Bible Studies on the Real Heroes of the Faith Hebrews 11
Part 9: Joseph Part 2 - 'But God' - The personal aspect
by I Gordon
I recently came back from my first trip to the United States. On my
first day back at work I came in the door, said hi to everyone, before
noticing that there were quite a few peanuts on the floor. This is a
little odd even by our standards. I then noticed that the peanuts led,
like a Hansel and Gretel path, all the way down the hall to my office
door. My door now had a picture of a squirrel on it and the words
'Welcome back to the nut house'. My office door was closed so I was
thinking 'Ok... what have they done?' Upon opening the door I found
that my entire desk was covered completely in squirrel pictures, my
chair was covered with pictures of Donald Trump and the American flag,
my keyboard had some kind of moss all over it and my mouse was encased
in jelly. I quite like jelly... but not so much that I was game to eat
my mouse free. So I thanked them profusely for their kind act in trying
to ease me into my homecoming and told them that I'll repay their
kindness... in full. They said that wasn't necessary but I insisted...
'Oh no, I will repay you. I'm currently in your debt but I will get
even!' : )
Well I wanted to look at someone this morning who, unlike me, didn't
feel the need to repay or get even though he was greatly wronged. I'm
talking of course about the Biblical character of Joseph. We've been
doing a series on the heroes of the faith from Hebrews 11 and the last
time we looked at an overview of Joseph's life, concentrating on the
prophetic implications of his life. That is, we looked at how God had
arranged the events in the life of his servant Joseph in such a way
that it actually teaches us about the life of someone else who was
coming nearly 2000 years later - the Lord Jesus. Amazingly we saw how
Joseph's life was not only a pointer to what Jesus would experience in
His first coming, but it also shone light on the events that occur
leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. So we've looked at the
prophetic element of his life and now we will look at the personal
aspect... specifically what we can learn from his last words and deeds
before he died. Joseph led an amazing roller coaster of a life that saw
him sold into slavery at one point and ruling over Egypt and the
nations the next. But when the writer of Hebrews wants to emphasise the
faith that Joseph had, he simply points to a simple request of Joseph's
right at the very end of his life. So let's have a look at the very end
of the book of Genesis, chapter 50.
The last words and actions of Joseph - What can we learn from this
great man of God?
Genesis 50:14-17 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt,
together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to
bury his father. (15) When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was
dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us
back for all the wrongs we did to him?" (16) So they sent word to
Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died:
(17) 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your
brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so
badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your
So first of all we need to begin with a little context. The passage
actually starts with the death of their father Jacob. With their
father's passing, there is only one thought on the minds and hearts of
Joseph's brothers - 'What now will become of us?' Joseph's brothers are
scared and you can imagine their thoughts... 'Does Joseph still harbor
resentment for what we did to him?' 'Is he bitter? Angry? Are there
feelings of revenge in his heart?' 'Maybe Joseph has been biding his
time, just waiting for the death of our father Jacob, so that he can
now repay us back for the evil we did to him 20 years ago?'
Now, looking at this purely from a human perspective it's not hard to
see that Joseph had a lot to be bitter and resentful towards his
brothers about. Older brothers normally look after their younger
brothers. Instead of looking after Joseph, his 10 older brothers wanted
to kill him. Below the surface, jealousy festered into hatred and
hatred bubbled over into a steadfast resolve to get rid of Joseph. And
we know how the story unfolded - They sold him into slavery, invented a
series of lies and told everyone from that day onwards that he had
died. And they carried this lie on for the next 20 years. So naturally
speaking, Joseph had a lot to be grieved and possibly resentful over.
If this was a recent modern day story I'm sure Oprah Winfrey or someone
like that would have had all the brothers in, sat them on the couch,
and broadcast all the details while the audience groans, shake their
heads, wave their fingers and gasps at what they are hearing. The full
weight of the social media firing squad would have heard enough in the
first few minutes and would be ready to unleash as much venom upon the
brothers as they could. 'They deserve everything they get!' 'Pay them
back Joseph...you are entitled to feel angry, you should be angry... look
at what they did to you!' If you don't get 'em we will!' 'Karma's gunna
get you brothers and you deserve it!' To be fair, that is all far too
mild for what social media does to people today. So let's have a look
at Joseph's reaction. Was he holding a grudge and thoughts of revenge?
Firstly, put God back in His rightful place
Genesis 50:17-19... When their message came to him, Joseph wept. (18) His
brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your
slaves," they said. (19) But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am
I in the place of God?
