Bible Study Series: 'But God Bible Verses'
Three 'But God' moments that changed Joseph's life
by I Gordon
Without looking for it, I came across this quote this week which falls right into alignment with what we have been looking at:
"If you want a wonderful experience, take your New Testament and use a concordance to look up the two little words, but God. See how many times human resources have been brought to an utter end; despair has gripped the heart and pessimism and gloom has settled upon a people; and there is nothing that can be done. Then see how the Spirit of God writes in luminous letters, but God, and the whole situation changes into victory."
Clearly I'm biased given my current series but those are great words and they could not be truer for the next 'but God' recipient in the Bible that I want to look at in this study - and that is Joseph. Of all the amazing Old Testament stories in the Bible, it could be easily argued that the life of Joseph tops the lot. If ever there was a roller-coaster of a life, this is it. Such tremendous lows followed by amazing highs... rinse and repeat!
Despite the hatred, despite the rejection, despite the mistreatment and false imprisonment, the presence of God transformed Joseph into a man that was a blessing to so many. A man we still talk and even sing about in musicals today! 'But God' made the difference in the life of Joseph. So in this study we will look at three 'But God' examples and their importance in Joseph's life. We'll look at:
- The 'But God' overriding principle that changes lives
- The 'But God' attitude we need towards the Lord in this life
- The 'But God' attitude we need towards others (even those that hurt you)
Let's jump straight in with the overriding 'But God' principle for Joseph and our lives today.
1. The 'But God' overriding principle that changes lives
Act 7:9-10 Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him (10) and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt; so he made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.
Joseph went through many things… but God was with Him! And God rescued him from all his troubles! What are some of the ‘troubles’ that Joseph had? What things did he experience that could have derailed his life? What could have messed him up leaving him damaged and twisted?
The first is clear: Jealousy, hatred and rejection!
The rejection that he experienced was huge. Can you imagine having 10 older brothers? Can you imagine looking up to ‘your big bros’ and trying, as the younger brother, to please them? And what did he get in return? He was hated, rejected, stripped from the support of his Mother and Father, being cast away by his own brothers and left for dead in a pit.
Gen 37:4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Jealousy is a terrible thing. It led to Joseph's brothers not being able to say one nice thing to him. As a modern day example, a lot of the hatred and hostility on social media today comes from envy and jealousy… many feel the need to try and exalt themselves by pulling others down. Social media was created to bring people closer but studies have shown that it has become toxic. People have become more and more obsessed with themselves and it intensifies jealousy and hatred for others when your life doesn't seem to measure up to the 'glamorous online mirage' that people present of their own lives. Unfortunately, the increased hatred and jealousy even finds it's way into Christian circles.
I recently listened to a Jan Markell interview with Bible prophecy teacher Chad Thomas. Chad literally had threats on his life because he was teaching a pre-tribulation rapture of the church1. He was sent emails and messages saying he wasn't going to like it when they got hold of him and they even sent him the address and square footage of his home. Chad says that he was told that he was deceiving people, was a false prophet and needs to be taken care of! It was so bad that it initially led to Chad's YouTube channel being taken down. Unbelievable yet true! This is what some so-called 'Christians' are doing to other Christians just because they don't agree with that person's timing of when the rapture happens. Oh, Lord help us! It is not just the world that is going nuts. Clearly parts of the wider Christian community are as well!
It was the same jealousy fueled hatred in Joseph’s day. As the scripture quoted above says, his own brothers ‘hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.' It ultimately leads to complete rejection. How many kids are damaged today because of rejection and hatred? And how many try to cope without the ‘but God’ in their life? Some people are really damaged. Some struggle to recover. Even children, who we often think of as lovely and sweet, can be incredibly mean. They can peck the weaker class mates like a hen pecking a chick, until their place in the order (and that is right at the bottom) is established.
The rejected One - He knows all about it!
I recently had an email come in about rejection and how we deal with rejection. As I thought about it the incredible thing to me is that God became a man, healed the sick, enabled the lame to walk, even raised the dead... and even He was rejected! So never forget that Jesus knows all about it having personally experienced it at its worst. Look at these verses:
Joh 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
1Pe 2:4 And coming to Him (the Lord Jesus) as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God.
Isa 53:3 He (the Lord Jesus) was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Scripture tells us that his own brothers, within His family, did not believe Him (John 7:5). Extending it wider, Jesus' home town rejected Him (Luke 4:14-24). Going wider still we see that the nation of Israel rejected Him.
So what is the answer to rejection? The only answer I know is the one that got Joseph through all those years ago - His own brothers hated him and sold him into slavery, BUT GOD was with him. The only solution that I know of is to find your identity and acceptance in Christ2 and to know that He will NEVER forsake you! 'But God' was with Joseph and that made all the difference in his many trials and difficulties!3 Only the presence and work of God can take the terrible things that happen to a person and use them for their own good. No one else can do that. Without God the hatred and rejection leads to bitterness and anger in response. Only God can bring peace to such a troubled heart and actually use those difficult experiences for good.
