Genesis 48-50: And the Beat Goes On . . . Are You Willing to Trust God’s Promises?

January 31, 2009

Life seems so arbitrary sometimes.  Each day seems to bring with it new challenges and hurdles to be overcome.  Sometimes we have surprises that are invigorating and there are moments when the wall in front of us seems to great to overcome. In these moments in which the unknown seems so overwhelming, where do we go for a sense of stability – a place where we can be grounded?    There is no doubt that it is to God that we must run in those frightening times of uncertainty.  It may even be right now that you may be worried about your church or job or your income or your business or your education or your children or your husband, wife or your parents.   Of course, for the Christian, our first answer is that we run to God as the psalmist says, “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-2).  So if this is the case that God is our refuge and our fortress, in what ought we take comfort during the unknown of our lives?  Well, a simple answer to that is in his promises.  While it is easy to say, “trust in God’s promises,” there is no underestimating the power of this principle when applied to our lives.  Throughout the book of Genesis a central theme has emerged: It is much easier to talk about God’s promises than it is to actually trust and apply God’s promises.


Genesis 48-50 has traditionally been considered a section of this book that revolved around blessings.  This is true, but it seems that we could more accurately define it as a section of prophesy.  This is because not all the “blessings” given to Jacob’s sons seemed like real blessings.  For example, we read, “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.  When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor” (Genesis 49:14-15).   Instead, these blessings are really prophesies concerning the sons of Israel. These prophesies are promises about the futures of the men and their families and the clans that would eventually spring forth from them and occupy the land of Canaan in a little more than 400 years from Jacob’s death.  Whether the actual blessings were positive or negative for individual sons of Jacob, it is clear that each one of them would have a massive lineage which would each occupy a significant place within the formation of a great new nation.  In other words, they had no reason to fear the unknown because their futures were secured by the promises of God.  In chapter 48 we notice that Joseph first brought his sons to Jacob for their blessings.  Because Joseph was considered the first born by Jacob, his sons were to get a double portion of blessings. Joseph’s two sons were named Manasseh and Ephraim. When Joseph brought his boys in for their blessing Jacob first inquired as to whom Joseph had brought him (this may have been part of an adoption rite) and then crossed his arms to put his right hand on the younger son and his left on the older.  Joseph tried his best to reverse this, but it could be no other way.  God had chosen it to be this way.  So we come to the end of the book of Genesis and we notice that once again God’s will once again trumps human decision.  Abraham wanted Ishmael, but God wanted Isaac; Isaac wanted Esau but God wanted Jacob; Jacob wanted Rachael but God wanted Leah; Jacob wanted Joseph but God wanted Judah; Judah would have wanted Zerah but God wanted Perez; Joseph wanted Manasseh but God wanted Ephraim.  The pattern here is very obvious as the patriarchs chose wrong ever time, yet it did not matter because God’s Will is unstoppable and God’s promises are more firm than the constant rotation of the earth itself.


The greatest foundation for the Christian life itself lies in the promises of God.  Trusting in the promises of God or fretting about the future is a lesson that each generation and each person must deal with on their own.  While we are often double-minded, God is always sure and his will is always done.  OT Scholar John C.L. Gibson has written this about each of the promises and their application to the future of Israel as a nation.


“The tribes represented by the three oldest brothers were not strong in later times. Reuben succeeded only in occupying a small territory east of the Jordan, and Simeon and Levi were in the end unable to capture any land at all. Simeon was scattered partly in Judah and partly in the north, and Levi became an elite priestly caste. These happenings are set forth as a reckoning for the misdeeds of Jacob’s sons related in 35:22 (Reuben’s incest) and in chapter 34 (Simeon and Levi’s terrible vengeance on Shechem), which is on the face of it fair enough. . . . The tribes which settled in Transjordan (Gad) and in the north of Palestine (Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) are likewise given short shrift. All that is said of Zebulun is that it lived close to the sea, though in fact Asher’s territory was nearer the Mediterranean. Issachar’s “forced labour” is thought to allude to the troubles it experienced from having the powerful Phoenicians of Sidon as near neighbours. The verses on Dan probably have in mind the sorry story of Judg. 18, which tells of its violent and unsuccessful attempts to find territory in southern Palestine and its eventual migration to the far north . . . Gad, a Transjordanian tribe, would be constantly exposed to Bedouin raids. Asher’s prosperity in the north would have resulted from trade with the Phoenicians, though no doubt it also shared some of Zebulun’s discomfiture from the same quarter. Naphtali’s blessing seems to be a simple notice of its independent character as a mountain tribe in Galilee. The large space given to the prophecies about Judah and Joseph (that is, Manasseh and Ephraim together) accurately represents the dominance of these two tribal groups in the Judges period and in the following monarchical period, when they supplied the nuclei of the two Hebrew kingdoms. Joseph’s blessing dwells on its large population and the fertility of central Palestine where this confederation settled, while Judah’s waxes eloquent about its right to staff and sceptre and its glorious, if rather bloody, victories over its enemies, including the other tribes. . . The rendering of verse 10 “until he comes to whom it [the sceptre] belongs” is based on the ancient Greek version. It has a distinct messianic ring to it, and this verse was in fact often treated as a hidden prophecy of Christ by the early Church, which used the Septuagint. . . Benjamin was a small but important tribe in later times and gave the new nation its first king in Saul. It had a reputation for warlike fierceness (see 1 Chr. 8:40; 12:1–2), and it is this which is celebrated in its blessing.”[1]


