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When You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

Well last night we were reminded from Isaiah of God’s infinite greatness. You can read the passage here: Isaiah 40:12-31.

We really can’t comprehend how powerful, and how wise, and how good our God really is.

And all too often we lose perspective when we are faced with the difficult issues of life. We get overwhelmed by things that seem impossible. We get stressed out when we don’t know how to resolve the situations we’re in.

And it’s like we’re looking at these pictures of everyday objects under a microscope. All we can see is what’s right in front of our face. But if we can take a moment to try to see things from God’s perspective, things might look very different. Our impossible situations might not seem quite so impossible.

If we can remember that our God is so big, so strong and so mighty (not to mention so good and so wise and so loving), then even the biggest issues that we face won’t seem to be so big after all.

And so this morning, I want to continue to help us zoom out a little bit. And to help us do that, I want us to look at the story of Joseph.

There were so many times in Joseph’s life where the situation seemed hopeless, resolution seemed impossible – but we have the advantage of seeing things from God’s perspective. The whole story and everything that God set in motion through this story is all recorded in the Bible, we can clearly see God’s hand smack dab in the middle of all of it. But Joseph didn’t have that luxury. He had to go through his situations just like we go through ours – with our face right up against the tree – unable to see the forest beyond…

So I want to do a fairly quick review of Joseph’s life. I’m not going to focus on the highlights, I’m actually going to focus on the low-lights. I want to look at all the hardest times in Joseph’s life – those times where all he could see was the impossible situation that He was in. Those times where he was completely overwhelmed. Where he was stressed to the max. Where he lost sleep because he didn’t see any way to change his situation.

And hopefully, as we look at his story, and as we see things from God’s perspective, it’ll encourage us in our situations as well. So let’s jump right into it.

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.

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. 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 37:2-4

So let’s just pause here at this first low-light of Joseph’s life. Anyone with siblings knows that brothers or sisters don’t always get along. But this seems to be deeper than brotherly annoyance, or occasional fighting. Joseph’s brother’s hated him. They could not say a kind word to him. In fact, in just a bit we’ll see that they wished he was dead. Like literally. And they were even willing to take the steps necessary to make that happen.

And I am so thankful that I don’t know what that would be like. Not even remotely. But some of you do. Maybe not to this extreme… but then again, maybe so. Some of you know exactly what it’s like for someone to hate you – maybe a brother or sister, someone at school, or whoever else it might be…

And I can sure understand how that might feel like an impossible situation. When we’re dealing with broken relationships, I’m sure there are times when that can feel totally overwhelming and hopeless. It can feel like a stalemate – there’s just no possible resolution. It seems there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m sure that’s how Joseph saw his relationship with his brothers. Its just the way it was. It wasn’t his fault that dad liked him best. (Although you do get the idea that Joseph didn’t always help the situation either.) But regardless, Joseph lived through the bulk of his teenage years being hated by his brothers.

You have to wonder how lonely he felt growing up? I mean, family was everything back then. You didn’t spend your time with your friends at the mall or even at school – everything was centred around your home and your family. So if your family hated you, you’re a pretty lonely guy. That’d be a pretty tough life.

The one bright spot in all this was his Father. Even when his brothers hated him, at least he knew his dad would always be there for him… Well, at least for a while. Thanks to his brothers, he was about to lose everything and everyone.

In the next few verses we read how Joseph’s brother plot to kill Joseph by throwing him into a cistern. They’re out far from home watching the sheep and Joseph goes out to see how they’re doing. Then it says in verse 23…

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime. 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

Genesis 27:23-28

Can you imagine? Being betrayed by your family. Having your own brothers planning out how to take your life. And then to have them sell you to some stranger. To lose all rights as human being. You’re now treated as property belonging to someone else. Shipped off to another country. Forced to work for someone that you don’t speak their language. No hope of ever going home. No hope of ever seeing your family again.

If anyone was in a hopeless situation – if anyone ever had the right to be totally overwhelmed by their circumstances – Joseph was the guy.

And believe it or not – its not over yet. There’s still more betrayal, more injustice, more loneliness and loss in store for Jospeh. But before we go any further, I want you to see something here. This is important. Look at Genesis 39 – verse 1 & 2.

When Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

2 The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

Genesis 39:1-2

That is such an important verse. The Lord was with Joseph. God had not forgotten about him. God had not abandoned him. You can sure understand that Joseph might have felt that way – that God had forgotten him or abandoned him. Maybe you’ve felt the same way as you face your impossible situations.

