Gen 41:39-42, 47-48, 53-54: “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 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.’ … Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand… During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly… The seven years of plenty… came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said.” (ESV)
The Lord is directing all these events in Joseph’s life. And what happened with Joseph is similar to what happened in the parable of the minas. The master goes on a trip and gives each of ten servants a mina, then comes back and asks for an accounting of what they did. The first one took his one mina and produced ten minas more. The master says, “because you have been faithful in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” In a single day the servant went from nothing to a man of great position, power, and authority.
This is what just happened with Joseph. Joseph was a man after God’s heart. Even in his slavery and imprisonment he sought the Lord and focused on honoring him. Because he was faithful in a very small thing the Lord put him in charge of all of Egypt. But from Joseph’s perspective as he was going through it, each event merely seemed to have a natural cause and effect — his brothers were upset so they sold him into slavery, he gets purchased by Potiphar and has some level of freedom, then the wife wants him and get scorned when he refuses her so he gets thrown in prison, etc. From Joseph’s perspective it was just one bad event after another, and I’m sure he felt bitter, felt that he had done nothing to cause it, and questioned God why this was happening.
But the reality is each step was being guided and directed by the Lord for His greater purpose… and for Joseph’s greater blessing! Only by going through these steps could the Lord take Joseph from the least of his brothers to the greatest.
We then see the Lord’s hand guiding events even further. The same Egyptian land that had produced well for generations now produces an abundant harvest by the Lord’s direction. When the abundance stops and the famine starts, it is still the Lord who is guiding that as well.
These passages, like so many throughout the Bible, illustrate God’s sovereign hand in guiding the affairs of man. All that happens does so by the direction of God.
Does that mean when bad things happen God caused it? Yes and no. I think the first question you must ask is “what is the definition of bad?” For example, when Joseph was sold into slavery was that good or bad? The brothers meant it for bad, but since we see how it comes out we understand God caused it to happen for good. So while bad things may happen, we must realize they could be part of God’s plan to accomplish good.
Is that the case with everything that is evil? Maybe, maybe not. Evil doesn’t always work to accomplish God’s will, and God is not the author of evil. But when we look at our lives individually and “bad” things happen to us, we must first try to determine if they are truly bad or if they simply are not what we desire. Unfortunately, our perspective at the moment is rarely capable of grasping the big picture of what God may be doing. It’s only after a period of time that we can look back and discern God’s handiwork in it all. For Joseph, it took 22 years before he understood that God was guiding everything for good. It took 13 years from the time he was sold into slavery to the time he was given ruling authority of Egypt. And yet at that point he still could not see God’s handiwork; everything that happened to him he still perceived as evil. It took another 9 years, after the abundant harvest ended, the famine was in its second year, and he gave provision for his father and brothers, that he discerned what God was doing — that God used all these events to put him in a position to protect and provide for his family.
I think this is how our lives frequently are. Our perspective is too close to the ground to see the big plan of what God is doing. But over time and if we are faithful in the process then his plan is revealed and becomes clear. Because of this, in all things our response should be one of trusting the Lord. Though we can’t see the outcome of what he is doing now, we must trust his sovereign hand in guiding the process and events of our lives toward his perfect will for us. And when, like Joseph, we are faithful in a very small thing as we go through it, then God can bless us with a very great thing at the end.