Overcome Bitterness


The Point:  Relationships can only move forward with forgiveness.

God Uses Joseph to Preserve Life:  Genesis 45:3-11.

[3]  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.  [4]  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.  [5]  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  [6]  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.  [7]  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  [8]  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.  [9]  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.  [10]  You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.  [11]  There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’  [ESV]

[5-9]  “In studying the character of Joseph we have seen that its single most distinguishing feature was his ability to relate everything to God. God was in his thoughts constantly. There is hardly a sentence from his lips that does not have the name of God in it. Nothing is more characteristic of Joseph than his ability to relate everything that happened to him to God. But nowhere in the story is this more evident than in chapter 45 in verses 5-9. Here are five verses in which Joseph sought to allay his brothers’ fears after he had revealed himself to them. In these verses the name of God occurs four times. By looking past secondary causes to God, who is the first cause, Joseph gained a stabilizing perspective on life and achieved a frame of mind out of which he was able to forgive and reassure his brothers. It is a perspective to be held by every Christian. This God-centered perspective is a profound insight. So it is not to be taken lightly as if it were merely Joseph’s kind of wishful thinking. Nor is it as if Joseph had experienced only good in his life and was simply acknowledging that all good gifts come from God. On the contrary, he had experienced much evil. He had been unreasonably hated, treacherously enslaved, falsely accused, and wrongly imprisoned. Again, it is not as if he were merely ignoring the evil or denying it. He was acutely aware of his brothers’ evil and of their need to turn from it. No, the unique importance of these statements lies in Joseph’s attributing what was evil in its intent to God’s providence. He was not saying that God is the author of evil. God is not. Rather, God is in charge even of the wicked designs and evil deeds of men, so that His purposes are accomplished, not theirs. But Joseph was not merely saying that God was behind the evil that had happened to him, important as that preliminary statement is. By itself the statement means that tragedies are not accidents. It may even mean that God has some wise purpose in the tragedy, and that is helpful. It is always easier to bear something if you know there was a purpose to it. But Joseph was claiming more than that in his fourfold reference to God’s hand in the details of his life. Besides saying that God was in charge of what happened, Joseph was saying that God was accomplishing a good purpose in it so that the end was good despite the evil. God sent me before you to preserve life. And God send me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors [5,7]. Here we can see how Joseph’s statements regarding God’s good purposes were true. The hatred of Joseph’s brothers, which was evil, was the cause of their selling him into slavery, which got him to Egypt. The lust and lying of Potiphar’s adulterous wife, which were evil, were the means of getting Joseph into prison, where he met the chief cupbearer and chief baker of Pharaoh. The forgetfulness of the cupbearer, whether unintentionally or intentionally cruel, meant that Joseph was still in prison to be brought out at the proper time two years later when Pharaoh had his dream. It is easy to see this in retrospect, as Joseph did. But this was twenty-two years after Joseph’s initial captivity. During the early years it was not obvious how (or even if) God was going to bring good out of evil. Yet Joseph lived by faith in God during those years just as much as he did after the purposes of God began to be disclosed. There were three good things that Joseph claimed God accomplished by his suffering. First, God prospered Joseph, making him lord of all Egypt [9]. This was the highest position a person other than the pharaoh could enjoy in that day. But in Joseph’s case it was reached by one in the lowest of all positions, an imprisoned slave. There is a spiritual lesson here: namely, those whom God wishes greatly to honor He often greatly abases – no doubt because the humbling is necessary for the greatness. Moses was a man greatly used of God in the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. He was Israel’s first great leader. But before he was called by God and sent to Egypt with the command Let my people go, he was driven from Egypt as a fugitive and spent forty years on the backside of the desert as a shepherd. David was greatly used of God. Yet David spent many years being harried from pillar to post by the jealous and vindictive King Saul. It was during these dog days that both Moses and David developed the necessary character for true greatness. So do not despair if life has not prospered you yet. God may be preparing you for great things to come. Whatever the future holds, you can know that God controls it and that the eventual outcome of any evil will be good for you personally. Second, God saved the lives of the brothers through Joseph’s fall and eventual rise to power. God was doing a number of things through Joseph’s being sold into Egypt. This was His way of getting Jacob and the brothers to Egypt, where they would prosper and grow into a great nation, for instance. In order to get Jacob to Egypt God had to get Benjamin to Egypt. In order to get Benjamin to Egypt he had to get the brothers to Egypt. In order to get the brothers to Egypt he had to get Joseph to Egypt. All this was for the good of the brothers. But in addition to this and of even more immediate importance, Joseph’s suffering was the means of saving their lives. This was a severe famine, and Joseph’s family would have died if God had not sent Joseph ahead of the others to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors [7]. Remember this when you go through difficult times. Hard times may be God’s means of saving you and others from an even greater disaster. David said, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word [Ps. 119:67]. Third, God saved other lives in the process of saving Jacob’s household. As Joseph said, for God sent me before you to preserve life [5]. The world does not see this, of course. But the Scriptures teach that the wicked experience many special providences because of God’s care for the righteous. God has spared many a nation because of an oppressed but faithful minority. It should be clear that one of the benefits of Joseph’s seeing everything that happened to him as having come from God is that he was able to forgive his brothers easily, as he would not have been if he had focused only on their responsibility for his suffering. To see God in all things, both good and evil, enables us to forgive easily those who injure us. It does not incline us to condone their fault as if they were unconscious instruments impelled by Him who made use of them, for they act as freely as if God had no part at all. This is strongly exemplified in Joseph, for he saw the hand of God overruling the designs of his brothers; and from that consideration, he not only readily forgave them but entreated them do not be distressed or angry with yourselves [5], since whatever had been their intentions, God had used their misdeeds to accomplish his own gracious purposes. Do you have trouble forgiving someone? Has someone deeply wronged you, and does your body tense up in anger whenever you think of him or her? Have you prayed about it and had little relief? If so, try thinking of the wrong as part of God’s providence. See His hand in it. Think of the good He is accomplishing. If you gain that perspective, you will find your anger softening and discover at the last that you are actually able to forgive the one who has wronged you greatly. Finally, note the striking repetition of God’s name in these verses. When God repeats something it is never for mere literary effect, but rather to help our little minds understand and finally grasp some great fact. When God wants us to grasp how sinful we are and how desperate our condition is apart from His great grace, he repeats three times over: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one [Rom. 3:10-12]. This is something God wants us to know; we are ignorant of God, rebellious, dead in trespasses and sins. So also here. God wants us to know that He is in charge of the events of our lives. He is sovereign. For God sent me before you [5]. And God sent me before you [7]. So it was not you who sent me here, but God [8]. God has made me lord of all Egypt [9]. Can you learn the lesson of these verses and benefit from it? The lesson is: God … God … God … God.”  [Boice, pp. 1057-1063].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In 45:5-9, the name of God occurs four times. What is said concerning God in these five verses? What does this tell us concerning Joseph’s view of God? How can you develop such a God-centered focus in your life?

2.         How did Joseph’s view of God enable him to forgive his brothers? How does your view of God’s providence impact the way you deal with evil and suffering in your life?


Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

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