The Timing of Providence

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Gen. 41:46a).

- Genesis 41

Hope is that one non-physical quality without which abundant life is finally impossible. Take away a man’s livelihood and he will press on, doing what he can to find work, as long as he has hope the right job opportunity is out there. Let a woman’s friends and family abandon her and she will not give up on all relationships, as long as she has hope that things will get better. Destroy the hope of either, however, and they will descend into nihilism, suffering its dreadful consequences.

If anyone in the Bible had reason to be hopeless, it was Joseph. Here was a man who was sold into slavery by his brothers, likely never to be rescued (Gen. 37:25–28). But circumstances were not always this bad, for Potiphar bought him and eventually appointed him to a high position in his house (39:1–6a). Unfortunately, this improvement in his situation was only temporary, for Joseph was thrown in jail, even though he was an innocent man (vv. 6b–20). He also gained rank while in prison, which was a good thing, although it certainly was not as good as being a free man (vv. 21–23). Eventually, hope flickered for Joseph when a fellow prisoner promised to put in a good word for him with the king (40:1–22). But that hope all but died when this fellow prisoner forgot all about him. Two more years passed until Joseph had the opportunity to enjoy the favor of the pharaoh and rule over Egypt as the king’s second in command (40:23–41:57).

Thirteen years passed from the time Joseph entered slavery at age seventeen until he became the pharaoh’s right-hand man in Egypt at thirty years of age (37:2; 41:46). Even though the Scriptures stress that during this period the Lord was with Joseph (39:2, 21), this is seen more easily in retrospect. Though he never lost hope in God completely, knowing he was sustained until the day of his exaltation, Joseph no doubt struggled with trusting God at times, since He took what seemed the most circuitous route possible to vindicate His servant. God, of course, had the greater good in view the whole time, eventually putting Joseph in a place where he would save many people. This truth applies to us today: God providentially directs all things — even pain — toward His greater good. Even when we cannot see how, the Lord is working all things to the ends of our good and His glory.

Coram Deo

In the midst of trouble and suffering, it can be difficult to believe that the Lord knows exactly what He is doing. So often it is easier to despair, believing that God has abandoned us and that He will not keep His promise to work all things together for the good of His children (Rom. 8:28). But our Father is sovereign, and He is working for our ultimate good and for the advance of His kingdom even when things seem darkest to us.

Passages for Further Study

Esther 4:12–14
Proverbs 24:16
Acts 16:6–10
2 Corinthians 12:1–10

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343