Pastoral Notes for Sunday, August 11, 2019

God Meant It For Good: An Introduction To The Joseph Story

For good reason, the Joseph story is one of the most beloved in all the Scriptures. Of all the characters in Genesis, Joseph is among the most exemplary in character. He trusts and obeys the Lord despite many tragic circumstances. In fact, things go poorly for Joseph right from the beginning, yet as one heartbreaking event after another unfolds, God’s providence intervenes again and again to rescue and redeem.

The Joseph narrative is “a hero story par excellence” according to Leland Ryken. From the key characters, to the setting, to the intrigue and suspense—all woven together with the presence, power, and plan of God—makes the Joseph story one of the most captivating redemption stories in the Bible.

With that said, questions exist about whether the Joseph story occupies the same level of significance in redemptive history as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s stories. For instance, throughout the Bible, we read about the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Gen. 50:24, Ex. 3:5, Acts 7:32), but Joseph’s name is never included in the list. A variety of explanations have been advanced over the years; some suggesting it’s best not to think of Joseph as a patriarch but to instead approach the story as a historical bridge. That is, a story that connects the books of Genesis and Exodus by giving historical explanation for how God’s people end up in Egypt. 

Though it is true enough that the Joseph story is a historical retelling that gives explanation for why Exodus opens in Egypt, this explanation alone doesn’t go far enough. It says nothing for instance about the theological basis or spiritual purpose behind the narrative. When we take in the whole of the Joseph narrative, the theological and spiritual import comes clear. In short, the Joseph narrative is first and foremost a story of the faithfulness of God to His covenantal promises through the display of his providential power and care.

This is best summarized in the key verse of the Joseph story, Genesis 50:20. As one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, Joseph looks at his needy brothers who decades earlier sold him into slavery. As readers, we half expect Joseph to let them have it, but Joseph does no such thing. Instead, he sees his unjust suffering as a part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, for the saving of many lives”(Gen. 50:20). In a sentence, Joseph summarized the truth of his life and the place of his story in redemptive history. For God meaning for good what we mean for evil and saving many lives in the process reflects the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On that note, God means good for us in the study of Joseph this fall. Do not miss the blessing He has in store for you! Commit to read each week in the devotional as we course through selected Scriptures, exploring the main themes from the weekly sermon passages. And as we see Joseph suffer, often undeservingly, for the saving of many, let’s look to the greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ, for He alone is the perfect Suffering Servant, who suffered undeservingly for the salvation of many more—even you and me.