God Meant It for Good
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Genesis 39
October 14, 2017

Let's bow together.

Our gracious Father, as we turn to Your Word now, we pray that you would fill us with an openness to hear what You have to say to each of us as individuals today. In the name of Christ, amen.

We live in a culture of vengeance. If something has gone wrong, someone has to pay. It's an appealing idea, vengeance. To be able to get even with someone. To make someone pay for that accident, or that shooting.

Shakespeare said it this way. “Vengeance is in my heart. Death in my hand. Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.” End quote.

Someone has done something which has hurt me, and I demand revenge. Vengeance fills our society. So one crazy person opens fire on a crowd, and we sue the hotel he was staying in. Because somebody has to pay, and it can't be that guy because he's dead.

We're angry. Vengeance is in our hearts, because life is unfair to us. Certainly we can we can find someone, somewhere, in some time, that did something which caused things to come to this point, and gave us discomfort.

If my grandfather had not abused my mother, then my mother would have been a more attentive mother to me, and I wouldn't have become the jerk that I am. [Congregation laughs]

Somebody has to pay, because I've gotten hurt.

One person said this. “I'm often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet, my brains more often than not are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death. Vengeance is what I want.”

And quite honestly we seem justified in our quest for vengeance. It's almost as though the lust for vengeance is embedded in the DNA of our culture. We are all victims. That's what we're told. And the default response to being a victim is to seek revenge. So let's apologize for something that our ancestors did 400 years ago. Not only that, but perhaps we ought to have some sort of remuneration given to the descendants of those who our ancestors might have mistreated. So we must pay!

If ever a man had reason to seek vengeance, Joseph, the son of Jacob, did. His story begins in Genesis chapter 30 with the announcement of his birth to Rachel. But it doesn't get really interesting until Genesis 37. It is in that chapter that we see the strained relationship between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was the second youngest and the most loved son of Jacob.

At age 17, Joseph was a tattletale. Now here's a clue for the younger kids. Not really endearing to your older siblings if you tell on them. “Did you see what Caleb did? Did you see what Emmalyn did? I saw her.”

That's Joseph. “Did you see what my older brothers did?”

“Dad, I want to tell you I went out to the flock, and you won't believe what they're doing!”

If you want to be hated by your older siblings, just follow the path of Joseph. Just saying, it might have happened to me. I'm not the oldest, and some of the things my brother did were “discovered” by my parents. With the help of yours truly. I really was a jerk when I grew up – when I was growing up. Some would say that hasn't changed, but I hope that I can… Well, anyway.

To make matters worse, Joseph's dad openly admitted that he loved Joseph more than the rest of the brothers. Okay, if you're a parent, this is a bad idea! Love them all equally. Take them all apart and say, “I love you more than your siblings.” And then to the next one, “I love you more than your siblings.” And when they get together: “Yeah, dad said he loves me!” “No he doesn’t! He said he loves me!” Oh, he loved you all equally.

If you want to cause discord in the family, just say “I love one kid more than the rest.” Give him a coat of many colors, and give the others hand-me-downs.

Joseph. The poor kid sort of earned the resentment of his brothers. And in Genesis 37 we read this. “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.”

Wow. He's got a lot of brothers, by the way. It's not just one dude. It's like 11 of them, all hating him. And after that, Joseph starts having dreams. And when he told his brothers about the dreams, they hated him even more.

“Hey man. I had this dream, and in my dream you're gonna bow down to me!” Isn’t that a cool dream? I think it's cool, how about you?

So eventually, his brothers plot to kill him. Okay. Here's an idea if you're an older sibling: don't plot to kill your younger siblings. Not a good idea. But their plot falls apart, and instead they sell him into slavery, in Egypt.

And that brings us to our text for this morning. Genesis 39. “Now, Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became successful. And he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time he had been made overseer in his house, and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph's sake. The blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge. And because of him, he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time, his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused, and said to his master's wife, ‘Behold, because of me, my master has no concern about anything in his house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in my house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me, except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’

And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her, or to be with her. But one day, when he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men were there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, ‘See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled, and got out of the house.’

Then she laid up his garment beside her until his master came home, and then she told him the same story, saying, ‘The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among, us came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.’

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife had spoken to him, ‘this is the way your servant treated me’, his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison. The place where the Kings prisoners were confined. And he was there in prison, but the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper the prison he paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Joseph. Sold into slavery, and falsely accused of attacking his master's wife. Thrown into prison. And in chapter 40, Joseph interprets the dream of a cup bearer and a baker. And he asks them to remember him to the Pharaoh to get him released from prison. But he's forgotten for two long years.

