“Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:19-20
Are you familiar with the story of Joseph? Not Joseph, the step-father of our Lord Jesus and husband of Mary, but Joseph, the second-youngest son of Jacob, who lived close to 2,000 years before Jesus? Outside of the Passion and Resurrection narrative of Jesus Christ, the life-story of Joseph has to be my favorite account from Bible history.
It all begins in chapter 37 of Genesis and runs through chapter 50. Joseph was born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Being the son of his favorite wife, Jacob loved Joseph more than his other, older sons, and he did not attempt to hide that fact. This, combined with Jacob’s polygamy, would make life even more miserable than it already was for Jacob.
On a number of instances, Joseph’s older-half-brothers felt slighted by their father. This made Joseph’s brothers envious of him. Joseph also may’ve rubbed it in their faces too. This envy led to hatred. Hatred led them to sell their brother off into slavery in Egypt. I can’t imagine the trauma Joseph experienced as his brothers forcibly passed him off to the slave traders, being carted off to a foreign land where everyone spoke a foreign tongue.
During the rest of his life in Egypt, Joseph experienced highs and lows. He spent several years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Only after many years in Egypt and an amazing turn of events where God brought him to be second in command of the entire nation did he see his family again.
When Joseph’s father, Jacob, died, his half-brothers were terrified. They thought that, with dad out of the picture, Joseph would finally exact revenge for what they had done to him all those years ago. But “Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
What fascinates me so much about Joseph’s story is that, at the outset, Joseph had no idea the amazing things God would accomplish through the sin of his brothers. Who ‘would’ve thunk’ that God would work through this incident to bring rescue from a severe famine? Who ‘would’ve thunk’ that God had in mind the protection of the life of Judah, the fourth oldest son of Jacob? And by protecting Judah from starvation and death, God really was protecting the line of the Savior. And by preserving the genealogical line of our Savior, Jesus, he really had in mind the saving of our lives and the lives of every person from sin, death, and hell.
It’s amazing that, no matter how hard Satan, our enemy, the Enemy, works against God’s people and against the people of this world, God is always able to take the best Satan can dish out—even tearing apart the family of Abraham, the family of the covenant—and use it to accomplish his good.
I find immense comfort in these words for our current time. We are only at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knows what the fallout will mean for our lives? Could it, like Joseph’s experience as a slave and then prisoner, last 13 years before we begin to experience a good quality to our lives again? I pray not, but even if it does take that long, we have this wonderful promise of God from the Scriptures: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 Perhaps nowhere else in Scripture can you find such an example as Joseph’s story where God keeps this promise.
What does that mean for us right now? Much like Joseph as he was being carted off to Egypt, we cannot see all the good lying ahead of us on the road ahead. But there are some possibilities which do seem to stand out.
Consider our lives and the lives of many Americans. Up until this point, a great deal of our society was running at Mach 1. We were so busy with work, with friends, with our social lives, with education, with our children’s activities and more that we had forgotten how to make time for more important things like family time, rest, family devotion, and prayer. The spiritual upbringing of many Christian children has been passed almost entirely off onto the church. Studies show that the unchurched were too busy and distracted to concern themselves with matters pertaining to God, life, death, and eternity. And to varying degrees, the same could be said of God’s people too.
Now, life is slowing way down for us. Europe is asking Netflix to slow down the streaming so the system isn’t overwhelmed. People will have more time to interact with their families. The use of online resources from churches has risen dramatically in the last several days as people look for other means to address their spiritual needs. Families now have time to do devotions with each other. And there’s nothing like a global pandemic to bring people closer to God and our need for him.
Yes, our lives might be quite painful in the coming weeks, months, even years. It might mean some radical, even painful adjustments from worldliness to godliness as the sinful flesh is drowned in daily sorrow and repentance. But much good for our lives and for this world can come from all this as we learn to slow ourselves down and remember our Lord, whose mercies are new every morning.
Pastor Aaron Odya