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Good Intentions

This morning I want to talk a little about good intentions. I would guess that many mother’s experienced good intentions this morning… Maybe your little ones attempted to make you breakfast in bed. And I’m sure for those who did that, they had very good intentions of giving you a relaxing morning, saving you all the work of making yourself breakfast, giving you a chance just to enjoy a delightful meal in the comfort of your own bed. I’m sure those were their intentions. But of course, as reality would play out – chances are, perhaps the toast was burnt or the half-cooked pancakes were not much more than warmed batter, cleaning up the mess left behind in the kitchen was 3 times as much work as making breakfast yourself, so it was hardly the relaxing morning that your kids had envisioned for you…

Now of course, you appreciated their effort – it’s the thought that counts… I’m sure you felt loved and appreciated… But despite their good intentions for this 5-star Mother’s Day breakfast experience, their intentions likely never came to pass quite like they envisioned. 

And I would guess most of us can relate that. All of us have had good intentions that we never quite followed through on. Maybe we had good intentions of starting a savings account, but for some reason, as the bills arrived and the car broke down and a bunch of other stuff happened, our good intentions never became reality. Maybe we had good intentions of taking our wife out on a date sometime this month – but there was that meeting, and then the babysitter canceled and then one of you got sick…. and again, somehow your good intentions never became reality.

I think this is a pretty common experience. We have lots of good intentions, but somehow something gets in the way and our good intentions never become anymore than good intentions.

But that’s not the case with God. God’s good intentions never remain simply good intentions. God’s good intentions always become reality. Even things seem to go wrong – even when things seem to get in the way – even when it looks like God’s plans have been blown apart by all kinds of disaster – somehow God uses everything that happens to actually carry out his good intentions.

I spoke at a chapel this week and I shared one of my favourite verses with the kids – it’s Romans 8:28.

 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

I just love how God takes everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He uses all of that for our good and his purposes. God’s good intentions always become reality.

And I think one of my favourite examples of this in the Bible is the story of Joseph. There were so many times that Jospeh’s life looked like a train wreck – it was just one disaster after another. I mean, he was hated by his brothers – in fact, they were literally ready to kill him…. and they nearly did – but they changed their mind at the last minute and decided to sell him as a slave instead. He ended up in foreign country as a slave for a guy named Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife accuses Jospeh of a crime he didn’t commit and so Joseph ended up getting tossed in jail. And even in jail, he helps out a fellow prisoner, and kinda hopes for a favour in return, but as soon as that guy was released, he promptly forgot all about Jospeh.

It’s a crazy wild, story but there’s an awesome verse near the end of it all. I don’t want to give away the ending if you’ve never heard the story – but at the end, Jospeh ends up talking to his brothers and he says this:

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. Genesis 50:20

The brother’s plans to kill (and then their secondary plans to sell Joseph as a slave) was part of their intentions to harm Joseph, but God intended it all for good. The hatred of his brothers, being sold as a slave, being falsely accused, being thrown into prison, being forgotten in prison – God intended all of that for good! And it’s just amazing to see how God puts all of that together over the course of Jospeh life to put Jospeh in a position where he could do incredible good for so many people.

So for the next few weeks, I want to take us through the journey of Jospeh’s life.

I want us to be able to see the incredible ways that God takes every situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to accomplish his good intentions. And not just in Jospeh’s life – but he does that in our lives as well.  As we read from Romans, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

So let’s pause here for a minute and ask God to teach us from his Word this morning and then we’ll dive right into the life of Joseph.

Well, before we jump into the story, I want to give us a little bit of an understanding of where exactly Joseph fits in the wider story of the Bible. The life of Joseph is recorded in the last 14 chapters of the book of Genesis. So this is way before Jesus, way before the prophets, before the nation of Israel, even before Moses, but after Abraham.

This last fall, we looked at the life of Abraham and how God specially chose him to be the Father of God’s special people – the nation of Israel. Well, Joseph was Abraham’s great grandson.

So by way of a family tree, Abraham’s son was Isaac. (You’ll remember that from our series last fall.) Well, Isaac married Rebekah and had twin boys Jacob and Easu. When Jacob grew up, Jacob married two sisters, Leah & Rachel as well as their handmaids (Bilhah and Zilpah) and had 12 boys and one girl through those four wives. Joseph was one of those 12 boys.

And maybe I’ll talk about Jacob and his four wives for a minute, because those family dynamics certainly play an important role in Joseph’s story.

Back when Jacob was single, he fell in love with Rachel. In order to marry her, he had to agree to work for 7 years for her father. (And maybe that seems a little bit strange for us today, but you know, as my daughters get older, I’m thinking maybe that’s not such a bad idea – maybe I should make that sort of arrangement for Allison….) 

Well, anyway after seven years, Rachel’s father pulls a fast one and tricks Jacob into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah instead. But Jacob doesn’t love Leah – he loves Rachel and so he agrees to work another seven years so that he can marry Rachel too.

