Seeing the Good in What Appears to be Bad

(For background, read Genesis chapters 37-50)

The background for this sermon begins about 11 chapters earlier in the book of Genesis. You may recall that Joseph was the youngest of 12 sons born to Jacob. He was also the favorite of Jacob because he was born so late in Jacob’s life.

His favor, however, made Joseph a target of jealousy in the household and eventually, when he was about 17, Joseph’s brothers sold him to traveling merchants and told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast while tending his father’s sheep.

The caravan carried Joseph to Egypt where he became a trusted slave and, later, after spending years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams brought him favor and power in the kingdom. Joseph eventually rose in rank to become second only to Pharaoh in power and authority in Egypt.

When Joseph wisely interpreted the king’s dream portending a famine in Egypt and the surrounding nations, his plan to stockpile food for the approaching famine placed Egypt in a commanding position among the nations. And it was during the famine that Joseph was reunited with his brothers (though they did not recognize who he was).

Joseph’s brothers, having heard there was food to be purchased in Egypt, traveled there at the instruction of their father, Jacob. When they arrived they sought the food they desperately needed from their estranged brother. Joseph recognized them and eventually revealed himself to them and arranged for Jacob and his entire family to move to Egypt where they could survive the famine. It was in Egypt that Jacob died, but not before insuring a promise from Joseph that he would be buried back in his homeland of Canaan.

After Jacob’s burial, the family returned to Egypt and Joseph’s brothers began to fear that now that their father was dead Joseph might remember how badly they had treated him and seek revenge upon them. This is where we pick up the story.

Genesis 50:15-21

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died:
17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, ***“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

The arc of this story covers many years. It’s a reminder that God is timeless and is aware and involved not only in our present, but in our future. It’s like the ripple effect we studied in our small group lesson this week. What happens today isn’t just for today; it has ramifications for our future and the future of those whom we may or may not ever know.

Joseph wisely discerned that God had used circumstances which appeared to be very bad to accomplish something which would become the salvation of the nation of Israel. God prearranged for Joseph to be in Egypt, to become a powerful influence in Egypt and to be the means by which his family could be spared from a horrible famine. As with all things, God always sees the end from the beginning and He cares about and is involved with everything in between. This is a valuable perspective for us to maintain; especially when everything around us seems to be moving in what we perceive to be the wrong direction.

What appears to be bad and even which may appear to be intended for our hurt is always just a part of a much larger picture. We focus on the now and how bad we feel about our circumstances, but God sees long-range and knows how everything will eventually resolve. There is always more to the story than we are aware of. There is always the God part which, maybe for the moment, we have overlooked.

The real joy, however, eventually comes when we see how God was working when we were unaware. We eventually rejoice in the discovery that God had a bigger plan and a longer view than we ever imagined.

So I encourage you today to look at your circumstances through a new lens. Even when bad times come, God is always there and God is always working. Life may not be easy but it can be lived with purpose and meaning when we look for God’s goodness in the midst of difficulty and hardship. We should remind ourselves often that one day we will look back and see the picture more clearly than we do today. 

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