October 22, 2023

Genesis 50:15-26: God Meant It for Good

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: Genesis: In the Beginning Topic: Default Scripture: Genesis 50:15–26

Genesis 50:15-26: God Meant It for Good

We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Genesis, and today the next passage we come to is Genesis 50:15-26. It says,

15 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.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. 

May God bless the reading of his Word.

Let’s pray: Father, we’re told that there are different kinds of soils on which the seed of your Word falls—thorny soil, rocky soil, soil on a path, and good fertile soil. And it’s only when the seed falls on that last kind of soil that it actually produces fruit. So, please, help us to be that fertile soil this morning, so that the seed of your Word can take root and bear fruit in our lives. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Whenever tragedy strikes, there seems to be something within the human heart that yearns to understand why tragedies like that happen. Right now, for example, I’m sure the biggest thing on all of our minds is the terrible atrocities that have been committed against the nation of Israel and the unspeakable acts of violence that have been carried out even against civilians. These evil acts are so horrendous that I’ve found it difficult to even look at the news stories that have been coming out of Israel these past couple of weeks. And whenever something like this happens, it’s natural for us to wonder why. We want answers. We want to know why a good God would allow such terrible evil in the world. 

And of course, this applies not only to disturbing global events but also to the suffering and difficulties we experience personally in our own lives. We want to know why. Why did God allow our loved one to pass away at such a young age? Why did God allow us to be in that car accident that’s left us with severe back pain? Why did God allow us to experience that miscarriage or be a victim of that crime or lose our job? Why did he allow our children to become addicted to drugs or our family to be torn apart by conflict? We yearn to understand these things. 

It's also worth pointing out that the secular worldview that predominates our society isn’t any help in our quest to understand the purpose of these trials. It has no satisfactory answers for us. According to the secular worldview and its naturalistic assumptions, even the greatest tragedies we experience are just random occurrences that have no meaning. We happen to live in a chaotic universe that’s filled with all kinds of tragedies and hardships that lack any purpose at all. So, the only thing we can really do is try our best to suck it up and deal with it. That’s all secularism has for us.

Thankfully, though, the Bible offers us a much different perspective—as we can see quite clearly in our main passage today of Genesis 50:15-26. This passage is incredibly comforting and helpful, whether you’re currently experiencing some type of suffering yourself or are trying to minister to someone who’s suffering or simply want to be spiritually prepared for whatever the future holds. 

To remind you of what’s been happening, we’ve been reading about a man named Joseph and how Joseph’s brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery in Egypt. Yet Joseph eventually rose to become the second-in-command of Egypt and ended up rescuing his family from the severe famine that was taking place in that region of the world. Joseph was actually able to arrange for his entire family—including his father, Jacob, and all of his brothers and their wives and children, numbering 70 people in all—to move from Canaan to Egypt. He then provided for all of their needs for the next 17 years. 

Eventually, though, Jacob died. And that’s where the story picks up here in the middle of Genesis 50. Look with me at verses 15-18: 15 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.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 

So, Joseph’s brothers are still very conscious of the terrible way they wronged Joseph all those years ago by selling him into slavery in Egypt. Even though it’s now been nearly 40 years since they did that, they remember it as if it were yesterday. And we can see in these verses that they’re afraid Joseph remembers it as if it were yesterday as well. Now that their father Jacob has died, Joseph’s brothers are basically freaking out because they’re afraid Joseph will now get his revenge. They suspect Joseph has just been biding his time for all these years and is now ready to pay them back with interest for what they did to him. 

So, they try everything they can think of to convince him not to hurt them. In verses 16-17, we see that they make up a story about their father Jacob supposedly requesting from his deathbed that Joseph forgive his bothers. I don’t know about you, but that sounds kind of fishy to me. If I were Joseph, I’d probably be wondering, if my father really requested that, why he didn’t communicate that request to me. So, I think we can safely say that what Joseph’s brothers claim their father said in these verses is totally fabricated. 

And notice how they even bring God into the picture at the end of verse 17, asking Joseph to “please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” It’s as if they’re saying, “Remember, Joseph, the God of your father is watching everything you do.” Then, in verse 18, they fall down at Joseph’s feet and basically beg for their lives, saying to Joseph, “Behold, we are your servants.”