As I mentioned in the previous study, life in our family wasn't easy growing up because of a damaged, abusive father. We all copped abuse but none more so than my brother Fraser. For whatever reason (well, he was a pretty cheeky kid!), when it came to Dad, Fraser always seemed to have a target on his back. There was a lot of anger, hatred and rejection aimed at him. To give you a couple of examples, one time Mum went away on a trip only to come back and find that Dad had pushed Fraser against a window sill, splitting his head open. Welcome home Mum! Another example is as a teenager, Fraser got a motorbike that he really cherished... so Dad put sand all through the tank so that it damaged the motor. There were a lot of vindictive things like that. After countless fights growing up, it eventually led to a full-on fight between a 17 year old Fraser and Dad. Dad lost. Fraser had to leave home... at 17. Eventually Fraser went into work down the country in forestry. But everything had taken its toll, he was doing drugs and wasn't in a good place being very isolated. He told me that while he was there he even put a gun to his head to end it all... but was too scared to pull the trigger because he didn't know where he was going when he died!
Yet despite the rejection... despite the hatred he experienced from Dad,.. God had other plans for Fraser! Plans for good. Plans for salvation and to give him a future and a hope. Plans to use him actually to preach and teach. And that is what God did! Having come home, Fraser was saved and God has used him to preach the gospel. I remember one time Fraser's ex-teacher from his intermediate days came to our church while Fraser was preaching. You could have knocked her over with a feather! She couldn't believe it! She remembered this naughty cheeky boy who had given her a hard time in class and here he was, up the front, preaching the gospel. She was genuinely shocked... in a very good way! But God aye? That is all you can say. But God.
2. The 'But God' attitude we need towards the Lord
The second ‘but God’ that I want to look at comes when Joseph was being unjustly kept in prison. Imagine all the years with your thoughts. You remember your brother’s hatred and rejection that got you here. You remember the false lies that you were charged and convicted on. You remember the cup-bearer whom you spent so much time with, who didn’t repay any of your kindness but just forgot you when released. Pretty easy to get bitter right? Pretty easy to get twisted! We can get bitter and twisted on far, far less can we not? So let's look at what Joseph said to Pharaoh as it stands for a greater principle than just the example here.
Gen 41:15-16 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." I cannot do it, Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires."
I can’t say for sure but as Joseph replies to Pharaoh, I expect a long dramatic pause between ‘I cannot do it’… (pause)... ‘but God will’. Joseph has never left his faith in God, and God has never left His faithfulness to Joseph. Despite the tremendous lows, despite the years rolling by without any resolution to his problems… Joseph’s faith remains the same! And with all that time in prison, all that time to think, how many other things in his life do you think he has slowly learned to say ‘I cannot do it… but God can and will!’ In those feelings of resentment towards his brothers? 'I can't heal it Lord, but you can!' In his feelings of revenge towards those that put him in prison. In the fleshly thoughts of getting even with the cup-bearer that swirled around in his mind in the dark times? We need to remember that there was a lot going on for Joseph in these prison days.
Psa 105:17-19 He sent a man before them-- Joseph--who was sold as a slave. (18) They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. (19) Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him.
So what are you struggling to handle at the moment? Is there anything that you are getting twisted over at the moment? There are lots of pressures upon people in these days, but learning to say ‘I cannot do it… but God can and will’ is the key lesson and step. Instead of endlessly stewing on it you need to bring it to the Lord acknowledging your own weakness and inability. In the language of the New Testament, this 'I cannot do it... But God will!' is expressed by the thought of 'not I but Christ':
2 Cor 12:9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Php 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
What is important is who has the final word. Is it you or God? Do you say 'I cannot do it... because I don't want to.' Or 'I cannot do it... because I am too fearful'. Or 'I cannot do it... because they hurt me and I don't want to let it go.' Or do you bring God into the situation, whatever it may be, and let Him have the final place in the sentence? 'I cannot do it... but God will enable me and give me what I need.' Joseph let God have the last word. In whatever hurt or challenge you face, what do you end your thoughts with? God's ability or your inability? God's place in your life or you own will?
3. The 'But God' attitude we need towards others (even those that hurt you)
The third 'But God' in the life of Joseph is awesome for it tells us how we are to see all the difficulties and how we are to relate to others - even those that hurt us.
Gen 50:15-21 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 father." 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? (20) 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.
This is a wonderful 'but God' passage. Jacob their father has died and Joseph's brothers are now very scared. You can imagine their thoughts... "Will Joseph pay us back? Will it be 'an eye for an eye' with Joseph imprisoning or selling us into slavery? He has total power of us... what will he do?" So they come to Joseph expressing their fears and what does he do? He just weeps! He is not trying to repay them evil for evil. He is repaying their evil with good!
So how is he able to do this? Not by imagining that it never happened. No... he honestly says 'You intended to harm me'. Their intention is not overlooked. But it is swallowed up by realizing the greater purpose of God. It is dwarfed by the 'but God' in this passage... 'But God' intended it for good. This releases the grudge that we, as fallen human beings, are likely to hold. This is key.
