All things work together for good to those who love God (Part II) - The case of Joseph
Two issues ago we considered the well known passage of Romans 8:28. There we read:
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose"
Today, I would like to return to this passage and consider its application with an example from the Old Testament: the example of Joseph.
1. From the land of Canaan to Egypt
To begin, we will go to Genesis 37. There, starting from verse 3, we read:
"Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, "Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf." And his brothers said to him, "Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, "Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon and the eleven stars bowed down to me." So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?" And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind"
Later, in Genesis 42, we read the fulfillment of Joseph's dreams concerning his brothers:
Genesis 42:6, 9
"And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth........Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them..."
As it may be evident, the dreams of Joseph were prophetic. In other words, there were dreams given by God, through which He showed to him what would happen in the future, in fact many years later1. Though at first nothing may seem strange in the above, it becomes when we remember the negative reaction these dreams had on Joseph's brothers. Really, they did not cause but only their envy and hate, that was added to their hate for him because of the special love of their father. In fact, they hated Joseph so much that after thinking even to kill him (Genesis 37:18), they finally sold him to some passing traders on their way to Egypt:
"And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is thereif we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt"
The hate of Joseph's brothers finally made them to sell him as a slave to Egypt, far from his father and family. Yet, not far from the Lord:
"Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate"
The Lord was with Joseph, blessing and establishing everything that he did in the house of Potiphar. Seeing this, his master made him an overseer of his house, passing to his oversight all that he had. However, the things once more changed dramatically:
Genesis 39:6-15, 19-20
"Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, "See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside".....So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, "Your servant did to me after this manner," that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison were the king's prisoners were confined."
Just when stability started to be re-established for Joseph, another conspiracy happened against him that put him into prison. However, the Lord was with him even there and showed him mercy.
"and he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper."
The Lord was with Joseph in the prison, exactly as He was with him in Potiphar's house and in the land of Canaan. He was with him showing him mercy and favor. However, let's for a moment put ourselves in Joseph's position. He was expelled from his father's house because of the hate of his brothers for the dreams that God had given him. They sold him as a slave to Egypt, but his master, deceived by his wife, put him into prison. He was alone, slave in the prison of a country that he had never chosen to be. Certainly, things like these are not what someone would immediately call "blessings". However, the Lord was with Him. He was with Him and showed him mercy. And really this is the important. As Joseph, it may be that we do not understand why we are where we are, why it happened what happened, but THIS IS NOT THE IMPORTANT. What is the important IS THE LORD TO BE WITH US. As He said, "ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD" to those who love Him. If we love Him, ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD, even the things that do not seem as "good", and even the things that we may not fully understand.
Returning to Joseph, verses 1-8 of chapter 40 tells us:
"It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them and he served them; so they were in custody for a while. Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man's dream in one night and each man's dream with its interpretation. And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad. So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in the custody of his lord's house, saying, "Why do you look so sad today?" And they said to him, "We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it." So Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretation belong to God? Tell them to me, please."
"Do not interpretation belong to God?", Joseph said, and really to Him belongs ALL INTERPRETATION. Thus, the two Egyptians went on and said their dreams to Joseph, who then gave them their interpretation. This means that these dreams had interpretation, i.e. they were dreams coming from the Lord (He was the one that gave the interpretation). According to this interpretation, the one of the two officers would be executed while the other would be restored to his office. From the latter, Joseph asked to remember him and make mention of him to Pharaoh:
"But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon"
Nevertheless, as soon as the chief butler was restored to his office, he forgot Joseph's pleas:
"Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him"
Summarizing the above, Joseph's story is the story of a man that had done no evil and yet he was persecuted. It is the story of a man who for a long time was living a life of many "why", very few answers, yet with the continuous PRESENCE OF THE LORD. His brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt, because they hated him for the dreams that God gave him. His boss in Egypt put him into prison, being deceived by his wife, though the only that Joseph did was to protect him. The chief butler as soon as he was restored to his position forgot him. It is really difficult to understand the good of all these things and the reason they happened to this godly man. Nevertheless, despite the lack of understanding, Joseph had FAITH in God. He did not sin in Potiphera's house because he feared God. He boldly made reference to the Lord to the two Egyptians and by His Spirit gave the interpretation of their dreams. His lack of understanding did not obstruct him from trusting God. You also may not understand the reason that some things happened to you, but you also should not permit the lack of understanding to be a barrier to your faith: ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THOSE THAT LOVE GOD, and be sure, this is as much true for you as we will see it was for Joseph.
