Joseph: Discovering God’ Plan through Suffering

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” 

When we read that God intentionally permits—even plans—for His children to suffer, we struggle.

Jesus went about doing good, but suffered an excruciating death because God willed it. Jeremiah has been called the “weeping prophet” for a reason. 

I naturally want to protect my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I’m concerned when they are ill and would be angry if they were abused. So why would a good God—a loving Father—permit His children to suffer? Since God is all powerful and loving, why does He prescribe suffering? 

In last week’s post, I offered Joseph as an example of unjust suffering. He was the eleventh son of Jacob, but the first born of Rachael, the love of Jacob’s life.

The record of Joseph’s suffering began when he was 17. The favored son was hated by his half-brothers—and it certainly didn’t help when his parents honored him with a special robe. Was Joseph being arrogant—or just naïve—when he told his brothers about his dreams that they would someday bow down before him.? Whichever the case, his siblings began to plot his murder. 

I encourage you to read the story and try to experience it from Joseph’s perspective. He didn’t volunteer to be cast into a cistern to become a bleached skeleton. Nor did he suggest the alternative, being sold into slavery. In fact, he resisted and begged them not to sell him. Imagine his brothers’ guilt at every family gathering and knowing their father assumed that a wild animal had killed Joseph, but they were the predators.

Joseph would be sold again. Imagine him standing with shackles around his legs, waiting to be auctioned like an animal. Gone was the glory of his special robe. After being purchased by Potiphar, Joseph earned his favor and was eventually entrusted to manage Potiphar’s entire estate. Although young and handsome, he resisted Potiphar’s wife’s seductive invitations. Falsely accused, he was imprisoned. His integrity and diligence were rewarded, but he would remain a prisoner.

Joseph’s gift of interpretation provided a glimpse of hope that was dashed when Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot about Joseph. Years passed until one morning, Pharaoh was troubled over dreams that seemed ominous. When none of Egypt’s elite could interpret the dreams, the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He was summoned before Pharoah where he credited God for his ability to interpret dreams.

Pharaoh’s dreams predicted seven years of severe famine. Joseph became Pharaoh’s right-hand man with all the fringe benefits. However, back home in Canaan, the famine had become so desperate that Joseph’s brothers were sent to buy grain in Egypt.

Imagine Joseph’s emotions when he saw his brothers standing in line to purchase grain. His brothers had prostrated themselves in fear before him, just like his childhood dreams. He remembered their crude laughter when he was sold as a slave. They spoke through an interpreter, but Joseph heard them claiming to be “honest men.” Their report about their younger brother’s tragic death rang hollow. 

When Joseph heard them admit, “We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us,” he turned away and wept. 

Later, when they discovered the money in their sacks, they trembled and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” Can you not hear the depth of their guilt? Simeon was imprisoned; the others returned to Canaan.

Back home, they reported about Simeon’s incarceration and the “harsh” Egyptian’s command to return with Benjamin.

When the food ran low again, Jacob finally relented to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin.

The second encounter between Joseph and his brothers is one of the most tender moments in Scripture. When Joseph entered the room, they bowed prostrate before him. 

After purchasing grain, they departed but were soon arrested and accused of stealing Joseph’s favorite silver cup. Once again, they “fell before him to the ground.” Joseph could no longer control his emotions. Weeping and struggling, Joseph—no longer through an interpreter, but in their mother tongue—said, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” 

Dead silence!

He invited them to come closer and said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold to Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 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. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry” (Genesis 45:5–9*, emphasis mine).

Notice the four strong statements about God’s sovereignty. They had sold Joseph, but God had sent him to preserve a remnant.

Years later, after Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers again feared that he would retaliate. Note Joseph’s response: “Joseph wept when they spoke to him and fell down before him and said “’Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones’” (Genesis 50:17–21*). 

If ever a person experienced undeserved suffering, it was Joseph. Trafficked by his brothers, and forced to live all but 17 years of his life in a foreign country. Falsely accused and imprisoned. Forgotten by the cupbearer. Year after year suffering pain and injustice for something he hadn’t done. Yet, there is no record of Joseph’s bitterness. No angry laments against God: “Why? How long!?” No attempt to seek revenge.

It was not the life that Joseph had anticipated as a teenager. Every painful day was the direct result of his brothers’ hatred. Yet he could say, “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good…” 

I wonder, what if Joseph had remained at home as the favorite son with the colorful cloak? Would he have become a man of integrity? Would he be remembered for his deep faith in God? We don’t know, but we can be confident of this: Because Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, his family not only survived the famine in Canaan but multiplied into a great nation. Living in Goshen, they maintained their distinctive culture and religion. When I read the story, I am amazed how God used evil men and painful circumstances to accomplish something so profoundly good. 

So yes, God does love His children and has a wonderful plan for them. He forgives. Redeems. And one Day, He will welcome them into His glorious home forever!

That road to glory passes through the valley of suffering because it is in the valley of suffering that our faith in God grows, and we learn to trust Him and discover that our Father knows what is best. 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, wrote these comforting words: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31–33*) 

In a sermon about the potter’s wheel, I shared a line from a song: “When you can’t see Gods hands, trust His heart.”

Jacob could have written those lyrics from experience.

So can I.

My life has been saturated with God’s goodness and grace, but it has also been seasoned with suffering. It was through those darker times, when I wondered what God was doing, that I experienced the Father’s love most intimately.

Thank you for reading this post; if you found it helpful, please pass it on to your friends. Perhaps you have a story about discovering God’s heart when you couldn’t see His hand.

*All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.