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Every single action has a natural consequence.
Whether a decision was made by us, or for us by another person, there is a natural consequence to the ultimate decision.
Whether a path was selected by us, or a path was selected for us with the expectation that we would obey, or be forced to obey, there is a natural consequence to the path ultimately followed.
Whether we chose to obey or chose not to obey, or whether our obedience was forced upon us, when another person made a decision or selected a path for us, there is a natural consequence to the choice made.
Ultimately, no matter how it happened, we own the responsibility of the action taken. Whether we accept that or deny that, is our choice, however truth does not rely on our acceptance or denial of it. The natural consequence of the action is ours to bear. It may in our eyes be a good consequence, or a difficult one, or it may have facets of both, but regardless, the natural consequence is ours.
Anything that happens that is more positive than the natural consequence, or above and beyond the goodness in the situation, that is a miracle, and a gift from God. It might never have happened, but God granted it. His grace. His mercy. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. We did nothing to earn it. He gave it to us. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. The focus is not on us, but on God. That perspective makes all the difference in life, and in the world!
(Genesis 37-50) Moses gives Joseph more time in Genesis than he does anyone else, a noteworthy fact given how significant the others in Genesis are (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.)
Joseph. He had no family to support him. His only family sold him into slavery. Joseph could have blamed his family, circumstances, or his past for damaging his “self-esteem” and messing up his life. However, he owned the responsibility of the action taken, even though he had no say in it. He chose to lean into God, despite the reality that God clearly allowed this tough situation. Joseph did not use it as an excuse for any sinful behaviors, nor did he use it to blame anyone.
Something miraculous happened as we read the entire story of Joseph linked above. By owning the responsibility for the situation he was in, he remained faithful to God. He accepted that God was ultimately in charge, through the intensity of the situations Joseph endured, and I can only imagine the pain, hurt, anger, unfairness of it all he must have felt at moments, yet he remained confident in God and with God. In that he chose to honor God, recognize God and God’s way in all that he did.
Joseph illustrates how divine sovereignty and human responsibility intersect. After all his ordeals, Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work. As he revealed his identity to his brothers, Joseph said to them “And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance. And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8)
And in Genesis 50:20 “Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive.“
Timing and perspective. It was in God’s time that everything came to pass. And it was Joseph’s perspective that sustained him through the torment. He knew with complete faith that God was in complete control, despite what it looked or felt like. Man’s most horrific intentions can never thwart the perfect plan of God. Now let us be clear, the perfect plan of God may or may not look like what we would envision it to be. But God does have the perfect plan in the biggest picture, the one we do not fully see as we are not Him. God is sovereign.
God’s sovereignty is a tremendous and visible theme in Joseph. We see how God puts Himself into situations that to us seem impossible, and yet God still keeps His covenant promises. Genesis records a series of threats that endanger the covenant line. In the chapters of Joseph, all the threats converge, creating an impossibly grim situation for Jacob and his children. But God. God uses Joseph to resolve each of these threats. While Moses writes Joseph as the central figure in this section of scripture, the main figure, the focus, is actually God.
All of life is under the direction of the almighty God. I will delve deeper into God’s providence in a blog post in the near future. For right now, I pray that in our life situations, we recognize in a deeper way than ever before, that God is in full control of every single aspect of everything, for good in the biggest picture, the full picture that we cannot possibly know. I pray we accept the responsibility for the natural consequences of actions, whether or not we feel we made the decision or choice that led to the consequences. And I pray that we see God’s miracles for what they are. His grace. His mercy. His love. My friend, you are loved!
Genesis 50:20 Tanach (Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, Judaica Press) “Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive.”
Genesis 50:20 Old Testament (ESV: English Standard Version)“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.”
What Joseph said to his brothers in this verse is incredible! Let us first notice what Joseph did not say. Joseph did not say “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God used it for good.” He also did not say “As for you, you meant evil against me, but I overcame it for good.”
Instead, Joseph saw God working through his brothers’ sin and evil, cruel intentions. God worked through the evil, sinful, cruelty of his brothers to bring about Joseph’s triumph in Egypt and the saving of many lives through the famine.
Joseph saw God at work in everything! God’s hand moved and guided every aspect of Joseph’s life, and Joseph trusted this, even when in the natural, to his regular earthly human eyes, ears, and mind, things seemed terrible, horrific, alarming.
You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good describes attributes of God, His providence and His sovereignty. Regardless of the intention of people be it good or bad, God will bring about His own ultimate end. Always. What God means to happen, will ultimately happen. Always. God is always in control.
There is a powerful distinction between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is unchangeable. It is with His permissive will, or the various things that He allows into our lives which He uses to accomplish His divine purpose for our lives, and the big picture far beyond us.
It is our reaction to things allowed by God’s permissive will that enables us to begin seeing His perfect will, at least in the small picture, for us. It is in these moments as we pray and walk, we are matured, developed, deepened. It is good. It is beautiful. Yes, it is also challenging and can be painful. Then again, if we want to become physically fit, it is challenging and can be painful. We have work out our muscles. No different in the spiritual realm!
As Genesis 50 unfolds we see how Joseph treated his brothers with mercy, loving kindness, undeserved favor (grace.) But wait a second, read back to Genesis 37. How does mercy, loving kindness and grace become cultivated in the heart of one so cruelly treated?
The answer is found in Joseph’s theology (what one believes about God.)
Joseph had a clear understanding that what his brothers did to him was completely and thoroughly evil. However, Joseph also had the clear understanding that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good. He may or may not have been able to see that good at the time the cruelty was occurring, but he knew God (not just knew of God, but truly knew who God is; character attributes.)
Joseph had a clear understanding that God was at work and God is in control. God can always be trusted for the outcome, again, no matter what we see or experience here on earth. The theology of the sovereign (ultimate, supreme, unrestricted, unlimited) purpose and providence of God (protective care, timely preparation) is what generated the attitude of Joseph’s heart and allowed him to respond to his brothers as he did.
God used Joseph’s suffering and his subsequent circumstances to accomplish His own sovereign purposes in a huge way. God had a plan for the world. To fulfill that, God had a plan for the nation Israel. However, to fulfill that, God had a plan for Joseph. All was tied together. God used Joseph, to preserve a people, so there would be a nation called Israel, the nation from whom the prophets would come. The nation who would be given the Scriptures, the nation from whom the Messiah would come, the nation through whom the world would be blessed. (Links to Tanakh Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 22:1-18; Genesis 46:3; and here is the entire block of these scriptures in the Old Testament.)