ByCraig van Echten
August 29, 2018
Bible reading: Genesis 45:1-15
Brothers and Sisters,
Life is tough. It can be hard, brutal, even crushing.
People suffer physical ailments like chronic back issues where walking is difficult because the discs in your back are collapsing. Seniors suffer pain in their joints as the colder weather hits. Others lose their voice, lose movement, and lose energy.
People also suffer from lack of work, less enjoyable work, and the challenges of running a business. For some debt is drowning. For others a bad decision costs thousands.
For young people suffering might take the form of lonliness, rejection, insecurity, anxiety, and depression.
Other people suffer from dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams. Their spouse didn’t turn out the way they hoped. They weren’t able to have the children they hoped.
Parents also suffer the added disappoints of their children. It’s painful when they don’t make it through study, don’t get the job, don’t meet the right person, and even worse, no longer want to walk with the Lord. It’s painful when they are pregnant at 15 and have no idea what they are doing.
And some circumstances just never change. Relationships in wider family remain troublesome. A disability greets you every day. A broken family is forever broken.
This is the reality of living is a world burdened by the fall. These examples of suffering are not made up. They either live in my own life in in the people I know.
And of course there’s the small scale stuff too. Your car got scratched, your kids are sick, your dog vomited, your carpet stained, your appointment got cancelled, your light turned red, and the roster at church was wrong.
So what encouragement do we have for these situations? Do we take Bob Marley’s advice, ‘Baby don’t worry about a thing because every little thing will be okay,’ But will it? People suffer and die. How do I know it will be okay? Do we take some Dutch courage and just push on? But there’s no comfort in that is there? Do we, as a fellow worker used to quip, ‘take some drugs and chill out.’ But, then the problems don’t go away do they? Suffering is like those little Maltese dogs. Those ankle biters that won’t leave you alone. Suffering just doesn’t always go away so quickly.
So what encouragement do we have? We have the encouragement of being able to put our trust in a God who is both sovereign and good.
Firstly, a gracious revelation.
In these opening 4-5 verses you are about to seeing one of the most stunning reactions to suffering.
You remember Job who lost his servants, the farm, and his children. And then Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” That’s an amazing reaction. And we even sing a song about it: ‘Blessed be the name of the LORD.’
This reaction of Joseph is right up there. His brothers took the blow torch of suffering to Joseph. However, instead of bitterness, rage, anger, vindictiveness, slander, we see love, compassion and a ministry of comfort. It’s incredible!
You know the story don’t you? Joseph was 17 when he was sold off by his brothers. A similar age to many of you. Finally, the brothers got rid of daddy’s boy. The for a while he did alright under Potiphar, before being framed for adultery. And so he was put in prison. Can you imagine the rejection, hurt, fear, anxiety, hardship he experienced? All because his brothers sold him off. Imagine the flashbacks! If someone caused you such trials, you would be tempted to slog them one the next time you see them. At the least you would send a ute load of daggers via facebook. But, Joseph’s facebook message, if he had one, is completely different. Let’s have a look.
At this point of time, Joseph is the Prime Minister of Egypt, second in command. He is the VP Mike Pence of Egypt. His brothers have come for food. And he gave it. But he’s also been up to something. Joseph has been testing the hearts of his brothers. The most recent test comes in chapter 44. He gives them food, sends them off, but put’s his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Benjamin is framed, and found out. What will his brothers do? Cast off this new favourite son? Will they leave him to take the blame. No, their hearts have changed. Judah shows leadership and steps forward. Judah will take the blame. In a moving speech Judah pleads for Benjamin, he highlights the love they have for their imperfect father who chooses favourites, and he admits their guilt.
Then, verse 1, “Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” Verse 2 “And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharoah heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers,
“אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י”
“I am Joseph is my Father still alive.”
Think of what could have happened! Joseph could have cast off their brothers. He could have put them all in prison. He could have punished them. But, he has forgiven them, and his heart is full of love for them. He moves quickly to comfort and reassure them. Verse 4 “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.” So you see how graciously Joseph reveals Himself to His brothers. Later in v14 he even reconciles with them.
What a beautiful picture, did you notice, of the grace of God! We have committed grievous sins. We deserve more than a punch in the face from God! But God, in grace, draws near to us. He knows our name before we know him. He loves before we love Him. And God graciously reveals Himself to sinners. And He puts them at ease saying things like: you are washed (1Cor. 6:9), you are forgiven, we are at peace, we are reconciled. In this way Joseph is a type of Christ.
But Joseph is also human. And the question remains: how did Joseph manage such a Christlike response?
Over the previous 22 years there were two very important truths that prepared Joseph for this response.
a. God is sovereign. God has our lives in His hands.
b. God is good. God meant it for good.
