The Providence of God.
Genesis 37-38, Matthew 19
Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. – Genesis 37:36 ESV
We don’t always get what God is doing in and around us. Sometimes it even appears as if He is nowhere to be found. Yet the Bible is filled with timely reminders of God’s sovereignty over mankind. We read account after account of His providential role in the lives of men, working behind the scenes, orchestrating events and individuals in order to accomplish His divine will. And the story of Joseph is one of the premier illustrations of God’s providential participation in the affairs of men. To those who find themselves cast members of God’s story, His involvement is not always apparent. Could we have talked to Joseph as he sat in the pit or while he was on his way to Egypt in chains, he probably would have told us that God had turned His back on him. But the story of Joseph’s life is provided to remind us of God’s unwavering, unstoppable control over the affairs of men. When it comes to His divine will and sovereign plan, there is nothing and no one who can stand in His way or prevent what He has predetermined. And while we may not understand what God is doing, we must rest in the fact that He most certainly KNOWS what He is doing at all time. God reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
Joseph’s dreams were clearly from God. They were a glimpse into the future, providing Joseph and his family with a somewhat fuzzy view of things to come. God was providing a partial look into what was going to happen in the years to come. But we see God’s plan mixed in with man’s sin-prone response. Joseph’s brothers can’t stand him and his dreams only add fuel to the fire of their hatred and jealousy. So they concoct a plan to murder him, but calmer heads prevail, and so instead, they decide to sell him as a slave to some Midianite traders. Their goal was to get this dreamer out of their lives forever. But God had other plans. Sometimes it is hard for us to see God at work in these stories. We have to look closely at the words that are used by the author in describing the events. After covering their sin by convincing their father that Joseph had been mauled and killed by a wild animal, it would appear that the story of Joseph is over. But Moses writes, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36 ESV). God was not done and Joseph’s story was far from over. He was sold as a slave, but not to just any owner. No, he was sold to an officer of Pharaoh. Joseph could have been sold to anyone, but God had something else in mind. In His providence, Joseph’s destiny was irrevocably tied to that of Pharaoh.
Even in the story of Judah, recorded in chapter 38, we see the hand of God. It is hidden from plain sight, but it’s there. Once again, we get a view of the sinfulness of man. Judah, the brother who came up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave, gets special emphasis from Moses in chapter 38. The story of Joseph is interrupted by the somewhat sad and depressing account of Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law. It is a story filled with sin and shame, immorality and human depravity. God is hardly even mentioned, except in two cases where He put to death two of the sons of Judah because of their extreme wickedness. The entire story revolves around Judah’s unfair treatment of his daughter-in-law and culminates is her deceptive plan to force Judah to give her what she wants. It all ends up in the two of them having sexual relations together and the births of two sons.
And yet, God was there. In spite of the immorality and depravity, God was going to use their sinful, selfish acts to accomplish His will for mankind. And we see it in the birth of the two sons, Zerah and Perez. You have to go all the way to the gospel of Matthew to find out how God was at work in this story. There you will find the name of Perez listed in the lineage of Jesus. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron…” (Matthew 1:2-3 ESV). Just a few verses later we read, “…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV). God would use one of the sons born from this illicit, immoral relationship to bring about the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. God was in control all the time – in the life of Joseph and in the life of Judah. Even the sins of man cannot stop the sovereign will of God.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Apart from God, we are sin-prone and destined to destroy what God has given us. Given enough time, man has a unique knack for destroying not only creation, but virtually every relationship in his life. Left to his own devices, man would make a mess out of just about everything. But thankfully, God is still in control. He has given us a degree of autonomy and freedom, but never completely takes His hands off the wheel. He allows us to believe we are in control, running the affairs of our own lives and determining our own destinies. But God is in full control. Joseph’s brothers fully thought they were taking matters into their own hands. Judah was under the false impression that he was large and in charge of the affairs of his life. You can see these men acting as if God does not exist, and in some cases, acting as if they are God themselves. They attempt to determine the fate of others, making decisions that are not theirs to make. They don’t consult God. They don’t even act as if He exists, showing no remorse or regret for their actions.
Only in the life of Joseph do we see someone who seems to have a right relationship with God. He appears to walk with God and clearly has the blessing of God on his life. Everywhere he goes, regardless of the circumstance, God’s hand is on him. God prospers him. Joseph does his part, working hard and remaining faithful to God, regardless of what kinds of circumstances happen to him. Joseph stands out as an anomaly. He is not the norm. He breaks the pattern of sin and selfishness that has been set by his peers. And God has great plans for him. God can and does use the Judahs and the Josephs of the world. He is not limited by man’s faithfulness or faithlessness.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Through Perez would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God would ultimately redeem the sinful affairs of men to accomplish His righteous will for mankind. When I read the stories of Jacob, Joseph, and Judah, it can be so easy to lose heart, thinking that mankind is beyond saving. We are too far gone. I find myself asking the same question the disciples did of Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:24 ESV). And Jesus lovingly reminds me as He did them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. He provided a way for sinful man to made right with Him. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He miraculously sent His Son, born into a family line marred by sin, but born without sin. God made the impossible possible. He redeems and restores. He uses our worst to accomplish His best for us. He used the hatred of the Jews and their ultimate murder of His Son to accomplish His will regarding the salvation of mankind. And ultimately, all the stories recorded in Scripture are about that one divine act: the salvation and redemption of man. The story of Joseph is a small chapter in the bigger story of Jesus and His coming to earth as the Savior of the world. I have to constantly remind myself that my story and the events of my life are only significant in that they are part of a much greater, more important story of God’s ultimate restoration of all things. Nothing is impossible for Him.
Father, thank You for being the God of the impossible. You did for me what I could never have done for myself. Your plan is perfect and You are working it to perfection. Help me rest in that reality each and every day of my life. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men