This devotional is part of a series through the story of Joseph. You can read the whole series here.
At the end of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers began to fear for their lives. Who they believed to be the greatest buffer between themselves and Joseph’s revenge was just embalmed and buried in Canaan. So they went to him bearing the words of their father, pleading with Joseph not to harm them.
Joseph’s response came in two parts. The first a question, the second a statement. Together they reveal that the brothers’ greatest protection against revenge was not Jacob, but the mercy of God and his eternal plan.
The question is this: “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). The answer is so obvious as to render the question rhetorical. But I wonder if we would do well to ask ourselves this question, even in the little things, like when someone cuts us off in traffic. Do we feel validated in our urge to condemn and berate the driver before us? Or do we slow down and remember that we are not God, and so we should not seek vengeance?
Or what about even more serious situations, like those at work? When we are snubbed by a superior or disrespected by an inferior, when we are overlooked and overworked, do we return the favor in kind? Or do we remember that we are under God’s command to bless and be a blessing?
There are of course more intense and difficult scenarios we could consider. But the overall point remains the same: we are never permitted to act out against God’s commandments.
Joseph then follows up this question with a statement, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
After years of humiliation, rejection, and despair, Joseph learned the answer to his suffering much like Paul did, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11-13).
His answer did not minimize their evil nor excuse their wrong, but Joseph contextualized the events of his life within the broader and bigger plans of God in bringing salvation to this world. Because God never changes we can do the same.
When the tragedies and tribulations of life hit us these words can either be of great comfort, or strike us as trite. I’d like to offer two bits of advice about using them. First, use discernment when communicating these words to a friend or loved one who is suffering. Even in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the pastors wrote that we must use discretion when disclosing difficult doctrines. God’s word never changes, it is always true, but it must be handled with care.
The second is this: meditate on these words in the good, easier times of life. In times of abundance fill your reserves with reminders of God’s goodness. This practice prepares us to endure droughts and famines.
When the saints share their stories in heaven I suspect we will all echo Joseph’s words in one way or another. The evils we experience will one day make sense in the light of eternity. There will come a day when we will all understand that God was preparing us for so great a weight of glory.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate and cohost of The Will & Rob Show.