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The Providence of God

June 2, 2024 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis

Topic: The Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 40:1– 41:14

THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

An Exposition of Genesis 40:1-41:14

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: June 2, 2024

Series: The Book of Genesis

Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

Holy Scripture says:

40 1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in custody in his master's house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 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 house. 15 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.”

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

41 1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass.And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.(Genesis 40:1-41:14)

INTRODUCTION

The big idea of this sermon is that the Lord providentially orders the lives of His people such that they are in the right place at the right time, so that they can be faithful participants in fulfilling God’s good purpose in that place and time. This big idea is the doctrine of “The Providence of God”, which is the title of this sermon. If the truth of God’s providence captures our hearts, then our hearts will have encouragement to trust the Lord at all times, especially amid all the unknowns and unpleasantries of this present life.

TRACING THE HAND OF PROVIDENCE

Let’s begin our journey by reaching back to Genesis 37:5-11. Joseph had two dreams, and the dreams indicated that Joseph was destined to be exalted to a place of rule over his family. These dreams were from the Lord and would be fulfilled in God’s good time. It is interesting to note that whereas the dreams of the chief cupbearer, chief baker, and Pharaoh in Genesis 40-41 had specifications on time (three days each for the cupbearer and baker, and two seven-year periods for Pharaoh), there are no time specifications indicated in Joseph’s two dreams in Genesis 37. All that we know from Genesis 37:5-11 is that Joseph was destined to rule – but at that early point we don’t know how and when he will be exalted in that way. We must wait patiently for the Lord’s purpose to come to pass.

I’ll return to Genesis 37, but first let’s reach forward to Genesis 45. By the time we get to Genesis 45, Joseph has been the Prime Minister of Egypt for many years. It was the Lord’s hand that had brought Joseph into that role. Listen to how Joseph explains this reality to his brothers:

“He [God] has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.’” (Genesis 45:8b-9)

Notice the repeated expression “God has made me”. Joseph’s exaltation to the right hand of Pharaoh is God’s doing: God made Joseph a father to Pharaoh, God made Joseph lord of Pharaoh’s house and lord and ruler of all Egypt. God put Joseph into the exalted position before which his brothers would bow down to him, and from which he would provide for them in days of famine. This is God’s doing. Joseph was given a sneak preview of these things in those two dreams back in Genesis 37, but those dreams left out a lot of details, and those dreams didn’t reveal ‘the how’ or ‘the when’.

But in retrospect, we see what is happening. God’s plan was to make Joseph the ruler of Egypt. God could have brought this plan to fruition through thousands of different avenues. But what specific avenues did God choose? Think about it like this. In order to get Joseph appointed ruler of Egypt, Joseph will first come into favorable contact with Pharaoh, for Pharaoh the king of Egypt is the one who will appoint Joseph as ruler. In order to get Joseph into favorable contact with Pharaoh, Joseph will first come into favorable contact with one of Pharaoh’s officers. Where shall that favorable contact with one of Pharaoh’s officers take place? In prison – that will work well, that will be the place. In order to get Joseph into prison, and to get there in a way that is consistent with the Lord’s sanctifying work in Joseph’s life, Joseph will be put there unjustly on the basis of a false accusation. But of course, Joseph cannot be put into just any prison, but into a prison where Pharaoh’s officers would be put into custody if they drew the ire of Pharaoh. But in order for Joseph to be thrown into that type of prison, then Joseph will beforehand be physically located near that royal prison and, in order to be thrown into that specific prison, he will be the slave of a man of high standing who would actually throw his servants into that prison when he had reason to imprison them. This means, of course, that two other things must happen: first, Joseph a freeborn son of Jacob, born in Haran and subsequently living in Canaan, will have to somehow become a slave; and second, he will have to be taken to Egypt, where all of these other events are to take place. This will come about through the instrumentality of his hateful and jealous brothers, who in their anger will sell Joseph into slavery, but not to just anyone, but to a trading company that is in route to Egypt.

