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Monday, May 26, 2014 | Comments (6)

by John MacArthur

Eleven grim faces stared anxiously at the floor. With eyes on the ground, all their attention was focused on the man at the front of the room. Huddled in tense silence, the eleven knelt before one of the most powerful rulers in the land, knowing he had the authority to execute them.

Dressed in royal garb fitting his office and flanked by guards and servants, the prime minister looked down on these herdsmen as they stooped before him. His long history with these men included vivid memories of pain and rejection.

In the past they had wronged him in unthinkable ways. Now the tables were turned. With a word, he could enact severe retribution on those who betrayed him.

Is that the action Joseph would take against his brothers? Their father Jacob was dead and buried. Now they bowed before their brother, fearful that he might finally seek revenge for their severe cruelty decades earlier.

Minutes felt like hours in the somber anticipation of Joseph’s decision. The brothers braced themselves for the worst. Reuben, the oldest, had long blamed himself for what had happened to Joseph. Judah, too, felt the sting of guilt; he was the one who initially suggested selling Joseph into slavery. But all the brothers—except Benjamin, the youngest—had been involved in that treacherous act. They were all guilty. Was this the day their crimes had finally caught up with them?

When the silence broke, it was not with a voice of angry threats or harsh punishment. Instead, it was the unexpected sound of weeping. Struggling to maintain his composure, Joseph collected himself long enough to release the compassion that was in his heart. The Genesis account records his words:

“Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19–21)

The Right Perspective

Unlike those who breed a seething hatred and desire for vengeance, Joseph treated his brothers with undeserved favor. But how are kindness and love cultivated in the heart of one so wickedly mistreated? The answer is found in Joseph’s theology—he had a clear understanding of God’s providence. In that moment, with his trials behind him and his brothers before him, Joseph articulated the perspective that summarized the story of his life: God is in control and we can trust Him for the outcome.

As New Testament believers looking back on Joseph’s example, we can see the principle of Romans 8:28 fleshed out in his life: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” As Joseph himself articulated, God intended the trials of his life for the good of his people. Joseph’s suffering was not a punishment for sin, but the means through which God would prepare Joseph for a specific role in His divine plan to save sinners.

God’s Divine Purposes

Joseph couldn’t see it at the time, but there was purpose in his suffering. Betrayed by his brothers, he had the joys of home and the security of his father’s love violently ripped away from him. Without warning, he had become a victim of human trafficking. Surely he wondered why God permitted this to happen. How did this fit with the dreams God had given him?

Joseph was taken down to Egypt, where he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a chief servant of Pharaoh. However, in the purposes of God and through Joseph’s faithfulness, he quickly rose to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s house. Joseph was so capable and trustworthy that his master gladly put all his possessions in Joseph’s care.

It was God’s providence that placed Joseph in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar served in Pharaoh’s court, which exposed Joseph to royalty and the noble customs of Egypt. Such knowledge would later prove essential. Joseph was also given a unique opportunity to develop his leadership qualities. As a boy he merely reported on his brothers’ activities, but now he was directly managing his master’s resources. That administrative experience would likewise prove invaluable for Joseph’s future. In addition to his exposure and experience, Joseph’s placement in Potiphar’s house ensured that, if he were ever found guilty of a crime, he would be sent to the same place where Pharaoh’s own prisoners were confined (cf. Genesis 39:20). That, too, was crucial to the divine plan.

A False Accusation

Potiphar’s wife began to take an illicit interest in her husband’s Hebrew slave. Scorned by his refusal as he fled from her advances, her sensual desires for Joseph immediately turned into vicious animosity as she grabbed onto his clothing. Her fury raged against Joseph, and she shouted to the other servants in the house. When they found her, she accused Joseph of attempted rape, holding up his garment as proof. For the second time in his life, he was stripped of his clothing. Years before, when his brothers grabbed his robe, he was thrown into a pit. This time, his garment in the hands of Potiphar’s wife would result in his being thrown into prison.

Joseph must have wondered how all these things could be happening to him when he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. In spite of what must have been great temptation to grumble, complain, and get angry, he continually responded by honoring the Lord and doing what was right. While he couldn’t have understood why, Joseph was content that sitting in that prison was exactly where God wanted him.

What About You?

As you look at your life—in both good times and bad—can you see how the Lord has prepared you for certain tasks and responsibilities—how He has used circumstances to accomplish His purposes in your life?

(Adapted from Twelve Unlikely Heroes.)