So now Jacob is married to these two sisters – one he loves and one he got stuck with – and you can just imagine what kind of marital stress that would bring into a home!

To make things worse, Rachel can’t seem to have babies. Leah is having one baby after another (Rebuen, Simeon, Levi, Judah) and Rachel is barren. And of course, back then, not being able to have babies was even more devastating than it is today. And this is compounded by this sibling rivalry between Rachel and Leah. Rachel actually says to Jacob – “Give me children or I’ll die!” 

So then Rachel, being jealous of her older sister Leah, gives her servant Bilhah, as a wife to Jacob so that Bilhah can have children on her behalf (much like how Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham in hopes that she could have children that way).

Bilhah then has Dan & Naphtali. And just to give you an idea of the family dynamics at this point, let me read Genesis 30:8….

8 Rachel named him Naphtali, for she said, “I have struggled hard with my sister, and I’m winning!” Genesis 30:8

Yikes! I don’t get the sense that this is a very happy, peaceful home. There is a lot of strife here.

So then Leah, and not wanting to be outdone by her sister, gives her servant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife and Zilpah has Gad and Asher.

After that, Leah has two more boys (Issachar & Zebulun) and one girl, Dinah.

And then finally, after all of that, Rachel herself conceives and has Joseph. By this time, Jacob is getting pretty old – the Bible doesn’t specifically say how old, but some calculations put him at about 91 years old by this time.

So Jacob is pretty thrilled with the birth of Joseph. He’s the first child of his favourite wife – born to him in his old age and so as we’re going to see, Joseph quite naturally becomes Jacob’s favorite child. Of course, that favouritism is going cause a pile of problems – especially with such messed up family dynamics – but at least we can understand where that favouritism is all coming from.

Oh, and just to finish up the family tree, several years after Joseph was born, his brother Benjamin would come along – but his mother Rachel would actually die from complications in Benjamin’s birth. 

So I think sets us up now to begin the story of Joseph. So if you want to follow along, we’re going to start in Genesis chapter 37, beginning at verse 2.

2 This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.

Genesis 37:2

This is such an interesting introduction to Joseph. He’s 17 years old – tending his father’s flocks – working for his step-brothers and the first thing we read about him is that he reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.

I’m just not sure how to take that. Why is that detail included? Why is it important to us, several thousand years later, to know that Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing?

Now I came from a family of four boys. I understand tattle-taling. I have been tattled on and I have been the tattle-tailer. But that was when I was seven – not when I was 17. By the time my brothers and I were in our late teens, there wasn’t much tattle-telling going on in our house. We didn’t make it a point to rat each other out. (That was probably because we were right there doing the bad stuff with them – or we just had an unspoken brotherly agreement that I won’t rat on you if you don’t rat on me.)

So why do we see Jospeh at 17 reporting to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing? Remember, Jospeh is the youngest of this bunch – all of his brothers are likely in their 20s or even 30s by this time. So is Joseph just being immature? Is it a matter of tattle-tailing? Is there something more serious going on?

Well, we’re not really given the motivation or any of the details behind this statement, so we’re kinda left guessing. Some commentators think Joseph was just being a brat – that he was being a self-righteous arrogant jerk. Others say he was just being honest – that he was acting more like a supervisor giving an honest, but negative report to the big boss. It’s hard to say for sure, but I think there is one thing we can know for sure – is that the brothers were not happy about Joseph’s report. 

As we read along in these next few verses, the reoccurring theme that keeps coming up is that Joseph’s brother hated him. It says that three times specifically. His brothers hated him. And this bad report certainly would not endear Joseph to them in any way. I think that’s probably the take-away that we’re supposed to get from this first verse – is that Joseph was not a favourite among his brothers.

He was however, a favourite with Dad – as we’ve noted before. Verse 3 says…

3 Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. Genesis 37:3

Or as the Old King James puts it – a coat of many colors. Now of course, we’ve all heard about Joseph’s coat of many colors or his “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” as the broadway musical put it.

But its important to know that this beautiful robe had much more significant than just a nice shirt like what we might buy for our kids today.

The Bible commentator, David Guzik writes: “The real idea behind the ancient Hebrew phrase for tunic of many colors is that it was a tunic extending all the way down to the wrists and ankles, as opposed to a shorter one. This was not what a workingman wore. It was a garment of privilege and status.” ~ David Guzik, enduringword.com

You could almost think of the flowing robes of a king. 

There’s no way that you’re going to wear something so fancy and yet so cumbersome to do hard manual labour. It’s impractical to say the least. These are the clothes of someone who is maybe overseeing the work – but certainly not doing the work themselves.

This beautiful robe – that came down to his ankles and with those long sleeves – this was not a something you wear to work. While the other brothers got the blue jeans and t-shirts of the working class, Joseph got the fancy robe of upper management. It was very clear to Joseph and his brothers that Dad had put him in a position of status and privilege far above them.

