Life: The big picture

 • The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Nov. 17 focuses on Genesis 37; 50:15-21.

I still can remember standing on the playground as a girl I thought was my friend turned on me. Instead of standing by me, she mocked me and sided with a more popular group. It was a childhood moment, but the hurt was real.

Most of us carry similar wounds. Some hurt by friends; others wounded by family. Sometimes, we are even wounded from within the church. It hurts the most when you expect it the least. When we are hurt, we start to wonder what God is doing. Does he not see? Does he not care? Joseph must have had those same questions.

Betrayed by his brothers

Joseph’s brothers were his betrayers. Joseph was the 11th of Jacob’s 12 sons, but the first born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Jacob loved Joseph more than the rest of his sons. To make matters worse, Joseph was a dreamer. Twice Joseph dreamed all his family bowed down and honored him. His brothers hated him even more because of it. How could such a presumptuous upstart think they would ever bow down before him?

The window of opportunity came when Joseph’s brothers were pasturing the flocks several days’ journey from home. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his older brothers. His brothers saw Joseph coming in the distance and hatched a plan. They would kill their younger brother and throw his body into a dry well. Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph, just throw him into the well.

Then Joseph’s brother Judah saw some slave traders in the distance. Judah told his brothers they shouldn’t risk killing Joseph. Instead, they simply should sell him. It still was an act of betrayal. Old Testament law, as well as the laws of ancient Mesopotamia, prohibited selling a kinsman as a slave. They had to believe Joseph would spend the rest of his life as a slave and never see his family again. God had different plans.

God was with Joseph

God was with Joseph. Joseph rose to a powerful position, was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit and eventually found favor with Pharaoh. God’s providence elevated Joseph to a position of power over all Egypt and used him to prepare Egypt for a severe famine that devastated the entire region. The famine eventually forced Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt looking for food. They didn’t recognize him, but Joseph knew them. Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers and made peace.

He began to glimpse an important truth. God had not abandoned Joseph in his pain. What Joseph’s brothers had meant for evil, God had used for good. Instead of seeking revenge, Joseph blessed his brothers and their households.

After their father died, Joseph’s brothers became afraid Joseph would turn on them now that their father’s restraining influence was gone. They sent Joseph a message saying their father had asked Joseph to forgive them. Joseph wept when he got their message. After all he had done for them, how could Joseph’s brothers fail to understand they already were forgiven?

When they came before him, Joseph’s words were full of grace: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:19-21).

God intended it for good

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Joseph only understood a portion of that statement. He recognized God had used him to save many lives—not just those in his family, but also in the nation of Egypt.

What Joseph could not have foreseen was a Pharaoh would arise who would force the Hebrew people into slavery. He couldn’t have known God would raise up a deliverer who would set them free and forge them into a nation of God’s own choosing.

Nor could he have known that from his people would come a deliverer who was both priest and king, who in his death would defeat death forever and deliver God’s people from their slavery to sin for all time. God was at work in Joseph’s pain to save many lives—more than Joseph ever knew.

God is with us

Like Joseph standing in the cistern looking up at a sliver of sky, we may wonder where God’s hand is in our stories. The same God who was with Joseph is with us. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

That doesn’t mean everything that happens to us is God’s will. God does not delight in evil nor tempt people to sin. The devil came to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus came to give us life. When the shadow of our fallen world crosses our lives, it does not mean God has abandoned us.

God is present in our pain, and Jesus is no stranger to suffering and betrayal. Sometimes, God rescues us from our pain. Sometimes, he redeems it. Even in the midst of our greatest tragedies, God is working for our good. God redeemed Joseph’s pain to save many lives. What will he do in yours?

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