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

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.