As we study the last 14 chapters of Genesis, we’ve been trying to see how this story fits within the big picture narrative of Scripture. A few times we have pointed forward to the cross as we’ve seen similarities between this story’s imperfect savior, Joseph, and the perfect savior he foreshadows. We’ve even seen some of those same characteristics Joseph’s extremely flawed brother, Judah.
We’ve also pointed forward to some of the promises of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, to see how they’re fulfilled in the lives of the folks we’re reading about. We’ve seen God’s goodness in a number of ways to Jacob, and Joseph, and Benjamin, and Tamar and even indirectly to Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt through Joseph and the wisdom God gave him concerning the famine.
We look at the big picture because as we study because we don’t just want to deepen our understanding of Genesis 37-50. We want to deepen our understanding of the Bible as one whole book. As a church, we want to both understand and embrace the unity of all the books of the Bible taken together—that’s what we call Biblical Theology. And it’s my hope that in the months and years to come we grow in our understanding of the storyline of Scripture and how its themes and promises interact with one another and with our culture so that we can apply them more clearly to everyday life.
That’s why we closed last week looking at a promise from the book of Romans. I want to read that promise to you again set against its immediate context within Romans 8. Here it is:
28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. That’s the promise, now here’s Paul providing background and detail of the promise in verse 29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? (leave on screen)
As we studied chapter 46 last week we saw that, without fail, God’s promises ring true in the family of Israel. Chapter 47 serves as a case study, so to speak, of how Romans 8:28 and following come to fruition in the lives of God’s people.
There Paul tells us that God, in His love for His children, works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. How’s that true? Well, in short; verse 29 tells us that He knew His own before they were born, chose to redeem them and conform them to the image of His son Jesus despite their rebellion, and He will one day bring them to perfection in glory with Him for eternity. And then he comes to verse 31 where we see ‘these things’ again in the CSB. What about all this stuff working in the world? Well, it ultimately can’t be against us. I mean, much of it seems to be against us, but our God will redeem it for our good because He loves us. Whether we perceive it as good or bad, God works it for our ultimate good in His lovingkindness for us.
Now, that’s a big concept but I think that sitting in this room we can all at least affirm that, can’t we? When we leave this building, applying it becomes very difficult. Because there are things at work in your life that certainly don’t seem to be ‘for you’ aren’t there? And many of the things we want to be for our good just don’t work out how we planned them. About a month ago a lot of people really thought that ‘good’ for them would have been to win the $1.5 billion Mega-Millions drawing. To the extremely vast majority of people, God—in His providence—decided that would not be for your good. That jackpot remains unclaimed, by the way.
We have to come to terms with the fact that we might not know what really is good for us. Last week at the church lunch my son thought it would be good for him to eat nothing but butter packets. Now, he could stand to gain some weight so it might not be the worst thing. . . but it’s definitely not the most nutritious lunch in the long term. And when I told him no, he was upset. We need to recognize together that we never fully grow out of that. What we think is good for us and what God knows is best for us are not always the same thing. All things do work together for your good if you belong to Him.
So the big question is how? How does God work all things together for good? Many of you have a lot of ‘these things’ stacked against you in life. What does all that mean? John Piper, in preaching on Romans 8 had this to say:
“Yes, there will be many enemies. Yes, there will be many adversaries and obstacles and miseries and distresses and opposition and seemingly pointless delays and breakdowns and all manner of futility. But, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors because of the sovereign love of God in Christ. Nothing will finally succeed against us.
If you hear the call of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ; if you come to God, loving him through Jesus Christ; if you trust God for the forgiveness of your sins because of the death of Christ; if you receive from him the free gift of righteousness by faith alone; then all things — from the sweetest to the most severe and bitter and painful — will work together for your good. God will be for you with all of his omnipotent wisdom and power. And if God is for you, no one can successfully be against you.”
As we study Genesis 47 this morning I think we’ll find it to be a case study in the truth of Romans 8. We’re going to read Genesis 47 together in five sections. After each section we’ll stop and briefly look at how God is working things together for Jacob and his family and what that means for you and I today. I think if you’ll consider these five ways with me you’ll see God really is at work in your life and that Romans 8:28 is just as true of you as it was of Israel.
First we see that:
God works all things for good by leading unbelieving hearts to favor His people
47 So Joseph went and informed Pharaoh: “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the land of Goshen.”
2 He took five of his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 And Pharaoh asked his brothers, “What is your occupation?”
They said to Pharaoh, “Your servants, both we and our fathers, are shepherds.” 4 And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to stay in the land for a while because there is no grazing land for your servants’ sheep, since the famine in the land of Canaan has been severe. So now, please let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.”
