And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” (Genesis 42:2)
The title of today’s verse may immediately raise questions because of it’s apparent contradiction – the implication being that God uses ungodly means to achieve His purposes. This is a clear misunderstanding. But, while He will never do anything ungodly, He can and will use the ungodly people and situations to achieve His purposes. Consider Balaam and His donkey for a moment, and consider today’s verse. The provision of God for His starving people lay in the land of Egypt – the enemy, the land of the ungodly, the very nation from which He would so dramatically deliver them some four hundred odd years later.
Our daily lives manifest the provision of God in ungodly places.
On the surface, it may all seem a little confusing. After all, God set up the whole thing, didn’t He? He used Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been so mistreated by his brothers, placing him in a position of almost absolute authority in Egypt and so making the corn available when they most desperately needed it. That’s surely the provision of God at its most powerful. This story reveal so very clearly that He involves himself in the affairs of His people and will always provide, often in seemingly impossible ways.
But a lot of us get confused between the issues of God’s foreknowledge of events and the assumption that they are pre-ordained. We must never lose sight of the absolute guarantee for free will – which God has given and which He will always respect. We fall into the fatalistic ‘meant to be’ trap which absolves us of responsibility and accountability. This applies as much to the matter of the provision of God as it does to anything else. To illustrate, God did not pre-ordain that Josephs brothers would sell him into slavery. This was the result of free will – their choice, based on resentment and jealousy, and even Joseph’s choice of youthful arrogance.
While God did not pre-ordain this situation – in other words, decide it would happen and arrange everything so it did – He certainly had pre-knowledge of it. He knew the choices they would make and their repercussions, and used these, ultimately, for their good. To understand this further, consider the matter of slavery in Egypt. God certainly had foreknowledge of this. In Genesis 15:13 He tells Abram, who had not yet become Abraham, that his descendents will be slaves in a foreign land and be ill-treated, but promises to deliver them. So how, if God has foreknowledge, is the provision of God found in the very place which will enslave them? If God had foreknowledge, why did He ‘allow’ them to take advantage of it?
There are a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that God will not allow His foreknowledge of events, situations, circumstances, and our free will and choices to interfere with the decisions it is our right to make. That right is essentially a ‘divine’ right in that it has been granted to each one of us by God Himself, and He will never withdraw it. When the Bible talks about being slaves and servants of God it is never because we are forced but because we freely choose to be so. In every situation, even those concerning the provision of God, we have free will. We choose what we will or won’t do, and are accountable. We cannot ever shift the blame for the consequences onto God – or onto the devil, for that matter. It is ours alone.
The second reason concerns a deeper spiritual matter, that we are to be an example of Christ and of the nature of God. This may seem a little deep and complex, but it actually has a very practical application which becomes very clear if we consider a simple daily truth. For many Christians – perhaps even the vast majority – the provision of God in our lives is within ungodly places. We go out to work every single day for companies that are not founded and managed on Christian principles and with people who have no regard for God or the message of the cross. They may even resent or revile us, mock our faith, or treat us with laughter and contempt. That doesn’t alter the fact that our corn is found in Egypt.
Logically speaking – form a human perspective, at least – it would make much more ‘sense’ for us to remain in a Christian environment. But this would deny God’s instruction to be witnesses to the world. It would negate’s Christ’s prayer that God would not take us out of the world but protect us in it. We are to live separated unto God in the world. This is a far greater testimony that any ‘holy huddle’ untouched by the world could ever be. It is when we demonstrate our commitment to God and His very nature while rubbing shoulders with Egypt that we have the most impact. What is important is how we handle the matter of the provision of God in ungodly place.
The Israelites are a case in point. There are some who teach that God deliberately set up the enslavement of the Israelites so that He could make a truly dramatic statement when He miraculously delivered them. Again, the issue of free will is paramount. He does use the Exodus to display His miraculous deliverance, provision, guidance, and teaching, and why not? After all, promises that all things work to the good of those who love Him, and this includes our wrong choices. That’s the magnitude of His grace. God did not ‘ordain’ the slavery, even though He knew of it before hand. The Israelites were enslaved because of their response to the provision of God in an ungodly place.
In simple terms, they got comfortable. Things were good, their needs were met, they had family in high places, and they shifted their focus from God as their provider to Egypt. Complacency is the greatest danger facing many Christians. It’s easy to lose sight of God when things are going well and we have all we need. It’s easy to compromise our fundamental purpose – to be His witnesses – because we need the job or don’t want to rock the boat or insult the hand that feeds us. It’s easy to forget that, though the provision of God is in an ungodly place, He is still the source.
