The entire life of Joseph is summarized in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” The teenager we met at the beginning of the story is now over a hundred years old. His life has come full circle, and he is addressing his duplicitous brothers. Their actions, in selling him into slavery, had nothing but evil intent written all over it. Their malevolence can in no way be lessened by the knowledge that things did not turn out as they might have done. Truth is, God overruled their evil actions to accomplish a purpose that neither they nor Joseph could have fathomed. God brought good out of evil. In the words of the Westminster Confession, God in His providence “upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures, actions and things” to bring about a sovereignly pre-determined plan (5.1).
This, God had accomplished through a variety of actions. Joseph’s descent into slavery, followed by a false accusation of rape resulting in a lengthy imprisonment, spelled his downward spiral to the bottom. His life could hardly have been much worse. Only now, from the vantage point of what God had, in fact, accomplished — ensuring that an heir of the covenant promises was in the most powerful position in Egypt at a time when famine engulfed Canaan to ensure the survival of the covenant family — could Joseph look back and see the hand of God. As the puritan John Flavel has been so frequently cited as saying, providence is best read like Hebrew, backwards! Only then is it possible to trace the divine hand on the tiller guiding the gospel ship into a safe harbor. No matter how dark things get, His hand is always in control. Or, as the poet William Cowper wrote in verse:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast; unfolding every hour.