5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, 6 the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”
God, in His Providence, granted Israel’s family a warm place in the idol-worshipping heart of the most powerful man in the world. At the right time, and even through the sinful hatred of his brothers, Joseph had been providentially placed in a prison where he interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s officials. Two years later, one of them remember Joseph’s gift when Pharaoh had a dream his magicians couldn’t interpret. And so he sent for Joseph to interpret his dream. And interpret it he did. So well that Pharaoh entrusted, basically, the very survival of his nation to Joseph.
And in the ensuing seven years or so, Joseph had gained more and more trust from this man. He had endeared himself so much to Pharaoh that he was prepared to give the best land in all of Egypt to Joseph’s family.
God prepared Pharaoh’s heart to receive Israel, this family of 70 foreigners, into his borders with open arms. God worked through Joseph largely in this way. Because Joseph could have poisoned the well of Pharaoh’s heart toward his brothers, couldn’t he? He could have said, “Hey, do you want to know how I ended up in Egypt to begin with?” Then the arrival of Joseph’s brothers was very different. If you remember back a couple of chapters ago, Joseph sent out all the Egyptians before he revealed to his brothers that he was Joseph—the one they sold into slavery. I think he may have done that because he was protecting the image of his brothers in the sight of Pharaoh.
God put the people in place and the circumstances in place for Israel to be favored the eyes of this unbeliever. There are unbelievers in each of our lives and the circumstances that lead us into relationship with them are under God’s providence. Remember, at the beginning of Exodus another Pharaoh comes along and he hates Israel. But that’s all in God’s providence as well.
In Genesis 47 God gave Israel favor in the eyes of an unbeliever to advance his purpose. As you consider the unbelievers in your life, what is God’s purpose for that relationship? His overarching purpose in the Old Testament was to prepare for Himself a nation out of which He would bring the Messiah. What’s His purpose today? To use His people to spread His gospel to all the nations of the earth. That's the great commission. What unbelievers have you found favor with? Think about why God has given you that favor in their sight. It’s no accident.
Another way God works all things for good in Genesis 47 is by sustaining Jacob’s faith. Verses 7-10 show us that
God’s works all things for good by affirming His promises
7 Joseph then brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?”
9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “My pilgrimage has lasted 130 years. My years have been few and hard, and they have not reached the years of my fathers during their pilgrimages.” 10 So Jacob blessed Pharaoh and departed from Pharaoh’s presence.
This is an odd exchange to us, this type of greeting would have been customary among Jacob’s contemporaries. Kent Hughes writes:
Though his words are not here recorded, the widespread custom of the ancient Near East would be to wish the king a long life with something like “Long live the king!” (cf. 2 Samuel 16: 16; 1 Kings 1: 31). That may be why Pharaoh then respectfully asked about Jacob’s age. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning’” (v. 9). Since Egyptian literature listed 110 years as an idealized old age, Pharaoh could hardly have anticipated the less than enthusiastic response of a man whose life exceeded that by two decades.
Pharaoh has no idea here, but God’s promise is here working itself out in the real-life circumstances of Israel and Egypt. God had told Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt. Literally, here, Jacob pronounces a blessing on Pharaoh, but God is in the process already of blessing all of Egypt because of their treatment of Israel. It’s true throughout the latter part of Genesis and in Exodus—when Egypt treats Israel well, they are blessed. When they treat Israel poorly, God pours out curses on them.
It’s in this moment that Jacob may have recognized that, though his life had been hard, God was at work to bless both his family and this nation. Jacob had been through much, some of it of his own doing and some of it undeserved. He had fled his homeland fearing for his life because he deceived his brother, slaved away over a decade working for Laban after being deceived himself, his daughter was sexually assaulted, he thought his favorite son died, his favorite wife did die, at least three of his sons were publicly disgraced and he faced the prospect of all 70 members of his family starving to death. His days truly had been hard. And yet, in this moment before the most powerful man in the world his faith doesn’t waiver. He stands and blesses Pharaoh because, I suspect, he was very conscious that the providence of God was guiding this moment.
What promises of God do you need to be reminded of today? Maybe it’s the truth of this next point:
God works all things for good as he secures His people’s future
11 Then Joseph settled his father and brothers in the land of Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s family with food for their dependents.
Joseph had his eye on the land known as Goshen, also called the land of Rameses, since before Pharaoh had even met Jacob. This was the best of the land when it came to raising livestock. And God, in His providence, prepared Pharaoh’s heart to want the Israelites to settle there. The Egyptians detested shepherds and so they would live apart from the majority of the Egyptian population.
