9 And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, 10 and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. (Acts 7:9–10, NKJV)
The providence of God unfolds before our eyes in the life of Joseph (Gen. 37-50). God did not create the world and then lay it up in a display case to watch what would happen next. While God has undoubtedly intervened in the affairs of this world with miracles by suspending natural processes and occurrences, He has also arranged His world in such a way that He operates in it through the course of natural events. The life of Joseph is an example of God’s providence. God was actively involved in Joseph’s life through its day to day events. In today’s passage, Stephen said God was with Joseph and delivered him, gave him favor and wisdom, and made him governor over Egypt and Pharaoh’s house. These verbs (delivered, gave, made) show God was at work, not against the free will of men and women, but through their choices and actions. God used the envy of Joseph’s brother to bring about good (Gen. 50:20). He used natural, cyclical seasons of bounty and famine to execute His plan to elevate Joseph and to save Israel. Even now, God hears and answers the prayers of the righteous, not by injecting miracles into the natural world, but by carrying out His purposes through the operation of the world according to His design and sovereign care (Jas. 5:16-18; 1:17).
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, 5 That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance. (Psalm 106:4–5, NKJV)
God’s historic goodness toward Israel is recited in Psalm 106. From Egypt, to the wilderness, to the land of promise, and to their exile among the Gentiles, Israel repeatedly repaid God’s favor with rebellion. “Many times He delivered them; But they rebelled in their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity” (Psa. 106:43). Yet, God “regarded their affliction,” remembered His covenant when they cried to Him, and showed them mercy among their captors (Psa. 106:44-46). The unrelenting goodness of God compels us to learn from Israel and live faithfully in His blessings under the covenant of Christ. Today, the Israel of God is the church – those who are of the faith of Abraham, not of the flesh of Abraham (Gal. 6:16; 4:21-31; Rom. 2:28-29; 4:12, 16). Those who serve the Lamb of God share in His powerful victory over Satan and his cohorts, for we are “called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). God offers this salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are the recipients of God’s grace, we gladly rejoice as His nation, and we glory in our inheritance (cf. Psa. 106:5; Eph. 1:3-7; 1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). Just as God gathered a remnant of Israel from the Gentiles, the church is gathered by the gospel as a remnant of grace from the nations. We thank God for His power and triumph in His praise (Psa. 106:47; Rom. 11:5; Isa. 11:11). Truly God’s mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psa. 106:48).
15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” But you would not, 16 And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses”— Therefore you shall flee! And, “We will ride on swift horses”— Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift!” (Isaiah 30:15–16, NKJV)
God extended the blessings of repentance to Israel in spite of being “a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord” (Isa. 30:9). Even though they told God’s prophets, “Do not speak to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isa. 30:10), God was willing to save them if only they would repent. Yet, they sought alliances with Egypt instead of reliance upon the Lord (Isa. 30:1-7). We are also tempted to rely on the strength of human alliances instead of relying on the Lord’s word and way. Human wisdom is accepted over the pure gospel of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Human philosophies are heeded instead of divine directives (Col. 2:2-3, 8-9, 20-23). Human doctrines and practices are clung to instead of a “thus saith the Lord” (Col. 3:16-17). Human pride is followed instead of humbly submitting to the Lord’s word (Jas. 4:6-10). Like Israel, salvation will be ours if only we will repent. Truly, God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Flee to the Lord for His salvation, not to the false hopes of men that will never save you from sin and will never secure your fellowship with God.
12 “Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:12–14, NKJV)
Like Israel at the Red Sea, sometimes we have trouble waiting on the Lord and trusting His salvation. After witnessing God’s great judgments upon Egypt through the miraculous plagues, just days later Israel complained when the enemy’s army approached (Exodus 14:11-12). Moses told them to replace their fear with faith in the Lord’s power and presence, for He would fight for them. That day they would see the salvation of the Lord – and they did. God told Israel to “go forward,” and He protected them and delivered them as they did (v. 15-22, 29-30). Having been saved from our past sins in Christ, Christians are told to press forward in faith, not draw back in fear (Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 10:35-39; 12:1-2). Our enemy, the devil, will tempt us with sin and trials, trying to discourage and defeat us. Keep doing God’s will by trusting Him and the power of His word. Be faithful and go forward, never backwards, “for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).