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Divine Repositioning

Leaving

by Dennis Pollock

The life story of Joseph is surely one of the most fascinating and powerful stories of the Old Testament. Most of us can identify with Joseph’s struggles, even if we have never been raised to a place of leadership as he was. The story is far too long and complex for me to cover it well in a short devotional study such as this, but I want to focus on a simple statement Joseph made to his brothers when he first made himself known to them in Egypt after years of separation. In the Biblical narratives of many of the leaders and heroes of Israel, their story is told in just a few brief chapters. But the Holy Spirit goes to great length and gives many details in covering Joseph’s life, which clearly demonstrates that God has something to say to us through this amazing man. We would do well to pay attention.

After a long and difficult time in Egypt, first as a slave and then as a prisoner, Joseph is finally made known to Pharaoh as one who can interpret dreams and solve mysteries. He is brought quickly before Egypt’s king, and so impresses him that he is transformed from prisoner to the second-in-command in all the nation. Egypt begins storing grain for the drought and resulting famine which Joseph assures Pharaoh will be upon them in seven years. And when the famine arrives promptly on schedule, Egypt is the one nation that is fully prepared for it. Joseph is put in charge of selling their enormous reserves of stored grain, and in this context he finally sees his brothers. They have come to Egypt to purchase grain to take home to their starving clan.

The last time they saw each other was a time of incredible trauma for Joseph. His brothers, jealous of Joseph’s favored status with their father, had first cast him into a pit and then sold him to traders headed for Egypt, where he would presumably face the short and miserable life of a slave. Joseph was seventeen at the time.

Now things have changed. After years of slavery and then prison on a trumped-up charge, Joseph is now the second most powerful man in the world. He was probably around forty years old when the brothers first met with him, entirely clueless that this powerful, Egyptian leader was in fact their brother who had tended sheep alongside them in his youth. Although he recognizes his siblings immediately, he does not make himself known, at least for a while. He wants to know them better, and perhaps see if their attitudes are any different from those early days. Finally Joseph can restrain himself no longer and declares, “I am Joseph.”

“Don’t be too Upset!”

Joseph is aware of the fear that must be filling the brothers’ hearts, knowing that the one they so horribly betrayed is standing before them, holding in his hands the power of life and death. And so he comforts them with these words: “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). It took us a while to get to this place, but this is the one statement that I want to address in this study: “Do not be angry with yourselves… God sent me before you to preserve life.”

We have in this simple statement a perfect and powerful demarcation between man’s perspective and God’s view of things. From man’s perspective, these brothers were guilty of a heinous, callous, horrible crime. They had sold their own brother as a slave and condemned him, as far as they knew, to a terrible life of suffering. Short of murder (which they had also contemplated) it was about as horrific a sin as a man could commit. And yet Joseph tells them, “Don’t be angry with yourselves about it.” In short – don’t worry too much about it.

What we see in this declaration is that Joseph had not merely become richer and more powerful. The depths of his wisdom, spiritual maturity, and theological insight were clearly evident. This was not the skinny kid-brother they remembered. Standing before them was a man – a man of great authority and status, to be sure, but more importantly, a man of God. He saw things differently from other men. While others would have focused on the offense, Joseph saw a divine strategy of that mysterious, inscrutable, and invisible God whom his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had served. He was not in Egypt due to the evil scheming of his wicked brothers; he was in Egypt as a direct result of the plan and purpose of God, in order that his family and many others might be saved. His life was now, and had been all along, perfectly “on schedule.” He had no room in his heart for thoughts of vengeance or payback. His only interest was in making sure that his family was safe.

Repositioned

Before being forcibly evicted from his family, Joseph had enjoyed a nice and comfortable life. He was his dad’s favorite, and he was from a family that was quite well off, about as prosperous as it was possible to be among those who made their living with livestock. As a young boy he had had dreams which seemed to point to his eventual leadership role, but neither Joseph nor his father had any idea how this could ever come to pass. Nor would it have been advisable for Joseph to sit down and try to formulate a path to world leadership. Suppose, rather than being sold into slavery, that God had quietly whispered to the young man’s spirit, “I want you to move to Egypt, where I will raise you up to a place of power and usefulness.” How would Jacob have responded had Joseph informed his daddy, “God is telling me to move to Egypt?” Short of a divine and dramatic revelation, Jacob would have assumed his son had lost his mind.

