Genesis 45 – The God Who Did This

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Today’s PassageGenesis 45

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Joseph lets the cat out of the bag in today’s chapter. And it’s this chapter that gave me those impressions of his increased maturity, because he has a lot to say about God. Honestly, though, I’m inclined to give more credit to his brothers. They’d previously sold him into slavery for being a brat. But now, as he’s used his authority as Pharaoh’s representative to send them in five different directions and give them panic attack after panic attack, they forgive and forget, accepting his embrace and speaking freely with him (15). They don’t even demand an apology. (Joseph doesn’t demand an apology, either, but that’s because he’s already witnessed their contrition when he overheard their conversations in Hebrew.) The narrator of Genesis refrains from editorializing, but all things considered, I think their behavior is fairly charitable.

Anyway, the thrust of Joseph’s message is that everything that’s led to his present situation has been God’s doing, for God’s purposes. Perhaps, in my younger days, I took Joseph’s prolific use of the word “God” as an indication of spiritual growth. But even if I think Joseph would be better off asking his brothers not to be angry with him because he lied to them, rather than saying, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here” (5), I can’t dispute that what he says is correct. God’s hand has been in this whole thing.

As Joseph reiterates three times (5, 7, 8), God sent him to Egypt. He used his brothers’ jealousy to get him there, but he also gave Joseph the dream interpretations to get him into Pharaoh’s good graces, and he gave him the administrative experience in Potiphar’s house to prepare him to manage the food reserves of a nation. And through all that, God ensured that his chosen people, the children of Israel, would survive the seven-year famine that he brought upon Egypt and Israel.

If you make God the subject of every sentence, though, it certainly raises some questions. One may wonder what place free will has in a world where everything that happens, even the actions of jealous brothers and powerful kings, is in some sense something that God does. Even if it’s not strictly accurate to say that God compels our every action, at the very least we have to say that whatever we do, God has already said, “I want a universe with a guy who does that thing at that exact time.” And when we consider that God brought the famine? Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you ask why he’s saving his people from a disaster that he himself instigated. When God permits evil only to orchestrate a good outcome from it, for his glory, does it amount to showing off at the expense of his pain-feeling creations? At the end of the day, is he just stunting?

Given a world which couldn’t exist without an outside cause, yet which contains suffering and evil, we search for the words to articulate exactly what’s going on. I suppose that’s what Joseph is doing as he reveals to his brothers where he’s been and what God’s brought him through. Maybe his words make sense to you, and maybe they don’t. But as he unleashes a cathartic sobbing fit so loud it becomes the talk of Egypt, Joseph’s just happy that God has provided for his family and reunited him with his brothers. I’ve been there before. I may even be there right now. And in all probability, more than once, before I die I’ll come back around to that place again.

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