All the details are important. To take one example, did you notice how important anger is to this plan? Anger is why Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery; anger is why Potiphar threw Joseph into prison; anger is why Pharaoh threw his chief cupbearer into that same prison, where the predestined meeting would take place between Joseph and the cupbearer.

Seeing God rightly

God is not a grandfather in the sky, mildly interested in earthly events, amused at our behavior, and just waiting to see how our behavior is going to shake out. God is not a glorified cheerleader, cheering Joseph or us on to do the right thing when everyone else is failing. God is not a glorified trash collector, who comes through to clean up our mess after we have made it. Instead, the picture of God that is seen in Genesis 37-45 (and in Exodus and in Isaiah and in Acts and in Revelation and indeed throughout all the Scriptures) is the Lord God Almighty who exercises His sovereignty over all things and orchestrates the details of our lives in order to fulfill His purpose. Moreover, the Lord orchestrates the details in such a way that it is rather obvious that men are not the ones who are orchestrating some big plan. Just consider: the Lord orchestrates into His big plan the anger of men, cruelty and injustice, false accusation and imprisonment, and several dreams. Joseph’s dreams, once recounted by Joseph, increased his brothers’ hatefulness toward him. The chief cupbearer’s dream, once interpreted by Joseph, paved the way for a future opportunity, and that future opportunity came when Pharaoh had two dreams that troubled him, and no one could interpret it. Ah, but the chief cupbearer knew someone who could probably interpret it!

See God’s hand working his plan

When Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery, they weren’t thinking that this is a key part of any big picture redemptive plan. When Potiphar’s wife made false accusations and Potiphar got angry over those accusations and threw Joseph into prison, they weren’t thinking that they were advancing Joseph to the next step on his journey to the palace. When Pharaoh threw his cupbearer and baker into prison, he wasn’t thinking that they would meet someone who would prove critically important in a future day of trouble. Moreover, it is obvious that Joseph himself was not executing some personal master plan that he had devised. The point is: the Lord directed and orchestrated all these details in such a way that we would recognize His sovereign hand. The divine hand, not human hands, preserves and governs all creatures and their actions. The divine plan, not human plans, is the plan that is carried out. The entire sequence of details from Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 41:14 and beyond, is profoundly improbable from a human vantage point. And that’s the point. No man on earth is scheming to carry out God’s big picture plan. But God is seeing to it that His big picture plan, which incorporates all the little earthly details, is getting worked out from start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation, from creation to consummation, and from the beginning to the end of every sub-plot within the larger story, from Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37 to the fulfillment and outworking of those dreams in Genesis 41-50.

WALKING THROUGH GENESIS 40:1-41:14

The Context (Genesis 39)

Genesis 39 began by telling us that Joseph was a slave in the house of Potiphar (v. 1). Although he rose to prominence as the Chief Operating Officer over Potiphar’s household (v. 2-6a), he was taken down by Potiphar’s vindictive and lying wife who was incensed over Joseph’s refusal to commit adultery with her (v. 6b-18). Potiphar responded to his wife’s accusation with anger and threw Joseph into prison (v. 19-20). This wasn’t just any prison, but as verse 20 tells us, this prison was “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20).

But whether Joseph was treacherously sold into slavery or unrighteously cast into prison, Joseph remained the object of the Lord’s special care: “The LORD was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2) at the beginning of Chapter 39, and “the LORD was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:21) at the end of Chapter 39, and the Lord “showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21) Just as Potiphar had made Joseph Chief Operating Officer in Genesis 39:4, so the keeper of the prison made Joseph Deputy Warden: “And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in prison. Whatever was done there, he [Joseph] was the one who did it.” (Genesis 39:22). And just as Potiphar’s house had flourished under Joseph’s leadership, so the prison flourished under Joseph’s leadership: “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:23) So, this is the context leading into Chapter 40: Joseph is the Deputy Warden of the prison “where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20). Thus the stage is set for two additional prisoners of the king to be put into this prison. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this prison ‘The King’s Prison’.

