Participants, not Pawns

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is an interesting and compelling account of God’s providence in this wicked world. When he was just a young man, Joseph told his family dreams that he had dreamed which indicated that they would someday bow down before him in a display of humility and submission. His brothers, all of whom were older than he and jealous of his position as the favored son of their father, Jacob, became very angry when they heard this and plotted against him to kill him. However, his oldest brother, Reuben, intervened and he was sold to a caravan of Midianites as a slave. The traders carried Joseph to Egypt where he was again sold as a slave to Potiphar, a captain of Pharaoh’s guard, and as a result of the indecent advances of Potiphar’s wife and her subsequent false accusations against him, Joseph found himself in an Egyptian prison. As a direct result of God’s providence, Joseph was elevated from the prison to the palace by virtue of his ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and he was made a ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. It was in this capacity that Joseph was reunited with his brothers, when they came to Egypt from Canaan to purchase grain because of the great famine which was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. And this is where we get one of the most incredible statements concerning God’s sovereignty in the entire Bible:

And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:4-8)

It is very clear from Joseph’s words that he recognized God’s hand in all of the circumstances that had led him to his current position as a ruler over the land of Egypt. Yet, how can we reconcile this with the fact, recorded in the preceding chapters, that Joseph’s brothers intended to do him evil? They were not acting with forethought and planning to send Joseph ahead so that he would become their savior. In fact, they were intentionally trying to prevent the fulfillment of his dreams that depicted their bowing down before him in submission. Three times in these verses Joseph says that it was God, not his brothers, who sent him to Egypt.

On this point he is most certainly correct, for it is only the sovereign Lord of lords who is able to use the actions of his opponents to bring about his purpose and plan. Men may intentionally try to subvert the will of God, but we may rest assured that he will use their own rebellious actions to bring about his perfect will. Pastor Alistair Begg has said that Joseph’s brothers were not pawns but participants in God’s plan, even if their intent was to thwart God’s will. And certainly we can be confident that the sovereign Lord who ruled over the circumstances of Joseph’s life in order to keep his promise to Jacob, is still keeping his word in the midst of and even through the arrogant actions of those who are participants in this world’s rebellion against her Maker.

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