There is only one thing to mention about all of this and that of all the blessings of Jacob, Judah would receive the true blessing. For from Judah would come the Messiah, as Gibson notes.  Even though Jacob chose Joseph, God chose Judah and there was nothing Jacob could do about that.  This is because true blessing comes from God and not from man.  You cannot go to a clergyman and receive a blessing.   Certainly he can pray for you and ask that God will bless you but it is God alone who blesses and withholds blessing.  None of these things are found in the power of man.  Jacob, as a young man, seemed to believe that the blessing lay in the hands and thoughts of his father so he concocted a plan to deceive him into thinking that he was his elder brother Esau in order to steal the blessing.  The reality is that Isaac could not have given the blessing to Esau because the power to give the blessing did not come from Isaac but from God.  Had Jacob simply acted in honor and in integrity, he would have received the blessing and he would not have had to spend so many years in running and in the wilderness.  He would not have had to fear his brother’s wrath and he would have never had to suffer the wound in his hip. In short, his life would been a lot better off had he simply trusted in God’s promise given before he was born. While it is easy to condemn Jacob for this, it is true that most of us make the same mistakes all the time.  We have the benefit from learning from Jacob’s mistakes, so hopefully we’ll be careful not to repeat them.


So here we are at the end of this masterpiece we call Genesis – perhaps a book that has been read by more people than any other in the history of the world.  The sons of Jacob have now had the opportunity to draw no generations of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and their father Jacob.  They have been brought out of famine and into abundance.  They have all received a promise from God that their families would each grow into powerful clans and that their lines were secure.    After Jacob passed, it occurred to them that perhaps Joseph allowed them to live on account of their father.   So what did they do when their father died? As some might say when one generation repeats the mistakes of the former . . . “and the beat goes on.” They did the same thing that their great-grandfather, grandfather and father did when they found themselves between a rock and a hard place . . . they turned to deception to save themselves from what they perceived as their inevitable demise. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “’what if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’ so they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:15-17).  The brothers did not get the lessons that were learned by their fathers.  As we have discussed before, every generation must learn its own lessons, yet the real student of God will not have to learn again what others had to learn the hard way.  Joseph seemed to have learned the lessons and it was time for him to teach his brothers, and us, a lesson that will spare each of us the deepest of pain, “Don’t be afraid, Am I in the place of God? 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” (Genesis 50:19-21).


So what will it be for you? Will you trust God in the midst of the unknown of our life?  One of the most important lessons of Genesis is that our own attempts to manipulate others as well as events in order to preserve ourselves are a terrible waste of time that will create bigger problems than it will solve.  God calls us to simply trust him in the good and the bad for he has a plan and that plan will be carried out with perfection.  I pray that we would all learn to live peacefully and joyfully under the covering of God’s sure promises.  If you want to experience life in this relationship, it begins with trusting in Jesus, the lion of Judah who remains forever as King.  This King descended from his throne, took upon humanity and paid for the sins of us all.  Trust Christ today and experience a life underneath the shelter of his gentle, powerful wings.

