The text: Genesis 45:1-15
“Orphans Lead the World” is the surprising title of an article in a medical journal. The writer studied the lives of politicians who had the greatest influence on our history. He was soon struck by the astonishing discovery that most of them were orphans: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, Napoleon, and Queen Victoria were all orphans who didn’t let the situation of disadvantage with which they began life to deter them from achieving great things for others. These orphans were determined to not let the emotional deprivation they had suffered in their childhood stop them from being positive men and women. They wanted to live in such a way that they would improve the lot of others.
As a teenager, Joseph was deprived of the comforts of his family. Joseph however let God use the unfortunate circumstances of his life to bring immense blessing to countless men and women in a foreign land. His positive attitude to the negative events in his life has inspired countless Christians to follow his example. The story of his life is one of the most inspiring stories ever written. He is one of the Bible’s most commendable characters, and his actions remind us in many ways of another Joseph’s stepson – Jesus. The events of Joseph’s life capture the imagination of those who read about him in Genesis 37-50.
Children easily identify with the story of Joseph and his unkind brothers. They can understand the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph when their father favours and spoils Joseph. As a 17 year old, Joseph should have known better than to tell his brothers of his egocentric dreams. As far as they were concerned, he was “too big for his boots”, and deserved to be humiliated. The brothers sold him to slave traders. An Egyptian official called Potiphar bought Joseph. Potiphar sensed his God was blessing what Joseph did and he made Joseph manager of his entire household. Because of Joseph’s faith in God and his positive attitude to his situation, God blessed Potiphar’s work. Just when everything seemed to be going well for Joseph, trouble comes from an unexpected person – Potiphar’s wife. Joseph says a resolute “no” to her advances. “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” he told her. When she sees that nothing can change his mind, she accuses him of betrayal to her husband, who has Joseph put in prison.
In prison, Joseph could easily have become bitter because of the unfair and dishonest way he’d been treated. But Joseph believed that though life is often unfair, it is nevertheless good. “Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more.” Joseph saw how God richly blessed his time in prison. God hasn’t abandoned him there. Instead of being obsessed with his own misfortune, Joseph shows genuine care and concern for his fellow prisoners. “Why are you looking so sad today?” he asks two prisoners. Joseph kept his positive outlook because he believed God had a good and gracious purpose for his life. This liberating conviction saved Joseph from giving in to bitterness or resentment. Instead of blaming God for what happened to him, Joseph’s indestructible faith enabled him to confess, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.” God is doing the same for Christians in our country today.
The more important the work God has for one of His people to do, the longer the preparation. Jesus was 30 years old before He began the most important work ever, that of our eternal salvation. Joseph saw the two men whose dreams he’d interpreted released from prison before him. In God’s good plans for us, times of waiting are never fruitless. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” In God’s good time, God gets Joseph to interpret the dreams of Pharoah, King of Egypt. Joseph is promoted to the second highest position in Egypt from where he saves the lives of many people by preparing for a major drought.
Joseph sees that God’s plans for his people are larger than every player, including himself. He believed that God meant him for something much better than an affair with Potiphar’s wife. God can use our loyalty to Him and commitment to His Kingdom to bring blessings to future generations. No act of faithfulness is insignificant as far as God is concerned. A cup of water given to a thirsty child will be recalled and praised by God in heaven. Joseph looked beyond the hassles of daily lie, beyond sibling rivalry, untruthful accusations of sexual harassment, and alienation from his brothers, to see in his life the caring hand of God. He remains sure that God’s hand is on him “for good”. He trusted God’s loving-goodness despite what sometimes seemed like the opposite. God lets us enter suffering, that through it, He might bring about some greater good. God has all the threads of our lives in His hands, even when we’re least aware of it.
There were no external miracles in Joseph’s life. God works through the ordinary events of life to create His saving master piece for us. From Joseph’s fractured family, God created an indestructible nation. God didn’t let family conflicts and disagreements thwart His loving purposes for others. The time has come when Joseph can no longer hide his true identity from his estranged brothers. His brother Judah has profoundly changed for the better. Judah would now do everything he could to prevent his father Jacob from suffering again. “For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father (Genesis 44:34).” And Joseph is deeply affected by the change in his brother. Joseph’s revelation of himself is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. His words reveal Joseph at his noblest: “I am your brother, Joseph.” What wonderful words of forgiveness and reconciliation!
There will be no more recriminations. The past stays in the past, pardoned and wiped clean. All that matters now is a new relationship with each other. “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; He has made me a father to Pharoah, and lord of all this house and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:7-8).” To allay the anxieties of his brothers, Joseph maximises what God has done and minimises his own contribution. Joseph is convinced that without God, he would never have achieved anything good.
Everything good we have received comes from God. There are no accidents. Whatever happens to us happens within God’s plans and purposes. Not only is God at work in everything that goes right in our lives; God won’t let painful things happen to us unless He can bring good from them. Our ultimate source of hope is that God can bring good from our evil. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as He is doing today’ (Genesis 50:19-20).”
What God lets happen to us is better than our plans or what we want for ourselves. If we have to change our plans, it may be because God has something better in store for us.
A teenager was sitting under an oak tree looking out at a watermelon patch, wondering if God was right in the way He planned things. He thought that surely God had got things wrong. A big oak tree had tiny acorns, when it would have made more sense to have big fruit like a watermelon. Just then an acorn fell on his head! Then he understood that God’s wisdom is vastly superior to any human wisdom. Our lives aren’t at the mercy of impersonal forces like fate, luck or chance.
The death of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest example of how God has brought the greatest good from the greatest evil. Like Joseph, Jesus too was rejected by His brothers and sold for silver. From our Lord’s tragically cut-short life, we are eternally blessed. “What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32)”
The story of Joseph encourages us to really believe and live each day in the light of this truth: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”