You Meant Evil, God Meant Good

Genesis 49:29 – 50:26 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

50 1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’ ” 6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” 7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

INTRODUCTION

It’s bitter sweet that this is the second to last sermon I’ll preach in this series. It’s been a good, life-changing ride for me (and I know it has for some of you as well). I look forward to doing a wrap up sermon in a few weeks where I can reflect on some of what we’ve covered and some of what God has done through it, by answering the question, “What is our place in God’s plan?”.

For now, however, let’s turn our attention to the final passage of Genesis and its four main scenes: 1) Jacob’s last request, 2) Jacob’s death and burial, 3) The post funeral meeting of Joseph and his brothers, and 4) Joseph’s last words and death.

Scenes 1, 2, and 4, which deal with the death of the patriarchs, are significant in that they highlight the fact that these men died still hoping in the promises of God. And yet, the main thrust of the passage, and in many ways the main thrust of Genesis, is found in the third scene, in the short dialogue between Joseph and his brothers. In it, the amazing, sovereign grace of God is revealed in a way that is more explicit than it’s ever been. We’ve seen it in action many times throughout Genesis, but Genesis 50:20 Joseph pulls back the curtain, revealing God’s relationship to sin and suffering, in such a way that we cannot help but to fill us with awe, hope, and peace.

JACOB’S LAST REQUEST (49:29-32)

In the first, brief scene, we find Jacob’s last request. His last words on earth were a reiteration of what he had already told Joseph at the end of 47 (29-31)—that he wanted to be buried in Canaan along with his grandfather, father, and wife. The two important things for us to see here are that God was faithful to Jacob through his death and that Jacob was faithful to God at his death. For three generations, now, God had been perfectly faithful to His covenant people. He had rescued them from every trial and blessed them in miraculous ways. And Jacob, in looking to be buried in the Promised Land, was making it clear that his hope, in his final moments, was truly in the covenant promises of God. In faith he looked beyond the immediate, significant blessing and comfort that Egypt had provided, forward to the promises of God.

O, Grace, would you remember two things from this? First, would you remember that this is not your home? We’ve seen this before in Genesis, but perhaps never more clearly than here. Jacob, in many ways, had everything the world has to offer. And yet, his eyes and hope were on something far greater. Our highest blessing and true home are in God’s presence. Jacob knew this and he knew that death is the front door to those things.

Second, would you remember that you must continually hope in God to be saved, even while acknowledging that continually hoping in God is a gift from God?

When I was a kid, we lived next to the county fairgrounds. We’d go as a family on most years. One of my most vivid memories involves a carnival game. It was a rope ladder on a 45-degree angle and a swivel. If you made it to the top and rang the bell, you got some sort of oversized prize. As I began to climb, it was easier than I expected. Making my way to the top, falling seemed possible, but not really. I had to balance and I had to climb, but it was quickly clear that I would make it. I only found out later that I was able to do so because my dad had put his foot on the swivel to keep the ladder from spinning.

Let me say that again in a couple of different ways to make it as clear as possible. If you do not persevere in the faith, you will not go to heaven (Matthew 24:13). You are saved by grace through having faith, not having had faith, in Jesus. You must always be working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). And you must fight the good fight and finish the race if you are to receive the reward (2 Timothy 4:7). And at the same time, you must do all of that in the knowledge that it is God who keeps you in Jesus (Romans 8:30)? The great promise of God is that it is by grace through faith that you are saved and that both of those things (the faith and the saving) are gifts of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). The very God who began the good work of salvation in you, will see it through to completion (Philippians 1:6). Would you remember these things, Grace? Jacob was faithful to God until the end because God was faithful to Jacob until the end—and so will He be to all who trust in Jesus.

JACOB’S DEATH AND BURIAL (49:33-50:14)

The second scene, that of Jacob’s death and burial, is interesting in a number of ways. It is interesting that Jacob seemed to know when he would die, almost to the minute. It is interesting that his death is spoken of so briefly. It is interesting that of Jacob’s sons, Joseph alone is mentioned as mourning his death. It is interesting how Egyptian everything was in spite of them not being participants in the covenant. It’s interesting that it is the Egyptians who are said to have wept for seventy days. And it is interesting that the Canaanite response to the seven days of morning at Atad (Abel-mizraim) was about how great the Egyptians’ lament was.

Above all, though, it’s interesting that Joseph promised to and did return to Egypt instead of remaining in the Promised Land with his family. Apparently, as we will see at the end of the passage, this was of God. God had determined that the time for this family to take over the land of the promise had not yet come. There was more for God to do in them and through them in Egypt.

