Providence (the protective care of God) and provision (His care manifested in practical ways) are both part of God’s work for us in the world. In his potted history of the world, Stephen talks of God’s providence and provision by referencing the story of Joseph, a story which takes up much of the latter half of the book of Genesis.
Joseph, one of Jacob’s many sons, is well-known to modern secular audiences from the musical ‘Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, a coat which signified Jacob’s favour but which caused his brothers to envy him. Their response (selling him into slavery) is neatly summarised by Stephen as jealousy (Acts 7:9). Jealousy so often produces spiteful and harmful responses and is often irrational. Even though Joseph was a victim of jealousy, Stephen is quick to point out God’s providence: ‘But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles.’ (Acts 7:9-10) The story of Joseph proves to us beyond doubt that God cares for us, and even though this does not necessarily mean we don’t have to face difficult times – as Stephen’s story vividly illustrates for us – we can see that He is working for good in all circumstances. (Rom 8:28, Gen 50:20)
Joseph’s misfortunes (which included being sold into slavery, unjust imprisonment and loss of reputation before he ultimately became the second most powerful man in Egypt) were a refining process which led to him being the right man in the right place to rescue Israel from famine (Acts 7:11-16) in the same way that God would later work to ensure He had the right leader in the right place when it came to delivering Israel from Egypt. (Acts 7: 20-22) God’s providence and provision are there for us on a daily basis, but sometimes there are periods of testing which are intended to develop our character and faith in God. Both Joseph and Moses, great heroes of the faith, knew opposition and persecution and had to be tested and tried. Any history which does not take into account these things will inevitably be short on biblical faithfulness, however much it may be factually accurate. Stephen is well aware that rejection and death can be the outcome of following God, but he also knows that God is working for our good in every situation. (Rom 8:28)