God’s Providential Plan–Through Joseph
I’ve always enjoyed reading the story of Joseph. And I’ve been fortunate enough to see the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat several times so have come to love the music and even played a small part in our ministry’s youth version when I was much younger. But recently whilst reading a children’s book of Joseph to my son, age two, it annoyed me that the book suggested Joseph was somewhat of a show-off, and focused on the passage of scripture “here comes the dreamer” (Gen. 37:19), making Joseph seem somewhat aloof. It totally misses the point and after reading the Joseph story to my son, it reminded me I was previously impacted and enjoyed an audio talk of Norman Grubb’s on Joseph. So I listened to it again and also read the story in Genesis.
Who knows, I guess it is possible Joseph was arrogant or a bit of a show-off but I just don’t see or hear any sign of it when I read the scripture. In fact it’s just the opposite. What I love about it, (and this is the focus of Norman’s talk), is the deeper meaning revealed to us through Genesis 37-50, showing us the ways of God and the ways of the Spirit operating through a human life.
Ultimately God’s plan involving Joseph was one of providence, ensuring His covenant with Abraham was upheld. If Joseph had not been sold as a slave and ended up Governor of Egypt the whole family would most likely have perished during the famine back in Canaan along with the oath made to Abraham. But none of what happened to Joseph was a fluke and God sure keeps His word! I think this is the real point and message being made in scripture about his life.
After everything that happens to Joseph, and when the brothers are re-united, Joseph declares in Gen. 45:7 “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant.” And again in Gen 45:8 more overtly—“It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Finally comes the crucial verse where Joseph reassures his brothers in Gen. 50:20—“you meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” demonstrating how ultimately God is in control (the All and in All) and simply but skilfully worked the brothers sin and unbelief into his own plan ensuring the survival of the family. The family is reunited and restored both physically and spiritually, and eventually re-settle from Canaan in the best of the Egyptian land —Goshen. No wonder the musical was such a big hit!
What struck me in Norman’s study and from the scripture was just how fixed Joseph was in believing his union with God and the faithfulness with which he endured those years. Life assaulted and besieged him in some unimaginable ways:
Hated—by all 11 of his brothers (Jacob’s favouritism and the coat didn’t help). We are told “they could not even speak a kind word about him”; and this was even before he told them about his dreams!
Fear—having given a bad report about them to his
Father and then finding them in Dothan which appeared to be somewhere other than where they were supposed to be, he is thrown into a pit to be killed. But then sold as a slave to foreigners, and taken to another country with a different language and culture; at age 17!
Persecuted—wrongfully accused and thrown into jail at the hand of Potipher’s wife when all he did was continuously resist her again and again, eventually fleeing the scene to get away from her relentless advances and attention.
Worry & doubt—in jail and alone possibly facing execution for all he knew. His hopes were further dashed when he was forgotten by the butler and baker after interpreting their dreams, and was left to rot a further two years in jail after they were released.
On a soul level for Joseph we can only imagine what it was like. Incredibly, we hear practically nothing from him directly about it except in Gen. 40:14-15—“mention me to Pharaoh and get me out. I was forcibly carried off….and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” I’m not sure this is how I would have reacted under the same circumstances—just a simple: mention me!?? The fact Joseph appears to say relatively little about his trials and tribulations is amazing and speaks volumes to me. No outburst, no ranting, griping, cursing of his brothers or Potiphar’s wife, no hint of resentment, moaning, whining, fist-shaking at God, or slumping into a deep state of depression or despair. How easy it would have been to get into unbelief about what was happening to him. But as Norman tells us, “Joseph was set apart from the beginning and was so into God that God got into him.” As we know from Gal. 2:20, God operates His anointed ones and His children. And I think this is the true story of Joseph.
Later on in the passages of scripture his brothers provide us a glimpse of what it was like for Joseph on a soul-level when they suspect they are being punished for their sin; “…we saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life” Gen. 42:21. In Psalms 105:18 we are told .“…they bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons.”
