The Providence and Provision of God

21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22 Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; 23 and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.

24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent a base. 28 And of the 1,775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. 29 The bronze that was offered was seventy talents and 2,400 shekels; 30 with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31 the bases around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court. – Exodus 38:21-31 ESV

The Tabernacle was the work of Bezalel and his team of skilled artisans and craftsmen, but the material used to construct this one-of-a-kind structure had been donated by the Israelites. In other words, it was a community-wide effort, and it had all been under the direction of Yahweh. This entire project had been His idea and its completion had been made possible because He had deemed it so. God had been the one to order the collection of all the building materials so that His house could become a reality, and the willing participation of the people would play a vital role in bringing His sanctuary to completion.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:1-9 ESV

The inventory Moses provides helps to give a sense of scale to this massive project. In a rather matter-of-fact way, Moses records the staggering amount of gold, silver, and bronze required to complete God’s house. And it would seem that the people of Israel supplied every single ounce that God had called for in His design. More than a ton of gold was donated by the Israelites. Their bracelets, amulets, rings, and necklaces were melted down so that Bezalel and his associates could adorn the Tabernacle and its furniture just as God had commanded. According to Moses’ inventory, the Israelites contributed an additional 3.75 tons of silver and nearly 3 tons of bronze for use in the construction of the Tabernacle.

For a nation of former slave laborers and sheepherders, this represents an amazing amount of wealth. But they had neither earned nor worked for it. According to the early chapters of Exodus, God had preordained a massive wealth exchange between the Egyptians and the Israelites. In His original call to Moses, God had revealed His plan to provide the Israelites with the resources they would later need to fulfill His request for donations to build His Tabernacle.

“So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:20-22 ESV

And God had delivered on this promise. When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt, they followed God’s instructions and asked their Egyptian neighbors for a parting gift.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV

After watching the Egyptians suffer under the ten plagues brought upon them by God, the Israelites must have felt a bit strange asking these devastated people to hand over their gold, silver, and bronze. After all, every household in Egypt had just suffered the loss of their firstborn. For the tenth and final plague, God sent His death angel throughout the land of Egypt, so “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” ( Exodus 12:30 ESV). The staggering loss of life associated with this last plague left the Egyptians stunned and eager to see the Israelites leave their land.

The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” – Exodus 12:33 ESV

So, when the Israelites made their rather bold request for parting gifts, the Egyptians eagerly complied. No doubt, the Egyptians viewed their gifts as offerings to the God of the Israelites. By this time, they feared and were eager to appease the wrath of this powerful and death-delivering deity. So, they willingly turned over their valuables to the parting Israelites. And it is likely that many of these pieces of jewelry bore the images of their false gods. Egyptian amulets, rings, and pendants were often adorned with depictions of their diverse assortment of deities and it seems likely that these trinkets made their way into the plunder that the Israelites took with them from Egypt.

Little did the Israelites know that their sudden windfall would later be used to prepare a dwelling place for Yahweh. And when they departed Egypt, they led their extensive herds and flocks. During their 400-year stay in Egypt, they had served as shepherds and herdsmen for Pharaoh, and over time, they had seen their own livestock increase greatly in number. So that by the time they left, they did so “with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 ESV). And, once again, they had no way of knowing that these animals had been providentially provided by God so that they might have ample sources of animals once His sacrificial system was instituted. God had provided all that they would need to build the Tabernacle and fulfill His command for blood sacrifices.

Amazingly, during the fifth plague, God had brought death to all the livestock of the Egyptians, but had spared the flocks and herds of the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’”  And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. – Exodus 9:1-6 ESV

God had protected the assets of His people, and when it come time for them to leave the land, God had provided them with gold, silver, and bronze – in abundance. The Almighty had providentially planned ahead for the future. Every animal they would eventually sacrifice in the wilderness had been provided by God. Every ounce of gold, silver, and bronze they would need to construct the Tabernacle had been provided for in advance and at the expense of the Egyptians. In a sense, the Egyptians bankrolled the construction of a house for Israel’s God. Their gold adorned the Mercy Seat upon which Yahweh would sit in the Holy of Holies. Their bronze necklaces would be melted down and hammered into sheets that would be affixed to the Bronze Altar. And on that altar, the Israelites would offer the livestock that God had spared in the land of Goshen. The Egyptian gold, silver, and bronze would be used to build a sanctuary to the God of the Israelites. The jewelry that had once adorned the bodies of pagan Egyptians would be used to glorify Yahweh, the all-powerful and unparalleled God of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Hard Heart is Not Difficult for God

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” – Exodus 4:18-23 ESV

Moses finally determines to accept the Lord’s commission and return to Egypt, but when he informs his father-in-law of his intentions, his words reflect a tone of pessimism.

