“God can make good what was meant for evil” is a common saying in the Christian community. Where did this phrase come from? What does it mean? While the roots of the saying are in Joseph’s story from the Bible, we can still apply the meaning to our lives today. Let’s look deeper at what the Bible says about God making good from what was meant for evil.
Where Does the Bible Say 'God Made Good What Was Meant for Evil'?
In the first book of the Bible, we find the story of Joseph. Joseph’s father highly favored him. His mother, Rachel, had died giving birth to his brother, Benjamin. Jacob loved Rachel dearly and worked fourteen years in exchange for her hand. Rachel didn’t bear sons right away. She watched her sister, Leah, give birth to baby boys while she remained barren. Eventually, Rachel gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace,” naming him Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24).
Perhaps Joseph held a special place in Jacob’s heart because he was the son of his treasured Rachel, who had passed away. Maybe Joseph’s presence was a comfort to Jacob in his old age. Whatever the reason, Jacob gave Joseph an elaborate multi-colored coat that was finer than any of the other brothers’ clothing. Jacob’s favoritism left Joseph’s brothers jealous and angry. Joseph’s dreams of the family bowing down to him added fuel to the fire, and the resentful group decided they had to get rid of their father’s favorite son. The angry crew plotted to kill Joseph, but one of his brothers, Rueben, stood up for him. Instead of murder, they sold him into slavery and carried out a plan to tell their father he was dead.
Fast forward many years later. After several ups and downs and God-orchestrated events, Joseph rose to the elite status of the Pharaoh’s secondhand man. Famine had spread over the land affecting the people, including Joseph’s family. Jacob heard Egypt had food and sent his sons to buy grain. When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they were greeted by Joseph. He recognized them, but they did not recognize him. Joseph had their sacks filled with grain, and his brothers returned to the land of Cannan. The brothers traveled a second time to buy grain in Egypt. Joseph welcomed his family with an elegant feast and revealed his true identity. The rest of the family, including Jacob, moved to one of the best parts of Egypt. Joseph’s family was spared from the famine and settled in the land of Goshen.
Several years later, Jacob grew ill. After his passing, Joseph’s brothers feared he was still angry with them. They sent a message to Joseph, owning their evil deeds and asking for forgiveness. In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph replied, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”
Joseph recognized God’s hand in the situation. He used his brothers’ angry actions to provide a path for Joseph as governor of Egypt. Joseph used his position to save many people from the famine, including his family.
How Did God Make Joseph’s Life Good from What Was Meant for Evil?
The events of Joseph’s life set the stage for a pretty tragic story. Jealousy. Deception. Betrayal. Except God had a hand in it all. While Joseph’s brothers plotted to end his life, God had a bigger plan. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers while they tended their flocks. When they saw him coming near, they planned to kill him, but the eldest, Rueben, persuaded them against shedding any blood. Instead, they threw him in a pit where he thought he would surely die without food or water. Then, God intervened again. A band of merchants passed by. Perhaps persuaded by guilt, his brother, Judah, proposed selling Joseph to the men instead of leaving him to die in the pit. The brothers agreed, and Joseph traveled to Egypt, where he was sold to no other than Potiphar, an officer of Pharoh. The story wouldn’t be the same if he was sold to someone else. But God knew that.
The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. (Genesis 39:2-5)
Life for Joseph was beginning to look up... until it got worse. Joseph was a handsome man and caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. Again and again, she beckoned Joseph to lie with her, but he refused. One day, Potiphar’s wife lured Joseph to her, and his garment slipped off while escaping. She used the garment as a weapon against him, telling Potiphar Joseph had approached her. Potiphar grew furious and threw Joseph into prison. But again, God had a plan.
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. (Genesis 39:21-23)
While in prison, Joseph was joined by two of Pharaoh’s officers, the cupbearer and the baker. Both men had dreams that God helped Joseph interpret. After the interpretations of the dreams came true, Joseph remained in prison for two more years until Pharaoh needed his help. Pharaoh had a strange dream that no one could understand. The cupbearer, remembering how Joseph’s interpretation of his dream came true, told Pharoh about Joseph. Joseph was brought before him and explained the dream meant Egypt would have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Genesis 41:39-40 states that Pharaoh told Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” Joseph lead the land of Egypt through both the seven prosperous years and the seven lean years.
This is where Joseph’s family reenters the picture, traveling to Egypt to buy grain from the brother they had originally left in the pit to die.
Why Might God Allow Evil to Exist in the World Today?
It’s hard to understand why our good God would let evil exist in the world today. To gain a better understanding, we can look at the first sin committed by humanity: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After God created Adam and Eve, he told them they could eat from any of Eden’s trees except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned taking a bite from this tree would result in death. The serpent enticed the woman into disobeying God, and she took a bite, followed by her husband taking a bite.
The serpent, being Satan himself, had fallen away from God. Beginning as one of the angels in heaven, pride and his desire to be worshipped separated him from God. He wanted to destroy humanity and ruin their harmonious relationship with their creator. Matthew Henry explains, “The game therefore which Satan had to play was to draw our first parents to sin, and so to separate between them and their God. Thus the devil was, from the beginning, a murderer, and a great mischief-maker. The whole race of mankind had here, as it were, but one neck, and at that Satan struck.”
Why would God create Adam and Eve if he knew they would sin? God wants a relationship with us. He created us with free will to choose him. He didn’t want to create an army of robots programmed a certain way. He wanted us to choose freely to worship and follow him. Adam and Eve chose to sin, and sin entered the world, along with all the evil that came with it. Luckily, the story doesn’t end there. God sent his son, Jesus, to atone for our sins. One day he will come back, ushering in a new heaven and new earth, free from sin and evil.
How Might God Make Good from What Was Meant for Evil?
Until the second coming of Christ, we will live in our current world filled with evil and suffering. How can God turn our difficult realities into good? One way is refining us to be more like Christ. Walking through challenging situations causes us to cling closer to God. We seek him and learn more about who he is. Suffering refines our character, molding us into the person he wants us to be. Additionally, trials can prepare us for the future. We build the muscle of holding steadfast, preparing for difficult times ahead.
Suffering can also help us grow empathy for others. Understanding another person’s challenges is hard until you’ve walked in their shoes. We can come alongside others who have experienced similar trials, comforting and praying for them. When you’re in a difficult situation, there’s something about seeing someone who came out the other side that can be so encouraging. We can think, “They made it. I can make it too.” After we’ve come through our hardships, we have a new understanding and empathy for others. It’s then our turn to come alongside someone, show them love and compassion, and be that encouragement.
God’s plans are perfect, but we don’t live in a perfect world. It is broken and influenced by evil. While we have the promise of Christ’s second coming, we can know God is working all things for good in the meantime. Difficult situations refine us and bring us closer to Christ. We can then use all we learned during that difficult time to come alongside and encourage others. Evil exists in our world, but we have the hope of Christ.
For further reading:
What Does it Mean God Is Good?
Did Evil Exist Before Adam and Eve Sinned?
Do We Strive for God’s Justice or Our Own?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/2jenn
Jenna Brooke Carlson is an elementary dual language teacher in the Chicago suburbs. As a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Word Weavers, she enjoys spending time with other writers and perfecting her craft. She recently signed a contract for her first young adult novel, A Big Hot Mess, with Elk Lake Publishing. Along with writing, she’s pursuing her dreams of creating a community of brave young women, who she can encourage to live out their dreams amid challenges and imperfection. Her days are busy, but she’s determined she can conquer anything with a fuzzy blanket and a hot cup of tea. To find out more about Jenna, visit her website at jennabrookecarlson.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
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