But look how Joseph responds in verses 19-21: 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 

So, Joseph assures his brothers that he’s not going to get revenge. The primary reason he gives for this, as we see in verse 19, is that getting revenge would be putting himself in place of God and claiming for himself a prerogative that belongs exclusively to God. And Joseph’s absolutely right about that. In Romans 12:19, the Apostle Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

Then, back in our main passage, the second reason Joseph gives for not seeking revenge is his understanding that God was actually at work in a masterful way through the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers in order to accomplish his own good purposes. Joseph says to his brothers in verse 20, “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.” That statement sums up just about everything that’s taken place throughout the past thirteen chapters. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Notice that Joseph doesn’t deny the evil his brothers did to him. He doesn’t even downplay it. Instead, he plainly acknowledges that his brothers committed evil against him. In fact, he actually says that they “meant evil.” They didn’t just do something that happened to be evil; they had evil intentions. Yet Joseph says he’s able to forgive them because he understands that God had a good purpose for their evil deed. 

That purpose, Joseph says, is to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” God orchestrated a series of events that culminated in Joseph being put in a position where he could preserve the lives of many people in the midst of the severe famine that came upon that region of the world. This obviously included the people of Egypt as well as many others from the surrounding nations as well. And most importantly, it included Joseph’s own family. 

Not only was preserving the lives of Joseph’s family important as an expression of God’s love for them and his faithfulness to the promises he had made to Abraham, it was also necessary in order for the Messiah’s entry into the world hundreds of years later. God’s stated plan and purpose was to bring the Messiah into the world through Abraham’s descendants. God then filtered that down in the subsequent chapters of Genesis to the descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac and then to the descendants of Isaac’s son Jacob. But that would be kind of hard to do if Jacob and his family starved to death. So, the preservation of Jacob and his family was actually something that was massively significant for the entire redemptive plan of God. 

 So, God actually had multiple good purposes that he was accomplishing through the evil deed of Joseph’s brothers. God was preserving the lives of the Egyptians, preserving the lives of people from the surrounding nations, preserving the lives of Joseph’s own family, and preserving the line of people though whom the Messiah would one day come. What Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good. That’s the main idea of this passage. What Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good.

And the way this passage connects to our lives is that God uses difficult things to accomplish his good purposes all the time. We actually talked about this extensively just a few weeks ago in our examination of Genesis 45. In that message, we observed God’s invisible hand at work in all the events of Joseph’s life in order to accomplish his will. So, I’m not going to repeat what I said in that message. Instead, today, I’d like to take the discussion one step further and focus on the “why” of suffering and evil. We’ve already established that God’s accomplishing his own good purposes, but what exactly are those purposes? Joseph says that “God meant it for good” and then explains what that looked like in his situation, but what does it look like for us in our lives today? What “good” things is God accomplishing through the difficulties we encounter? 

Now, before we go any further, I first want to give a brief caveat here and make sure we have realistic expectations. No matter how much we study what the Bible says about this, there will still be plenty about the difficult things that happen to us that we just don’t understand on this side of heaven. God says in Isaiah 55:9 that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” So, the majority of what God’s accomplishing through the difficulties he allows us to experience will remain shrouded in mystery until we get to heaven. I like the way John Piper says it. He says that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”  

So, my goal in this message isn’t to comprehensively explain all of God’s purposes for life’s difficulties but rather to simply pull back the curtain a little bit so that we can have a glimpse of some of the things God uses difficulties in our lives to accomplish. And we won’t be able to spend very long on any of these because I actually have seven of them to share with you. Seven ways God uses difficulties to accomplish good. So, make sure you have your seatbelts securely fastened as we move rather quickly through these. 

The first way God uses difficulties is to humble us and bring us to an understanding of our weakness. God uses difficulties to humble us and bring us to an understanding of our weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul writes, 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. So, God saw that Paul’s heart was becoming proud because of the incredible spiritual revelations he was receiving and therefore allowed Paul to suffer some kind of ongoing trial—referred to here as a “thorn in the flesh”—in order to humble Paul and show him his weakness.

And that’s the effect suffering has on us as well. It actually has the effect of exposing not only our general weakness but all kinds of specific sins in our lives as well. One author named Kevin Halloran writes, “Suffering is a window into the soul. It shows us who we really are, what we’re trusting in, and where our hope is found. It often reveals the idols of our hearts.” And another author named Paul Tripp writes, “We like to tell ourselves that we’re spiritually okay, but suffering…exposes the bad things that still live inside us. In our pain we’re irritable, envious, demanding, impatient, doubtful, and angry. Suffering doesn’t make us this way, but it draws out what’s been inside us already.”

