I enjoy reading novels. Especially ones with a good ending. Don’t take that to mean I like mushy, Disney-like books. I’m more a John Grisham fan than a Mills and Boon devotee. I love a story that is full of tragedy, and yet ends on a high hopeful note. Because of that, I don’t think I would ever have considered it a good read if Genesis were a novel. In fact, I think the Bible would have been a lousy book if that was its only chapter.
Genesis begins in spectacular fashion – a mighty, powerful God creates a universe so beautiful there is nothing that compares to it. Then he makes man – Adam and Eve – and gives them the Garden of Eden to live in. It’s a beautiful story, it’s an awesome beginning. And it is ripe for tragedy. Within three chapters, paradise is lost and what seems like absolute chaos sets in. Adam and Eve rebel against their creator and they are cast out of the garden. The land turns against them and produces thorns instead of fruit.
Cain murders Abel. Lamech turns out to be a violently callous man filled with evil. Things get so bad God sends a flood to destroy everything and start over. But it doesn’t get any better. Noah is a hopeless drunk. His descendants build the tower of Babel. Abraham turns out to be a liar and a coward who is willing to sacrifice his wife to save his own life. Sarah herself is faithless and laughs in the face of God. The wickedness of the Sodom and Gomorrah is so bad God rains down fire to cleanse the world of its sin. Esau is a faithless man, Jacob is a liar and a thief. His sons are jealous murderers and sell their brother Joseph into slavery for a few coins. Then the entire family almost dies in from hunger.
And just when you think that finally, Israel would live happily ever after, both Jacob and Joseph die, leaving their descendants with the promise of hundreds of years of slavery and suffering in a foreign land. The end.
It makes for some very hard devotional reading, doesn’t it? It makes you want to scream “that is not the way to write a story Moses!”. But then, Genesis is not a fictional story. It is a history, a true account of life very similar to your own. There is a continuous cycle of peace and chaos, comfort and suffering, joy and pain. But to what end, you wonder? As would have the Israelite’s for whom Moses wrote Genesis – freshly out of slavery and roaming about in a desert – you cannot help but ask – has God lost the plot? Is your life just hurtling along in chaos and confusion? Or does God have a handle on things?
A key lesson in Genesis, and the core of today’s message is that God wants you to live in faith that He has a purpose for everything in your life.
Understand that God has a purpose in your life through the power of faith
If this were not true, then God would not be great and surely would not be worth the worship. For what sort of God would He be if He was helpless and hopeless over the circumstances of your life?
But, as we have already seen and are being reminded again today, He’s got the whole world in His hands. God does have a purpose in everything he does. The hard thing is that most times, you don’t know what that purpose is. Sometimes however, for our encouragement, He does reveal to you the reason for His actions, as we see in the lives of Jacob, and Joseph in particular
Our passage this morning spans from Genesis 49:29 – 50:26, beginning with Jacob’s death and ending with Joseph’s own passing. But right in the middle – like the nice, juicy meat in a burger – is the festering wound that Joseph’s brothers had inflicted on him decades earlier.
When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers felt, not just sorrow, but absolute terror. We read that
‘When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him”’ (Genesis 50:15, ESV)
It was over 40 years since they had sold him, but his brothers had never actually asked Joseph for forgiveness. They probably thought his words of reassurance back then were simply a smoke-screen hiding a plan for vengeance once Jacob their father died and so lived the shadow of fear.
But Joseph’s response to them is astounding and Christ-like. In verse 19 – 20 he says 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. (Genesis 50:19-20, ESV)
Joseph had every right to exact revenge against his brothers. What they had done to him was heinously wrong. A mere mortal would have demanded an eye for an eye. So how could Joseph be so forgiving and so kind?
The answer is lies right there in verse 20. Joseph had grown in faith. He understood that God had had a purpose in his life, and that through the wickedness of his brothers, God had planned things exactly the way they had turned out. By faith, Joseph saw what the naked eye cannot see, that it was God’s hand that had buried him in the pit and put him in chains in Potiphar’s jail, until the time was right for his own and his people’s salvation. Thus he said to them in verse 20 “…you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”.
Were it not for his suffering, then both his family and the whole land of Egypt would have starved to death. It is this same mindset, this same faith that we see even more clearly in Jesus as he died on the cross. For how else could he forgive as we, through our sins, spat on him – and yet we heard Him cry out in Luke 23:34 (ESV) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”.?
It is only because Jesus understood that God had a purpose to his suffering. Like Joseph, Jesus saw that by his suffering he was securing the salvation and forgiveness of we who He now calls his brothers and sisters.
