“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.”
My younger sister and I have never had much of a sibling rivalry. I suspect it was lack of imagination rather than anything else, but mostly we were pretty good to each other. Apparently I once made some comment about taking all the good genes and leaving her the dross—which she continues to remind me of—but nothing really major went on.
Joseph’s brothers, on the other hand, were not so restrained. Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat1 brought about rather incredible jealousy and evil in them. In their rage against their own brother they were driven to greed, slavery, and deception of the highest order.
When the full course of events is revealed many years later, however, with Joseph all but on the throne in Egypt, he appears remarkably positive (Gen 45:4-8). Joseph’s words of forgiveness and joy in being reunited with his family comfort his brothers… for a while, at least. Once their father Jacob is dead, they once more fear retribution, and for the first time confess their sin and seek forgiveness (50:15ff.).
In the face of all of this—the family history of jealousy, infighting, deception and evil, leading to fear and doubt so many years later—Joseph reassures his brothers by pointing to the grandest vision of all: the plan of God. Despite the malice intended and enacted by his brothers, God overruled their actions to such an extent that he brought about good to many. His brothers meant evil against Joseph, but those very same thoughts God took and turned for good.
The good that God brought about was the survival of many people (v. 20). This group of people certainly includes Jacob’s family, who survived because of Joseph. (Actually, they survived because of what God did with and through Joseph, despite the suffering he went through at the hands of his family.)
But the good that God does through Joseph extends further than Jacob’s family. “The whole earth” came to Egypt to find food because of the widespread severe famine (41:57), echoing the promises God made to Abraham. God said that in Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed, and here in Joseph that promise sees fruit. Through Joseph’s shrewd economic management (brought about by his God-given interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams), many people from Egypt and the surrounding nations were saved from famine and blessed with sustenance and longer life.
Ultimately, because of the lives saved during that time, God’s blessing reaches out beyond the circumstances of Egypt. The line of Judah (Joseph’s brother) reaches down to Jesus, to the fulfilment of the promises to the patriarchs: people from all nations will receive the blessings of God in Christ alone.
It’s not just the result of this series of events (i.e. a good outcome) that establishes a pattern that Jesus fulfils. The process is important too. Joseph tells his brothers that God brought about good despite and through the terrible hardship he experienced. God used the evil actions of others, directed against one man—actions that brought about severe suffering—to not only exalt himself but also to pour out blessings on others.
Judas Iscariot is to Jesus what Joseph’s brothers were to Joseph, as are the Jewish authorities who crucified Jesus. They are both evil and important, in that their wicked actions are what God uses to work out his divine will. Peter makes this abundantly clear in his speeches in Acts, for example:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)
The plots, lies, treachery, and brutality brought against Jesus were terrible. But they could not and did not thwart God’s plan, established before the creation of the world: to bring his children into his kingdom and glorify his Son.
If that is true for the most significant event in history, how can it not be true for the lesser moments of our lives? God is so totally in control of his creation, in a way so far beyond the knowledge and experience of mere mortals such as you and me, that he can use anything to bring about his purposes. He can even use the wicked and rebellious actions of people seeking harm, and turn them out for good.
It doesn’t make evil less evil. But evil can never thwart God.
- Technically, probably a coat with long sleeves (Gen 37:3-4) indicating special status and less requirement to perform manual labour, and associated dreams of supremacy over his brothers (Gen 37:5-11). Broadway’s term admittedly has more punch. ↩