Joseph: Divine Providence. Genesis 25:19 - 35:29
As we go through the section from Genesis chapters 37-50 the key idea that just jumps out is the principle that is laid out in a very succinct promise in Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." To understand this promise we don't just stop there, we have to understand the next two verses.
We have this phrase, "All things [PANTA/ panta] work together." PANTA is the accusative plural of PAS [paj], the word for "all." In the English translation "all things" is the subject of the verb "work together," and so we have a plural subject. But the problem is that in the Greek the verb is SUNERGO [sunergw] which is a third person singular verb. We know that you can't have a plural subject with a singular verb, so this is a poor translation. The "all things" [PANTA] is accusative and therefore the direct object of the verb and the word order should be reversed. It should read, "He works all things together for good." The "He" comes from the fact that the verb SUNERGO is a third person singular. There is no stated subject in this verse. The proper noun THEOS [qeoj], which is in the nominative case, is not found in ninety-eight per cent of the manuscripts. It is only found in a very few manuscripts and thus it is rejected by almost every textual critic as being a legitimate reading. Not only is it not in the critical text, which is the older-is-better text, but it is not in the majority text—they both agree. So this is probably a solid basis for rejecting the reading. The noun THEOS was probably added in a couple of early MSS simply as a scribal annotation to clarify who the "he" is. Then when somebody copied his manuscript they copied his notes in as if they were the text. So we have: "We know that he [God] works all things together for good."
For whom does He work all things together for good? Is it just for those who love God? Not all believers love God. For example, in John 14 Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." The implication is, if you don't keep them you don't love Him. John emphasizes this several times in his first epistle: that the person who loves God keeps His commandments. There are many believers who are in rebellion, who are disobedient, and obviously they do not love God. Loving God is defined in our response to doctrine and our application of doctrine in the life.
The verse states: "We know that he works all things together for good to those who love God." But it doesn't stop there. It doesn't say "to those who love God," period. There is a further development of the thought. It is not just for believers who are advancing in doctrine and growing to maturity, but it is also for those who are "the called according to his purpose." To whom does that refer? That is why we have to look at the context.
Romans 8:29-30, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son [i.e. God has a destiny, a goal for us], that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Who gets glorified at the Rapture? Every church age believer. Why? Because every church age believer is justified. When a person believes in Christ he is justified. Everybody who is justified is also called, so the term "calling," those whom He called, as Paul goes through this progression, is talking about the same group of people. Among those who are glorified are going to be two groups of believers, those who were faithful and who advanced and grew in their spiritual life and those who were unfaithful and who will lose almost everything at the judgment seat of Christ (except their eternal life). So the called, the justified, includes two groups of people: those who love God and advance to maturity and those who are failures in the Christian life. So "those who are called" refers to every single person who puts their faith alone in Christ alone whether they are an advancing maturing believer or whether they are rebellious, carnal believers.
Romans 8:28 lays out the principle of divine providence, that the events that take place in a believer's life are not the products of random chance. They don't just happen. Behind the scenes God is working to bring about all of these different circumstances. He doesn't do it in violation of our volition but He does it in order to produce something. That is the emphasis in verse 29, that He is using all of these different circumstances to teach us and to train us so that our character is conformed to His image. The Old Testament illustration of this passage is really the life of Joseph.
As we get into Romans 8:30 there is this progression in the verbs: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. They all refer to the same group, and that group includes both carnal believers as well as spiritual believers. So if you are a carnal, rebellious believer God is still working in your life to try to discipline you, to get your attention, to try to get you back in fellowship, so that He can continue to work in sanctifying you and conforming you to the image of Jesus Christ. That is the New Testament promise that is given to every believer, but the Old Testament truth is exemplified in the life of Joseph. This becomes clear in two key sections of the Joseph narrative: Genesis 45:5-7, "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance," and 50:20, "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." God had a greater plan and He utilized the anger, the hatred and resentment of Joseph's brothers in order to put Joseph in a position where he would preserve the promised seed to Abraham, and that he would be the savior and protector of the family.
We have to be reminded that at the very core of everything from Genesis 12 onward is an understanding of the Abrahamic covenant. It is through the seed that God is going to bless all the world, so He is going to take them out of the land providentially to protect them and preserve them from the influence of the Canaanites and the paganism that surrounded them.
We now come to the last toledot in Genesis, 37:2-50:27, "This is what happened to the descendants of Jacob."
Summary and outline of what is happening in the story of Joseph
The overall idea is that God provides for the future of the seed of Abraham through Joseph. Note in the main points in these chapters is that God is the subject. When reading the narrative literature of the Old Testament remember that the real hero in the stories is not Gideon, Moses, Abraham, etc., it is God. If we think about that when we read through the Old Testament it will transform our understanding of what is going on in the Old Testament. What we see in all these stories is that the writers of Scripture are showing how God is working in human history through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So ultimately God is always the hero. Even though He may not be mentioned in the text God is viewed as the one working behind the scenes.
Chapter 37: God reveals to Joseph his future position and power. What He reveals in the two dreams is that Joseph is going to be elevated to a position of authority and power and prestige, far above his brothers, and all of his older brothers are going to have to bow down and obey him. Later on God speaks to Jacob in chapter 46 to tell him it is okay to go to Egypt. Outside of this God really doesn't seem to be mentioned too much. It is a bit like the church age: God is really working behind the scenes. So God reveals to Joseph these dreams which give him an idea of what his future destiny is going to be, and He does this because He knows full well that Joseph is going to go out and tell his brothers, he is not going to hold back, and He knows exactly what the reaction of the brothers is going to be. This shows how the sovereignty of God works where it doesn't violate the free will of man. He puts the right input into the situation because He knows exactly which buttons to push to create certain reactions. The brothers "envy him" – v. 11. His father is upset about it but thinks about it, realizing that God may be behind this. In the end the brothers are consumed with mental attitude sins toward Joseph.
As a result, Joseph ends up on his way in shackles to Midian and the brothers deceive Jacob. Then we get an interlude that deals with Judah and where Judah is acting like a pagan in the land. The whole chapter is merely designed to point out the corruption in the family. We see God's grace in this because Judah's daughter-in-law gives birth to twins, and one of them, Perez, is in the line of our Lord.
This chapter looks out of place because it has a crucial role because there is a contrast between Judah's paganism and sexual immorality and the very next chapter where we are told about Joseph. In contrast to Judah who is totally compromised, Joseph is uncompromised and he becomes a slave in the house of Potiphar. He works there for approximately ten years and is entrusted with everything of Potiphar's because Joseph is such a man of integrity. What we see as a backdrop is the doctrine of leadership: how God trains a remarkable leader in Joseph.
In chapters 42-47 we see how Joseph is used by God to bring the whole family from the land down to Egypt so that they can be protected and preserved.