“The Providence of God” (Genesis 37-50 sermon)

Christians have a different outlook than other people have. We believe in an unseen, almighty, all-wise God. So because of that, not only is our outlook different, but our vocabulary is different as well. Many people speak of “karma” or “luck” or things happening by “chance.” But as Christians, we don’t believe in those things. We believe in a GOD who arranges events, and so we have a different vocabulary. We don’t speak of “chance” or “luck’; instead we speak of “The Providence of God.”

The Providence of God is a concept that Christians a few generations ago referred to often — but in our age both the word and the idea behind it have fallen into neglect. The “Providence” of God refers to the way that God directs details in life to bring about His plan and purpose in the world. In our daily Bible readings this week in Genesis we have seen God’s Providence unfold in a dramatic way in the life of Joseph and his family.Cor



Joseph’s story in Genesis is one of the very best examples in the whole Bible of the providence of God: how God works in the details of our lives, and causes everything to work together for His purposes. Just think about how many times in these chapters we have seen God working things together to bring His plan for Joseph’s life to pass:

— God’s providence really begins even before we get to Genesis 37, with Joseph’s family background and circumstances, doesn’t it? The father and brothers that he was given, had a HUGE impact of what would happen in his life. And that was no accident. God put Joseph in just the right family, with just the right father and just the right brothers, who would respond in just the right way, to the gifts and abilities that God gave Joseph, and He put him in just the right country, for all of His plan to unfold.

And we need to understand that the same thing is true for US as well. If you think about it, there are many things in your life, over which you have no control: the country you were born in; the family you are a part of; your parents; your brothers and sisters; the innate gifts and abilities that God has given you, just like He gave to Joseph. All these, YOU had NOTHING to do with; they are all part of God’s providential plan for your life, just like they were for Joseph.

— But even besides these “big” life background things, we see all through Genesis the “little circumstances” that all worked together to bring about God’s plan. Like in Genesis 37:14 Jacob had told Joseph to go and check on the welfare of his brothers who were out with the flocks.
Why did Jacob have him do that? Was it wise to have sent him alone? Perhaps Joseph may have even thought: “Why do I have to go there; I don’t want to do this.” But as we know, it was all part of God’s plan for Joseph to go out to his brothers.

Which should cause us to think about things in OUR life too, that are just like that. There may be times when you are tempted to say, “Why do I have to do this? I don’t want to do that; it doesn’t make sense!” But just like in Joseph’s case, God has a purpose for it, which you will see unfold in the days ahead.

— And then in Genesis 37:15-17, it says that when Joseph went out, he couldn’t find his brothers. Verse 15 says: “he was wandering in the field.” He might have been about to go home. He couldn’t find them! The story might’ve ended that way. But instead, :15 says, “A man found him.” Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? “A man” just happened to find Joseph wandering in the field looking for his brothers!
And then when Joseph said he was looking for his brothers and couldn’t find them, the man said, “I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” Now what are the “odds” of this? That in all that vast land, Joseph finds a guy who “just happened” to hear his brothers say that they were going to Dothan with the flocks. But of course, it didn’t “just happen,” did it? It was the providence of God!
Had Joseph not found this “man” (perhaps he was even an angel) then he would never have found his brothers; he would not have been sold into Egypt, and all the other things that happened would not have taken place. But he DID come across that man, because it was exactly the providence and plan of God. GOD put that man (or angel) there; HE caused him to overhear the brothers; HE put him in Joseph’s path; HE sent Joseph on the right way through him.
“SO” :17 says — “Joseph … found them at Dothan.” The plan unfolded — just as God planned — because there “just happened” to be a man in just the right place — through the Providence of God.

We need to see people that we come across today in the same way. Why did you cross the path of this person, at just this time or place? Just like with Joseph, it is not a “coincidence.” It is the Providence of God. So you need to ask yourself WHY? What purpose does God have for you meeting them? Do they need you to share Christ with them; or do they need prayer? Will they have a part in some ministry with you in the future? As Christians, we don’t believe in “chance encounters;” we believe in the Providence of God. And if we believe that, we need to be watching for His purposes in every meeting we have.

— Then look at :25. When Joseph found his brothers, and they threw him into a pit, their plan at first was to kill him. But then :25 says “And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan …”. Well what do you know; just then a caravan appeared! What are “the odds” of that? Again, it wasn’t “odds;” it was God’s providence. And :28 says “Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.”

