Providentially Secure - Part One
Scripture: Genesis 34:1– 37:36
Providentially Secure-Part OneGenesis 38:1-40:23
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
"If I only saw a miracle, then I'd believe in God." Ever hear that one? Jesus condemned this attitude not once, but twice in the book of Matthew: "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign" (Mt. 12:39: 16:4). Without raising someone from the grave or zapping a blasphemer dead on the spot (by the way, things God can do and has done as recorded in Scripture) there is ample and sufficient witness all around us for God's existence. To deny His presence according to the Bible just because you do not see a miracle is suppressing truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) and stands at the epitome of all folly (Psm. 14:1). I doubt any of us would be here today (unless we were dragged in by a friend against our will) if we did not believe this. As a matter of fact, I suppose all of us like Jesus would condemn the attitude that we need to see the miraculous in order to believe. Remember our Savior's words to Thomas? "Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed'" (Jn. 20:29).
Yet I believe we throw much of this good theology out the window when things are not going our way. We pray for a miracle and it doesn't come. We want to witness results and there is no change in the circumstance. We want to "feel" God's presence and it appears as if He has deserted us. We complain. We despair. We become like the very faithless people that Jesus and even we ourselves often condemn.
We need to get something straight. God performs miracles. Most of His miracles happened in three periods of history: The time of Moses and Joshua, the time of Elijah and Elisha and the time of Jesus and the apostles. I believe God still does miracles and it's witnessed every time He opens a person's heart to respond favorably to Christ, but for the most part, miracles in the official sense are infrequent. As a matter of fact, the Bible says nothing about expecting God to intervene in our life through miracles. If anything, the Bible warns in these "latter days" to be on the lookout for false miracles from the evil one.
So does that mean we have no hope during our trials because we are probably not going to get a miracle? Absolutely not! We have already learned in Genesis that God sovereignly brings specific trials into our lives tailored to our personal needs, not to achieve worldly happiness (that's obvious!), but rather to achieve our greatest happiness as we are conformed further into the beautiful image of Jesus Christ.
Remember Jacob, the no-good, selfish schemer that only furthered his sinful goals in life at the expense of others? Through several trials and illustrated through a literal wrestling match with God (in chapter 32), Jacob learned that life is a fight of faith striving with God when we want to override His will with our own until He breaks us of our pride and pins us to the ground. Yet we realize that in defeat we have our most secure victory. And though it humbles us in the defeat of our will, we have the faith to cling to Him and now desire His will over our own. We'll never experience this if we are undergoing a trial and then act like the world and blame others, run from our problems, overreact, whine, defend ourselves or doubt God's faithfulness.
We must get to the point where we believe God is working though these tough times in ways much greater than a spectacular miracle. We must really believe by faith God's promise in Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." We must trust in a sovereign God who loves His children and is wisely working all events out in their lives for their ultimate good. And what is that ultimate good. The very next verse, Romans 8:29, "He also predestined [us] to become conformed to the image of His Son."
We call this the doctrine of providence. That means there is no luck or karma or chance. And even when God chooses not to invade the flow of everything with a miracle, the greater wonder is that He takes the many circumstances and events and attitudes and pulls them together to accomplish exactly what He wants. God is in control. He's reigning even when it doesn't appear that way, and all things on the world's scale and intimately in the lives of His children are working to His good purposes.
As we enter chapter 37 of Genesis we will begin to see the textbook illustration of this principle. As a matter of fact, God's name is not even mentioned in this chapter but He is still present! It's 2 Corinthians 5:7, walking by faith and not by sight.
With the Lord's Table still awaiting us our time is limited, but I'd like to begin this morning with this wonderful narrative of Joseph.
Let me provide some background information. Jacob is still alive but up there in years. His father Isaac has just passed away (35:29). His favorite wife, Rachel, died in giving birth to Benjamin (35:19). His family is spelled out in chapter 35:23-26: "The sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun; the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid: Dan and Naphtali; and the sons of Zilpah, Leah's maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram." Altogether he has one daughter and twelve sons that made their share of sinful choices. We'll see more of that in our account today as we consider this topic of God's providence, God's invisible hand working His good will through the mundane events of life when visible circumstances appear to the contrary.
1. The Object of the Father's Interest
The first of three points I have entitled, "The Object of the Father's Interest."
Verse 1 tells us Jacob has returned to the Promised Land. He's finally back where he needs to be. From what we can tell from the biblical accounts, his sons aren't making the best choices and while Jacob has matured, the beginning of chapter 37 reveals a weakness he never let go. It's that generational sin we discussed a month ago. As Jacob was favored by his mother Rebekah, Jacob took in his heart a special affection for his son, Joseph. Verse 3, "Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic."
As a distinct token of his affection he makes the kid (and only that kid) a special coat. Thanks to Donny Osmond and Broadway, much is often made of the coat's colors. We immediately envision something worn by a hip-hop artist or Apollo Creed in Rocky 4! Actually the word has limited use in the Bible (2 Sam. 13:18-19) and it's best to refer to it as a "royal robe." So I believe the issue here is not the flamboyant array of colors, but rather the symbolic nature of royalty. Jacob was in a sense declaring this son of mine, though the second youngest of the clan, is king of the family.
How do you think the older brothers are going to react to that one?
That leads us to the brother's hatred, our second point.
2. The Object of the Brother's Hatred
We also read at the end of verse 2 that while Joseph was in the fields working with his brothers that he "brought back a bad report about them to their father." You get the feel that he's a teenaged spoiled brat. He's a tattletale.
I ask again, how do you think the older brothers are going to react to that one?
And then to top it off, Joseph is given two prophetic dreams from God. Probably not the best idea, be he chooses to relate them to his brothers. The first one is mentioned in verse 7. "For behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf." He's not letting up. The second dream is mentioned in verse 9. "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to
Again I ask you, how do you think the older brothers are going to react to that one?
The conclusion to my three rhetorical questions is rather obvious. What did the brothers think about the coat and special favoritism? Verse 4, "His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms." What did the brothers think about the dreams? Verse 5, "Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more." Verse 8, "Then his brothers said to him, 'Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?' So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words."
Three times in three verses we read of the hatred these brothers had for Joseph. By verse 11 we read it has progressed to jealousy. Do you see a time bomb waiting to explode in this family?
I know our topic is providence, but let me for a minute take you down a rabbit-trail that is too important to gloss over. Can you spot the sins in this family? The family was dysfunctional, no doubt about that, but to some sense every family in the church has dysfunctional issues. And do you see how these dysfunctional issues (whatever sins they might be) lead to tremendous complications and heart-wrenching pain? My friends, this can be avoided! If you are in Christ, you don't need to subject yourselves to this unnecessary suffering. Don't we already experience enough pain in the world? Don't we want our homes to be a refuge of peace and haven of happiness and testimony of God's grace? If so, follow the advice our Savior gave to the repentant adulteress: "From now on sin no more" (Jn. 8:11).
It is so easy to spot all the foolish sins in Jacob's family (the presence of unwise decisions, boasting and favoritism combined with the lack of forgiveness, self-control and love - all leading to the emotions of hatred and jealousy and as we'll soon see, murder - Jas. 3:13-4:2). Why it is often so difficult to spot the glaring sins in our own? I sometimes wonder what would be said if a godly couple moved into our home for a week and made some observations. I also sometimes wonder if I'd really like to hear about the areas where I fall short. I sometimes wonder if I would even make the necessary changes.
Remember the shepherding visits we did several years ago? We had one elder and one deacon visit the homes of every member in the church. At that time we gave you the opportunity to share any concerns and ideas you had related to the church. How about we resurrect those visits, but approach it from a different perspective. Let's have the leaders this time ask you about your spiritual performance. Things like: time in the Word and prayer, attitudes in the home, church involvement. Maybe we'll even take a look at your entertainment choices and recent financial transactions. Would you still want us to come and help you see the sins in your family?
Things are going to get ugly for Jacob's family. Let's move to the third point which I am ironically calling, "The Object of God's Care."
3. The Object of God's Care
In verse 12 we read the brothers are pastoring Jacob's flock about fifty miles away in Shechem. Verse 13, Jacob asks Joseph to check-up on his brothers - probably not the best idea considering the isolated location and the severe hatred of the brothers toward Joseph. But who knows, perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder. Well, guess again. The bitter hatred and seething jealousy was never dealt with properly, and it was looking to make its venomous strike. Verse 18, "When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death." How could they tell it was Joseph? Most likely it was the robe!
This is wonderful! The guy is in hostile territory, much to the thanks of Simeon and Levi who, in chapter 34, killed a bunch of men in defense of their sister, and the most dangerous place for Joseph is right there amongst his own family - big brothers who should have been hardwired to protect their little brother. It's ten against one, and they immediately plot to kill him - ironic again if you know the end of the story since they are plotting to kill the very person that will be needed in the future to keep them alive!
