Week of January 22

Put the Stones of Affliction to Good Use

Read: Genesis 49-50; Psalm 8; Luke 20
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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.’”
Genesis 50:19-20, ESV


Be careful what you do with the rock that you must break in the quarry of despair. This beginning sentence sounds ominous, but I intend for it to open avenues of possibility that we may otherwise never consider. My opening words have been a lifetime in the crafting, and the ink has yet to dry fully, but I know that it bears truth. Our passage today does not really teach us to take the long view of life; rather, it shows us how we may take the covenant view of our time on earth. Let me explain in our devotional.

The Meaning of the Text

Learning to trust God’s providence in every circumstance
Trust God’s sovereignty in our misery. I do not know anything about Israelite art in the period, but Joseph certainly had a copy of the big picture! I hope you catch my meaning. His brothers had meant to cause him temporal harm, but he recognized that the eternal God had different purposes. Sometimes we become so possessed by the injustice of our present circumstances that we fail to see God’s hand in our situations.
Keep our gaze on God. Joseph chose to frame the horrors he had faced as a slave to see God’s broader purposes for him and Israel (50:20). I haven’t a clue what sort of emotions Joseph had when his brothers sold him into slavery, and when he was imprisoned falsely by Potiphar, but I see here that his faith in God’s goodness had provided him with good reason for his plight. God was at work in Joseph’s life and in the lives of his brothers. Yes, God was at work in his brothers, who also were children of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We too often count out folks that God has already numbered into His kingdom.
Repentance throws open the door of restoration with God and others
Joseph’s brothers have also become changed men. They teach us a key lesson about how to find forgiveness of sin. They repent of their “sins” (50:17-18). Kenneth Mathews writes that there were three standard terms for sin that were used in verse 17 (NAC). Let’s just say that they covered all the bases. They were guilty and begged for forgiveness. They acknowledge fully the calamity that they had caused within the family. Sin hurts other people and, in many cases, hurts other people badly. They had acted cruelly toward Joseph, but the result was catastrophic for their clan. Finally, they have humbled themselves by claiming now to be “servants of the God of your father.” May I ask you, my readers, if this scene has stirred your hearts and brought to your minds some brokenness within your own families? God will work His healing in your homes, too. Follow the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. There is one further area that we need to consider.
What will you do with the rocks in your quarry of affliction?
So, here they were! All of them had been reunited and the big family picture is now complete. The light that shone on their hearts also helped them to see that God’s providence was in the background all along. We simply cannot out-flank God because His mercy and grace ultimately bring deliverance into the lives of His covenant children (Proverbs 19:21). God’s divine purpose is the mighty current within human history (cf. NAC).
He transforms the evil intentions of Joseph’s brothers into good, thus achieving deliverance for many peoples (50:20; cf. Proverbs 16:9; NAC). Yes, the Israelites had been preserved, and many Egyptians as well, by the food that Joseph provided for them through the severe famine. Let me conclude by pointing back to the first sentence in the devotional today. God is using the rocky road that you are treading now to pave the highway that you and many others will drive along over that next hill! Be careful not to waste the rocks by throwing them at those who have offended you.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Did your children fuss and fight when they were little ones? Our children would clash and then claw on occasion when they were growing up. We would intervene as parents and encourage them to settle their differences quickly. They did and they now love each other dearly to this day. Hmm.

Funny, but I only now can see how their forgiveness then has paved the path for strengthening both their families and their wider friendships today. The moral lesson for our hearts is this: Use the rocks in your quarry of affliction today not to hurt others but to pave the way for God’s deliverance tomorrow.
Here is God’s message for our hearts. A vengeful spirit hurts not only your brother or sister, but it also may be harming many other people by prolonging the famine of those on furlough (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-19). Joseph had every “right” to play hardball politics with the Israelites who had hurt him, but he chose God’s ultimate justice rather than retributive justice (cf. Matthew 5:38-42). I am announcing a new building program today! No, I do not need your money, but God would love to see your offerings. We are restoring family and church relationships by using the mortar of God’s providence to erect houses of worship from the stones of our hardship. Forgiveness will be our offering. Apply it liberally.

For Thought and Action

1. This may seem silly but take some time to pick up some rocks from the flower bed outside your home or by a roadside. Keep them in a bag close to your devotional place. Each rock will represent the life of a person who has offended you and for whom you will pray. Those will become your rocks of blessing rather than stones of revenge. 
2. For Families: Ask your children this week to join you outside, or take a little drive to a nearby stream. Tell them about the teaching from this passage. When someone hurts us, or is unfair, or behaves poorly towards us, instead of throwing stones back, we can pray for them and forgive them. Ask the kids to pick up a stone for every person who has been a source of hurt or pain for them in some way.

When you get home, spread a towel or picnic cloth across the table and ask your children to lay out their rocks. Now, provide tube paint or magic markers and ask them to print the names of the hurtful people on their rocks. Pray together and encourage your children to ask God to forgive the hurtful people for what they did. Then ask your children if they would like a moment in which to forgive the other person too?

When the rocks have dried, ask your kids to turn the rocks over and to write the word “forgiven” on each rock. Then take the rocks to a nearby lake or stream, and let your kids throw their rocks into the water and feel God’s blessing wash their hearts clean.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock