Joseph #2 “Wandering Around In The Fields”
Genesis 37:12-36 September 5, 2004
SCRIPTURE INTRO: For those not here last Sunday, started sermon series on
life of Joseph, last 13 chapters of Genesis, will take to the end of the year.
Let me remind you of the overview I gave last week.
Story of Joseph about three things:
1. About the transformation of a family—a dysfunctional family that is full
of all kinds of ugliness. Will see the worst of that ugliness in our reading today.
But by the end of the story, God’s grace and forgiveness, flowing through Joseph,
transforms this dysfunctional family into the family of God.
Members of family become united in commitment to the Lord.
2. About the transformation of a brother—that brother is Judah.
He is one of twelve brother, all sons of Jacob, but four different mothers.
You will see Judah for the first time in reading today,
will see his totally warped sense of values.
In next chapter, will see just how warped this man is.
But, by the end of the story, God’s grace, flowing through Joseph, circumstances,
transforms Judah into a Christ-like man.
3. About the providence of God.
God’s providence is his governing over all things, even the plans and actions of
men, to bring about his intended purposes.
This is what I am going to focus on in my sermon this morning—
how God’s providence covers every detail of life.
Like last Sunday, going to look not just at this one passage—whole Joseph story.
To read as intended, need a firm understanding of beginning, middle, end.
Throughout whole story, will see God’s providence.
INTRO: Isn’t it true that everything is more complicated than you think?
My dad was telling me recently that the a/c unit in their bedroom went out—
so he decided to replace it—which seemed simple enough.
Measured the size of the opening—went to appliance store—salesman said—
we can fix you up, this is just what you need—sold a/c.
Dad got home, took out the old one, tried to put in new one—
found it wouldn’t fit—opening too small by 1/2 inch.
My folks house is build of block and stucco. After some puzzlement—to shed
Got a chisel and hammer, started chipping at the block—finally, after few hours
big enough, put in a/c—then noticed something not right.
The air intakes were covered up by the wall—more puzzlement.
Got out owners manual, no answers—800 #--called it and explained dilemma.
Customer service rep said—Sir, you have a window unit, need a wall unit.
Back to the appliance store where salesman argued with him that didn’t know
what he was doing, manufacturer didn’t know what talking about, just stupid—
Remember—this is South Florida—Down North.
Finally in disgust salesman told him to take it to returns.
At return desk was told wouldn’t give money back because didn’t bring box.
Explained that box had been in shreds when got it, came apart when taking out.
Let me talk to the manager—30 minutes later—going to do you a favor this time—
going to refund your money.
Took money, went to another appliance store, explained project—need wall unit.
Very helpful, this is the one—took it home—out of the box—into the wall.
Now, all he had to deal with was this ¼ gap on each side!
We are finite creatures! Even the complexities of simple home projects too much.
How wonderful it is to know that our God, our heavenly Father—
Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ oversees and governs everything.
Every detail of your life is governed by his good providence.
In all of the complexities of your life in this world—
there are, in God’s plan, no ¼ gaps in your life.
Everything progresses flawlessly according to his plan for you.
That is God’s providence.
The story of Joseph is a wonderful illustration of God’s providence.
Every detail planned and governed by God.
The doctrine of God’s providence raises lots of perplexing questions—
questions about evil, about free will, moral responsibility.
You can get tied into knots trying to explain those things to human satisfaction.
We will, in course of this series touch on some of those perplexing questions.
But this morning I want to make a simple point about God’s providence that every
Christian can understand, even little covenant children.
Be encouraged, be comforted—God is guiding every detail of your life.
God’s providence covers the bad, the good, and even the insignificant things.
This is one of the simple and profound truths of the Christian faith that we
need to come back to over and over.
Let’s look at this story, and see how everything is used by God—
the bad, the good, and the seemingly insignificant.
1. God’s providence includes the bad things in your life.
Look at Joseph—this is such an evil thing that happened to him here.
His own brothers wanted to murder him (except for Reuben), but even
he knew he couldn’t convince them not to do it.
Then Judah, with warped values—would be bad to leave here starve to death—
let’s sell him into slavery—own brother.
Aren’t told here that Joseph said anything—but in 42 brothers remember how
Joseph pleaded with them—but they would not listen.
This is evil in every way. But this too was God’s providence.
Joseph himself later said—Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here—
you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.
God used the evil committed against Joseph for his good in the end—
He actually used it for the good of the very men who committed this sin.
