Note: If you aren’t familiar with the story of Joseph, read it in Genesis Chapters 37–47.
"… So now it was not you who sent me here, but God..." “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God… for he careth for you.” “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob…You are Mine.” “Your descendants will be oppressed as slaves in a foreign land for 400 years.” “… that they may know Thee…” “Submit therefore to God.” “…present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice…”
Gen 45:7,8 1 Pet 5:6-7 Isaiah 43:1 Gen 15:13 John 17:3 James 4:7 Rom 12:1
The life of Joseph is impacting. Sold into slavery yet through faith in God rising to become the defacto ruler of all Egypt, Joseph’s life is an awesome story and we are right to focus on it and apply its lessons to our own lives. But there is more to this story than the lessons Joseph’s life offers us. If we stop at those life lessons, we will miss an awesome opportunity to deepen our knowledge of God the Person. Remember, there is no greater purpose in life than knowing God.
The nation of Israel was God’s idea. He called Abram out of Ur, sent him to Canaan, taught him faith, and then gave him a miracle son. That faith thing was important because God was building a nation based on faith. God had it all planned out that Jesus would come from Israel to redeem us all from our sins. His goal was for the faith of Israel would become the foundation on which He would build the Christian church. So, it was really, really important that this fledgling nation, at this time consisting of twelve contentious brothers, got off to a decent start! Only Israel wasn’t getting off to a good start. Things weren’t good in the family of Jacob. The nation of Israel, created by and belonging to God, existing to fulfill His purposes, needed help.
Jacob’s sons were full of strife. Even though they were all of one family, they weren’t unified, as a nation should be. That strife was rooted in the competition between Jacob’s four wives and in Jacob’s foolish favoritism toward Joseph and later Benjamin. From the very beginning his wives competed with each other to see who could produce the most babies. The sons they produced kept that hostile competition going. Strife and disunity reigned. Abraham was a man of faith, but his great-great-grandsons, with the exception of Joseph, knew little of God. They walked in their fallen flesh and faith was far from them. In the middle of Joseph’s story, the Bible digresses briefly to give us a snapshot of the life of his brother Judah and just how far from grace he fell (Gen 38). That story serves as an example of how all the brothers had fallen from faith. It’s not a pretty story because the lives of Jacob’s sons were not pretty. God saw all this happening long before Joseph was sold and so made plans to deal with it.
It is interesting – even instructive – that God is able to take the deepest and darkest sins we commit and harbor and make them work to His purposes (Romans 8:28). It was that way with Jacob’s sons. From the moment they made the deal to sell Joseph to their cousins the Ishmaelites, they shared the sin and guilt of that crime, and it hung over their heads like a dark cloud. Indeed, if anything brought them together in unity it was that shared guilt. Yet God used it for His purposes. That guilt was foremost in their minds as they entered Egypt, they were thinking of it when they bowed the first time before Joseph, it tormented them as they tried to explain to Jacob why Ben had to go with them on the second trip. And it all worked out, choreographed according to God’s plan. Tell me, when you read the story, did you notice that throughout the entire episode these brothers were working together, acting in unity, even offering to sacrifice themselves for the others? God had set them up! The famine was His doing and it set the stage for this series of events that ended strife in the family of Jacob. Through Joseph's victimization God dealt with their deep-seated sins bringing them to repentance. When it was all over they were of one mind, working together and repentant for their sins. All this contrasted with the indulgent and hostile competition that had been the rule in their lives up to this time.
It is that way with us, too! Next time you find yourself victimized, remember that it isn't just about you and the effect it has had on your life. God wasn't caught by surprise by your difficulties and He has a plan! If you don't see how that plan is going to pan out, do what Joseph did – choose to believe in God anyway. Pick yourself up and go on – in faith! It is certain that He is working something special in you. You probably have no idea what the bigger picture looks like or how it all fits into His greater plans, but life is a whole lot easier if you submit to God and avoid wallowing in victimhood.
One final word: Would you be good with it if God dealt with you the same way He dealt with Joseph? He was willing for Joseph to suffer terrible loss and deprivation. He was sacrificed for the sake of God's plans. Would you be good with that kind of thing happening in your life? Are you willing to be victimized so that God's plans can be worked out? All of us need to look at our circumstances from this new perspective. It will shed new light on some of the times when we were treated badly in the past and it will help us endure as we deal with difficulties we are facing now.
It's not about me! God wasn’t surprised! God has a plan!