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How God Can Turn Evil Into Good: Understanding The Meaning Of ‘What The Devil Meant For Evil, God Turned To Good’ In The Bible

The idea that God can take evil intentions and somehow turn them to good is a powerful and comforting one that is expressed in several places in the Bible. For Christians seeking to understand and find meaning in suffering and adversity, this concept offers reassurance that God ultimately has the power to bring redemption even from circumstances that initially appear hopeless.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The verse ‘what the devil meant for evil, God turned to good’ comes from Genesis 50:20, where Joseph tells his brothers that although they had evil intent when they sold him into slavery, God worked through their actions to place Joseph in a position to save his family.

This verse illustrates the theme found throughout Scripture that God can sovereignly cause good outcomes even from evil acts.

The Origin of the Phrase

Genesis 50:20

The phrase “what the devil meant for evil, God turned to good” originates from Genesis 50:20 in the Bible. Here’s the full verse: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

This verse comes from the well-known story of Joseph in the Old Testament.

Joseph’s Story

Joseph was one of the 12 sons of Jacob in the Bible. His brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph went through many trials, but eventually became second-in-command to Pharaoh himself. When famine struck, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food.

They didn’t recognize Joseph, but he revealed his identity to them and forgave them, saying, “You meant evil against me, but God turned it into good. “

Joseph could see that though his brothers intended harm to him, God worked it for good – to save many lives from the famine. This verse and story illustrate the powerful truth that God can take even evil plans and purposes and turn them to ultimately accomplish His good purposes.

This account from Genesis is the original source that gave rise to the saying “what the devil meant for evil, God turned to good.” It affirms that though evil exists, God is able to bring good out of it. He is able to redeem and work all things for His glory and purposes.

The devil schemes, but God overrides those schemes for His sovereign plans.

The story of Joseph powerfully illustrates this truth. His suffering at the hands of his brothers was indeed cruel and evil. Yet God was able to use that very suffering to put Joseph in a position to save his family and nation from starvation years later.

God was able to bring incredible good out of horrific evil.

This demonstrates that God is infinitely wise and powerful – able to take even the worst evil and use it to accomplish His good plans. As Romans 8:28 says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him. “ The story of Joseph upholds this powerful biblical truth.

Other Biblical Examples

The Crucifixion of Jesus

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest example of God turning evil into good in the Bible. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, and crucified on a cross. From a human perspective, this was tragic evil and injustice.

However, God used Christ’s suffering and death for the greatest good – the salvation of sinners. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The greatest evil – deicide, or the murder of God – resulted in the greatest good – the redemption of mankind. As Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).


The book of Esther provides another example of God using circumstances to rescue His people. Due to the scheming of the villain Haman, King Ahasuerus signs a decree for the extermination of all Jews in Persia.

However, God places Esther in a position of influence in the king’s palace “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Despite risks, Esther boldly reveals Haman’s plot to the king, leading to Haman’s execution and the preservation of the Jewish people.

As in the story of Joseph, an enemy’s evil plans are flipped for the good of God’s people. As GotQuestions.org notes, “What Satan means for evil, God turns to good!”

Ruth and Naomi

In the book of Ruth, both Ruth and Naomi experience tragic loss and difficult circumstances. Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving her destitute. Ruth courageously accompanies Naomi to Bethlehem, leaving behind her own family and country. However, God redeems their suffering.

Ruth meets and marries Boaz, giving Naomi a redeemer and grandson, Obed. Obed becomes the grandfather of King David. Thus, Ruth’s story illustrates how God transformed her misfortune into a blessing for Naomi and the nation of Israel.

As John Piper notes, “The ruthlessness of Satan’s destructive attempts are overruled by God . . . He takes the very worst calamities and turns them for very great good.”

Theological Explanations

God’s Sovereignty

One key theological explanation for how God can turn evil into good is His sovereignty. As the all-powerful Creator and Ruler of the universe, God has supreme authority and control over everything that happens (Isaiah 45:5-7).

Even when humans or spiritual forces intend harm, God remains sovereign and can orchestrate circumstances to bring about redemption and good in the end (Genesis 50:20). Examples in Scripture where God demonstrated His sovereignty over evil include Joseph’s story in Genesis, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the persecution of the early church.

Though evil brings pain and suffering, God sovereignly works through it to accomplish His purposes.

Human Free Will

Another theological explanation involves human free will. God gifted humanity with the ability to make choices, even if those choices result in evil acts. However, God can still redeem these evil choices to fulfill His purposes.

For example, in Genesis, Jacob’s sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery out of jealousy. While this was an evil act, God used it to put Joseph in a position to save Egypt and his family from famine years later (Genesis 45:5-8). The brothers meant evil, but God meant it for good.

Even amidst free will and human sin, God remains sovereign and able to bring redemption.

Greater Good

A final key theological explanation centers on God bringing about a greater good from the presence of evil and suffering. Though God does not cause evil Himself, He can allow it in order to fulfill a greater purpose or bring about something even better.

For instance, Jesus’ brutal crucifixion was excruciatingly evil and unjust. Yet God redeemed it to make salvation possible for all humanity (Hebrews 2:10). God can take even the most horrific evil and use it to accomplish an infinitely greater good.

As Romans 8:28 promises, God works all things together for good for those who love Him.

Practical Applications

Trusting God’s Plans

When we face trials and suffering, it can be incredibly difficult to trust that God has good plans for us. However, the Bible reminds us that God can use even the most awful circumstances to produce good in our lives and the lives of others (Genesis 50:20).

For example, the story of Joseph in the Old Testament illustrates how God turned evil into good. After being sold into slavery and wrongfully imprisoned, Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

God later uses Joseph to lead Egypt and provide food during a famine, thus saving his family from starvation.

Finding Purpose in Suffering

It can be incredibly challenging to find purpose or see the good when we are suffering. Yet, God often uses pain to refine us, strengthen our character, deepen our trust in Him, and enable us to minister to others who are hurting (Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

For instance, author Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed from the neck down after a diving accident at age 17. Though she went through immense suffering, Joni found purpose by turning to Jesus. She now leads a worldwide ministry that provides wheelchairs to those in need and shares the gospel of Christ with disabled people across the globe.

Her story illustrates how God can bring beauty from brokenness.

Forgiving Those Who Harm Us

One of the most challenging commands Jesus gives us is to forgive others as God has forgiven us (Matthew 6:14-15). Though incredibly difficult at times, forgiveness brings freedom into our lives.

An inspiring example is the response of the Amish community after the tragic school shooting at Nickel Mines in 2006, where a gunman took the lives of five young Amish girls. Yet that same day, the Amish went to the home of the shooter’s family to comfort them.

The grandfather of one of the slain girls was overheard telling the gunman’s dad, “We will forgive you.” Their astonishing demonstration of grace shocked the world.

Like the Amish, when we choose to forgive those who hurt us deeply, we reflect God’s redemptive love to a broken world.


In closing, the idea that God can bring good out of evil situations is a thread that runs throughout Scripture. From Joseph to Esther to Jesus, we see God working His broader purposes even through the free choices of morally responsible agents.

For Christians grappling with adversity, this offers the hope that God ultimately causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). By trusting God’s sovereignty and plan, we can find purpose and redemption even in life’s darkest moments.

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