Judge Not the Lord by Feeble Sense

This past week we resumed the Seniors’ Bible Study, the focus of which is to study the life of Joseph as recorded in the Book of Genesis. As I read and reflect on Joseph’s story, I’m reminded of an old hymn by William Cowper entitled, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” One of the verses goes like this:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

    But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence,

    He hides a smiling face.

As a teenager, it appeared that the smile of God was upon Joseph’s life. He was a favoured son and had the robe of many colours to prove it. That ended, however, when his brothers, full of jealousy and hatred, threw him into a pit and later sold him as a slave to some travellers who were headed for Egypt.

After successfully serving his new Egyptian master, things were starting to improve for Joseph. That is, until he was falsely accused of going after his master’s wife and thrown into prison. Providence was frowning on Joseph again.

In prison, things began to improve, as the warden recognized Joseph’s administrative skills and put him in charge of the other prisoners. We read that “the Lord was with Joseph and made everything he did successful” (Gen. 39:23).

Not only did Joseph excel in leadership in prison, but when two of Pharaoh’s servants ended up there, each having had mysterious dreams, Joseph was able—with God’s help—to interpret the dreams, which came to pass exactly as Joseph had predicted: Pharaoh’s baker was put to death, and his cupbearer was released. Although Joseph had pleaded with the cupbearer to remember and mention him to Pharaoh, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph, and he spent two more years in prison. Once again, providence was frowning on Joseph.

Looking at Joseph’s situation from a merely human perspective; judging “by feeble sense,” as Cowper describes, we might conclude that God was displeased with Joseph, or had forgotten him or turned his favour away from him. We may come to the same conclusion in our own lives, when circumstances don’t make sense; when God’s hand and face seem to have vanished without a trace.

At times like these we wonder, how can God be good when the world is such a mess, when our relationships are full of conflict, and when we experience so many detours and disappointments?

The answer to this question is found, in part, by reading to the end of Joseph’s story and seeing all that God did. Joseph was eventually brought out of prison and promoted to a position of great power and influence in Egypt. During a terrible famine, Joseph’s leadership saved many lives. And, when he finally reconciled with his brothers, Joseph was able to say to them, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen. 50:20).

During the hardships he experienced, Joseph would have had many opportunities to be tempted to “judge the Lord by feeble sense,” and thereby give in to discouragement and despair. Instead, he trusted in God’s grace, even when he couldn’t make sense of things.

Only in hindsight was Joseph able to get a glimpse of what God was doing in those dark times. Looking back, he could see that behind a frowning providence was the gracious face of his God, smiling down upon him.

Though Cowper’s hymn was written long after the time of Joseph, were he to hear it today, I think we can assume that he would respond with an enthusiastic “Amen.” Can we?

Pastor Jonathan Kroeker