We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
This verse is one of those great and precious promises that we hold on to when we are struggling with life. Sometimes it is hard to believe it but let’s make sure we understand what it really means.
The word oida means “to have seen or perceived.” This is different than knowledge gained through personal experience. So how do we know this? It is the work of the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and this is one of those things that you come to only through the Spirit. Thanks be to God that he has written this truth through the lives of people recorded in scripture.
God’s Good Plan
You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:20)
How did God take the evil plans of men and turn them into good in the life of Joseph? Synergy; that’s how. That’s the word we get from sunergiā – works together. The life of Joseph is a story of dark sin and God working it all together for good, even Joseph’s flaws are put to use. Let’s consider how a young dreamer tending sheep in the backwaters of Canaan land was able to save millions of people from starvation by becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Tattle-Tale Dreamer Goes to Egypt
If God wants to save a million people he is going to have to get young Joseph to Egypt. There are many ways to do this, but God is going to get it done by using sinful acts of sinful people for good. Now Joseph was the kind of kid you might call a tattle-tale. If his brothers were up to no good, Joseph was the one who was going to tell on them.
… At 17 years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father. (Genesis 37:2)
Yes, every family with more than one child has one of these kids. Is being a tattle-tale sin? Probably not, but it certainly isn’t going to make you popular. Let’s just say it wasn’t the smartest move. Can God use Joseph’s flaws for good? You bet.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. (Genesis 37:3)
If you want to cause big problems in a big family just show favoritism for a child. Of course, he was the baby of the family. Older siblings always have the suspicion that the baby gets off easy but Israel left no doubt by giving him that special robe. Can God use Israel’s poor parenting for good? Absolutely.
Joseph had dreams where his brothers and even mother and father were bowing down to him. Of course, he just had to share these dreams with his brothers and the result wasn’t pretty.
“Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said. (Genesis 37:8)
In a society where the first born child was going to rule, the idea that this spoiled young brat who was his father’s favorite would rule just grated on the brothers. Can God use hatred for good? You bet he can.
When Israel wanted to know what his sons were up to as they were out with the flocks, he sends the family tattle-tale because he knows he will get the straight scoop to check on them. And when his brothers saw him coming…
They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him. (Genesis 37:18)
Now that is some serious hatred. I had fights with my brother when we were kids but I never plotted to kill him. Part of the story here is that Israel had children by four different women. They were step-brothers and this played a part in their hatred of him. Not only was Joseph Israel’s favorite son, his mother Rachel was Israel’s favorite wife. God never intended for men to have more than one wife. God allowed it in ancient times but it was never the ideal. Can God use this hatred and family jealousy for good? Yes he can.
Now if the brothers kill Joseph the plan will fail. So what does God do? He uses Reuben to save Joseph’s life.
When Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let’s not take his life.” Reuben also said to them, “Don’t shed blood. Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him”–intending to rescue him from their hands and return him to his father. (Genesis 37:21-22)
Great, but if Reuben’s plan succeeds, Joseph doesn’t end up in Egypt so God has something else in mind. He prepares a group of Ishmaelite traders and has them passing right by just at the right moment when he places an idea in Judah’s head.
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh,” and they agreed. (Genesis 37:26-27)
Oh yeah… let’s not kill him, let’s sell him and lie to our father about what happened. Once again, sin on top of sin. Can God use brothers selling their brother into slavery for good? Oh yes he can! Now Joseph is on his way to Egypt.
Imagine what must have been going through Joseph’s mind at this point. Did he beg his brothers not to sell him? Was there weeping on his part? As the Ishmaelites tied him to a camel for a long walk to Egypt this privileged son… the favorite son of the favorite wife… the dreamer with the best robe is now stripped of everything a slave. If you could have asked him at that moment “Is God working this for good?” He would have probably said no.
Joseph probably felt at that moment that God had abandoned him. Perhaps he thought that God was punishing him for his sins. Maybe in his darkest moments he felt that he deserved what was happening to him. But God had a better plan for Joseph than just being the family tattle-tale. If God was going to save a million people from starvation he was going to have to prepare Joseph to rule Egypt.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. (Genesis 37:36)
Just imagine that first day. Joseph had been used to having servants and giving orders to them. Now he was the one being ordered around. What kind of work do you suppose they gave him on that first day? Probably the dirtiest most filthy hard work you can imagine. And so we take leave of Joseph as he is cleaning up animal stalls or some other such filthy work until next time.
Can God use for good…
- The favoritism of a father?
- The tattle-tale dreaming baby brother?
- The murderous hatred of step-brothers?
- The selling into slavery?
- The lowest of the low work in a foreign land?
Yes! None of these things are good on their own and yet God is working all things together… good things, bad things, even sinful things for good.