The King’s Prison on Potiphar’s Estate

Before we journey through our passage, I want you to notice a specific detail. Apparently, The King’s Prison was located on Potiphar’s estate. Recall that Potiphar is identified as “the captain of the guard” (Genesis 39:1). Now we will see this phrase recur in Genesis 40. Look at verse 3: “and he [Pharaoh] put them [the cupbearer and baker] in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined.” So The King’s Prison was located on Potiphar’s property. Though Potiphar had general oversight of all that took place on his property, he wasn’t “the keeper of the prison” (a phrase that occurs three times in Genesis 39:21-23). But Potiphar still had easy access to the prison, and he took action in verse 4: “The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them [the cupbearer and baker], and he attended them.” Even that seemingly simple action is an important part of the storyline, for it brought Joseph and the cupbearer into close proximity and relationship. With that detail explained, now let’s look at the larger movement of thought.

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker meet Joseph in prison (Genesis 40:1-4)

In verses 1-4, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker meet Joseph in prison. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gets upset at his chief cupbearer and his chief baker for an offense that they committed against him. Cupbearers and bakers are important positions in a royal administration: the king wants to eat food that is safe, high quality, and free of poison, and the king wants to drink beverages that are safe, high quality, and free of poison. These men occupied important roles, but they offended their master. So, Pharaoh puts them into temporary custody in The King’s Prison. Potiphar directs Joseph to be with these two men, and Joseph “attended them” (v. 4). Isn’t this wonderful? For some undisclosed period of time, the cupbearer and baker got to spend time with a godly man who was living in the good of the Lord’s steadfast love. Who knows what impact this might have had on these two men? The Lord’s providential hand moves people around and brings people together just as He intends. In the May 2024 Voice of the Martyrs magazine, we learn about a pastor in India who was jailed for many months. During the time of his imprisonment, he led four other prisoners to Christ. There are no chance encounters. Verse 4 concludes by telling us that the cupbearer and baker remained in custody “for some time”.

Joseph ministers to the cupbearer and baker (Genesis 40:5-8)

In verses 5-8, Joseph ministers to the cupbearer and baker after their dreams. We are told that on “one night they both dreamed” (v. 5) – here again, they aren’t orchestrating this, they didn’t decide to have dreams, they didn’t decide to have dreams on the same night, and they hadn’t decided to be with a man who had the God-given ability to interpret dreams. But dreams they had – “each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation” (v. 5) – and each man was troubled by the dream that he had (v. 6). It was evident to Joseph that these men were troubled (v. 6), and so Joseph inquired about their trouble. Joseph asked them, “Why are your faces downcast today?” (v. 7) They gave the reason: “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” (v. 8) Joseph replied, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (v. 8)

Verses 6-8 give us another compelling snapshot of Joseph’s godly character. In terms of loving your neighbor, Joseph demonstrated care and concern for these men. He noticed and inquired about their troubled countenance. He pointed them to God. And he offered to help. It’s so simple, isn’t it? We may not have the specific gifting in interpreting dreams that Joseph had, but at the basic character level are you like Joseph? Do you notice other people’s countenance? Do you demonstrate care and concern? Do you point people to God? Do you offer to help with whatever gifts and abilities you happen to have? And in terms of walking with God, Joseph demonstrates humility. Joseph understands that he must operate under the Lord’s sovereign hand. Yes, the Lord is with Joseph, but they are not equals. The Lord gives, and Joseph receives. Joseph understands that dreams and their interpretations are God’s domain. Joseph will enter into that domain only as a servant of the Lord – a servant who is dependent upon the Lord for accurate understanding.

