Good from Evil

Genesis 50

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2016

Today, we will be looking at the final chapter of Genesis. We have been studying the book for a long time. It has been a blessing to me and I hope that it has been a great blessing to you. Genesis is the book of beginnings. Today, we will be looking at the end of the beginning.

There are three important lessons in this chapter.  There is a lesson on death, a lesson on forgiveness and a lesson on divine providence. There is some deep theology in this chapter. One of the most important passages in the whole Bible is found in this chapter on the lips of Joseph. We are going to spend a lot of our time today on one verse in the chapter.

Joseph played a lot of roles in his life. He was a prophet. He predicted the seven year famine. He predicted that his brothers one day would bow down to him.  He was an actor. He fooled his brothers by acting like he was a different person. He was a politician. He worked in the Egyptian government. He was an economist. He was the head of the department of agriculture in Egypt. He was in charge of the food supply for the country.  He was also a theologian. We will learn some deep theology in this chapter.

Lessons on Death

This chapter contains two deaths and two burials. It describes the death of the Patriarch and the Prime Minister. Jacob dies at the beginning of the chapter and Joseph dies at the end of the chapter. Jacob lives to be one hundred forty-seven.  If you work out the chronology, Joseph would have been fifty-six when his dad died.

Joseph lived to be one hundred and ten, which was the ideal lifespan of an ancient Egyptian. Some of the Pharaohs lived to be one hundred and ten. He died fifty-four years after his dad died. What do we learn about death from this chapter?

1. We all one day will die.

Genesis began with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1) but ends with the words “So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (50:26 ESV).  It starts with creation but ends with death. That is how the book ends.  Genesis ends with Joseph in a coffin in Egypt.

God warned Adam and Eve if they sinned and ate from the forbidden fruit, the result would be death and it was. They died and so did all of their descendants. Some live longer than others but they all died. Joseph lived long enough to see his great-grand children being born (50:23). Jacob lived longer than Joseph but Jacob’s dad and grandfather lived longer than he did. Some of them lived very long but they all eventually died. The wicked die and so do the godly, men like Joseph.

2. We should prepare for death.

Jacob and Joseph do not just die in this chapter, they prepare for death. Jacob brings his sons in and talks to them. He gives final instructions about what to do with his body. The instructions are not the same. Jacob tells his sons to bury him in Canaan. He knows his spirit is going to be gathered with his people when he dies but he insists that his body is buried in Canaan.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife.

There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.  When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people (49:28-33)

Notice that Jacob was gathered to his people when he died.  He was not buried until seventy days later.  Notice what Jacob requested to be done with his body after death.  He wanted to be buried in Canaan.

He could have had a fancy burial in Egypt in a wealthy tomb. He had an elaborate state funeral. It was attended by “all of the elders of the land of Egypt” (50:7).  Jacob did not want to be buried in Egypt; he wanted to be buried at Macpelah (which today is in Hebron in the West Bank).

Why? It was not just because he wanted to be buried in the family graveyard, because the wife that he loved the most was not even buried there. Rachel was buried somewhere else. Jacob chose to be buried with Leah, rather than with Rachel.

Why did he want to be buried there? It was an act of faith. God promised Jacob some land in Canaan. He knew that one day, his ancestors would get that land and he wanted to be buried there. It was an act of faith on Jacob’s part. In the last chapter, we saw Jacob’s last words. In this chapter, we see Joseph’s last words.

Joseph gave different instructions. He did NOT ask to be buried in Canaan. He stayed in Egypt. Both were mummified after death but Joseph stayed right in Egypt and Jacob left Egypt. Jacob was put into a tomb. Joseph was put in a coffin. He was never buried. He stayed above ground. Why?

Joseph also believed that one day the Jews would all leave Egypt. How did he know? He had a prophecy. Genesis 15:13-14 says, “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (ESV)

Joseph believed that the Jews would one day leave Egypt and he wanted to leave when the rest of the Jews leave Egypt. There is one interesting fact about these two deaths. Both Jacob and Joseph were embalmed. Abraham’s grandson and great grandson were embalmed.

They were turned into Bible Mummies. They were Egyptian mummies. They were the only mummies in the Bible. Why did they do that? Isn’t that a pagan custom?

There was a good reason why both Jacob and Joseph were embalmed. It preserved the body. Jacob’s body had to make a two hundred mile trip back to Canaan after he died. Joseph’s body had to be preserved for hundreds of years until the Exodus took place. This was done for medical reasons, not religious reasons. It was not done by the priests but by physicians (50:2).

