How often do we hear the word but used in our lives? Sometimes these buts bear good news, but many times the word but will introduce bad news. The ABC show The Bachelor is a good example of this as each week the bachelor says to a girl, “I really like you, but I think these are feelings of friendship.” Unlike the conjunction and, which strings together at least two similar ideas in a sentence, and the conjunction or, which gives you the option between two ideas, the conjunction but puts two opposing ideas in a sentence. This little word is the hinge point at which a sentence changes directions, and usually whatever follows the but will trump what preceded it.
What we find in Genesis 50:15-21 is an example of the divine but. Joseph’s brothers were afraid that since their father had died Joseph was going to take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years prior. So they got together and sent Joseph a message asking for forgiveness. When the message came to Joseph, Joseph wept (which in these verses there is another great message – one of true forgiveness!). After Joseph dried up his tears and his brothers came into his presence, Joseph responded to them with this in 50:19-20 – “you meant evil against me, BUT God meant it for good…” As God stands behind the but, his purposes prevail, the direction of the situation is altered, and evil intentions are trumped by God’s good will. Joseph had already said this to his brothers in 45:5-8 – “now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” So we see at the first level that God is providing for Abraham’s descendants’ physical needs since God foreknew that there would be famine in the land and that the descendants of Abraham would die without food. At the second level, God is fulfilling his promise to Abraham to multiply his descendants as well as is moving salvation history to Jesus Christ. For you see, had Joseph not come to Egypt, many of Jacob’s offspring could have died, Israel’s descendants would not have multiplied, and eventually there would be no Passover lamb (which was a foreshadowing of Christ). So what Joseph’s brothers had meant for bad, God had already purposed for good. The divine BUT!
Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:8 sum up God’s gospel as a divine but, if you will. We were dead in our sin BUT God showed love to us through the death of God the Son on the cross. I love that when God stands behind the but in life he trumps whatever preceded. God can take something that was meant for evil, before it even happened, and turn it around to fulfill his purpose. Those of us who are children of God by faith have all experienced the divine but in our lives at the cross (cf Rom. 5:8). And as children of God we are all guaranteed another divine but – “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51). We will all one day die but death will not have power over us as God will resurrect us. The divine BUT!
As my preaching professor Dr. Smith said many times, “God will put a comma in your life where others have put a period.”