Perhaps you know the story — Joseph gets left for dead and sold off into slavery by his brothers, and then the narrative takes a redemptive turn. An amazing true picture of the Gospel, about 4,000 years ago. Let’s pick it up at the climax, Genesis 50:15-21:
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
This text, especially verse 20 as a summary of the theological thread in the story, helps us see a sort of “compatiblism.” That is, what one can intend for evil, a much greater One can intend for God. We can argue over if it is “intend” or “use” (make use of), or even “design” — as in God designed this seemingly horrible event for a greater purpose. Won’t get into those various theological views in this space at this time. Something more important must be seen here.
But what needs to be said is this: Joseph gets it. He is a true disciple and worshiper of God, for what is the outcome after 17 years in prison from the false accusation of another, preceded by estrangement from his family, and the while living as a forgotten on in a foreign land? All of that was not wasted in the forming of his character. (Which is to say that all of it was strangely necessary in God’s economy.) We see in Joseph a unique man, standing above the others of his day. He still worshiped God through it all. The pain, loss and confusion in his life draw him closer to God. Plus, the working of the events in his life came about for the rescuing of the “many” (v. 20). This man is aware of the implications of his actions, though not overestimating his own contribution.
Here was a man high in generosity AND humility. (How many people are generous, just as long as they get the credit? That’s called pride.) A friend pointed this text out to me yesterday, and I cannot take credit for this observation: Joseph was a generous person, high in humility because he was grateful in all things. (He is a living picture of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, if your mind is now thinking about these biblical themes.)
As a grateful person, Joseph saw his life as serving a greater purpose: for the saving of many lives. He essentially died to his brothers and father, and his life was hid in God for the sake of rescuing thousands. (For context: the famine that hit that land would have affected dozens of surrounding countries, not just Egypt. Joseph’s God-inspired wisdom prevented famine for that pivotal country and for so many others, evidenced in his brothers coming as sojourners to buy grain. A less generous man would not have cared, and without God already humbling him, what would motivate this man to reconcile with his brothers?)
How do we become generous people who live in proper humility? Gratitude is the dynamic reality that daily keeps us in this ‘happy tension’ of joyfully giving away our lives for a cause much greater than ourselves. Joseph became that man in the crucible of pain. There is no other way, and we must praise God and thank Him for His work in every circumstance under the sun. None of it has just ‘happened.’ For that we can be grateful.
When our lives become about the rescuing of many lives, we are no longer living for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Those people get it. God sees it in their generosity, gratitude, and humility.
(Thankful for my friend Jon who pointed this story out to me yesterday. I’ve been meditating on it since then.)