“And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” (Gen. 42:36)
When we endure tragedy, we have a tendency to develop a “woe is me attitude”. It is very easy in the heat of a trial to let our mind run away and begin to think the entire world is “against” us and quickly end up very depressed. Jacob has a little pity party here himself where he declares “all these things are against me”. Granted, Jacob had endured a lot of heartache in his life, some due to his own sins, some due to the deception of others, and now due to his estranged son’s demands. However, Jacob was much more blessed than he realized in this moment. All things were not against him. Finally, we see the answer of the New Testament, if God be for us, who can be against us? Even if the entire world and every event in our life opposes against us, God is still for us in eternal salvation and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
In this account, Jacob’s sons have just returned from Israel for buying grain in the midst of famine. They return with the grain, but Joseph had returned their money in their own sacks. The brothers tell their father, Jacob, that Simeon is being held in Egypt, and also if they are to return to Egypt to buy grain again (which would be inevitable soon in this famine) they had to bring Benjamin with them. Granted, this is certainly a very difficult situation for Jacob and his family to navigate, especially considering in their mind the Egyptians already think they are spies and they returned home with their own money, which could allow them to be accused of theft when they return. Jacob then recalls the supposed death of Joseph (which his sons had lied to him and made him believe he had been tragically killed by wild animals), another son, Simeon, now in prison in Egypt, and then the possibility of his youngest baby son, Benjamin, going to Egypt too, it was just too much for him to bear. Jacob then throws up his hands and broadly declares “all these things are against me”.
We are very prone to have a pity party from time to time. When multiple challenging things start going wrong at the same time, we begin to play the popular song in our mind and maybe even in our words: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrows”. (Which is something that is never actually true for the child of God because Jesus Christ intimately knows all our griefs and sorrows; Christ is deeply touched with the feelings of all our infirmities, Heb. 4:15.) We begin to play our “woe is me” violin, and feel the whole world is against me. We begin to feel that literally the whole world is against me. When we are in trouble, we also have a tendency to speak in universal terms – “all” these things. We use words like “all” and “every” and the “whole world” is against me in times of trouble. It’s easy to speak cavalierly in those universal terms, but that is never accurate. The whole world is never truly against us and all things are not against us in this world either. We need to remember that the whole world and all the events of this world is not truly against me, regardless of how depressed we might feel in the moment.
I can’t pretend to know the pain that comes from losing a child in death at a young age, especially in a tragic way. I can’t imagine the grief that Jacob felt when in his mind when he thought Joseph was tragically killed at age 17, right when he was growing into a man and beginning his life. I know people who have tragically lost children at a young age who never fully recovered from it, who never live a normal life for their next 20 years because of the weight of that tragedy in their life. It’s a tragic, life-shattering thing to lose a child (especially for Jacob who was lied to and it wasn’t even true). It is also easy for that one event to define their entire life going forward, but also for them to feel that the entire world is against them. That is the perpetual loss that Jacob has felt for the last 20 years. Now, he has another son in prison in Egypt, and the thought of possibly losing a third son was too much for him to bear. Therefore, he feels that the whole world is against me, all these things are against me.
It’s easy in the midst of trial to allow our mind to compound all the past problems in one time. Personally, I can be dealing with a stressful, challenging situation, and when I get frustrated, I begin to recall to my mind every perceived past injustice that I have endured over my entire life. Losing a child is a tragic thing, but Jacob immediately brings up an adverse event from 20 years before to justify in his mind that the whole world is against him today. Our minds naturally gravitate to this negative woe is me, the world is against me attitude. Therefore, we have to be purposeful to think positive thoughts in the midst of trials, because the natural disposition of our mind is to compound all our past problems, pain, suffering, and injustices to justify our bad perspective today.
Many other people in scripture have not just felt the whole world was against them, but blamed God for their problems. If anyone had a justified reason to complain and say “woe is me” it would be Job. Originally, his response was not blaming others but to worship and to bless God in the midst of his affliction (Job 1:21). However, as Job also lost his health, his wife turned against him, and his three miserable friends condemned him, his tone turned much more negative. He even began to feel that even God was against him. “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.” (Job 6:4) Job felt that God had arrayed all his terrors “against me”. It is a bad feeling to feel that God is against you in the midst of affliction. Job got down in the dumps and lost sight of God’s blessing him, even in the midst of this fiery trial. God did not forsake Job when the going got tough, but he blessed him through this trial even though he felt God was against him at that time.
The Psalmists intimately expressed their struggles with feeling their enemies and this world “against” them. “6) I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” (Ps. 3:6) Even if enemies come against us in this world, we have confidence that God will defend us from their wicked devices. “3) Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. 4) One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. 5) For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.” (Ps. 27:3-5) King David expresses the proper remedy for when we feel the world and everything is against us. We must go to the house of God, to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of our life, and to enquire in God’s temple. Attending public worship will always recenter our perspective to know that if God is on our side, then it doesn’t matter who is against us.
Even if the whole world is actually against us, so what? If God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who is in opposition to us. If God is on our side, we always have the advantage. Our God is always a majority of One. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) What is our response to the “these things” just discussed in Rom. 8:29-30 – foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification? What can we say to these things that God has done for us in eternal salvation? Our answer is: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Notice the contrast between Jacob’s negative “all these things” perspective that are supposedly against him, and now Paul’s “all these things” that are actually for us by God in eternity). It doesn’t matter if the whole world was “against us” in this world, that cannot overturn or touch the fact that God is “for us” in eternity and in this life as well. God has been “for us” from before the world even began, in choosing out a people to love and save, predestinating them to heaven, calling us in the new birth in our life, justifying us by Jesus Christ on the cross, and finally glorifying us at Jesus’ second coming. It doesn’t matter any negative things that might happen in this world, because God is “for us” in eternal salvation and therefore, we need not fear or worry over anything that might appear to be “against us” here in our lives in this world.