2. From the prison to the palace.
Moving on, chapter 41 tells us for another dream, seen this time by Pharaoh:
"Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river. Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows by the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke. He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed it was a dream. Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and call for all the magicians of the Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh. Then the chief battler spoke to Pharaoh, saying "I remember my faults this day. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him." Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh."
Two years had to pass till the chief butler remember Joseph. Now one could ask: "Why should this time have gone and really why this did not happen from the beginning?" However, the answer is simple: BECAUSE THIS WAS THE WILL OF GOD. We live in an age that wants everything to be done FAST. On the other hand, God wants everything to be done BEST and fast is not necessarily the best. Therefore, two more years had to pass with Joseph in prison till Pharaoh received those dreams from the Lord. As Joseph said later, giving the interpretation, "GOD has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do" (Genesis 41:25). It was the Lord that chose that time to give these dreams to Pharaoh. Now, going one step back, it was the Lord that two years ago had given those two dreams to Pharaoh's officials and it was He that gave to them their interpretation through Joseph. It was the Lord that brought Joseph to Potiphar's house and it was He that permitted the things that happened there and which finally brought him to that specific prison2. It was the Lord that gave those two dreams to Joseph that made his brothers to hate him so much that they sold him to Egypt. We have probably started to understand little by little the plan of God and we will understand it even more as we read further.
So Joseph through the spirit of the Lord, explained the dreams to Pharaoh. Egypt would have great crops for seven years. However, this period would be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph also told Pharaoh how he was to handle the situation. At the end:
"So the advise was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants. "Can we find such a oneas this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt"
Within a few minutes, Joseph was transformed from a slave of the prison into a prime minister. He was made second in command over all the land of Egypt! This did not happen gradually but very rapidly. If you are now in a situation that you feel as unpleasant, in a situation that you would like to get rid of, the Lord can take you out of it. He can do it swiftly, turning the things upside down within only a few moments. As He will do with our rapture for example. It will happen says the Word, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Corinthians 15:52). You close your eyes and you are on the earth, doing something ordinary that you probably do for years. After a moment, you open your eyes and you are in the air, together with the Lord Jesus Christ and all the saints! It will only take a moment! GOD HAS THE POWER TO DO IT AND HE WILL DO IT. Yet, He also has the TIME to do it. This time had arrived for Joseph. He passed many things but the Lord was always with him. The things he passed did not happen accidentally. Instead, they were part of the plan of the Lord that finally brought him before Pharaoh. Removing the end (and we have not seen it all), it would be difficult for someone to understand how the events of Joseph's life worked for good. The same was probably true for Joseph as well. Without seeing the end, he was unable to understand, yet he was not unable TO BELIEVE. You may be weak in understanding, yet DO NOT BE WEAK IN BELIEVING ....... in believing what the Word says for everything that you may live today: i.e. THAT IF YOU LOVE GOD, ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD, either you understand it or not.
Returning to Joseph, his rise to the second in command in Egypt, was not the end of the plan of God. When the seven years of famine came, this also affected the land that his family dwelled:
Genesis 41:56-57, 42:1-3, 6-9
"And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, "Why do you look at one another?" And he said, "Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die. So Joseph's ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt......And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, "Where do you come from?" And they said from the land of Canaan to buy food." So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!""
Many years ago, the Lord had given two dreams to Joseph, where his brothers were bowing before him. In fact, it was these dreams that made his brothers to hate him so much that they sold him to Egypt. Since then, it was only now, at the fulfillment of those dreams, that they met each other. However, Joseph did not make himself known to his brothers immediately. Instead, he pretended that he did not know them, accusing them that they were spies. Then, after he kept them for three days, he called them again asking them to go and bring Benjamin while he would keep one of them in Egypt till their return. This sorrowed his brothers and they considered what they had done to him many years ago as the cause of what was happening now. Thus, without knowing that the ruler before them was Joseph, confessed their guilty for what they had done to him:
"Then they said to one another, "We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress came upon us." And Rueben answered them, saying, "Did I not speak to you, saying, "Do not sin against the boy;" and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us." But they did not know that Joseph understoodthem, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept."
