Summary: A sermon on the providence of God as seen in the life of Joseph.
Providence. The word comes from the Latin, providentia. Pro means “before” or “ahead of time”; videntia is from videre, meaning “to see,” from which we get our word “video.” Put them together, and you have “seeing ahead of time,” which is what God does. He sees the events of life ahead of time—something which we of course can never do. We’re great at history. Our hindsight is almost always 20/20. But were lousy at prophecy, that is, the specifics of the future. Stop and think. We have no clue as to what will happen one minute from now; we have no idea what’s going to happen next. But our God, in His providence, is continually, constantly, and confidently at work. Someone has defined providence this way: The Hand behind the headlines.
This morning we are going to consider the providence of God—the “invisible hand”—in the life of a man named Joseph—not the husband of Mary, but the son of Jacob. His story is told in the book of Genesis.
We are introduced to Joseph in Genesis 37. He is seventeen-years-old. Life is good. His father is a wealthy man, and on top of that—He’s his father’s favorite son. He has everything a teenager could want: the latest name brand sandals, his very own camel. But his most prized possession is a robe his father gave to him. This is no ordinary robe. This is a very expensive and rare robe all the way from the land of Egypt. Every time Joseph rides through town, people stare at his expensive threads.
Joseph has ten older brothers, and you can imagine how they must have feel about their father’s preferential treatment of Joseph. They hate him. They envy him. They can’t say a kind word to him. Then one day their hatred for Joseph reaches an all-time high. He tells them about a dream he had the night before. He says, “We were out in the field tying up bundles of grain. My bundle stood up, and then your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before it!” Perhaps it was foolish for Joseph to mention his dream. Maybe he should have kept quiet. But he didn’t. His brothers taunt him, “So you are going to be our king, are you?”
Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers go to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. When they had been gone for some time, Jacob says to Joseph, “Your brothers are over at Shechem with the flocks. I’m going to send you to them.” So Jacob sends him on his way.
After along search, Joseph finally finds his brothers. When Joseph’s brothers see him coming in the distance, they make plans to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer!” they exclaim. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into a pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
But Reuben, the oldest brother, comes to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he says. “Why should we shed his blood? Let’s just throw him alive into this pit here. That way he will die without our having to touch him.” Actually, Reuben was secretly planning to help Joseph escape, and then he would bring him back to his father.
So when Joseph arrives, they pull off his beautiful robe and throw him into the pit. Then, just as they are sitting down to eat, they notice a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It is a group of Ishmaelite traders taking spices, balm, and myrrh from Gilead to Egypt.
Judah says to the others, “What can we gain by killing our brother? That would just give us a guilty conscience. Let’s sell Joseph to those Ishmaelite traders.” And his brothers agree. So when the traders come by, his brothers pull Joseph out of the pit and sell him for twenty pieces of silver, and the Ishmaelite traders take him along to Egypt.
Let’s stop here for a moment. You might be thinking, “What a terrible thing to happen to poor Joseph.” Instead of Joseph attending Canaan College in the fall, he is headed to a life of slavery in Egypt. He won’t have a chance to be a star on the football team. Instead, he will live a life of humble servitude. In one sense, this is a terrible event in Joseph’s life. He is taken from his family into a strange land. All of his hopes for the future seem to be lost. But in another sense, this is the beginning of something great for Joseph. The invisible hand of God is working in the background. Though Joseph can’t see it, it’s there. In the end, Joseph will look back on his life and see that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” The providence of God is alive and well in Joseph’s life, even in the land of Egypt.