Genesis 45 and 50:20 Aren't Deterministic

Another response to another Greg Boyd article. Man that guy makes me THINK! And I thank him for that. I've got to be honest here though: Greg has probably done more research in the last two years than I bet I will  ever do  in my whole life. Needless to say, my responses here are much more intuitive than I would like. So there you have it.


Genesis 45:5 - Joseph said to his brothers, “…now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life,” (cf. v. 7). Joseph later says, (50:20) “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people…” 
Compatibilists often argue that these texts illustrate that God ordains evil actions for greater good. While different interpretations are possible, I am largely in agreement with compatibilists on this point.

To me, the compatibilist interpretation of the Genesis 48 passage is hard to reconcile. It indicates that God intentionally orchestrates at least some evil in order to bring about good. While this might be fine as a statement by itself, I have a hard time reconciling it with the God who looks like Jesus. In short, it creates a pretty difficult paradox. How does a good God purposely ordain any evil? It brings up too many problems, and to be honest, I'm not ready to accept it. I hope that fact doesn't inform my thoughts too much. I am, however, willing to be wrong.

In the case of Joseph's statement in Genesis 50:20 about God's intent, I think a quick look at what aspects of the story we consider evil is appropriate. Using Joseph's statement as a frame, I want to to look back at the story in Genesis 37 and hopefully re-imagine the evil and good that take place.

“Even though you intended to do harm to me ...."

18 Joseph’s brothers saw him coming from far away. Before he reached them, they made a plan to kill him. 19 They said to each other, “Here comes that dreamer. 20 Let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the wells. We can tell our father that a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what will become of his dreams.”

God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people…”

21 But Reuben heard their plan and saved Joseph, saying, “Let’s not kill him. 22 Don’t spill any blood. Throw him into this well here in the desert, but don’t hurt him!” Reuben planned to save Joseph later and send him back to his father.

“Even though you intended to do harm to me ...."

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his robe with long sleeves 24 and threw him into the well. It was empty, and there was no water in it. 25 While Joseph was in the well, the brothers sat down to eat. When they looked up, they saw a group of Ishmaelites traveling from Gilead to Egypt. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh

God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people…”

26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his death? 27 Let’s sell him to these Ishmaelites. Then we will not be guilty of killing our own brother. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” And the other brothers agreed. 28 So when the Midianite traders came by, the brothers took Joseph out of the well and sold him to the Ishmaelites for eight ounces of silver. And the Ishmaelites took him to Egypt.

I think that this paints a pretty clear vision of God working through and within the evil intents of some of the brothers in order to bring about good. And God seems to work within the relationships between the various brothers in order to bring about His plan. If we are honest, I think we could say that the selling into slavery part was in fact a really good option considering the alternative (death), and especially considering God's bigger plan of saving Joseph's people from starvation. So was it evil that Joseph was sold into slavery? In the context of the fact his brothers were going to hill him,  I would say it was actually merciful.

For me, this episode strengthens the case that God doesn't ordain evil, but works within our good and bad choices to bring about his will. The result of this is only whether God's will is expedited or slowed - because it will come to fruition one way or another. Our faithfulness thus only determines the time frame, not the final outcome.


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