15 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.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.Genesis 50:15-21
9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.Acts 7:9-10
I took a well-needed break last week and am thankful for two reasons: 1) God made our bodies in such a way that we are built to know when we need rest (it has taken me this long to learn to listen to it instead of reaping consequences of ignoring), and 2) I needed more time to process the story of Joseph.
Last week, during the time I would normally be working on the weekly devotion, I just happened to start a new Bible reading plan. The plan is via the YouVersion Bible app and is called “Look Up: 35 Days to Finding Hope in Dark Places”. It is not a self-help, psychology devotional. It follows people in the Bible as they walked through “Dark Places” in their lives while they followed the Lord. The first person to walk with was Joseph, the focus of today’s passages.
I have told you before that I am an English teacher. One of the ways I help my students is to train them to notice things that “just happen” in a text because nothing can merely happen without it being part of the author’s plan (can I get an RL.5 amen?). Well, I do not believe that it was an accident that I started reading that Bible plan when I did; I believe it was God’s providence. Just like in one of the texts I give my students, the author’s intent was evident. Jesus, the “Author of Life” (Acts 3:15) and the “Founder and Perfector of our Faith” (Hebrews 12:2), gave me the help my soul and body needed when I sought Him – His help – in His Word. After all, His same Spirit dwells in me when I walk through dark places is the same Spirit who penned the promises of Psalm 119 through David (who is also featured in that Bible reading plan) as he walked through His:
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word! (v. 28)
This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Promise gives me life. (v. 50)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your Statutes. (v. 71)
If Your Law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (v. 92)
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your Word. (v. 114)
Trouble and anguish have found me out, but Your Commandments are my delight. (v. 143)
But You are near, O Lord, and all Your Commandments are true. (v. 151)
Let my cry come before You, O Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word! Let my plea come before You; deliver me according to Your Word. (vv. 169-170)
For me, my dark place of late has been depression because chemicals in my brain are doing their own thing instead what they are supposed to do. I find myself focusing on all the wrong things “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” instead of shining the Light of Christ as He has called me to do while “holding fast to the Word of Life” (Philippians 2:15-16). So, today, I hope to help you seek help from God in His Word by looking at the example of Joseph.
(Brief Summary of Genesis 30, 37, 39-50)
Like many of the Old Testament “heroes”, Joseph’s life was complicated. His story began in one of the strangest and most complicated family situations that one could be born into. He was the oldest son of Rachel (2nd wife of Jacob – and the only wife he loved/intended to marry – check out Genesis 29), and he was his father’s favorite child, largely because of his mother.
You might think that life as the favorite might be – well, favorable, but a good portion of Joseph’s life was the opposite. Being Jacob’s favorite caused a rift between him and his brothers. The family dynamics were already bad since Jacob had children with two wives and two of their handmaidens. In fact his entire clan was born out of the rivalry between his wives Leah and Rachel – over who was loved most and who could most successfully provide sons for Jacob. Add to that the fact that Joseph “brought a bad report [of his brothers] to their father” (Genesis 37:2), was given a “robe of many colors” when the others were not (Genesis 37:3), and multiple dreams that seemed to indicate they (even Jacob) would end up bowing down to him at some point (Genesis 37:5-10) – there is no wonder that his brothers “hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (Genesis 37:4) and “were jealous of him” (Genesis 37:11). Their jealousy and hatred may seem to be warranted from a human perspective, at the very least it seems understandable, but what happens next is horrific.
Genesis 37:12-36 tells us what happened. Jacob took advantage of Joseph’s willingness to be honest about his brothers’ transgressions and sent him to spy on them. Joseph had to run all over to find them which made them able to see him coming. Rather than be glad to see their brother, their jealousy and hatred won out as they decided to tear his special robe from his arms, throw him into an empty pit, and kill him. Reuben tried to hatch a plan where he could eventually rescue Joseph instead of standing up to their wickedness, so it inevitably failed. Judah saw that there was more profit in selling him into slavery than simply killing him, and the brothers decided to hand him over to Ishmaelite traders for twenty shekels of silver. A little goat blood on his robe and a lie left Joseph secretly on the way to slavery in Egypt and Jacob distraught at the death of his favorite son.