You might compare it to squeezing a tube of toothpaste. When you squeeze a toothpaste tube, what’s on the inside comes out. And, likewise, when we experience suffering, it often reveals what’s in our hearts.

Moving forward, a second way God uses difficulties is to break us of our self-sufficiency and teach us to rely on him. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. So, the afflictions Paul and his companions experienced in Asia were so extreme that they led them to “despair of life itself.” But those afflictions had a purpose, and that purpose was to teach Paul and his companions to rely not on themselves but on God. 

In this way, afflictions function as a kind of refining fire in our lives. Just like fire is often used to burn away impurities from gold and other precious metals, afflictions burn away the impurities of self-reliance and self-sufficiency from our hearts. You might also compare the afflictions we experience to a master sculptor chiseling away from a large stone everything that isn’t going to be a part of the sculpture he’s creating. That’s what God’s doing when he allows us to experience afflictions. He’s chiseling away from our hearts everything that doesn’t belong there in order to create a masterpiece. 

Then, third and closely related, God uses difficulties to foster growth to spiritual maturity. James 1:2-4 tells us, 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Obviously, “count[ing] it all joy” when we experience trials is radically counterintuitive. Yet notice that James doesn’t say to rejoice in the trials themselves. Instead, James says to rejoice in what trials are accomplishing in our lives. They’re producing “steadfastness” and ultimately leading us further in our lifelong journey toward being “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Trials are producing virtues within us that simply can’t be produced in any other way. Just like a diamond can’t be produced apart from extraordinary amounts of heat and pressure, godly character can’t be produced apart from the intense heat and pressure of adversity. 

This same basic idea is also taught quite famously in Romans 8:28-29. Paul writes, 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…. So, notice how Paul doesn’t just say that “all things work together for good” and then leave it at that. He goes on to define what that “good” is. It’s being “conformed to the image of [Jesus].”

You know, many times, we imagine that God causing everything to work together for our good must mean causing everything to work together for our comfort. I mean, what greater good could there be, right? Being comfortable certainly sounds pretty good to me. Yet, that’s not what Paul says here, is it? He actually says something very different—God causes all things to work together not necessarily for our comfort but rather for something that’s higher and greater and more glorious than that—namely to conform us to the image of Jesus. God’s primary concern isn’t our comfort but rather our Christlikeness. That’s why God does what he does and allows what he allows. He’s molding us and shaping us to be more like Jesus. And when we begin to understand that that’s God’s primary goal, the difficult things we encounter can start to make a lot more sense. Not perfect sense, but a lot more sense.

Then, moving on to number four, God uses difficulties to lead us toward greater satisfaction in him. In the book of Lamentations, as the prophet Jeremiah is sitting in the ashes and rubble of the fallen Jerusalem, he talks about how great his afflictions are. That’s why the book’s called “Lamentations.” He’s lamenting about the tragedy that’s just taken place. Yet, in the middle of his lamenting, he writes this in Lamentations 3:22-24, 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 

Don’t you just love that phrase, “The Lord is my portion”? Trials have a way of reminding us of how true that is. As many of the things that we typically delight in are stripped away from us, we hopefully begin to realize that those things aren’t essential to our joy. As long as we have Jesus, we have all that we need to have real fullness and joy and satisfaction. As I once heard it phrased, Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Have you gotten there yet? Can you say with Jeremiah, “The Lord is my portion”? 

Fifth, God uses difficulties to prepare us for ministry to others. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul writes, 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

About a year or year and a half ago, a woman in our church had a miscarriage. And it was obviously an incredibly difficult thing for her. Yet God comforted her and has now enabled her to support several other women in our church who have experienced miscarriages in the past six months or so. That’s the kind of thing Paul’s talking about here. The trials we experience prepare us and, in a certain manner of speaking, qualify us to engage in particular forms of ministry to others. You know, when the 2-3 women who recently experienced miscarriages shared with me what had happened, I obviously tried my best to comfort them. But I ultimately connected them to the woman who had previously experienced a miscarriage because I knew that she’d be able to relate to them and comfort them in unique way—a way that was well beyond what I was able to do. 

Paul Tripp writes, “We all know that we don’t own the blessings in our lives, that we are meant to pass them forward into the lives of others, but this passage confronts us with the fact that even our sufferings belong to the Lord for his use….Like [the Apostle] Paul, God will give us stories to tell, stories of how God met us in our darkest moments of panic and doom. He gives us stories to tell about how he lifts us up, gives us hope, brings peace to our hearts, and meets our needs.” So, what stories has God given you of his faithfulness and goodness and comfort in the midst of trials that you can now share with others as a source of comfort for them? 

