Meant Evil?

Perhaps you’ve read it? A story of treachery and redemption that unfolds at the end of the Book of Genesis (chapters 37, 39 – 50.) Jacob’s son Joseph is sold to traders by his brothers and winds up in Egypt as a slave. Through God’s providence, Joseph is promoted to ruler second only to Pharaoh. During a devastating Near East famine, Joseph is instrumental in feeding the civilizations in and around Egypt at the time. Providentially, one of those civilizations, in embryonic form, consisted of his brothers. Joseph, humbled by his God and Savior, offers mercy to them:

But Joseph said to them, “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.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformation preacher and teacher, John Calvin draws out three points from the passage. First, Calvin cautions us to follow Joseph’s example by restraining our passions in light of God’s providence in and through our circumstances:

Am I in the place of God? …Joseph considers the design of divine providence [and] restrains his feelings as with a bridle, lest they should carry him to excess…When, therefore, the desire of revenge urges us, let all our feelings be subjected to the same authority. […If we let] this thought take full possession of our minds, there is no ardor, however furious, which it will not suffice to mitigate.

It is to our advantage to deal with men of moderation, who set God before them as their leader, and who not only submit to His will, but also cheerfully obey Him. For if anyone is impotently carried away by the lust of the flesh, we must fear a thousand deaths from him, unless God should forcibly break his fury.

Calvin explains that, under God’s sovereignty, the brothers were fully guilty of their evil deeds and Joseph owed all honor to God for his good deeds.

You thought evil against me. …The selling of Joseph was a crime detestable for its cruelty and [faithlessness]; yet he was not sold except by the decree of heaven.

…Nothing is done without [God’s] will; because He both governs the counsels of men ([swaying] their wills and [turning] their efforts at his pleasure) and regulates all events: but if men undertake anything right and just, He so actuates and moves them inwardly by his Spirit, that whatever is good in them, may justly be said to be received from Him.

But if Satan and ungodly men rage, He acts by their hands in such an inexpressible manner, that the wickedness of the deed belongs to them, and the blame of it is imputed to them. For they are not induced to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit, but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their leader.

And finally, true repentance and reconciliation are evidenced by kind acts toward the one or ones forgiven:

I will nourish you. It was a [mark] of a solid and unfeigned reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to “overcome evil with good,” as Paul teaches (Romans 12:21.)

He who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this [failure], that he is not forgetful of injury.

Therefore, we shall prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we [do] kindness [to] those enemies by whom we have been ill-treated.

In light of God’s providence, let us then practice forgiveness and reconciliation by doing good to those who have trespassed against us that we’ve forgiven.

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home: A Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading, [collected volume], London, Religious Tract Society, Public Domain in the United States

All Israel Shall Be Saved

Much has been said recently about the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East. Even Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, touches on the issue of national Israel. Some of what’s been said is divisive and some is not.

So let’s step back from the contemporary rhetoric and see what the Bible says. The Apostle Paul discussed Israel in his letter to the church in Rome. He described that nation’s relationship to God now that the gospel had been revealed. Paul made the following statement:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

Romans 11:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

What did he mean by ‘in this way?’ It seems that a lot of controversy surrounds this clause.

The exegete John Calvin said of the verse:

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before [e.g., the sacrificial system].

But I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning:

“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.”

Calvin didn’t make this assertion and others because of personal preference or animus, but based on the context of Paul’s statements in the chapter. Paul went on to say:

As regards the gospel, they [i.e., Israel] are enemies for your [i.e., the hearers of his letter] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:28-32 (ESV)

To this, Calvin commented:

[Paul] shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases.

There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

…Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And thus ‘in this way’: All Israel Shall Be Saved.

Valley of Jezreel

The view from Megiddo, northeast across the Jezreel Valley in Israel to Mount Tabor, 9 November 2005, by Joe Freeman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic