Look with me at Genesis 50:15-21. There is much for us to learn here about the sovereignty of God in our lives.
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.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘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. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21).
Joseph’s brothers not only had sold their brother into slavery and lied to cover their tracks but had failed horribly in their assessment of his character. They couldn’t bring themselves to believe that Joseph’s kindness and longsuffering were heartfelt and sincere, the fruit of a genuine love for them and concern for their welfare. Surely his treatment of them must be due to some external pressure, constraint, or fear. Perhaps his kindness was due solely to the influence of Jacob, their father. “Might it be that Joseph is good to us,” they wondered, “because he doesn’t want to break our father’s heart?” Once Jacob died they feared that Joseph would no longer have grounds for treating them with compassion. So they compounded their earlier sin by fabricating a story that Jacob, just before his death, had requested that Joseph forgive them for their transgressions.
But Joseph had a far more expansive view of God and his purposes than his brothers could ever have imagined. Without for a moment excusing the gravity of their sin in betraying him and selling him into slavery, Joseph set it within the larger providential purposes of God. Their evil deed was subsumed under God’s greater goal of making provision for his people in Egypt. This isn’t to say that his brothers won’t be held morally accountable for their treachery. Their wicked deeds were not suddenly transformed into righteous acts simply because God is capable of orchestrating all things for a greater good. What we learn, then, is that everything we encounter in life, whether it be a tragedy or triumph, falls within the framework of God’s overarching, always loving, and ever wise eternal plan.
It is almost instinctive for us to see tragic events only in terms of their immediate impact. We tend to question either God’s goodness or his power, or perhaps both. When life hurts or people fail us we tend to conclude that God cannot be trusted. We fail to grasp how painful and inconvenient circumstances are either intended or turned by God for his glory and our good. But Joseph’s view on life was shaped by the greatness and all-encompassing providential power of God.
Nothing catches God by surprise. God was not caught off guard, as if their evil actions forced him to scrap his original design and revert to Plan B. Nothing is too random or wicked to escape God’s goals for us or thwart his purpose. Joseph’s response instructs us on how important it is always to take the long view in life. We may be confused and disheartened by some awkward and irksome turn of events, but God is always in control, working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11b).