From the week of December 11, 2010 / 4 Tevet 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
God Has the Upper Hand
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Bereshit / Genesis 45:7, 8; ESV)
Joseph was a victim of betrayal and abuse from his immediate family, which resulted in his being sold into slavery in Egypt and eventually into spending years imprisoned in a dungeon. Yet the day would come when he would face the perpetrators of his abuse and tell them that it was not them who sent him to Egypt, but God.
Did Joseph only say this because he was now the second most powerful person in Egypt? When we experience remarkable changes of circumstances for the better, it is easy to give God the credit. But would he have said this sort of thing if he would have remained in the dungeon till his dying day? It's hard to say, since that is not what happened. Still, a reasonable question would be does God only deserve the credit when we experience positive remarkable circumstances or is he intimately involved like this in both good and bad times? A third possibility is does God only get intimately involved like this occasionally? Does life normally go on without his direct intervention? If so, then most of the time it would be inappropriate to make a statement like Joseph's even when things do turn out well, unless we somehow know for certain God was involved.
My impression is that most people live life according to this third possibility. If God exists at all, his involvement in life is viewed as unpredictable and sporadic and therefore undependable. Sure, there are stories like Joseph's, but even if they are true, they are special cases.
Certainly there are aspects of Joseph's story that are unusual. First, this is the unfolding of God's specific plan for the world through the development of his chosen people, Israel. Second, God had already predicted Joseph's rise to power through his dreams while he was still living with his family in Canaan. So perhaps Joseph was only commenting on God's special role in his particular circumstances without purposely implying that this was a general principle that applies to everyone at all times.
While Joseph was most likely not making a general statement about God's workings in all of life, could he have made this statement without having such an understanding? There is something about Joseph's composure and faithfulness to God throughout his ordeal that speaks of real depth of faith on his part. So his comments about God's involvement in his circumstances were not a result of the outcome only, but of a life that was truly grounded in the understanding that God always has the upper hand in everything.
God's upper hand is not always evident as our lives unfold. But for those who truly love God, knowing that he has the upper hand is a great comfort. As we read in the New Covenant Scriptures, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28; ESV).
This is not cold deterministic fatalism. Far from it! The confidence exemplified by Joseph does not stem from a philosophical conviction over how the universe works, but rather from an intimate, personal relationship with the universe's Creator and Master. How comforting to know that our Father in Heaven has the upper hand!
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