“Let me go, so that I may return to my relatives in Egypt and see if they are still alive.” – Exodus 4:18 NLT

It almost sounds as if Moses is expecting the worst when he returns. But it is more likely that he is trying to appeal to the heart of Jethro. After all, his father-in-law is a family man and will understand if Moses simply wants to return to check on the well-being of his relatives. This appeal will also help to convince Jethro to allow his daughter and two grandsons to make the journey back with Moses.

Having gained Jethro’s permission, Moses made plans for the long journey home, but not before God informed him that it was safe to return.

“Go back to Egypt, because all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” – Exodus 4:19 NLT

Evidently, Moses still harbored reservations about going back to the place where he had murdered an Egyptian in cold blood. As far as he knew, the bounty on his head was still in effect and he would be arrested as soon as he set foot in Egypt. But God graciously informed him that the statute of limitations had expired because all those who sought him were dead. Moses could no longer use that as an excuse for delaying his return.

Before Moses loaded his wife and sons on a donkey, he received one final order from God that fully summarized his commission.

“When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. But I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go. You must say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord has said, “Israel is my son, my firstborn,  and I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me,’ but since you have refused to let him go, I will surely kill your son, your firstborn!”’” – Exodus 4:21-23 NLT

Moses had his marching orders and they were far from encouraging. God basically told His servant that he would face stiff opposition. Pharaoh was not going to be like what Moses had to say. In fact, he was going to refuse any and all requests to let the people of Israel leave Egypt. And God let Moses know that Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance would be part of His sovereign plan for Israel’s deliverance. God was going to “harden his heart.” This phrase will be used repeatedly throughout the book of Exodus, in order to inform the reader that the entire narrative arc of the story has been authored by God. Though Pharaoh is a powerful figure, he is just another character in God’s divine drama of deliverance.

God is not suggesting that Pharaoh will be a helpless victim of His sovereign will. The king of Egypt will not be subjected to some kind of divine mind control that forces him to function in a robotic, trancelike state. Pharaoh will have full access to all of his mental faculties, and will willingly decide to oppose the will of God. On several occasions, it will become clear that Pharaoh is operating according to his own stubborn will.

But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. – Exodus 8:15 ESV

But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. – Exodus 8:32 ESV

In a sense, God is using the prideful and arrogant nature of Pharaoh to accomplish His will. God is not forcing Pharaoh to do anything. He is simply taking advantage of what He knows to be a weakness in the life of this godless, pagan king. By having Moses make the request for Israel’s release, God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart because He already knows the king will reject that request. God could soften Pharaoh’s heart and make him amenable to Moses’ overtures, but that would not provide the proper environment in which to demonstrate His power and authority to the people of Israel.

But it seems clear from the text that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses. – Exodus 9:12 ESV

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go. – Exodus 10:20 ESV

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. – Exodus 10:27 ESV

Yet, once again, this seems to be an indication that God is allowing Pharaoh to operate according to his own moral compass. Pharaoh was simply doing what he would normally and naturally do, without any interference from God. Without God’s assistance, Pharaoh would be incapable of responding any other way. In that sense, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by refusing to intervene. God could have provided Pharaoh with the capacity to behave in contrast to his normal, sinful disposition, but that would not have accomplished the plan for Israel’s release.

No man or woman can display heart-motivated behavior in keeping with God’s will without God’s help. In the book of Ezekiel, God informs His own chosen people that their ability to obey His laws and statutes will be impossible until He has given them the ability to do so. But one day, He will do just that.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV

The book of 1 Samuel recalls a scene in which the Philistines had stolen to Ark of the Covenant from Israel. This sacred object was integral to Israel’s worship of Yahweh because it contained the mercy seat, where God’s glory dwelt. To convince the Philistines to return the ark, God “terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.” (1 Samuel 5:6 ESV). In a panic, the people of Ashdod shipped the ark to the nearby city of Gath, “But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them” (1 Samuel 5:9 ESV). 

Like a real-life game of hot potato, the Gathites sent the ark to another neighboring Philistine city. But when it arrived in Ekron, the same thing happened.

…there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. – 1 Samuel 5:11-12 ESV

In a heightened state of panic, the Philistines sought the wisdom of their priests and diviners, hoping for a solution to their growing problem. Their advice was to send the ark back to Israel. Then they added this interesting word of warning.

“Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?” – 1 Samuel 6:6 ESV

The report of God’s long-past dealings with Pharaoh and the Egyptian people had become legendary. And these pagan priests warned their people not to follow their example. Because the God of the Israelites would eventually get His way.

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul uses the story of Exodus as a lesson on God’s sovereign will. His main point is that God never operates unjustly. All that He does is good, righteous, and in order to accomplish His divine will. God can sovereignly choose to show mercy on whom He wills. It is not based on man’s merit or effort. And then Paul uses Pharaoh as an example.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:17-18 ESV

He actually borrows from the book of Exodus, quoting the words that Yahweh had Moses deliver to Pharaoh.

