Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Hebrews 11:22), not in any foolish feeling of relic worship, but because he would have the people while in Egypt not to be of Egypt. Those who live on the promises of God will feel that" faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and confess, not by word only but by deed, and to the last moment of life, "that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth," "seeking a better city, even a heavenly." - R.
I. INTENDED BANE OFTEN BECOMES UNINTENTIONAL BOON. Evil works evil to others, but sometimes good. Intended evil is overruled by God when he has some good object in view. "Man proposes, God disposes." God always knows what the result of certain actions will be. If they are good actions they work in line with his will: if evil, he overrules them. If the horse keeps the road it feels not the rein, but if it will turn aside, the sharp bit must draw it back again. Whatever speculation there may be about our absolute freeness, we feel that we are free. It is the glory of God to be able to trust with freedom a being with such great powers for moral evil, like man. He would teach us to use our wills, by giving us full freedom. We frequently pain him by our misuse and our abuse of our powers. What evil we devise and strive to carry out! The brethren of Joseph even intended murder, and modified it by selling their brother into slavery. They acted more cruelly than some of the men-stealers of Africa. The latter steal strangers to sell them, but these ten men sold their own brother. They thought they were rid of him. Egypt was a long way off; Joseph was but a weakling, and might soon perish. They would be free from his presence, and could divide their guilty gains. They hardened themselves against his tears and entreaties; and even in malicious spite were ready to slay the weeping youth because he did not appreciate their considerateness in selling him into slavery instead of killing him outright. It was an evil deed. Those who looked on could see no good to come out of it. There were, however, several great results.
1. He was personally advanced in life, and was able to make the best of it.
2. He saved thousands of people from perishing, and among them his own family.
3. He was the means of bringing Israel into Egypt, where it developed as a people. Its deliverance gave occasion to the mightiest display of Divine power.
4. He became a type of the Messiah - rejected of men. Thus we know not the results of any of our acts. God can overrule, to the development of character and spiritual power, circumstances seemingly most opposed to our best interests. God knows what is best. He could break the plans of the evil in pieces. Instead of this he oft confounds the wicked by letting them see that the ends they did not desire have been attained in spite of their opposition, and even by the very existence, that the intended bane becomes an unintentional boon. Thus Joseph's brothers found it, and bowed their heads.
II. THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THE WAY IN WHICH, BY GOD'S OVERRULING, INTENDED BANE BECOMES A BOON.
1. It is a dangerous thing to scheme against others. Especially is it a dangerous thing when a good man is the object of the attack. It is likely to be checked and to recoil. "A greater power than we can contradict may thwart our plans." There are a thousand chances of check or change. Men have so noticed this that even a French moralist said, "I do not know what hidden force it is that seems to delight in breaking up human plans just at the moment when they promise to turn out well." Yes, there is a "hidden force," ever watchful, ever balancing human actions, ever ordaining, either in this world or the next, the just need of praise or blame, of retribution or reward. See how the scribes and Pharisees held councils against Jesus, the gentle, pure, loving teacher of truth, and healer of diseases, they sought how they might kill him. They excommunicated him, they sent others to entrap him. They succeeded at length in nailing him to the cross. They carried out their evil intentions; but that cross became the throne of the Savior's power, the salvation; and the death of Christ became the life of the world. They went by wagging their heads, but at last they had to wring their hands. They themselves were left in their sin, and their "house left unto them desolate," while unto the Christ they hated all men are being drawn.
2. That God overrules evil's no license to do evil. Many would say, "Let us do evil that good may come." This would suit carnal nature. They would say, "Sin is not so great an evil, since God can overrule it." To talk like this would be like throwing dust in our own eyes when we have reached an eminence from whence we might behold a beautiful landscape. It would be like a youth who, seeing a gardener pruning trees, should take a knife and cut and slash all the trunks. Or, it would be like the act of one who, seeing how an artist had wrought in a picture some blunder into a beauty, should take a brush and streak with black the brilliant sky. We are not at liberty to sin that God may bring good out of it.
3. That God overrules evil should make us feel our dependence on him. If we could succeed in good without him, if all we intended to do could surely be calculated upon, we should become proud. It is well that God sometimes even breaks up our good plans in order that we may learn this lesson. We might even intend good without him otherwise, and that would lead to evil in ourselves. But we are dependent on him to check the evil of our own lives and of others intentions.
4. It should make us hopeful also with respect to our affairs. Surely out of this thought we may get "royal contentment," as knowing we are in the hands of a noble protector, "who never gives ill but to him who deserves ill."
5. It should make us hopeful with respect to the order and destiny of the world. In some way, far off, God's glory may be advanced, even by the way in which he will have subdued, by Christ, all things unto himself.
6. Intended good is not always a benefit to those for whom intended. God intends good to men, and provides a way to bless, but men refuse. See at what a cost the way has been provided. Those who refuse are under worse condemnation. "It were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."
7. We must all face our wrongdoing some time or other. We shall find that the evil we have sown has produced a harvest of weeds, which we shall have sorrowfully to reap. We ought to pray earnestly, "Deliver us from evil." - H.
1 John 3:13); in his unmerited sufferings; in his steadfast loyalty to God and to his master; in his exaltation, and the wisdom with which he ruled Egypt; and in his forgiveness of those who had sold him as a slave, we feel for him and with him. But Joseph died. His trials and his triumphs passed away. The scene where he had played so conspicuous a part is filled by other forms. And he who was the means of saving a nation must share the lot of the most commonplace life. One event happens to all (Ecclesiastes 2:15).
I. THE UNCERTAIN TENURE OF EARTHLY GOOD. No care can keep away misfortune, not even care to walk uprightly before God. Sin brings sorrow sooner or later; but it is a great mistake to think that all sorrow springs from faults committed (Psalm 73:5). Joseph's slavery was because his Godward life condemned his brothers and made them angry. His being thrown into prison was because he would not yield to temptation. This often a stumbling-block. If God really marks all that is done, why are his most faithful servants often so sorely smitten? We can neither deny the fact nor trace the reason of the stroke. Enough to know that it is part of God's plan (Hebrews 12:6), to fit us for the end of our being. As Christ was perfected by suffering (Hebrews 2:10), so must we be. And just because to bear the cross is needful for a follower of Christ (Matthew 16:24) - and this is not the endurance of suffering at our own choice, but the willing receiving of what God is pleased to send - the uncertainty of life gives constant opportunity for that submission to his will which is the result of living faith.
II. THE ONE END OF ALL LIVING (Exodus 1:6). How varied soever the outward lot, wealth or penury, joy or mourning, one day all must be left behind. To what purpose then is it to labor for good, or to dread impending evil? Can we not remember many whose name was much in men's mouths, full of youthful vigor or mature wisdom? And they are gone, and the world goes on as before. Joseph, embalmed in Egypt with almost royal honors, was as completely separated from all his wealth and power as if he had never possessed them. Others filled his place and occupied his gains, in their turn to give them up, and awake from the dream of possessions to join the company of those who have left all these things behind. And is this all? Has life nothing worth striving for? Is there no possession that we can really regard as our own?
III. LIFE HAS ABIDING TREASURES. Was it nothing to Joseph that he possessed and showed a forgiving spirit (Matthew 6:14, 15), and singleness of heart, and earnest benevolence, and watchful consciousness of God's presence? These are treasures the world thinks little of. But these are treasures indeed, ministering comfort without care. And when earthly things slip from the grasp these abide, reflections of the mind of Christ, and telling of his abiding in the soul (Revelation 14:13). - M.