Saturday, July 23, 2011

Joseph Explains ‘What God Did’ - Genesis 45:4-8

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer.  And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  Now do not be grieved 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 still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.  God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  

After he first announced who he was to his brothers, they must have moved back out of fear or shock.  And now Joseph calls them to “come closer”.  Proximity is a most fascinating topic.  Many would argue that we were created to be ‘close’ to others as long as we could choose who we have to be close to.  Clearly we want to be with the person we love.  But we want our distance from strangers, from those with bad breath, or those who haven’t washed or changed their clothes for a few days.  There seems to be good proximity, and bad.  There seems to be good beckoning for us to come closer as a parent may utter to their child or as God utters to us.  And there is bad beckoning as a child abuser would beckon a young child or drug pusher an innocent teen or the Devil a restless soul.  The typical response to beckoning by most people is to oblige, just as Joseph’s brothers did.  Yet we would be wise to stop and consider both the circumstances and the person doing the beckoning.  My grandchildren know by the tone of voice they hear and by their experiences with me in situations associated with that tone of voice that it is safe to respond to my invitation to come closer.  We seem to learn that by nature.  The danger lies in someone wishing to harm us imitating that type of tone or using lies to convince us that our lack of experience with them is no reason to avoid them and asks us to put our trust in them.  As a result, we are trapped in a life of sin and/or danger, which ultimately could end up in death.

At this point Joseph wants them to be totally certain as to which Joseph he is and what they had done to him.  He is their brother and they had sold him to be a slave in Egypt.  But once he gives that clarification, he immediately turns his efforts to the possible feelings of his brothers.

I think based on what he had heard and observed, he was safe in assuming that the brothers were indeed angry with themselves for what they had and thus rued the day they did it.  Joseph tells them that indeed it was not their own doing, but that God had had a hand in it.  God had used them to sent him to Egypt in order that God would save their family later and preserve their life against the adversity God knew was coming.

This is one of the earliest instances in scripture where we read of someone acknowledging the providence and involvement of God in our lives to work out what is best for us.  It is a position many of us still find very difficult to adopt or recognize at times in our own lives.  In fact, we often find it easier to make that assertion about God’s purpose and involvement for the better in the lives of others than in our own.

Joseph goes on to explain that the famine the land was experiencing still had five years to go and that God had sent him ahead of the brothers in order that He may save a “remnant in the earth” through Joseph’s provision of deliverance to them from the famine.  The concept of saving a “remnant” is reminiscent of God’s plan for saving Noah and his family from the devastation of the great flood by keeping them safe in the ark as we read earlier in the book of Genesis.

Joseph was saying that his sufferings happened for a reason.  If he had not suffered, Jacob’s family could not have survived to one day become a nation.  Instead of going into Egypt as we will soon see they end up doing, they likely would have integrated themselves into pagan tribes that were also occupying their own lands at the time.  Since they would have become extinct as a nation, God had to remove them to a place where they would remain intact and yet multiply.

Joseph seems to have recognized that the reason for his own success and the famine the land was now in was all about a means by which God would keep his family together and apart from those around them in order to preserve His chosen people, the Israelites so that His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could be fulfilled.  There is no doubt that God does take care of His own throughout history.  He keeps them in accordance with His plan for them.  Knowing the future, God prepares the means by which His people (the Israelites back in Joseph’s time and those that believe in His Son, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord today) will be saved.

Joseph is not shy about readily admitting that God did it all.  It was He Who allowed Joseph to become a “father” to Pharaoh and lord of all Egypt so that Israel could be preserved.  The term ‘father’ was given as a title of many official positions in Egypt and other lands at the time.  At the very least, it has the connotation of teacher or advisor, which indeed Joseph was appointed to be.

Where has God put you and I and for what purpose?  Let me share a very personal note at this point.  As I right this section of our study in Genesis, I am reminded of what I said to my wife as I retired the last night: “It seems like the most significant thing we do these days is to watch our grandchildren grow.”  Of course, God has given us both much more to accomplish for Him, including helping with our grandchildren.  Why I said that at the time is not the point.  What matters though is my wife’s response: “God has put us here, so that, depending on our involvement, we can make a great impact on their lives.”  With that thought in mind I fell asleep, looking forward to yet another opportunity to help my grandchildren fulfill the plans God has for them.  What about you?  Why are you where you are? 

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