How would Joseph react you ask? Well, he just cried. He wasn't
harboring bitterness or thoughts of revenge. God had done a deep work
in his life and all he desperately wanted was to be fully reconciled to
his brothers. They had never asked for his forgiveness before. Look
again at what he says - 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God?' So
the first point that we can learn from the great man of God is that he
had God in his rightful place. He gave room for God's will and God's
work, and he wasn't going to take God's place. Joseph had the power to
say 'Guards, take these men away and bury them up to their necks in the
Egyptian dessert' and that is what would have happened. But He knew God
and practised, even in the Old Testament, what is written in the New:
Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do
what is right in the eyes of everybody. (18) If it is possible, as
far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (19) Do not
take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is
written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (20)
On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is
thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap
burning coals on his head." (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but
overcome evil with good.
Each of us needs to be careful because our human nature easily holds
grudges. We become offended by something that someone has said or done
when we think they shouldn't have. We get the pip over something that
someone has not said or not done when we thought they should have.
Churches have splits over such things. Christians lose their testimony
in the world by acting on the impulses of their fallen human nature,
while refusing to give God His rightful place to deal with situations.
And there is a personal price to pay as well... what about the impact
on a person's health by holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness?
So the first thing that we learn here from Joseph, in his wisdom that
came from old age and a life time of following God, is that he didn't
hold grudges or ill-will but simply gave God His place to deal as He
saw fit. 'As much as it depends on you', the Bible says, 'live at peace
The all-important 'but God...' Have you learnt to say that?
But how? How could Joseph be so forgiving to his brothers after all
they had done? It is expressed in the next statement which is one of
the best in the entire book of Genesis:
Gen 50:20-21 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to
accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (21) So
then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And
he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good...' What an
amazing perspective and one that only a Christian can have. The
unbeliever doesn't have God. When someone tries to hurt them they don't
have the 'but God' part. They only have 'you intended to harm me.' Then
there is a full stop. Then it often heads south from there. But what a
difference God makes in a person's life! It actually makes for a great
Bible study to just stop for a while and explore those two words - 'But
God'. 'But God' times are moments where God steps in to help us. And
they are very precious and important in both scripture and our lives.
In our stupid actions!: 'Now Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She
is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took
her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one
night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the
woman you have taken; she is a married woman." (Genesis 20:2-3)
When requiring protection: 'David stayed in the desert strongholds
and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched
for him, but God did not give David into his
hands.' (1 Samuel 23:14)
When all seems lost - Concerning the life of the Lord Jesus Peter
said on the day of Pentecost: '... you nailed to a cross by the hands
of godless men and put Him (Jesus) to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the
agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its
power. (Acts 2:23-24 )
In the temptations of life the Bible says 'No temptation has
overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be
tempted beyond what you are able...' (1 Cor 10:13)
When we need comfort, Paul wrote: 'we were afflicted on every side:
conflicts without, fears within. But God, who
comforts the depressed, comforted us...' (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)
And most important of all is our salvation as Romans tells us: 'One
will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good
man someone would dare even to die. But God
demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us.' (Romans 5:7-8)
What a difference God makes. We are not talking about religion. We are
not talking about being good or turning over a new leaf. We are talking
about having the living Lord Jesus in your life. Joseph could say 'Yes,
you meant to harm me, but God...'. He wasn't under any fairy tale
illusion of what his brothers tried to do. He wasn't saying 'Oh you
guys... you jokers... you never really meant to sell me into slavery!' No.
It is a very real 'You meant to harm me...' I'm not sure whether Joseph
did a dramatic pause there or not, but he certainly didn't end there.
'But God intended it for good. Don't be afraid.' Being able to say 'but
God' makes all the difference. Have you learnt to say that? Do you know
the Lord well enough that His presence and being makes the difference
in what you face in your life?
