OT Encounters: When God uses Evil

 

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday, September 17, 2017, is from Genesis, the first book of the Torah/Pentateuch. The text is Genesis 50:15-21, a short account, but it also contains the ONLY EXPLICIT theological statement in the Joseph narratives (chapters 37-50). This statement in chapter 50 is a condensed version of the same statement as written in chapter 45 and is spoken by Joseph for the same reason. His brothers are convinced that Joseph is going to enact his vengeance upon them for the way they have treated him. All things considered, it is a well-placed fear! In chapter 45, Joseph has finally revealed his identity to his brothers, and because they had sought to kill him earlier, they thought their own demise was at hand. However, Joseph points out to them that it was God who was using all of this. It was God who sent him before them to Egypt to preserve life and to preserve a remnant of the chosen/covenantal people (vs. 4-8).

Now, in chapter 50, Jacob has died and been buried, and Joseph’s brothers are fearful that he will now send them to the grave to join Jacob. Once again, Joseph declares this great theological truth in verses 19-20: Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”

50:15 lu yistemana—root satam—“it may be/maybe he (Joseph) will be at enmity with us (will hate us)

      Wehashav yashiv—“and return (cause to return) NOTE the doubling for emphasis and intensification.

      Gamalnu—root gamal—to do to, show, deal out to

50:16 “…your father (gave) a command before the face of his death (before he died) saying…”

50:17 ana san a pesha—literally: “now please forgive please the transgression of…”

      Avday elohay avika—“the servants of the God of your father.”

There are a couple of important things at this point: First, the brothers send this message to Joseph. They do not deliver it in person. They did the same when they sent Joseph’s bloody tunic to Jacob to “please identify.” When the reaction is a desirable one, they show up in both accounts. Second, the brothers call themselves “the servants of the God of your father.” This is the first time they actually acknowledge their connection to God in any real way. They are most likely playing on the emotions and piety of Joseph.

50:19 hathachath Elohim ani—“am I in the place of God?”

50:20 “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”

Joseph is referencing God using him to save many peoples, and most certainly the people of the covenant. God uses the brothers’ evil intentions to put Joseph in a place where he can preserve the Messianic line.

50:21 akalkel—this is rare form sometimes called a ‘pilpolel’ from the hollow verb ‘kul.’ “I will support/sustain”

Lutheran Theology! God is control of history, and He can even use evil and evil ones to accomplish His purposes. For example, God uses Satan (tricks him) into strengthening the faith of Job, and of course, God uses Satan to sacrifice His Son on a cross and thereby accomplishing salvation for mankind.

Therefore, the main point of this text is NOT “forgive your brothers like Joseph.” The main theme presents Joseph as a Christological figure as he saves the people and the Messianic Line from death with grain (bread of life). God even uses evil and ill intentions to provide His salvation—He always has!