And of course it was vitally important that Joseph did go to Egypt. Egypt is where they would have 7 good years of surplus crops, so they could store up for the 7 lean years. Had Joseph gone to Edom, or Syria, or Babylon, or somewhere else instead, the whole plan wouldn’t have worked. It had to be Egypt — and God knew just how to get His servant to just the place where He wanted him to be.

And He does that same thing with us. Someone in the community asked me the other day: “How in the world did you get to North Carolina from Oklahoma?” I said: “Basically, God just did it.” I didn’t send my resume here. He led the men on our search committee to find it, I think it was at the seminary at Ft. Worth where I had graduated. God planned it; God directed it; God brought it to pass. God knows how to get His people where He wants them to be.

That’s our trust for our son David as he’s graduated from seminary and is looking for a place to serve. He’s been waiting for some months now, but we can be confident that God will get him to just the right church, in just the right state (or country!) at just the right time, for all of His purposes for him and his family to unfold in the days ahead, and we will glorify Him for what He’s done.
And He’ll do the same thing for you. God in His providence knows how to get you exactly where you need to be, for His purposes.

— Ephesians 1:11 says He “works all things after the counsel of His will.”
— Rom 8:28 says He causes all things to work together for good..

He is STILL doing that. God’s Providence is not just for “Bible times;” He still works His Providence in our lives today too. Believe in His Providence, watch for it, and pray for His wisdom to see it and respond rightly to it in your life. Even today, we can trace the Providence of God.


II. The PURPOSE of the Providence of God

So God worked His Providential plan for His purposes in Joseph’s life, and He is still working it out in our lives today. But what IS His plan? What is the PURPOSE of His Providence? What is God doing? In Joseph’s case, He was causing all of these details to work together to save his family and make His plan for the people of Israel to unfold.

Joseph understood that God had done all this to save His family:
— Look at Genesis 45:5 After his brothers came to him in Egypt, he revealed his identity to them, and he told them: “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
— :7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth …”
— :8 “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
THREE TIMES here in these verses, Joseph says, “GOD sent me”! This was all part of God’s plan to keep alive the family that He had promised Abraham that He would bless the whole world through. And He did. Every little detail that unfolded just the right way, was all according to God’s plan, in order to preserve the family of Israel and eventually send the Savior, Jesus, through them.

If you are up to date on your Genesis reading, you finished the last chapter of Genesis, Chapter 50 today. It says that after their father died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid he might harm them, but Joseph said to them in verses 19-20, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

Looking back on it all, Joseph could see God’s plan and purpose being worked out. Everything that he had been through, all worked together to save his family. And as we will see in our Old Testament reading in the days ahead, that family would result in the nation of Israel, which would bring God’s word to the world, and eventually give us the Messiah Jesus, who would be our Savior.

Had God not done something, Jacob’s whole family would have died in the famine, and there would have been no nation of Israel, there would have been no word of God; there would have been no Messiah or Christ born from the tribe of Judah, and there would have been no salvation for us! So God worked all these details together to provide for His people, to keep His plan moving forward to create the people of Israel) who would give us His word, and who would provide the Messiah who would die for our sins so that we could become God’s eternal people through faith in Jesus. This is the overall purpose of God’s providence: to glorify His name, by bringing His plans to pass, and bring His people to salvation through Jesus Christ.

And the thing is, His Providence didn’t just stop with the days of the Bible, when He saved Israel and raised up the Messiah. God is still working His providence in OUR lives today, causing all kinds of little details of our lives to work together, to bring us and others to Jesus as Savior, and to make us more like Him.

Last week I shared the story of how Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie give thanks to God for the fleas and the lice in their concentration camp barracks. We ended the story last week with Corrie saying she was just sure that her sister Betsie was wrong for giving thanks for fleas! But that wasn’t really the end of the story. They had good reason to give thanks — for as it turns out, the guards did not want to come into their barracks because there were so many fleas and lice, and so Corrie & Betsie had practically free reign to teach Bible studies and pray in that room, and dozens and hundreds of women came to faith in Christ in that concentration camp — partially because of all those fleas and lice!
That was the providence of God. And the purpose in His providence was that people would come to know Him as a result.