This was Israel’s mistake. They presumed that their protection and provision were guaranteed. But then Joseph died and Pharoah died, and the new ruled didn’t much care about history or loyalty or promises made by those before him. The Israelites lost the protection and the provision of God because they forgot the one from which these came. The Bible tells us that it was some four hundred years before they remembered God’s promise to Abraham. The clear relevance is that if they had remembered earlier, they would have been delivered earlier. It was only when they decided to turn back to God and to cry out to God that they received a leader and the deliverance He had promised.
When faced with the reality of the provision of God in ungodly places, we usually have one of two responses, both of which deny our purpose in Him. The first response is resentment, a very natural human response in a situation where we’re ‘different,’ where we’re constantly under pressure because of our faith. We may feel maligned, humiliated, overlooked, and that we’re constantly having to be careful not offend others. We may be treated as pariah’s, and have jokes made in our hearing that insult the nature and divinity of Christ. We have to endure hearing His name used as a swear word. All this is bound to stir up very human feelings and responses. It’s all to easy in this kind of situation to withdraw, to allow resentment to seethe within, and even to open the door to bitterness. After all, we are God’s people. Surely we could expect Him to ‘make a way.’
The second response is compromise. When faced by pressure of any kind, compromise is often our ‘retreat’ and it’s all too easy to convince ourselves that we’re loving others by not offending them with the truth. Or we may be so comfortable with a secure job and a good salary that we don’t want to offend in case we lose them. We may want that promotion or that transfer, and so toe the line, compromising the truth of the Word of God in exchange for material benefits. We easily look past the fact that it is the provision of God, not the provision of the ungodly people who may run the company. Again, some of these are natural and understandable, but we should always remember that when we humble ourselves in God’s service, He will lift us up in His own time.
Either of these two responses defeats the fundamental purpose of God that we reveal the nature of Jesus. The great commission sends out into the world. The provision of God is a prickly subject quite often, because it challenges the almost obsessive focus of the world on money. When Jesus sent out His disciples the first time round, He told them specifically to take nothing with them. They would find the provision of God in the world, in the ungodly places. But He never told them to live there. That’s the fundamental difference, the thing that keeps us ‘separated unto God.’ We are told to go into the world but not to live there.
To live means to make it home, a part of us, to identify with it and to belong. But when God spoke to Abram of the slavery of His people, He specifically says a ‘foreign’ land. 1 Peter 2:11 speaks of us being foreigners or ‘temporary residents.’ We are not to identify with the world at all. The greatest victory in Christ is when Christians consistently declare the gracious provision of God within a system that prides itself on worldly, material possessions. Money is not the problem. The love of it is. In an ungodly place, surrounded by ungodly people, there is seldom a greater testimony than one who looks only to God despite the opposition and prejudice of everything around them.
The moment we start to compromise on the things of God, we’re attempting to carry a dual-passport. That may work on earth, but it cannot work in the kingdom of God. We are His or we are not. There is no grey area or middle ground. Like the Israelites, we are to live as strangers in a foreign land, representatives always of our King and a living testimony to the provision of God in every situation. The great commission remains in place. We are to ‘go to all the world.’ But we are not to become part of all the world. We visit there, rather like an ambassador, but we don’t live there. The moment we start to live in the world, we face the real possibility of becoming slaves to the world.
It is always a matter of our own free will, our own choices. Thankfully, we serve a gracious God, slow to anger and quick to forgive. We cannot exclude God from the issue of money. We cannot live our lives as if money and God are entirely separate issues. He is the God of all things, the source of all provision. In our natural lives, money is necessary. The provision of God will include this, because we need it to live and to fulfill our purpose. But it’s a practical tool rather than a destination. The provision of God, even in ungodly places, will never fail if we look only to Him as the source.
We can be sure, if we fix our eyes on Him, the provision of God will always continue, no matter who runs the company we work for. They may fear us, they may revile us, they may persecute and harrass us, but the source of the provision is always God, and He is unchanging. We can be sure, when we choose to love Him above all else – even at personal cost – He will be faithful to provide and deliver, and will use all things to our good. Loving Him means obeying Him, and that means standing as His witness, living the testimony of Christ, in every situation.
Lord, grant us the courage to live as we should, to keep our focus on You as the source of our provision. Guard our hearts so that we are protected from compromise or resentment. Help us to see that our victory is not up to us, but rather up to You because that is what You have promised. Teach us daily to live in Your Word rather than in the world, and to fulfill Your great purpose in the ungodly places.