I ran a column in February which explored the veracity of an old saying, “Behind every cloud there’s a silver lining.” Working on that piece led me to think about a couple of Bible stories which can be used to further consider that adage. Both of my regular readers know these accounts better than I do, so I’ll give a condensed version.
Joseph was the first character who came to mind. He led a charmed life as the youngest and most loved son of his father, Jacob, but that caused his brothers to hate him. One day, while wearing a coat of many colors Jacob had given him, Joseph went to check on his brothers who were grazing the family’s sheep. Joseph’s jealous siblings threw him into a dry cistern and discussed killing him, but instead sold him into slavery to some merchants traveling to Egypt. Joseph’s brothers dipped his special coat in goat blood and took it to their father, deceiving Jacob into thinking his beloved son had been killed by a wild animal.
The merchants sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials in Egypt. Joseph fared well as Potiphar’s slave until falsely accused of trying to seduce his owner’s wife. While imprisoned, God kept him safe and eventually provided a way for his release. Joseph went from prison to prominence as he became the second most powerful man in the nation at the young age of thirty. He answered only to Pharaoh himself. Years later God used Joseph to rescue his father and large family, including the brothers who had betrayed him, from a seven-year drought and likely starvation.
Revenge is what Joseph’s brothers expected, but grace is what they found. Genesis 50:20-21 helps us understand how he was able to respond with merciful love. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” Joseph wasn’t tempted to get even. He saw the silver lining behind the cloud.
Jonah is the next biblical character I thought about. The Book of Jonah is not big but it’s a whale of a story. It begins with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah, however, despised the Ninevites, so he went in a different direction to Joppa and boarded a ship bound for Tarshish.
God sent a great wind, a terrible storm that threatened to split the ship apart. Jonah somehow remained asleep below deck until the frightened sailors awakened him. The crew cast lots, which indicated Jonah was to blame for the raging seas. Those mariners tried diligently to row back to land but it was useless. Jonah told them they could save themselves by throwing him overboard.
A more heroic approach would have been for Jonah to have offered to jump but he apparently wasn’t quite up to that. So, the men counted to three as they swung him back and forth, I’m guessing, and tossed him as far as they could, probably hoping he wouldn’t try to swim back. And that’s when Jonah met the big fish God had prepared to take him on an all-inclusive three-day oceanic adventure.
Confined inside that great fish, Jonah found the inspiration to pray. When he asked for forgiveness, God told the fish to spit him out on dry land. Once again God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time he obeyed, but his heart wasn’t in it. He reluctantly proclaimed the ominous message God had given him to that city of over 120,000 people. “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
And a most amazing thing happened – “The Ninevites believed God.” They fasted and wore sackcloth, gave up their evil ways, and called on the Lord for help. When God saw their repentance, He had compassion and spared them from destruction.
It seems Jonah would have been thrilled with such an awesome response to the message God chose him to share. He was, however, so angry he wanted to die. Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved God’s mercy. Their demise would have suited him better. The book concludes with God questioning Jonah about his hateful attitude. Scripture doesn’t record his response.
Joseph and Jonah each faced challenging ordeals. One man saw the silver lining and rejoiced. The other was bitter. He didn’t approve of how God had used him. There’s no doubt God provides silver linings in abundance, but He leaves it up to us to claim them. He leaves it up to us to look past the clouds.