I believe that one of the most powerful people in the Bible is Joseph – the firstborn son of Jacob and Rachel even though he was the 2nd last son born to Jacob. As a result, Joseph was favoured by Jacob above his siblings because of his love for Rachel. As a result Joseph’s brothers, born to Jacob but not Rachel, despised him. Joseph would have dreams which foretold that his brothers would one day bow down to him which infuriated them.
One day while his brothers were out in the field, Jacob sent Joseph to find them and report back about them. You get this sense that perhaps Joseph would tattle on his brothers when they did wrong. When his brothers saw him coming, they devised a plan to kill him. His oldest brother Rueben, discouraged that and in the end they sold Joseph as a slave to some slave traders who in turn sold him to the Egyptians. Over time it was discovered by the Egyptians that Joseph was blessed by God and as a result rose in the ranks in Egypt to 2nd in charge because of a dream he had foretelling a 7 year famine preceded by 7 years of abundance. Joseph advised Pharoah to store up supplies during the 7 years of abundance to cater for the 7 years of famine. The famine affected the entire world and many would come begging to Joseph for provisions.
Eventually this included his brothers except they did not recognize Joseph after so many years. This was Joseph’s opportunity to exact revenge on his brothers. He toys with them for a while but then he reveals himself to them – “I am Joseph”. This was Joseph’s real power. Not the power he had as 2nd in charge in Egypt. Not the power to decide who gets food and who doesn’t. But the power to forgive his brothers. Anyone can take revenge – eye for an eye. Anyone can hit someone back Anyone can say nasty things in return. Anyone can toot their horn in the car and yell abuse when someone cuts them off – it’s the easiest thing to do. But to forgive. Or to do as Jesus commands – love your enemies. To turn the other cheek – that’s powerful. Maybe not in the eyes of the world – but in the eyes of God. As Jesus says – “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
We live in an era where this is sadly missing. We live in an era of revenge – cyber bullying and something we have come to know as “cancel culture”. If you haven’t heard of cancel culture before it’s a process of destroying your enemy so that even if they have repented and apologized you cannot accept it. In this age of social media there are people who are constantly checking the archives of people they do not like to see if they can dig up anything – even if it’s 30 or 40 years ago to destroy their reputation and have them cancelled today. Even if what was said or done 30 years ago was acceptable and part of that day’s culture but not today we judge them by today’s standards even if there was nothing sinister or wrong when it was done back then. Political parties employ people who are experts in creating dirt files to destroy their opposition rather than debating them on issues for the community. It’s much easier to find a comment or photo they posted decades ago to shame them even if that comment was in a particular context of the time that is different to today’s standards. And it is very easy when we are being attacked to respond in kind and hit back – and hit back harder.
You may have seen on the news this past week a driver who tried to run over 4 youths riding electric scooters.
He even reversed and tried 3 times to run them over. Why? Because apparently they said something nasty to a pedestrian they had passed and he couldn’t let it go. Jesus offers the way to respond: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; That is not a human instinct. That is the divine instinct that would cry out from the cross – forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing. Jesus could have said – Father, avenge my death.
And that’s why I believe Joseph is one of the most powerful characters in the bible. He had the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on his brothers who wanted to kill him and who sold him as a slave. But what was it that changed Joseph’s mindset from revenge to forgiveness? It was because he saw what we call God’s providence in his brother’s actions.
While his brother’s intentions were evil God used that evil to bring about good. And this will come out later when he detects that his brothers are still worried about him taking revenge.
When their father dies they believe that Joseph will be free to take his revenge: So, 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: 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.” It was a lie but that was not the reason Joseph didn’t avenge their evil. Joseph saw it differently – he saw what happened as all part of God’s providence. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Providence is divine guidance or care – the power sustaining and guiding human destiny. And so Joseph says to his brothers – So it was not you who sent me here, but God; Providence is NOT God creating evil in order to bring about his good and gracious will. Providence is God using his power to nullify evil that is produced by the world and humanity.
What we have been going through with Covid is shocking. It has devasted families not being able to visit sick family members. It has put our hospitals, aged care and emergency services under enormous strains. It has ruined many businesses. It has seen people lose their jobs. It has divided our communities – the vaccinated and unvaccinated – the boosted and the unboosted.
God’s providence is our hope and way forward – in the words of Joseph. What is planned for evil God uses for good.
Even though Joseph’s brother’s intentions were pure evil – firstly to kill him and then to sell him as a slave and tell his father Jacob he was killed by a wild animal. Evil doesn’t care about what others go through as long as I get my way. Joseph’s brothers didn’t care about the grief their father would experience.
Joseph saw God’s providence even in this – it wasn’t YOU who sent me here but God. So our response in all this is to continue to trust in God’s providence. To use what we have been going to bring about good. And if that means that we suffer we still trust God, as Jesus say – turn the other cheek – pray for those who bring evil – love our enemies. I don’t know what good God will bring about in this and I don’t know how long it will take before we see it – if at all. It took Joseph possibly up to 20 years to see God’s action of saving the world from starvation. And during that time not only did he end up in slavery but he spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He even witnessed to other prisoners. But he never lost faith in God.
Who knows, maybe God is saving the world from something much worse than what we have been going through. And sometimes we may not even see the good that comes out of it because it will happen in future generations. This is where trust in God’s providence comes in especially in times of suffering – like Joseph, like Jesus, like Paul and many others in the bible. God’s love and power is not seen in preventing evil but in using evil to bring about good. Remember though – God doesn’t create evil. Evil is the consequence of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the tree from which our ancestors Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate from. But, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.
We don’t’ understand – and that’s part of the mystery of God and he will reveal all just as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. But he didn’t reveal himself immediately but when the time was right. So let us also keep trusting in God’s love and care for us in his guiding providence and when the time is right God will reveal all to us. Maybe we’d like it now but remember – God is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is being patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance and be saved.