And Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath and said, "God will surely visit you, and then you must carry my bones up from this place."
I. INTENDED BANE OFTEN BECOMES UNINTENTIONAL BOON. Evil works evil to others, but sometimes good. Intended evil is overruled by God when he has some good object in view. "Man proposes, God disposes." God always knows what the result of certain actions will be. If they are good actions they work in line with his will: if evil, he overrules them. If the horse keeps the road it feels not the rein, but if it will turn aside, the sharp bit must draw it back again. Whatever speculation there may be about our absolute freeness, we feel that we are free. It is the glory of God to be able to trust with freedom a being with such great powers for moral evil, like man. He would teach us to use our wills, by giving us full freedom. We frequently pain him by our misuse and our abuse of our powers. What evil we devise and strive to carry out! The brethren of Joseph even intended murder, and modified it by selling their brother into slavery. They acted more cruelly than some of the men-stealers of Africa. The latter steal strangers to sell them, but these ten men sold their own brother. They thought they were rid of him. Egypt was a long way off; Joseph was but a weakling, and might soon perish. They would be free from his presence, and could divide their guilty gains. They hardened themselves against his tears and entreaties; and even in malicious spite were ready to slay the weeping youth because he did not appreciate their considerateness in selling him into slavery instead of killing him outright. It was an evil deed. Those who looked on could see no good to come out of it. There were, however, several great results.
1. He was personally advanced in life, and was able to make the best of it.
2. He saved thousands of people from perishing, and among them his own family.
3. He was the means of bringing Israel into Egypt, where it developed as a people. Its deliverance gave occasion to the mightiest display of Divine power.
4. He became a type of the Messiah - rejected of men. Thus we know not the results of any of our acts. God can overrule, to the development of character and spiritual power, circumstances seemingly most opposed to our best interests. God knows what is best. He could break the plans of the evil in pieces. Instead of this he oft confounds the wicked by letting them see that the ends they did not desire have been attained in spite of their opposition, and even by the very existence, that the intended bane becomes an unintentional boon. Thus Joseph's brothers found it, and bowed their heads.
II. THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THE WAY IN WHICH, BY GOD'S OVERRULING, INTENDED BANE BECOMES A BOON.
1. It is a dangerous thing to scheme against others. Especially is it a dangerous thing when a good man is the object of the attack. It is likely to be checked and to recoil. "A greater power than we can contradict may thwart our plans." There are a thousand chances of check or change. Men have so noticed this that even a French moralist said, "I do not know what hidden force it is that seems to delight in breaking up human plans just at the moment when they promise to turn out well." Yes, there is a "hidden force," ever watchful, ever balancing human actions, ever ordaining, either in this world or the next, the just need of praise or blame, of retribution or reward. See how the scribes and Pharisees held councils against Jesus, the gentle, pure, loving teacher of truth, and healer of diseases, they sought how they might kill him. They excommunicated him, they sent others to entrap him. They succeeded at length in nailing him to the cross. They carried out their evil intentions; but that cross became the throne of the Savior's power, the salvation; and the death of Christ became the life of the world. They went by wagging their heads, but at last they had to wring their hands. They themselves were left in their sin, and their "house left unto them desolate," while unto the Christ they hated all men are being drawn.
2. That God overrules evil's no license to do evil. Many would say, "Let us do evil that good may come." This would suit carnal nature. They would say, "Sin is not so great an evil, since God can overrule it." To talk like this would be like throwing dust in our own eyes when we have reached an eminence from whence we might behold a beautiful landscape. It would be like a youth who, seeing a gardener pruning trees, should take a knife and cut and slash all the trunks. Or, it would be like the act of one who, seeing how an artist had wrought in a picture some blunder into a beauty, should take a brush and streak with black the brilliant sky. We are not at liberty to sin that God may bring good out of it.
3. That God overrules evil should make us feel our dependence on him. If we could succeed in good without him, if all we intended to do could surely be calculated upon, we should become proud. It is well that God sometimes even breaks up our good plans in order that we may learn this lesson. We might even intend good without him otherwise, and that would lead to evil in ourselves. But we are dependent on him to check the evil of our own lives and of others intentions.
4. It should make us hopeful also with respect to our affairs. Surely out of this thought we may get "royal contentment," as knowing we are in the hands of a noble protector, "who never gives ill but to him who deserves ill."
5. It should make us hopeful with respect to the order and destiny of the world. In some way, far off, God's glory may be advanced, even by the way in which he will have subdued, by Christ, all things unto himself.
6. Intended good is not always a benefit to those for whom intended. God intends good to men, and provides a way to bless, but men refuse. See at what a cost the way has been provided. Those who refuse are under worse condemnation. "It were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."
7. We must all face our wrongdoing some time or other. We shall find that the evil we have sown has produced a harvest of weeds, which we shall have sorrowfully to reap. We ought to pray earnestly, "Deliver us from evil." - H.
Exodus 13:19). It was a terrible night. The destroying angel had passed through Egypt and laid low the first-born, in every household. The panic-stricken Pharaoh had ordered the Israelites away at once, and they started in great haste. Yet even in that crisis they did not forget the descending obligation of the oath which their fathers had sworn to Joseph, and they took time to carry with them his remains. Read again: "And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver; and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph" (Joshua 24:32). Thus, between the death and burial of Joseph an interval of probably from three to four hundred years elapsed, during all of which his remains were kept by the children of Israel, a witness to the faith by which he was animated, and a prophecy of their ultimate possession of the land of Canaan, so that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had a right to say, "By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22).
Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
I. FAITH IS ALWAYS THE SAME, THOUGH KNOWLEDGE VARIES. There is a vast difference between a man's creed and a man's faith. The one may vary-does vary within very wide limits; the other remains the same. What makes a Christian is not theology in the head, but faith and love in the heart. The dry light of the understanding is of no use to anybody. Our creed must be turned into a faith before it has power to bless and save.
II. FAITH HAS ITS NOBLEST OFFICE IN DETACHING FROM THE PRESENT. All his life long, from the day of his captivity, Joseph was an Egyptian in outward seeming. He filled his place at Pharaoh's court; but his dying words open a window into his soul, and betray how little he had felt that he belonged to the order of things in which he had been content to live. He too confessed that here he had no continuing city, but sought one to come. Dying, he said, "Carry my bones up from hence." Living, the hope of the inheritance must have burned in his heart as a hidden light, and made him an alien everywhere but upon its blessed soft. Faith will produce just such effects. Does anything but Christian faith engage the heart to love and all the longing wishes to set towards the things that are unseen and eternal? Whatever makes a man live in the past and in the future raises him; but high above all others stand those to whom the past is an apocalypse of God, with Calvary for its centre, and all the future is fellowship with Christ and joy in the heavens.
III. FAITH MAKES MEN ENERGETIC IN THE DUTIES OF THE PRESENT. Joseph was a true Hebrew all his days; but that did not make him run away from Pharaoh's service. He lived by hope, and that made him the better worker in the passing moment. True Christian faith teaches us that this is the workshop where God makes men, and the next the palace where He shows them. The end makes the means important. This is the secret of doing with our might whatsoever our hand finds to do — to trust Christ, to live with Him and by the hope of the inheritance.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
(J. S. Van Dyke.)
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