One part of Joseph’s life that his brothers could not see was how God had been working in his life up to that point. God was responsible for Joseph’s mother no longer being barren and conceiving him (Genesis 30:22). He gave Joseph the dreams that showed his future (the ability to interpret would come later). And the “Lord was with Joseph” in Egypt (Genesis 39:2), so much so that his master Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household; Potiphar recognized the “blessing of the Lord” on Joseph (Genesis 39:5). He was even blessed to be “handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6). But, as with all his blessings, the blessings in Egypt welcomed trouble, too.
Potiphar’s wife was attracted to him and tried multiple times to seduce him. While this was no doubt tempting, he recognized that it was wrong because, as he told her, “you are his wife” and it would be a “sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). This only increased her efforts. She eventually orchestrated a situation where it would be just the two of them in the house. Before Joseph realized what was happening, he was removed from his robe once more; this time leaving it behind in his her grabbing hands. He ran from temptation and sin (like we all should) and found himself in prison when she, angry from her spurned affections, lied to lied to Potiphar.
I could go on, but I believe this gives the necessary context. Genesis 40 tells of his time in prison where God continued to bless him by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. That ability ended up freeing him from all bondage when Pharaoh himself was having nightmares in Genesis 41, proving that, throughout all of his dark times, God never left him – he was never forsaken (Hebrews 13:5).
It is strange to think that we could be right where God wants us when things are not going well. This goes against much of the teachings of churches in America where we like our best life now and all tribulation for those who do not get raptured. But Joseph was right where he was supposed to be: in position to be used by God to rescue Israel, His chosen people yet far from where he would have chosen. But there is no better place than in the will of God!
In Genesis 42-43, famine struck Egypt and the rest of the known world at that time – including the land where Jacob and his family lived and according to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. His post-prison job was basically vice-Pharaoh where he headed up salvage and storage operations to keep people fed during the famine. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to by grain. And none of them realized that God’s providence in Joseph’s life, despite their wickedness and sin toward him and God, would save their lives and the lives of their families.
Genesis 44-45 sees Joseph interacting with his brothers to test them and ultimately provide them with the grain they needed. Genesis 46-47 shows how Joseph planned to bring all his family to Egypt and set the stage for all that God would do through Moses in the Exodus. I cannot help but wonder how much the joy of Joseph being reunited with his father overshadowed his darker days. But imagine what it was like for him to meet the God he had followed and trusted through those times – unspeakable, indescribable joy!
What Does This Mean for Us Today?
I spoke earlier about how I believe that it was God’s providence that I read about Joseph’s experiences when I found myself struggling, especially reading through Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7-8 when he mentions Joseph. Maybe you are not familiar with the idea of providence – the protective care of God.
I believe one of the most providential things that God has done for His people is the gift of His Word. In it we find everything that can be known about God. So, I want to close out with some specific application; I would like to point you to some of the same passages of Scripture that reading about Joseph brought to my mind with brief statements to help organize them.
1) I do not have to be strong like Joseph for God to love me. God loves me despite my weaknesses.
- John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
- Romans 5:8 – …but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- 1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2) God has a plan for my life to point to Him despite the evil that exists in the world.
- Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
- Philippians 2:14-15 – Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
- Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
3) God has a long track-record of taking care of His people, and none of them could see it until He carried them all the way through (for this, you can look at anyone who followed God/Christ and had trouble, which was all of them all the way through the Bible – He never fails).
4) What God has done for us in Jesus – the hope He gives us through the eternal life in Him He bought with His death and resurrection – is better than our worst days are bad.
- John 16:33 – I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
- Philippians 3:8-9 – Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith….
- Revelation 21:3-4 – And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5) We will never see what God is doing if we do not lift our eyes off the world and turn them to Him.
- Psalm 119:37 – Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
- Colossians 3:1-4 – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
At the end of Genesis, it is shocking for us to see Joseph tell his brothers: “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.” Having walked through the dark times, he recognized that God had never left him at all; after all, “even the darkness is not dark” to Him (Psalm 139:12).
Then, to see Stephen preach about Joseph in the sermon that would cost his life to say that “the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions” (Acts 7:9-10). That same truth he preached to those who would murder him was what he lived out. Jesus was the last face that Stephen saw before he died and the first he would see when he awoke in heaven.
Maybe you are going through dark times right now and do not know where to turn. I would suggest you turn to a page in the Bible and seek Christ. It is my prayer that you find Him in His Word.
Hallelujah, and Amen!