Theme: God — Providence
That God is sovereign Lord of heaven and earth is an important reality, perhaps the most important. As such He possesses all power and authority. For the believer, no reservation exists to accepting the capacity and ability of God to accomplish what He pleases as He pleases.
The biblical record is replete with accounts of God’ miraculous activity. Such activity is consistent with His sovereignty. So also, though, is God’s activity that could not be classified as miraculous. A miracle is out of the ordinary, spectacular, obvious, immediate (that is, not drawn out over time), and by it’s very nature arrests the attention of those present. It is a mistake to think of all of God’s work as miraculous. He also works in ways that, though it also incorporates His power and authority, is not immediate, obvious, or spectacular. He can and does use ordinary, usual, and common processes and influences, but orchestrates them in such a way as to accomplish His intended purposes and outcomes. This type of activity is referred to as God’s providence.
One of the primary differences between the miraculous and the providential is that God’s providence can only be witnessed by looking back over time, while a miracle is immediately evident. Another important difference is that a miracles is intended to be evidentiary, that is, to serve as evidence that what is being done is accomplished by a powerful authority and the one through whom it is done ought to be heeded. So the writer of Hebrews says that the miracles were to attest and bear witness to the messengers who preached (Heb. 2:3-4). Thus, the purpose of miracles has been fulfilled as the completed revelation of God’s message has been given and is present in Scripture. Consequently, we do not anticipate miracles (in the biblical sense) today.
The providence of God, on the other hand, is not to provide confirmation for a messenger or message delivered, instead it is the working out of God’s plan over time. It is no less a work of God. It is a work that can and does continue to the present day.
The Bible provides no explicit explanation of God’s providence but does implicitly indicate its reality. For instance, God promises that all things will work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). No explanation is give as to how He will manipulate “all things” for “good”; we just know He will and does. Notice also Nehemiah’s confidence that it was “the good hand of God upon me” that led to his being able to accomplish what he desired in reference to returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls (Neh. 2:8). Nehemiah was confident this could not have been accomplished were God not at work behind the scenes.
Many of the accounts in the biblical record provide examples of God’s providence. So, our readings this week will focus on some of these familiar stories.
Readings and Introductory Comments:
Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1-45:28; 50:15-21
The story of Joseph is an incredible series of events intended by God bring the family of Abraham’s descendants down into Egypt. God used jealousy, deceit, lust, dreams, and intrigue to His ends and His purposes. The fulfillment of God’s plan would not be the result of the wisdom and cunning of men, but rather by His own working despite the weaknesses and failings of men. Notice that it was only upon looking back over this long series of events that Joseph was able to recognize God’s handiwork (Gen. 45:5-8).
God had promised Abraham that through his seed blessing would come upon all the families of men. That physical lineage at times seemed pressed to the point of breaking. This was certainly true in the case of Elimelech. He seems to have given up on God’s provision and care by leaving his native land during a famine to live among foreigners. Conditions went from bad to worse when not only Elimelech but also his two sons died. The story of Ruth is an amazing account of God using most unexpected persons and circumstances to preserve the promised lineage of Abraham.
Not only was the particular line from Abraham to Jesus at times threatened, so also was the entire nation, at least in one instance. God worked in and through the life of Esther to save Abraham’s offspring. It is interesting that wise Mordecai saw the possibility of God’s use of Esther though he was unwilling to speak definitively. He only suggests, “Who knows…?” (Est. 4:14).
Imprisoned Paul, in Roman custody, somehow encounters a runaway slave of an old friend, Philemon, from distant Colossae. Paul converts Onesimus the slave and now sends this runaway back to his master with a letter in tow from the beloved apostle. How in the world did such a circumstance come about? Again, without saying it with assurance, but rather only a suggestion — “perhaps” God has brought this about (Phm. 15).
- Which of his sons did Jacob love most and why? (v. 3)
- How did Joseph’s brothers feel about him? (vv. 4, 8)
- What did his brothers originally plan to do and who intervened? (vv. 18, 21)
- How did Joseph respond to their plans to sell him? (see 42:21)
- What conclusion did the brothers lead their father to make? (v. 33)
- To what is Joseph’s success attributed? (39:2)
- Against whom did Joseph say the sin would be against if he gave in to Potiphar’s wife? (39:9)
- What did God do for Joseph in prison? (39:21)
- How long was it from the time Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams were fulfilled and Pharaoh had his dream? (41:1)
- How is Joseph’s age described when Pharaoh had his dream? (39:12) How old was he? (39:46)
- What qualifications did Pharaoh see in Joseph in order to elevate him to such a high position? (41:38-39)
- At least how many years have passed before Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain?
- On what stipulation did Joseph say his brothers could return to buy more grain? (43:3)
- How did Joseph respond upon first seeing Benjamin? (43:30)
- To whom did Joseph attribute his presence in Egypt? (45:5)
- What did the brothers fear once Jacob had died? (v. 15)
- Why did Joseph say he would not seek vengeance? (vv. 19-20)
- Why did Elimelech leave Bethlehem? (1:1)
- How did Naomi say God had dealt with her? (1:20)
- Into whose field did Ruth “happen” to go glean? (2:3)
- Who was Boaz and Ruth’s great-grandson? (4:18-22)
- What key piece of information did Esther keep secret? (2:10)
- Why did Haman hate the Jews? (3:4-6)
- With what words did Mordecai convince Esther to act on behalf of her people? (4:14)
- About whom did Haman think the king was speaking when he asked how a man should be honored by the king? (6:6) About whom was he speaking? (6:10)
- To what position did Mordecai attain? (10:3)
- Rather than a command, how did Paul appeal to Philemon (vv. 8-9)
- What did Paul suggest about God’s working? (v. 15)
- What confidence did Paul have in Philemon? (v. 21)
Given the assessment of God’s treatment of Joseph (Gen. 39:21), remember his circumstances. Are we willing to see God’s goodness toward us even in bad circumstances?
What attitudes or thought process had to be present for Joseph to be able to say that what had happened to him was for good? (see Gen. 50:20)
How should the possibility of God’s providential working in our own lives effect our thinking about and assessment of our circumstances (even very negative ones)?
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20)