And the purpose of God’s providence is still the same today: God causes everything to work together, to draw people to Christ and make them like Him.

Now WE tend to think of His providence as material things: money, homes, cars, jobs — and God’s Providence DOES provide what we need — but He has a much bigger purpose for His Providence than just our comfort and entertainment. He provides things and people and circumstances in our lives for the purpose of glorifying His name by drawing people to Himself and making them more like Christ.

For example: last Sunday night, the New England Patriots had a last-second chance to win the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady heaved a desperation pass to the end zone; the ball was batted up in the air where someone could have caught it — but it “just happened” to fall the wrong way; it fell to the ground, and the Eagles won: Why? I think God had a purpose in it (and NO, it wasn’t because He hates the Patriots like everyone else seems to!) I had read earlier in the year that Carson Wentz, the quarterback of the Eagles, was a Christian — but then he got hurt. So Nick Foles comes in — well it turns out HE is a Christian, and there are all these articles in the paper on how he wants to be a youth pastor after he finishes football. And then after the game, Doug Pederson the coach of the Eagles comes to the microphone and says: “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.” I’m thinking, man, this team is just stacked with Christians who are bearing witness for Jesus Christ! I wonder why God in His providence might let them win?

I don’t think that’s an accident. I don’t think we can say “God’s an Eagles fan”, but we do know that God causes all things to work together to bring people to Christ and make them like Him. And we need to see that God is doing the same thing with us. There are little details, little things happening in your life, people you are meeting, circumstances which are unfolding — some of which like Joseph in Genesis you may not understand why they are happening to you — but you need to see them as God’s Providence. He is working His plan together to bring about His purposes in your life both to draw you to Christ, and to give you an opportunity to be a witness and minister for Him.



Our response to the Providence of God should be to TRUST Him.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things unseen.” When things happen in our lives, we are to trust God, even when we can’t understand why it is happening, and when we can’t “see” anything good that might come out of it. We can’t “see” it; but we TRUST that there IS. We trust that God IS on the throne, that He DOES have a purpose, and that He is going to bring some good out of this for us and others. He wants us to trust in His Providence, by faith.

— Some of us need to respond with personal trust in Jesus as our Savior. There may be something happening in your life today, and you are wondering, “What in the world is God doing; why is He allowing this; why is this happening to me?” And the answer is that you have been going the wrong way, away from God, and because He loves you, in His providence, He is bringing uncomfortable things into your life to draw you back to Himself, so that you will repent of your sin and follow Jesus as your Savior. And He will keep allowing those things to happen until you until you, because there is nothing more important to Him than that. God doesn’t care nearly as much about how much money you have, or how healthy you are, or what kind of job you have, as He does that you come to Him. And if He has to bring pressure on you through giving or taking some of those other things, then He will arrange in His Providence to do that!

And then when you DO come to Christ, God’s Providence will continue to work in your life. He will work little details and events into your life both to make YOU more like Christ, and to use you to witness and minister to others for Him.

So those of us who are Christians need to trust God’s Providence in the details of our lives: Why do you have the job you do? You aren’t there by accident. Don’t you see: there is no “accident” with God! You are where you are by His plan and purpose. So trust God, and start thinking about WHY He has you there. Undoubtedly there are people there that He wants you to minister and witness to.

We need to trust God’s Providence at our workplaces, and realize that He has placed us where we are to do His work. Last week Amanda Wilson was doing her MasterLife at work, and a man asked her what made her a Christian — and she got to share that she believed that Jesus came down here to earth; that He died on the cross and rose again, and she didn’t know everything that was gonna happen in the future, but she knew where she was going — she’s going to heaven! And then there was another woman there who saw her doing her MasterLife, and she said “I want to do that” – so we sent up a book for her to start doing! Amanda’s not there by “accident;” GOD has her there in His Providence to do His work!

You need to realize that you are not on your job by accident either; but God has placed you there in His Providence. Stop complaining about your work, and start looking for God’s Providential plan, and see who He has put you there to witness to, pray for, or minister to. Trust the Providence of God in your workplace.

