For the week of December 30, 2017 / 12 Tevet 5778
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 47:28 – 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 2:1-12
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But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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.” (Bereshit/Genesis 50:19-20)
Last week I mentioned that I consider Joseph’s words of consolation to his brothers after their father’s death to be an extremely healthy balanced expression of the workings of God in the midst of difficult painful circumstances. Without excusing his brothers’ evil intentions and behavior, he acknowledged God’s hand at work for good through it all. In my previous message, I clarified that the forces of good and evil are not equal according to Joseph. God is the Supreme Force always having the upper hand.
This is why in the New Covenant writings, Paul could write with so much confidence:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
“All things work together for good?” This would be too good to be true, if it wasn’t really true. I would not be surprised if Paul was thinking about Joseph when he dictated these words. After all, like Joseph, he knew what it was like to be wrongfully imprisoned in a dungeon. And he, like Joseph, knew this to be how life worked “for those who love God.” The condition connected to this truth is important, however. What Joseph said to his brothers was not a universal life principle. He wasn’t saying that he clued into how life worked in general for everyone. Instead this is how God works in relation to his children. And not necessarily all his children, but rather “who are called according to his purpose.” I don’t think we can lay claim to this promise if we willfully do our own thing. This is not to say that God only works for our good when we live a perfect life. Rather, if our general life direction is within the scope of God’s purposes, we can be confident that whatever evil others mean for us, God will work out for good.
I don’t know about you, but I have experienced a great many disappointments in my life. Time and time again, people whom I assumed cared and loved me, have let me down. Might it be that I suffer from too high expectations of others? Perhaps. At times. Still, from my father’s abandoning me when I was a teenager to unsolicited promises of place and position, I have had my hopes dashed time and time again. Please don’t get out the violins, there’s more to all this.
About four months ago, it happened again. I was offered a promise of crucial help and was given a time to meet up with someone especially equipped to give me the assistance I needed only to be stood up, forgotten actually. I hadn’t had one of those experiences in a while, and it completely sideswiped me. The sense of abandonment dogged me for days as I sought God’s help in sorting this out amidst the fog of memories of similar past incidents. Then, I remembered Joseph’s words. It came to me (perhaps directly from heaven) to purposely step through all such past experiences, looking for the possible good that God did in and through each and every one of them. Reflecting on my past is not unusual for me. I tend do so in order to tap into a source of encouragement as I recall the amazing things God has done for me and my family. Until this time, however, I have never purposely looked for the outworking of the “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” principle.
I was surprised to discover that almost every single disappointing, hurtful experience I could think of eventually resulted in a positive outcome. The Lord shed light even on my father’s abandonment, showing me that in spite of the pain and scars, it worked out to my benefit. I couldn’t yet see the good that God was working out from the most recent disappointing episode, except that it led to this blessed gift of new perspective. That would be good enough, but I am happy to report that now, over four months later, that painful experience led to a much better source of help.
Maybe your life hasn’t been filled with disappointment. Maybe it has. May I suggest you do what I did: ask God to walk you through them all to see the good he has been working out. Don’t forget, however, that in order to apply the principle, you need to love God and be called according to his purpose. If you are, may God open your eyes to see the truth of his good work in your life.
One more thing. You might be in the middle of a difficult time right now. That’s when it’s the hardest, of course. I have been there many times. Joseph was there a long time. Remember, God will bring about good eventually. Keep looking to him, and don’t give up.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version