A short personal testimony
I was thinking about this 'but God' statement for my own life and my
family's life and the difference God has made. God brought forgiveness
and reconciliation to Joseph's family and he did the same for us. When
my Dad died my brother, my sister and I all spoke at his funeral. My
brother got up and said up until 1990 we had been a dysfunctional
family, but God changed our family and lives. And that is true. Our Dad
was a very hard man to live with growing up. The medication that he was
on for a good part of his life to try and control his epilepsy didn't
help either. They had to take that off the market because it was found
to cause psychotic episodes. With Dad it was always the little things,
the insignificant things, that would set him off. Get in trouble at
school, or with the police, or crash the car and not one word would be
But use too much dish washing liquid when washing the dishes, or not
having the water hot enough, or put two pieces of toast on when he
thought you should only have one, or just have one piece of toast but
with too much peanut butter on it, and look out. That was fairly much
life for all of us growing up. In 1990 I went off for my first year at
University in Hamilton worried how mum was going to cope alone with
Dad. Fraser, my brother, had already left home a few years earlier
after having a punch-up with Dad, so he was living with Fiona, my
sister. Neither Fraser, Dad nor I were Christians at this stage. 'But
God' had plans... for all of us! I became a Christian first just through
reading the Bible and without knowing one other Christian in the city I
was in! It was simply through being convicted of my need of salvation
as I read the Gospels. But God wasn't finished yet for round the same
time He was working on Fraser's hard heart as well, totally independent
of what was happening to me. Fraser was saved later that year and then,
miracles of miracles, Dad was as well in the same year. Again, not
because of me or Fraser. No one... but God! When you take the time to
reflect on what God has done we all have an incredible amount to be
So Joseph could see this very thing. He could see the hand of God
throughout his life. Yes, his brothers had tried to harm him, but God
had turned it all around, even using the negative parts of his life for
good. Who but God can do such a thing? Maybe, just maybe, you can look
back and see that in your life as well.
Resting in the God that cares
Genesis 50:22-24 Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father's
family. He lived a hundred and ten years (23) and saw the third
generation of Ephraim's children. Also the children of Makir son of
Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph's knees. (24) Then Joseph said
to his brothers, "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your
aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
So if I've worked it out correctly, Joseph lived to be a great, great,
grandfather. And that's not just saying he was a truly spectacular
granddad! But we can learn from the confidence in God that Joseph had
here. You can imagine his brothers and family being a little scared
about what will happen to them once Joseph is gone... just as the
disciples were concerned when Jesus starting talking about the fact
that His death was imminent. But Joseph reminds them that it isn't him
that is looking after them... but God. God will look after them. He
will be faithful. God will remain faithful to His promises to restore
them to the Promised Land. 'You'll be ok' Joseph tells them. 'God is
faithful. Rest in his promises.'
Trusting and resting - a recent example
We all have to learn this in both large and small events in our life. I
recently had a small example. It is only a wee example, but God often
wants us to learn from the small things. Before flying out to America I
mentioned to my sister Fiona that I only had just over an hour between
changing planes and terminals, going from an international to domestic
flight (and vice-versa coming home). She said 'that's not enough time!'
Being a little naive on international travel matters, I said 'argh...
what?' And then proceeded to get a little worried! I ended up changing
my flights for going over but decided to be a little wild and risk it
when coming home. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? So coming home
I prayed briefly in the morning about the travel, committing my day to
Him, and set off. I had to fly from New Jersey to San Francisco and
then had just over an hour to get from the domestic terminal to
international to catch my Air New Zealand flight home. So when I got to
Newark airport in New Jersey, I saw that my flight was delayed by 55
minutes, but they told me that they would fly a little faster to try
make up the time, so that was fine. Then the board changed to a delay
of 1 hr 15 minutes. Then 1 hour 30 minutes. I was starting to pray a
little more by now. But each time I prayed I got a sense of 'You'll be
ok. Rest. Trust.'. By the time we left it was 1 hour 45 minutes late.
The captain gave a message saying they had taken more fuel on board and
would try make up some of the time. And they did. They landed in San
Fran at 7:10 pm and my boarding for my next flight ended at about 7:40.
'I should be fine' I said to myself... 'You'll have to move quickly but
all should be well.' Then the Captain gives a message over the intercom
saying 'well folks we tried to get you here as quick as we could but
someone else has taken our parking spot so we've been instructed to
wait in the dog box while they sort it out'. I silently start to pray
again. The whole airport / delayed flights / no time to catch other
flights thing can be a tad stressful I've now found! But as I prayed I
got the same sense... 'It's ok. Rest'. But I couldn't help watch the
clock. 7:15, 7:20, 7:25 and no sign of any progress... Every time I
started to worry I'd have to remember 'God's telling you to rest so...
rest! It is what it is and you can't change anything. Rest!' Finally at
about 7:30 the plane was parked in its exit slot leaving 10 minutes to
get to the international terminal and I was stuck down the end of the
plane with scores of people in front of me. All I could do was start
pushing forward, asking politely if they will let me through. And once
off the plane I just ran... fast... without knowing exactly where I'm
going but looking for signs! And it was a long way... I got out of the
domestic terminal I was in, and just got to the start of the
International terminal when I heard 'Air New Zealand flight 7 to
Auckland - Iyan Gordon... Final call for Iyan Gordon. Boarding will be
closing following the commencement of this message.' That made me run
even faster, thinking 'I'm coming! Don't shut the gate!' But I couldn't
even see my gate yet. Well... to cut a longer story short, I made it.
Dead last onto the plane... Sweating... Not my prettiest moment.
