At the LCMS Bible study, the pastor talked about the story of Joseph. Here are some items:
A. The Egyptians thought highly of themselves. Of course, the Pharaoh believed that he was a god, but, according to the pastor, the people in the Egyptian hierarchy saw themselves as semidivine. The Egyptians saw themselves as above other nations, so the Egyptians would not eat with the Hebrews. Joseph asks the Egyptian staff to leave the room before he reveals he is Joseph to his brothers because he does not want those Egyptians to know he actually is Hebrew.
B. At this stage, there was not as clear of a definition of what being an Israelite meant. We are not yet in the Book of Leviticus, where God sets forth stipulations that set Israel apart from the other nations. Joseph has some conception that the God of Israel is opposed to adultery, which is why he refuses the advances from Potiphar’s wife, but he later marries an Egyptian, even more, the daughter of a priest. Joseph becomes absorbed in Egyptian culture.
C. A student read a note from her study Bible that said that seven years of famine, one on top of another, would have crumbled the Egyptian empire, had God not intervened.
D. The pastor said that he does not believe that God caused the famine but foreknew it and prepared the Egyptians (and the world) for it; God does not cause evil but brings good out of it. We got some into theodicy. Calvin elevated God’s sovereignty, whereas Luther saw divine mercy as more important: God’s sovereignty informs and shapes his sovereignty. Whereas Calvin believed that God somehow caused Adam and Eve to sin, Luther held that Adam and Eve sinned by their own free will, but God foresaw their sin and thus planned to send Christ. A student asked if God knows we will sin but hopes we will not. The pastor replied that God sees the whole movie in advance but his heart still breaks over human sin.
I asked about Genesis 41:25, 28, and 32, which appear to suggest that God indeed did cause the famine. The pastor referred to Luther’s idea of three kingdoms. The Kingdom of Power includes God’s jurisdiction over nature. The Kingdom of Grace is God dealing with us according to God’s promises. The Kingdom of Glory is heaven. How the pastor addressed my question may need to be unpacked, a bit. The pastor seemed to suggest that God rules nature but often allows nature to unfold itself. The pastor may have been implying that, when Joseph says that the famine is something that God is about to do, he means that God, in his rule over nature, is permitting the famine to take place. The pastor also said that the New Testament focuses on God’s mercy more than God’s power, whereas God’s power was stressed in the Old Testament. Yet, the pastor noted exceptions, such as the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and the Book of Revelation, commenting that, just when you think you have God figured out, something in the Bible trips you up.