In the musical Les Misérables, Fantine sings a song called “I Dreamed a Dream.” As she reflects on how, in her younger days, she fell in love with a handsome young student who abandoned her, leaving her pregnant and alone, she sadly sings, “Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” Her hopes and dreams had been crushed by events, leaving her floundering in the pit of despair, buffeted by a hurricane she knows she cannot withstand.
We would all like to believe that we couldn’t possibly end up like Fantine, with the narrative of our lives so badly derailed. “Yet the truth is that the vessels of our lives are fragile craft, easily overturned by the powerful storms of life, whether in the form of serious sickness, the death of a loved one, a broken marriage, an abusive relationship, a debilitating accident, or the failure to achieve your career hopes and ambitions,” writes Iain Duguid. He then concludes, “The storms of life can indeed be severe, and they are not easily weathered.”
Yet in Genesis 37 we see how even though it may have seemed that Joseph’s God-given dreams were shattered in pieces, the Lord was still in complete control of every aspect of his life. In fact, the Lord was at work precisely in and through the shattering experience of suffering terrible abuse at the hands of his own brothers. This turned out to be the means by which the Lord accomplished his own good purposes for Joseph, for the entire family, and ultimately for the entire world.
The story of what happened to Joseph, though absolutely terrible, is altogether simple. Joseph was hated and despised by his older brothers. Whether it was his place as the favored one of Jacob or his God-given dreams with implications, the brothers could not even be peaceful with him. Hence, they plotted and schemed his undoing. So that when the opportunity presented itself, they took full advantage. Sunday morning we will unpack some of the details, but for now let’s take a minute to consider some hopeful lessons. Iain Duguid, in his book “Living in the Light of Inextinguishable Hope: The Gospel According to Joseph,” notes some helpful lessons from this portion of Joseph’s story.
The first and most obvious point to learn from this is God’s sovereign control over all our circumstances. This is a lesson we will see repeatedly over the next few chapters of Genesis. Duguid writes, ‘God’s sovereignty is at work in complex and profound ways throughout this story, just as it is in our own lives.’ He also notes that God is not only sovereign over all our circumstances, but he is also sovereign over human evil. In the coming weeks we will talk more about this aspect of God’s sovereignty; but for now, let’s consider two aspects of God’s sovereignty over all our circumstances.
Duguid notes first the ‘coincidences’ that were necessary to get Joseph down to Egypt. He writes:
“To begin with, Jacob needed to send Joseph to check on his brothers. Joseph then had to meet the man who told him that the brothers had gone to Dothan. If the brothers had stayed in Shechem, Joseph could easily have found them, but then they wouldn’t have been on the main camel route down to Egypt. What is more, even though Dothan was on the main camel route, days or perhaps weeks could pass without seeing one heading in the right direction. Reuben’s plan to put Joseph in the pit, rather than kill him immediately, had to be accepted at first, but it also had to fail ultimately because Reuben was absent when the crucial discussion took place to sell Joseph. The passing caravan of Ishmaelites needed to be bound for Egypt, not some other destination, and they had to sell him into Potiphar’s household, so that the pieces would be in place for the next part of God’s plan. Finally, Jacob had to be successfully deceived by the brothers’ ploy with the coat, or otherwise the family would surely have been irreparably ripped apart. All of these things needed to happen in exactly the right order at just the right time to get Joseph down to where he needed to be, so that ultimately he could save the entire family from famine. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”
While God was at work in and through these ‘coincidences,’ Duguid reminds us that at the same time many of those circumstances must have been confusing and painful for the people going through them. Again, he writes, ‘God was in sovereign control of everything, yet that sovereign control involved destroying the peace and happiness of both Jacob and Joseph.’ God’s sovereign plan left Joseph stripped naked and thrown into a pit. His sovereign plan for the good of his family left Jacob inconsolably bereaved, in a state of sorrow and dark emptiness that would mark his life for the next twenty years or so. Jacob’s and Joseph’s dreams were completely shattered and broken, and there was no voice from heaven telling them it would all work out well in the end. They were left with nothing to fall back on, other than their faith in God and his promises: the hope that the God who brought Abraham’s ‘child of his old age’ back from the dead by substituting a ram for Isaac (Gen. 22:13-14), might somehow do the same thing here. That must have been a slender hope indeed, and I’m sure that there were times when their faith and hope gave way to doubt and despair.
It would take many years, and many more twists and turns in the story, before the necessity of these events could become clear. Yet at the end of the story, faith and hope are vindicated, while doubt and despair are vanquished. That may be an encouraging thought for those wrestling with the bitter reality of God’s painful providence. Perhaps you wonder whether God could possibly be in sovereign control of the mess that your life has become.
Could it really be God who has made a shipwreck of your dreams? Or perhaps you believe that God is indeed in control, but you have become bitter and angry at the direction he has chosen to steer your life. You know that it is God who has shattered your dreams, and you are having a hard time dealing with that reality. Let Joseph’s experience speak to you. Yes, God’s providence does sometimes take us into and through storms that shipwreck our hopes and dreams. Yet it is precisely God’s loving providence that is at work in these most painful of seasons.
I hope to see you this coming Lord’s Day as we learn about the hope of the Lord as we are reminded of that wonderful promise in the New Testament book of Romans that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called by him (see Romans 8:28). Peace to you.
By His Grace,