The story of Joseph and his brothers covers about 13 chapters in the Book of Genesis, so it is quite significant for the early stages of salvation history. Joseph is one of the most attractive characters in the whole book, as a patriarch, sage, ruler, and mystic, one whose chastity and compassion have become stirring examples for all.
Joseph was favored by his father and hence envied and despised by his brothers. When, as a youth, he rather imprudently shared with them a couple of his dreams, which were obviously to be interpreted as his entire family bowing down to him, his brothers decided to do away with him, and they eventually sold him into slavery in Egypt.
Once he was there, the Pharaoh’s wife tried to seduce him, and when he refused, she accused him of trying to seduce her, and he ended up in a dungeon for 13 years. But his ability to interpret dreams became known to Pharaoh, who had just had a couple of disturbing ones, and Joseph was rehabilitated when he spoke the word of God to Pharaoh—and not only rehabilitated, but made second in command over the whole of Egypt.
Soon Joseph’s former dreams would come true, as his brothers came to Egypt seeking grain, for a famine had afflicted the whole Near East. They had no idea who he was, only that he was the viceroy of Pharaoh and their only hope of survival. So they all bowed down to him, declaring themselves his servants if only he would give them food. Joseph recognized them and milked the situation for all it was worth before revealing himself to them—being unable any longer to restrain his tears and his joy—and his brothers were filled with both joy and fear: joy that their own brother was so powerful in Egypt, and fear that he might retaliate against them for having treated him so cruelly years ago.
The point of this whole reflection is Joseph’s answer to his brother’s concerns, which shows both his magnanimity and his faith: “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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen. 50:20-21).
This is perhaps the Old Testament version of St Paul’s “all things work for the good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). It is something that we need to reflect upon seriously, for in our own lives some people do mean evil against us, and we may wonder if indeed “all things” work for the good. We see from Joseph’s faith that God is always and still the Master of time and space, of persons and events, and that nothing is the last word unless it is his. God is able to bring good out of evil actions or intentions, as he did in the case of Joseph, and especially in the case of Jesus. So all is not lost if some apparent misfortune befalls us, if things don’t go as planned or expected, or if people do things that seem quite obviously to ruin what we believe are God’s own intentions or plans.
This is not meant to excuse evildoers—“as for you, you meant it for evil”—for they are still accountable, and God will prove that He will not be outsmarted, upstaged, or thwarted by any mere creature—“but God meant it for good.” God will provide, God will show compassion, God will transform even the worst of situations according to his will, which holds our spiritual well-being and salvation as the first priority.
So do not grieve, grumble, or grow angry or depressed, for God means it for good—whatever it is. Do not fear, for God will provide. But pray for the faith and trust to hold on to that, to discover the lessons that need to be learned. And pray for the patience necessary to wait for God’s plan to unfold. It took years for the realization of Joseph’s dream. But everything did turn out well—because God meant it for good.