In the last chapter of the book of Genesis (50:20), an amazing theological truth is illustrated in Joseph’s reply to his brothers concerning their fear of potential retribution after the passing of Jacob (Israel), the grandson of Abraham. After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers feared that in Jacob’s absence, Joseph would seek revenge for the way they had betrayed him. Genesis records that the brothers threw themselves down before Joseph in an act of submission to his authority while announcing: “We are your servants” (Gen. 50:15). 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 (Gen. 50:18-20). This historical record of Joseph’s perspective illustrates God’s amazing power to turn the evil intentions and actions of fallen men and the devil into that which is good. For we know that all things work to good to those who are in a covenant relationship with God and Joseph’s life provides an example of just how God does this (Rom. 8:28).
Beginning with the betrayal by his brothers, Joseph lived through two decades of experiencing evil. He was left for dead in a pit (37:24), sold into slavery (37:28), betrayed by a spiteful woman (39:14), unjustly sentenced to prison for something that he did not do (39:20) and forgotten in prison (40:23). Then God created just the right scenario to bring Joseph into a position of tremendous influence and power as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister (41). It was precisely because of Joseph’s great power that his brothers were fearful of his revenge. Pharaoh told Joseph, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (41:40). However, Joseph calmed their fears with a statement that they had nothing to fear because he was in the place God wanted him to be. Then he explained that “what” the brothers intended to be pure evil against him, God sovereignly orchestrated into a good thing for the purpose of saving many people from starvation from seven years of famine. Joseph understood that all that he had experienced was used by God to pre-position him in Egypt for the eventual day that his brothers would need to buy grain to live. If Joseph had not been in Egypt, one may speculate as to whether grain would have been stock piled and if an Egyptian would have been willing to sell the grain to a Hebrew—but Joseph understood that God had taken all that was intended to be evil against him and used it in a most amazing way for good to the point of saving both Egyptians and Hebrews from the effects of a famine.
According to John Walton, Genesis 50:20 should not be viewed just as a concluding verse in Joseph’s life, but more as the entire book of Genesis (Walton, loc. 16570). This truth helps answer the difficult question: “Why would God, who knew man was going to rebel, create him anyway?” The answer lies in what God did with Joseph’s situation. God permitted evil into the world in order to demonstrate the magnitude of his love, mercy, grace and Sovereign rule over the universe. Only the most powerful being in the Universe would be able to consistently take evil and turn it into good. Beginning with the fall of man and the proto-gospel promise in Genesis 3:15, God revealed His plan to demonstrate his glory through victory over evil. The truth that God often takes what man intends for evil and turns it to good should be of amazing comfort to the follower of God.
Moreover, the student of the Bible needs to see the great degree that verse 20 pictures and helps the reader understand the gospel. Certainly the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God is the most evil thing ever perpetrated upon another human being in the history of mankind. Jesus, like Joseph, was unjustly accused of that which he did not do. He was without sin. Claiming to be God was not sin—He was and is God. The crowd accused him of teaching that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, but this was another false accusation. Jesus told people to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (Matt 22:21). Pilate said, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). The Roman Centurion said, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47, NAS). When the crowd was shouting crucify him, crucify him, you know they meant to harm him. When a man nails stakes into your hands and feet, you are experiencing the evil intentions of fallen men. When a crown of thorns is being pounded into your head, you are experiencing the evil intentions of fallen man. And when you are crucified as an innocent man, you have experienced the ultimate evil intentions fallen man can perpetrate upon another man. Yet this evil is precisely what God used to appease His own wrath toward sinners in order to “save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 3:25). Like Joseph’s situation, both Jews and Gentiles are being saved because of God’s amazing ability to take what the Jews and Romans intended for evil and turn it to good, such that the same Jews and Romans could be saved through repentance toward God and faith in the innocent Lord Jesus Christ.
Understanding this great truth can be exceptionally beneficial to the life of the believer. Christians do experience the evil intentions of their great adversary, the devil, and other sinners (1 Pet. 5:8). Moreover, the great commission does not permit Christians to live in communities of believers with the intent of isolating themselves from evil people. We are called to be salt and light in a fallen world. Living in a fallen world under the Lordship of Christ requires an understanding that Christians will experience the evil of persecution, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDs, stroke, theft, fires, rape, child molestation and all that fallen men can imagine. Genesis 6:5 records, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Wicked men will prematurely kill Christian girls and boys at places like Columbine and an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and this will continue until Christ returns.
Joseph’s life teaches the believer that God is so powerful that He is always taking what is meant for evil and turning it into good. The significance of Genesis 50:20 to the Christian in the 21st century is the truth that God is still working each and every moment to take what he or she may believes is evil and turn it into good. The good may not always be as clear in Joseph’s case and certainly it will not have the magnitude of the good of the gospel, but nevertheless the promise still stands. Paul tells us, “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). Only eternity will fully reveal the magnitude to which God, from the very beginning, has taken what Lucifer and fallen men have meant for evil and turned it to good over and over again to the glory of His great Name.