If that is not an amazing demonstration of providence and grace, nothing is.
This is the most perplexing thing about God’s providence.
How can it be that a good God uses bad things, evil things, sinful things,
to accomplish his purposes.
You can get tied in all kinds of knots trying to answer that question,
trying to find ways to get God off the hook, so to speak.
Let me give you the Bible’s answer in a nutshell.
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
He is all good, he hates evil. He holds all men and angels accountable for their
sins and will one day judge every evil deed.
God also uses bad things, evil things, sinful things to accomplish his good purposes
and he is completely untainted by his use of those things.
The Bible’s answer doesn’t explain anything—just says—this is how it is.
This is one of the great mysteries of God’s providence.
Another example is Job.
Raiders came and stole his livestock and murdered his servants.
Tornado blew down house, killed children. Covered with boils.
Remember the story—all of those bad things happened at Satan’s instigation.
But what did Job say?
“The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Didn’t say, “Lord gives, Satan takes away.”
Didn’t say, “Lord gives, Lord allows, permits, things to be taken away.”
“The Lord takes away.”
But at the end of Job, you see how God used all of this to accomplish his good plan.
Jeremiah said: Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?”
Talking to the people of Jerusalem who had suffered from the devastating
brutality of the siege and conquest of their city.
Of course, we know that from the calamity of the captivity,
God’s people were purified spiritually and the groundwork was laid
for the coming of Christ.
Examples from church history.
“Hiding Place” Corrie ten Boom’s story about suffering family under Nazis
for hiding Jews. She and sister Betsy sent to concentration camp—evil.
In book, traces out God’s providence in using great evil in Corrie’s life
for good as she began a ministry to Germans, torn after war.
Saw God work through her to bring hope and salvation.
This in no way means Christians ignore evil and crimes—doesn’t excuse sin
others commit or that we commit—still an offense against God in every way.
But God’s providence means that you can know that ultimately,
God has brought this and will use it for good.
God’s providence covers bad things that happen—bad things done to you,
even the sins you commit—as said, brothers evil used by God for their own good.
That is an enormous comfort to Christians who believe it.
It gives you patience to wait on the Lord, wait for his purposes to be accomplished.
As you wait, you can ask God to show you what he has in mind—
And he might, but he might not. That’s up to him.
Joseph got to see God’s plan, Jeremiah didn’t—died in Egypt.
Corrie got to see God’s plan, Betsy didn’t, died in camp.
But we know that in heaven, all these things are made known.
Until then, we live in faith that our God, our Father in heaven, is in control.
2. God’s providence includes the good things in your life.
I don’t think any Christians question this. We know all good things from God.
James “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights.”
There is no chance or luck—all good things come from God.
When he gives good things, he does so deliberately.
When the good thing come to you through another person,
or through your hard work, you know that ultimately, God brought it about.
Will say, even though never question this, at times forget it, not on mind.
When bad things happen, Christians will always say, “Why, God?”
When good things happen, rarely ask, “why?” Just take it in stride.
But the good, just like the bad is part of God’s providence.
There is nothing good in this reading today—unless you want to count
that brothers didn’t murder Joseph but sold him into slavery.
But Joseph himself, later in life was a master at seeing every good thing
as coming from God’s hands.
Intense awareness of God’s hand on his life in good things.
Named second son, Ephraim, “Fruitful” “Successful”
Made fruitful in the land of my sorrow.
Later, delighted in tracing out God’s goodness to him in Egypt.
One of the delights of believing in God’s providence is that when good things
happen, you get to enjoy the way God chose to give them to you.
Nothing happens by chance, everything is guided by God’s providence,
so even particular way he brings good things into your life is part of his plan.
When you are planning to give a gift to someone you love,
you always think about how you want to give it to them to enhance the pleasure.
If giving someone a birthday party you might say:
We’re having a birthday party for you at favorite restaurant.
Might not tell anything and have a surprise party.
Particular pleasure with each one of those approaches.
If you give someone a present—sometimes you give in person,
sometimes leave where they will find it, might even leave clues for them.
Particular pleasures with each approach.
God does the same thing with the good things he gives you.
He gives them in different ways—and tracing out those ways,
is a confirmation that your life is in his hands—nothing happens by chance.
Two of the great blessings of my life have been the two churches I’ve served in.
I remember with happiness how God brought each one to my attention.
