Genesis 45:1-15, 50:15-21

Bringing Good from Evil

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Genesis 45:1-15, 50:15-21

Bringing Good from Evil

Richard Niell Donovan

Joseph’s father, Jacob, had twelve sons. Joseph was his favorite, and Jacob didn’t care who knew it. He bought Joseph a flashy new coat while the other brothers wore plain work jackets. He always gave Joseph the easiest jobs—the jobs that would keep him close to home. Naturally, the other brothers resented Joseph.

Furthermore, Joseph was a dreamer! He dreamed about ruling over his brothers. They were bowing down to him.

Furthermore, Joseph was a talker! After he had dreamed his dream, he told his brothers about it. When they heard about themselves bowing down to him, they were incensed. They were so angry that they decided to kill Joseph.

But one of the brothers had second thoughts about killing Joseph. He persuaded the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead. They did so, and returned home, telling their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

The men who had purchased Joseph took him to Egypt, where Joseph became a servant to Potiphar, a wealthy man. Potiphar treated Joseph well, and promoted him above all the other servants. But Potiphar’s wife took a shine to Joseph, and beckoned him into her bedroom. Joseph could not be disloyal either to God or to Potiphar, so he rejected her advances.

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You probably remember the rest of the story. Mrs. Potiphar accused Joseph of acting improperly, and Mr. Potiphar threw Joseph into prison. Joseph remained in prison for several years—until the pharaoh heard that Joseph could interpret dreams. Pharaoh had dreamed a very puzzling dream.

Joseph interpreted the dream. He told pharaoh that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the food supply. Then he made Joseph his deputy—second in power only to pharaoh himself.

The famine arrived on schedule, seven years later. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food, not knowing that this high official was really the brother whom they had sold into slavery. When they learned who he was, they feared for their lives. Joseph had every right to hate them. He could have killed them.

But Joseph saw things very differently. He forgave them. He said:

“You meant evil against me,

but God meant it for good” (50:20).

I love that verse, because it tells us so much about God.

“You meant evil against me,

but God meant it for good.”

I love that verse, because it tells us how God can turn things around—how he can bring a good outcome from an evil situation. And he does turn things around. He does it so often. Just like Easter! Didn’t God turn things around then! The cross didn’t defeat Jesus. It was only a rest stop on the way to the open tomb.

God does turn things around. Last Christmas, you may have heard about St. James Episcopal Church in Monterey. They had collected gifts worth more than a thousand dollars to give to four needy families at Christmas. Then, three days before Christmas, a thief broke into the church and stole the presents. Khara Bromiley, the rector’s wife, told of families in desperate need. She said, “When we go to visit them, they don’t even have chairs to sit on.”

The church had collected money and shopped at sales all year to provide for children at Christmas. They had wrapped the presents. They were ready. Then the thief came.

But the story had a happy ending. The Herald ran a front-page story about the theft. People began to arrive at the church early in the morning bearing gifts. The trickle of charity turned into a torrent of generosity as people filled three rooms with food, toys and clothing. Police donated checks. An anonymous donor contributed a thousand dollars.

As a result of the last-minute donations and a great effort on the part of church volunteers, the church was able to help one hundred families instead of the four that they had originally planned to help.

Volunteers who delivered gifts told of a little girl who said, “Mama, where are we going to put this? We have no tree.” Soon the volunteers returned with a tree in their hands, a smile on their faces and tears in their eyes.

God had redeemed a bad situation. He had brought good from evil. Just like Easter!

God turns things around. This year, more than sixty black churches have been burned. A terrible thing! But God has not let the arsonists have the last word. People all over the nation have been drawn together to make things right. People all over the nation are contributing money to rebuild churches. This congregation gave a hundred dollars. Our hundred dollars could not do much by itself, but it is not by itself. Thousands of churches and people are contributing ten dollars—or a hundred dollars—or a thousand dollars—and the churches will be rebuilt. We have had opportunity to say, “We will not tolerate racism! We will not tolerate church burnings!”

And good things are happening in communities where churches have burned. In Columbia, Tennessee, three white drifters fire-bombed a tavern and two black churches. The drifters were caught and punished, but that was not the end of the story. White pastors began to reach out to black pastors in that community for the first time. White churches began to reach out to black churches. Black and white churches are coming together to worship and to sing. One of the black choirs sings:

“I can see how far you’ve brought me

And I’m glad! Glad!

It feels so good to know you love me

And I’m glad! Glad!”

God redeemed a bad situation. He had brought good from evil. Just like Easter!

We can be tremendously encouraged by God’s ability to bring good from bad. That should give us great hope! But we need to make sure that we learn the right lessons from that.

First, we must not imagine that God always brings good from bad. We must not say, “It doesn’t matter what I do. God will make it turn out all right!” That is not true. God blesses those who love him and who try to serve him—not those who don’t!

Second, God has chosen to do good things in this world through his people. He can bring good from evil only when we—his people—are willing to do the right thing.

Just think about Joseph and his brothers. Joseph had every right to hate his brothers. Instead, by the grace of God, he forgave his brothers. That made all the difference! Then God was able to turn the bad into good. But first, Joseph had to forgive.

Just think about the stolen Christmas gifts. A thief stole Christmas for four families. But, by the grace of God, people responded to the need, and one hundred families received help. God’s people helped God to turn bad into good.

Just think about the church burnings. Evil men destroyed something beautiful but, by the grace of God, good men and women reached out, not only to rebuild buildings, but also to forge new friendships across racial boundaries.

The real message is that God does turn bad into good, but he does it through us—his disciples. We are his hands—his feet—his voice.

Let me tell you the great paradox:

• The first part of the paradox is that we can do nothing great apart from God.

• The second part is that God chooses to do nothing great apart from us.

Let us commit ourselves to being God’s holy people—and doing God’s holy work. God will take the little that we have to offer and transform it into miracles—when we give ourselves to him. Let us give ourselves to him today!

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 1996, Richard Niell Donovan