[1]Gibson, John C.L.: Genesis : Volume 2. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1981 (The Daily Study Bible Series), S. 312


Genesis 45-47: When Things Seem their Darkest

January 29, 2009

Things couldn’t have been worse for Jacob.  He had lived his entire life very differently from his father.  His father, though not perfect, seemed to do most things right. He lived a long life and prospered greatly throughout.  Jacob was different because he was a man who was headstrong and who wanted to have things his way.  He spent his life seeking his own blessing and it seemed to finally lead him to a dead end toward his last days.  While obviously unadvisable, he decided that though he was married to two “main” wives, he would only love one of those wives.  Though he would have twelve sons, he would only really pledge his wholehearted love to two of them.  He spent his life cheating others and being cheated by others.  Things began to unravel when his wife died while giving birth to her second son Benjamin.  This was a bitter moment for this man who had loved her from the moment he had laid eyes on her.  The final and most tragic moment of deception he suffered was at the hands of his own sons who did away from his favored son and led him to believe that Joseph had been devoured by a wild animal. 


Jacob had started out as a young man with the world at his feet and the most incredible promises for his future from the Lord.  Yet, with all of these wasted years of promise behind him he found that at this point in his life, he had grown to be an old man with too many regrets to count.  After spending his life with an understanding his future destiny, he now was at a place in his life where it all began to crumble. The son he loved was gone, famine had gripped the land and his source of wealth – his animals — were in serious danger of starving to death. It wouldn’t be that bad if it was only his animals that were in danger, but the entire family might be wiped out in terrible time of drought that they faced.


Things couldn’t get worse for Jacob and I’m sure in those moments of reflection, he must have found himself asking the question if this God that had met him, Isaac and Abraham was actually done with him.  After all, he had failed this God time and again and now at the end of his life everything seemed to be falling apart.  For Jacob, one wonders what could actually could have kept him going during this time.  If there was only one thing, it may have been this: his son Benjamin, the son of his right hand, as his father called him was still alive.  He was still alive but he was forced to go to Egypt so that his brothers could return with enough food to sustain the family during the drought.  Jacob must have spent day and night in prayer as the band of brothers were gone only asking that the Lord would return to him his son of Rachael.  There is no doubt that if the boy did not return with his brothers, his life would have been effectively over.  So, day after day, moment after moment, this patriarch who was living in his life’s darkest days wondered what other bad news the future might bring. 


This story is familiar because it sounds like so many of our lives.  There are times where we feel like we are living in the midst of life’s darkest days and that the future no longer has any hope left in them.  Jacob, and all the promises of his youth now seemed so far off and so impossible to recapture.  If his sons’s mission would fail, this might spell the end of this great clan that has been built up over succeeding generations of great men only to meet its demise under his leadership.  Jacob must have been in utter despair during this time where one of his sons was locked up in prison in an Egyptian jail and every one of his sons on a mission to get his brother and some food back to the parched land of Canaan.  Jacob must have wondered if God would really deliver in his life like he had promised. 


You can imagine what it must have been like the day when Jacob saw from a distance the dust from the great caravan of animals and men coming toward the family camp.  The sounds of bleating sheep, the rattling of silver and other precious metals and watching his sons finally dismounting and coming to him.  The relief of their return would for a moment would restore to him the joy that he had lost for so long.  He would have Simeon back, but especially Benjamin and the rest of his family would all be safe.


One wonders, how did his brothers break the news to their father.  “Uh, dad, could you please sit down . . .  we have something to say to you.”  You can imagine the apprehension in Jacob’s voice when the conversation began, “what is it boys?  You are all back and we have food and we have been blessed with more than we could have hoped.  From my perspective, you boys have proved yourselves to be fine sons and while I don’t have all of my sons around me, you’ve done a great job on this mission.”  Then they respond, “but dad, we have one other thing to tell you.  Your son . . . the son you love . . . your oldest son of the wife that you loved . . . Joseph, is still alive!  In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.”  The text tells us that when Jacob heard the news, he did not believe what they had told him (45:26). Some have a hard time understanding how a man who had missed his son so much could possibly believe that the story wasn’t true.  Yet, when a person has reached their low points in life, very often it becomes easy to doubt even God’s ability to do something miraculous.  For Jacob, this was the day that God would restore his confidence in God’s goodness.  After taking a look at everything he saw the reality finally came to him, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive.  I will go and see him before I die” (45:28).  There is no mention of fury at the news of the brothers’ betrayal of Joseph and one wonders if Jacob was just so happy about Joseph’s being alive that he could not even waste a moment pouting about the fact that he had been deprived of his presence for the twenty years that had passed since he sent him off to check on his brothers.


