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Posted: 7/25/03

LifeWay Family Bible Series for Aug. 3

God has a plan even when circumstances hide it

Genesis 37:3-8, 23-28, 34-36

By Tim Owens

First Baptist Church, Bryan

The story of Joseph is a lesson in how God's gracious plan in a life can still be fulfilled in less-than-ideal circumstances.

The patriarch Jacob had 12 sons. He showed favoritism to Joseph, a son of Jacob's preferred wife, Rachel. That demonstration of favoritism contributed to the tension in this family.

Genesis 37 raises the question, “How can one make sense out of life's devastating experiences?” Some people believe life's events are attributed to chance. Thus, they have difficulty making sense out of the trying circumstances of life.


Christians believe God is working even in the crises of life to accomplish his purpose. While he may allow his people to suffer the consequences both of sin in the world in general and of specific sins in their own lives, he is always at work to accomplish good in his people's lives even in the midst of devastating experiences. How can the believer depend on God's grace in the crises of life?

Remember God has a plan

Genesis 37:3 says Israel (Jacob) made Joseph a “richly ornamented robe.” The important thing about the coat was its significant meaning. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 states how the birthright was transferred from Reuben to Joseph, because of Reuben's sin of fornication. The coat Jacob made for Joseph designated Joseph was to be the heir to the birthright. His brothers knew this, and for this reason they hated him.

What follows in the story only intensified the brothers' hatred toward Joseph. In Genesis 37:5, Joseph had a dream, and he told the dream to his brothers. In the dream, Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves of grain in the field when suddenly Joseph's sheaf rose and stood upright, while the brothers' sheaves gathered around Joseph's and bowed down to it. The brothers recognized the meaning immediately–Joseph was predicting that someday he would rule over his brothers. Because of the dream, the brothers hated Joseph all the more.

Although some would question Joseph's motive in sharing this dream with his brothers, it seems Joseph was genuinely seeking to discover God's plan for his life. He was saying to his brothers and his father, “I don't understand all of this, but somehow I know God has a purpose for my life.” This is what motivated Joseph for the rest of his life–the assurance that God was always working his plan. Joseph was a man who said, “Whatever trial and testing I have to accept, whatever rebuke I have to endure, whatever adversity I have to face, and even if it seems God has forgotten me, I will remain confident God is working his plan for my life.” What a worthy example to follow!

Persevere in spite

of shattered dreams

Motivated by their jealousy, the brothers plotted to kill Joseph. They ended up selling Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. Joseph must have asked himself, “How are these circumstances working for the glory of God?” He must have wondered about his dreams and their fulfillment. Certainly the next 13 years of his life were filled with many tests and trials. Had Joseph been looking at only the circumstances, he would have despaired of all hope, but his trust remained in God.

The persevering Christian must know that God's ways are often beyond human comprehension. As God sovereignly works his plan, the believer is often unable to understand why he/she is being led down a certain path. Believers need confidence in God that he will accomplish his will, whether they understand it at the time or not.

Joseph teaches this timeless principle: Believers learn more from the pits of life than they do from the mountain tops of life. It is usually from the valley experiences that God prepares his people for effective service and ministry. This is why perseverance is absolutely essential. James is right–consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

Frequently, God is best able to deal with his children when they are alone. Even Christ spent agonizing hours alone in Gethsemane before he was betrayed and finally crucified.

For Joseph, the night in the pit was not a night of defeat but a night of victory. He was now completely under God's control, and any dreams of self-ambition and self-importance were now dead. Joseph realized that his dreams were God's revelation to him and, therefore, it was God's responsibility to fulfill those dreams. Joseph was not to try to fulfill the dreams on his own, but he was to make himself available to God, so that God could fulfill the dreams through him.

Questions for discussion

bluebull Have you had circumstances in your life where you felt God was distant only to discover later that he was working his plan in your life?

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