“…by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.” – Exodus 9:15-16 ESV

This helps to explain what God told Moses just before he made the trip back to Egypt. The mission on which Moses was about to embark, was going to be difficult, but its outcome was set in stone. Pharaoh was going to be a tough negotiator, but God was well aware of that. He had planned on it. This particular Pharaoh was just the kind of man God needed on the throne of Egypt because he would prove to be just stubborn enough to reject all of Moses’ requests and God’s judgments. And while God could have destroyed the Egyptians in a heartbeat, He had chosen instead to use Pharaoh’s stubbornness as a means for showcasing His power and sovereignty to the people of Israel. After what appeared to be a 400-year absence, God was going to make Himself known to His chosen people in a powerful and irrefutable way.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.


But God.

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:1-8 ESV

After Judah’s long, impassioned speech and his expressed willingness to offer himself as a substitute for Benjamin and serve as slave in his place, Joseph could contain himself no longer. He lost it. And he finally broke down and revealed to his brothers his true identity. What a scene that must have been. Joseph had all the Egyptians leave the room and then he said those shocking words that left his brothers dumbfounded and speechless: “I am Joseph!” Of all the unexpected things that had happened to them recently, this was the most surprising of all. There had been no suspicion on their part. They were caught completely off guard and “were dismayed at his presence.” The Hebrew word translated “dismayed” is bahal and it means “alarm, terror, to be disturbed, be anxious, be afraid” (H926 – bahal – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV). They were already afraid when they had entered Joseph’s house, because they were being accused of theft. But now their fear reached epic proportions. They were standing in front of their long-lost brother, the one they had betrayed and sold into slavery. They could only assume the worst. He was probably angry and out for revenge. On top of that, he was powerful and capable of doing to them whatever he wanted to do.

During this entire ordeal in Egypt, the brothers had been repeatedly reminded of their sin against Joseph years ago. The first time, when they had been accused of being spies and were commanded to bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin, as proof of their story, they had assumed they were being punished by God for their sin.

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” – Genesis 41:21-22 ESV

Now, their feelings of guilt were confirmed and Joseph could see the fear in their eyes. They were petrified and probably remained as they had been when they first came into his presence: on their knees before him. So Joseph simply says, “Come near to me, please!” (Genesis 45:4 ESV). He invites them to get up and come close. He extends a warm welcome when they were expecting well-deserved revenge. And then Joseph says something that had to have left them reeling. In the midst of all their regret, remorse, fear and guilt, Joseph tells them:

“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” – Genesis 45:4-5 ESV

Yes, they had heard right. He was their brother. And yes, they were guilty of having sold him into slavery. But the rest of their assumptions were wrong. While they were responsible for their actions, God was ultimately responsible for the outcome. He had used their sinful actions to accomplish His divine will. Joseph reveals to them the mysterious and difficult doctrine of the providence of God. “God sent me before you to preserve life.” They had sold Joseph, but God had sent him. They had betrayed Joseph, but God had commissioned him as his means of salvation for the people of Israel. Joseph clearly understood that his entire ordeal in Egypt had been God-ordained.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” – Genesis 45:7-8 ESV

Joseph had had plenty of time to think about his life and circumstances. He had been able to revisit all the events of his life and see the clear hand of God orchestrating and determining his destiny. They say hindsight is 20/20. In Joseph’s case, nothing could be truer. He could look back and see what God had been doing, even in those dark moments of the soul, when he was lying in the pit, serving as a slave and sitting in a prison for two years. God had been there. God had been at work. Those moments were just as much a part of God’s divine plan as Joseph’s elevation to the second-most powerful position in the land of Egypt. And it had all begun with his initial betrayal by his brothers. It had been God who sent Joseph to Egypt, not his brothers. This does not absolve them of guilt or responsibility for their actions. It simply states that God’s will is greater than man’s capacity for sin. Later on in the book of Genesis, Moses records yet another conversation between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph will once again inform them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

Their original intentions had been purely evil, motivated by jealousy and hatred. They had despised Joseph so much that they had been willing to kill him, but had settled for selling him as a slave. Their actions had been selfish and self-centered. But God had used their evil intent for their own good. He had taken their sinful actions and brought about something they had never intended and did not deserve: Their own salvation.

The apostle Peter reached a similar conclusion when he preached to the Jews after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost:

People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. – Acts 2:23-24 NLT

They were guilty of Jesus’ death, but God was the one who had preordained it. What they intended for evil, God had ordained for their own good. Such is the mystery of God’s providence. And Joseph’s brothers were going to learn the unfathomable, unbelievable joy of God’s sovereignty over even their own sin. They had willingly sacrificed their own brother’s life for their own sinful, selfish gain. But God had trumped their sin with his plan of salvation for their lives. “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:7 NLT).  “But God.” Two of the most powerful, encouraging, and hope-filled words in the entire Bible.