God’s Purpose for Good

Jacob with his sons before the Pharaoh, ceiling fresco by Johann Adam Remele in Joseph Hall, Cistercian Abbey of Bronbach in Reicholzheim near Wertheim, Germany

“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.'” Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

I have written recently about the verse, Genesis 50:20 (things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good). (See God in the Dark) The message that God can turn the evil that impacts our lives for good is  powerful one. Though we might despair in our circumstances, especially when the evil we experience is caused by people, maybe even people we love, God is ever at work. God is able to redeem our circumstances, and, more importantly, redeem us.

As with any verse in the Bible, though we need to read it in context to understand the fullest, and most complete meaning. Genesis 50:20 was spoken by Joseph in a very specific context, so let’s take a look at that context and mine this well-known verse for some deeper meaning.

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The Unsettling Nature of Man, and God

2010-06-15 20.12.35I have been reading through Genesis the last couple of weeks. In reading the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Isaac’s twelve sons, who would become the twelve tribes of Israel, I have been impressed, negatively impressed, with them as people. I must not have really noticed before their blemishes.

Abraham, the father of faith, lied about his relationship to Sarah, not once but twice. When Abraham visited Egypt, and the Pharaoh’s princes were struck by Sarah’s beauty, Abraham instructed Sarah to say she was his sister so they would not kill him. When Pharaoh found out, he was appalled and let her go. Years later, when Abraham was living in the land of the Philistines, Abraham openly declared Sarah was his sister. After King Abimelech discovered the truth, he was equally taken aback.  Why did he lie about it? It hardly seems like a noble thing to do. I would call it cowardly.

After Abraham was told by God that he would bear a son and his descendants would become like the stars in the sky, a number of years went by. Sarah then offered her servant to Abraham, and the servant, Hagar, gave birth to a son, Ishmael. Such an act violating the marital covenant does not sit well with a twenty first century reader. It was also not God’s plan. God’s plan was to give Abraham a son through his wife, Sarah.

Isaac, of course, was the son God promised. He, too, seemed less than sterling as a man of God. He followed his father’s footsteps in deceiving the same King Abimelech that Rebekah was his sister, when she was his wife. Like father like son.

Isaac had twin sons, and he favored the oldest, Esau. God blessed the younger son, Jacob. How could Isaac have gotten it wrong?

As for Jacob, he deceived his father for the blessing that his father thought he was giving to Esau, and he did it with his mother’s help. In his old age, Jacob had become blind. Rebekah put Jacob up to pretending to be Esau to receive his father’s blessing. Deception seems to run in the family.

All of this has been unusually unsettling for me for some reason. I have stewed on it for days. Today it struck me that anyone looking at my life would be equally unsettled (or more I dare say). I am no example to follow. I have made many mistakes in my life, too numerous to count. I have done many things of which I am not proud, and my thoughts are another matter altogether. Why should I expect anything other than humanity from these men of old? The amazing thing is that God chose them!

Clearly, it was not their spotless virtue that is the testament of their lives. It was their faith. They heard God. They responded to God. They honored God with sacrifices and pillars and altars where they went. They believed God when He spoke. They lived their lives in deference to God. They relied on God. Their faith was counted to them as righteousness.

My take away is that these men were in right relation to God. I take comfort in that, even if I am bit unsettled by their weakness and humanity, as well as my own.  I am in good company, but more importantly, I am reminded of the importance of living a life with an attitude toward God.