Jacob and Joseph prepared for death and so should we. It does not mean that we should seek death but we should be ready for it and plan for what happens to our family when we die. Some never think about death. That is too morbid

3. Mourning is appropriate at death.

We are not going to spend a lot of time on this point but clearly this is an emotional chapter. There is a lot of tears shed in this chapter and in this chapter is men crying, not women. Joseph and his dad were close. In fact, he cries three times in this chapter. People mourned for Jacob.

“When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with A VERY GREAT and GRIEVOUS LAMENTATION” (50:10 ESV).  They mourned for him for seventy days (50:3). That is a long time. It is almost two months. That is not necessarily something that we need to do today but there should be a grieving process at death. We should let our emotions out. Jesus wept at the Tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35).

Lesson on Forgiveness

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (50:51-16)

Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (50:15-21).

When Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers think, “We are in big trouble now”. Remember, Esau said, “When Isaac is dead, I will kill Jacob” and they think that Joseph is just like Esau but he is not. He forgives them completely and totally. Many would not be as forgiving as Joseph was. They ganged up on him and threw him in a pit. He was powerless to do anything. It was ten against one.

They laughed at him when he cried for help. They sold him into slavery. That led to eleven years of slavery and two years in prison for a crime he did not commit. If anyone had the right to be bitter or mad at God, it was Joseph but he is not bitter. He did not hold a grudge. He did not try to get back at his brothers for what they did to him. He forgave them completely and totally.

How did he do it? Forgiveness is hard. Joseph was traumatized by his brothers. Two things helped him to forgive. These two things made forgiveness easy. First, these men had changed. They call themselves “servants of God” (50:19). They were not God’s servants before but they are now. They knew what they did was wrong and they felt guilty about it. They called it sin (42:22; 44:16) and they asked Joseph to forgive them (50:16-17).

Second, he brought God into his situation. He shows incredible spiritual insight. He is very perceptive. He makes a very profound theological statement in this chapter and that brings us to our final lesson. We bring God into our blessings. Joseph brought them into his trials.

Lesson on Providence

We come to a very important lesson about providence from this chapter. This lesson may completely change your view of God. It may completely change how your view tragedy. It may change how you view when bad things happen to you.

Many believe the world is governed by chance. Some people have good luck and some people have bad luck. What happened to Joseph was no accident. Joseph had a lot of bad things happen to him. He was abused by his own family, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, exiled to Egypt, framed for a crime (a sex crime), arrested for a crime he did not commit and was falsely imprisoned. He ends up with a criminal record.

Joseph looked at what God was doing in his life and that changed his whole perspective. Notice what he says in Genesis 50:20. I want to quote it in a few different translations. The ESV translates it, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The NLT reads, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

What Joseph said here is amazing. It is also a little mysterious. Joseph said that there were two plans. His brother’s had a plan. It was an evil plan. Joseph says that they intended evil. They carried out their evil plan. It hurt Joseph. God also had a plan for Joseph. His plan was a good plan. God’s plan involved using what these brothers did to accomplish good. Here is the amazing thing.

Both were working in the same act. Joseph’s brothers were at work and God was at work in the very same act. It is called “the doctrine of concurrence”. What Joseph’s brothers did to him was evil. No one forced them to do it. They choose to do it and they are responsible for it but God used their very evil act to bring about good without the brothers even knowing about it. Only God could do that.

Genesis 45:4-5 says, “So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “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” (ESV). Joseph says, “You sold me. God sent me.”

They had no idea that their wicked deed would be a means of fulfilling the purpose of God for Joseph’s life. God told Abraham long before Joseph or his brothers were even born that the Jews would be in Egypt for four hundred years.  This was prophesied before these brothers were born which means that this had to take place and yet no one forced these brothers to do this to Joseph.  What they did was evil but God brought good out of the very evil act of these brothers. This raises some questions in the minds of some people.

Is God the Author of Sin?

Doesn’t this make God the author of sin? No. There is evil here but it is not on God’s part. The ones who intended evil were Joseph’s brothers. God intended good, not evil. God did NOT cause the evil. His brothers did. He did not cause Joseph’s brother’s to sell him into slavery.

They did it of their own free will. They were jealous of him. They hated Joseph. They couldn’t stand him. He was their dad’s favorite. They couldn’t even speak peaceably to him. They wanted to get rid of him and make some money off of him in the process. God allowed it and brought good out of evil but He did not force anyone to do anything against their will.

