Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 2. Genesis (2)
Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
In the first meditation of this new series I said I hoped to take one or two verses from each book of the Bible, sometimes perhaps two sets of verses, depending on the book. Well here above we have a second verse from Genesis that stands out like the light from a lighthouse. As with all such verses we need to understand the context, the story from which it flows, to understand the significance of it, and once we see that then we can chew on the truths there.
These are the words spoken by the Joseph of the Old Testament (there is, of course, a Joseph in the New Testament – Jesus’ human father). Joseph had been the spoilt brat, youngest-but-one son of a big family and so, as a result, his brothers had despised him. Then he had started getting prophetic pictures which seemed to suggest that the rest of the family would end up bowing down to him. That really annoyed them and so when, a little while later, the opportunity arose, the brothers sold him off to passing slave traders without, of course, telling his father what they had done.
To cut a long story short, after about fourteen years, we find Joseph in a prison in Egypt, where God is still giving him prophetic pictures for some of the other inmates. One of them is released and when the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, starts having strange dreams, this man eventually suggests seeing if Joseph can help. When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and hears the dreams, he explains that God will be bringing seven years of plenty in the land but that will be followed by seven years of famine, and the obvious thing to do, therefore, is put food aside during those first seven years to see them through the years of famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he makes him second-in-command in his nation and gives him the job of bringing it about.
When the seven years of famine strike, they seem to affect all the lands of what we might call the Middle East, including Canaan, where his family still live. The word gets out that Egypt has food and so eventually Joseph’s father, old man Jacob (or Israel), sends the brothers to buy food in Egypt. Again, to cut a long story short, the family eventually settle in Egypt under Joseph’s protection but years later when the old man dies, the brothers fear that Joseph will now wreak vengeance on them for what they had done all those years before. This is the context for the words above.
This insight of Joseph’s is amazing. First of all it shows revelation. The spoilt brat has grown into a man of wisdom and insight, and that insight means understanding the purposes of God. Put most simply, it was that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and speaks to us when we need it, and He has a plan. There it is again, what we saw in the first meditation. He has a plan! Second, this shows that the Lord has managed to work grace, mercy and forgiveness into Joseph for he has no desire to harm his brothers. To the contrary, he wants them to understand that this was the working of God.
Now those two things were in respect of Joseph but there are two breathtaking things about God here. First, as we’ve already noted, God has a plan and it is a plan to save His chosen family, but when we trek on four hundred years we see that this plan involves setting the scene for what will become one of the two biggest events in the history of Israel, the Exodus. (the other is the Exile). That is going to be monumental and God had already spoken of it to Abram (Gen 15:13,14).
Now if that isn’t big enough, the second thing is even greater. The clear implication of these words of Joseph now, is that God took the wrong motives and wrong actions of the brothers and used them for His own purposes which was to get Joseph, as His mouthpiece, to Egypt so he could save Egypt and consequently his own family. This is God who uses sinful men for His own purposes. We see it in the Old Testament in the way, centuries later, He would take and use Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Israel and destroy Jerusalem and bring about the Exile. We see it in the New Testament in what happened to Jesus. The apostle Peter explains it under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) This doesn’t say that God made the Jews act like they did to crucify Jesus, but He knew given a certain set of circumstances, that is how sinful men would react.
Now if I try and apply these two things to my life today, it becomes mind-blowing. Not only does God have a plan for my life, but He will take and use the things of this Fallen World for my ultimate blessing. Those ‘things’ may include my own foolishness, they may include Satan’s activities and they may include the sinful intention and words and deeds of others. Yes, the incredible truth is that God will use all these things for my good. The apostle Paul caught this when he wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Some modern versions change that to take the emphasis off God: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (EST) or “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (NKJV) but the implication is the same, God is bringing good into our lives, using WHATEVER is happening and whoever is involved. That brings an immense sense of reassurance to my life, a new confidence in which to live out today. World, you can do what you will, but my God is working in your mess for my good!
That, ultimately was what Joseph got to. Yes, he had been sold into slavery (Gen 37:26-28) where he was sold on in Egypt (Gen 37:36), where he was falsely accused and imprisoned (Gen 39:14-20), yet wherever he was the Lord gave him favour with his captors (Gen 39:2-6, 20-23). In the midst of his trials God blessed him. Can we expect that today? Surely with Jesus seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), and with his Holy Spirit within us, the answer must be, yes! Still the Lord has a plan, still He uses the affairs of this broken world to bring His blessing to His children. Hallelujah!