“Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.” (Genesis 50:20, The Message).
It’s embarrassing to admit, but for almost a decade now, I’ve viewed Genesis 50:20 as simply the verse that brought me comfort* after a painful breakup. He was my first serious boyfriend, I was infatuated with being in love, and I was truly shocked that someone would dump me in such an abrupt and callous manner. So in my 19-year-old mind, I categorized my ex-boyfriend’s actions as “evil” but took heart that God had “good” (read “someone better than my ex”) in mind for me.
Fast forward to the present. I’m happily married to someone else and have long since stopped thinking of that breakup. Yet I never bothered to truly listen to Genesis 50 before and hear the message of God’s lavish grace running through it, that is until today.
As I reread the chapter, I find myself striding in the dusty sandals of Joseph’s brothers. Many years earlier they had sold Joseph into slavery. Yet Joseph had been blessed by God and was awarded the highest ranking authority in Egypt after Pharaoh. Fearing retaliation once their father, Jacob, had died, the brothers sought to reconcile with Joseph. They sent a message asking for forgiveness and then personally went to Joseph, fell prostrate before him, and offered to be his slaves.
Joseph’s brothers knew they had messed up. They knew that they had rebelled against God and had treated Joseph maliciously¾in essence sentencing him to death. They knew they were guilty and therefore made a desperate attempt to save themselves. They sought to be found worthy of Joseph’s mercy by taking on the status of “slave.”
Yet God didn’t ask the brothers to become slaves nor did Joseph. Instead Joseph responded with mercy and grace toward his underserving, self-seeking brothers. By promising to provide for their families and speaking words of kindness and comfort to them, Joseph signified his understanding of God’s sovereign will and extravagant love.
Because Joseph intimately knew God, he responded with the love of God. In contrast, Joseph’s brothers operated according to the law of the land (“an eye for an eye”) in this instance and thus expected severe punishment. And if “you always get what you deserve,” then their offer to be Joseph’s slaves seemed a just form of retribution. “We sold you into slavery and now we will be your slaves.”
Similar to Joseph’s brothers trying to bargain for their lives, I often find myself in one of two positions. Either 1) I’m trying to clean myself up and “earn” God’s favor, or 2) I’m wallowing in unworthiness and expecting severe punishment. But the glorious truth is that both positions are lies, and in that knowledge there is glorious freedom! I cannot earn God’s favor nor do I still stand eternally condemned. For God has saved me, called me his own, and clothed me with his Son’s righteousness.
Consequently, herein lies the beauty of Genesis 50: God himself is on display. Not just his grace and mercy, but his extravagant love as well. And when read in the context of the book of Genesis, 50:20 then becomes a powerful reminder of God’s redemptive plan for Israel. It’s a plan quite literally for “good:” “life for many people.”** This is the nature of grace.
* Yes, I know my interpretation of the verse was absolutely wrong and that the comfort derived from it was misguided, but it was comfort nonetheless.
** Thanks to Joseph’s correct interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and his government position, Joseph was able to store grain so that the people did not go hungry during the years of famine. Joseph’s acts of obedience to God literally provided physical “life for many people.”