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I have granddaughters, so I have to like fairy tales – especially if they involve princesses or mermaids. Fairy tales always end with the same words: “And they lived happily ever after.”
There is a story in the Bible that is a little like a fairy tale in that regard. It starts off happy, turns very tragic, but has a beautiful ending. It isn’t a fairy tale, however; it is a true story. In it are all the elements of a real page-turner: a doting father, a pampered son, jealous brothers and an international food crisis. There is intrigue, attempted murder, a seductress and an accusation of rape.
It is also a story in which we see God at work in every scene, ruling and overruling the decisions people make. And in the end, God builds a hero, saves a family and creates a nation that will, in turn, be a blessing to the world.
Joseph’s life is truly a rags-to-riches story as he goes from complete obscurity to becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. He never seemed to doubt God, at least that we know of, and he was unwilling to compromise his principles. As a result, God blessed him.
When we are first introduced to Joseph in the book of Genesis, his life shows little promise. He is a simple shepherd boy, the 12th of 13 children. Like most teens, he liked to sleep. But in his case, he put a lot of stock in his dreams, believing they were from God himself.
Right away we discover that Jacob, Joseph’s father, favored him. Joseph had come along in Jacob’s later years. His mother was Rachel, the only woman whom Jacob apparently had ever loved. So Jacob doted on the boy, and his other sons could see that.
One day Joseph went out to see what his brothers were up to, and they had an idea: Let’s just kill him right now. But one of his brothers intervened and convinced them it would be the wrong thing to do. So they reached a compromise and sold Joseph to some slave traders who happened to be passing by on their way to Egypt.
It looked as though life was over for Joseph, but in many ways it was just beginning. The slave traders sold him to an Egyptian named Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Potiphar was essentially the head of the military police and part of the royal body guard. He also was responsible for the execution of all criminals. And now he was Joseph’s owner.
But the Bible tells us the Lord was with Joseph (see Genesis 39:2). Joseph worked hard, and success followed him like a shadow. Whatever Joseph did, he did it so well that Potiphar eventually put him in charge of everything.
Then along came Potiphar’s wife. She started hitting on Joseph, and she wasn’t subtle about it. Joseph could have rationalized giving in to her, but here is what he knew: God was there, and God was watching. But she was relentless, and one day, she grabbed him and pulled him down. So Joseph did what any clear-thinking, red-blooded young man would do under such circumstances: He ran like crazy.
Potiphar’s wife was a woman scorned, and she cried rape. So Potiphar sent Joseph to prison, which was really a dungeon. Things looked pretty bleak. And again the Bible tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph. …” (Genesis 39:21 NKJV) In typical Joseph fashion, he was so diligent and hardworking that Joseph was put in charge of the other prisoners.
Enter the butler and the baker, who had worked for Pharaoh but were sent to prison. Both had dreams while they were there, and Joseph, who was an expert at interpreting dreams, explained what they meant. It was good news for the butler, but bad news for the baker. And sure enough, things happened just as Joseph said they would.
Two years passed, and it seemed that Joseph had been forgotten. But one night Pharaoh had a very disturbing dream. And when none of Pharaoh’s wise men could interpret it for him, the butler remembered Joseph. So Joseph was summoned from prison and brought before Pharaoh. Overnight, Joseph went from rags to riches. He went from being in charge of the prisoners to being the second-in-command in all of Egypt. If the story had stopped at this point, it would have been an amazing one. But it doesn’t end there.
Fast-forward many years, and a famine has come to Egypt, just as Joseph predicted it would from Pharaoh’s dream. Egypt had saved enough grain to see them through. All the world essentially was looking to Egypt for relief – including Joseph’s family. And one day, he found himself face-to-face with his brothers. When he finally revealed who he was, he made this amazing statement: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5 NIV).
What gave Joseph the grace to say such a thing? He knew that God is sovereign, that God does not make mistakes. The word “oops” is not in God’s vocabulary. Joseph also understood that God is good. The things that God allows into our lives are for our benefit and for the benefit of others. I cannot read the story of Joseph without thinking of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
God loved Joseph no matter what came his way. No matter how wicked its origin, God turned it around for good.
There are things that God allows in our lives that don’t make sense. I have had things happen in my life that I don’t understand, that I don’t like, and that I would change if I could. But I believe that God is sovereign, and I believe that God is good. I believe that ultimately in my life, all things will work together for good. By faith I believe that God is in control, and by faith I am going to trust him.