Sunday, July 17, 2016

What you intended for evil...

This has been a tough year for violence—senseless violence.  Just when you think it can’t get any worse, evil finds a way to do more and more.  In this post-modern century, evil is still at work in the word.

Evil is still at work in the world.   Don’t you just wish that you could turn back the clock to another time?

This morning, we will turn back the clock about 4000 years and introduce a man named Jacob.  He was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham.  God would call him Israel.  Read chapters 32 and 35 when you get a chance.

He had many sons himself, from 2 wives and 2 maidservants.  One of these sons was named Joseph.  The Vacation Bible School that just took place centered on this man named Joseph, his dreams, and his journey from prison to palace.

Joseph and Benjamin were the youngest children, born to Rachel, but it was Joseph whom was given a richly ornate robe.   Today we have come to call it his coat of many colors. 

His brothers were jealous.  Imagine hearing, “Dad loves you more” from 10 older brothers.  Benjamin was younger.  Perhaps this jealously would have just played out in wrestling matches and double dog dares, but Joseph had dreams and he shared them.

Sheaves of his brothers bowing to his own sheave and even the sun, moon, and stars bowing to him upset his brothers and even his father.  What are you saying here kid?  You will rule over us?  Is that it?

It seemed that everyone was upset with Joseph, but note verse 37:11.  Jacob kept the matter in mind.  That is, he pondered these thoughts of his young son as more than just the crazy rebelliousness of a young man.

The story of Joseph really comes into full swing when his 10 older brothers are tending flocks and Israel sends him to check on them.  He heads out to Scheckem and finds they are not there.  After some discussion with a local, he believes them to be in Dothan and sets out to find them.

The brothers saw him coming.  Perhaps this is the first known use of the overused saying, “They saw you coming.”  It fits.

They saw him coming and started plotting.  Among the schemes was an option to kill their young brother.  Reuben intervened and convinced them to throw him in an empty well.  Don’t think that Joseph was just going along with whatever his brothers decided.  He did pleaded for his life.

During this time when Joseph was in the cistern, Reuben went somewhere.  We don’t know exactly what happened next.  Perhaps it was Reuben’s turn to watch the sheep, but what happened next transpired without the oldest brother present. 

A caravan of Ishmaelites was headed their way.  The brothers had decided not to kill Joseph.  Even if they hated him, he was still flesh and blood kin.  They decided to sell him to the traders and received 20 shekels of sliver for him.

When Reuben returned he was furious.  Well, not upset enough to go after his little brother.  The question remains unanswered whether or not he took his cut of the 20 shekels.  That’s a good topic for Monday night Bible study.

In any case Joseph was gone and they needed a cover story.  Upset or not, even Reuben would be complicit in this.  They took his ornate robe—no way that was included in the deal—and ripped it to pieces.  They slaughtered a goat and dipped it in its blood.

This is where you get to scratch your head and think, “And out of these men will come the tribes of God’s Chosen People.”

They are each 2 shekels richer by selling their brother.

Surely the flesh of the goat didn’t go to waste.  They had a goat roast party to celebrate their ill-gotten gains.

Finally, they bring the pieces of robe back to their father presenting it to him in feigned innocence saying, “does this look like your son’s coat?”  It’s pretty good as far as criminal thinking goes.  If you let dad draw his own conclusions, you don’t have to get 10 stories straight.

The story shifts back to Joseph.  He was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  I’m sure you are wondering the same thing that I am.  What was the price?  The wholesale cost was 20 shekels of silver; what was the retail price of the man who would ultimately save Egypt and God’s Chosen People?

We don’t get that answer but we do get this:  “And the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.”

Joseph, at whatever price Potiphar paid, was a bargain.  He was successful at everything he did and pretty soon he was running everything that his master could put in his charge.

I can imagine hearing the captain of the guard talking at the officers club.  “You wouldn’t believe the deal I got on this Hebrew kid.  He is smart, industrious, and it seems like everything I give him to do he finds a way to make it work.  I think I made the deal of a lifetime.”

The problem was that Joseph was what we might call a strapping young man and it seems that Potiphar’s wife was something of a cougar.  Yes, she wanted him.

In an encounter where she grabs his robe and he runs away not wanting any part of betraying his master, she is left with his robe and he is fleeing the scene.  The script gets flipped and Joseph is branded the aggressor.

Welcome to the Pharaoh’s prison where we are told that the Lord was with Joseph once again.  He became the warden’s favorite and even made a couple of friends. 

These were the Pharaoh’s former cupbearer and baker.  Each of which would present Joseph with dreams and Joseph would explain them.

The explanation was good for the cupbearer and not so good for the baker, but Joseph asked that when the cupbearer was restored to his position that he put in a good word for him.

Here we see that Joseph is faithful to trust in his Lord but not stoic.  He tells the cupbearer that he got a bum rap.  He was brought to Egypt not of his own free will and once here committed no crimes.

Of course that story goes around a few hundred time a day in prison, but Joseph saw an opportunity to get his case before Pharaoh and he was proactive.

