07 February 2011

God Meant It for Good

by Phil Johnson

he beginning and end of Genesis make an interesting contrast. The book starts with "In the beginning God . . . " but ends with the words, " . . . in a coffin in Egypt."

The opening chapter of Genesis is about creation; the closing chapter is about death. At the beginning, Adam is placed in a beautiful garden surrounded by life and divine blessings. At the end, the body of Jacob is interred in a cave with the bodies of Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and Rebekah, and Leah. And Joseph's body is kept in a coffin in Egypt, awaiting burial in that same cave. Pretty dismal stuff, when you think about it.

The rest of Genesis is the chronicle of how sin entered the human race and brought catastrophe and divine wrath again and again. God's judgment against the sin of the human race is a repeated theme. There's a worldwide flood, the confusion of languages at Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In fact, from a human perspective, the Genesis account often seems like things are totally out of control. Human history begins with the fall of Adam, and everything gets worse from there. It gets so bad that in Genesis 6, God simply wiped out the whole human race and started over again with one family. But even after that, the human race seemed bent on wickedness. So God confounded their languages and dispersed them around the globe. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. And by the time you get into the heart of Genesis, there are almost no righteous people in a world of paganism and evil. Abraham is the one person who is truly devoted to Jehovah. (According to 2 Peter 2:8, Abraham's nephew, Lot, was a righteous man. But he was so thoroughly worldly that he serves only as a negative example.) Abraham's own family is seriously dysfunctional, and major family troubles persist in every generation, right through to the end of Genesis.

Finally, internal strife tears the chosen family apart when Abraham's great grandchildren sell their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Then a famine forces the rest of the family to seek refuge in Egypt, and the book of Genesis ends (it more or less just grinds to a halt) with the death of Joseph in that foreign land.

The whole story, on a purely human level, is both disturbing and discouraging.

But through it all, there is a subtle thread of redemption, and Genesis gives us enough of the divine perspective to reassure us that God is completely in control. He has a good purpose in the midst of all this misery and strife. Evil may seem to have the upper hand, but God will triumph.

That, of course, is the great lesson of Genesis. It is the very lesson the story of Joseph and his brothers is designed to relate. It's a lesson about the sovereignty of God, even in the face of human rebellion. And it's summed up in that final chapter in Joseph's brief words to his brothers after the death of their father: "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" (Genesis 50:21).

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Brother Eugene said...

Amen, amen, amen!

(Living in China, I might be the first to read this! Definitely the first to comment...)

donsands said...

What a truth we need to eat every day in these hard times. God is in control.

I thought of what Peter said as well:

"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Moreover, Genesis 50:21 can rightly be uttered of the entire creation of which we are a part.

Anonymous said...

Just found this blog a couple weeks ago! Man I love it!!! Thanks!

Nash Equilibrium said...

Incredibly encouraging commentary on Genesis, and exactly what I needed to be reminded of today. (You'd have to be me to know why)
Thank you

James Scott Bell said...

Providence rules.

(Note: 50:20)

Robert said...

I was using a Scripture Memory System from MacArthur and remember when he was speaking about Romans 8:28...he said that it is like when you see people working on a fine rug from the Middle East/China...from the back, where the stitches are placed, you can't understand how any of it works together, but once we get to heaven we will see the completed work and the beauty of how it all works together perfectly...just like when you see the front of the completed rug. God can even use the evil intentions of sinners to work out things for our good and Huis glory.

Solameanie said...

I can't help but think about Enoch in the litany of woe that is Genesis. I'm probably more curious about him than I am anyone else mentioned in Genesis. "He was not, for God took him."


Mike Riccardi said...

What's so important about this text is that it makes plain that God did not merely make the best out of a bad situation, as if Joseph had only said, "You meant evil against me, but God worked it out for good." No, God meant it for good. His intentions were just as active as Joseph's brothers', and He was as sovereignly involved on the front end of Joseph's trials as He was on the back end of his prosperity. Joseph himself acknowledged this (cf. Gen 45:5-7), and God's absolute sovereignty in suffering was Jeremiah's comfort at the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon.

God's sovereignty in suffering is Good News. Calvin says it beautifully:

This, I say, is [the believer’s] comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power -- so governs them at will by his nod -- so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favour, and intrusted to the care of his angels, neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to [bring upon him]. ... Give heed, and you will at once perceive that ignorance of Providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness (Institutes, 1.17.11).

donsands said...

"Give heed, and you will at once perceive that ignorance of Providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness"


"No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny." The Gettys

And if we think we have God's genuine peace, and don't believe He is sovereign, this same peace is lacking.

northWord said...

Beautifully layed out, Phil. Thanks for this.

Tyrone said...

We tend to see so far and no further,Peter helps us understand the call of God in our lives. Struggles and the trails of life have a purpose in our lives, they are their to eventually teach us obedience...1Peter 4:1 "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin."
Joseph understood this, do we?

ANiMaL (richard) said...

In a week filled with bad news, this was a refreshing reminder of the good news!

Stefan Ewing said...

Very good stuff.