Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Why do healthy people get cancer? Why do responsible people have financial problems? Why do hard working people get robbed and nice families get killed by drunk drivers? Why do Christians get persecuted for their faith? Why do some people suffer for doing the right thing while others prosper for doing the wrong thing? Well, if you have ever pondered these questions, the story of Joseph is for you!
Joseph: Daddy’s Favorite (Genesis 37:1-11)
Even if parents aren’t willing to admit it, they usually have a favorite child, and Joseph was definitely Jacob’s favorite son. Since Joseph was the first child of his favorite wife Rachel, he was his daddy’s favorite son, and everyone knew it. Most parents at least try to hide their favoritism, but not Jacob. He gave Joseph preferential treatment and he didn’t care what anyone thought about it. On one occasion, Jacob made Joseph a beautifully ornamented robe as a sign of his preference. What did he make for his other sons? Absolutely nothing!
Jacob’s favoritism for Joseph made his brothers and their mothers despise him. And Joseph’s behavior certainly didn’t help matters. He grew up as a spoiled little brat. He flaunted his beautiful robe and had a reputation as a tattle-tale. Every time his brothers did something wrong, Joseph went and told daddy what they did.
Joseph was also a dreamer. He had dreams that he would one day rule over his whole family, but instead of keeping his dreams to himself, he shared them with everyone else. In one of the dreams, they all had sheaves of wheat, and the sheaves of the ten older brothers gathered around that of Joseph and they all bowed down to it. In another dream, the sun, moon, and stars bowed down to him. This offended even Jacob, because it indicated that he (the sun) and Rachel (the moon) would be subservient to Joseph.
Joseph Gets Sold by His Brothers (Genesis 37:12-36)
By the time Joseph turned seventeen, his brothers had had all they could take! And when the opportunity came to teach Joseph a lesson, they pounced on it like a lion. While the brothers were out grazing their father’s flocks, Joseph went looking for them. When they saw him coming, they said, “Look! Here comes that dreamer” and they plotted to kill him, throw him into a dry cistern, and tell their father that he had been devoured by a wild animal.
But thankfully they changed their mind and decided to sell him to a caravan of Midianite merchants—they were on their way to Egypt to sell spices. So, for a measly twenty pieces of silver, they sold their own brother into slavery.
Joseph had his share of flaws, but he certainly didn’t deserve this! He was a spoiled little brat but he didn’t deserve a life of slavery. After all, these were his brothers!
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (Genesis 39)
Even though this very bad thing happened to Joseph, the Lord was with him. The humiliating experience of being sold into slavery seemed to cure Joseph of any arrogance left in his character. When the Midianites got to Egypt, they sold Joseph to a man named Potiphar, who was one of Pharoah’s wealthy and powerful royal officials. Joseph was a competent and hard worker and the Lord gave him success in whatever he did. Potiphar was impressed with Joseph and realized that the Lord was with him, so was put in charge of Potiphar’s whole household. Joseph was so trustworthy that Potiphar didn’t have to concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Just when everything seemed to be going well for Joseph, disaster came over the horizon again. Joseph was a young heartthrob. Most women took a double take when they passed him, and it wasn’t long before Potiphar’s wife took notice of him. Maybe she was emotionally neglected or maybe she was just a cougar on the prowl, but she began to make sexual advances toward him. But Joseph showed his moral resolve by refusing her pleas. He said, “My master has trusted me with everything he owns; he doesn’t have to concern himself with anything. How could I do this wicked thing against him and sin against my God?”
One day when Joseph showed up to work, the house was mysteriously empty. None of the other servants were there, but Potiphar’s wife suddenly appeared (probably in some slinky Egyptian lingerie), grabbed him by his cloak, and demanded that he sleep with her. He refused and ran out of the house in a panic, leaving his cloak in her hands. She was so enraged that, like Joseph’s brothers, she plotted an evil scheme to destroy him. She called in her husband and accused Joseph of rape. Potiphar burned with anger and put Joseph in prison.
Again, we sympathize with Joseph in this episode. Even though he took the high road, he got hit with a low blow. He did the right thing and suffered for it. Is this the thanks he got for years of hard and noble work? Is this his reward for putting God first in his life? This story makes us ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Joseph in Jail (Genesis 40)
Even though this bad thing happened to Joseph and he now found himself in an Egyptian dungeon, the Lord was still with him! The Lord showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph again showed such noble character and leadership competence that the warden put him in charge of the whole prison. Can you imagine that? An inmate running the prison! The Lord again gave Joseph success in everything he did!