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#1  Posted by Tumi Makhalane  |  Saturday, May 24, 2014at 10:13 PM

Thank you Pastor John and GTY. Indeed God does use circumstances to make us more Christlike. I appreciate the fact that these OT Biographies aren't independent from God's plan of salvation. Its the same story; God preserving the Seed of Abraham for our redemption. All the suffering in our lives prepare us or move us to reflect Christ's truth everywhere(work, home, church, world etc), even when we are executed, it is serving to advance the truth of salvation and the building up of the church. May God help us and keep us. May also remember that trials are God's school, where He trains our arms in holding up the shield of faith. Thank you for this post.

#3  Posted by Matthew Wilson  |  Monday, May 26, 2014at 7:01 AM

Thank you, brother John, for serving as an instrument of God's grace. This was exactly what I needed this morning. Relatively jobless for the past four years yet being used to help a small Slavic church get on its feet in Northern California, I have often cried out to God, "Lord, what are you doing? Why is it so hard for me to find regular work? Why do you have me preaching and leading in a church full of families with whom I cannot even speak - I don' speak Russian? When will life get back to 'normal,' Lord?"

Yet despite my lack of understanding and personal comfort, every bill has been paid...every debt met. Regardless of my ignorance of the Russian language, my wife (who is Russian) and I are made more dependent upon one another in this work; we are drawn closer to one another. So, instead of complaining or questioning the wisdom and intentions of God's plan and purpose, we find ourselves more often...amazed and in awe.

I was not saved by grace through faith because God had a wonderful and prosperous life in mind for me. He does not promise that until we reach glory. However, He does promise to sanctify us, shape us, press us into the image of His precious Son, Jesus. That hurts, at times. That is uncomfortable, sometimes. Yet it serves God's good. It honors Him. Moreover, it places each of us in positions and situations in which God can demonstrate His grace toward others. That is a tremendous responsibility: one that is not always easy, but forever rewarding.

Thank you again, Dr. MacArthur, for the reminder. I can carry on awhile longer. Seems like a good time to go pray.

#4  Posted by Gary Lee Fennimore  |  Monday, May 26, 2014at 8:07 AM

Excellent article Pastor John MacArthur and GTY. I have often looked to Joseph's responses to my own life's circumstances when seeking wisdom to overcome in my mind and emotions an inexplicable trial. Often during those times of reflections I also include Job along with Joseph so as to understand these men's thinking and emotions. Also, in culminating my thoughts I look to my LORD and SAVIOR's examples, words and prayers to seek the ultimate answers and wisdom. Thank You for your faithful written and spoken material Pastor John.

#5  Posted by Steve Carlton  |  Monday, May 26, 2014at 8:28 AM

I have often wondered what my life would be like if in every circumstance, relationship or interaction I adopted a Romans 8:28 mindset at the beginning, instead of retrospectively at the end. If it is true that I reap what I sow, then if I sow a Romans 8:28 belief and attitude when the circumstance (good or bad) begins, will I not reap even more upgrades during the event as well as after it?

I know that seeing things the way Jesus does always produces a wonderful outcome. What if I had that lens all the time? How much more would I learn about the Kingdom, myself and others? How much deeper intimacy with Jesus would be produced, not by striving or "gutting things out", but naturally, almost effortlessly.

I have a lot to learn!

#6  Posted by William Johnson  |  Tuesday, May 27, 2014at 5:30 AM

Having passed through seeming an endless line of trials, it has not nearly been as difficult as some; and vastly different than those I read of in the Bible. Having said that, God used me to comfort through empathy someone going through difficult times themselves. Having an errant child was and is difficult. Especially now that the child has grown to adulthood and still acts as an adolescent would. That comfort God gave to me was passed on to another parent, whose adult child had just been arrested. Had not God allowed the sufferings in my own life, the lessons learned could never be passed on... Praise God, for His infinite wisdom is indeed beyond what we could comprehend. The lesson of Joseph is hard to grasp, yet the wisdom and compassion of Joseph is almost boundless. His escape of temptation lead to incarceration. Yet he chose that over sin against God. He never complained, and never stood on his rights... What he turned out to be is what we should all aspire to. Someone used of God, in all humility.

Praise God and Jesus His Son for this place of wisdom, and thank God for John for staying true to. His Word

#7  Posted by Rodmer Anduyan  |  Tuesday, May 27, 2014at 7:36 PM

Hi Pastor John - Thank you for the very encouragement blog that you have posted . God is always in control of everything Joseph is one of a true Man of God inspite of what happens to his life he is not able to complain as what the scriptures in genesis says he instead allow the Lord to manifest to his life even he did not understand what Gods plan is to his life - maybe i will call that "Faith" that's the way of God on how he protected his people .

----- "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory." Ephesians 1:11-12