“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.” (Genesis 50:20-21)
This is a series that I have not wanted to end. The story of Joseph is so rich and speaks very wonderfully into our lives. I have been a pastor for 35 years and this is the first time I have ever preached a series on the life of Joseph. I’ve been wondering why it took so long!
In this last chapter of Genesis we see three themes. Genesis 50 begins with grief in the loss of a loved one, it focuses us on assurance, and it ends with the hope of the resurrection.
When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. (Gen. 49:33)
The old man has blessed and commanded his sons, he breathes his last and then he is gone.
“Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1). The striking thing here is it’s not just the family who are grieving over Jacob. We are told that “the Egyptians wept for him seventy days” (50:3).
When Jacob died, there was an extraordinary outpouring of affection. This is another evidence of the remarkable change that took place in the later years of Jacob’s life. The miserable old man who arrived in Egypt saying that his years were “few and evil” proved to be such a blessing to his Egyptian neighbors that when he died they wept for him 70 days.
If God can make Jacob such a blessing to the Egyptians, then he is able to make you a blessing to people around you, whatever your difficulties and sorrows may be.
Cultures have very different customs in regard to grieving, but I think there is something to be learned here. There is a time to grieve. The Bible makes this clear. 70 days of grieving means that Jacob was the focus of attention and conversation for more than two months. People were talking about him. People shared stories and recollections about him.
When a person is grieving the loss of a loved one, we sometimes hesitate to speak about the one who has died, because we do not want to upset the person who is grieving their loss. But it is almost always helpful to speak about the one who has died to their loved ones.
For the one who is grieving, it sometimes feels like a conspiracy of silence, that the one who is gone is never mentioned, except by them. The loved one who has died is constantly in the mind of the person who is grieving, and a bond is formed when it becomes evident that the one who has died is in your mind too.
The chapter starts with this great grief over Jacob. Think about the sweep of this man’s life: His life was so twisted at the beginning, so sad in the middle, and yet so wonderfully fruitful at the end. Jacob stands as a wonderful testimony of what the grace of God can do, even in the late seasons of a person’s life. Notice what happens after the death of Jacob.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” (Gen. 50:15)
When Jacob died, the brothers are gripped with a new fear (50:19), “What if Joseph turns against us? Maybe he was just being kind to us in order to please the old man. Now that he is gone we could be in trouble. Now we are going to find out what he really feels about us. It may be that he will hate us and pay us back!”
Seventeen years had passed since the marvelous day when the brothers were reconciled with Joseph. What a day that was! Joseph made himself known to his brothers (Gen. 45:1). Their first response to finding that the brother they had hated was now in a position of power was sheer terror. They were dismayed! But Joseph said, “Come near to me, please.” He walked through the whole story of what they had done to him and then what God had done for him.
Then Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him (Gen. 45:15). Joseph’s love was lavished over these men. They were able at last to talk with him rather than to hide from him. And since that time, Joseph had provided food and homes for the brothers and for all of their families.
Do you see how deep this suspicion goes? After seventeen years, the brothers are still wondering, “Maybe in his heart he will hate us.” The brothers are not doubting that Joseph loved them 17 years ago. They know that Joseph was kind to them then. The real question in their mind is: How will he be toward us now!
The brothers speak about “all the evil we did,” which means that even though they have been forgiven, the memory of what they did still at times rises up to haunt them. The old sins came back to mind and caused these men to doubt their reconciliation.
This is a common experience in the Christian life. You came to Christ some time ago. It may be that you trusted him as your Savior and crowned him as your Lord, 17 years ago, or seven years ago, or 70 years ago. Christ forgave you. You were reconciled to him. And since then he has guarded you, provided for you, and walked with you.
But when something hard happens in your life, you say, “I wonder if God is punishing me?” Why would you say that? Because somewhere deep in your heart – in your awareness of your own sinfulness, your own worthlessness, there lurks a suspicion: what God is really going to do is pay you back for the evil you have done.
Here you are a Christian, a child of God, forgiven and reconciled to him. But if I asked you, “Will you go to heaven when you die?” Some of you would say, “I hope so.” The reason you would say, “I hope so” is that in your heart of hearts you are not really sure. You would like to think that this will happen, but you are not confident about it. You don’t really have peace about it. You hope for the best.
This problem is common among Christian people. If this is your experience, you are not alone. It is usually referred to as the problem of assurance. A person is forgiven and reconciled to God, they have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but they are not sure about their relationship with him. You fear that God may harbor some ill will towards you, and that in the end he is going to get you.
Joseph’s brothers give us a perfect picture of this problem. It’s been seventeen years since they were reconciled with Joseph. Still they are afraid that all this kindness was just for the sake of the old man, and in the end, he will hate them and repay them for what they’ve done.
