I suspect there are multitudes of times in life when God gets the blame or credit for things that he didn’t do. It has always amazed me when people refer to a tornado or earthquake as an act of God. But there is no doubt that God does do lots of things in this life for which he doesn’t get the credit.
In the Book of Genesis one of the longest stories it tells is of the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob. He was the first son that Jacob fathered with Rachel the wife he loved dearly and for whom he served her father for fourteen years. Because of jealousy for Joseph, due to Jacob’s favoritism for him and due to Joseph’s dreams that he told with glee to his brothers that pictured them bowing down before him as his servants, they sold him as a boy of seventeen as a slave to a band of Midianite traders. They sold him to a Egyptian soldier named Potiphar. He did well as a servant for Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife developed a crush on him and tried to get him to have sex with her. When he refused and ran away from her she made up a story accusing him of attempting to rape her that led to Joseph spending somewhere between ten and twelve years in an Egyptian prison. Even as a prisoner he gained the trust of the jailer who put him over the other prisoners. There he interpreted the dreams of two servants of the Pharaoh and asked the one who was to be released to remember him to Pharaoh, but the man forgot him. Two more years passed before Pharaoh had two dreams that no one could interpret, then the servant remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him. He was brought from prison and interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh to tell him that God was revealing to him his plans to send seven years of plenty on the land, followed by seven years of famine. The years of famine would be so horrible that they wouldn’t remember the years of plenty. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph and his wisdom that he put him in charge of gathering grain for the seven years of plenty so they would be prepared for the seven years of famine.
Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt. When the famine came it was all over the world and not just in Egypt. Jacob’s family were without the food they needed so Jacob sent ten of Joseph’s brothers to buy grain in Egypt. Only Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother stayed home with Jacob and the rest of the family. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. Through lots of turns and twist Joseph ultimately revealed himself to his brothers and they were deeply worried about what he would do with them because of what they had done to him as a boy. Listen to Joseph’s message to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry” (Genesis 45:4-9).
Later, after they had been in Egypt for several years, Jacob died and those brothers were again deeply afraid that with Jacob’s death Joseph would seek revenge against them for what they did to him. He had to reassure them once more that it wasn’t just some human action, but that God was the one at work that led to them selling him into Egypt so that he might save their lives and the lives of multitudes of other people.
Think about this whole thing. Joseph was 17 when sold by his brothers. He was 30 when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. He was also 30 when he was put in charge of the nation’s food supply and gathering the grain to save the multitudes when the famine came. It was after the 7 years of plenty and 2 more years of famine when the brothers first arrived in Egypt to purchase grain. So Joseph was 39 when they first arrived. We aren’t told how much time passed between the first time they came to Egypt and the second time when they brought Benjamin with them but I would suppose at least six months to a year later when he revealed himself to them and had Jacob and the whole family of 70 people brought down to Egypt. Jacob was 130 years old when he came down to Egypt. Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years before dying at 147. So at Jacob’s death Joseph was 57 years old. It had been 40 years since the time when his brothers sold him into Egypt. Yet, they were still haunted by what they did and couldn’t forgive themselves for their actions.
The huge point that stands out in this whole series of events is the reality of God’s plans and God’s actions among people. Because God wanted to save the people from a famine that would take place 20 years later he led the brothers to sell him into Egypt. From their point of view it was all about their jealousy toward their brother. But God had a plan in mind and brought it about, even though it involved horrible actions by these brothers toward their brother. We tend to think of things that may happen today or tomorrow or perhaps a year or two from now. God’s mind is capable of looking far down the line to see what will happen and to raise up the one who can be the savior for the people when tragedy occurs. Neither the brothers, their father, the Pharaoh, or the people of Egypt could have seen God’s hand in what was happening. One has to wonder when it occurred to Joseph that God was working to bring about something special through him. I sincerely doubt it was while he was at Potiphar’s house or even while he was in prison for all those years. It could have been during the years of plenty when he was gathering the supplies for the future he knew was coming. But I suspect he only realized it was God that was moving and controlling the actions after the famine arose and perhaps after he saw his brothers bow before him seeking food.
One powerful lesson that should rise to the top is that in the toughest times of life, it may be that God is behind what is going on to prepare us for something ahead. He needed Joseph to be ready to save the lives of his own family and of multitudes of people in Egypt and around the known world. He couldn’t do that as a spoiled young man walking around in his coat of many colors. He prepared him for the job with service, with disappointment, with prison and being forgotten by ones he loved. The next time we are going through tough times, let’s remember that it may be the hand of God preparing us for a bigger job than we can now imagine but to get us ready means putting us through some tough times so we can do the job when it arrives.