Take comfort, God has our lives in His hands.
Joseph doesn’t downplay suffering, but He sees another dimension to it. Namely, that this suffering is not by chance, it’s been designed by God. In fact, Joseph mentions God’s imput 4x to make the point.
Verse 5, “God sent me here before you to preserve life.”
Verse 7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
Verse 8 “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Verse 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.” The first word he says to his father after 22years is: “God”
So, Joseph highlights one of the truths we hold dear in Reformed Churches: the Providence of God. What does the providence of God mean? The Heidelberg Catechism sums it up so well in LD10. It says, ‘Providence is the Almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand.’ In a nutshell, He’s got the whole world in His hands. Including your situation!
Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes His steps.” The next footprint of our lives has already been made. And we are going to step into it.
But then you might ask: what about evil? What about the evil that so and so brought against me? Was that God? This is where it gets tricky and we need to be careful. The bible is clear that God is sovereign. The bible is also clear that we do evil because we want to. As one writer has said, “It is impossible for us to reject either of these great truths, and it is equally impossible for our minds to reconcile them.” But you see it don’t you? Joseph’s brothers are guilty for their sin, and yet God designed this to happen. Those who hung Jesus on the cross are guilty, but God designed history for the cross to happen. And it has to be this way! If God is not sovereign over evil, then He is weak. And He is not worth trusting.
But, because God is sovereign. And because He providentially orders all things. We can trust Him. And this is what Joseph learnt. Joseph learnt to see the hand of God in daily events. Joseph learnt to see that things weren’t out of control, but that every trial has its purpose.
What about you? What can you see in the circumstances of life? Chance? Karma? Luck? Or do you see the hand of God?
Trust that God has it all in hand. Certainly not easy to do when you look at the devastation of evil. Evil that is truly evil. And that you are faced with. Nevertheless, God is King and you can trust Him.
And there’s another reason to take comfort.
Take comfort God meant it for good.
It’s often hard to see the good in suffering. The story is told of the Cecropia moth which was emerging from its cocoon. And in an effort to help the person looking on, cut open the cocoon. Soon the moth came out shrivelled and crimped. And then they remained that way. Usually, the moth would be flying by now, but not this one. You see, what the person didn’t realize is the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was an essential part of developing the muscle system and pushing fluid out to the wings etc. By cutting short the struggle, the moth became crippled.
Trials, as you know are difficult. Generally, we want some to take that snip to release us from the cocoon of our trials. ‘Get me out of here’ ‘I’ve had enough’
However, as much as that is tempting, we don’t want to take that snip to our trials. Why not? God is working them toward our good.
Can you see the good that God brings in our text?
a. One the personal level Joseph has grown. No doubt in his earlier years he revelled in his father’s favouritism. It would have been hard not to play on it. No doubt in his earlier years he would have asked God the ‘why’ questions. ‘Why is this happening.’ But now he’s grown and matured spiritually. He’s learnt the value of holiness.
b. There’s also the good at the family level. He saves the lives of his brothers. The famine was severe. Without Joseph, many probably would have died. Instead in verses 16-24 they are blessed with royal provisions.
c. There was also good to the culture at large. Joseph preserved the lives of many Egyptians as well.
d. And the most important aspect of this ‘good’ is alluded to in verse 7. It is about the good God was working for His covenant people. Joseph had the insight to see God was preserving a remnant. Specially, God was preserving the 12 tribes of Israel. And so the ultimate good here is to preserve the line to Christ.
So why is it that our trials are no longer tragedies? It is because God is working all things out for our good.
So as we read in Genesis 50:20 “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.”
As we read in 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.”
But then you might say, ‘I haven’t seen any good come from this yet.’ We should remember that Joseph’s response was 22 years in the making. But, we should also remember that unlike Joseph, we may not be privy to the explanation. On this side of heaven we may never know how God used a certain trial!
Nevertheless, we can trust that God will do us good. For He has done us good! We need to view our trials through the cross! Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” Through Christ we receive the highest good anyone could wish for. That is: to know Christ and live in fellowship with Him.
Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you and there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” This is the reality we live in. And nothing can separate you from the goodness and love of God. If you are not a believer here today, turn to Christ in repentance and faith. So that all the goodness of God might be yours.
Suffering is hard. Life can be brutal. And faithful Christians like Joseph, Job, Paul all had their fair share. And so will we. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
When suffering comes know and experience through Christ these two precious truths.
a. Take comfort God has our lives in His hands
b. Take comfort God meant it for good.
Preach these truths to yourself. Do what David does in the Psalms and ask the question of yourself, “Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And then reply to yourself: My God is sovereign, and my God is good.