But very thankful!
The morale of this silly whoop-de-do story is that God wants us to
remember, just as Joseph reminded his family, that God is the One in
control. Joseph would be gone soon. He knew that. But God won't be. We
are to rest in that even when circumstances make it look like the
opposite... whether they are big or small events. We aren't generally
restful people by nature, 'but God' makes the difference as we trust.
What's the big deal with moving bones after you've died?
(25) And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God
will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from
Now remember - this verse is what the author of Hebrews focuses on.
This, according to Hebrews 11, is a statement of great faith worthy of
mention. Not seeing it? Not many of us think about what is going to
happen to our bones after we die. Why would that make any difference?
We are dead and gone. I recently had to renew my driver's licence and
on it they have a tick box for whether you will be an organ donor. I
happily ticked it. If someone thinks they can get some benefit out of
this old body after I've stopped using it then great... I've got a
whole new body to look forward to and this one isn't in my long term
plans. So why was Joseph worried about his bones after he died? And why
did God commend this act by speaking about it in the book of Hebrews?
Three main points come to mind:
Firstly Joseph had tremendous confidence in the promises of God.
God had said that He would bring the Israelites to the Promised
Land so that settled that for Joseph. If you think about it the
same goes for God's people today. We have been given tremendous
promises that await especially at the return of Jesus. God's is
pleased when we take those seriously!
Secondly, I think Joseph is commended because he wanted to be
associated with the people of God, not the pomp and pageantry of
Egypt. He was a super-star down in Egypt. He had saved the nation
and brought great wealth to the Pharaoh of his day. He would no
doubt be embalmed and buried alongside the kings. But that didn't
interest him. Being part of God's plan pleased Joseph.
Thirdly, Joseph believed in a future resurrection where he would be
raised physically and wanted to be in the land promised to his
forefathers when that happened. 'You swear an oath' he said - 'You
take my bones to the Promised Land.' This pleased the heart of God.
There is a sense in which the removal of his bones from Egypt to the
Promised Land also pictures that which was still to come. It is a type
of Christ, whose body and bones would not remain in the world (Egypt)
for He was raised from the dead and went to the Heavenly Promised Land.
And it also pictures us, believers, who have been given the promise
that our bodies will not lie forever in the earth but we will be
raised, receiving a new body, to meet the Lord in the air when He
returns to take us home. So it is a repeated pattern playing out
throughout scripture and history.
So what have we learnt from the last words and actions of this man
Firstly he didn't try to take God's place and get even. In fact,
just the opposite, he desired and sought forgiveness and
reconciliation with his brothers even though they had harmed him
We saw the reason for this. 'But God'. He could see the bigger
picture. He could see the hand of God in both the difficulties and
blessings of life. He knew that God had used is all for good and
that made all the difference.
We saw that he was someone that could rest in the fact that God
cares and is in control and wanted others to experience this as
well, encouraging them with this fact.
Finally we saw that he cared and thought a lot about the promises
of God even for the future. Even those that would take place long,
long after he died. He made the sons of Israel swear an oath that
they would take his bones to the Promised Land and bury them there.
He wanted to be associated with the promises and people of God, not
the pomp and pride of Egypt. This is also our challenge.
(26) So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they
embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Here is the final verse and what a strange way for the book of Genesis
to end. Genesis starts with the wonder of creation, a miracle that God,
yet ends with a coffin in Egypt. And therein lays a picture of your
life and mine as well. What started with the wonder of God's creation
will end, should the Lord Jesus not return, with our body being placed
in a coffin. But death is not the end. There is a one final 'but God',
where God steps in, that changes everything, even in death.
Psalms 49:10-15 For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and
the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. (11)
Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for
endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.
(12) But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the
beasts that perish. (13) This is the fate of those who trust in
themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah (14) Like sheep they are destined for the
grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them
in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their
princely mansions. (15) But God will redeem my life from the grave;
he will surely take me to himself. Selah
In this passage there is 1 'but man', 1 'but God' and 2 Selah's. Selah
= stop, pause, and think. And it does well for everyone to stop and
think about the two points raised here. The first selah comes after
stating the fate of those who trust in themselves. Despite their
riches, despite their earthly success, they will perish the Bible says.
The Bible specifically says to stop and think about that and there has
to come a point in our life when we seriously consider that for we will
all die. The second selah comes stating the fate of the believer, one
who has put their trust in God. And it introduces the final 'but God',
even from death. 'But God will redeem my life from the grave. He will
surely take me to Himself.' Selah. Stop, pause and think about that!
But God makes all the difference. An aged Joseph could look back over
his life and see that and I hope you can as well.