Genesis 45:1-15 CEB (Common English Bible)
Joseph could no longer control himself in front of all his attendants, so he declared, “Everyone, leave now!” So no one stayed with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians and Pharaoh’s household heard him. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I’m Joseph! Is my father really still alive?” His brothers couldn’t respond because they were terrified before him.
4 Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me,” and they moved closer. He said, “I’m your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. 5 Now, don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives. 6 We’ve already had two years of famine in the land, and there are five years left without planting or harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. 8 You didn’t send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the whole land of Egypt.
9 “Hurry! Go back to your father. Tell him this is what your son Joseph says: ‘God has made me master of all of Egypt. Come down to me. Don’t delay. 10 You may live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and everyone with you. 11 I will support you there, so you, your household, and everyone with you won’t starve, since the famine will still last five years.’ 12 You and my brother Benjamin have seen with your own eyes that I’m speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about my power in Egypt and about everything you’ve seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 He threw his arms around his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 He kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him.
There is a popular notion that is all too easy to buy into. If you are faithful, then you will have a good and trouble-free life. The companion notion is likewise easy to fall into: if you have a troubled life then you must not be faithful enough. That is a truly deadly theology. On one hand it leads to a lot of lost peace and joy. On the other, it has led many a person away from God – a God they perceive as being distant and uninvolved. It also gives rise to comparison Christianity. “Why do they get all the breaks?” “I’m just as faithful as them, if not more. Why am I suffering so much?”
Several years ago, I ran into a great illustration. It is the Quilt Story.
As I faced my Maker at the last Judgment, I knelt before the Lord along with the other souls. Before each of us laid our lives, like the squares of a quilt, in many piles.
An Angel sat before each of us sewing our quilt squares together into a tapestry that was our life.
But as my Angel took each piece of cloth off the pile, I noticed how ragged and empty each of my squares were. They were filled with giant holes! Each square was labeled with a part of my life that had been difficult, the challenges and temptations I was faced with in everyday life. I saw hardships that I had endured, (which were the largest holes of all).
I glanced around me. Nobody else had such squares. Others had a tiny hole here and there, other tapestries were filled with rich color and the bright hues of worldly fortune.
I gazed upon my own life and was disheartened. My Angel was sewing the ragged pieces of cloth together, threadbare and empty, like binding air. Finally, the time came when each life was to be displayed, held up to the light and the scrutiny of truth. The others rose each in turn, holding up their tapestries. So filled their lives had been.
My Angel looked upon me and nodded for me to rise. My gaze dropped to the ground in shame. I hadn't had all the earthly fortunes. I had love in my life and laughter. But there had also been trials of illness, death, and false accusations that took from me my world as I knew it. I had to start over many times. I often struggled with the temptation to quit, only to somehow muster the strength to pick up and begin again. I had spent many nights on my knees in prayer, asking for help and guidance in my life. I had often been held up to ridicule, which I endured painfully; each time offering it up to the Father, in hopes that I would not melt within my skin beneath the judgmental gaze of those who unfairly judged me. And now, I had to face the truth. My life was what it was, and I had to accept it for what it had been.
I rose and slowly lifted the combined squares of my life to the light. An awe-filled gasp filled the air. I gazed around at the others who stared at me with eyes wide. Then, I looked upon the tapestry before me. Light flooded through the many holes, creating an image.
The face of Christ.
Then our Lord stood before me, with warmth and love in His eyes. He said,
"Every time you gave over your life to Me, it became My life, My hardships, and My struggles. Each point of light in your life is when you stepped aside and let Me shine through, until there was more of Me than there was of you...Welcome Home My Child"
As I read it again, it puts a different question into my head. It becomes, “How will we let God use this setback for good?” God is faithful. God is in all.