We know now that God kept this family in Egypt in order that He might free them from slavery in the most miraculous way imaginable. Likewise, we know now that He did that in order to put His unmatched power and glory on display, as well as provide one of the clearest pictures of the gospel in the OT.

Jacob’s children would continue to know prosperity in Egypt for a little while longer. Then they would know centuries of increasingly oppressive slavery in that same place and under those same people. And then, by God’s mighty hand, through the blood of a lamb, God would rescue them from their captures. All of this was according to God’s design that He might show His power and might, and His unique ability to save His people. They needed to feel the true depths of their powerlessness in their enslavement in order that they might fully appreciate the glorious rescue of God. And all of that, once again, is a physical picture of what Jesus, Judah’s son, would do spiritually one day.

And so it is for us, Grace. Why does God allow us to know such a wide array of blessing and hardship? Why does He allow us to know such ups and downs? Why does He allow us to know such victories and defeats? He does so because we, like Jacob, must come to know the height of God’s glory along with depth of our sin and rebellion against God. He does so in order that we, like Jacob, might come to know our powerlessness to do anything good apart from God’s mighty hand or about the death our sin brings. And He does so that we might truly appreciate our need for the gracious blood-sacrifice He would provide in Jesus.

JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS (50:15-21)

As I mentioned in the beginning, the heart of the passage is found in the third scene, which records a brief interaction between Joseph and his brothers after their father’s death, burial, and the family’s return to Egypt. Let’s read it again so it’s fresh in our minds.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

As I thought and prayed over this passage this week, five things in Joseph’s response truly struck me. In light of his brothers’ sins against him, at a time when they were most vulnerable to any animosity he had toward them (we’re meant to recall what they did to him when he was most vulnerable back in chapter 37), Joseph’s hope in God led him to: 1) weep over their presentation, 2) forgive rather than seek vengeance, 3) leave justice ultimately to God, 4) trust in God’s goodness and good plans through his brothers’ evil, and 5) providing for the very brothers who mistreated him so severely. Let’s briefly consider each of those.

Joseph Wept Over their Presentation

It’s significant that Joseph’s brothers were probably lying to Joseph in reporting their father’s words. We don’t know that for sure, but there’s no record of Jacob telling the 11 to tell Joseph to forgive them. Also, there’s no reason Jacob wouldn’t have simply told that to Joseph when he was alone with him. With that, along with the treacherous backdrop the brothers’ previous sins had created, it really is remarkable that Joseph’s first response to their presentation was to weep.

We’re not told the specific reason for Joseph’s weeping. We can only surmise that it was the result of some combination of grief over the fresh loss of their father, remembering the pain of the betrayal and hardship he’d endured at their hands, his amazement at his miraculous rescue from prison and rise to second over Egypt, and the longing for his brothers to know the kind of hope in God that he had. Regardless, the main point for us to see is the power of hope in God. Of all the other possible responses he might have had, first, Joseph wept. This could only come from a heart humbled by hope in God.

And that forces us to consider how we respond when others mistreat us. It forces us to test the genuine nature of our hope in God by considering carefully how it shapes our response, not mainly in times of comfort, but in times of distress. Is your first response to the sins of others, tenderness flowing from your trust in God’s goodness?

Joseph Forgave Rather than Harbor Bitterness

The second thing that struck me in this exchange, is that Joseph forgave rather than harbor bitterness. Once Joseph determined that his brothers’ repentance was genuine, there is not a single hint that his forgiveness of them was anything but complete. As we noted earlier, Joseph was wronged in ways that go way beyond what most/all of us will ever know. (If you don’t know the story, Joseph’s brothers hated him, planned to kill him, but sold him into slavery instead because it allowed them to get rid of him and get money for it, and then lied to their father about all of that.) That means he would have been tempted toward bitterness or some other form of unrighteous anger beyond what must of us will ever experience. And yet, Joseph’s hope in God and knowledge of the undeserved forgiveness God had extended to him, led him to forgive his brothers thoroughly.

Perhaps you have been hurt deeply (I know many of you have). In light of this passage, ask yourself, what kind of God did Joseph believe in that would love him enough to forgive him so thoroughly? And what kind of hope in God would hold back bitterness and lead him to love and forgive his brothers so thoroughly? Is that your God? Is that your love? Is that your hope?

