CHRISTIAN LIFE

THE FAITH OF JOSEPH: PITS AND PINNACLES – Part 2

In our last post, we looked at the drama that unfolded in Joseph’s life and how he responded to betrayal and false accusation.  This humble man of God responded with a God-centered faith.  How did he do it?  What enabled this man to respond to his betrayers in a way that honored the Lord?  The answer is critically important.  Joseph understood the divine perspective.  And he embraced a theological framework that informed his actions and attitudes.

In the biblical account, we find Joseph clinging to doctrine; in particular, the doctrine of Providence.  The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith summarizes this vital doctrine:

“God the good Creator of all things in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy.”

Several lessons flow from this critical statement.

First, God created all things and sustains all things (Gen. 1:1, 31; 2:18; Ps. 145:11; Prov. 3:19; Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17).  Simply put, God sustains what he creates.  R.C. Sproul adds, “This refers to his absolute sovereignty, his eternal and inalienable right to govern and rule what he owns, and to dispose of those things according to the good pleasure of his will … We are under his authority and control.”  Our God is the great Sustainer of creation!   Sproul continues, “It is never arbitrary, frivolous, or capricious.  He governs not according to polls or political expediency, but by his most wise and holy counsel.”  God governs and sustains all things by his most wise and holy providence.

Second, God exercises absolute control over all things.  Isaiah 46:9-10 declares, “… Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'”  God’s control over all things results in peace and security in the lives of Christians.  So Joseph, even in the midst of turmoil could rest in God’s Providential control of all things.

Third, this control includes  all creatures and their actions as well as events in the natural world.  Scripture is clear:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24–28, ESV)

Absolutely nothing is outside the scope of God’s comprehensive providence.

Next, this absolute control mobilizes the plan of God.  Psalm 33:10-11 is instructive:  “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:10–11, ESV)

Finally, it is important to recognize that all these things manifest the glory of God.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV)

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10, ESV)

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”” (Romans 9:17, ESV)

The Baptist Confession of Faith continues to articulate a biblical view of providence:

“Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet  by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”

Notice three important principles.

First, there is no chance in God’s economy.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV).

Think about the implications of chance in God’s universe.  Such a notion would inevitably lead to randomness, chaos, and purposelessness.  “Mechanical fate is at the very heart meaningless, merciless, and hopeless.  But the certainty of divinely ordered providence is meaningful, merciful, and hopeful,” writes R.C. Sproul.  He continues, “Because God controls the universe, chance is ruled out, and because it is God who controls the universe, fate is ruled out also.”

Additionally, one must consider the doctrine of concurrence.  Wayne Grudem explains the doctrine in simple terms: “God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.”  Joseph is an example of concurrence – God directs Joseph and God directs his brothers to bring a purposeful conclusion.

God’s absolute sovereignty does not destroy the integrity of man’s liberty.  Sproul rightly says, “We are not puppets with no volition, freedom, or power, but we have no volition, freedom, or power beyond the power and freedom given to us by God.”  The doctrine of compatibalism teaches us that  God is sovereign and we are responsible.  So divine sovereignty is compatible with human freedom.

Finally, it is important to underscore this important reality, namely, the doctrine of providence does not deny the operation of secondary causes.  It is true that God ordains everything that comes to pass.  But God chooses to work, for the most part through means.  In other words, as Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “God ordains the ends and God ordains the means.”

Joseph’s God-centered faith was rooted in sound doctrine.  Is it any wonder that Christians who discard strong doctrinal moorings find themselves adrift and sail aimlessly to the distant shore of confusion?  Joseph reminds us about the importance of theology.  He reminds us that theology matters.  May the doctrine of God’s Providence strengthen and encourage us.  May our faith flourish as we stand on rock solid theological truths that will supply wind for our “sails” and lead us to the celestial shores – all to the glory of God!

CHRISTIAN LIFE

THE FAITH OF JOSEPH: PITS AND PINNACLES – Part 1

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his work, On the Origin of Species.  Before his book was released, Christian thinkers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield maintained the Christian faith alone formed the only coherent and satisfying worldview.

Darwin promoted what we might refer to as the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.  With a few strokes a pen, his worldview eliminated God and his invisible hand of Providence in the public square.  Wherever Darwin’s worldview gained a foothold, randomness reigned.

