Genesis and God’s providence

God’s sovereignty over the nations is not just shown through his effects in battle. Right after the incident in Genesis 14, God gave the great covenantal promises of Genesis 15 to Abraham. These promises included the land:

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be strangers in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterwards they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:7, 13-16, HCSB)

These promises are fundamentally political – they involve the movements of nations and peoples – Egypt being the greatest nation of the era – and the inhabitation of land. These promises also show God’s ability to direct events 400 into the future. This power is seen in God’s interaction with Ishmael (Gen 16-17), in which we see God in control of the creation of many nations – not just the nation of Israel.

As the account progresses through Genesis and into Exodus, we see these promises slowly coming into fruition through God’s providence:

In the account of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18-19), we see God’s power over city-states revealed in his first act of corporate justice. The cities are completely corrupt, and Abraham’s negotiation with God over righteous men only highlights the fact. As a result, God judges the cities, and executes his judgement through supernatural means. However, the emphasis on Lot’s righteousness and how God protects him from the destruction highlights that, even here, God’s judgement is not arbitrary.

Abraham’s experiences with Pharaoh and Abimelech (Gen 12, 20) show a different form of God’s providential care. Both times, Abraham fears that the beauty of his wife will cause his own death, and seeks to protect himself through deception. Both times, God shows his ability to protect his chosen people through his own intervention – first through a plague, and secondly through a dream.

Equally, the whole account of Jacob is one of a man trying to ‘get his’ through his own trickery and scheming. While Jacob flourishes through his schemes, it is made constantly clear that it is God who is blessing him according to his own plans (e.g. Gen 25:23, 28:11-16, 29:31, 30:22, 31:9).

Finally, the entire Joseph cycle is an example of God using the  actions of Joseph, his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, Pharaoh and many others to fulfil the promises of Genesis 15. At times God worked through the actions of the individual, at other times he intervened supernaturally.

It is worth noting that even in his triumph, Joseph’s actions are less than impeccable. In creation a national institution of debt-slavery, he sets the scene for his own people’s slavery in later generations.

A critical moment in our understanding of God’s providence occurs in Genesis 50. Joseph’s brothers beg him for forgiveness for their sins against him:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result– the survival of many people. (Gen 50:19-20 HCSB)

The story of Genesis is the story of God’s promises being fulfilled. Through the actions of individuals – some faithful, some incredibly unfaithful, and some outright evil – and through the actions of rulers and nations, God shows his sovereign power over his world to effect his plans by protecting his people, causing them to flourish, and directing them towards a new land.

(And you thought it would take me ages to get through Genesis!)


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