Categories
Uncategorized

The God Who is in Charge

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To learn how God uses the circumstances of our lives to prepare us for the role He has for us.

The Story of Joseph

Unlike most biblical characters who reveal their humanity and brokenness as their story develops, Joseph remains pure of heart and soul. Along with Daniel, he is one of the purest characters in the bible, remaining faithful and constant to the end, despite the horrors he faced.

Because he was the favored first-born son of Rachel, the favorite and beloved wife of Jacob, Joseph was his father’s favorite child. As you can imagine, this created incredible resentment in his older brothers who likely saw their father’s disdain for their mother Leah. The resentment grew for their little brother as he did. They contemplated his murder, but ultimately, they sold him into slavery, to a traveling caravan that took young Joseph away from his home and off to Egypt.

Joseph found himself in a foreign land against his will, first as a slave, then as a prisoner, and then by divine providence, he found himself second in command over Egypt as prime minister, directly under the Pharaoh himself.

God’s Providence

Joseph lived an extraordinary life in Egypt, despite the mistreatment and pain, something he knew was only due to God’s hand. He was strategically placed in a position of power because God knew a famine would come that had the potential to decimate the Jewish people. Without Joseph in this powerful seat, with his careful planning and preparation and connection to his people, God’s people might not have survived.

This powerful conclusion to the incredible story of Joseph’s life, covered in fourteen chapters in the book of Genesis, is really a chronicle of God’s providence. A New Testament verse sums up the story of Joseph incredibly well.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God’s plans ultimately work together for good, despite how difficult things may seem at the moment. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, mistreated, and experienced some of the worst experiences life has to offer, yet his faith never wavered, and God’s purpose ultimately proved to be for good.

Joseph’s loving response to persecution was, “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).

Joseph’s story teaches us about the providence of God and confirms what Romans 8:28 declares, that there is no situation so bad God cannot redeem it and bring good from it.

God’s Grace

The story of Joseph also tells us of God’s grace, given freely to those who ask but do not deserve. It begins with Joseph’s father, Jacob, who was blessed in many ways.

Jacob long believed that his blessings were earned, won by his cunning, his scheming, and his own effort. He was, after all, the younger brother who conned his elder brother Esau out of his inheritance. He was also the man who wrestled with God, who worked long years for the bride he desired, and then more after marrying the wrong sister.

His blessings of children, land, and wives were not because of his own doings, they were undeserved blessings from God who was using Jacob for His divine plans.

We see Jacob’s recognition of this later in life when he reconnects with his brother Esau. He connects the grace of Esau’s welcome, after all he had done to his older brother, to the grace shown to him by God. He realizes that God gave him blessings he did not earn nor deserve and that he should in turn give freely, especially to his own brother.

“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.” –Genesis 33:10-11

Joseph’s story illustrates this same truth in another way. He experienced the worst life has to offer, not because he deserved it or as a punishment, but because of circumstances beyond his control, for the glory of God.

By the grace of God, Joseph was called to live an incredibly hard life, one I could hardly imagine surviving. But it was because God was preparing him, training him through experiences in such a way to be strategically placed to save his people from extinction.

How does this apply to me?

Looking at the relationship Joseph has with his family, we can see an imperfect model. His father favors one son over the others, not to mention the daughters who are excluded from the narrative entirely. He allows anger and resentment to fester within his home, among his children, and his multiple wives, creating a chaotic environment that leads to losing his son Joseph for years.

Clearly, Jacob’s home and family are not one to model ours after. It’s an example of what not to do in so many ways, like a floundering family on a reality tv show where a nanny steps in to save the day.

But the truth is, we all have human, flawed, and imperfect parents. None of us were raised in perfect homes, no matter how happy our childhoods may have been. Maybe we hold hurt from childhood, resentment for the way we were parented (or not parented), and wounds that still impact us today. It can be incredibly difficult to let those hurts go and to forgive our parents, especially if we don’t think they deserve it.

The grace that Joseph shows his family is an incredible model for us today. How painful must that have been to be confronted with the brothers who sold you into slavery as a teenager? Who set an incredibly traumatic chain of events in motion that permanently altered the course of your life? And then you’re expected to use your power to help them?

