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.