Genesis, the book of the beginning, comes in Genesis 50:26 to its end. Significantly enough the book begins with the word “In the beginning. . . .” And although it does not end with the words “at the end,” or “now at the end,” or a similar expression, its last verse does speak of the end of Joseph’s life together with the embalming and placing of it in a coffin in Egypt.
This fiftieth chapter, which brings the book to its end, contains a statement that in a beautiful way explains all that is recorded in the book. And the setting of these words, designed in inscrutable, divine wisdom, serves to set forth great comfort to the church in all ages and situations. Let us note that.
Joseph’s brothers were filled with fear when their father died. They not only saw his death coming, but they were on edge for some time in the fear of what Joseph might do to them. Having guilty consciences, and not understanding how Joseph could brush aside all that which they had done to him, they expected the worst now that their father was dead. They believed that it was their father that kept Joseph from seeking revenge. Now that he was dead they feared that Joseph would get even with them; and they knew that he was in a position to do that. Well, no, we never seek to get even with others who have done to us what we do not like. We always want to inflict a bit more misery on them and to hurt them a degree more than the pain they gave us. We like to give it back with interest. The loss of a few pennies will move us to take away dollars. Physical injury will be visited with murder. A nasty name will move us to seek a nastier name; one vile word will be visited with a string of vile words. And Joseph’s brothers fear what he may now do to them from his high position in the kingdom. They know that their father, whom they had just buried, cannot speak a word or lift a finger in their defense.
The brothers, therefore, send a messenger to Joseph with what they claim is a command to forgive, which their father gave them to convey to Joseph. There is absolutely no evidence that Jacob ever gave them that message and that command for Joseph. Would Jacob not have told Joseph that as he lay on his deathbed? It cannot be argued that he had no opportunity, since Joseph lived so far away. For Joseph came to visit him with his two sons when he heard that his father was sick. No, the opportunity was there when he made Joseph swear that he would bury his body in Canaan.
We do find that the dreams of Joseph were still in effect, and therefore the brothers fall down before him and call themselves his servants. Surely they manifest great fear before him and keep their distance from him, even though they had the same father. But is it not true that we always judge others according to what we would do ourselves? They would have sought revenge, and so they expect Joseph to do so. They deceived their father to get revenge upon Joseph after he reported their evil to his father and told his dreams, and because they were jealous of the love their father showed so openly to this son. Would they hesitate now to try to deceive Joseph to protect their own lives, and tell him of a command which their father never gave them to relay to Joseph?
The fact that they were believing children of God and had shown remorse, and had confessed their evil, does not change matters. Name, if you can, one mere man, whose mighty works of faith are recorded in Holy Writ, of whom sins are not also recorded. What of Noah? of Moses? of David? of Peter—who made such a beautiful confession a few days before he so shamefully denied Jesus three times! And does not Paul say that the evil that he would not; that he does? Yes, we slip, and slide, and stumble all through our pilgrimage here below. We show that it is only a small beginning of that new obedience that we have in this life. The old man of sin does not give up when conversion takes place. He hates the new man in Christ; and when that new man appears at the rebirth, the old man is stimulated to new deeds of wickedness.
But there is an heavenly Father and almighty God Who loves that new man in Christ, and He will never let the old man of sin crush and destroy that new man in Christ. Yea, He will use the devil and his host, and men over whom he has dominion, to further the cause of the believer and bring him to everlasting glory. And that point is made here in this end of the beginning. Joseph tells his brothers, in Genesis 50:20, that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good to save alive His church. And this holds true for all that we find in this book of beginnings. Not once did the evil that men meant against the church mean that God was against His church. Not once did it do harm to that church. Always, and in every instance, it worked a good that God had eternally decreed for His church.