Joseph was abused and mistreated by his own family sold into slavery by his own family. Everything that happened to him was part of God’s plan.  He was sold him into slavery. God used that to get him to Egypt. In Egypt, he became a slave to an important man for thirteen years. That gave him job experience. He was in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house.

Later, he supervised the food supply of the whole nation. He was then falsely accused of a crime and wrongly imprisoned. That led to an encounter with Pharaoh which changed the course of history. Joseph was used to save not only his family from starvation but the whole nation of Egypt. Somehow, this was all part of God’s plan.

If Joseph’s brothers never sold him to the Midianites, Joseph never would have gone to Egypt. If Joseph never went to Egypt, he would have never been sold to Potiphar. If he was never sold to Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife would never have accused him of rape. If she never accused him of rape, then he would never be put in prison. If he was never put in prison, he would never have met the baker and butler.

If he never meets them, he never would have interpreted their dreams. If he never interpreted their dreams, he would never have met Pharaoh or be made prime minister. If he is never made prime minister, then his family would have perished from the famine. If his family back in Canaan perishes from the famine, then the Messiah would never have been born.

Genesis 50:20 is very similar to a passage in the NT.  Genesis 50:20 is the Romans 8:28 of the OT.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” . Genesis 50 says, “God meant it FOR GOOD” (50:20). Romans 8 says, “God works all things together FOR GOOD” but there is a slight difference between these two verses.

Romans 8:28 says ALL THINGS work together for good. Joseph said EVIL (bad things) works together for good.  God brings good out of evil. Rick Warren says he is an expert at bringing good out of evil. He is able to transform evil into good. He can turn it around and use it for His own purposes.

We talk about senseless violence or gratuitous evil. It is evil that seems to serve no purpose. There is evil that is senseless and gratuitous on the part of man but God is able to bring good out of the worst possible evil. How do we know?

Acts 2:22-23 says “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is another case of the doctrine of concurrence.  Man was doing one thing and God was doing something else.  God brought good out of the greatest evil ever committed on planet earth. The greatest crime ever committed was the crucifixion of Jesus. Wicked hands crucified Christ. Jesus was tortured on the cross. God brought good out of it.

In fact, he brought the greatest good out of the worst possible evil ever committed by man. This shows that God can take the worst of situations and the greatest of evil in this world and bring good out of it. God even brought good out of the holocaust.

This is a hard verse for some. It seems too good to be true. Some say, “I know that God can bring good out of evil but He doesn’t always do that.” There is only one problem. Romans 8:28 says “ALL THINGS work together for good”. He does not say that some things or even most things. He says that all things work together for good to those who love God. That is what Scripture teaches. Is it inspired? Yes.

Paul also does NOT say that “we hope all things work together for good” or “believe all things work together for good” or “pray that all things work together for good”. He says we KNOW it. What do we know? Paul does not say that “we know that all things are good”. They are not.

He says, “We know that all things work together to good for those who love God”. We do not always see the good. We do not always see the bigger picture. This is a passage that we have to take by faith whether we see it happening or not. Joseph did not see everything working out for good for many years.

I have not had that hard of a hard life. My kids are all living and none of them are on death row. My wife has not divorced me yet and I have not contracted leprosy. Many have experienced much more tragedy and pain in their life. I am the wrong person to lecture anyone on this verse but there are some other people who can. Two who can speak about this verse are Scott and Janet Willis. They experienced far more tragedy than any of us ever have. They had nine kids. Scott was a pastor in Chicago.

One day in 1994 while they were traveling with six of their kids, their car struck something that fell off of a truck, which punctured the gas tank and caused the car to burst into flames. The children were trapped in the car. Five died instantly and the other died the next day. If anyone experienced unspeakable and pain, it was them. They were not just anyone. He was a pastor.

Fourteen years after this accident, the two were interviewed by a fellow Christian. Janet Willis said, “Today I have a far greater understanding of the goodness of God than I did after the accident.” Scott Willis said, “I have a stronger view of God’s sovereignty now than ever before”. He now has fifteen grandchildren. One of his three kids was Toby Willis who got married and had twelve kids.

Now even though this is a clear biblical truth, we still need to use a little common sense and sensitivity to people. We need to speak the truth in love. Don’t tell this to a poor widow at a funeral. Ecclesiastes says that there is a time and a place for everything. Knowing what to say is knowledge. Knowing when and how to say it is wisdom.

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