I want to remind us of the back story on Joseph as we approach this week’s scripture. Joseph was his father’s favorite, it seemed. The “coat of many colors” is a symbol of that status. Then Joseph has a dream of power, where his brothers will be bowing down to him. (Gen. 37) His brothers hated him for his favored status. By their inflated ego, his brothers ended up selling him into slavery. Taken to Egypt, Joseph ends up in Potiphar’s house, running the household. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and tries to seduce him. She levels an accusation against him after he refuses her advances which lands him in prison. While Joseph is in prison, he has the opportunity to interpret the dreams of the chief wine steward and chief baker to Pharaoh, the king. The interpretation is right on the money, and the wine steward is reinstated. Fast forward two years. The wine steward has forgotten all about Joseph until Pharaoh has a dream and no one to interpret it. The wine steward suddenly remembers Joseph, and Pharaoh has Joseph interpret his dream. From there it is all an amazing rise to power for Joseph. He is “given authority over the entire land of Egypt,” basically overseeing all of Pharaoh’s kingdom.
That’s where our passage picks up today. There is a famine in all the land, and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to gain food to keep family alive. Joseph’s dream is coming true. They don’t recognize him. After a long, involved story of sending his brothers back home to fetch the last brother, Benjamin, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. Hear how Joseph interprets the actions of his brothers from so long ago, “God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. 8 You didn’t send me here; it was God …” (Genesis 45:7).
Joseph recognizes God’s hand both in his mistreatment by his brothers and his rise to power.
Now, I doubt God caused his brothers to be jerks – that was all on their own! God just used their actions for good.
Further, I doubt God caused Potiphar’s wife to be a jerk – she just was! God just used her actions for good.
It is a perspective on our part to see “God’s hand in all.” – to trust God’s hand will be there. I couldn’t help but remember Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Notice that it isn’t that only good comes, but God will work good out of all things. We live in a broken, fallen world – bad things will happen. Our joy is in knowing that God is present in everything. God is in all.
Joseph viewed all his trials as God putting him in the right place at the right time. In every step along the way Joseph made the most of his situation. Even in prison, he was a supervisor of prisoners. The text says, “ … because the Lord was with him and made everything he did successful.” (Gen. 40:23) It reminds me of the picture of the kitten, wrapped around the base of a plant, in a flower pot way too small, sound asleep. The caption is “Bloom where you are planted.”
How do we let God shine through our struggles? How do we perceive God’s hand in our hardest times, and look for the ways God will use our current situation for good?
First, we need to develop a humility that lets God be God. I say this because usually, in the midst of trials, all we want is for God to make things right – our way! I’m sure that Joseph had his moments of self-pity, begging God to set things right. However, he never let those moments stand in his way. ‘These are the cards I have been dealt, what am I going to do with them?’ The text says in several places, “… the Lord was with him …”. This was his awareness – his strength and his joy.
Second, we have to learn to be patient. It is significant that Joseph was in prison two more years before the wine steward remembered him and had the chance to speak a word on his behalf to Pharaoh regarding Pharaoh’s dream. We don’t have a time referent for this entire story (from his being sold into slavery to the present text). I can imagine it had to be many years, especially since his brothers didn’t even recognize him. God is at work in our lives every day. We have to patiently watch of the good to emerge.
Just yesterday, Janna and I spent six and a half hours in a zoom meeting with Marriage Encounter couples from around the country. We have been on the National Board now for about ten years. In that time we have seen many struggles in the ministry. With changing culture, people seem unwilling to invest an intense weekend in a hotel or retreat setting in order to strengthen their marriage. They are either too busy, not financially able, or just not inclined to work that hard. Whatever the reason, we have been struggling as a board to find the spark that will reinvigorate a commitment to marriage. Enter COVID-19. People are stressed, isolated, fearful, frustrated … you name it. We had to cancel our weekend scheduled for May (rescheduled for July and cancelled again!). Enter Zoom! The possibilities are blossoming! Janna and I will be sponsoring a virtual Marriage Encounter Experience in January and February. God is working good out of something bad.
Finally, we have to learn to trust that God will meet us where we are and use it for good. Gen. 50:20, in looking back on the whole story of Joseph, states, ”You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today.” When we are I the midst of difficult situations we need to be all the more vigilant to watch for where God’s hand will use those very circumstances for good. God is in all! Amen.