Joseph Left Justice Ultimately to God Rather than Seek Vengeance

Third, Joseph’s first words after his brothers’ plea were, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” When others sin against us it is so easy to take our eyes off of God and consider our situation primarily on the horizontal level, rather than the vertical level. This is not to say that being sinned against is a small thing, only that it is a relatively small thing when compared to our sin against God. No matter what anyone has done against you, it isn’t within a billion miles of what you’ve done against God. That doesn’t cancel out their sin against you, but it does dramatically shape the perspective with which you see it. Just as this God-centered perspective drove out bitterness from Joseph, it also drove out the desire for vengeance. As we saw last week, that belongs to God. With his eyes on God and his hope in God, then, Joseph was free to trust God to handle his brothers. Again, Grace, is this the nature of your God and hope in Him? Does it have this kind of effect? If not, consider whether or not your view of God is right and your hope genuine.

Joseph Trusted in God’s Goodness and Good Plans through his Brothers’ Evil

The fourth, and most significant thing to see in Joseph’s response is that he understood God’s sovereign grace to be continually at work—even in the most sinful, hurtful actions of his brothers. Far from being absent in his times of greatest distress, God was working the greatest good.

Once again, in the face of the fearful pleas of his brothers, Joseph said to them, “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.” This passage, rightly understood, is the key that unlocks some of the more hope-giving passages in all of Scripture.

It is because of this passage that we can make sense of James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” and Romans 8:28, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” Genesis 50:20 is the reason our trials are our joy and all things are working together for good—because we know that God is working good through them. Trials and sin are instruments of God to accomplish His purposes.

Perhaps most clearly of all, we see an illustration of the gospel in Joseph’s situation. He was betrayed, sold into slavery, and presumed dead; only to rise to a place of great prominence in order to save the lives of many.

Certainly Joseph had no idea what would happen to him in his imprisonment, much less the picture of the gospel it was. Rightly understood, then, this changes everything, Grace. To hear the words of Genesis 50:20 in the various promises of God to work all things for good, is to completely flip our trials upside down. Instead of being things to fear and avoid at all costs, we are able to find joy and rest in them in the knowledge that God is using them for some greater good. This is the life-changing power of hope in God. Awesome!

Joseph Affectionately Provided for his Brothers

The last thing that I want to draw your attention to concerning the nature of Joseph’s God and hope in Him, is that even beyond weeping for his brothers, lacking bitterness toward them, forgiving them thoroughly, and understanding God’s goodness to be working in their evil, even beyond all of those things, Joseph affectionately promised to provide for them and their families. Beyond merely promising not to harm them he declared, “’…Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” How sweet this is? What a picture of the kind of undeserved grace God gives to all who hope in Jesus. He does not merely promise to wipe our sin-slates’ clean. He forgives us, frees us, fills us with Jesus’ righteousness, adopts us into His family, keeps us, makes us holy, and promises everlasting fellowship with Him.

Again, when we look at the hardships of life, and especially those caused by others, vertically before horizontally, it changes everything. This is the why and what of “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is what it means and looks like live by faith in the gospel.

JOSEPH’S LAST WORDS AND DEATH (50:15-21)

Finally, in the last scene in the entire book we read of Joseph’s last words and subsequent death. Like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, his last wish was to be buried in Abraham’s tomb. And like his father this was significant in that it signified God’s faithfulness to him and his trust in the promises of God to his last breath.

More significantly still, Joseph promised his brothers, “God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Joseph not only expressed his own faith in God to make good on His promises, but he also urged his brothers to believe that as well, offering them the sweetest promise of all, “God will visit you.”

God would be with this family. They were His covenant people. God has set His affection uniquely upon them in order that they would be a light and blessing to the whole world. And yet, they were not home yet. This was not the land of the promise. These were not the blessings of the promise. There was much more to come. Joseph’s dying words were a reminder, however, that that day would come. God would visit them. He would bring them home.

Such is the promise of God to all who would hope in Him. Hope in Him, Grace. Hope in Him as creator and sustainer of all the earth. Hope in Him as orderer and ruler of all that is. Hope in Him as righteous judge of all our sin and rebellion. Hope in Him as the one who set His love upon us while we were still caught in sin and death. Hope in Him as the one who has provided everything we need to be reconciled to Him by the Son of Eve, the smasher of the serpent, the Ark of Noah, the Ram of Abraham and Isaac, the Ladder-Keeper of Jacob, and the promised one of the line of Judah. Hope in Jesus that you may be brought back into the Garden for which you were made and in which you will know everlasting provision and blessing and fellowship with God. Hope in Jesus that God would visit you and lead you home. Hope in this God and then tell the world!