The following are a few thoughts on the passages The Cornerstone church is reading together for Jan 28th-Feb 3rd (Genesis 39-50) .
“Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that is may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:40
My wife, Melissa, and I were recently talking about Deuteronomy and Jeremiah’s promises that if we obey, it will go well with us.
(Deut 4:40, 5:16, 5:33, 6:3, 6:18, 12:25-28, 22:7, Jer 7:23, Jer 38:20, Jer 40:9) In our earlier years, we tended to place the emphasis on: Do the right thing, and God will reward you. Ironically, I was not prepared that “it will go will with you” (at least by practical worldly standards) could also be happening to those who didn’t put the same priority on obedience to God’s words. I could have used a little more teaching in the department of Matthew 5:45, “For (the Father) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
An interesting case study in this principle is that of Joseph. As a young man, Joseph, is sold into slavery by his brothers, rises in the ranks of his owners household until he becomes the steward of all he owns, but when he repulses the advances of his boss’s wife, he gets thrown in prison. It hardly seems like things are going well. And yet, “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen 39:21).
Now many will be quick to point of that God is still blessing Joseph! He does have the favor of the jailer after all! But, one has to wonder what Joseph was thinking, as he was sitting in confinement, knowing that on the outside his accuser was living in luxury? What gives? How is this fair, or to the use the language of the prophets, how is this just? Perhaps, he felt as Asaph did in the 73rd Psalm:
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek (fashionable).
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
– Psalm 73:3-6
But it is easy to forget the beginning of this Psalm:
No doubt about it! God is good—
good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
looking up to the people
– Psalm 73:1-2 (The Message)
And so, Joseph sat in that prison for at least two years (Gen 41:1), and waited on the goodness of God. I don’t know if he could see the goodness of God while he was stuck there, although I suspect he struggled with doubt and frustration like most of us would, but by the time his story comes to a close, he gets it. In chapter 45, we pick up on Joseph’s life, where he has now been elevated to the role of prime minister of Egypt. His brothers, who have come to Egypt to buy grain because of a terrible famine, are now at his mercy, but rather than taking his revenge, his says this:
“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…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Gen 45:4b-5,8).
Joseph sees through the struggles and pain of life and finds the goodness of God. This is the redemption we all need, both in our own lives, and the lives of those that have wronged us. Joseph’s sights were not set on that it will go well with us or if I may be so bold the American gospel of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rather, Joseph found comfort in God’s hand weaving a pattern of goodness into mess that he had lived through.
This is why the apostle Paul, a man who experienced a fair amount of shame and persecution in his own life, could say with assurance, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26,28).
May we all have the vision of Joseph, to see God’s goodness, in spite of our circumstances. Amen!