Let us not overlook the fact that God meant that sin of the brothers. Let it also be noted that the word meant is used twice without any indication that the meaning changes. It ought to be quite plain that the brothers planned evil, intended it, and meant it in that sense. And God meant it also in the same sense. He planned it, intended that wickedness of the brothers for the good of His church. This all was according to His plan, as well as that of the brothers. And His plan was behind the plan of the brothers. He used them for the good of His people. He used their sin—as was also the case with the cross of Christ—for the good of the church. And we, no matter what happens in the future, no matter how dreadful the persecutions are that are predicted in Holy Writ, may rest assured when they come, that the control has not slipped out of God’s hands—not even temporarily—but that He is using the chaff for the good of the wheat. God always means well for His church and has never, and will never plan anything that is going to keep His church from the joys and blessings which He has promised. Whatever happens—and all that will happen has already been decreed and is written in the book with the seven seals—will serve the attainment of what God eternally decreed for His people. And that holds true for the people as a whole. It holds true also for each individual child of God. God always, in all things, has the good of each elect child in mind.
Space is limited, so let me apply this only to one event in this book of beginnings. And let that one event be the first one that took place in the very beginning of history. I refer to what Satan meant when he came to tempt, and succeeded in tempting, man into sin. God meant that fall of man as well as Satan did. Satan meant it for one reason. God meant it for the glorification of His name and the everlasting blessedness of His church. We must see that.
The theory of a “Covenant of works” fails to see that. It speaks of a glory Adam could have merited for us, and it makes the work of Christ repair work. As its very name indicates, it teaches a glory that could be obtained by works, not by grace. It fails to realize that to tell a child that if he does a certain deed he will be punished does not imply that if he does well he will receive a coveted gift. It only implies that he will not be punished. That theory fails to note what God meant. God planned a great good for-His elect through that fall, so that man fell into the arms of Christ, Who could bring Adam and the church to a higher glory than Adam ever could. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. Adam had no way—no matter how long he walked perfectly before God—to give us resurrection bodies that are spiritual, with life that is incorruptible and undefilable. Our glory comes only in the way of death and a resurrection with spiritual bodies. And God meant the fall in order that His own Son might realize all this for us in a way that no mere man could ever realize. And that this is true is plain from the fact that in Colossians 1:15 Christ is called thefirstborn of every creature. And the idea is that God had Christ in mind—He meant to send Christ even before Adam was created-because eternally He meant a higher good for man than that wherein He created Adam. And the only way for man to get that higher glory was that way of God Himself coming in that flesh, dying for the church’s sins, being raised with a spiritual, heavenly body and life that He could give to His own, and of creating a new earth and heaven that would be united in Christ.
Yes, God meant something, He had something in mind before He began to create the world. And what He had in mind was the everlasting good of an elect people that He chose in Christ. And all that which the enemies of the church mean to do—and they have some dreadful things in mind for that church—will be used by God to bring His people into that higher good. Therefore we can stand at the grave of one persecuted for righteousness’ sake and behold what evil the enemies of the church meant to do and succeeded in doing, and be assured that God meant it for good to save from this world’s woes and to bring into the joys of a better world.
In that light we can understand Joseph’s request that his brothers carry his body into Canaan when God visits them to bring them out of Egypt and into the land which He sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. He knows that he will die. But he also knows that God will use that death for his good. For he is sure that God will keep His promise and give His church the city which hath foundations, whose designer and builder is God. In that faith he wants his body buried in that which is a type of that coming kingdom. “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). Because he was sure that God meant to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, he wants to be buried in that land of promise.
And even as Jacob’s dead body buried in Canaan reminded his sons of God’s promise to give them that. land, so Joseph’s body in that coffin, waiting for the day of deliverance, reminded the brothers of God’s promise to bring them back and to give them the land. No return would mean the land will not be given them. A sure promise of a return means that the promise to give the land will be fulfilled.
But what an amazing turn of events! They sold Joseph into Egypt and did not want him to inherit anything in the promised land. He forgave them. And now they swear an oath before God that they will take his bones and bury them in the land out of which they expelled him. Now they are willing to inherit the land with him, and have him inherit it with them. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. And now God makes them do good and to desire the good of Joseph. Salvation makes radical changes in the sinner. What a way to end the book of beginnings! For the beginning of the new life which is given us is the beginning of our perfection. The end, in the sense of goal or purpose, of the beginning in us of a new life is holy, sinless citizens of the kingdom of heaven. That end God had in mind when He began all things in creation.