How, as a Christian, can you deal with this fear? How can you establish assurance, confidence in your standing before God as a son or daughter who is truly forgiven and reconciled through Jesus Christ? It’s all in the story.
i. Our assurance in Christ rests on his love
The brothers send a message to Joseph that, before he died, Jacob had given this command: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you”’ (50:17). Then in verse 9, after sending the message, they come in person and offer themselves as Joseph’s servants
I want you to see how Joseph responds: “Joseph wept when they spoke to him” (50:17). Why did he weep? Because his own brothers did not really believe that he loved them. If you really love someone, and they don’t believe that you love them, it would make you weep too.
Think about this in relation to God. God so loves the world that he gives his one and only Son, so that a person like you who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. This is who God is, and this is what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Think of the grief in the heart of God when you still find it so hard to believe that he loves you.
John Owen said, “The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to Him is not to believe that He loves you.”  That’s a wound to the heart of God. After all this, you still do not believe?
ii. Our assurance in Christ rests on his authority
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Gen. 50:19)
The brothers are afraid, because they think that Joseph may take it upon himself to pay them back for the evil they did to him. He may “pay us back for all the evil we did” (50:15). Joseph is saying, “Paying back evil is something that God does. I’m not God! It’s not my job to right the wrong that was done to me.”
Now in this, Joseph gives us a marvelous example. We are never to pay back evil for evil. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
Joseph lived years before these words were written, but he already knows the principle: “Dealing with evil belongs to God and I am not God, so you have nothing to worry about from me. Do not fear, for am I in the position of God?”
The real issue when we sin is not what others will do to us; it is what God may do to us. Jesus comes into the world. He is in the place of God. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. What he says is what God says; what he does is what God does. He goes to the cross and bears our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24).
This is the great argument of Romans 8: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? (Rom. 8:33-34) God justifies! God is the one who said that your sins are forgiven and you are reconciled to him. God did this! And he did it on the basis of the finished work of his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you have placed your trust. And this Jesus sits right next to the Father in heaven.
Who can ever bring any charge against you? Satan may condemn you. Your heart may condemn you. Other people may condemn you. But the Father has justified you through the Son. Jesus Christ says to you, “I am in the place of God, and when the Father has justified you on the basis of my shed blood and my finished work, you have nothing to fear. No one can condemn you!”
iii. Our assurance in Christ rests on his goodness
“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.” (Gen. 50:20)
God’s goodness proved greater than all of the brother’s sin. As often as they thought about their sin, the brothers would feel grief and sorrow. But Joseph says to them, “Look, there’s what you did, and there’s what God did. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Evil is so very real, so prevalent, so ugly in the world. But God is on the throne, and that means evil never has the last word.
If you look at the story of Joseph from the perspective of what people did, it is a story of one evil after another. Look at what his brothers did: They hated him and sold him as a slave.
Look at what Potiphar’s wife did: She tempted him, then lied against him, and caused him to be put in prison. Look at what the Butler did: He received blessing from Joseph and then forgot all about him, when he could have done something to help him.
If you look at your own life, you can probably come up with a list of evils that have been done against you – people who have hurt you, disappointed you, and let you down. Joseph is fully aware of the evils that were done against him: “You meant it for evil.”
But Joseph’s mind is also filled with something, or rather someone who is greater by far: “God meant it for good.” Joseph looks beyond what the brothers did, beyond what Potiphar’s wife did, beyond what the butler did or didn’t do and he says, “Look at what God did and at all the people who have been wonderfully saved!”
Out of all the pain comes a life that looks like Jesus! This is the great truth of Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
What is this ‘good’ that all things work together for in the lives of those who love God? The answer is in verse 29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).
God’s purpose for our lives is not that we will all be healthy and prosperous as we savor the joys of life in a trouble-tree world. God’s great purpose is to multiply the image of the Son he loves. Heaven will be filled with a great company of people from every nation and background who have this in common: they all reflect the image and the beauty of Christ. They are all filled with his goodness and patience and faithfulness and kindness and love.
How does God do it? He works through every circumstance – all the good and all the bad, and everything in between, using every experience for the good of all who trust him.
iv. Our assurance in Christ rests on his promise
“So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Gen. 50:21).
These are the exact words of the promise Joseph made to the brothers 17 years before. “I will provide for you” (Gen. 45:11, Gen. 50:21). “Brothers, I gave you my word. I gave you my promise. It never changes. I will provide for you.”
Today, as we gather at the Lord’s Table, we are reminded of his great promise: “He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mat. 26:27-28). A covenant is a promise. Here’s the promise: My blood is shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
Whenever we come to the communion table, the promise is held before us again. We need to be reminded of it, just as the brothers needed to be reminded of the promise of Joseph. When we see our own sins, we lose sight of the promise. And when that happens all kinds of fears rush into our souls. We wonder if God really loves us. We are not sure how it will be with us in the end.
