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Evil and Good: One Action with Two Intentions

The God of Paradox

But Joseph said to them, "Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result--the survival of many people."
Genesis 50:19-20

The paradox of evil and good: one action with two intentions can be found in Genesis 50:19-20. The background to this verse is that the patriarch of the family, Jacob, had recently died and Joseph’s brothers worried that Joseph, now in his mid-50's, would finally retaliate for the actions of his brothers many years ago. About 40 years past, Joseph’s ten older brothers really wanted to kill him. Instead they stripped Joseph of his fancy overseer’s coat, took him and threw him in a dry well (Gen 37:23-24). The brothers listened to Joseph’s cries and pleas for freedom while they ate their meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites headed towards Egypt. In their jealousy, they sold their little brother as a slave (Gen 37:25-28). Joseph was only seventeen. Psalm 105:18 says Joseph’s feet were hurt by shackles, and his neck was put in an iron collar. Joseph was a slave for 13 years. He served first as a house slave and then as a slave in prison. How could Joseph forgive his brothers and say, "What you meant for evil, God used for good?" This is a paradox, evil intentions used for good. Only our Sovereign Father can do this!

After 13 years as a slave, God changed Joseph’s situation. One day Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s troubling dreams. A time of plenty was coming and, after that, a widespread famine. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of gathering the grain in the time of plenty to feed the world in the time of famine. In the course of time, hungry people from all over the world came to buy grain to feed their families. Joseph’s brothers came to buy grain but they didn't recognize him for he looked and talked like an Egyptian. However, Joseph recognized them. Joseph eventually revealed his identity to his brothers after putting them through a series of imprisonments and tests to see if they had changed, and his brothers had. In Genesis 45:4-8, Joseph reveals his true identity and tells the brothers, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.” Joseph didn't blame his brothers, he trusted God. Joseph said, “God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen 45:7).

No matter Joseph’s situation, the Lord was with Joseph to use Joseph’s life for His purposes. So it is with us in these uncertain days. We must repent of known sin in our lives and give ourselves to Christ in any circumstance we find ourselves in, asking Him to use us to further His kingdom. We learn in Ephesians 1 and 2 that we are so loved and so chosen that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we would walk in them. Christian, God prepared good works for you to walk in before the foundation of the world! In Romans 8:28, Paul tells us that we know all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. No matter our situation or circumstance, there is life in Christ! Look to the Son!

Joseph was obedient to the will of God and God used his life to physically save the lives of many people. The Lord blessed Joseph’s obedience in many ways. Joseph got to see his father again, he was reconciled to his brothers, God gave him a wife and sons, and he got a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Not all lives have such happy endings. We must trust the sovereign hand of our Father, that he knows best when our lives are good or when we feel like suffering and evil are winning. If we are trusting in Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection, then this life is not all there is. Eternity is better! Heaven awaits us! “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

What then shall we to say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Romans 8:31-35, 37

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