Whenever God is removed or marginalized in culture, it is important to admit three monumental consequences.  First, there is no basis for knowledge.  Second, there is no basis for morality.  And third, there is no basis for meaning.  It is no wonder that so many people turn to idols in order to satisfy the deepest longing of their hearts.  Instead of living a life of faith that relies upon Christ, who is the all-sufficient fountain, they turn to leaky idols; idols that Jeremiah refers to as “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

Joseph was a man who consciously turned away from idolatry.  He was a man of faith.  His worldview was diametrically opposed to what we find in Darwin.  God was at the center of his life and thinking which helped shape a robust life of faith.  Exactly what enabled Joseph to be such a man?  In order to answer this important question, notice three important pillars in the next three posts.  First, the drama.  Here, we will survey the story from Genesis 31 – 50 and highlight the God-centered faith of Joseph.  Second, notice the doctrine.  We will vividly see that a strong theological framework contributed to Joseph’s life of faith.  Finally, we will look at the direct application, which will demonstrate the importance of having a right view of God.

THE DRAMA

The drama begins to unfold in Genesis 31 when Joseph’s dad, Jacob moves his family from Haran to Canaan when he is six years old.  The story concludes with Joseph’s death at the ripe old age of 110.  What we see in Joseph’s life is a series of pits and pinnacles – times of adversity and times of prosperity.  Our task: How did Joseph respond to the highs and lows of his life?

Pits

In Genesis 37, we find Joseph who is about seventeen years of age working his father’s land with his brothers.  Jacob had a propensity to play favorites and loved Joseph more than his other brothers (Gen. 37:4) which made his brothers furious.  They hated Joseph!

The narrative in Genesis 37:25-28 describe a terrible episode in the life of Joseph.  His brothers grow so jealous that they decide to dump him in a pit.  The Midianite traders notice Joseph in the pit and sell him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver and Joseph finds himself in Egypt.

Pinnacle

In Genesis 39, Joseph moves from the pit to the pinnacle:

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did 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. ” (Genesis 39:1–4, ESV)

So Joseph, wins the heart of Pharaoh (which is a miracle in and of itself) and he rises to a prominent leadership position in Egypt.  Joseph makes his ascent to the pinnacle.

Pits

The pinnacle, however, is short-lived.  In Genesis 39:6-14, Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph.  His response in verse 9 is a God-centered response: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He makes the right decision.  Joseph’s response honors the Lord.  But the story is far from over:

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” ” (Genesis 39:11–18, ESV)

Joseph is betrayed again, this time by Potiphar’s wife.  He is unjustly thrown into prison. But Providentially,  he again rises to a position of authority.  Joseph is called upon to interpret the dreams of a cupbearer and the chief baker.  The dreams come to pass in such a way that the chief baker is hanged and the cupbearer is restored to his previous position with Pharaoh (Gen. 39:20-22).

One would think that the cupbearer would put a good word in for Joseph.  But verse 23 tells us the opposite: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”  However, all is not lost.  Pharaoh begins to have troubling dreams that his cronies cannot interpret.  All of the sudden, the chief cupbearer has a quick burst of memory.  He refers Joseph to Pharaoh who is released from prison and immediately interprets Pharoah’s dreams.

Pinnacle

Joseph returns to Pharaoh’s court and rises again to a prominent leadership position.  He is given governing authority over the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:41).  Pharaoh even goes so far to say to Joseph, “I am Pharoah, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt” (v. 44).  Again, Joseph ascends from the pit to the pinnacle.

The plot thickens when Jacob decides to send his sons to Egypt in order to purchase grain.  The Scripture tells us that Joseph recognized his brothers as he sat in a position of authority.  But his brothers did not recognize him (Gen. 42:7-8).

Stop for a moment and ask, “How would I respond to a group of treasonous brothers?”  Would you use your authority to punish these men?  Would you kick them out of the country?  Would you send them to the gallows?  Notice Joseph’s amazing response:

But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’ ” ” (Genesis 43:3–5, ESV)

In the final encounter, Joseph once again demonstrates an astounding faith in God.  His brothers have figured out what they’re up against.  They seem certain that the outcome will result in punishment at best.  But look at how Joseph responds to these betraying brothers:

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. ” (Genesis 50:20, ESV)

Now try to get in the shoes of Joseph.  All of his troubles begin with his wicked brothers.  They threw him in the pit which led to a life of slavery, which led to more betrayal and acts of wickedness.  There is a sense in which all of his adversity could be logically connected to his brothers.  Yet he refuses to hold their sin against them.  He refuses to play the blame game.  He refuses to punish them.  What does he do?  Joseph acknowledges their wicked act which they freely committed.  But he admits, “God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today?”

Joseph responded to betrayal, false accusation, and free acts of wickedness with a gigantic heart of God-centered faith!  But the next question is an important one.  How did he do it?  What enabled Joseph to respond rightly?  What prompted Joseph to respond in a God-glorifying way?  What is the secret to his faith?  The answer:  Joseph understood the divine perspective; a theological perspective that under-girded his actions and attitudes.  It is this theological perspective that will be the focus of our next post.