One of the longest ongoing debates within the church, at least within the last four hundred years, is God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will. There are verses in the Bible which make it sound as if God is ultimately “behind” everything, leaving out any mention of human decision-making. But there are also verses which emphasize man’s ability to decide for himself whether to follow God or not (every appeal to sinful people to repent implicitly assumes this). The Old Testament especially points out that God is the sovereign Lord over the nations, that he uses leaders almost like puppets to accomplish his will. We’ll get back to this subject at a later time, since this space is too limited to tackle such a huge subject all at once.
This passage, however, gives us points to consider when contemplating how the Lord's sovereignty and man’s free will work together. God planned to save Jacob’s family and several millions of people from starvation by putting Joseph in charge of Egypt. Several years prior to this, the Lord used the sinful decisions of Jacob’s brothers to send him into captivity which would eventually result in Joseph becoming the Prime Minister of the most powerful nation on earth in order to put aside the food necessary to save lives.
On one hand, Joseph attributes his being sent to Egypt ultimately to God. On the other hand, there's absolutely NO indication in scripture that his brothers were somehow “possessed” and did something they didn't desire to do. They gave into their feelings of bitterness and resentment, and they freely chose to sell their own brother into slavery. Humanity is responsible for its sinful choices, and the sovereign Lord uses those choices to fulfill his purposes.
Let's move past the esoteric theological debates and mysteries which we're never going to fully solve. The Bible's a very practical book: Whenever it gives us theological truth, it's doing that in order to bring about a practical change in our thinking and/or our actions. What does this mean for me? It means that YOU are responsible for the choices you make. It also means that the sovereign God can turn something very ugly into something very beautiful. Thomas a Kempis once said that “Man supposes and God disposes,” which means that no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw things up, we can’t screw up his ultimate purpose. Also it means that while evil people come up with sinful schemes, ultimately he will use them to accomplish his own plans, and they'll accomplish nothing which isn’t sifted through the hand of our loving Father. And it all ends up for his glory and our good. Count on it.
Father, I’m so glad that you’re in charge and I’m not. Help me to trust you.