“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
If a person completely unfamiliar with the Book of Genesis sat down and read the first two chapters, then skipped ahead and read the final two, they would likely have the overwhelming feeling that something had gone horribly wrong in between the two sections. Perhaps unable to put their finger directly on it, they would sense that something catastrophic had occurred in between. Genesis 1 opens with God moving upon a barren planet, filling it with life and light. Genesis 50 ends with the burial of Joseph. Genesis begins with the birth of everything and ends with the burial of the final personage covered in the narrative. In short, Genesis begins with life and ends with death.
Even the most hardened atheist must concede that there seems to be something very unnatural and even unfair about the cruel, nearly mechanical cycle of life and death. All living things die eventually, but why is this so? Why is that the human body, so resilient, so able to reproduce and revive its own cells, finally ceases all of these processes and ultimately surrenders to the cold grasp of death? How is it that everything which God created and called “good” has become otherwise?
Man has within his heart an instinct for survival, a desire to live, and an expectation for immortality. We know within our own hearts that we ought not to die, that this is not the way things were intended to be. And in reflecting on the Book of Genesis, we see that God never intended for it to be like this. Yet sin entered in; and with it, death (Rom. 5:12). This is what went horribly wrong in those chapters between the Second and Forty-ninth of Genesis: sin. We tend to blame all of our woes on external forces, but they originated within ourselves. Man has defied the Law of God and has brought death upon himself as a result.
Yet another theme is woven into the pages of Genesis, a theme that would be overlooked by the person skipping over all of those intermediate chapters. Redemption. What man has defiled, God desires to cleanse; what man has broken, God desires to fix; and what man has lost, God desires to restore. In other words: what man has thought for evil, God has meant for good. Even the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, which led to the death, both spiritual and physical, of every person who would ever live can be overcome by what God has done through Jesus Christ on man’s behalf. Evil intent darkened the hearts of Adam and Eve in that Original Sin, yet God brought something good in the Redemption made available by the Blood of Christ, the Redemption offered to all men whereby they might be saved.
And so it is with the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery. What they intended for evil, God meant for good. For this single sinful act of the brothers would set into motion all of the events that would one day bring them alive into Egypt. Though by no means alleviating their responsibility for their actions, God would bring something beautiful from the ugliness that the brothers had done. Even so, we know that the brothers of Joseph repented of the wicked deed they had done and did what they could to make things right. Fearing retribution from Joseph’s hand after their father passed away, they threw themselves upon his mercy and even appealed to Jacob’s final wishes to save them. But Joseph, his eyes fixed steadfastly on the perspective of God upon the entire matter, holds no such purpose as their destruction in his mind. He deeply loved his brothers and had forgiven them. Besides this, how could he wish harm against them when what they intended for evil, God meant for good?