Your assurance in Christ rests on his love, his authority, his goodness, and his promise. All of these are held before you today in the Word and through the table, so that your heart can be set at rest in his presence and so that you may have peace and joy because of Christ today.
We have looked at the themes of grief and assurance, and there’s something else in this last chapter of Genesis.
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Gen. 50:24-26)
It’s very striking to me that the book of Genesis ends with two funerals. I’ve said many times that the Bible story begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through it is about Jesus Christ. But the book of Genesis begins in a garden and ends in a coffin!
The last words of this great book that begins with the creation, the gift of life, and the Garden of Eden is “he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” Joseph dies in Egypt, not in the Promised Land. For all the blessing of God that we enjoy in this world, we have not yet experienced the joy and the blessing that Adam and Eve knew in the Garden.
Paul says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). We know him by faith, but we do not yet know him by sight. For all the joy of his presence we have not yet seen his face.
Joseph knows that he will die in Egypt, but his life will not end there. The life of a Christian does not end in a coffin. Death is the separation of the soul and the body. When a person dies, their body is laid to rest, but their soul goes into the presence of the Savior. To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.
I believe that Joseph knew this. Hebrews 11, which is our God-given commentary on the lives of the patriarchs, tells us that Abraham, along with Isaac and Jacob, were looking for a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10, 16). They knew that they were strangers and exiled on the earth (11:13). They knew they had a future in heaven (11:16), and they saw it from afar (11:13).
They may not have known the song, but they could say, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” What’s really significant here is that what Joseph says is not about his soul but about his body. Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25).
There is a glorious future, not only for the soul but also for the body of a Christian believer. This is revealed fully in the New Testament, where we have the great truth of the resurrection, but there are glimpses of it even in the Old Testament.
Job who also lived in these earliest times, says, “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26, author’s paraphrase). God will give me flesh and bones, eyes, and hands and feet infused with life. I shall see God with my own eyes. I will be in the presence of God and I will be there soul and body.
Hebrews says about Abraham that “he considered that God was even able to raise [Isaac] from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). Abraham believed in a God who raises the dead and Joseph’s words at the end of Genesis indicate that he was anticipating a resurrection as well.
The request was made and the promise was kept. Four hundred years passed between the end of Genesis, and the beginning of the book of Exodus. During that time, the family of Jacob, seventy people when they arrived in Egypt, multiplied. God blessed them and they became a great nation. But they were cruelly oppressed, and in the time of Moses, God brought these people out of Egypt and later into the Promised Land.
When they leave on the Exodus we read, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here’” (Ex. 13:19). At the end of the book of Joshua we read, “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem” (Josh. 24:32).
This was a long funeral procession, but it is a wonderful picture of hope. God’s people carried the bones of Joseph for hundreds of miles. They carried this coffin for 40 years as they wandered in the desert. Through all that time they were saying, “We are going to a better land, and there is a future there not only for us, but for all who have believed the promise of God.”
Christ will come to take us to a better country, and when he comes, the dead in Christ shall rise first! The souls of those who are with Jesus will come with him. Their bodies will be raised and they will receive the gift of the resurrection body. Then we who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord, and our bodies will be changed in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Life for a believer does not end in a coffin.
What is so surprising to me as we look back over the story of Joseph is what a remarkable person he was and what a remarkable life he lived! He overcame the most extraordinary difficulties. He was blessed with remarkable success. He served as the governor of Egypt, and through his God-given wisdom, he saved the lives of thousands of people, including the family of God to whom the great promise of a Redeemer had been given.
But when you come to the New Testament very little is said about Joseph. Of all that Joseph said and did, the one thing that is recorded about him in Hebrews 11 is this last word about his bones! When we come to Hebrews 11, the one thing that is recorded about Joseph is this: “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:22).
What matters more than the things you achieve in your life, is where you will be after your death. You may have great accomplishments in this world. But what will that be on the day that you die?
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? When Joseph came to his last days, the thing that mattered was not what he suffered and not what he achieved. It was that he had put his hope in the promise of God and he knew he was destined for a better land in which he would enjoy a better life.
The book of Genesis ends in a coffin in Egypt. Sin and death have covered the world. And even Joseph, the most godly person of his day, is caught up in this pain and loss. But here’s the hope of the gospel. Joseph points us to Jesus, and our Savior is not in a coffin. His tomb is empty. He is risen. To all who believe in him, he says, “Because I live, you shall live also.” And all who are in Christ, in life and in death, are safe and secure.
 John Owen, Communion with God, p.13, Banner of Truth, 2008.
© Colin S. Smith
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