At a time when the famine in the land was about to grow much, much worse Joseph had secured not just a great land for his family but also work. Look back at verse 6, Pharaoh says: “If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”
The Israelites did not end up living where they lived and doing the work they did on accident. And you know what? Neither did you. God has secured your present and He has also secured your future. God planting Israel in Egypt at this time saved them from starvation and allowed them to grow into a massive people group. Through securing their present circumstances, God was ensuring a future for the nation.
Your present circumstances are the means by which God is preparing you for your future. What does your future hold? I don’t know. I mean, I know what it eventually holds—Revelation 22:1-5
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever.
That’s the future God is ultimately preparing you for. That’s why all things are working together for your good. And he’s working through your normal everyday life to do just that.
When we recognize God’s providence has shaped the way you spend your day-to-day life it will help us further appreciate His care for us. Over time, I hope that becomes clear to us as, over time, it became clear to the Israelites as we see, in our next section that:
God works all things together for good as he provides for His people while others suffer
13 But there was no food in the entire region, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were exhausted by the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the silver to be found in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan in exchange for the grain they were purchasing, and he brought the silver to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the silver from the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan was gone, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die here in front of you? The silver is gone!”
16 But Joseph said, “Give me your livestock. Since the silver is gone, I will give you food in exchange for your livestock.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks of sheep, the herds of cattle, and the donkeys. That year he provided them with food in exchange for all their livestock.
18 When that year was over, they came the next year and said to him, “We cannot hide from our lord that the silver is gone and that all our livestock belongs to our lord. There is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die here in front of you—both us and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. Then we with our land will become Pharaoh’s slaves. Give us seed so that we can live and not die, and so that the land won’t become desolate.”
20 In this way, Joseph acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, because every Egyptian sold his field since the famine was so severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph moved the people to the cities from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 The only land he did not acquire belonged to the priests, for they had an allowance from Pharaoh. They ate from their allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.
23 Joseph said to the people, “Understand today that I have acquired you and your land for Pharaoh. Here is seed for you. Sow it in the land. 24 At harvest, you are to give a fifth of it to Pharaoh, and four-fifths will be yours as seed for the field and as food for yourselves, your households, and your dependents.”
25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “We have found favor with our lord and will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” 26 So Joseph made it a law, still in effect today in the land of Egypt, that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. Only the priests’ land does not belong to Pharaoh.
You may have some difficulty with this passage and if you do, you’re not the first. It could seem that Joseph is taking advantage of the people by, essentially, taking all that was valuable in the land and consolidating it under Pharaoh’s rule. But that’s certainly not how it felt to the Egyptians. They call him savior in verse 25.
He does enhance Pharaoh’s wealth, which ultimately leads to God’s people being further blessed as we saw last week when we looked ahead to Exodus 12 where the Israelites leave Egypt with a vast fortune.
Egypt, though they’re suffering here, will be blessed just by being associated with God’s people even though they don’t belong to Him. But ultimately, the only ones blessed are those who belong to God. Egypt rejects the God of Israel and for that they are condemned.
I understand that may sound unfair . . . yet we need to acknowledge who gets fair treatment here. By the middle of Exodus, Israel is greatly blessed and Egypt is devastated. Who earned their outcome? Did the Israelites do anything to earn this blessing? No. Did the Egyptians? Yes.
The Egyptians end up in agony, because they earned their agony. God’s people end up in the promised land and they didn’t earn it a bit. In fact, they fail at almost every turn. Why does God bless them? So that God could preserve them as a people for Himself out of which He would bring the Messiah. Joseph was an imperfect savior. So was Moses. But one better than Moses was to come. There’s one glaring thing that stands out as your see all the forerunners of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. They all leave the biggest problem unsolved. Jesus doesn’t do that.
We could camp here longer but for the sake of time need to move on to verse 27 where we see that
God works all things for good so that His people persevere even faced with death
27 Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen. They acquired property in it and became fruitful and very numerous. 28 Now Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years, and his life span was 147 years. 29 When the time approached for him to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor with you, put your hand under my thigh and promise me that you will deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt. 30 When I rest with my fathers, carry me away from Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”
Joseph answered, “I will do what you have asked.”
31 And Jacob said, “Swear to me.” So Joseph swore to him. Then Israel bowed in thanks at the head of his bed.
Jacob had remained faithful through much—loss, doubt, and even the huge step of leaving behind the land of promise. But there was one much more difficult test of faith he’d have to face. Death. And in that moment, we see how strong his faith truly was.
Why did he want his remains transferred back to Canaan? It wasn’t so that he could be with God. In verse 30: ‘When I rest with my fathers.’ He knew he’d be eternally reunited with Abraham, Isaac, and their God. But because he believed God’s promise, he wanted his body to be in the land his family would one day possess.
Jacob’s faith persevered to the end because he believed God had worked all things together for his ultimate good. What about us?