The book of Hebrews tells us to be very careful about something... What is it? It is allowing a 'root of bitterness' to grow. And note that the verse comes directly after speaking about the discipline of God. It says:
Heb 12:11-15 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (12) Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, (13) and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (14) Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (15) See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
Notice that it is called a 'root' of bitterness. Roots grow, strengthen and feed the plant. Be careful not to let your bitterness grow roots! Don't feed your bitterness! Look at the culture at large that we have today. It is a culture of offense. They call it the rise of the culture of victim-hood. So many getting offended over anything and everything. So many are bitter, continually focusing and feeding that bitterness. Now note that the scripture tells us that a root of bitterness causes trouble and through it many are defiled. That is, the bitter person spreads it. They aren't content to keep it to themselves. And it's not just in our culture as a whole. Maybe you have seen that in church life!?! Instead, as the scripture says, allow that lame limb of yours to be healed. How? The scripture quoted gives important points:
- Realise that discipline and difficulties are ultimately from God and for our good.
- Take note if you are becoming 'lame' in an area. In might be a relationship. It might be a hurtful experience. It might be fear. Take note of what is stumbling your walk and not allowing you to move on.
- As much as it is up to you, pursue peace with all men. There will be bad experiences, many outside your control, but you don't want to be the cause of them! Repay evil with good! (Rom 12:18,21)
- This is important - Don't come short of the grace of God. That is, realise that there is grace for you. Realise that God's grace upholds you. Realise that 'but God and His grace' can and should have the last word! And go to Him, in complete honesty and openness, to receive grace in the time of need.
A friend of our family had a pretty dramatic story about the impact of unresolved bitterness and receiving God's grace which I'll share. Thankfully it ends (after a long time!) with a great 'but God' example! Our family friend's sister was called Irma. Irma, though a believer, had been bitter all her life. Those that knew her would often hear the many stories of the things in her life that had gone wrong and whose fault it was. They were things which, unfortunately, she was not able to get past. Though she was getting old, the bitterness and unresolved hurt that she carried remained clear to see for those around her. One day, as she repeated the stories once again, her sister said to her 'Irma, I cannot help you. You are going to have to ask God about why you always feel like this.' And so she did. Irma asked the Lord why she always felt such bitterness. And the Lord spoke. He said to her one word - 'Jean'.
You see Jean was Irma's younger sister and the amazing thing is that this root of bitterness went back to when Irma was a little girl. Irma was the first born and was well loved, doted over by her parents. But around the age of 5, that all changed. Jean was born and suddenly she got all the attention and Irma was left out. Irma as a little girl, was hurt by this and became jealous of Jean. A jealousy and hurt that carried on through her life. With each new failure, like a failed marriage, Irma's bitterness increased. But up until that day when she went to the Lord and asked why she was like she was, she didn't realise where it had all begun.
And the truly amazing thing is that with Irma's acknowledgement to the Lord that she was bitter, the Lord's word brought release. Irma was able to let go of the hurt and spent the last 10 years of her life free from the hurt and bitterness that she had held onto all those many years. She was no longer talking about what had gone wrong and who had caused it. She was free. 'But God!'
If you can see that God is in even the difficulties that you face, it changes everything. If you can see that He always purposes to bring good out of your hurts, that is the game changer. And God's plan is often very wide! Joseph's life, as we have seen, was a roller-coaster filled with many difficult trials. 'But God' was with him and had a fantastic plan in all of it for the saving of many lives.
And as we close it is good to remember the purpose and plan of God, as Peter spoke of on the day of Pentecost, concerning Jesus' life. He, more than any, was rejected, hurt, pierced and killed.. 'but God' caused it for the good of you and me... But God meant it for the saving of many lives. And that is what He has done!
Act 2:22-24 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- (23) this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (24) "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.
Amen and thank you God to that! We'll carry on in the next 'but God' message looking at the unseen protective hand of God in the live of David.
Listen in around the 9 minute mark here if interested: https://youtu.be/HFJHMM1y7LE ↩
The truth about your position in Christ is very important. https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/positioninchrist ↩
Haven't got time or space to go into all that Joseph experienced but in the wee notes it is worth just thinking of other challenges that he faced. Can you think of others? Here are some thoughts...
• Alone (but not alone!) Sold into slavery, all alone in a foreign country (Gen 39:1) but the Lord was with Him (Gen 39:2). How would you feel if you not only lost your whole family but that they wanted you gone?
• Target of lies and false accusations! (Gen 39:17-20) How would you feel if workmates told lies about you and your boss just believed them and not you? How would you feel if people at church were spreading rumors about you that weren’t true?!
• Imprisoned! Placed in prison, on false charges but again it says the Lord was with Him (Gen 39:21). Imagine being falsely imprisoned for doing the right thing!
• Hopes dashed! His kindness to the cupbearer (who is released from prison) is forgotten and ‘the chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him’ Gen 40:23 What do you feel like when you are promised something in a very important situation and then the person forgets it? The cupbearer may have forgotten Joseph but God didn't!
• 7 years of great difficulty - where everyone is looking to you to save them! No pressure! But God was with Joseph! ↩