'God intended it for Good'
A camel train moved slowly across the Jordan valley. It had come from Damascus and beyond and now was on its way southward. The merchants had stopped recently in Gilead to pick up gum and spices for which it was famous and these sold readily in Egypt. The trading caravans were a familiar sight as they crossed the great plain of Esdraelon and made for Gaza en route for Egypt. The ancient trade route passed close to Dothan and Shechem. The sheep farmers of Hebron knew how to contact them.
One might have thought that Jacob would have known better than to have a favourite son considering the strife and exile that he experienced as a result of parental favouritism. But those kinds of relationships persist through the ages. Personal friendships are one thing, gifts and preferential treatment make for trouble. Jacob's older sons had inherited jealousy from their grandfather in Haran and uncle in Edom. They wanted fair shares for all - with their share being even fairer than the rest. But Jacob failed to learn the lesson and so had the older brothers.
Their envy had turned to hatred and had now led to virtual murder. There is a familiar ring in the words written nearly 2000 years later "for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice" (James 3.16). This aspect of evil, that has caused untold suffering through the ages, is highlighted in other Bible stories. Nothing can excuse the behaviour of Joseph's brothers. He may have appeared as a boastful young man who should have had more tact but there was also a lack of the spirit that was in their great grandfather ‑ Abraham. Joseph had learned something of the promise to Abraham that his descendant would go into Egypt and four hundred years later would be redeemed. Joseph instructed his descendants to carry his remains back to Canaan. (Heb.11.22). On that walk to Egypt he had plenty of time to ponder what he had learned, as he stumbled wearily behind the camels on the rough road through Gaza. Not so long before this Joseph had lost the comfort of his own mother. What had been her part in his upbringing in so mixed a family? Interesting contrasts have been drawn between Leah and Rachel. Their children make a fascinating study. Rachel's son appears to have the spiritual advantage and grew into manhood showing great courage and devotion to God. Perhaps he had paid more heed to his father Jacob, or even Isaac, than his brothers had done.
The eldest of Jacob's family was Rueben who had stupidly hurt his father concerning his unchastity. He was never forgiven. Rules of behaviour were strict in their ancient culture and Jacob couldn't forgive him even as he approached death. Yet it was to Rueben that Joseph owed his life. The others would have killed him but the oldest brother not only suggested the pit but intended to rescue the lad later. He never had the opportunity, for Judah suggested the sale of kith and kin. Slavery could be a fate worse than death.
'God moves in a mysterious way'. Much of the Middle East was very vulnerable to food shortage. The Bedouin way of life could be very precarious without refrigeration and barn storage. What few crops they had could readily be burnt by enemies or eaten by locusts. Egypt alone had an apparently limitless supply through the ages except when prolonged draught affected the whole Great Rift Valley.
It is apparent from Biblical records that Joseph was a strong, hansome and intelligent young men. Had he inherited his father's shrewdness and his mother's good looks. What were his thoughts as he walked with an iron collar and heavy chain? Older and more experienced servants of God sometimes find it hard to understand God's providence when apparent disasters fall upon them. But Joseph had been a 'dreamer' or visionary. He had been given a glimpse of the future and he never seems to have lost that vision. Perhaps he had experienced long hard winters that end in a burst of spring sunshine and rain with the consequent fruitful harvest.
At last the country lad, who recently had seen little of city life, found himself surrounded by large buildings and bustling people. He was in the market place and would-be purchasers were looking him over and sizing up his value. How much had he learned from older ones in the family about town life and commercial activity? To one accustomed to the sounds and scents of the natural world, city cries and smells are not usually attractive. He had left behind the security of the patriarchal home and now faced the insecurity of being 'a piece of furniture' or 'domestic chattel'. He heard foreign voices and now lived under laws that were alien to him and was surrounded by pagan religion. His father's word had been law and he had owned everything that was in sight of their tents. Here Joseph was owned and had nothing. The raw and blistered feet stood on foreign soil. Did those brothers ever give a thought to Joseph's fate? Their callous greed was a terrible crime among a people whose laws give freedom from slavery. How could a Hebrew sell his brother to uncircumcised pagans who knew no limits to their cruelty and immorality?
