Our theme this year is Hope Starts Here as we go to the scriptures to find hope in hard times. All of us need some hope especially after a year like 2020 and this year seems to just be 2020 part 2. We have talked about how to have hope after failure, when tempted, when crushed by trials, when hopeless, and when feeling alone, and when anxious. In our lesson today are going to talk about how to have hope when life does not go according to plan. I think all of us when we are younger have a general vision of what we expect our future life to look like. We think we will do certain things, see certain things, go and certain places. We have an idea about our careers and our families. But it is not unusual for life to not go according to plan. So how we can have hope when life blows up? What does God want us to know when things do not match what we thought life would be? How can we push forward when life does not go according to plan? There are many people in the scriptures we can consider whose lives did not go according to their plans. But the person I would like for us to focus our attention on today is Joseph and his life is recorded in Genesis 37-50. Now I want to state upfront that doing a single lesson on Joseph does a great disservice to all that God teaches us through his life. In fact, I did a nine part lesson series on Joseph many years ago because we can learn so much about God and about life through what Joseph experiences. But we do not have time for that in this lesson. So what I want to do is sketch a portrait of his life and observe how Joseph was able to continue forward with God when life did not go according to plan. So let’s take a quick tour of the traumatic life of Joseph.
Life Begins To Unravel (Genesis 37-38)
Joseph’s life begins to unravel when he was only 17 years old. He was the favorite son of his father, Jacob, but his brothers hated him. The hatred is brought to an apex when Joseph starts having dreams that picture his brothers and his father bowing down before him. Even his father rebuked him for these dreams that suggested that they would bow down to him (37:10). One day when the brothers were caring for the flocks, Joseph is sent by his father to see how they are doing. But when the brothers saw him coming, they conspired to kill him. But Reuben rejects this idea and tells the brothers to just throw him into this pit when he comes, figuring he would come get him out of the pit later (37:21-22). While in the pit, Judah comes up with the idea to sell him to Midianite traders that were passing by and they took Joseph to Egypt. The brothers put blood on Joseph’s robe and bring it back to their father, Jacob. Jacob then believes that a fierce animal has torn Joseph to pieces. Chapter 38 is an important piece to the life of Joseph that cannot be skipped. Chapter 38 reveals what a terrible person Joseph’s brother, Judah, truly is. Remember that it was his idea to sell Joseph because killing Joseph has no financial gain. Judah sleeps with prostitutes in chapter 38 but this information is preparing us for his redemption later in the book.
From Bad To Worse (Genesis 39)
Have you experienced life where things just go from bad to worse? We have a saying that we have gone from the frying pan and into the fryer. This is what happens to Joseph. It is bad enough that his brothers have sold him into slavery. Just imagine your siblings hating you that much. When Joseph was brought to Egypt he is put into service in the household of Potiphar, who was an officer for Pharaoh and captain of the guard. You would think that God must really hate Joseph for him to be going through all that he is going through at this point. But please look at the words of Genesis 39:2. “The Lord was with Joseph.” It does not look like it, does it? It does not look like it to Joseph or to anyone who would know what happened to him. But the Lord was with Joseph and caused him to be successful in Potiphar’s house.
But Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph because Joseph is a handsome man. She tries seducing him and tell him to come sleep with her. Day after day, however Joseph refuses to do this (39:10). One day she caught him by his garment and told him to sleep with her. He leaves his garment in her hands and runs out of the house. Rather than taking this rejection well, she calls to the men of her house that he tried to rape her and he ran away when I screamed (39:14-15). When Potiphar hears this story, he has Joseph thrown into prisoner where the king’s prisoners were kept. Life has just gone from really bad to so much worse. But look at the words of Genesis 39:21. “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”
When The Rug Gets Pulled Out From Under You (Genesis 40)
You would think things could not get any worse for Joseph. He is now stuck in an Egyptian prison. Pharaoh gets angry with two of his officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and puts them into the same prison as Joseph (40:2-3). One night while in the prison they both have dreams which no one can interpret. Joseph says that God can interpret dreams and to tell him the dreams (40:8). The chief cupbearer’s dream indicated that in three days Pharaoh was going to bring him back to his position before Pharaoh. Joseph begs the cupbearer to remember him when he returns to Pharaoh in three days. The chief baker wants to also know the meaning of his dream. His interpretation was not so good. His dream was that in three days Pharaoh was going to lift him up on a tree and hang him. In three days both interpretations came true. The baker was hung and the cupbearer was returned before Pharaoh. Now if you are Joseph you would think that now you will have your way out. Any day now they are going to come get you when the chief cupbearer tells Pharaoh about you. But look at verse 23. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” He did not forget him for a day, or a week, or a month. Look at Genesis 41:1. Two whole years pass by. Think about how this happens in life. You are going through difficulties and darkness. But then you have a glimmer of hope in your dark circumstance, only to have that glimmer of hope completely dashed. This is what has happened to Joseph. What little hope he had has now vanished as days turn to weeks, and weeks turn to months, and months turn to years in this Egyptian prison.
Out of the Pit (Genesis 41-45)
Pharaoh begins to have dreams that no one is able to interpret. The chief cupbearer suddenly remembers Joseph who is able to interpret dreams accurately. So they clean up Joseph and place him before Pharaoh to listen and interpret his dream. Joseph immediately declares that he is not able to interpret dreams, but God (41:16). Pharaoh’s dream is interpreted as a time of seven years of plenty is coming before seven years of famine. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge, second in command over Egypt, and to make preparations for the coming famine by storing up for these seven years.
Now it is important to see where Joseph is at in his life. He is 30 years old now (41:46). He marries an Egyptian woman who was the daughter of the priest of On. They have two children. The name of the first child is Manasseh. Notice why Joseph names him this in verse 51. “For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The second child is named Ephraim because “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (41:52). The point is to say, “Forget my family and forget my past. God has made me fruitful here and I forget all of what my family did to me.”
The famine causes Joseph’s brothers to come from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain. When Joseph sees them, he recognizes them but they do not recognize him. The first thing Joseph does is call them spies and throws them in prison for three days (42:16-17). Do you think we have a little bit of payback happening here? After three days he tells them to go back and to bring their youngest brother next time so he can know that they are telling the truth about who they are and not spies. Not only this, one of the brothers is going to have to stay behind in prison until they return. Reuben then tells the brothers that this is happening because they did not listen to him when he told them not to hurt Joseph over 13 years ago. Joseph hears this and did not know this. He goes off and cries and then comes back and imprisons Simeon, the second oldest, not Reuben, the oldest, who had tried to rescue him. The other brothers return to Canaan. But the famine continues to last and they must return for more food. But they can only come back if they bring Benjamin, the youngest. So they come back. Simeon is released on their arrival and Joseph sends them back with more grain and a plan. Joseph has his silver cup put in Benjamin’s sack, thinking the brothers will betray him just like they did Joseph. But they don’t. They all come back and plead for the life of Benjamin. They tell Joseph that you cannot kill him because their father had two sons from one mother. The father believes the first was torn to pieces and he could not live to lose this one, his other son. Amazingly, it is Judah, the scoundrel brother, who offers his life for Benjamin’s. With all of this, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and instructs the whole family to move to Egypt where they can be provided for during this severe famine.
Hope Starts Here
All of this is set up to the big point Joseph comes to understand at the end of all of these traumatic experiences. It is clear that through all these difficulties, Joseph did not understand this yet. He names his children in a way to shows he has forgotten he family. He immediately imprisons his brothers when they come to him. He keeps Simeon in prison for what may be a year or more. He tries to get his brothers to forsake Benjamin so that he will live with him in Egypt away from his scoundrel other brothers. No, it is not till the end that he has a light bulb about life when it does not go according to plan. The brothers are fearful for their lives after what they did to Joseph. When their father, Jacob, dies, they are all the more afraid that punishment and retribution for what they did is coming on them. But what Joseph says shows us how to have hope.
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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19–21 ESV)
Our first truth that Joseph declares is this. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph is not going to make them pay or punish them because that is not his job. It is not my place to punish and pass that judgment on you. Friends, people can absolutely wreck our lives. What others do can have a direct and dramatic impact on us, forever changing our life course. We can want to make the other person pay for what they have done. We want to see them get what they deserve. But no matter how badly we have been hurt or how badly we have been wronged, we are not in the place of God. Executing judgment is reserved for God and not for me. If there is a judgment that needs to be given, then God is the one who will handle it, not me. Now remember that Joseph is the second most powerful person in Egypt. He can do anything to these brothers at this moment. But he understands that he has no right to use his power for punishment, anger, or vengeance. Think about Romans 12:17. “Repay no one evil for evil.” There is no exception to this. There is no loophole that allows us to retaliate if the evil is really bad. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, not us. This is how Joseph can comfort his brothers and speak kindly to them (50:21).
But here is hope and our second important truth. Listen again to what Joseph said. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Just let the power of these words sink into your hearts. What is God telling us? God is telling us that just because your life not going to plan does not mean that it is not going according to God’s plan. What others mean for evil God can mean for good. Listen to how he said this earlier to his brothers.
So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And 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. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:4–8 ESV)
Did you hear what Joseph said? It was not you who sent me here, but God. Notice he is not ignoring the culpability of his brothers. He says that you sold me into Egypt (45:4-5). But he understands that God sent him here for a purpose. How do we know that God can take evil and use it for good in our lives? Just look to the cross of Jesus. The Roman leaders and Jewish leaders meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Judas meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Did it look like it at the moment? No, not at all. But in the end we can see that God worked all things together for his purpose (cf. Romans 8:28).
Please hear this. When life begins to unravel, and things go from bad to worse, and the rug gets pulled out from under us so that we lose all hope, God still has you in this moment and is still accomplishing his plan and purposes in the world and in your life. Life may not go according to our plans but it will go according to God’s plan. God is still with you. God is working his plans. May we have the faith to believe it.