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Joseph’s elevation to a powerful position in Egypt set the stage for reunion with his family. With a seemingly simple stroke of the historical pen, we learn that,
“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Genesis 41:46).
Joseph was a seventeen–year-old boy when it all began. Thirteen long, lonely, confusing and difficult years had passed prior to his elevation to power.
Through providential circumstances (see: Genesis 41:56-57), Joseph’s brothers had to come to him for food. Joseph recognized them immediately but concealed his own identity. “As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked” (Genesis 42:7).
Through a series of interesting encounters with Joseph, we learn that his brothers had not forgotten the wrong they had done to him. Although perhaps not completely intentional, Joseph seems to lead them to a place of repentance. Those who think Joseph was exacting a kind of revenge against them by the various things he put them through should pause to reflect on what he could have done as second in command in Egypt. The matter of forgiveness had been settled years before this encounter. If it had not, the good hand of God would not have rested on Joseph.
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:1-8a).
These words reveal the stronger and deeper commitment that held Joseph through all his dark, confusing and painful years. By faith, Joseph embraced a deep commitment to the providential goodness of God over the evil intentions of people.
Genesis 50:15-21 – We see the same emphasis again after Jacob died.
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:15-21, emphasis mine).
Reflection on God’s sovereignty in Joseph’s life
“After Jacob’s death, his sons approach Joseph out of fear that he may have been awaiting their father’s death before exacting revenge. They had, after all, sold him into slavery. As the first minister of Egypt, he held them entirely in his power. What would he do?”
“Joseph allays their fears, and insists he does not want to put himself in the place of God. Then he looks back at that brutal incident when he was so badly treated, and comments, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
“The parallelism is remarkable. Joseph does not say that his brothers maliciously sold him into slavery, and that God turned it around, after the fact, to make the story have a happy ending. How could that have been the case, if God’s intent was to bring forth the good of saving many lives? Nor does Joseph suggest that God planned to bring him down to Egypt with first-class treatment all the way, but unfortunately the brothers mucked up His plan somewhat, resulting in the slight hiatus of Joseph spending a decade and a half as a slave or in prison. The story does not read that way.”
“The brothers took certain evil initiatives, and there is no prior mention of Joseph’s travel arrangements. As Joseph explains, God was working sovereignly in the event of his being sold into Egypt, but the brothers’ guilt is not thereby assuaged (they intended to harm Joseph); the brothers were responsible for their action, but God was not thereby reduced to a merely contingent role; and while the brothers were evil, God himself had only good intentions” (from, D. A. Carson, How long, O Lord?)
Yielding to God’s control
It is not easy to understand God’s control when the evil intentions of others profoundly affect our lives. The Lord Jesus, our faithful and merciful High Priest, understands this experience (see: Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28). But when we yield to God’s sovereign control (see: Daniel 3:16-18; 4:34-35; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-7,11-12), it liberates us to follow Jesus in radical kingdom obedience: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Like Joseph, we can be free under God’s final authority from the consuming control of bitterness and revenge. We can also be free from the multiplication of evil. There is a power available to absorb the loss and return a blessing instead (see: I Peter 3:9).
(New Testament mention of Joseph, Acts 7:9-14;Hebrews 11:22).