The Meaning Of Genesis 50:20 (The Story Of Joseph And His Brothers)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

Why do good people suffer? This question has been debated throughout the ages. As humans existing in a finite time with limited understanding of cosmic or even global events, our grasp on our role in history is limited. We read of God’s goodness while experiencing suffering and cannot make sense of it. Into this conversation enters the story of Joseph, captured in the final quarter of Genesis.

Today, we are going to explore the life of Joseph in the Bible by looking at the meaning of Genesis 50:20. From this we will glean wisdom to apply to our lives today.

The Context of Genesis 50:20

To better understand the Genesis 50:20 meaning let’s start by looking at the context.

The story of Joseph and his brothers, recorded in Genesis 37 through 50, has captivated the hearts of Christians for generations. Born to Jacob (also known as Israel) and his second wife, Rachel, he was openly favored by his father. Though he was the eleventh son, the eldest, Reuben, had forfeited his birthright; therefore, his father gave Joseph that honor instead. This is illustrated by Jacob’s treatment of Joseph, his bestowing on him a double portion of the inheritance (Genesis 48:5), and his gift of a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3).

As one would expect, his ten elder brothers resented their father’s preferential treatment. This anger, fueled by Joseph’s own prophetic dreams of grandeur (Genesis 37:5-10), burned until it consumed them, leading to his enslavement. In Genesis 37:12-36, Joseph was sent by his father to check on his brothers. Their jealousy overtook them. They cast him into a pit, stripped him of his coat, and sold him to Ishmaelite traders. To cover their sin, they ripped the coat and covered it in blood, telling their father that Joseph had been attacked and killed by a predator. These are the events that led to Joseph’s captivity.

Jospeh’s rise from slave to prisoner to leader was meteoric. He began as a slave in the house of Potipher. Though he was trusted and honored, he was still enslaved and treated accordingly when Potipher’s wife falsely accused him, leading to his imprisonment (Genesis 39). Prison life opened the door to leadership again, as he was trusted by the guards. When Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharoph’s cook and cupbearer, a door opened that led to Joseph’s release (Genesis 40). Eventually, he rose to the rank of second only to Pharaoh (Genesis 41). Under his leadership, he prepared and protected Egypt against a seven-year famine. Through a turn of events, he was reunited with his family and brought them to Egypt (Genesis 42-47). This brings us to Genesis 48-50, the setting for Joseph’s words.

The Meaning of Genesis 50:20

The patriarch Jacob, father of Joseph, is ill. In his final days, he calls his sons together to speak words of prophecy over each (Genesis 48-49). He passes peacefully, surrounded by his sons. Fearing that Joseph will exact revenge, his brother’s lie. Their father, they claim, wished for Joseph to forgive them. Their words do not fool him. Rather than accept their tale or their offer to become his slaves, he forgives them.

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

His words alone do not soothe their fears; his actions do as well. Scripture adds that he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. 

Imagine the scene. He has buried his father. His brothers turned enslavers come to him, not with repentance, but with lies. Joseph does not cast them out. With grace, he sees past the circumstances to the divine hand that guided him. Bitterness does not guide him—thankfulness does. The world had meant evil for him, but God had meant good. In that spirit, he forgives his brothers. His life, he understands, was shaped by God; how could he hold a grudge when so much good had happened?

How Genesis 50:20 Applies to Your Life

Joseph’s story captivates us because it is covered by the fingerprints of God. We cannot help but be awestruck. It also stirs in us a sense of curiosity—could our current trials be for the good of others? Joseph’s words inspire us to wonder; they encourage us to hope.

Though he possessed the rare gift of being able to notice God’s hand shaping his life, this is a habit we, too, can form. We can learn to reflect on and be aware of the presence of God in our lives. Through quiet reflection, journaling, or thanksgiving, we can begin to develop an awareness of God’s presence. While we may not be able to make sense of every event in our lives, regular reflection can bring a sense of peace and purpose to our lives.

This week, I encourage you to reflect on the meaning of Genesis 50:20. Listen to God in prayer. Ask God for discernment as you process the joys and pains. Look for the connections. In time you will be able to find them. They will become a source of comfort and hope. 

Now check out: The Powerful Meaning Of Jeremiah 29:11 (for i know the plans i have for you)

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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