Genesis 37:2-36 & Providence

We have now entered into the last section of Genesis (37:2-50:26). This book ends the way it began, leaving us in awe of God. The Joseph stories are not primarily written for us to glean trite moral lessons from, they are there to teach us about God. Really this whole section has one unified majestic point – the providence of God. Genesis begins by stunning us with God’s creative power, it concludes stunning us with His power. God not only calls all things into being, He sustains His creation, guides it, and governs it towards His ends. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith says the following of God’s providence:

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.

How do we know that this is the point of the story? Our initial clue are the prophetic dreams given to Joseph by God. They function as an interpretive gird in this section the same way that Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:10-22) did for the eighth section (25:19-35:29). But this is not the only interpretive key we are given. The theological climax of what this section is to teach us is not explicitly stated until the end. The primary cause in sending Jacob to Egypt was not his brothers; it was God (Genesis 45:5-8). What God does is not simply turn his brother’s evil for good, but plan and will his brother’s evil for good (Genesis 50:20).

The great puritan John Flavel said, “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.” The story of Joseph is a story of God’s providence, it must be read backwards. In fact all of the Old Testament is a story of God’s providence, it must be read backwards. Or as Sinclair Ferguson wrote, “…the events, imagery, and language of the Old Testament are like a shadow cast backward into history by Christ, the light of the world.” Later in the same great book, In Christ Alone, he goes on to write:

The invisible is more substantial than the visible;
The future shapes the past;
The new is more fundamental than the past.

What does all this mean?

Simply put, it means that the story of the Lord Jesus, his person and work, is not a divine afterthought, a heavenly plan B hurriedly scrambles together when plan A went horribly wrong. No, the coming of Christ was in the plan before the fall. Everything that preceded it chronologically actually follows it logically.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph. He is the righteous, elect, and anointed Son, lifted up by His Father and hated by men, for He exposes our disobedience. He is sent as a lamb to the slaughter, not ignorantly, but knowingly by His Father. He is handed over to the Gentiles, suffering for our salvation. After going to the lowest depths bearing the wrath of God, His Father raises Him up, sets Him in the position of supreme ruler, and then using this new power Jesus saves those who have so horribly sinned against Him.

This is the supreme story of God’s providence (Acts 4:27-28). All of history centers around it.

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