The story of the life of Joseph – one of the great tales in the redemptive narrative – is completely circumvented by the absolute sovereignty of God. The Lord gave Joseph his first dreams knowing full well that his brothers would despise any notion of being subject to him. And having been a faithful servant in the house of Potiphar, Joseph was subjected to a most heinous abuse, and was thrown into prison; here he prospered, as he had always done, and remained faithful to God. There is, then, a principle concerning affliction which may be drawn from Joseph’s life: while we may be persecuted and afflicted, the Lord will not forsake His chosen; rather, He will make all things come together for the good of His people. And this was the reason for Joseph’s life, which he summarized towards the end of his life: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result – the survival of many people” (Gen. 50:20).
This life of suffering convinced Joseph of the absolute sovereignty of God. He was in know way ambiguous in his phrasing: he was clear that his brothers had plotted evil, yet God was but using them as instruments to bring about His plan. And this is the doctrine of sovereignty: the will of God shall procede, for He has ordered all things – be they intended (by the instruments) for good or ill – to work together for the benefit of the Church. This, too, is what the Apostle Paul means in saying, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” This doctrine, as Paul continues to say in Romans 8, is supported by all the other doctrines of grace: election, effectual calling, justification, and glorification. Since God has planned good for His people, all things shall come together for that goal.
Notice also that this response of Joseph came after his brothers’ plea for forgiveness. Now, whether or not their appeal was genuine is not explicit in the text, although I am of the opinion that it was not, since their motivation was to avoid retribution and there is no earlier record of Jacob telling his sons to ask for Joseph’s forgiveness. But whatever may have been in their hearts, Joseph was quick and eager to grant their request. And at the root of his forgiveness was our Lord’s sovereignty. For the understanding – that is, the correct understanding – of God’s sovereignty precludes any holding of a grudge; the events, and the instruments of those events, of our lives are arranged by God, and, therefore, holding any grudge would be directed against God. So, Christian, be exhorted towards forgiveness, since all of your life has been pre-ordered by the Almighty God, who made heaven and earth.
Finally, we are here given a picture of Christ. The Pharisees planned evil for the Savior, and indeed, the greatest evil was committed against Him: for He was the only innocent man ever to die. Yet God, in His wisdom and goodness, brought about the greatest good in all of human history through the greatest evil: “the survival of many people.” The survival of Christians through the Day of Judgement lies in the blood of Jesus Christ, and this is His great promise to us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Men planned evil at the cross, but God planned the salvation of His elect. And if He so worked for you, do you not think that He will keep you? Do not fear after your state before God. He has bought you with the blood of Jesus, and He will keep you.