Eventually Joseph rises to the number two position in all of Egypt. He has the opportunity to exact revenge on those who wronged him. But he doesn't. And at the end of his life, Joseph says to those who wronged him, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

How can a man do this? A man so ill-treated. A man who has been given all the disadvantages that Joseph had. To take so much abuse, and not embrace revenge.

What is it about Joseph that we can learn and apply to our lives, which will liberate us from the poison of vengeance? Charlotte Brontë said this. “Something of vengeance, I had tasted for the first time. As aromatic wine it seemed on swallowing. Warm and racy. Its after flavor, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned.”

Therein is the problem of vengeance. We think it will help us resolve something and make us feel better, but in taking out vengeance, we poison ourselves. The scripture says, “‘Vengeance is mine’, says the Lord.” But to live our life in light of that principle demands that we live a life marked by three qualities we see in Joseph.

First is a life of purity. Joseph and Potiphar's wife. Now, this is a man's dream, and a Christian man's nightmare. Here is a woman who says, “Lie with me.” And just to make sure that it's clear, she doesn't mean let's tell a little fib.

It's an invitation for Joseph to commit adultery. He could have gotten away with it. He could have enjoyed the pleasures of it. He could have enjoyed sin. He's given ample opportunity to embrace immorality. He didn't have to go looking for it. It came to him.

And it wasn't just a chance meeting. Joseph is good-looking. He's handsome in form and appearance, and day after day, his master's wife makes herself available to Joseph. Day after day, she says, “Come lie with me.”

Only she said it, certainly, in a much sexier voice. I won't do a sexy voice. You're welcome.

Day after day, he faces the temptation. The onslaught of opportunity to forsake purity is relentless. And it is relentless in our lives. Caving in is easy. Caving in is simple. Falling to the temptation is the way of the world, and ultimately it causes us to embrace vengeance on those who would present that to us, and those who would hold to purity themselves.

Purity demands a conviction that God has our best interest in mind when he lays out the basic laws of morality summarized in the Ten Commandments. Holding to purity demands a conviction that God knows what's best for us.

Joseph was committed to a life of purity. And he flees from the presence of the adulterous woman. This is the first key to making sure we are not people who seek revenge or vengeance. We live a life of purity. And note that a life of purity is costly.

Joseph goes to jail. He goes to jail, instead of going to bed.

Purity is costly. We face ample opportunities today to give up our purity, our morality. The movies we watch. The magazines we read. The websites we visit.

The standards of the world are calling us to let our morals slip. But if we want to live a life which is free from the burden of vengeance, we must start with a life of purity. John says everyone who has his hope fixed upon Jesus Christ purifies himself just as He is pure. We must live a life of purity.

If we want to avoid – it won't protect us from false accusations, but it will keep us right with God. And when we are right with God, we can leave any vengeance to Him.

As in the account of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, the world's perspective on immorality is twisted. She invites him to adult to adultery. He holds on to purity, and he goes to prison.

Purity does come with a price. You give up some of what the world embraces as pleasurable. You risk being called self-righteous. Just take a stand and say, “I refuse to watch any R rated movies, because you can't tell in an R rated movie when they're gonna show a little breast. Or when they're gonna drop the f-word.” Just say, “I refuse to watch those types of movies.” and listen to the people say, “Really? You self-righteous…”

Purity comes with a price, but when you hold to your purity you can look yourself in the mirror without blushing. We need to avoid the appearance of evil in our lives. We must put purity ahead of pleasure. Or when things turn against us unfairly, we will eventually be consumed with a thirst for vengeance.

Follow the example of Joseph. Get up, and run.

The second lesson from Joseph which frees us from a life caught up in vengeance, is to live a life of purpose. Make no mistake. Joseph was a slave, and he could have lived life embracing the attitude of being trapped into slavery. He could have chosen to trudge through life doing the minimal to get by. But Joseph shows a strong work ethic.

My guess is that the bad report that Joseph gave his father back in Genesis 37 had to do with his brothers doing a bad job. From early on, Joseph understood that everything he did was for God. He was an excellent worker. In Genesis 39:2, we are told Joseph became a successful man. But the passage gives us an interesting idea of what the Scripture counts as success. Because success didn't make Joseph a rich man.