But there was no word from the Lord to Joseph’s heart. Instead God allows and in some way directs his brothers to sell him into slavery, where he would be taken into Egypt against his will – without a word from the Lord and without so much as an “if you please.” What we have here is a transplanting, a re-positioning of Joseph, for the sake of eventual usefulness in the hands of God. It was traumatic, it was painful, and it was utterly confusing. It didn’t seem to make any sense at all. But then, Joseph had never read the book of Genesis. He had no idea what was happening or why. He had not been formulating some great plan to become a leader in Egypt. He had simply been minding his own business, walking with God as a young man, and suddenly his life seemed to fall apart.

As we follow Christ, we too, may have our times of re-positioning. Sometimes we play an active role in this. God whispers a thought in our hearts and we do as we feel He is leading. But sometimes there is no word, there is no advance warning. Rather than a gentle, encouraging word from the Lord, we find ourselves in the middle of a hurricane for which we did not ask, and over which we have no control. We cannot stop it, we cannot guide it, and God seems not the least bit interested in telling us its purpose. All we can do is let that storm carry us along and trust that a) God is still in control, and b) He knows what He is doing. When the storm finally subsides, we take inventory of our lives, note what we have lost, determine where we have been blown, and try to move forward from there.

When Joseph’s storm had ended, he found himself a slave in Egypt. If he had been like many, he would have complained, whined, and accused God of being unfair. Instead he rolled up his sleeves and went to work, serving God and his master, Potiphar, faithfully. After some time, when God determined Joseph had learned all he could learn from slavery, he was accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempting to molest her, and Joseph now found himself in prison. Welcome to Administrative Management 202! He was soon placed over the entire prison and his skills in administration and leadership were honed to a razor-sharp level.

Sovereign Plan

It would be thirteen years from the time Joseph entered Egypt in chains to the point at which he was made second-in-command to Pharaoh. And when all was accomplished, it became clear to Joseph that the divine transplanting was, in fact, sheer genius (on God’s part – Joseph had little to do with it, except keep a good attitude, which he did beautifully). Had Joseph simply traveled to Egypt, knocked on Pharaoh’s door, and inquired, “Did you have any need for a vice-president?” he would have been laughed out of the palace, if not put to death. But God’s plan was perfect, and as Joseph meditated on these things he began to realize that he could not really fault his brothers too much for evicting him from their midst. They were, in fact, instruments in the hand of an all-wise, all-knowing, sovereign God. And thus we have that amazing declaration: “Do not be angry with yourselves…  God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Joseph didn’t end up too badly. True he had thirteen years of struggles and suffering, but after coming out of prison at thirty, he lived another eighty years as one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. More importantly his inspiring life story is told and retold in pulpits across the world, and has touched countless men and women, demonstrating vividly that God is sovereign and God is faithful.

When a tree is transplanted, it goes through an initial stage of shock. It stops growing for a short while, and there is a brief period where its very life is in danger. But soon the roots begin to do their thing and nourishment flows into the plant. It begins growing again, and if the transplant is into superior soil, the tree will eventually become healthier, larger, and more fruitful than it could ever have been in its original soil. Of course, trees are incapable of picking themselves up and transplanting themselves. They need a “transplanter.” And as trees of God, we sometimes need divine transplanting, or to use another word, “re-positioning.” Some transplantings are gentle and relatively easy; others are radical, traumatic, and they scare us to death. But our faithful God loves us too much to allow us to sit around growing stale in our status quo for all our days. Sometimes it involves a career change, sometimes a church change, and sometimes a change of geographical location. It may involve a new ministry, or we may be led to start a new business, or end an old one. Ironically, it often seems that just about the time when we are getting comfortable and content with our lives, the Lord moves us to make some major changes, or simply makes those changes for us. It is the way of the kingdom.

Need for Faith

The Bible tells us that the just shall live by faith. And it is during these times of transplanting and re-positioning that faith is so desperately important. We must trust Jesus as our Good Shepherd who knows His sheep, loves His sheep, and leads them faithfully from one place of usefulness to another. Sheep are not especially bright animals, but if they have a caring and skillful shepherd, they do not need to be. Their shepherd will lead and direct them. There is no need for sheep to sit down together and have strategy sessions where they determine their next field of grazing. That is their shepherd’s job.

The one area in which we are never to be transplanted or re-positioned is our place in Jesus Christ. Having believed on Him and received Him as our Lord and Savior, we are told to abide in Him. By definition this means never allowing ourselves to be moved the slightest degree from the Savior. We are to live in Christ and abide in Christ today, tomorrow, next year, and all our days. There is no better soil than Jesus, there is no better place of fruitfulness than to dwell in that secret place of the Most High – and that “secret place” is Jesus Christ. He who loved us and died on the cross for our sins, is the richest, purest, most fruit-producing soil in which any life can ever be planted. And once planted in Him, there we will stay.


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