Joseph interprets the cupbearer’s dream (Genesis 40:9-15)

In verses 9-15, Joseph interprets the cupbearer’s dream, followed by a person appeal. First the cupbearer recounts his dream (v. 9-11) and then Joseph provides the interpretation (v. 12-13). The bottom line is that Joseph foretells that the cupbearer will be lifted up and restored to his office in three days. After providing this interpretation, Joseph makes a personal appeal in verses 14-15. Joseph alerts the cupbearer to his predicament, telling the cupbearer that he was “stolen out of the land of the Hebrews” and that he had been unjustly imprisoned (v. 15). So, Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him, to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, and thus to pull strings in order to get Joseph out of prison (v. 14). It is entirely appropriate to ask other human beings to do us a favor, although they often fail to come through for us.

Joseph interprets the baker’s dream (Genesis 40:16-19)

In verses 16-19, Joseph interprets the baker’s dream. The baker felt encouraged to let Joseph interpret his dream after he “saw that the interpretation [of the cupbearer’s dream] was favorable” (v. 16). Unfortunately for the chief baker, the interpretation of his dream would not be favorable. The baker recounts his dream (v. 16-17), and then Joseph provides the interpretation (v. 18-19). The bottom line is that Joseph foretells that the baker will be lifted up to death in three days.

Joseph’s interpretations come to pass (Genesis 40:20-22)

In verses 20-22, Joseph’s interpretations come to pass. It all happened “[on] the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday,” when Pharaoh threw a party “for all his servants” (v. 20). The cupbearer’s dream, as interpreted by Joseph, came to pass: the chief cupbearer was lifted up and restored to his former position, and he resumed his service in Pharaoh’s court (v. 21). The baker’s dream, as interpreted by Joseph, also came to pass: the chief baker was lifted up and hanged (v. 22).

The chief cupbearer forgets Joseph (Genesis 40:23)

In verse 23, the chief cupbearer forgets Joseph. Joseph had made that personal appeal back in verse 14: “Only remember me, when it is well with you”. But when it was well with him as he returned to his service of Pharaoh, “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (v. 23) Now it’s easy to look at the cupbearer’s forgetfulness as one more reminder not to put our hope in men, because men are fickle and the help that they offer is vain. True enough! At the same time, however, we cannot help but discern God’s providential hand orchestrating the cupbearer’s forgetfulness until just the right time, and when the cupbearer finally did get around to remembering, the cupbearer did a world of good! All this goes to show that the simple acts of people forgetting and remembering, which can be deeply frustrating to other people, are also under God’s sovereign arrangement of human affairs.

And two years later, the time was just right.

Pharaoh has two dreams that no one could interpret (Genesis 41:1-8)

Moving ahead now to Chapter 41, we see that “two whole years” have passed since the end of Chapter 40. In verses 1-8 Pharaoh has two dreams, and once again it is obvious that Pharaoh isn’t orchestrating this, Pharaoh didn’t decide to have a dream, Pharaoh didn’t decide to have a dream at this particular time, two years after the events of Chapter 40. We are meant to recognize the hand of divine providence. So Pharaoh dreams: seven thin cows ate up seven plump cows, and seven thin ears of grain swallowed up seven plump ears of grain. When morning came, Pharaoh was troubled in his spirit. He consulted with all his magicians and wise men, but none of them could interpret his dreams.

Of course, we should see a connection with Chapter 40: after the cupbearer and baker had dreams, they were troubled, and they said that “there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8); now in Chapter 41 Pharaoh is troubled after his dreams, and after conferring with all his brilliant advisers, “there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” (Genesis 41:8)

Finally, with all these things in view, the light bulb went on in the cupbearer’s head.

The cupbearer remembers! (Genesis 41:9-13)

And so, looking at verses 9-13, we see that the cupbearer remembers Joseph and speaks favorably about Joseph to Pharaoh. Interestingly, the cupbearer begins by saying to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today.” (v. 9) Perhaps the plural word “offenses” has a double meaning: the first offense being the offense against Pharaoh years earlier that had gotten him thrown into prison, where he met Joseph; and the second offense being the offense against Joseph in forgetting Joseph these past two years. In any case, the cupbearer explains what had transpired in prison two years earlier, and how this “young Hebrew” (v. 12) had accurately interpreted his dream and the baker’s dream. Basically, the cupbearer is giving a word of recommendation for Joseph to Pharaoh, in view of the possibility that Joseph might be able to help Pharaoh at such a time as this.

