The Point: We can trust God is at work on our behalf.
God is in Control: Genesis 50:15-21.
 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him."  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died,  ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants."  But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, 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.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. [ESV]
[15-21] “In life we live through events that seem tangled and meaningless but they appear that way only because we cannot see the pattern. When we see life from God’s side, His message of love and providence shines through. It was thus with Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food and Joseph had at last revealed himself to them, all had been filled with fear. Suddenly they were in the power of this Egyptian prime minister, and their hearts rightly accused them of the wrong they had done to him so many years before. They thought he would kill them. Instead, they found Joseph to be moved by great love. They came to Egypt with their father, Jacob, and then lived there under Joseph’s protection for nearly twenty years. Jacob died. At first, their fears were probably dulled by mourning, maybe even shunted aside by the elaborate funeral arrangements. Still the fear was there, and eventually it began to feed upon them. They said: It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him . When his father, Isaac, died, Esau had planned vengeance on Jacob for stealing his blessing, saying, The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob [Gen. 27:41]. Perhaps Joseph’s thoughts were like that. Perhaps he had been restrained only because of his affection for his father, to whom he did not wish to add more sorrow. If so, they could expect harsh treatment at his hands. The brothers had reason to fear, for theirs had been a great crime. They had sold an innocent young man, their own brother, into slavery. But from Joseph’s side their fears were unfounded. They came with their argument – that their father had told them to tell Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father , which Jacob may or may not actually have said – and to humble themselves, saying, we are your servants . But they found to their relief that Joseph was entirely forgiving. In fact, he had forgiven them long before, though they distrusted him. Joseph reassured them in what is surely one of the great statements of Scripture. Do not fear, for am I in place of God? As for you, 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones [19-21]. An interesting Bible study would be to look at all the verses of the Bible that contain the words but God. There is Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:27; and Acts 13:30. Each of these texts depends for its effect on what goes before. Ephesians 2:4 speaks of God’s love, but that is set against the background of man’s sin. First Corinthians 2:10 speaks of God’s revelation of Himself in His Word, but that is contrasted with our inability to know God by human measures. And so for each of these texts. On the one hand, there is a dreadful, sinful reality; on the other, there is an aspect of the greatness of God that overcomes it. This is the case with Genesis 50:20, which is another but God verse. But God meant it for good. This is a great saying, a forceful testimony. But its strength comes from contrast with what precedes it, namely, the hurt intended by those who scorned or hated Joseph. This was real scorn, not apparent scorn. It was real hate, not playacting. It is only against the background of the reality of this evil that the good providence of God has real meaning. Joseph suffered three forms of abuse from those who should have loved, honored, or remembered him. (1) The hatred of his brothers. Being a child, Joseph had perhaps acted naively and unwisely in telling his jealous older brothers of his two dreams in which sheaves of grain, representing themselves, bowed to his sheaf, and the sun, moon, and stars bowed to him. But at the worst this was a childish mistake. It was certainly nothing to merit the ill will and hostile actions of the brothers. What caused the brothers’ hatred was the fact that Joseph was not like them and was favored by their father because of the difference. They were cruel; he was gentle. They were faithless; he was faithful. They were worldly; he was spiritual. Joseph was a true man of God. So they hated him, as the world always hates those who exhibit God’s character. They decided to kill him. As it turned out, they spared his life for sordid personal gain and sold him into slavery instead. It is one of the most inhumane acts in scripture. No wonder the brothers were fearful now, at the end. (2) The cruelty of a prominent and influential woman. The brothers’ hatred would be evil enough for one young life, but Joseph was not so fortunate as to have the hurts from others stop there. He arrived in Egypt as the lowest of slaves. He rose upward in the slave ranks through his own integrity, faithfulness, and hard work. His master recognized these qualities and placed him in charge of his estate. The text says, he had no concern about anything but the food he ate [39:6]. But even this was a snare. When Joseph was a lowly slave, his presence went largely unnoticed, except to his master Potiphar. But when he became prominent he attracted the amorous attentions of Potiphar’s philandering wife. The woman was sensuous, direct, and persistent. She solicited Joseph. At last he fled from her, leaving his garment in her hands. The fury of Potiphar’s wife pursued Joseph with the result that he was thrown into prison. So it was not only his own brothers who caused harm. This woman harmed him greatly. She would have killed him if she could. (3) The forgetfulness of a friend. Sometimes harm is inflicted by neglect, and this was the case in the third incident of Joseph’s most unfortunate years. In prison he made the friendship of the chief baker and chief cupbearer of Pharaoh. These were important positions, but these men had fallen into disfavor with Pharaoh and so were confined in the same prison as Joseph to face an unknown end. While there they had dreams. Joseph interpreted the dreams, showing that after three days the cupbearer would be taken from the prison and restored to his office and that the baker would be taken from