release from prison. Let us remember that one of God’s answers to our prayers is “Wait.”

Grace and peace, David