As time went on, Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker landed in Joseph’s prison. We don’t know what they did to offend their master; perhaps the cupbearer dropped a piece of the king’s fine china or maybe the baker burned a loaf of bread. Regardless of what they did, they were assigned to Joseph and they all became friends.
One night, the cupbearer and the baker had strange dreams and when they woke up in the morning they were both distraught. When Joseph asked them what was wrong, they told him that they both had dreams and neither one of them could figure out what they meant. Now it just so happened that Joseph was dreamer too, and God had given him the special ability to interpret dreams.
So, Joseph interpreted their dreams for them. For the cupbearer, he had good news. Joseph told him that within three days Pharaoh would restore him to his position. He asked him to remember his kindness before Pharaoh and help him jet out of prison. For the baker, he had bad news. Joseph told him that in three days Pharaoh was going to hand him from a tree and that the birds would come and eat his flesh. Both of these dreams came true, just as Joseph predicted. Unfortunately, when the cupbearer was restored to his position, he forgot Joseph; so Joseph continued to suffer in prison for two more years!
Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams (Genesis 41)
As Joseph sat in prison, Pharaoh started having some troubling dreams. Joseph was the only one who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams because God had given him a this special ability. He told Pharaoh that there was going to be seven years of abundant crops and that this would be followed by seven years of famine. The reason why God had given him this dream now was so he could make preparations for the famine. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders.” In this way, a Hebrew slave came to be second in command over the whole country of Egypt.
Joseph’s Brothers Come to Egypt (Genesis 42-50)
Pharaoh’s dreams came true just as Joseph predicted and Joseph did a wonderful job of storing away food during the time of abundance for the time of famine. The famine affected the whole Middle East, but thanks to Joseph, Egypt was the only country that was prepared for it. Soon people from other countries began to flock to Egypt to find food.
Back in the land of Canaan, Joseph’s father Jacob was running out of food and he was forced to send his sons to Egypt. (Yes, the same sons who sold Joseph into slavery.) When they got to Egypt, Joseph immediately recognized him, but they did not recognize him because he dressed and spoke like an Egyptian. After toying with them for a while to help them acknowledge their guilt, he was gracious to them and gave them grain and spared their lives. Eventually, Joseph’s whole family moved to Egypt and Pharaoh gave them the fertile land of Goshen. The Israelites flourished there and grew into a great nation.
After their father Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers became worried that he would pay them back for what they had done to him. But, Joseph responds with grace and acknowledges God’s providence in his life when he says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
This is one of the clearest statements of God’s divine providence in the whole Bible. Even though it didn’t seem like it to Joseph at the time, God was with him and was orchestrating every event of his life. It wasn’t an accident that he was his father’s favorite son or that he got sold into slavery or that he spent years in prison for a crime that he did not commit or that this Hebrew slave became second in command of the whole country of Egypt.
God allowed all of these things (even the bad things) to happen to him because God had a special mission for his life. God had a larger plan for Joseph that he could not see at the time. Yes, Joseph’s brothers were responsible for their evil actions, but God is in the business of bringing good out of evil!
Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? First, there is a flaw in the question. If we are really honest with ourselves, there aren’t any good people. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory. Bad things happen because we bad people. Suffering is the result of sin. Jacob’s favoritism, Joseph’s arrogance, his brother’s jealousy, Potipher’s wife’s lust, was the cause of his suffering.
But thankfully, there is a second answer to this question. God allows bad things to happen to “good” people because he always accomplishing his plans in the bigger picture of our lives. Like Joseph, we can’t see it in the moment, but God is always transforming human evil into a greater good. Joseph’s brother’s actions were evil and hurtful, but God used that event to get Joseph to the right place at the right time to save the lives of thousands of people. God does the same thing in our lives all the time.
If you are suffering in some way today…if you are the victim of some evil…if you are confused about your life…if you are wondering why you are experiencing so many bad things…know that God is using these things to accomplish a greater good and a bigger purpose in your life.
As I conclude, allow me to share with you the greatest example of God using human failure and evil to accomplish a greater plan. There is only one person who has ever lived a truly good life. His name is Jesus Christ, God’s one and only son. Even though he lived a sinless life, God allowed him to experience horrible things. He was misunderstood, mocked, and mistreated—he was stripped, stretched, and stabbed—he was prodded, pummeled, and pierced—nails were driven through his hands and feet and thorns were pressed into his skull.
Why would God allow his own son to suffer like this? Because he was bringing about the greater good and accomplishing the bigger plan of saving our souls! If God would have kept his son from suffering, where would we be today? We would still be lost in our trespasses and sins—we wouldn’t have any hope of forgiveness or salvation. When I think about it like this, I am so thankful that bad things happen to good people! How about you?