Trusting God to Bring Good Out of Bad (text)
Topic: Genesis Passage: Genesis 37:1–37:36
For our guests, we have been in a series in the book of Genesis and this morning we begin the story of Joseph. The last fourteen chapters are devoted almost exclusively to Joseph and as such is the longest and most detailed narrative in Genesis and one of the most detailed and powerful stories in the entire Bible.
Sunday school classes have long held up Joseph as an example in of godly character, and for good reason: Joseph’s faithfulness, obedience, integrity, wisdom and forgiveness are exemplary. He is one of the few characters for whom the Bible doesn’t record any major character flaw. His character is impressive.
But the story of Joseph is much more than just a lesson in godly character. In Joseph we have one of the clearest and most beautiful pictures of Jesus Christ and over and over again this narrative will point us to the grace and mercy and hope that we have in Jesus through faith. Jesus said that all the scriptures speak of him, and we will see that very clearly in the story of Joseph. I look forward to us having many sightings of our Savior as we go through this narrative.
It is also a story of God’s invisible but powerful hand at work in all the events of life – but especially through the painful and disappointing events of life. Those perplexing times when we are tempted to wonder, where is God in this? Those times when it may feel like our lives have been hijacked by circumstances beyond our control or by other people’s sins against us and it’s difficult to see what God is doing or trust that God can bring any good out of it.
The fact is that in this story God uses a lot of bad to bring about a lot of good. God isn’t responsible for man’s sin – man is responsible for man’s sin – but God uses man’s evil purposes for His own good purposes. Near the end of the story Joseph himself sums up the lesson of all that happened in his life when he comforts his fearful brothers with this amazing perspective:
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 (Gen 50:20)
Title: Trusting God to Bring Good Out of Bad
As we read this story we know that God is unfolding His good plan in Joseph’s life. But the first point I want us to see as we read the first 11 verses is that…
I. God sets up His good plan by making a bad situation worse between Joseph and his brothers (vv. 1-11)
Joseph is the eleventh of twelve sons born to Jacob, but he is the firstborn from Rachel, the one wife Jacob truly loved. So Jacob loves him more than any of the other brothers and they know it, and they hate him for it. To make matters worse, Joseph brings a bad report to his father about four of his brothers and if you’ve ever tattled on a sibling you know that that doesn’t usually go over too well. So Joseph is already disliked but then Jacob makes a coat of many colors for Joseph – a coat that was a statement of Joseph’s favored status with his father, a coat that represented Joseph’s status as the firstborn who would inherit his father’s estate. Reuben was Jacob’s actual firstborn (from Leah, the unloved wife) but he had slept with one of Jacob’s concubines so that disqualified him from firstborn status and Joseph as the firstborn of the wife Jacob loved was Jacob’s choice for inheriting everything – and the coat represented that. So verse 4 tells us that his brothers hated him. Jacob’s open favoritism has made things really bad between Joseph and his brothers but then God intervenes and when God intervenes we know He will make things better, right? Actually God takes a bad situation and makes it much worse.
God gives Joseph two dreams that has his brothers and father and mother bowing down to Joseph in homage. And when he tells his brothers and father about these dreams, verse 8 says they [the brothers] hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. What Jacob made bad, God made worse. Why? Because it was their hatred for Joseph that would set up God’s good plan for Joseph.
Pastoral application: Often when we pray we ask God to make things better right away. Lord, please resolve this conflict, now. Lord, please help me get that job right now. Lord, please take away the pressure of that situation now. It’s not wrong to pray that way but God doesn’t always answer our prayers that way and we need to trust that sometimes God has a better plan than making things better right away. Sometimes God’s good plan means making things worse for a time. Maybe someone here can relate to that: you’ve been asking God to make things better in some particular area and it seems like it keeps getting worse. The Lord wants you to trust Him to unfold His good plan in a bad situation. This is more than trusting God to get us through it. It’s trusting God to bring good out allowing the bad to go on and even get worse for a time.
For Joseph, the good news is that God makes things much worse so that He can set up the next phase of His good plan to unfold. The bad news is the next phase gets much, much worse!
