“God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:7-8).
Joseph said the above words after revealing his identity to his brothers. It is striking that he absolves his brothers of their role in his going to Egypt. Instead, he reduces everything to the will of God. God wanted Joseph in Egypt to preserve the lives of His family-remnant and others. God caused Joseph to come to Egypt. Secondary causes do not signify in Joseph’s perspective..
We can appreciate that God is the primary cause of Joseph coming to Egypt. But those secondary causes are hard to ignore, especially when they inflicted so much suffering. Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape, and Joseph was imprisoned. Joseph lost 13 years of his life to these misfortunes (Gen. 37:2, 41:46).
When Joseph was young, he dreamed about his brothers bowing down to him. Thirteen years and countless hardships later, Joseph’s dreams came to pass. God could have taken any number of routes to get Joseph there. Why through a gauntlet of troubles?
God’s plan was for Joseph to be Pharaoh’s right hand man. But God was as concerned with the process as with the end. There was a work that had to be done in Joseph; a work necessary for the deliverance God planned through Joseph; a work necessary for the profound forgiveness Joseph showed his brothers.
Scripture says little about the work in Joseph’s soul. But since he pictured Jesus, perhaps looking at Jesus can give us a sense of that work.
Hebrews tells us the following:
“For in bringing many sons to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God…should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10).
“He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested” (Heb. 2:17-18).
Jesus could not be our priest and mediator as the Son of God. To represent us, He had to become one of us; He had to experience our temptations, frailties, and sufferings. Only through such experience could He be faithful and merciful and become the source of salvation.
Think of Joseph as a young man: he was self-righteous and talked badly about his brothers to his father (Gen. 37:2). He was a bit cheeky and provoked his brothers by telling them they bowed to him in his dreams. Imagine this Joseph suddenly becoming Pharaoh’s right hand. Would he use his power to save lives? Would he have been faithful and merciful to his brothers?
After suffering and being humbled, Joseph was ready to use his power to save others. He was ready to be faithful and merciful to his brothers. Just as important as these outcomes, Joseph was the man God wanted him to be—a man like Jesus.
God is just as concerned with the process happening in our lives. To be sure, God has plans for us, and created us in Christ to fulfill these plans (Eph. 2:10). He is using everything that happens to us to make us like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). Making us like Jesus makes us ready to be used as God intends. But being conformed to the image of God’s Son is an end in itself. You could argue it is main end God is concerned with; if being made like Jesus prepares us for some task or ministry, that is a bonus.
Joseph gaining power and his brothers bowing to him would’ve been to little purpose. Joseph’s exaltation only had divine value because God used his life experiences to make him like Jesus.