Too often, I believe, as we read through the Bible stories of the OT characters, we are tempted to read them as isolated events, given to us as historical accounts and moral lessons. Certainly, every Bible story has biblical principles embedded in them which serve for our edification and sanctification. However, as we read the stories of these men and women, we must remember that they are not hundreds of isolated stories, but one story of One Sovereign God and the grand story of redemption that He is writing.
Take the life of Joseph as an example. The story of his life comprises 13 chapters in Genesis – approximately 25% of the book. It’s a story filled with continual drama – the favored son and dreamer whose dreams create jealousy with his brothers; sold into slavery and taken thousands of miles from home; unjustly thrown into prison for something he didn’t do; interpreter of Pharaoh’s dreams who is exalted to the vice-regent of Egypt; protector of Egypt and the surrounding lands in a time of famine; reunited with his brothers and father after many years. It’s also a story about Joseph’s virtue – his commitment to work with excellence even though his is a foreigner in Egypt; his refusal to lay with his boss’s wife and commit sexual sin in the sight of God; his compassion to interpret the dreams for the baker and the cupbearer; the using of his position of power for the benefit of innocent lives instead of for his own personal ambition; his forgiveness offered to his brothers when he was in a position to enact retribution.
While each of these isolated stories are mini-dramas unto themselves and each present to us examples of the path God wants us to follow in our lives, I believe the primary reason God gives us such length and detail over Joseph’s life is to demonstrate His sovereignty in the unfolding drama of human redemption that He is unveiling. Not only did God call Joseph’s great-grandfather from a foreign land and give him an heir in his old age; but he sovereignly persevered his grandfather, Isaac’s, life; blessed his scheming father, Jacob, and gave him twelve sons who would become the nation of Israel. In his own life, God sovereignly used Joseph’s favor with his father and their ensuing jealousy to send Jospeh to Egypt. God sovereignly ordained that everything Jospeh did in Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s palace prospered. God sovereignly gave Joseph the ability not only to dream great dreams, but to interpret them in such a way that it revealed God’s unfolding plans. God sovereignly placed Joseph in Pharaoh’s palace so that, as a man who was controlled by the wisdom of God, Joseph could execute a plan that would save the lives of millions. God sovereignly used the famine in the land to create a need in the lives of the sons of Israel and the prosperity of Egypt to bring Jacob and his sons to Egypt. He declared to Jacob in Genesis 46 that He would make Israel into a great nation, in the land of Egypt, not in the land of Canaan where Jacob expected.
And God would sovereignly turn Jacob’s descendants in Egypt into the Hebrews who, four hundred years later, would be suffering enslavement at the hands of another Egyptian Pharaoh and would cry out to God for a deliverer. God would sovereignly protect the life of another young Hebrew boy – born into slavery, yet raised in Pharaoh’s palace; sent into exile in the wilderness for 40 years, called to deliver Yahweh’s people and bring them back to the land that was promised to Abraham. And God would use all these stories of his sovereignly redemptive hand to point us to a future deliverer who would one day redeem all God’s people from their spiritual enslavement and bring us back into his family as the sons and daughters of God.
So, next time you are tempted to see a trial or difficulty in your life as an isolated incident of pain, remember Joseph and the continuing story of the sovereignty of God. You cannot see in that moment what God is doing and you likely will not see what God was doing for many years to come. God doesn’t just call you to mimic the virtue of Joseph, but to demonstrate the same trust in the invisible, sovereign hand of God that he did. Who knows the impact your faith will have in the years to come.