I wonder how you felt when you first saw those startling images of that explosion in the port at Beirut, a week last Tuesday? I wonder what questions came to mind when it began to emerge that over 200 people had sadly lost their lives, thousands more had been injured and hundreds of thousands had been left homeless all because, seemingly, of the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate? What’s the first question, the obvious question that comes to mind? It’s “why?” isn’t it? “Why did this happen?”
Or what about those horrific images of the moments before George Floyd died, those images that were beamed all across the world? What makes one man lack such compassion for another that he is prepared to see him die? What is the point? What’s the meaning of that? Or what about this last 9 months on this planet. Every single one of us, seemingly held hostage by a random virus, able to strike arbitrarily and cause so much sadness, so much isolation and so much disruption. What’s the point? Why? Is there any meaning to any of it?
For most of us, such questions are asked from afar (froma distance), but that doesn’t mean we’re short of our own personal examples of “why?” questions does it?
• Why that diagnosis, that loss, that uninvited suffering
• Why that unsettling change, that redundancy, that return of anxious thoughts and sleepless nights
• Why that conflict, that unpredictable, unrelatable work colleague who makes life just so difficult
• Why those issues in my family – that disability, those unruly children, that abusive situation…
• Why do I struggle with my own issues of greed and temptation
• Why do I struggle with alcohol, with pride, with jealousy, with lust…
With all the random chaos and evil out there and all the mess that we know in here and around us, none of us are short of opportunities are we, to cry out “Why Lord? Why?– Why is this happening? What’s the purpose? What’s the point? Is your creation just spinning out of control here ?” Well thankfully, God’s word has answers.
And this morning we’re beginning a new series which is going to look at some of the answers to those why questions. It’s a series all about the Amazing Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by that? What do we mean by the sovereignty of God? We mean that God is working out his total power and authority, despite evil, in fact through evil, through seemingly random chance, through every single thing that happens – its all in accordance with God’s perfect wisdom, his perfect justice, his perfect mercy so that his promises might be fulfilled and his purposes achieved. That’s what we mean by the sovereignty of God. So, let’s ask God now in prayer for his help to see that this morning. Let’s pray:
Father we thank you for your word, that guides and directs us, please this morning by it, would you help us see more of your amazing and glorious sovereignty. We pray it in Jesus name, Amen.
The story of Joseph must be one of the most well known in the Bible. You may remember it from Sunday school classes or RE lessons, you may be familiar with the musical, or the DreamWorks animated movie (that’s my personal favourite adaptation), or you may even know it through the Veggietales version (I think the Veggietales version was called the Ballard of Little Joe). But the problem with all of these versions is they tend to romanticise and soften or sometimes moralise the account. Sometimes, we think we know the story, but actually what we’ve done is we’ve fallen for a less than faithlful retelling of it – so let’s see how God tells it from his word. Do turn back in your bibles to Genesis 37 if you’re not already there and we’ll begin the story at Genesis 37.1:
Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
And that verse sounds insignificant and not really all that important, may be just a little bit of scence settin. But actually, it is massively important significant because we are being reminded of the big picture (the overarching picture if you like). Jacob, the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham is in Canaan – the very land that was promised to his Grandpa back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12.1 following, God had promised Abraham 3 things: he’d promised him descendants, he’d promised him land and he’d promised him blessing. Here in Genesis 37 the descendants are in the land – so surely the blessing is about to flow? Well actually, no, because there’s a problem and the problem is a sinful, dysfunctional family! So let’s meet them now:
1. Meet the family (Genesis 37.2-11)
…Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives…[Genesis 37.2]
Yes that’s right, Jacob had 12 sons, 1 daughter (that we know about), by four different women, and they all lived together. Talk about tension. And Joseph, fool that he was, plays into that tension:
…And Joseph brought a bad report of them [the brothers] to their father.
We don’t know whether that bad report was justified or not, but that’s kind of beside the point, there is conflict here! Genesis 37.3:
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colours.
So now not only have we got conflict, now we’ve got favouritism, clear cut entirely unfair favouritism. Let’s look the consequences (Genesis 37.4):
…When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all the others, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
Meet the family. Meet this dysfunctional family, God’s special family – rife with conflict – yet this is the family through whom he has promised to bring blessing and it’s about to go into freefall. Joseph has two dreams. Both of which imply that he is in a position of prestige, and power, and authority over the rest of his family. And I’m sure that if you were in Joseph’s sandals you would not be so naïve as to tell the very family that hated you so much, all about them. You wouldn’t do that would you? But no, not our Joe here! “Hear this dream that I have dreamed”he proclaims in Genesis 37.6.He literally proclaims it, shouts it. "Behold I've dreamed another dream" he says in Genesis 37.9. No subtlety here. The result? Genesis 37.8: the brothers hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. And Genesis 37.11 we read the brothers were jealous of him. The rebuke from Jacob (the father) in Genesis 37.10, is quite frankly too little and too late.
What happens next forces us to ask that same question we were asking at the beginning. Why? Why does God allow his special family to self-destruct? He’s supposed to be bringing blessing through them. Let’s find out how:
2. The plot begins to thicken (Genesis 37.12-36)
In Genesis 37.12-17 we see that Jacob send his favourite son, all alone, to check up on the very brothers who hate him so much, who are shepherding flocks a couple of days journey away. I mean what is Jacob playing at here? Either, he is an incredibly foolish father or he’s an absent father because he just doesn’t get the relational dynamics that are at play – either way he’s not winning any father of the year awards here, is he?! So off goes Joseph but it just so happens that Joseph can’t find his brothers initially, and then it just so happens that he bumps into a man who knows where the brothers have gone and tells him where they are so off he goes to Dothan. But in Genesis 37.18-20 we read, the brothers saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Who knows what Joseph was expecting when he was going to meet up with his brothers, but their first thing on their minds is murder! That’s how bad it had got.