I was in my last year of seminary, had decided needed to work as an assistant
under a seasoned, wise senior pastor. So started sending letters.
Didn’t have many hot prospects.
One Sunday, after worship service in St. Louis church doing internship—
I bumped into a girl I knew from college, hadn’t seen for 5 years.
What are you doing in St. Louis? I’m visiting a friend.
What are you doing. Told her. Asked where I was going after graduation.
Told her what I was looking for.
I was just talking to my dad, and he said he needs an assistant pastor.
Her father was Bruce Fiol, pastor at Marco Pres Church.
Knew him. Veteran missionary. Everything had heard about him good.
Wrote him a letter right away.
I am grateful to this day—for the wonderful gift of those 4 ½ years in that church,
working under Bruce Fiol. Also remember with gratitude how God providentially
arranged for me to bump into Bruce’s daughter, and hear about church.
I will never forget how God first brought Christ Covenant to my attention.
I was in my study in Florida, phone rang, I answered it, and a Southern voice said:
“God loves you and I have a wonderful plan for you life.”
It was Charles Garland—pastor at Decatur Pres.
Wanted me to write a letter to the search committee of a church in Cullman.
My friends, no good things happen by chance or luck.
Not even a good parking spot at Wal-Mart, or good seats at a baseball game.
God saved that spot for you. God saved those seats for you.
How that little gift fit in his grand plan for your life and his glory—
that is one of the infinite details you may never knew—
but you can know this—it is part of his plan—and for that you can be grateful.
3. God’s providence includes the insignificant things in your life.
Should say, seemingly insignificant. Since God is sovereign—nothing insignificant
In the early 1900s a Church of Ireland minister named TC Hammond.
Gifted evangelist, would often preach on the streets.
Ireland being a mostly Catholic country, Protestant street preachers not appreciated
One day while preaching on streets of Cork, crowd got ugly.
Young man ran up, snatched his Bible out of his hands and started to set it on fire.
As crowd pushing apart, Hammond, “That’s the Word of God you are burning.” Just one incident among hundreds like it during Hammond’s ministry.
Years later, Hammond in Dublin,
approached by a man who worked in a Christian mission in city.
Man’s name John O’Keefe.
Told Hammond doctor recommended move to warm, dry climate for his health.
Had found out about a church mission in Australia.
Had heard Hammond knew the minister there,
Wondered if Hammond would give him a letter of recommendation.
Well, Hammond said, I don’t really know anything about you.
Tell me about your faith in Christ.
So John O’Keefe began to tell story about how years before on street in Cork,
and tied to break up a meeting by burning the street preacher’s book
and how this preacher had said it was the Word of God he was burning.
He couldn’t forget that comment, so he had started reading the Bible for himself,
and that led to his conversion.
Hammond put two and two together, realized had met this young man before.
But the story didn’t end there.
O’Keefe emigrated to Australia and he worked for the Church of Australia
among the Irish emigrants who had come to Australia for the gold rush.
His health was poor and he died soon after he got there.
Years later, Hammond visited Australia for the first time.
On visit preached in a church, after service struck up a conversation with a man.
This man told him that he had been a gold prospector back during the gold rush.
He didn’t find any gold and started drinking himself to death.
But a young man from a church mission had come by his shack, prayed with him.
Because of that prayer, he had become a Christian and his life was changed.
That young man was John O’Keefe.
So an off the cuff comment shouted at a young man on a street in Cork, Ireland
ended up, years later, saving a man on the other side of the world
who was drinking himself to death in the Australian outback.
That is God’s providence.
Everything that happens is guided by the hand of God who connects things
so precisely that they turn out according to the counsel of his perfect plan.
Now let’s look at Joseph’s story.
There is one little detail in the reading today that seems so insignificant.
When Joseph got to Shechem, he couldn’t find his brothers
so he wandered around in the fields looking for them. He wandered around.
There is noting significant about wandering around. He was wasting time.
But because Joseph wandered around, and didn’t go home, or look somewhere else,
he bumped into a stranger who happened to have overheard his brothers say
they were going to Dothan.
And when he got to Dothan and was grabbed by his brothers,
it happened to be at just the time a slave caravan coming past on road to Egypt. And when he was sold in Egypt it happened that the man who bought him,
Potiphar, was an important government official.
(You know the rest of the story.) It happened that Potiphar’s wife not good woman.
She falsely accused Joseph and he was thrown into prison—
but because Potiphar was important man, wasn’t any prison,
happened to be the prison where king’s prisoners were kept.