Perhaps Jacob suffered most. He had lost his favourite wife and now he had lost his favourite son. Could anything worse happen to him? Was his mourning self-pity? The brothers may have stifled their feelings but they never really forgot what they had done, nor the cries for help that were their last memories of the brother they had sold.
Joseph stood in the market place and appears to have been fairly quickly bought by a high-ranking army officer. In the home of an aristocrat Joseph was surrounded by luxury. He must have quickly learned the Egyptian language and customs. Potiphar judged his man well and Joseph was soon in charge of his household.
The young Hebrew was promoted to a very important position in which he evidently had other slaves under him and was given a free hand to run the soldier's home. His honest, upright manner was trusted which meant that his owner could give full attention to Pharaoh's service. Sadly, he had not chosen the best wife to help him. She did not want a trustworthy servant; she just wanted this intelligent handsome young man. Joseph kept clear of her when he could so that he was not tainted with her immorality. But the wicked woman manipulated events that landed Joseph in prison. He had been totally faithful to God but once more he was in trouble. How much did he realise that this was one further step to the realisation of his dreams.
Unjustly put in the prison, Joseph remained true to the faith of his fathers ‑ true to the Eternal God of Heaven. Once again his good character and intelligence were recognised and he entered the service of the governor of the prison and enjoyed the freedom and authority of a responsible job. His high integrity meant that the 'blot' on his record was soon forgotten. He was devoted to the obedience of God's Word and he experienced the trial of his faith (Psalm 105.19).
Although he had prominence and responsibility within the prison it is clear this son of freedom found the confines of the cells very harsh. The strange customs of a foreign pagan land would not be pleasant to one who loved the God of Israel. But his faith in the God of the dreams kept him steadfast and helped him to retain sanity as he plodded through the miles of prison corridors as he had plodded the many miles to Egypt years before.
We who live in the freedom of Christian civilisation, however weak the morality has become, can hardly appreciate the intolerable conditions endured by Joseph. It is a lesson for us. If we bear long years of frustrating disappointment and nothing in our life bears the fruit we expected we must remember Joseph who never lost faith. We set out with high ambition to do great things for God but somehow our plans and hopes do not come to fruition. There are times when it is hard to understand what God is doing with us. But He knows the end from the beginning. He sees the various people that will serve His purpose in shaping the clay and producing the 'vessel of honour'.
The misdemeanours of butlers and bakers and their ultimate fate are all known to our Father. The God of dreams used them as yet a further step to the throne. So it was that Joseph was called into the presence of the greatest king of his day who readily saw Joseph's value to the Egyptian empire at a very critical time. Now Joseph was in a position to receive his brothers in the situation once revealed to him in a dream.
So Jacob's sons arrived in Egypt and were soon ushered into the presence of the governor of Pharaoh's household with all his authority and power. His challenge to his brothers was soon perceived as punishment for their crime against Joseph and they discussed it among themselves little knowing that their long lost brother was listening to every word they said. Simeon was kept in prison, money was returned and promise given that Benjamin would return with them. Jacob suffered again as his youngest son went with his brothers on the second visit to Egypt. This time there was feast, with Benjamin receiving better treatment than the rest; and they all sat in age rank order at table. Finally, there was the 'loss' of the gold cup and the pleading for Benjamin's life against the life of Judah.
Joseph could contain his human feelings no longer. He was a man of God ‑ a man of compassion. He made himself known to his brothers and told them clearly that God had sent him ahead of them to save life. Even after the death of Jacob, Joseph had to reassure his brothers that while they had intended evil towards him "God had intended it for good". It helps us to understand a little more about why God permits evil and a little more about 'predestination'. God has His creation under His control and some day we shall be able to look back with Joseph and say 'God intended it all for good'. There will not have been a tear drop shed nor a drop of blood spilt, but that God knew that it would fit into His grand design ‑ His great jigsaw ‑ which will ultimately show that He is totally a God of love.