And as for you, you meant evil against me,
but God meant it for good
in order to bring about this present result,
to preserve many people alive.
That's the verse we're focusing on in learning time this week. It was playing in the background while I was cleaning up the kitchen this morning, and as I sang it, I found myself pondering it anew.
We often think of this verse coming in the context of Joseph's story, and it does, of course, though not precisely where I tend to place it in my mind. I tend to think of Joseph saying this to his brothers during their initial reconciliation. But he doesn't -- it comes much later, after the death of their father Jacob. Because it turns out that Joseph's brothers, even after all that time and even after their brother forgave them, are still worried that he might yet move into vengeful mode and pay them back for all those years of suffering he endured in Egypt. Even after all the weeping, kissing and caretaking Joseph's done in the preceding years, they're afraid once their father is gone, all bets are off.
Isn't this just like us? Even forgiven -- even assured of loving care, protection, friendship, GRACE -- all the things we don't deserve, we still sometimes go running back to the shadows of our sin. We're sure those shadows are long, way longer than the grace that's been extending over us. We're sure somehow that those old sins are going to find us out one last time and give us one more good kick in the teeth.
Joseph's words, which are so wise, also give us a glimpse into how much his heart has grown. Not only does he point to God's sovereignty, a lesson he learned in the trenches (and a lesson that took many years to reach full fruition) but he shows how very different he is from the teenager who stood before his brothers telling them about his dreams. Let's face it, the young Joseph was a bit of a braggart. He didn't deserve to be thrown into a cistern and sold as a slave, no, but his brothers' frustration, annoyance and jealousy of him is at least somewhat understandable. "Hey, cool! One day you're all going to bow down to me!" is pretty much the reading I take away from the young Joseph's initial telling of the dream. Of course the fact that he dreamed true (a gift from God) is only part of the story -- he couldn't possibly have imagined why his brothers would be bowing before him, or how it was all part of God's tapestry to save his people.
But here, older and wiser Joseph, assuring his brothers once again of his pardon and forgiveness, teaching them about God's sovereignty over their collective story, shows a deep humility. "Am I in the place of God?" he asks. It's a telling question, not only because it shows that Joseph's understands vengeance, grace, forgiveness ultimately belong to the Lord, but because it shows that Joseph is no longer dreaming about how awesome it would be to stand in that place -- to be the one receiving homage and worship. He knows now that whatever place God puts him in, even one of tremendous responsibility and power, is derived -- a place given to him by God, and for deeper reasons than he himself might possibly imagine.