Maybe you feel like God is a million miles away – that he doesn’t hear you – or that he does care. But that’s not the case. Even when we go through the lowest points in our life, God is still right there with us.

Psalm 23 reminds us:

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley,  (the Old KJV says “the valley of the shadow of death”)

I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Psalm 23:4

God is always right there with us – even in our most stressful, difficult situations – just like He was with Joseph. And most of you know the next part of the story – in Egypt, working for Potiphar, Joseph does very well and ends up in charge of the whole house. But Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and tries to sleep with him. Joseph is a man of integrity and refuses her advances, which doesn’t make her very happy – and so she lies about Joseph to her husband and she accuses him of trying to sleep with her.

We read in Genesis 39:19-21

19 Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. 20 So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. Genesis 39:19-20

So now Joseph is not only a slave – but he’s a slave in prison. It’s just one thing after another with Joseph. But this is where I want us to start looking at the big picture.

We need to realize that God had not allowed any of this to happen without God’s permission. There was nothing that had happened to Joseph that God wasn’t going to use for his divine purpose and plan. That’s not to say that God caused it all to happen, but rather that God was going to take everything that did happen and use it for his good plan and purpose.

Now I am sure that when Jospeh was in chains, marching off to Egypt, knowing that he had been sold out by his brothers, knowing that he would probably never see his father again, knowing that he would likely be a slave from now until the day he died (which was probably not too far off)… As Joseph considered his situation, I guarantee you that he was not seeing God at work. As Joseph sat in that Egyptian prison, he did not see God’s wondrous plan for his life.

When we’re in those overwhelming situations, we probably can’t either. We can’t see the forest for the trees. All we see is that giant redwood tree right in front of us.

All we can do in those times is to trust that God has a better perspective than we do. All we can do is trust that God can see beyond this big ol’ redwood tree in front of us and that somehow, He will navigate us through and lead us exactly to where He wants us to be.

And that’s exactly what God was doing with Joseph. God was navigating him to be exactly where he wanted him to be. And God was using every situation in Joseph’s life to get him there. All the things that Satan intended for evil – God hijacked and used for good.

God used Joseph’s brother’s hate and betrayal to get him into Egypt – which as a slave, right now, doesn’t seem like a step forward, but it was an important leg in Joseph’s journey. Because it was from there that Joseph could get thrown in jail. (And perhaps that doesn’t seem like a step forward either, but hang on, we’re getting there…)

For the sake of time, let me summarize the next ten chapters…

While in jail, God enables Joseph to interpret a dream for one of the guys who worked for Pharaoh. This guy in turn, later on, tells Pharaoh about Joseph when Pharaoh has a dream that he doesn’t understand.

To make a long story short, Joseph explains Pharaoh’s dream to him – which is actually a message from God warning about a seven year famine that is about to come. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he puts him in charge of collecting all the food to prepare for the famine – in essence making Joseph the highest ranking official in Egypt next to Pharaoh himself.

In the end, Joseph’s brothers end up coming to Egypt for food, Joseph feeds them and saves them from starvation and invites his family to move to Egypt and live there.

It’s a crazy turn of events – but it’s what God had planned all along. God use all the stuff that happened to Joseph, and what was intended for evil, God redeemed and used for good.

And at the end of his life, Joseph even recognized that. In Genesis 50, verse 20, Joseph says to his brothers…

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. Genesis 50:20

I’m sure he didn’t see that while he was going through all that hard stuff, but he could see it now. And in fact, that was the end of God’s plan either.

To zoom out even further, as you continue reading through the Bible, you see that Joseph’s family in Egypt grows to become the nation of Israel – God’s chosen people. Through this nation, God reveals his plan for salvation. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is born as an Israelite. It’s this descendant of Joseph’s family who dies on a cross and rises again to save his people from their sins.

And then to zoom out even further, you and I have the opportunity to put our trust in Jesus and have eternal life… And that all stems from what God did in Joseph’s life.

Through everything that happened in Joseph’s life, God was in charge. God had a plan for Joseph, for Joseph’s family, for Joseph’s descendants, and everyone who would ever trust in Jesus.

Now could Joseph see all that? Of course not. But could God? Of course He could.

And so that’s really my encouragement to you today. As much as I would love to see the big picture of what God is doing in my life – especially when he allows hard stuff to happen – the fact is, I just can’t. We can’t see the future. We can’t see beyond the big ol’ tree that’s right in front of us.

However, God can. And knowing that God knows and that God is in charge, and that God has a good plan, allows me to trust Him. I don’t have to see the big picture. I just have to remember that God does.

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