March 3, 2016 • Life for Leaders
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we focused on the opening verses of Genesis 45, in which Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers. While Joseph wept loudly, his brothers stood silently, “so dismayed were they at his presence” (45:3). No doubt they feared that, given how they had treated Joseph years ago, they were in big trouble now.
God’s ways are both mysterious and marvelous: mysterious, in that they are beyond our understanding, marvelous because they fill us with wonder and gratitude.
But Joseph invited his brothers to come near to him, suggesting that he was not a danger to them. He explained once again that he was their brother, Joseph, “whom you sold into Egypt” (45:4). Of course, this was exactly what caused his brothers to feel so much dismay. Yet Joseph continued, “And now, do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). Joseph went on to explain that God had sent him to Egypt in order to preserve his family during the seven years of famine. “So,” he concluded, “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:8).
In this short speech to his brothers, Joseph bore witness to God’s mysterious ways. There is no denying the fact that his brothers sold him into Egypt. Yet, as Joseph reflected on what had happened to him, he saw a deeper reality. His brothers sold him into Egypt, but God sent him there. God’s hand was at work even in the vile act of brothers selling one of their own into slavery.
Joseph did not get into the theological nuances of this insight. He didn’t address questions we might raise, like: Did God actually want Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery? Did God send the Midianite traders along at just the right moment so that Joseph would be delivered from death but sold as a slave? (Gen 37:14-28). Or did God simply use the evil actions of the brothers for good?
Genesis doesn’t answer these questions for us. What it does reveal, however, is that God’s ways are both mysterious and marvelous: mysterious, in that they are beyond our understanding, marvelous because they fill us with wonder and gratitude.
As I reflect on Genesis 45, I’m reminded of a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9). As Paul writes in Romans 11:33, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you suppose that Joseph came to understand his life as he did? What enabled him to say that God had sent him to Egypt?
Are there things in your life that are rather like what Joseph describes here? Can you think of experiences in your life that were painful in the moment, but which God ultimately used for his purposes?
What helps you to trust that God is at work in your life, even in the midst of difficult times?
Gracious God, thank you for Joseph’s testimony to your mysterious, marvelous ways. He reminds us that you are at work in our lives, even through events that are painful or done with evil intent. You can redeem all things, using all things for your purposes. We will never fully understand your ways, Lord. Yet we marvel at your works, so grateful for your guiding hand in our lives.
Help me, Lord, to trust you more when things are difficult. Help me to thank you more for all of the ways you have been graciously at work in my life. Amen.
Image Credit: “Joseph Recognized by His Brothers” by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois. Public Domain, WikiMedia Commons.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.