Reuben though, he intervenes, he says don’t kill him, let’s just throw him in a pit! because hopes to rescue him later. So they do and Genesis 37.24 that they took him and they threw him into a pit, and the pit was empty and there was no water in it. And the contrast here is incredible. Genesis 37.25: Then they sat down to eat. It’s incredible.This text makes it abundantly clear that this was no accidental, spur of the moment decision by the brothers – their actions were premediated, they were callous, they were cold and hard hearted, they were settled – they had plenty of time to rethink, to change their minds, to chose a different path. They had plenty of opportunity to do that but the hardness of their hearts would not allow them to do so.
And then a caravan of traders just so happens pass on its way to Egypt.
What is God doing? Why then? Why not a day or two earlier ora day or two later? Why did God allow Joseph to be delayed in Shechem wandering around in the fields and arrive in Dothan at the same time as these traders? What’s going on? Why is God allowing this? So this caravan of traders just happens to pass by and out of greed Judah sees a way to ramp up the conspiracy even further. Genesis 37.26-28:
“What profit is it [he says] if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” [Strange sentiment that really isn’t it?] And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, [I wonder what he was thinking at that moment] and [then they] sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.
And off Joseph goes. And then it just so happens that wafter the deed is done Reuben returns. Wait, what? Reuben returnsfrom where? We didn’t actually know where he had gone, but clearly he is somewhere else and this is the one brother who perhaps could have stopped things and he isn’t there. What is God doing? Why didn’t Reuben return sooner? Instead, the brothers now have to cook up an elaborate deceit as a cover story. They cruelly allow their father to believe the lie that a wild animal killed Joseph and then they have the audacity and the disrespect to try and comfort their own father in his grief. But Jacob is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Genesis 37.36, it just so happens that the Midianites [traders] had sold [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
What is God doing?
This special family hasn’t seen blessing. It’s been more a manifestation of dysfunction and evil and the curse.I mean all that slander, that favouritism, the cruelty, the jealousy, the hatred, the murderous intent, the greed and the deceit…and on top of all that lot, Joseph isn’t even in the promised land anymore – he’s not in Cannan, he’s out and he’s in Egypt! Why God? Why? Well of course, this isn’t the end of the story. The Joseph narrative picks up again at the start of Genesis 39. Just turn over page or two passed Genesis 38 that’s a parallel account with that first one of Joseph, introducing and seeing how Judah will begin to change. But on to Genesis 39.1 that chapter begins with just a refresher of where Joseph down in Egypt is and then Genesis 39.2 we read these five words: The Lord was with Joseph. Just five words: The Lord was with Joseph. And these 5 words, they shed a very different light on what has just happened in Genesis 37. So we need to go back and understand that once we read those words in Genesis 39 that The Lord was with Joseph in Egypt we realise that he was with Joseph all along and we can go back and we can re-read the whole of Genesis 37 in this whole different new light because The Lord was with Joseph in his youthful naivety, and foolishness, and arrogance. The Lord was with Joseph in those two dreams that he had. The Lord was with Joseph when he was sent off by his father to try and find his brothers. The Lord was with Joseph when he met that man that told him where his brothers were. The Lord was with Joseph when he met his brothers and they threw him into a pit. And then The Lord was with Joseph when those traders just happened to come along. And The Lord was with Joseph when he was sold for 20 shekels of silver and The Lord was with Joseph when he went to Egypt.Nothing happens by chance. Nothing is out of God’s control. He is working through the apparent chance meetings, he is working through through the evil intentions, he is working through through the through foolish actions; to bring about his purposes and to fulfil his glorious promises.
3. What is God’s purpose in all of this?
To bring about blessing to the world through his people, by dealing with the problem of their sin – sin that is so in evidence not just in Genesis 37 – but in all of our lives. That’s why this story is so memorable. That’s why this story is so relatable – because in part it’s a story we relate to, it’s about us as well, we’re part of it. So how does God do this? Well we’re going to see how God’s purposes unfold for Joseph in the coming weeks, but eventually through the Bible, Joseph’s story leads onto another story. It leads onto another story of another father, a father way more, infiniately more wise than Jacob. It’s another story of another father who sends his own precious son – a son way more humble than Joseph. Another father who sends his own dear precious son to face brothers who hate him and who this time will succeed in killing him through their premeditated, callous, and cold-hearted actions. The Father and Son in this story will engage in their mission willing – not naïvely or foolishly. And they do so not just to save one family, but to save the whole world! The son dies knowing that he’s innocent. The son’s death is the result of men’s most evil and most heinous and most wicked actions and yet the father is in control of it all. The son feels the full force of the father’s anger, and he feels it in place of the very brothers who hate him. The son’s name? Jesus-Immanuel-God with us. God with us.
God is with his people. Which means that you and I can re-read our own stories – past, present and future – and all the circumstances that surround them, those unique circumstances that surround them and we can know that God is with us. This is the most fundamentally astounding truth brothers and sisters, that in that that uninvited suffering – God is with us. In those unexpected circumstances– God is with us. In those unwanted times of change – God is with us. In our struggles with sin – God is with us.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that through Jesus and by the power of your spirit you are with us and in complete control. Help us realise that that means nothing can hurt us by random, but only as you will. And if you will it for us Lord, help us to remember the comfort of Romans 8 – that you are working all things for good. Please give us the strength we need to persevere. We pray it in Jesus’ name,