Tapestry of Grace

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“Why did so many people in the Bible do such bad things? Was it okay that God’s people had multiple wives?” a newly saved young mom asked me. I told her the Bible portrays humanity’s sinfulness honestly, but its record of such behavior does not indicate God’s approval of it.

Hebrews 11, the so-called Hall of Faith, praises Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as role models for trusting God. Yet, though men of faith, they were also sinners who displayed such moral failures as polygamy, dishonesty, and dysfunction in family life. That’s why the real hero on every page of Scripture is God—not man. The story of Jacob and Joseph shows how a gracious, loving God brings glory to Himself through imperfect people who are rich in faith.


Jacob loved Joseph more than his other children because he was the child of his old age and the firstborn son of his beloved wife Rachel. When Rachel died, Jacob lavished Joseph with favor, giving him the famous “tunic of many colors” (Gen. 37:3). Consequently, Joseph’s brothers hated him. Their hatred grew even worse when Joseph told them about his dreams, which implied they would someday bow down to him (vv. 5–11).

One day Jacob, perhaps unwisely, sent the 17-year-old to check on his older brothers and their flocks (v. 14). Despising Joseph and showing no concern for their aged father’s feelings, they sold their brother into slavery (v. 28), soaked his tunic in goat’s blood (v. 31), and deceived Jacob into assuming a wild beast had killed the boy (v. 32).

As Jacob held the bloodstained tunic, he wailed, “A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces. I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning” (vv. 33, 35).

Surely God was chastening Jacob. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens.” God had begun a good work in Jacob (cf. Phil. 1:6) and was refining him and his family for God’s glory and Jacob’s good. When God disciplines us, He does so out of love, not cruelty.


Jacob heard nothing more about Joseph for 22 years. As far as Jacob knew, his favorite son was dead; and he would have to carry on without him.

Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a key military leader in Egypt. But God was with Joseph, and Potiphar promoted him to chief steward of his estate (Gen. 39:5). Potiphar’s wife then tried to seduce the young Israelite. When Joseph rejected her advances because of His love for God, she lied to Potiphar and said Joseph had tried to sleep with her (vv. 7–14).

Potiphar believed his wife and sent Joseph to prison. But God was also with Joseph in prison and had him promoted to a position of authority (vv. 21–22). There he met Pharaoh’s butler and baker and interpreted their dreams. Joseph remained in prison two more years until Pharaoh had a disturbing dream and sought an interpreter. Then the butler told Pharaoh about Joseph. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and gave full credit to God.

God’s silence is not inactivity.
“God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do,” Joseph said (41:28). Egypt would enjoy seven years of plenty followed by seven years of severe famine. After working for 13 years in household and prison management, Joseph was quickly able to outline a life-saving famine-relief program. “And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?’” (v. 38). Pharaoh immediately promoted Joseph to second in command over Egypt.

Nine more years passed. The famine had struck as Joseph predicted. It grew so severe Jacob sent his older sons to Egypt to buy grain. Little did he know that, through the difficulty, God was about to bless him.

Do you ever feel forgotten by God or wonder why He keeps you in His waiting room? He always has a purpose. God’s silence is not inactivity.


When Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with food, they brought bad news. The lord of the land (Joseph, whom they did not recognize) had accused them of being spies. To prove they were merely 12 brothers who had a father and their youngest brother back home, Joseph demanded they not return without the youngest brother (Benjamin); and he imprisoned their brother Simeon until then.

Benjamin was the only other child of Jacob’s wife Rachel, and Jacob did not want to lose him as he had lost Joseph. Jacob refused to send Benjamin: “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him . . . you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (42:38). But hunger finally drove Jacob to acquiesce when his son Judah guaranteed Benjamin’s safe return. So they traveled to Egypt again.

Joseph’s strange treatment of his brothers seems harsh until one realizes he concealed his identity until he saw they had changed. He orchestrated a plan in which Benjamin faced imprisonment. Amazingly, Judah offered to be enslaved in Benjamin’s place.

Then Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. He never rebuked them for what they had done to him 22 years earlier. Instead, he told them God had been at work all along: “God sent me before you . . . to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you  who sent me here, but God” (45:7–8).

When they returned to Jacob, they told him Joseph was alive and governed all of Egypt. Jacob’s heart “stood still, because he did not believe them” (v. 26). But when he saw the provisions and carts Joseph had sent to bring him to Egypt, Jacob declared, “It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (v. 28).

God’s ways may seem strange to us, but they are always perfect because He is perfect. His hiddenness is not inability, and His timing is flawless.


God had told Abraham his descendants would be strangers in a foreign land for generations before returning to the land they were promised (15:13–16). He fulfilled this promise by bringing Jacob’s family to Egypt.

Reunited with his son in Egypt, Jacob showed great faith during his final 17 years (47:28). He made Joseph promise to bury him at the family grave, demonstrating his belief that God would return his family to the Promised Land (v. 30). His blessing of Joseph’s sons conveyed his faith in the Abrahamic Covenant (48:15–16). And his prophecies about his sons revealed his certainty that God had a definite plan for all of the children of Israel (49:1–28).

Someone once said we often don’t get answers to our why questions but that, as believers, we live not by answers but by God’s promises. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Jacob learned that God’s promises are dependable.


After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers worried he would finally seek revenge. Joseph’s powerful response could be called the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:19–20).

Joseph remained faithful throughout exile and suffering because he believed in God’s sovereign plan. What a God! We can trust Him even when we don’t understand because God’s sovereignty brings certainty.

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During World War II the Ten Boom family exemplified such trust in God’s sovereignty. After their beloved Holland was overrun by Nazis, the Ten Booms rescued an estimated 800 Jewish people in 18 months. The Nazis eventually arrested the Ten Booms and sent them to concentration camps. Corrie ten Boom alone lived to tell about it. She endured unspeakable suffering and watched her sister Betsie die.

After the war, she traveled the world speaking about her experiences and how the gospel enables us to forgive our enemies. Corrie often used the example of a tapestry to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in our lives. The underside may appear like a knotted mess. But the front reveals a beautiful design. One day we will see from God’s perspective what He was making of our lives.

Corrie, like Jacob and Joseph, lived with certainty because she believed in God’s sovereignty. God’s work in our lives may involve chastening and times when He seems silent and hidden. But because of His promises, we can rest in His sovereignty and appropriate His matchless grace.

Mark Johnson is the pastor of Independent Bible Church of Martinsburg, West Virginia.

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