When Cheryl & I were pastoring a new church plant in Tulsa in the 1990’s, there was a retired oil executive there, who said that when he was working his company would move him around every several years. The thing is, most of his assignments were up north, where there were no Baptist churches. So when he’d move to a new job, he’d start a new church there. Over the years, he became like a 20th-century Apostle Paul, starting churches wherever they moved him. See, instead of saying, “Oh, why is God moving me again?” and getting bitter about it, he looked for God’s Providence and purpose in it, and started churches to reach and disciple people for the Kingdom.

Our response in every situation in our life needs to be to TRUST the providence of God. He has placed us where we are; He has directed the specific people and events in our lives, for His purposes, so we need to trust that He has a plan in every circumstance of our lives.

It will change our attitude when we trust the Providence of God. We won’t gripe and complain about our circumstances, if we trust that God has sent them for a reason. So instead of complaining about them, we’ll trust Him, and start looking for the purpose that He has in them.

And it’s notable that because Joseph trusted God’s purpose in his circumstances, he was also able to FORGIVE his brothers for what they did to him. As we saw, after their father died, his brothers came to him, afraid that he was going to get revenge on them. But Joseph could put it all in perspective. He said “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Because he trusted God’s Providence, he could forgive his brothers. He realized that they were just instruments in God’s hand, for His purposes.

So in all of our circumstances, our response should be to trust the Providence of our Heavenly Father. Just like Joseph at first had no idea why he would be cast into a pit, and sold into slavery, and shipped to a foreign country, but in the end he saw God’s purpose — so we too may not understand why God has us where He does, and some of the things that happen to us. But if we believe we have a Heavenly Father, then we should trust His Providence.

I remember vividly the first year that I began watching OU football — it was 1971, the year of “The Game of the Century” between OU and Nebraska. I got hooked, and have been ever since. My dad and I started talking about OU football, and since we only lived about an hour from Norman, the home of the University of Oklahoma campus, we talked about trying to go and see a game there some time. Well some months went by, and we talked a few times about going to a game, and I well remember one day my dad and I were sitting in Gary’s restaurant in my hometown of Harrah, and we were talking about OU football, and Dad said, “We’ll have to go to a game some time.” And I said: “Yeah, you keep talking about it, but we never do it.” And just then he reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out two tickets to an OU game, and set them on the table!

You know, you regret a lot of things in life. And one of the things I regret, is that I said what I did. I wish I had said, “I know you will, Dad!” I wish would have trusted my dad in that situation.
And so it will be with us and God. God is your Heavenly Father. He is the Sovereign King over everything that exists. And He has a plan, in which He is working together every detail of your life, for His purposes. And there may be a situation in your life right now, in which you are complaining, and don’t see anything good in — but one day, you’re gonna wish that you had trusted that what He said was true; that you had trusted the Providence of God.


God is working His Providential plan through every area of our lives — sometimes in abundant and glorious provision, and sometimes through difficult things that we don’t understand at the time. Cheryl & I went through one of those difficult times in 2012 when I got sick with dysautonomia/POTS, and ended up on my back for a year; I lost my job and we had to sell our home and move. But God had a plan and purposes for that. We still may not know the full extent of it, but I have already seen much good come out of it, and it helps when you get a note like I got the other day from Sue Chapman:

“Good morning Pastor Shawn, during my quiet time in prayer this morning I found myself with a strong desire to thank and praise God for your POTS disease. That may sound strange to you. But to me it felt correct to praise God and thank Him for bringing you through the fire, for refining you, and bringing you to Pleasant Ridge. Through your teaching of the Word, I have a clearer understanding of God’s plan, and a deeper relationship with Him. Thank you for your obedience. Be blessed today.  Sue Chapman”

I love Mrs. Sue and her family. And I especially love how she could see the Providence and plan of God in what happened. I didn’t just “happen” to get POTS. God was working in my life — in all of our lives, Cheryl & Michael too — in ways that we may not even fully realize yet. But it was all working together in His plan and providence, to bring me here, and to fulfill His ultimate purposes.

And He is doing that in you, too. If you are the Lord’s, there are no “accidents”, there’s no “luck”; no “chance”; no “karma.” Some may believe in those things. But for those of us who believe in the God of the Bible, like Joseph we will speak of the Providence of God. We believe that there are things that may look bad, but God intends it for good. He has a plan, and He’s working every detail of it out, to advance His kingdom, to lead people to Himself, and to glorify His name, through YOU!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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