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THEOLOGY > God > Providence > The Story of Joseph  


Perhaps no story in the Bible provides stronger testimony to Providence than the account of Joseph in the closing chapters of Genesis. Many diverse personal, domestic, psychological, and theological dynamics interact in this intriguing and instructive episode. To read the account is to be confronted with Sovereignty, uncompromising and unambiguous Sovereignty.

The story combines the horizontal perspective and the vertical perspective; that is, the sequence of events weaves together the performance of men and the determination of God to accomplish His purpose in and through their deeds. Men commit evil, but the evil serves God’s plan. From the earthly point of view the events of life are the actions of individuals, but from the heavenly point of view individual conduct is merely accomplishing the purpose of God. To consider one perspective to the exclusion of the other is to have an incomplete view of history, and to be without a valid perspective by which to interpret history.

It should be understood that this engaging narrative is really the narrative of every person—common to all people—this event of Joseph is the event of every man. On the one hand, we have the actions of men; and, on the other hand, we have the control of God utilizing the actions of men. The profound dynamics of the story of Joseph are the dynamics of the story of our lives.

Two phrases from Gen. 50:20 inform of this two-fold dynamic: “you meant evil against me” (horizontal) and “God meant it for good” (vertical). Reflection upon both of these statements is warranted.

Consider THE HORIZONTAL PERPSECTIVE: “you meant evil against me” (Gen. 50:20). Several factors coalesce in these few words. Here we have the reality of evil; also a deed of evil being done by someone against someone else; and we have an awareness of the evil by those involved, coupled with an understanding that the evil hurts someone else. Furthermore, insight into the origin of the evil is revealed by the word “meant”; the outward acts committed against Joseph flowed from an inner evil intent in the mind of the brothers. All of this is involved in the wickedness done to Joseph by his siblings.

From the horizontal perspective Joseph considers what has happened to him. On this level he is occupied with his brother’s jealousy of his position in the eyes of their father, their contemplated murder of him, their betrayal of him by selling him into slavery, and their deception of the father by leading him to believe that Joseph was dead.

Joseph is seemingly the innocent victim of these circumstances. Surely as he considered his situation there was, initially, a certain amount of self-pity for his plight. Why did it all happen? What did he do to deserve this? Why did God let these events transpire?

As with Joseph so with us, we often have a perspective that is focused on the immediate condition and the circumstances contributing to it. We look at others and say: “you meant evil against me.”

The story teaches that events are connected; one event leads to another. This is to attest that circumstances have consequences. Really no event is trivial. And the individual never knows the ultimate consequences of immediate actions done to him or done by him. To consider only the present is to have a limited perspective.

Consider THE VERTICAL PERSPECTIVE: “God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph did not dismiss the sinful actions of his brothers, but his words indicate that he viewed their deeds, their wicked deeds, from a higher perspective. In their acts God was acting; in their deeds God was determining; in their wills God’s Will was being done. They “meant” it for evil but God “meant” it for good. The brothers were following the passions of the moment, but God was at work in the passions accomplishing His unknown purpose.

From this vantage point of the vertical the individual looks at what God is doing, and there is a realization that the immediate or the earthly point of view does not provide an adequate foundation for understanding either national history or personal history. Looking at history alone is insufficient, for history without direction is aimless and meaningless; true significance is found in the Director of history. Only from the vertical perspective can the horizontal perspective be properly understood. Both men and God are at work in all things and Sovereignty triumphs.

Real insight is gained when it is grasped that in every event, both the trivial and the profound, there is the intersection of the horizontal and the vertical; at every moment and in every act God and man meet. Unless this interaction is recognized and allowed to be the very essence of history, especially personal history, then history is without purpose; it is devoid of meaning. But with this foundational principle, the believer understands that in the evil of the world there is good; in the evil deeds of men God is accomplishing His righteous will which ensures the victory of good.

Implied is the fact that there is a purpose to everything; no event, however seemingly inconsequential, is without meaning and significance. Each event is part of larger events, and all the events are components of an eternal plan. In the case of Joseph, their initial jealousy of their younger brother set in motion events that culminated in the saving of the family during severe famine, and ultimately the emergence of the nation in Egypt, fulfilling the word of God to Abraham concerning four hundred years of captivity followed by deliverance.

Accepting the vertical perspective enables the believer to go on living no matter what may come, for all that comes has been eternally planned and is sent from the Father who knows and cares. Events don’t disturb or cause anguish, at least not in an absolute sense. Humanly speaking at times there is fear and dread, but to the degree that one is embraced by Sovereignty to that degree there is peace of mind. I know that in the midst of the evil that I am experiencing good is being done.

Each person is a Joseph—wrong has been done to each one of us; and each person is a brother of Joseph—each of us has done wrong to another; and in both identifications the actions received and the actions committed are identical to those of the story—the actions are used by God to bring about His good. Whether it is recognized or not, and whether it is confessed or not, each individual is daily and unceasingly involved in the workings of Sovereignty.

Sovereignty is an umbrella belief; under it all horizontal deeds and all vertical reference are to be subsumed. With Sovereignty one has insight into the fact that God is at work in the horizontal events of earth in order to accomplish the vertical plan of heaven. Sovereignty establishes a purpose in history; without Sovereignty there is no meaning.

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trial, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation—the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands—the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth, and we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust (C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon on Matt. 20:15).

From the earthly perspective evil prevails,
but from the heavenly perspective good is accoplished.

“Acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace.”
Job. 22:21

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