II. God launches His good plan through the murderous plans of Joseph’s brothers (vv. 12-28)
Jacob sends Joseph out to check on his brothers, but they see Joseph coming and plot to kill him and throw his body in a pit. In verse 20 we see again how the dreams God gave Joseph inflamed this hatred:
They said to one another, “here comes that dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
They are deeply offended at his dreams and killing him is a way of killing those dreams too. And they would have killed Joseph but for God’s invisible hand intervening through Reuben who talks them into just throwing Joseph into a pit (secretly planning on coming back to rescue him) – that way his blood won’t technically be on their hands. So they adjust their plan from killing Joseph and throwing his lifeless body into the pit, to throwing Joseph alive into the pit where he can slowly starve to death. There is absolutely no mercy in their hearts. While Joseph is in the pit, verse 25 says they sat down to eat, all the while hearing their brother cry out for mercy, pleading for someone to help him. Later this moment will come back to haunt them when they think God is repaying them for their lack of mercy. In chapter 42:21 they say to each other, we are guilty toward our brother in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.
But once again the invisible hand of God intervenes and a caravan of Ishmaelites comes rolling by. Their greed kicks in and they realize that they can get rid of their brother AND make a profit on him, so they pull him out of the pit and sell him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites.
Let’s pause here for a moment and consider the path that God’s plan is taking Joseph down. It is a path that includes resentment, hatred, jealousy, murder, and selling a brother into slavery. Remember that Joseph is only 17 years old – until now he had no idea how much his brothers hated him but now he is painfully aware. If you have ever been rejected by someone you know it can be a painful experience – and this is the worst kind of rejection. The word rejection comes from a word that meant “to throw” or “to throw back”. They were ready to kill him and throw his body into a pit to rot. Then they were ready to throw his living body into a pit to starve to death, if he wasn’t killed by a wild animal first. By the intervention of God, Joseph is still alive, but his life has been thrown away into foreign hands as a slave. As far as they know, Joseph will remain a slave in a foreign land forever. They never expect to, and never want to, see him again. Joseph has been rejected in a way that seems to destroy his life forever.
As the caravan pulls away with Joseph we might think that it’s inevitable that he would become a bitter, angry, vengeful man. Deep wounds can lead to serious infection and this is one of the deepest wounds a person can have. It’s amazing that his heart isn’t infected with bitterness and a lust for vengeance.
A lot of stories do end up in bitterness and vengeance. Many people, with wounds far less deep than Joseph’s, become bitter, angry, resentful, cynical, and suspicious of everybody. They think of themselves as victims and determine never to risk being rejected again. But amazingly, Joseph never goes there. He never becomes bitter or angry or vengeful. Because he trusts God he doesn’t keep replaying the tape of what his brothers did to him over and over again, like we can do when we’re hurt. Joseph is deeply wounded, even brokenhearted, but he isn’t a bitter man. And we can learn from his example.
Can people be the cause of our undoing?
ILL: near the end of my senior year in high school one year my history class teacher decided to end the last class by predicting what our lives would look like. He went student by student and predicted what would happen to them. Now I was an open Christian in high school so everyone including this teacher was very aware of my faith in Jesus. When he got to me I don’t remember all he said to me, but one part of it I do remember. He said that people would be the cause of my undoing.
Let me ask this question: can people be the cause of the believer’s undoing? Can even the worst of sins against us destroy us? Can the rejection of a close friend or family member undo your life or mine? No doubt it can and will hurt us – but can it destroy us? Can other people – even those closest to us - ruin our lives? If the person or people that mean the most to you reject you, is it inevitable that your life be devastated? If that employer doesn’t hire you or fires you, did they destroy your life? If that person you married twenty nine years ago abandons you, is your life over? If your parents openly don’t love you – does that mean your life is a waste? I read this morning that in India many thousands of girls are named “unwanted”. Their status as unloved is built into their names and they carry it with them every day. If the son or daughter you raised turns against you – is your life undone? I know a wonderful Christian couple who are experiencing the heartache of a son who has turned against them – as painful as that is, can that be their undoing?
Trusting God more than our circumstances
Here’s what we learn from Joseph’s example: he trusted that it was God who was leading and directing his path. Not his brothers, not the Ishmaelites, not Potiphar, not anyone on earth. God held his life in His mighty hands and knowing that was enough to guard Joseph’s soul from being undone, enough to anchor his character in hope and faithfulness. He couldn’t have seen just how God was going to use for good what his brothers meant for evil, but Joseph trusted that God was going to use it for good. Remember that Joseph had two dreams. In the Joseph narrative all the dreams come in pairs, and in chapter 42:31 Joseph explains to Pharaoh that the doubling of his dream means that the thing is fixed by God. Joseph had two dreams that his brothers and parents would bow down to him – he didn’t know how, but he knew that two dreams meant that what he saw was fixed by God – nothing could keep it from happening.