But Joseph is a shining example of someone seeing through his situations to God. He knew and lived from “The Secret”: being the human channel through which God will accomplish His powerful works—i.e. through us! We see it played out repeatedly and powerfully in the evidence of the life that followed, starting when he was pulled out of the pit. The Spirit of God could not be hidden and even pagan Egyptians recognised this. For example, we are not told exactly how it came to be that Potiphar picked Joseph to be his slave but there must have been something that made Joseph stand out or be noticed. Before you know it Joseph went from slave to attendant, living in his masters house and entrusted with not just a little, or even much, but EVERYTHING Potiphar owned (Gen. 39:4). Pretty amazing. We are told this was because his master saw that the Lord was with him and the Lord gave him success in everything he did (Gen. 39:3). It’s just incredible that Potiphar knew the Lord was with him. He didn’t say Joseph was lucky or had the Midas touch!
Joseph was a young man at this stage and according to Norman: “had the concern of God on him and an inner consciousness of God.” Hence, the temptations of flesh and the devil, even in his new elevated position, had no hold on him. This was why he reacted so strongly to repeated advances from Potiphar’s wife: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9), and later fled the house to get away from her. Joseph is quick to point out that sin is committed against God, which I think is revealing about his faith and spiritual maturity.
When he was unjustly thrown into jail (there is no text to say Joseph disputes what happened), we are again told how God was with him and he found favor in the eyes of the prison warden. But Joseph wasn’t afforded any luxuries such as extra food or a prison cell with a window overlooking the Nile. No, he was made responsible for ALL that was done there (Gen. 39:22). Again we are told this is because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did—incredible!
The fact Joseph noticed and showed concern for the butler and baker in prison Gen. 4:7 is just further evidence he was completely fixed in his faith, living from an inner knowing and assurance that God was in control and operating through him. Despite his own unfair treatment and circumstances we hear Joseph unconcerned for himself and only for others, asking “why do you look so sad today?” I just love that bit. They mention their dreams and he is quick to say that interpretations belong to God—Gen. 4:8. Notice he doesn’t try to take any credit or claim to have any special ability of his own. Now, does that sound like an arrogant person?
As we know, the interpretations were given from God but delivered through Joseph and were completely accurate. We also know the chief cup-bearer then promptly forgot all about Joseph and did not deliver Joesph’s message to Pharoah “get me out….” He had to wait another two years until finally Pharoah has the dreams which confound his inner-circle of magicians and the like, but finally jogs the cup-bearer’s memory—he finally speaks up, sharing of his own experience and telling of Joseph’s talent.
Pharoah calls for Joseph in Gen. 41:15 saying “But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” Now, if you’re in prison and called before Pharoah to interpret his dreams surely this is your opportunity, especially if you are a braggart or self- righteous person to take some of the credit and get out of jail (and as Norman describes in this talk, I love how Joseph first manages to get cleaned up and have a shave—talk about being dressed for success!) But no: “I cannot do it,” Joseph replies, “but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires.” Again, Joseph takes none of the credit. After the interpretation is given, Pharoah is quick to enlist Joseph as the man to lead Egypt through the years ahead of plenty and famine. But Pharoah also makes the incredible and definitive statement in Gen. 41:38 “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God”—WOW! Norman points out to us how astonishing this is because Pharoah and the Egyptians were pagans and had their own gods which they worshiped—even more amazing. (I checked all my different Bible versions and they all reference Pharoah’s statement that the Spirit of God is IN Joseph).
The story unfolds further as everyone knows but for me this is the crux of it all. I can’t help but notice we have now been told three times during Joseph’s story that essentially God operates through his anointed ones…(1) the Lord was with Joseph (as observed by Potiphar), (2) the Lord was with Joseph (as observed by the prison warden), AND (3) the spirit of God was IN Joseph (as declared by Pharoah).
Similarly, after the brothers are reunited Joseph testifies again three times to them and we hear the repeated message that God is in and means everything—the All and in all—(1) God sent me ahead, (2) it was not you who sent me here but God, and (3) you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.
Now Joseph told Pharoah he had the same dream twice because it emphasized God’s determination to do a thing and do it soon. And Joseph himself knew this first hand from his own dreams back in Canaan. So if we hear something three times how much more determined is God in making His ways clear that we are not independent selves but human vessels created to contain His Spirit (Christ). And that God is in everything—he determines, not permits. He does not permit Satan to do evil in the world; He determines what He will allow Satan to do. But what Satan means for evil, God means for good. So instead of looking at the situation, let us look through—to God, each situation we face being He in disguise. He with supply, He with solution—a person—Christ in us!