And you can just imagine how well that went over with his brothers. It says in verse 4…

 But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him. Genesis 37:4

It’s pretty clear there is some deeply seated resentment towards Joseph here – they can’t even say one kind word to him. And then, as if their father’s special treatment of Joseph wasn’t enough to stir up their jealousy and cause them to hate him, Joseph tells his brothers about this dream he had. In verse 5 it says…

 One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. 6 “Listen to this dream,” he said. 7 “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”

8 His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them. Genesis 37:5-8

Joseph’s beautiful robe from his father already put Joseph in a place of privilege above his brothers, but now this dream seemed to confirm that. Of course, the brother chalked this up to Joseph’s wishful thinking – and they hated him all the more because of it – but in reality, this dream was not just wishful thinking. God was actually revealing to Joseph through this dream, some of His good intentions that we had talked about earlier. In fact, God gave Joseph a second dream – very similar to the first – to reaffirm those intentions. Verse 9 says…

 Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant. Genesis 37:9-11

It seems pretty clear that these dreams of Joseph were not just the result of eating that plate of nachos before bed. In those days (before God had revealed himself through the Bible) God often reveal Himself and his plans through dreams. Jacob himself was very familiar with this – God had appeared to him in a dream at a place called Bethel. You might remember the story of Jacob’s ladder – with the angels going up and down on this stairway to heaven.

So I think Jacob understood that these dreams of Joseph’s had some sort of significance, but at this time, he just didn’t know what that significance was.

Joseph’s brothers on the other hand – I don’t think they cared about the significance of Joseph’s dream. All they knew was that this was yet another example of Joseph being elevated above them for whatever reason – and they hated him all the more.

And I’ve wondered sometimes why God gave these dreams to Joseph at this point… Didn’t God know that would just make the situation with Joseph’s brothers even worse? I mean, God wasn’t communicating any vital instructions or warnings or anything through these dreams (for example, like how God warned the other Joseph in the New Testament to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt so that Herod wouldn’t kill him) That was a vital warning that came through a dream, but these two dreams here didn’t seem to have those urgent elements of warnings or instructions… So why give these dreams to Joseph at this time at all?

Well, I would venture to say that God did this probably more for our sake than for anyone.

For Joseph, as life would to quickly unravel for him in the years to follow, as he get sold as a slave into a foreign country, falsely accused and tossed into jail, I’m not sure these dreams would have given him any sort of encouragement that God had a plan for his life. As he was sitting in dark dingy dungeon, I’m not convinced that He would be remembering those dreams and being confident that one day his family would be bowing before him.

And maybe I’m wrong about that – maybe he did cling to those dreams to give him hope – but personally, I’m guessing he would have just chalked those dreams up to his own wild imaginations.

But for us, we know the end of the story. We know that those dreams weren’t just wild imaginations. I think these dreams are tremendous encouragements to us because we can see that even from the beginning of Joseph’s life, God had good intentions for him and no matter what, God was going make those intentions reality.

For us today, God probably won’t give us dreams that point to the good intentions God has for us. But the fact is, we don’t need them. We don’t need God to reveal his intentions through dreams because He has already revealed his intentions through His Word.

Now perhaps he hasn’t given us specific details on where He wants us to live or what job He wants us to do or who we should marry… But those kind of details are pretty insignificant compared to what He has told us.

God has given us some tremendous insight into some his intentions for us – and it’s incredible!

Just to give you a quick sampling – Here’s some of God’s intentions for those who trust in Him:

#1. God intends to love you forever.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Romans 8:38-39

#2. God intends to forgive all of your sin.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

#3. God intends to remove all the pain and sorrow from your life.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4

#4. God intends to fill you with joy and peace and hope.

13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

#5. God intends to give you abundant, eternal life.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

And that is just a small sampling of the intentions that God has reveal about you in His Word.

And what is so encouraging, is that no matter what, God is going to make his intentions become reality. God’s intentions are guaranteed promises!

You know, for much of Joseph’s life, he never saw how God was putting all the puzzle pieces together – How God was making all things work together for good. I don’t think he saw that until the end.

And it’s quite possible that in your life so far, maybe you can’t see that either. Maybe you feel like Joseph probably did – that everyone is against you. Maybe you’ve got people planning and plotting to harm you – people who want to see you fail.

Maybe you feel like you just got betrayed and sold into slavery. Maybe you’ve been accused of things you never did. Maybe you feel like you’re in a dark, dingy dungeon – feeling hopeless and helpless.

If that’s the case, can I just encourage you today that while others may try to harm you, God’s intentions are all for good. There may be a lot of bumps along the way and there’s probably some hard stuff that you’ve got to go through – but just know that even from the beginning, God has had some incredible intentions for you. And no matter what happens in your life – no matter what circumstances come up or what other do to you or even what mistakes you make along the way, God’s intentions always become reality.

One day we will be able to look back and say with Joseph:

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. Genesis 50:20

What an incredible God we have! What an incredible love He has for us!

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