When someone says that God works in mysterious ways, they often mean that God does something completely opposite of our expectations. There are many places in the Bible that tell stories of God's direction in someone's life that leads that person down a road they never thought they would tread. Sometimes God tells His people to do things that seem strange or even meaningless, but end up being a redemptive or victorious part of their story. This can be seen in Joshua 6:1–5 when God commands His people to march around the city of Jericho. Why would they need to march around it when they could just storm it and capture the city? Because Joshua and the children of Israel obeyed God's command, the walls crumbled and God gave them the city (Joshua 6:6–27).
A constant characteristic of God's nature is how He turns situations and problems upside down to work for the good of His people (Romans 8:28). The Bible is full of stories of God astonishing His people when they realize how He had orchestrated situations in their lives. Desmond Tutu called God, "A God of Surprises." It is our role as believers to dwell in thanks and trust, even when our situations seem out of our control (especially when they seem out of our control). Psalm 147:5 states that God's understanding is beyond our measure, which means that we cannot possibly comprehend all the ways that He works throughout our lives.
An excellent example of God's mysterious ways is exemplified in the life of Joseph. Joseph suffered isolation and pain when his brothers sold him into slavery. After Joseph endured extreme hardship and ended up in the palace, he told his brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good …" (Genesis 50:20). He had the wisdom and trust that everything he went through was because of God's good plan for his life. Joseph's brothers were evil to him, but Joseph acknowledged that God desires to save His covenant people from the evil in this world (Genesis 15:13–14).
Joseph brought the Hebrew people out of Canaan, where they experienced famine, and into Egypt (Genesis 43:1; 46:26–27). He was able to save his people because as governor of the land, he bought and sold the food (Genesis 42:6). Joseph was in Egypt because his brothers sold him into slavery. The people who sold their own brother into slavery were then dependent on him for nourishment (Genesis 37:28). Although this part of Joseph's story is remarkable, it is only a sliver of how God used Joseph's suffering and obedience to shape history. There would be no story of Moses or an exodus from Egypt four hundred years later if Joseph had not been governor of Egypt and lead his people from Canaan (Exodus 6:1–8).
Would Joseph still have been able to save his family and be a catalyst for huge events in Hebrew history if he was not first a slave? Would he have had the influence in Egypt he did had he not first been falsely accused and jailed (Genesis 39:1–20)? We cannot say for sure. But we do know that Joseph's life displays God's glory and the surprising way that He turns our stories upside down for the sake of His exaltation. Through Joseph's story, we see that the Lord was with him, and opened the doors for Joseph to save his people.
It is a joy to be a follower of Christ, because we are assured that God uses every event in our lives for His ultimate plan (Isaiah 14:24; Romans 8:28). Many events that occur in our lives are beyond our understanding. As linear thinking beings, we cannot fathom what God has planned from beginning to end (Isaiah 46:10–11). If we walked by sight and not by faith our journeys would be very discouraging (2 Corinthians 5:7). As Christians we can trust that God's mysterious ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8–9).
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