52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 6
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.
I. God's Promise to Abraham
II. Story of Joseph
A. Sold As Slave
B. Potiphar's Wife
C. Joseph Interprets Dreams of Baker and Cupbearer
D. Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams
E. Joseph's Brothers Come to Egypt
III. What Do We Learn?
A. God is Omnipotent
B. God Keeps His Promises
C. We Are Called to Faith
Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.
On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.
Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.
Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.
Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.
The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.
In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.
The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.
Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.
The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death. But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.
The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.
The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.
I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.
Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.
This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.
Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.
Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.
Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.
Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?
1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.
Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”
Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.
Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.
Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.
Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.
The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.
Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.
The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.
Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.
Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.
Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.
Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.
Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.
What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.
Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.
In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.
Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.
During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.
The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.
Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.
We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.
In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.
Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.
Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.
The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.
James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.
1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.
The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.
The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.
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The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.
Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.
Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.
52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide
The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...
Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
God’s Promise to Abraham
God made a sovereign promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. He promised that Abraham would become a great nation and later He qualified that His promise would be accomplished through his very own Son. Well, Genesis 21-36 is the story of a God who is faithful to those covenantal promises. Isaac was eventually born 25 years after the promise. Isaac married Rebecca, which is an amazing story of God’s sovereignty as He goes with Isaac’s servant to pick out just the right wife for Isaac. They have twin boys, Esau and Jacob, and the story of redemption focuses in on Jacob. Through another act of sovereignty, Jacob marries two sisters, Leah and Rachel, and during that process Jacob was renamed Israel. Between Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and a couple concubines he had twelve sons. These are the patriarchs; these are the twelve tribes of Israel. Then the story of redemption narrows once again on one of those sons, namely Joseph. And Genesis 37-50 tells the story of Joseph. It is obviously too long of a story to retell in any detail, so I encourage you all to read it. The story of Joseph is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness. God is the main character, not Joseph, not Pharaoh, not the brothers. And God is in the business of keeping His covenantal promises to Abraham to give him descendants and to make him a great nation. While there are many lessons in the story of Joseph, the doctrine of God’s omnipotence is prominent. “Omnipotence” is a good word; It means God’s power. The doctrine of God’s omnipotence means that God can do whatever He desires to do. His ability to do whatever He desires is a large part of the story. Another word that we use that is a synonym to “omnipotent” is “sovereign.” God is sovereign; God is the all-powerful King over all His creation and is in control and can do whatever He pleases to do. I will unpack through the story of Joseph that God is so powerful and so faithful to His covenantal promises that he will keep those promises even if it means working in the midst of human sin.
The Story of Joseph
Let me go through just some of the highlights of the story with you. Joseph was his father’s favorite. I am often amused at people who look to the patriarchs to learn how to be good fathers. Isaac and Jacob and Joseph are not model fathers in many ways. In some ways they are, with their call to faithfulness and their belief in God, but they played favorites big time. Because Joseph was his favorite, Jacob gives his son a coat of many colors as a sign of his favoritism. So, no duh, guess who hates Joseph? His eleven other brothers.
Sold As Slave
Eventually that hatred led them to sell Joseph as a slave and he ends up in Egypt, a slave to the Egyptian captain of the guard, a gentleman by the name of Potipher. In the midst of his brothers’ sin, God is still sovereign. God is still accomplishing His purposes and God is still keeping His promises. Look at Genesis 39:2-6, “The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.” In other words, he was not out in the fields. “His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all to succeed in his hands, so Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him. And he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made Joseph overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake. The blessing of the Lord was over all that he had in house and field.” So Potipher left everything in Joseph’s charge and had no concern because of him. When there is hurt or when there is pain, whether it is in Joseph’s life or our own, there is a human tendency to think that God has forgotten. There is a tendency to think that God has forgotten us, that somehow because there is injustice, that because there is pain, that somehow God has lost control of the situation. But not only is God in control of Joseph’s situation, and Joseph’s in a worse situation than I’ve ever been, He is bringing great blessing in the midst of the pain. In the midst of the hurt, in the midst of the injustice, God is bringing great blessings. You know, sometimes God keeps us from harm, does he not? One of my favorite songs is an Amy Grant song called ‘’Angels Watching Over Me’’ where the line is, “The drunk ran out of gas before he ran over me.” You know, many, many times God keeps us out of harm, He keeps us out of injustice, He keeps us out of the consequences of other people’s sin and the problem, in a sense, is that He does such a good job of it that you do not even know it would have happened. I believe in guardian angels and I cannot wait to find out all the things that my angel or my Lord kept me from falling into. God works in the midst of sin and hurt, like He does with Joseph. And when He does that, He is still sovereign. He is so sovereign, He is so omnipotent that His plans cannot be thwarted by human sin. That is the message of the first part of the Joseph story.
Well, things continue for a while. God blessed Joseph, including blessing his appearance. Potiphar’s wife was unfaithful to her husband and pursued Joseph. Joseph says to Potiphar’s wife, “How can I sin against God?” Eventually he runs from her enticements. If I had written Genesis, I would have rewarded Joseph here for his sexual purity and loyalty. I would have rewarded him for running from sin, but I did not write this story. In response to his purity, Potiphar’s wife lies to her husband and has Joseph thrown in jail. Now imagine how Joseph feels at this point. I mean, I can almost hear him calling out, “God, is it not enough that my brothers sold me into slavery? Is it not enough that I have been separated from my family?” What is God’s response? In the midst of the sin of Potiphar’s wife, God says to Joseph, “I am still sovereign. I will accomplish My purposes. I will still keep My promises.” Look at Genesis 39:21 and following, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge because the Lord was with Joseph and whatever Joseph did, the Lord made it succeed.” Sound familiar? Now in jail, just like in Potiphar’s household, God is still doing the same thing. He is still working in the midst of sin and injustice and blessing Joseph. God is still sovereign.
Joseph Interprets Dreams of Baker and Cupbearer
Well, the years go by, we do not know exactly how many, but we know there were multiple, and Joseph is given a chance to get out of jail because two of Pharaoh’s officials were thrown into jail. Eventually both of them have a dream and they find out that Joseph can interpret dreams. They ask him to come and interpret their dreams. Look at Genesis 40:8. It almost seems like a historical aside comment, but it is actually incredibly important. They said to him, “We have had dreams and there is no one to interpret dreams. And Joseph said to them, “Yeah, I can do that.” No, that is not what he said, is it? “Do not interpretations belong to God? Go ahead and tell me your dreams.” You know from a human standpoint, from a non-God standpoint, someone might be tempted to think that Joseph has the right to be mad at God, but he is not. He does not even want to get the credit; he does not want to get the glory for being able to interpret dreams. Even after everything that has happened, Joseph is still intent on giving the glory to God and he is saying, “No, it is God who interprets dreams. Go ahead and tell me your dreams.” So they do and he interprets them. His interpretations come true, the baker is executed and the cupbearer is eventually returned to Pharaoh’s service and when he leaves, Joseph just asks one favor, one favor of this guy, 40:14, “Only remember me when it is well with you and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh. And so get me out of this place. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. I ask just one simple, little favor. I interpreted your dreams. I know that God knows what he’s talking about. Will you please get me out of here? I do not belong here.” And so in great, deep heartfelt appreciation, the cupbearer gets out of jail and immediately forgets all about Joseph.
Joseph Interprets Pharoah’s Dreams
In fact, the Cupbearer forgets him for about two years. But then Pharaoh has a couple of dreams in Genesis 41. The Cupbearer goes, “Oh, I forgot, I forgot. There’s this young Hebrew boy in jail and he can interpret dreams.” Because none of Pharaoh’s magicians or wise men could interpret his dream they send for Joseph. He comes and Pharaoh says, “I hear you can interpret dreams,” Genesis 41:16. Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Guess who is still in charge? Joseph knows that the power to interpret comes from God. So Pharaoh tells him his two dreams, Joseph says, “Here’s what they mean. There will be seven years of great harvest and then there will be seven years of horrible famine throughout the land of Egypt and beyond.” And then again, it almost reads as a little postscript, but 41:32, “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God and God will shortly bring it about.” Who is in charge, not only of Joseph, but Egypt and everything? It is still God. There is not even a shadow of doubt, despite everything that has happened to Joseph, who is in charge of the universe. It is still God. God is sovereign, He will accomplish His purposes, He will keep His promises in His way and in His time. So Pharaoh says, “I believe you.” He appoints Joseph as second in charge, second only to Pharaoh, to collect grain during the seven good years so that the Egyptians would have something to eat during the seven years of famine. Please look at Chapter 41, verses 39 and following, “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only in regards to the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in the second chariot. And they called out before him, ‘Bow the knee.’ And thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh and without your consent, no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’” What is going on? It is the same thing that happened in Potipher’s house. It is the same thing that happened in jail. God is still sovereign. In the midst of human sin, and in the midst of injustice, God is blessing his chosen one. He will accomplish his purposes. He will keep his promises in his way and in his time.
Joseph’s Brothers Come to Egypt
So Joseph’s interpretations come true. There are seven years of harvest during which Joseph gathered a fifth of the produce, and then the seven years of famine come. The famine is not only in Egypt but extends up into Canaan as well and everyone else is running out of food. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy the grain. They do not recognize Joseph; they assume he is dead by now. Joseph accuses them of being spies, they go home, run out of food, and they have to come back a second time. Joseph is playing with them, toying with them, trying to teach them a lesson. He accuses them of being thieves. If you do not know the story, please read it. And you have to understand that these are ten men who are foreigners who have nothing but money, which they cannot eat, and they are speaking to the second in command of Egypt, the breadbasket of the ancient world. Being accused of being a spy and a thief is not a good situation to find yourself in. And then in Genesis 45, we get to what I believe is the culmination of the story. “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by. He cried, ‘Make everyone go out from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud so the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him for they were dismayed at his presence.” Oh, I bet they were. ‘’Dismayed’’ does not strike me as the right description of what was really going through their hearts. They were scared. “So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, please. Get in my face and look at me.’ And they came near and he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph whom” (now please watch the pronouns), “whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God set me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and yet there are 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 set me here, but God.’” I do not know of any more amazing statement in all of Scripture as to the amazing sovereign control that God executes over His creation. That even in the midst of horrible sin and horrible injustice, what you and I mean for sin, God in His omnipotence and sovereignty means for good.
This is the primary message of Genesis in this story of Joseph: What humans meant for sin, God meant for good. Eventually, all of Jacob’s family, seventy of them in all, are brought down to Egypt and there settle. And God, through Joseph and the most unlikely of actors in this story as it were, Pharaoh, is faithful in His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to preserve them and to make them into a great nation and to bless them. On his deathbed several years later, Jacob is blessing and cursing his twelve sons. It is interesting what he says to Joseph. In Genesis 49:23, 24 Jacob says about Joseph, says, “The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely. Yet his bow remained unmoved, his arms were made agile by the hands of the mighty One of Jacob.” See, Jacob is acknowledging all the sin and turmoil that Joseph had to deal with in his life, and yet in his blessing says, “Your hand was not moved, you stayed strong. Not because you are a stoic. Not because you have got that kind of personality, but because “…God made your hands agile. It is God who is in control of your life and it is God who is doing his work in the midst of sin.” Amazing statement!
Eventually Jacob dies and Joseph’s brothers become nervous. “Ah, Dad’s gone now, now we are going to get it.” There is a great story line in this account about the power of guilt. Whenever you look at Joseph’s brothers, you are seeing guilt at work. They were sure now that Joseph was going to get them, so they said, “Let’s lie. Let’s say Dad said you won’t do anything.” And in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “As for you, you meant evil against me.” He is not excusing his brothers at all, is he? “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” Even in the midst of all the injustice, all the pain, all the hurt, all the sin, Joseph still believes that God is sovereign over all, willing and able to keep His promises.
What Do We Learn
That is the story of Joseph. What do we learn? Well, there are many things in this story of Joseph from which we can learn. But there are three that I want to emphasize.
God is Omnipotent
Number one: God is omnipotent. God is sovereign. God can do anything He jolly well pleases. He is the King over all. If you want a memory verse, especially for your children, Psalm 115:3, “God does all that He pleases.” Now if that does not come through in this story, I do not know what does, because there is a lot of sin here. There is a lot of injustice. There are a lot of consequences, yet no matter where Joseph found himself, as far as we know, he refused to curse God and die. He constantly gave God the credit, gave God the glory. And God was at work keeping His promise to Abraham by blessing Joseph wherever he went and at the end of the day, using Joseph and Pharaoh to accomplish His purposes to keep His promises. God is indeed omnipotent. He is indeed sovereign.
God Keeps His Promises
Secondly, God’s sovereignty allows Him to keep His promises, even in the midst of human sin. I think it is easy to understand or to think about God’s sovereignty when everything is good. It is something else when things are bad. It is something else when things are difficult. But the story of Joseph shows us that even in the bleakest of times, when we are engulfed by sin and its consequences, God is in control. When life seems out of control, faith says that God is in control. That is one of the promises that God asks us to believe about Himself. Now, I’ve got to give two quick qualifications here. One: God does not do evil. He did not make Joseph’s brothers sell him into captivity. He did not make Potiphar’s wife lie. This is perhaps nowhere stated more strongly than in Job. After all the times that Job insisted he was righteous and accused God of sinning, Elihu cannot stand it any longer and speaks starting in Job 34:10. Eliju says, “Therefore hear me, you men of understanding.” (That is a very sarcastic phrase.)“Far be it from God that He should do wickedness and from the Almighty that He should do wrong. For according to the work of a man, God will repay him, and according to a man’s ways, God will make it befall him. Of a truth God will not, God will not do wickedly and the Almighty will not pervert justice.” There are some theological systems that think God does evil. He does not do evil. Qualification number two: God holds the sinful party responsible. Joseph’s brothers were responsible for their sin. Even Judas was responsible for his sin. Judas was the fulfillment of prophecy. He accomplished what was written about him, but look at what Jesus says of Judas. Matthew 26:24, “The Son of Man” (Jesus), “goes as it is written of Him. But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Joseph’s brothers, Judas, are responsible for their sins. But with those two qualifications to the side, please understand that God is so powerful, He is so wise, that He can work in the midst of human sin to accomplish His purposes. That is what the affirmations in Genesis 45 and 50 are all about, “You meant it for evil. God meant it for good.” This is nowhere more clearly stated in the New Testament than in Romans 8:28-29. Do not ever quote 8:28 without quoting 29 at the same time, please. Paul is talking to the Roman church specifically about those who love God, those who are believers. “But for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” The key is to understand who defines the word “good.” And Paul defines it in verse 29: “For those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. And those whom He predestined, He called, He justified and He glorified.” Nothing happens that God has decreed should not happen. That is another way to look at the doctrine of sovereignty. God never loses control. Our actions of sin never thwart what God wants to accomplish. And God is so sovereign that He has promised us that no matter what happens, he is at work in the midst to accomplish His good and His good is that you look like His Son, Jesus Christ. His good is not the cessation of pain. His good is not “name it and claim it.” His good is that we be conformed to the image of His Son so that someday we will be glorified and when we see Him. His good is that we look like Him, as John says in I John 3, because we will see him face to face. God’s sovereignty allows Him to keep His promises even in the midst of sin. Even in the midst of sin, God is at work in me and in you, making us look like His Son.
We Are Called To Faith
Number three: We are called to faith. While the word is not used, it is written between every line of the story. You and I are called to believe in the promises of God. You and I are called to confess that when life seems out of control, faith says God is in control. Like Joseph we are called to trust in God, to look beyond the immediate and believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. And God has said, “I will reward righteousness. I will punish wickedness.” You and I are called to believe that in His way and in His time, he will do exactly that. And you know, the cool thing is that we do not have to understand it at all. God does not call us to understand everything; He simply calls us to believe everything. Now, fortunately, we do not have to put our brains on a shelf. Christians are thinking people. But what pleases God at the innermost part of His being is not that you and I understand Him, but that you and I trust Him, believe in Him, have faith in Him, especially in the difficult times of life. Isaiah 55:8-9, “‘For my thoughts,’ God says, ‘are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” The story of Joseph is not the greatest injustice in history. It is not the greatest example of God’s sovereign work in the midst of human sin. This week is not the greatest story of injustice in the history of the world. God worked in the midst of human sin when they killed His perfect Son. That is the greatest injustice that has ever been perpetrated in all of reality. And if God can work in the midst of that kind of depravity and in that kind of sin, He can work in the midst of your life and mine. The question of Joseph is simply: Do you believe that God is sovereign? That is the question. Do you believe with all your heart, “Oh God, help my unbelief, but I believe”? Do you believe that God is sovereign? Do you believe that when your life seems out of control that God is in control? This is the faith that God asks of us. This is the faith that God asked of Abraham, and this is the faith that pleases the God of the universe. Do you believe that He is sovereign? Let’s pray. Father, our minds bend and snap at the events of this week. It is simply beyond our minds, which came from dust and will return to dust, how a sovereign God can be at work the way that You are in the midst of our sin. But, Father, we believe with all of our hearts that You are a sovereign God who loves His creation and is at work in His creation accomplishing Your purposes, keeping Your promises, in Your way and in Your time. We believe, God, help our unbelief. Amen.
- Have you had any bad experiences with people who emphasized the sovereignty of God? Share them with your group. It is important not to throw the biblical concept away because it is misused by some.
- How do you feel about the biblical definition of sovereignty: “God does whatever he pleases”? Is that encouraging or discouraging? Do you feel that it contradicts any other beliefs you hold?
- When we are in the midst of pain or injustice, there is a tendency to doubt God’s goodness, presence, and power. How can the story of Joseph be an encouragement to you in the midst of your struggles?
- Have you gone through any experiences where you can identify with Joseph? How did your responses compare to his? What can you learn?
- What would you have done in Joseph’s shoes when his brothers stood before him?
- What good is God working in your right now as you go through difficult experiences? How are the difficult times helping you look more and more like Jesus?
- The Joseph story calls us to respond in faith. What would faith look like right now in the midst of the difficulties of your life?