I know very little about the show, but isn't this the theme of most episodes of "Cops?" Where are the police officers often going? To the home to settle domestic violence! The show opens with the guy in the white tank-top standing in the doorway with the scratch marks all over his body. "I don't know officer. We were just having this talk and then all of a sudden for no reason she attacked me," while his wife is cursing her head off in the other room.
We are all born with wicked and selfish hearts. This account with Joseph shows how easy it comes and how little it takes to be pushed toward hatred and the desire to have other people out of our lives, even family members. The brothers can't even come to say his name. Verse 19, "They said to one another, 'Here comes this dreamer!'" The plan is spelled out in verse 20. They'll kill him and then add to their sin another layer of sin by lying in their claim that a "wild beast has devoured him."
God surely doesn't seem to be with Joseph!
Reuben was the oldest, the one responsible for the brother's safety. And despite the fact that he just slept with his father's concubine, Bilhah, two chapters earlier, I believe he expresses compassion to some degree on Joseph, but primarily on his father because of the deep sorrow that would come upon his heart at the loss of Joseph. Verse 22, "'Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him' - that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father."
So they stripped Joseph of his robe (verse 23), they hated that robe as much as they hated Joseph, and they threw him in an empty well (verse 24). Apparently little effect on their conscience because the next verse says they sat down to eat a meal. While eating, a caravan of Ishmaelites approach on their way to Egypt. Judah has a plan beginning in verse 26 "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." The brothers agree (verse 27). The lift Joseph out of the pit and sell their brother for twenty pieces of silver (verse 28). And the narrator adds, "Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt."
God surely doesn't seem to be with Joseph!
The brothers head home. They take Joseph's coat and dip it in blood (verse 31), and they bring it to their father, Jacob, and allow Jacob to draw his own conclusions. More sin to cover-up their sins. Will they successfully deceive the one who for much of his life deceived others? Beginning in verse 33, "Then [Jacob] examined it and said, 'It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!' So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, 'Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.' So his father wept for him" (Gen. 27:33-35).
God surely doesn't seem to be with Joseph!
We'll get to the rest of the story in the weeks ahead, but the point we need to understand is that everything eventually turned out just right for Joseph, even though there is no appearance of it happening that way at this time.
The puritan, John Flavel, said, "The providence of God is like a Hebrew word - it can only be read backwards."
I can imagine Joseph recalling the story. "I remember when I was seventeen. What happened to me I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams, and I sure had some wild dreams! Sure I talked too much, but I didn't ask for that robe nor did I ask for God to give me those dreams. Yet they hated me. Boy, did they really hate me. I never thought they'd go that far, but when I was strapped in the back of a wagon on my way to a life of slavery all I could think about was the fact that I'd never see them or my father again. I can still remember that image of his face burned on my mind as I left them. But through it all, my heavenly Father was with me and what they meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20). Let me tell you what happened next…"
Things weren't looking too good for a carpenter's son from Nazareth named, Jesus. You can't read this story about Joseph and not see how it foreshadowed His life. He too was exalted by His Father. He too had his Jewish brothers despise Him and plot to kill Him. He too was betrayed for a handful of silver coins by someone very close. He too was handed over to the Gentiles because of envy. He too suffered in silence for sins not His own. And He too was used in a painful way to bring salvation to those who hated Him. And like Joseph, Jesus too would first suffer and then ascend to the throne, but in His case, Jesus rose from the dead and He stands to save people from the spiritual separation they have between themselves and the living God.
We are all guilty of sin, but Jesus has gone to the cross to die for it on the sinner's behalf. He offers complete forgiveness to all who come to Him in faith. We are saved and given a new heart and a new promise that because of our reconciled relationship to the Father, we have a God who is now on our side promising to work all things together for our good.
Without Jesus we have no hope. With Jesus we can have hope, knowing that even in the worst of times He is always accomplishing His perfect and wise and loving plan in our lives, even when we can't see Him or personally experience the immediate results, even using the sin of others for our good. It is the invisible hand of God continually at work no matter how dark the situation. It is His wonderful providence that we'll see unfolding in Joseph's life in the weeks ahead. So Christian, if you are suffering right now, are you growing through the trial and are you walking by faith to believe God is presently and providentially working all things together for your greatest good?