Saving through Suffering

Genesis 37-50 give us the account in Jacob’s life that reveals the relationships of Jacob and his children.

Jacob had 12 sons and 1 daughter. 12 BOYS! Imagine. He had these boys from two wives and two concubines. Double trouble.

Ecclesiasticus is a piece of Jewish wisdom literature, written about 200 B.C. In chapter 16:1-3 it says (and I quote): “Do not desire a multitude of useless children, nor rejoice in ungodly sons. If they multiply, do not rejoice in them, unless the fear of the Lord is in them. Do not trust in their survival, and do not rely on their multitude; for one is better than a thousand, and to die childless is better than to have ungodly children.”

One of the greatest gifts you can impart to your children is this: the fear of the Lord.

At least 10 of Jacob’s boys learned the fear of the Lord in an interesting turn of events. Their dad had a favorite son, and he didn’t hide it in the least. Joseph, the oldest son of Rachel, his favorite wife was also his favorite son. His love and favoritism of Joseph made Joseph’s 10 older brothers jealous. Joseph told on his brothers when they misbehaved. Jacob gave Joseph a special coat, probably indicating Jacob’s intentions to make Joseph leader of the family line. That didn’t go over well with the brothers. Then Joseph has two dreams that he told to his already jealous brothers. These dreams clearly indicated that Joseph would rule over them. The Bible says that Joseph’s brothers hated him all the more, and could not say anything good about him.

Joseph was 17 when it happened. His brothers had taken the flocks to Shechem, and Jacob wanted to know how they were. Jacob trusted Joseph to bring back an honest report, didn’t he? Joseph was an obedient, honest son. But was he really a young man of character, or was he just a spoiled favorite child? What happens next proves beyond a doubt that Joseph had a godly character rarely seen anywhere. Did Jacob see this early on? We can only guess.

You know the story. When Joseph came within sight of his brothers, they planned to kill him. Ruben, the oldest, stopped them. He planned to bring Joseph back to Jacob, but when Ruben was away, a caravan of tradesmen passed by and Judah made the suggestion to sell Joseph to them. The rest of the brothers agreed, sold Joseph and took his coat and tore it, dipped it in blood and brought it back to Jacob to trick him into believing Joseph as killed by a wild animal.

What do you make of these brothers? We can see clearly their character flaws. But what about Joseph’s character?

In the next three chapters compare the character of Judah and the character of Joseph. Judah’s sordid story is in chapter 38 where Judah proclaims his Canaanite daughter-in-law more righteous than he. I will spare you the details. Then, Joseph’s early character study is in chapters 39-40. Joseph proves himself honest, loyal, godly, and industrious. The recurring statement follows Joseph’s life: “The Lord was with him.”

Joseph’s character and giftedness finally reach the ears of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s butler and baker were imprisoned with Joseph and had dreams that Joseph interpreted for them. Joseph’s interpretation came about exactly as he had spoken: the butler returned to his post and the baker was hanged. Two years later Pharaoh has two dreams that trouble him, but none of his wise men or counselors can interpret it. The butler tells Pharaoh about Joseph and Joseph is summoned.

Joseph not only interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, but offers counsel on how to prepare for the coming famine they foretold. Pharaoh and his court are so impressed Joseph is given authority over all Egypt to carry out the plans he offered to Pharaoh, and Joseph performs on it with great success.

Now the plot thickens. It has been 20 years since Joseph was sold as a slave. Jacob and all his brothers now assume he is dead. The famine of Pharaoh’s dream has hit, Egypt has prepared by storing up vast amounts of grain. Canaan, where Jospeh’s family lives is being hit hard by the famine. Jacob hears that there is food in Egypt and sends Joseph’s 10 older brothers there to get food.

Guess who’s in charge of selling the stored grain… Joseph.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. The brothers come to Joseph, but don’t recognize him. They bow to the ground before him, and Joseph recognizes them. Joseph remembers his dreams. What will Joseph do? This was a hugely emotional experience in Joseph’s story.