He was still a slave. Success isn't measured by how much money you make. Success is measured by how trustworthy you are. It is measured by how reliable you are. How responsible you are. Whether people can trust you to do what they have entrusted you to do, and know that they don't have to worry about whether or not you're gonna perform what you have been asked to perform.

Read on in Genesis, and you begin to see a picture of Joseph as one who never gets past his slavery, but who faithfully serves his masters to the best of his ability. His purpose in life is not governed by seeking his own pleasure, but by being the best representative of God that he can be.

He cannot control the actions of others, but he can control his response to them. His life has a purpose. Which is so far beyond him that vengeance doesn't enter the picture. His life purpose is summarized in Genesis chapter 50. When he says that although his brothers had meant to harm him, his purpose in life had not been to get even. His purpose in life was to keep many people alive.

Now Rick Warren has suggested that everyone has five purposes in life. In The Purpose Driven Life, he says we are planned for God's pleasure, so your first purpose is to offer worship.

We are formed for God's glory, so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship. We are created to be like Christ, so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship. We are shaped for serving God, so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry. We are made for mission, so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.

Notice that none of the purposes stated there have anything to do with vengeance. With getting even. Making sure everything is fair. I fully agree with what Rick Warren has said, but when you get up tomorrow morning and you go to work, you have to decide how those purposes fit into your 40 to 60 hour workweek.

How do you worship God while changing a tire, or teaching a math class, or dealing with a frustrated customer? How do you live as a disciple of Christ, and maintain relationships in a world which presses you to forsake morality and do what comes naturally? How do you serve God when the majority of your time is spent just trying to make a living? How do you speak out for Christ in a culture which warns against even bringing your faith into the conversation? You live in such a way that those who know you, but don't know God, will come to know God because they know you.

Paul says it this way in Philippians 1:27. “Live in such a way that you are a credit to the message of Christ.”

Peter says it this way in 1st Peter 2:12. “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then, even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God.”

Finally, we want to live free from the thirst for vengeance. We must live a life of piety.

There's a bleed over here, if you read through these chapters of Genesis and what happens with Joseph. You see along the way that, as he is faithful to his purpose in life, and he does all that he can for the glory of God, the masters, the ones that own him, continually recognize the hand of God on him. That the Lord is the one who has made him successful.

A life of purity, a life of purpose, and then a life of piety protect us against vengeance.

When invited to commit adultery in Genesis 39, Joseph makes this statement. “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

We live in a society where God iss pushed out of the picture, and well, adultery isn't even necessary to look down upon. Too often we think only of the harm we do to those around us. “I don't want to do that because your husband might get mad at me. I won't hurt my friend.”

Joseph goes right to the heart of it. He says, “How can I sin against God?”

It reminds me of David and his sin with Bathsheba. In his confession in Psalm 51 he says, “Against You, but You alone, have I sinned.”

At the end of the day, the sin is against God. Joseph understood his relationship with God was paramount. He understood that God deserved all the credit for his life, and he wasn't going to sin against his God. This life of piety helps us stay focused on Christ and therefore not be focused upon revenge.

In chapter 40, verse 8. To the dreamers in prison, the baker and the cupbearer, who each had dreams and asked him to interpret his dreams. Joseph says, “It’s not about me. The interpretations belong to God.”

When he gets to Genesis 41, eventually he's asked to interpret the pharaoh's dream. And Joseph again says, “It’s not about me. We give credit to God.”

In Genesis 45, verse 5, when he finally reveals himself to his brothers, he says, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph had it in his power to get even with his brothers. To seek out revenge, and to exact a pound of flesh. And he said, “Don't worry about it, man! God sent me here. You sold me into slavery, but it was God's plan.”

And in Genesis chapter 50, when his father has died and his brothers gathered together, they fear for their lives now. Thinking that just a few chapters earlier, Joseph had only kept them alive because their dad was alive. His brothers fear for their lives, and he has the opportunity again to exact vengeance. And he says this. “Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me. But God meant it for good.”

If anyone had a reason to seek vengeance, it was Joseph. But he lived a life of piety in constant reverence for God. And because of that, he lived a life free from the thirst for vengeance.

Live a life of purity, free from immorality. Live on purpose to represent Christ. Live in piety. Remember God in everything that you do, and God is not in favor of you exacting vengeance.

“Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord!

A life of purity, purpose, and piety liberate us to let God be God. Let's pray.

Gracious Father, I thank You for Your love for us, and the privilege we have of learning from the life of a common man of faith. I ask that You would help us to be free from any thoughts of vengeance, because we have chosen purity, purpose, and piety to rule our lives. Amen.