the prison and hanged. Joseph appealed to his friend the cupbearer, Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit [40:14-15]. No doubt the cupbearer promised to work for Joseph’s release. But the story concludes, Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him [40:23]. The next chapter begins, After two whole years [41:1]. Joseph lay forgotten in prison for two full years – and that on top of his brothers’ malicious hatred and Mrs. Potiphar’s hot scorn. Few persons in history have suffered as intensely and as unjustly as Joseph. But it is precisely against this dark storm of evil that our text containing Joseph’s testimony to God’s providence shines most brightly. Am I in the place of God? As for you, 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 [19-20]. What gave Joseph the grace to make this remarkable reply? There is only one answer: Joseph knew God. In particular, he knew two things about God. He knew that God is sovereign – that nothing ever comes into the life of any one of His children that He has not approved first; there are no accidents. And he knew that God is good – therefore, the things that come into our lives by God’s sovereignty are for our benefit and not for our harm. What Joseph saw and spoke of in this next-to-last scene of his earthly life is what the apostle Paul wrote about eloquently hundreds of years later. It is a text often memorized by Christian people: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose [Rom. 8:28]. It is impossible to overestimate the wonder of this verse. It teaches three things, all of which are illustrated in the life of Joseph. First, God is working for the good of those who love Him. This is what Joseph saw. On the surface he saw much that looked bad. But this is not how a Christian judges things – by sight. Not at all! The true believer judges all events by faith in God’s promises. Second, the text teaches that all things are controlled by God and therefore work to our good. In Joseph’s case, it would have been easy for him to say that the dream of Pharaoh, which he was enabled to interpret and which led to his being elevated from the prison to the throne, was of God. It was clear how that was used for good. But while that was obviously of God and was good, Joseph did not allow his testimony to stop there; he extended it to include even the hostile and damaging acts of his brothers. We can see that even sin works for good for those who belong to God. Can you say that? Can you say with confidence that all things are working together for good in your life, whoever you are and whatever the circumstances of your life may be? Do you believe Romans 8:28. If all things really mean ‘all things’ and God is not a liar, then there is truly nothing in your life that can possibly be excluded. All includes the experiences of your childhood and whether they were affirming or destructive. It includes who your parents were (even if you did not know them) and where you were born. It includes your education, your present employment (or lack of it), the house in which you live, the furniture you have, the car you are driving, your friends, your church, even your appearance. Every one of these things is included in that word all. So are many more besides. Whether you can see it or not – and often we cannot – everything is being used of God for your good as well as the good of others. Third, we can know that and live by it, as Joseph did. If all things worked together for our good without our knowing it, it would be a wonderful fact even though we might not find out about it until much later. But we do not have to wait until later. We can know it now. We can know that all that enters our lives is actually working for good now. This knowledge is by faith. It is not always by sight. But it is nevertheless certain, because it is based on the character of God, who reveals Himself to us as both sovereign and benevolent. It is tempting to object at this point that although Romans 8:28 and the experience of Joseph teach that God controls circumstances and undoubtedly overrules what happens for our benefit – although this is true – certainly the principle cannot be extended to cover deliberate sin in all instances. But this is precisely what the Bible does teach, and in proof of this conviction we only need look at the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Against Him cruel and evil men poured out wrath. He was unjustly arrested, unjustly tried, unjustly convicted. Then He was killed without mercy. Never in the entire history of the world has greater evil been done – for this was an extreme of evil practiced against one who was not only innocent of crimes but was also actually sinless. Yet, from this greatest of all evils, God brought forth the greatest possible good: the salvation of a vast company of people. As long as the cross stands in history, no one who knows its meaning will be able to pronounce a limitation on God’s providence. When people conspire to harm us and actually inflict wounds born of cruel hatred or indifference, we will not call their evil good. Evil remains evil. Sin is still sin. But we will testify before these and the world that in a universe ruled by a sovereign and benevolent God, their evil will not succeed. We will say, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. We will declare that in the ultimate assessment, nothing can be anything but good for God’s people.” [Boice, pp. 1250-1256].
Questions for Discussion:
1. Contrast the behavior of Joseph and his brothers after their father, Jacob, died. Why were the brothers afraid? Why did Joseph forgive them? Note how their behavior was impacted by their view of God.
2. But God is one of the key phrases in all of Scripture [see Acts 13:30; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 1:27; 2:10; 10:13; Eph. 2:4-5]. The phrase indicates a major contrast between sinful reality and an aspect of the greatness of God that overcomes it. Think about times in your life when you have experienced these But God moments.
3. What two things did Joseph know about God that enabled him to forgive those who had done evil to him? When you encounter evil in your life, are you able to say with Joseph: But God meant it for good?
Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.
Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.
Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.