Joseph gets a meeting with the king of Egypt (Genesis 41:14)

Thus, after thirteen years in Egypt, including a number of years in prison, Joseph finally gets a personal meeting with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt:

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.” (v. 14)

Joseph was in the right place at the right time! But what this also means is that Joseph was always in the right place at the right time, under the Lord’s sovereign direction, which was always leading him to and preparing him for this moment, and all the subsequent moments that would follow.

THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

Brothers and sisters, Genesis 37:2-41:14 sets before us – in the form of the storyline of Joseph’s life – the doctrine of divine providence. We need to see this doctrine in story form. We also need to articulate this doctrine in propositional form. Consider these very thoughtful statements regarding this precious doctrine.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” (Answer to Question 11: “What are God’s works of providence?”)

According to the Belgic Confession:

“We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment….

“This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us.”

Question 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” Here is the answer: 

“God's providence is

his almighty and ever present power,

whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds

heaven and earth and all creatures,

and so governs them that

leaf and blade,

rain and drought,

fruitful and barren years,

food and drink,

health and sickness,

riches and poverty,

indeed, all things,

come to us not by chance

but by his fatherly hand.”

This question is immediately followed by an exceedingly practical question. Question 28 asks, “What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?” Here is the answer:

“We can be patient in adversity,

thankful in prosperity,

and with a view to the future

we can have a firm confidence

in our faithful God and Father

that no creature shall separate us

from his love;

for all creatures are so completely in his hand

that without his will

they cannot so much as move.”

All these are helpful ways of articulating the doctrine of God’s comprehensive providence over all things, all persons, all events, and all circumstances. When we put Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:28 side by side, what we discern is that for God’s redeemed people, the doctrine of divine providence is indeed meant to comfort and strengthen us. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God the Father “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), and Romans 8:28 tells us that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In the context of Romans 8:28, the “all things” that “work together for our good” include sufferings, the futility and corruption of this fallen world, our weakness, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, and being killed (see Romans 8:18-27, 35-36). Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love (see Romans 8:35-39). And everything works together for our good, under the wisdom and care of our heavenly Father “who works all things according to the counsel of his will”.

We need the doctrine of providence articulated in propositional form, so that we can hold onto it as the very promises of God. At the same time, we need to behold the doctrine of providence in story form, such as we see it unfold in the life of Joseph, so that we can relate to it and get the feel of it. And then, we need to go live our own lives in light of this precious doctrine. And this precious doctrine ought to have two practical impacts upon our life.

First application of God’s providence: be anxious for nothing

First, be anxious for nothing (see Philippians 4:6). As our Lord taught us: “do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25). My guess is that as we are walking through the life of Joseph, none of you are anxious for Joseph, none of you are on pins and needles wondering what is going to happen next, none of you are losing sleep at night over the injustice that Joseph faced, none of you are complaining about what all the wicked people are doing in the story. And the reason is simple: you already know how the story turns out, and you know that the story turns out well. But here’s the thing: the same heavenly Father who orchestrated Joseph’s life is orchestrating your life, your family, this church community, and this nation. He has given us stories like Genesis 37-50, and specific words like Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:28, so that you will trust him. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, His most kind providence is upon you for your good, He sees the end from the beginning, He is orchestrating all the details of your life and leading all the details to a good and glorious end, and in the meantime He is sanctifying you and positioning you and working through you. Of course, if you are outside of Christ and do not trust in Him, then God’s wrath is upon you and His comprehensive providence will result in your damnation and ruin at the final judgment. But if you belong to Christ, then the Father is overseeing your life all the way to its final outcome in glory. Do you remember those words in our first hymn?

“Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;

bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

in every change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”[1]

Therefore, be anxious for nothing. Don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about your future. Don’t worry about the economy. Don’t worry about politics. Don’t worry about all the stuff, all the speculations, all the punditry. Can you imagine all the gurus on the Egyptian Nightly News (to speak anachronistically!) opining about the challenges facing Egypt and about life in Pharaoh’s court? Then all of a sudden a young Hebrew emerges from prison, at the recommendation of a cupbearer who himself had spent time in prison, and this young Hebrew stands before Pharaoh and, as we will see next week, immediately becomes the Prime Minister of the entire land of Egypt. Commentator Ahmed turns to news anchor Hasani and says, “Didn’t see that coming!” Of course not! But the Lord is working His plan. Do you believe this?

If you truly believe in the reality of God’s providence, then don’t worry about any of the details. Let it be firmly established in your mind, from Joseph’s story, that the Lord works through hate, anger, jealousy, treachery, slavery, false allegations, unjust imprisonment, human forgetfulness, and improbable encounters in order to sanctify His own people and advance His own mission and plan in this world. Indeed, let it be firmly established in your mind that the Father worked through the envy of the religious leaders, the treachery of Judas, the unrighteousness of the high priest, the cowardice of Pilate, and the unholy hands that nailed the Holy One to the tree, in order to bring about the redemption of His people. The Father “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Our Lord laid down His life for us, in order to demonstrate God’s great love for us, forgive our sins, reconcile us to the Father who is fond of His children and who is graciously present with us even as He was gracious present with Joseph, and give us confidence that if we walk with Him through suffering, then we will also be glorified with Him forever.

With humble hearts under His sovereign, almighty hand, we know that God loves to work through improbable and surprising means! God loves to turn evil on its head and lead it to a good end! God loves to make a mockery of the rebellious creatures who think they’re in charge, and yet they’re not even in charge for a single second! Therefore, relax. And remember, the Father gives His beloved sleep! Be anxious for nothing. No murmuring or complaining. No prying and trying to figure everything out. Instead, wait patiently upon the Lord, and trust Him at all times.

Second application of God’s providence: live faithfully today

The second practical impact this doctrine should have is a freedom to live faithfully in the present moment. The Bible doesn’t counsel us to respond to the doctrine of God’s comprehensive providence by saying, ‘Since God is orchestrating all things (and He is!), it therefore doesn’t matter what I do.’ The Bible never reasons that way. Instead, it reasons this way: ‘Since God is orchestrating all things, you are free to seek first His kingdom and faithfully do the tasks that He has assigned to you.’

As I said earlier, Joseph wasn’t attempting to carry out some big master plan. His father sent him on an errand in Genesis 37, and Joseph went. Joseph became an ordinary slave in Genesis 39, and he did his work with excellence. Then Joseph got promoted to Potiphar’s Chief Operating Officer, and he did that work with excellence. Then Joseph got demoted to Deputy Warden, but he that work with excellence too. When he was assigned to attend to the cupbearer and baker, he faithfully carried out that assignment. When he was finally summoned before Pharaoh, he went. Joseph did the work that was assigned to him, and you should follow his example in this matter. 

It is not for you to figure out how the Lord is weaving together all of the details of your life into His big picture plan. It is enough for us to know that He is weaving these things together for our good and for the advance of the gospel and for the glory of His Name. Having this confidence frees us to live faithfully in the present moment as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers, as brothers and sisters, as workers at home and in our communities and in our workplaces, and as members of the church who use our gifts to build up the body of Christ. “[Seek] first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), and God will supply your basic needs (Matthew 6:25-33) and God will take care of all the details. What a great and freeing and humble and hopeful way to live!

 

ENDNOTES

[1] From the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” by Katharina von Schlegel (translated by Jane L. Borthwick).

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