Had he not seen by faith, the work that God was doing through him on the cross, he most certainly would have called upon 12 legions of angels to destroy his persecutors and free him from his suffering. But then, you would still be in your sins. You would still be a stranger, an enemy of God, a prisoner to Satan, a captive to guilt, and a cesspool of evil.
As it was with Joseph and Jesus, may it be with you – understand that God has a purpose for every event in your life. Perhaps you will never understand what the purpose was for every situation in your life. But, that’s not the point. The important thing is to understand that God has a purpose for your circumstances. And knowing that will lead to a joyful life, regardless of your situation.
Understanding that God’s has a purpose is the secret to life
There are things that happen that can simply suck out your life and leave you hollow and depressed inside. One book that I recommend you read is called Ordinary People, Extraordinary Faith by Joni Ericksen-Tada. It is choke-full of stories of ordinary people like you and me finding a joyful life even in the most horrific of circumstances. One such story is of a woman called Vicky who was shot and almost killed by a man attempting to rape her. She became almost completely paralyzed and filled up with anger and bitterness, so much that it was as if she died inside even though her body was still living.
It is only when she realized, by faith, that God had a purpose for every event in her life – even in the horror of attempted rape and murder – that she began to find peace, joy and even forgiveness for her attacker. She found life. You can see that in Joseph as well. Having been so ill-treated by his brothers, you would think that he would become the angriest, most vengeful person in the world, especially when he eventually became so powerful. His brothers feared he would take revenge against them now that Jacob their father was dead. But they did not know that Joseph had long resolved his suffering with his God. He was not trapped by bitterness. He was not drowning in anger. He was not festering with self-pity. He did not feel a victim.
Rather, he was full of joy and life. Because he believed God had had an incredible purpose for his suffering, he was able to truly forgive. In verse 21, he said to his petrified, trembling brothers
‘“… do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’ So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. (Genesis 50:21-22 ESV)
Joseph, despite his hardships lived a full life overflowing of mercy and kindness toward the very brothers who had caused that pain. Moses, in writing Genesis, knew that the Israelites, even though they were now free from Egypt, had a lot of suffering ahead of them. Therefore, they needed to learn from Joseph how to have joyful life in the midst of deadening sorrow. It would be through believing that God had a purpose for every event in their journey. This is how Paul in Philippians 4:4 (ESV) can say to you
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”
He certainly did not think that life was easy. A little later in verse 12 of the same he says
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”.
He himself had suffered, but he learned the secret to facing it all. Understanding that God has a purpose is secret the to a life that radiates joy, grace and peace. And, It is also the foundation upon which your hope is built.
Understanding that God has a purpose is the foundation to hope
I find personally that there is nothing so draining as a person who has no hope in life, someone for whom the cup is always half-empty. And guess what, I am all too often exactly such a person. Joseph however, like Jacob, had an abundance of hope.
Death is for many people, the end of life. But for both Jacob and Joseph, it is quite clear that they did not see it as such. As they drew near to their deaths, they both gave clear instructions that they would not be left in Egypt, but be returned to the land of God’s promise for burial, saying, in Jacob’s case in Genesis 49:29 (ESV)
“I am to be gathered to my people, bury me with my fathers…”
And Joseph saying to his brothers and descendants, in Genesis 50:25 (ESV)
“God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here”.
Jacob’s command was carried out immediately, and Joseph’s took a few hundred years, but still it was done. Even in death, they had hope in the promise that God had given Abraham in Genesis 15:13- 14 that while they would be foreigners in Egypt for 400 years, God would one day return them to their homeland.
For Moses, it was crucial that the Israelites have a solid hope that the promises of God were true and would be fulfilled. Hope can very easily be lost when we encounter suffering, and indeed, even comfort. They had to keep their eyes fixed firmly on the promises which God had given to their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if they were to receive them and enter the land of blessing.
So, it must be with you. Without hope, there is no way you will reach the land that God has promised you, the home that Christ has gone ahead to prepare for you. Without hope, this life becomes all there is, and you will either drown in the murky waters of momentary suffering, or you will be trapped by the fleeting pleasures of its temporary comforts. Just as Jacob and Joseph knew that their lives did not end in death, but in the fulfilment of God’s promises, so must you understand that Genesis does not end here in chapter 50 but in Revelation 22. For that is when you will have reached the finish line.
Understanding that God has a purpose for your life, and that purpose is to get you into heaven to be bound to Him forever with Christ is the solid foundation upon which your hope will be built. Both Jacob and Joseph are part of that cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 that urges you on in Hebrews 12:1-2 saying:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
By faith, believe that ultimately, God’s purpose is to seat you at the right-hand side of his throne, together with Christ filled by His Spirit.
Understanding that is the secret to life and the foundation upon which your hope will be built. Amen.