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The Big Picture

 

Genesis 37:5-8, 26-28; 50:15-21
Bible Studies for Life, Nov. 17

 

While living in Birmingham, AL I always enjoyed flying. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth airport is nestled in between the high-rise buildings of the downtown area and the suburban sprawl of the northeast section of the metro area in which we lived. Soon after takeoff the pilot would make a hard, banked turn. For a few moments I could see everything – the big picture of our city. The landscape I normally navigated moment by moment at street level in a car would come into view all at once.

The higher you climb the more you see.

The story of Joseph in Genesis is one of a man who had a difficult climb. By studying Joseph’s story we gain a unique perspective on the providence of God in conflict and suffering.

It is difficult to understand why it is necessary to suffer evil, especially when we are trying our best to live out our faith. Yet, because we serve an able and righteous God, the evil we suffer can ultimately lead to good. Joseph’s story provides us with three Biblical principles to help us see the big picture.

 

We are not blameless - Genesis 37:5-8

Joseph was born into a family with a long history of turmoil caused by favoritism. His great-grandmother Sarah struggled with the presence of her surrogate son Ishmael, fearing that he would be favored above her son Isaac. Joseph’s grandfather Isaac created conflict in his home as he favored Esau over his twin Jacob. Instead of rejecting favoritism, Jacob continued the family tradition by favoring his young son Joseph over his 10 older brothers.

When you’ve been told your whole life how great you are, you may be surprised when others don’t agree. Joseph shared his dreams with his family in a way that only fueled the hatred his brothers already had for him. They already resented Joseph not only because he wore the family coat, but also because he was a tattle (37:1-4). They could not even speak peacefully to him (37:3), yet Joseph had no apprehensions about conveying the news that they would one day bow down to him.

It is hard to conclude that Joseph was sinful in this, but at the very least we can see that Joseph was not helpful. He appears to be extremely naive. Some may conclude that Joseph is perhaps self-righteous. None of these character traits are often lacking in highly favored children.

Whenever we suffer we often wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?” The term “deserve” is not well placed. You may not have overtly deserved any of the evil you have suffered, but what is it about us that deserves good?

We often enjoy the good things that happen to us with no thought of whether they were deserved. The Bible teaches us that even though we enjoy blessings, we do not deserve them.

Blessings are matters of grace. In suffering, we should rather ask, “What can I learn from this?” instead of “Why do I deserve this?”

Even though Joseph’s climb was a rugged path, there was much about this favored son that needed to change.

 

Living out faith is not easy - Genesis 37:26-28

Living for a good God should be easy, right? It is not easy in an evil world. The author of the Biblical text meticulously conveys the evil nature of Joseph’s brothers. Not only did they sell him and cover it up before their father, but the Bible says that they callously concocted the whole thing while they sat down to eat (v. 25). And if you still do not agree that these boys are bad, the story of Judah in the following chapter should suffice (Gen. 38).

No matter how sincere we may be about our faith, we are not immune to suffering evil. Our calling will come through difficulty (2 Tim. 3:12). The horrendous things we suffer in the world should not cause us to doubt the goodness of God, instead they should enhance our understanding of the reality of evil.

God was the only one who was honest in the garden. It was the devil who told us that we could sin and not die (Gen. 3:4). We still believe the lie.

 

God is not finished - Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph’s statements in this passage cannot help but remind us of Jesus. The naive, favored son from a dysfunctional family has become like Christ. The evil Joseph’s brothers inflicted upon him became their salvation under the providential care of God.

Space does not permit to share this information in whole, but I would commend you to search for parallels between Joseph and Jesus. There are numerous documents on the Internet and Bible commentaries that bear out these Christ- exalting similarities between the two.

More than anything in suffering, we do not need answers. We need to become like Christ.

The higher we climb the more we can see. Be prepared. Climbing is not easy. At the beginning of Joseph’s story he could see his destiny, but at best he was a naive, favored boy.

By the end Joseph not only gained perspective on the big picture, but he was able to forgive and save his brothers from his new position. In his suffering, Joseph became like Jesus.

We need to see the big picture of what God is doing in our situation. The climb to a new perspective may not be easy. We will often suffer in the climb, but the person we become and the perspective we gain are worth it all for the sake of Christ.