When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's house. Joseph lived 110 years.
(Genesis 50:15-22 ESV)
"What a mighty God we serve," we sing in songs like this one. "God can do anything," we say. "God is omnipotent, God is omnipresent, and there is nothing in life that is too big for God." "My God is mightier than my problems!"
The sayings never end. Over and over. "God is greater than my inability to pay my bills." "God is greater than my inability to lose weight." "God is greater than the storm that blew the roof off my house last week." "God is greater than that jerk who cut me off on the highway on the way into work." "God is greater than that co-worker I can't stand." "God is greater than that in-law I only see at Christmas and still can't stand."
...and yet, we flinch at the very concept of God working through means.
We do a double take at the idea of Jesus healing a blind man and restoring his sight by spitting in dirt, mixing it into what's essentially spit-mud, and then rubbing that spit-mud in the blind man's eyes in John 9.
Does the average Christian even know about Psalm 50, where God unmistakably says, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine?"
What kind of idol have we created for ourselves when we claim to serve a higher power who's great and mighty and created everything yet this "supreme being's" very creation is off-limits for some unfathomable reason?
It's His Creation, fallen though it may be. It's His decision, if He is truly as omnipotent and all-powerful as we say He is in our pretty little First World Christianity sayings about how God is mightier than that unspeakably evil person who dinged our door in the supermarket parking lot last week. It's His everything, however little sense that makes grammatically. Sometimes even trying to talk about God is over our heads, nevermind anything He chooses to do.
...and choose he did, with the grace we see evident in what happened to Joseph, that should give us a glimpse of the Lord's mercy and the center point of redemptive history with Jesus on the Cross for us. This lectionary reading for today out of Genesis 50 doesn't even begin to do justice to Joseph's life, but for the sake of good order, let's recap, because by the time Joseph's brothers were trying to strike a deal with their brother to be his servants (striking deals for salvation - a very Old Adam thing to do indeed), Joseph had lived one whirlwind of a life which makes our petty 21st Century struggles look quite tame.
In Genesis 37 he has dreams hinting at this future event where his brothers will end up begging to be his servants, but his brothers become angry. "Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to rule over us?" If you doubted the illustration of the Old Adam in Joseph's brothers, in verses 19 and 20 the brothers plot to kill him and make the incident look like a wild animal caused it. Again, a rather Old Adam thing to do, assuming the role of God and judging that whoever isn't up to your standards just shouldn't exist. If you wonder why Scripture relates anger towards a fellow human being to murder in Matthew 5:21-22 or 1 John 3:15, here's a little something way back in Genesis to go with it.
Reuben, Jacob's firstborn son, fortunately, has a change of heart and breaks ranks with the brothers (change of heart away from what Scripture would call a murderer - this behavior change should also be familiar to most Monergists). He proposes to merely leave Joseph in the pit they dug to bury him in and rescue Joseph from it later. Reuben, fortunately, is not the only one who has this sudden change of heart, as the rest of the brothers eventually decide not to murder Joseph and instead sell him into slavery to some passing traders en route to Egypt. Huzzah! Joseph's life is spared, and now he gets to be a servant to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh, who eventually buys him from the traders in Egypt.
Feeling better, or should I say repentant, about those first world problems you think are so big in your life yet? Joseph essentially had his youth wrecked by his jealous brothers who went from having a death wish for him to merely selling him into slavery instead, landing Joseph in a strange land far from home living in a culture different from his own.
But even still, despite all that had gone wrong for him, Genesis 39:2 shows God's mercy and working through means, even in what should have been the worst part of Joseph's life. Genesis 39:2 - "The LORD was with Joseph..."
I would dare to say the Lord was with Joseph even before this verse, back when his jealous and angry brothers suddenly decided not to kill him. This remains a pattern, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph. In his turbulent years as a servant in Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph. When famine spread through Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph. When the famine spread beyond Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.
Fast forward a little further. When famine hit Joseph's homeland and Jacob found out there was grain for sale in Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph. When Joseph wound up providing for his brothers and family to get them through the famine, the Lord was with Joseph. By chapter 45, Joseph finally reveals everything about what had been going on to his brothers, not only that he was the one they had sold into slavery all those years ago, but that God was behind all of it. Verse 8 - "So it was not you who sent me here, but God."
Ultimately, we see chapter 50 come around, and with it the death of Jacob/Israel, at which point Joseph's brothers think Joseph might repay them for all that they had done to him. Strange how that works, that even when we've heard that something was of God's mercy the Old Adam can still act up from time to time and doubt God's promises. We see similar behavior from the prodigal son in that well-known parable where the son returning from living in the hog pen thinks he can't be his father's son anymore but should just settle for being his servant instead, and much like the father having none of that in Luke 15 and forgiving his runaway son no strings attached we see the exact same thing from Joseph all this time earlier in verse 20. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."
When Jesus asserts that all Scripture bears witness about Him in John 5:39, this is but one example of how our wickedness does not stop God's good purposes. Who do we see here in Joseph's actions? Certainly not anything we would do with how easily we can be offended by the actions of others. If anything, we're more like the brothers trying to strike deals to avoid punishment, but as usual, the Lord has so much more in mind for His people than merely that. Even in this adversity and what seemed like ancient mundane life events, God was at work, because the Creation is His, despite its fallen state.
Even today, we can be assured that the means of grace are still something outside of us that we can point to no matter how horrible we feel about how our lives have been going. Our baptism - water and the Word - bringing the Lord's promises of new life to us in something involving water much as Noah's family was brought by God through the waters of the flood into new life in the ark, or the children of Israel eventually leaving their Egyptian captivity behind into new life in the promised land through the waters of the parted Red Sea. The bread and wine of the Lord's Supper - "This is my body, which is given for you." "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." In a sense things are better for us than they were in the days of the Old Testament believers. We actually have means of grace instituted by Jesus Himself and don't have to wonder whether these things are of God or not.
Indeed, God is mightier than anything we may be dealing with in life, but in our rush to come up with a faithful-sounding statement to make ourselves feel better, we only scratched the tip of that gracious iceberg. :-) Take Care and God Bless. :-)