Moving forward, a sixth way God uses difficulties is to display his power and glory. In John 9:1-3, we read about a conversation between Jesus and his disciples about a blind man. It says, 1 As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. So, think about that. The reason this man was blind from birth, Jesus says, is “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” God allowed the man to be born blind and be afflicted with blindness throughout his life so that Jesus could one day heal him and thereby display his divine glory. 

Similarly, God displays his glory in our afflictions as well. He does this at times by delivering us from those afflictions—sometimes even in a very dramatic way. And he also displays his glory by sustaining us in the midst of our afflictions. I’ve heard a number of stories of people who were initially rather skeptical about Christianity becoming much more open to Christianity or even embracing Christianity when they saw how a Christian in their life responded to tragedy. When they saw the unexplainable peace that their Christian friend had and the way their friend’s faith in God helped them get through an incredibly difficult experience, it had a profound effect on the person who was formerly skeptical. It was a powerful gospel witness to them. So, God displayed his glory through the suffering of those Christians. 

Then finally, a seventh way God uses difficulties is to turn our attention to future glory. In Romans 8:18, Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He then describes in verse 23 how these sufferings produce within us a “groaning” and a yearning for that future glory. 

Suffering, for the Christian, is a very direct and straightforward reminder that this world is not our home. Instead, as Paul says elsewhere, our citizenship is in heaven. So, the more we suffer during our brief time on this earth, the more we should find ourselves longing for that time in the future when, as Revelation 21:4 says, God will wipe away every tear from every eye. A time is coming when grief and suffering and disease and violence and pain won’t even be words in our vocabulary. And every difficulty we experience now should lead us to set our hearts even more on the glories we’ll enjoy then

So, those are seven ways God uses difficulties to accomplish good. Thinking back to our main passage, just as Joseph had confidence that God used everything his brothers did to accomplish his own good purposes, God likewise is using the difficulties we experience to accomplish wonderful and beautiful things. And hopefully going through these seven specific ways God does that is a helpful reminder to us that we really can trust God. Friends, God loves us, and he knows what he’s doing. Our suffering isn’t without purpose but is rather the instrument of an infinitely loving, wise, and sovereign God to accomplish his will in our lives. 

And as we consider how God used evil to accomplish good back in the days of Joseph, it should lead us to also consider the greatest and climactic example of God using evil to accomplish good. That, of course, is the gospel. The gospel is the message of Jesus coming to this earth, living a perfectly sinless life, and then being crucified on a cross. Even though he had done nothing wrong, the sinless Son of God was slaughtered on a Roman cross. That, without question, is the greatest act of evil that’s ever taken place in the history of the world. 

Yet God was at work through it all. We learn in 1 Peter 3:18 that “Christ…suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” So, there you have it. The greatest evil in the history of the world accomplished the greatest good in the history of the world. When our sins separated us from a holy God and made us deserving of eternal punishment, “Christ…suffered…for [our] sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” By dying on that cross, Jesus suffered the punishment our sins deserved. Somebody had to suffer the penalty for our sins, and typically that “somebody” would be us. But in his love, Jesus voluntarily stood in our place and suffered on our behalf. 

He then resurrected from the dead so that he now stands ready to save everyone who turns away from their sin and puts their trust in him for rescue. That involves acknowledging not only our sin but also our utter helplessness to save ourselves from the punishment we deserve and then placing our full confidence in Jesus and him alone for rescue. That’s the most important thing we can ever do—because that’s what determines where we’ll spend eternity. 

Yet our need to consider the gospel doesn’t end at conversion. We also need to keep the gospel fresh in our minds throughout our lives as Christians. There are numerous reasons for that. But one of them, as we’ve seen, is that it’s the gospel that provides us with the most powerful picture we’ll ever see of God using evil to accomplish good. And the way I like to think about it is that, if God could even use the unspeakable suffering Jesus experienced to accomplish good, surely he can also use the sufferings and difficulties you and I experience to accomplish good as well.

other sermons in this series

Oct 15


Genesis 48:1-50:14: Jacob’s Blessings

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Genesis 48:1– 50:14 Series: Genesis: In the Beginning

Oct 8


Genesis 47:1-31: Prosperity in Egypt

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Genesis 47:1–31 Series: Genesis: In the Beginning

Oct 1