Have you ever noticed how easy it is to believe that God is in control when things are going well? When our health is good, our family is safe, and our jobs are secure, it’s easy to say, “God is good!” But what about the times in life when things take a turn for the worst? What about those times that our health fails us, our family comes under attack, or the security of our jobs becomes a thing of the past? It is in these moments that our belief in God as Provider is tested the most. It is in these moments that we often turn to God and say, “Why won’t you take control?” See, when we go from a mountaintop to a valley, we tend to go into shock and we lose all sense of spiritual confidence. We feel as though God has left us and has rejected us for reasons that we can’t understand.
The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, is the epitome of a riches to rags story. The story of Joseph is found in Genesis 37-50 and is the account of a man that one day was on top of the world and the next was at the bottom of a pit. At a young age, Joseph was favored by his father and was immensely blessed by God. His father loved him so greatly that he gave him a beautifully adorned cloak of magnificent colors that made him stand out from all others. Called the “dreamer” by his older brothers because of the visions that God had given him of his future, he was despised by those that should have loved him most. Because of their jealousy and pride, Joseph’s brothers developed a plot to throw him into a pit and then sell him to a caravan of slave traders headed to Egypt. After selling Joseph, the brothers take Joseph’s cloak and cover it with goat’s blood and report to Jacob that Joseph has been slaughtered by a fierce animal. Jacob is beyond distraught at the news and refuses to be comforted and in one day Joseph finds himself moving from the mountaintop to the valley of his life. Things only begin to get worse as Joseph arrives in Egypt and finds himself as a servant in the house of an Egyptian official named Potiphar. As Joseph begins to work in the household of Potiphar, the Egyptian notices the wisdom and presence of God that Joseph contains and he places Joseph as overseer of his household. However, Joseph finds himself moving once again from mountaintop to valley as Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph. When Joseph refuses, Potiphar’s wife accuses him of assault and Joseph finds himself in prison.
Now, let’s stop there for a moment because the application to our lives is so important at this point. See, we often find ourselves going through life serving God and thinking that everything should be fantastic. Today’s prosperity gospel tells us that, if we are right with God, then all is well and no illness, financial hardship, or conflict will come our way! However, just as Joseph did, we run into a wall in which life takes a turn for the worst due to circumstances beyond our control. We find ourselves in a physical and emotional “prison” and we don’t understand why God allowed us to get there. This is where we so badly need to see the providence of God at work in the life of Joseph. Let’s continue…
While Joseph is in prison, he meets two Egyptians that once worked for Pharaoh, King of Egypt as chief cupbearer and chief baker. While in prison, the two men have dreams that they can’t understand that rattle them to the core. In a God-ordained moment, God uses Joseph to interpret the dreams of the two men which subsequently come true. In payment for his interpretation, Joseph asks the men to remember him when they return to the house of Pharaoh. Of course, the men promise and the chief cupbearer returns to Pharaoh but forgets Joseph. However, before long, Pharaoh has a dream of his own. Pharaoh calls his magicians in but no one can interpret the dream. In this moment, the chief cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh of Joseph’s interpretive ability. God once again uses Joseph, interprets the dream to Pharaoh, and reveals the reality of a famine that is coming to the land of Egypt. Now, this is where it gets really good! Joseph, the former slave and prisoner, is placed second only to Pharaoh as administrator over Egypt and oversees preparation for the famine. He begins to stockpile grain and prepare for the rough years of famine ahead. At the same time, Joseph’s brothers and father are going through the pain of the famine and decide to make a trip to Egypt for food. Upon arriving, in a moment of uncanny irony and providence, the brothers have an encounter with Joseph. As they arrive in the sight of Joseph, they bow down before him and in a moment, fulfill the dreams that Joseph had as young man. Joseph is moved to tears at the sight of his brothers, yet he hides his identity. Over the next few days, Joseph places his brothers under a test. This wasn’t a test to punish them or to get revenge, but it was a test to determine the condition of their hearts. The brothers pass the test by showing their genuine love and concern for their youngest brother Benjamin by being willing to take his place in lifetime service to Joseph. As Joseph is moved by this act, he reveals his identity to his brothers. Understandably, his brothers are overwhelmed by one emotion: Fear! Fear of revenge because anyone that had been through what Joseph had been through would rightfully want revenge, wouldn’t they? After the life he had lived and suffered through, there would be nothing wrong with getting even, right? In every way, wrong!
See, when things take bad turns in life and our situations become painful and difficult, it is often the case that bitterness toward God and others sets in. However, this wasn’t the case with Joseph. In fact, this is what Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21 ESV, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. What powerful words those are that we truly need to hear! Whenever we go through rough times in life, instead of questioning God and accusing God of wronging us, we need to speak to ourselves and say, “Am I in the place of God?” The fact is, we are in no position to be able to know the entire mind of God and His plans for our tomorrow. What looks like an insurmountable valley to us may be a necessary place in our lives that God uses to prove His sovereignty in our lives. Joseph knew that, even though there were serious valleys in his life, God’s providence never fails. He knew that God would use every good AND bad situation to bring about a perfect plan. The perfect plan resulted in, not only Joseph’s well-being, but in the well-being of the entire Hebrew people! The same God of providence is alive and well and is working in your life today in the good AND the bad. Instead of being overwhelmed by bitterness or anger towards God, respond by realizing that He knows what He is doing. Remember, Romans 8:28 ESV says, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Whether you are on the mountaintop or in the valley, He IS the God of providence!