The deeper we trust that God alone controls our lives and that His good plan trumps any wrong, any sin, any bad that can be committed against us, the more we will live like Joseph – not exempt from pain or disappointment or rejection, but not undone by it either. It might possibly be God’s will that we experience rejection or hurt at points in our lives, it is not God’s will that we become bitter or angry or afraid.
Our circumstances can never derail us from God’s will, but our choices can! When we are hurt or rejected we will be tempted to pamper ourselves with self-pity. We will tempted to think of ourselves as victims – we think, I can’t help my bitterness, I can’t help my anger, I can’t help my fear, I can’t help giving up. And maybe we can’t in our own strength– but with God’s help we can. We need to get our eyes off ourselves and off of others and onto God!
There may be some here this morning, you carry deep wounds from being rejected. Maybe it was a spouse who left you. Maybe your parents labeled you a failure. Whatever it is, remember that it ultimately isn’t what people say that defines us – it’s what God speaks over us that defines our lives.
Others here have never experienced the kind of extreme rejection that we’re talking about. But what’s true of greater is also true of lesser. What most of us do face are countless fears and insecurities: what does this person think of me? What if that person disapproves of me? What if that group rejects me as a person not worth accepting? What if that person hurts me by doing this or that?
Faith has us look beyond what anyone can or can’t do, beyond what anyone does or doesn’t think of us, and sees God as the One who holds our lives in His strong and loving hands. Joseph’s great strength wasn’t simply that he had a positive attitude, it was that he had an unbreakable trust in God and His ability to use all this bad for good. And God did use all this evil for great good – not just for Joseph but for his family and the world.
A picture of Jesus
This is one of many times in Joseph’s that we see a beautiful picture of Jesus. Jesus was sent by His Father to His people Israel. But His people rejected him and crucified him, even mocking him as he hung on the cross. The Bible makes it clear that it was the evil of lawless men who hated God that hung him on the cross. But it also makes it clear that it was God’s foreordained will to crush His Son on the cross – His good plan ran right through the wicked rejection and murderous plans of wicked men. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good – to save not only Israel, but the world. All who believe in Christ will be saved.
And we begin to see that we aren’t Josephs, we’re the brothers. Left to ourselves we would have rejected Christ and cried out “crucify him!” We see that we aren’t accepted by God because we’re good and faithful and righteous. We’re accepted by God because we’re forgiven. The cross speaks mercy over our lives – and if God has forgiven us, if God has accepted us, then nothing anyone can do can undo our lives or our hope. Our salvation is fixed and God will surely complete it.
And when our confidence is fully in Christ and what He has done to save us, we are freed from the fear of what people can do to us or against us. Our lives are not dictated by people or controlled by people but by the mighty hand of God, and when we really trust that, we will be like Joseph – faithful to stay on the path God charts out for us and full of faith that God’s good plan will ultimately prevail.
God’s plan isn’t done in this chapter. Two more things happen that will have far reaching implications. Let’s read vv. 29-36
1. Jacob is certain that Joseph is dead, ripped apart by a wild animal. There is irony here in that he deceived his father by wearing his brothers clothes and goat skin, and now they present their brother’s coat dipped in a goat’s blood. But Jacob will not be consoled. Usually the period of grieving for the deceased was a couple of weeks, but Jacob refused to be comforted – not in a couple of weeks, months, years. For twenty years Jacob grieved. He planned to go to his grave grieving. It’s a sad and terrible thing. But God’s good plan runs right through it because seeing their father’s prolonged grief over their actions would begin to change the character of these ten brothers – so that twenty years later, when God’s plan was ready to be revealed and they would meet Joseph again, they weren’t the same men they were.
No one is beyond God’s reach – even that person who mercilessly hurts you might be the one that God reaches tomorrow. And God uses sorrow and pain to change and improve men’s character and that’s what happens to these once merciless brothers.
2. God’s invisible hand intervenes yet again and places Joseph in the service of a powerful man named Potiphar. It’s the next step in a divinely choreographed story designed by a loving and merciful God.
And we see that this is just a snapshot in a life – there is much more to come and much more God is going to do. That’s true of you and me too. Any given day is just a snapshot – it’s never the whole story. What’s God doing in your life right now? Are there bad things going on in your life? Are you having trouble seeing how God can ever use it for good? Trust God to mean it for good – trust God’s mighty hand to turn it for good. Trust God’s wisdom and love and mercy to take even the worst thing and use it for great good – not just for us, but to use us as instruments of His mercy to others as well.