First, he tests them to see if they have changed. He sets it up so that Benjamin, Jacob’s other favorite and Joseph’s younger full brother, has to come back if they want any more food. He keeps Simeon hostage, for good measure.

Through this, Joseph’s brothers get a good dose of the fear of God. If you didn’t read this, go back and read Genesis 42-45. It’s some of the best narrative in Genesis.

It concludes with Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and bringing his entire family to Egypt to save them from the famine. Jacob and Joseph are united. Joseph forgives his brothers and says to his 10 older brothers who had hated him, called him names, wanted to kill him, and had sold him into slavery: “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, in order to bring about the saving of many people. Don’t be afraid, I will provide for you and your little ones.”

So what’s the application? What’s the SAVING message from this?

First of all, SAVING is God’s intention. God works for our SAVING, and He uses even our weaknesses in the process. Aren’t you thankful for that? God uses even our enemies to accomplish His Saving plans.

Who in this story were the instruments that God used? Who were the obstacles? God can take the actions of those who would be obstacles and use them too, right? Think of Judas Iscariot. Was he an instrument or an obstacle? What was his intention?

God works out His SAVING MISSION, with our without our intentional efforts to serve Him.
But there are consequences for our intentions and ungodly actions. Joseph’s brothers were being terrible! Jacob’s favoritism was wrong, but their response to it was inexcusable! Their hatred for Joseph and their murderous response to his dreams revealed their weak character and ungodliness. But they could not thwart God’s purposes. Just as the hands that crucified Jesus were only intending His death, these brothers only intended Joseph’s demise. But God… God works in ways we can not see or comprehend. God works all things together for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purposes.

2. God’s SAVING MISSION involves building the fear of the Lord in our hearts. Joseph’s 10 brothers learned to fear God as they acknowledged God’s punishment for their sin against Joseph. Listen to them in Genesis 42:18-23, 28, 35. Joseph confess his fear of God, then they begin to acknowledge theirs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is also a crucial part of the SAVING work of God in our lives. The fear of the Lord turns us away from evil, Prov. 16:6. Joseph’s brothers finally came to their knees before God and God used Joseph to get them there.

3. God’s SAVING MISSION involves suffering well. This is what Joseph did. Though he was loved by his father, he suffered being hated by his brothers, sold as a slave, framed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. Joseph’s path to ruler was one of suffering. But notice that through it all God was with him and Joseph suffered well. He, like Job, stood firm in his faith. Joseph resisted hating his brothers; he resisted self-pity and blame. He leaned on the Lord and confessed his faith in God all along the way. To Potiphar’s wife, Joseph said, “How can I do such a thing and sin against God!” To the Butler and Baker, Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Even to Pharaoh, when asked to interpret his dreams, Joseph said, “I can not do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Then Joseph declared that God had shown Pharaoh what He was about to do. Perhaps his best words were to his brothers, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.”

Which gives us our final application: God’s SAVING MISSION is performed by those that confess Him and His will and word to others.  Joseph had a confessing faith in God.  He shared this with whomever he spoke.  God used this confessing faithful servant to save many lives.  What happens when a church becomes known by members who confess their faith, not just among ourselves but to all with whom we speak?  God’s SAVING MISSION is done by saved servants who confess God’s deeds and power to those around them.  Not everyone will applaud or appreciate it, and it will bring suffering to the confessor at times, but is it worth it?  Is saving the soul of someone worth the risk?  Jesus thought so.  He not only declared God’s word and will, He suffered for it terribly.  He also saved us by doing so and commanded us to follow His example.

Jesus was not crucified for what He did.  They killed Him for what He said.  It was His words.  Words that save, and words that bring suffering to the speaker.  This is a principle of the truth of the gospel.  Don’t resist it.  Don’t suppress it. Believe and confess the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saving through Suffering