I honestly would have a difficult time showing them grace. But Joseph models for us grace and forgiveness, welcoming his family and sharing the stores of food with them, despite all they had done to harm him. And that is the root of the story of Joseph; divine grace to those who do not deserve it.

Categories
All Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Joseph

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Most of us know the story of Joseph well. And there are many lessons to be learned from this historical and dramatic narrative. I want to point out one of the central ideas of this story that, despite its importance, is often overlooked. It has to do with the idea that God was with Joseph. Here’s the question I want to answer: “Why was God with Joseph?”

 

The Story of Joseph

Joseph is favored by his father, Jacob, and given a “coat of many colors.”1 Joseph also tells his brothers of dreams, dreams where his brothers would bow down to him. His jealous brothers throw him into a pit and sell Joseph into slavery. A traveling merchant then purchases Joseph and takes him to Egypt. While in Egypt, Joseph faithfully serves a military officer named Potiphar, until he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison.

 

During his 13-year imprisonment, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants and does so accurately. When Pharaoh has a strange and unsettling dream, one of the servants recommends Joseph as an able interpreter. Because Joseph was able to interpret the dream, he is made second in command over all of Egypt. In Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph foresees a coming famine. Wisely, Joseph advises the Pharaoh to store grain before the famine hits. During the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food. When they arrive, they soon discover that little brother Joseph now runs the entire kingdom and doles out the food when scarcely any could be found. They end up bowing to Joseph, just like Joseph’s dream had predicted so long ago.

 

God Was with Joseph

At one of the key moments in the story, the narrator tells us this: “The Lord was with Joseph…” (Gen. 39:21a). This comment comes right after Joseph found himself unjustly placed in prison.

It is tempting to think that God was with Joseph because of what Joseph did just a few verses before. Joseph demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity by resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph risked his comfortable and prestigious position to do what was right. So, when we are told that “God was with Joseph” immediately after he is locked away, it may lead some to interpret the text as teaching that God was with Joseph because he did what was right. Sometimes, though, well-intentioned people can still misinterpret the narrative.

If we read the narrative again closely, we notice a few important details. For example, the Bible never says that God was with Joseph because of what he did. If we take that view, then we must read that into the text. Instead, Joseph’s dreams show that God was with Joseph at the very beginning. Joseph’s dreams show that God had planned to bless Joseph and bring him to a position of power and influence so that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him. The text confirms that these dreams were from God when we see them dramatically fulfilled at the end of the story (cf. Gen 43:28).

But why is God with Joseph if Joseph does nothing to deserve God’s favor? Joseph himself gives an almost direct answer to this question. After his brothers discover that Joseph is a ruler in Egypt, they desperately sought his forgiveness. Joseph tells them, “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.” (Gen. 45:5). Joseph adds, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7).

Therefore, according to Joseph, God had at least two purposes for being with him. First, Joseph’s position in Egypt and his ability to interpret dreams meant that there would be food for everyone during the famine; Joseph would “save lives.” Through Joseph, God provides physical sustenance to many nations when they need it most.

Second, through Joseph, God would specifically save the lives of Jacob’s family. This preserves  a “remnant on earth.” Understood within the wider context of the book of Genesis, we see that through Joseph, God keeps his promise to Abraham, to make him into a “great nation” (Gen 12:2). Without Joseph, Abraham’s family would have died in the famine. Ultimately, God would bless all people through Joseph because it is through his family that God would send the Messiah, Jesus, to save the world (Gal. 3:8).

 

God’s Reasons

So, God had his own reasons for favoring Joseph that had nothing to do with Joseph’s actions. God’s purpose in blessing Joseph was to bless others. God chose a particular person and God worked through the circumstances of Joseph’s life to include, ultimately, the entire world in the blessing of Abraham. Once we get a full picture of what God was doing through Joseph, we see that God blessed Joseph to bless all of us. God was with Joseph, in part, so that one day, he could be with all people through his Son.

One of the lessons we learn from Joseph’s story is that God loves humanity and that he will keep his promise to bless the world through Abraham, no matter what. In Jesus, we find the proof that promise has, indeed, been kept.

1It is likely that Joseph’s coat was a meticulously made tunic. The idea that it was a “coat of many colors” comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew versions suggest it was an embroidered tunic.