So while Joseph was there, he met Pharaoh’s butler and baker,
who happened to be in prison too because they had displeased Pharaoh.
Later the butler mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh as someone who knew dreams.
Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, and Pharaoh made him Prime Minister.
And from that position of power, God used Joseph to save his family
from famine and bring reconciliation and unity to his brothers.
A family transformed for glory of God—family that became nation of Israel.
From that nation was one day born the Messiah.
So wandering around in a field near Shechem, wasting time,
ended up, years later, transforming a family, and
paving the way for the Savior to come into the world.
That is God’s providence. Every detail guided by his hand.
For TC Hammond it was an off the cuff remark.
For Joseph it was wandering around in a field.
What about your life?
In what little details of your life is God providentially working?
The wonderful answer is—God is working in every detail of your life.
He has a plan for your life, for His glory—and he is working it out in every detail.
That should give you comfort and fill you with awe.
CONC: It doesn’t matter where you find yourself today—wandering aimlessly,
trying to find something, in an empty cistern in the desert,
at the right hand of Pharaoh, or even plotting some evil against your brother.
You cannot escape the providence of God.
That fact should bring great comfort to God’s children
and it should cause God’s enemies to be afraid—and seek his mercy.
How good God was to make Joseph wander, so he could save his life,
and do wonderful things through him.
Bible stories like Joseph’s and stories from history like TC Hammond
show you God’s providential hand.
But in your own life, you usually can’t see God’s hand.
Just remember, Joseph couldn’t see it either.
It wasn’t until years later that he saw what God had in mind.
God may give you a little peek, but there are many parts of God’s plan
you won’t know till you get to heaven,
and even in heaven, there will be parts of God’s plan that are beyond tracing out.
You have to accept God’s providence by faith.
In faith you have to look at all the details of your life and say—
God’s hand is in this. When you do, it makes you strong.
I want mention three strong qualities that will grow in your life
if you believe that God’s providential hand is directing all the details.
Qualities are gratitude, patience, and calmness.
Let’s look at each.
Gratitude when good things happen.
Patience when bad things happen.
Calmness when you don’t know what is going to happen.
I recently read a biography of David Livingstone.
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”
Livingstone was a Scotsman, physician, and a missionary to Africa, mid 1800s.
Africa was truly the Dark Continent.
Interior was completely unknown and unexplored by Europeans.
Livingstone was a remarkable man—
had a passion to spread the Gospel as widely as he could—
also had a love for exploring and a love for nature.
Then, something else began to grip him and that was a hatred of slave trade.
He called it the Open Sore of the world.
Hoped that by his exploration, spreading Gospel, telling England about Africa,
slave trade, carried on by Portuguese could be ended.
So he started to push into unknown territory and his life was often threatened.
There were hostile tribes that were involved in slave trade.
Knew what he was up to and wanted him dead.
Tribes that had been victimized by slave trade,
thought he was there to take them as slaves—they threatened him.
Those who knew him said that besides his determination,
his most remarkable quality was his calmness.
Numerous occasions, surrounded by hostile tribes, porters, guides—
always had a few rifles with them—we’re about to be killed.
Have to shoot—Livingstone would refuse.
Utter calmness—approach threatening warriors—attempt to communicate.
When they would see this man—totally calm in face of possible death—
over and over again, he would be allowed to pass.
Why didn’t he ever panic?
Where did Livingstone’s calmness come from?
No secret. He was calm because he believed utterly in the providence of God.
Absolutely convinced that every day of his life was numbered by God.
He had no idea if this warrior threatening him would let him pass or spear him.
But that uncertainty didn’t bother him because he knew that was in God’s hands.
So he could calmly behave in the way he was convinced was right—
He had come to Africa to save the African, not shoot him.
None of us here are Livingstones—but every one of you has your own calling.
Every calling has its own uncertainties.
There are uncertainties in parenting—times you could certainly panic.
What keeps you calm when you don’t know what is going to happen?
Faith in the providence of God.
No matter what happens—it is part of his good plan.
That calmness enables you to focus on the work has called you to do.
One of the remarkable things you will see about Joseph—
how as a slave—throws himself into his work—knows Lord with him.
as prisoner—throws himself into trustee work—knows Lord with him.
made Prime Minister—throws himself into that—knows Lord with him.
All of those positions full of uncertainly—calmness came from knowing
God is in control.