The last time that Joseph saw his brothers was when they sold him to Egypt, many years ago. The next time he met them again was the time of the fulfillment of the dreams for which they sold him and the confession of their guilty for what they had done to him. Now Joseph knew that his brothers had repented: they confessed it before him! Really, how the Lord arranges it and hurts and misunderstandings of many years are healed within only some moments.
Returning to Joseph, he kept Symeon, while his brothers returned to Canaan to bring Benjamin. After they brought him, Joseph permitted them to go, only to bring them back quickly, accusing them that they had stolen his silver cup that he had intentionally hidden in Benjamin's sack (Genesis 44:2). Because of this, he requested that Benjamin would stay as a slave in Egypt. Hearing this, his brothers "fell before him on the ground", pleading him for Benjamin. (Genesis 44:14-34). Then:
"Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Make everyone go out from me!" So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me." So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; FOR GOD SENT BE BEFORE YOU TO PRESERVE LIFE. FOR these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. AND GOD SENT ME BEFORE YOU TO PRESERVE A POSTERITY FOR YOU IN THE EARTH,AND TO SAVE YOUR LIVES BY A GREAT DELIVERANCE. SO NOW IT WAS NOT YOU WHO SENT ME HERE, BUT GOD;" AND HE HAS MADE ME A FATHER TO PHARAOH, AND LORD OF ALL HIS HOUSE, AND A RULER THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND OF EGYPT"
and Genesis 50:20
"YOU MEANT EVIL AGAINST ME; BUT GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD, IN ORDER TO BRING IT ABOUT AS IT IS THIS DAY, TOSAVE MANY PEOPLE ALIVE"
In the above, I have emphasized the words "for", "in order to" and "to". These words are words that introduce ANSWERS. They are words that answer to questions that start with "why". It was therefore time for answers. It was time for the plan of God, concerning Joseph and his mission to Egypt, to be opened widely. It was the same plan that started many years ago in Canaan, with Joseph's two dreams that caused him to be hated by his brothers that then sold him to Egypt. However, his brothers and their acts were but tools that God utilized to bring His will to pass. IT WAS GOD THAT SENT JOSEPH TO EGYPT AND NOT HIS BROTHERS. IT WAS GOD THAT PLACED HIM IN POTIPHAR'S HOUSE AND GAVE HIM GRACE BEFORE HIM, AND IT WAS HE THAT TOOK HIM FROM THERE TO PRISON. IT WAS GOD THAT GAVE THE TWO DREAMS TO PHARAOH'S OFFICIALS AS WELL AS THEIR INTERPRETATION THROUGH JOSEPH. IT WAS GOD THAT AFTER TWO YEARS GAVE THOSE DREAMS TO PHARAOH AND WHO THROUGH THE CHIEF BUTLER BROUGHT JOSEPH TO THE PALACE. IT WAS GOD THAT GAVE THE INTERPRETATION TO JOSEPH AND IT WAS HE THAT MADE HIM SECOND IN COMMAND IN EGYPT. IT WAS HE THAT BROUGHT JOSEPH'S BROTHERS TO BOW BEFORE HIM IN EGYPT AND CONFESS THEIR GUILTY BEFORE HIM. IT WAS HE THAT PRESERVED ALL ISRAEL IN LIFE. Really, Israel did not leave from Egypt but only after centuries, with thousands of thousands and with the way that the Word of God says. God had his own plans for Israel and ALL THAT HAPPENED TO JOSEPH WORKED TOGETHER FOR GOOD though it may not have appeared as such from the beginning and though it may not be understood but only after years.
1.In Genesis 37:2 Joseph was 17 years old, while in Genesis 42:6, when the dreams were fulfilled, he was probably 39 (he was 30 "when he stood before Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:46) and the year that his brothers went for second time to Egypt was the second year of famine (Genesis 45:6)) .
2.This prison was the prison that the "king's prisoners were confined" (Genesis 39:20). That's why the king's butler and baker were brought there.