The cupbearer was restored to his position and immediately pleaded for Joseph’s release.  No he didn’t.  He forgot to mention Joseph for a full 2 years.

He didn’t remember of his own accord but because the Pharaoh had dreams and nobody could help him to interpret them.  But the cupbearer remembered Joseph.

The Pharaoh’s dreams consisted of 7 fine looking head of cattle coming up out of the Nile followed by 7 of the scrawniest cows you could imagine.  To top it off, the scrawny cows ate the big healthy cows.

He had a second dream involving grain that portrayed the same message—a message that it took Joseph to reveal to the Pharaoh.  Egypt would be blessed with 7 years of abundance that would be followed by 7 years of famine.

Joseph didn’t stop there.  He prescribed what must be done.  In every part of Egypt, 1/5 of the harvest must be collected and stored for each of the 7 years.  That is 20% of each year’s harvest was to be held back by the government to weather the lean years to come.

Joseph then told Pharaoh that he must appoint a wise man to oversee this most important project.  Pharaoh knowing of no such man among his counselors and commanders and seeing God at work in Joseph, appointed Joseph.

At the Age of 30, this man who was discarded by his own brothers, sent to prison without cause, and seemed to be forgotten was now in charge of all of Egypt—all of it.  Only Pharaoh himself would not be answerable to Joseph.

He was given an Egyptian name:  Zaphenath-Paneah.  We don’t know what the name meant at the time; perhaps it was “Revealer of Secrets” or  “God Speaks.”  He was given a wife.  He was in charge and over all things in Egypt.  Joseph did what he had always done because the Lord was with him.  He executed the plan that would save many lives.

Now we return to Jacob and his sons.  Famine has come.  They are hungry.  Egypt has grain so he sends all but Benjamin to buy grain.  There are stories within stories that transpire next until Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers.

We jump ahead somewhat to God’s chosen people moving to Egypt, being given land in the hill country of Goshen, and beginning to grow into the nation of Israel in this foreign land.

Jacob—Israel lived 17 years in Egypt with all of his sons as this young nation began to emerge.  Then at the age of 147 years, he died.  He had given instructions to his sons that he was to be buried in Canaan in the place that Abraham had purchased long ago.

The Pharaoh granted Joseph leave to bury his father—how could he not.  Joseph had saved a nation, actually two nations.   So Joseph and his brothers buried their father.

Reality sunk in for the brothers.  Dad’s gone.  Our brother Joseph is the most powerful man in the world.  We did him wrong.  Now we are surely going to pay for what we did.

These brothers longed for forgiveness but know at best they can only be slaves.  Long ago they sold themselves into slavery.  These men are without hope.  They fall down at Joseph’s feet declaring themselves to be his slaves.
But Joseph said, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good, and the saving of many lives which is being accomplished now.”

Make no mistake, these brothers acted long ago with malice aforethought against their brother.  They plotted his death but settled for selling him into slavery.

This was hate in action.

They did evil.  They did wrong.  They did it to their own brother.

But Joseph reminded his brothers that he was not God and he did not sit in the judgment seat.  For all that Joseph had been through he was now in a position to save many lives and many lives were being saved.  Joseph’s heart and mind were set on reconciliation, not retaliation.

He told his brothers that he would not only care for them but for their children as well.  We see wisdom and mercy and a heart of reconciliation in Joseph, but we also see that there is evil in the world.

There is evil in the world but God has not orphaned us to deal with it on our own.  In Joseph’s darkest hours, we note that the Lord was with him and he prospered wherever he was.

There is evil at work in the world today.  We hear about it more frequently across more media platforms every year.  It is there.  It is not going away in this age and we should not be surprised.

What is surprising is how many Christians forget that God is with us.  The Lord is with us and will prosper us.

The Lord has given us gifts and talents and special abilities that we are to put to use and then we are to trust in the Lord that he will work things for good for those of us who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Today, let us take a lesson from Joseph.  He was not stoic.  He didn’t go through life saying, “It’s nothing.”  He knew that he had been wronged.  He didn’t like it but he trusted God.

He made the most of every circumstance that was thrust upon him and the Lord was with him and what he did prospered.

We have been here many times before.  We don’t focus on the world.  We are aware of what is going on in the world but we focus on what God has called us to do and trust him to direct our paths.

We work at everything we do as if we are working for God and not for others.

We go into this dark and sometimes evil world as salt and light and love.  People need to taste the goodness of God in us.  We need to be a light in the darkness.

But we must trust God even when our circumstances seemed to be turned inside out and upside down.  We need to trust God and put our gifts and talents to use even when everything seems to be going against us.

It only took a moment for Joseph to go from the depths of prison to commanding everything in Egypt and in a position to save many lives, including those of his own family.  In a single moment everything can change.

For Joseph, Egypt, and God’s Chosen people acts of evil and hate had been stripped of their own selfish intent and replaced with God’s purpose.

The Lord was with Joseph and the Lord is with us.  We will not become discouraged even when evil seems to prevail all around us for the Lord is with us.


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