Think of Jacob’s emotions in this moment that he found out that everything he thought he had lost had been preserved.  Think about what it must have meant for Jacob and the impact that it had to have on his faith.  In one moment, everything he thought he had was all gone – his sons, his wealth and his  future and in the next minute he finds that his wealth had grown, his future was secure and that he had one more son than he thought he had.  God took him from the valley of hopelessness and moved him to the mountaintop hope’s promise.  Joseph moved this family from the famine ravished land of Canaan to the lush greenery of Goshen in Egypt.  Jacob’s son Joseph was the probably the second wealthiest man in the known world and his other sons were given positions tending the royal cattle for the pharaoh.   Every promise that God had made to Jacob had come to pass even though Jacob himself went through the darkest of times and probably the deepest of doubts.  When things seemed to be at their darkest, God came and rescued Jacob and did more than he could have ever dreamed.


Where are you at in your life? Have you begun to question God’s promises? Have you come to a place where you have begun to wonder whether there is anything left to have hope about? Hang in there because sometimes God’s greatest blessings come from the least expected places  during the darkest possible times.    If you want to have real hope for your life, cast yourself on Jesus for he cares for you and in Him you will find the source of true hope, peace and joy.  When you know Christ, and even when things seem their darkest, never forget to leave the door of hope open to the the radiant light of Jesus Christ.  When you have Christ, you will never have reason to remain in hopelessness. 

Genesis 42-44: “It’s alright . . . the God of your father, has given you treasure . . .”

January 28, 2009

 This life can be utterly and totally confusing.  One day we feel on top of the world and have everything together and the next we can feel like a complete failure.  One moment may seem like everything is going perfectly and the next like everything is falling apart.  Particularly in those times when things aren’t going according to plan, we can often ask God the “why” questions.  As we have studied the book of Genesis we have come to see a very consistent pattern emerge: men’s plans are subject to God’s will.  One of my favorite proverbs gives us advice that is consistent with the book of Genesis thus far, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). In other words, God’s purposes, not ours, ultimately prevail.  The title of today’s post comes from a wonderful observation John Sailhamer made about this text, “But, as it often the case in these narratives, unwittingly the steward expresses one of the central themes of the book: “the God of your father has given you treasure” (EBC, 251).  In all truth, the gift of grace now comes front and center of this section of Scripture and this trait demonstrated through Joseph is most reflective of the heart of God.  Yet, there is one other concept that comes out loud and clear in this section as well; repentance is a prelude to grace.   


As we have been tracking over the last few posts, we have noticed a pattern emerging during Jacob’s life as a father.  Jacob has preferred Joseph as the favored son and God has preferred Judah.  Judah because he is the oldest qualified son of Leah and Joseph is the eldest of Rachael.  In chapter 37 of Genesis Judah begins to emerge as a savior like figure as he convinces his brothers to not kill Joseph but to sell him into slavery (37:26-27).  Judah did not want Joseph to die and so he stepped into to help him though, clearly the type of help that he gave to Joseph was clearly not all that helpful, but was better than the alternative.  In this particular narrative in today’s chapters, we will eventually find out that Judah will once again become the savior of his family and his actions will foreshadow the messiah who will spring forth from his line.


Most people and unfortunately many Christians believe that we live in a world ruled by what some theologians have called the law of retribution.  This is basically the idea that whatever you have done will be done to you.  If we have been generous, then we will receive generosity; If we have been merciless to others than we will not receive mercy.  Because life at many points validates this belief system at many points, we forget about one gift that overcomes the law of retribution. That gift is called grace.  The word grace can most easily understood in contrast to the concept of mercy.


Mercy is not getting something we do deserve  

Grace is receiving something we don’t deserve  

This text, along with the rest of the Scripture will demonstrate for us that grace trumps the law of retribution every time.  Moreover, one of the greatest opportunities we have before us as Christians is to choose grace in those times when we have every right to retribution. 



Roughly twenty-two years have passed since Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery.  Joseph had walked a long and difficult road since the last time he saw his brothers.  They had betrayed him and under their watch he experienced a situation of betrayal more nightmarish than he could have ever imagined previously.  When Joseph had his brought his brothers before him after he had thrown them in prison for three days, he overheard one of them say, “surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life. But we would not listen; that is why this distress has come upon us.”  The text tells us that in this moment, because he could obviously understand them he had to turn “away from tem and began to weep” (42:24).  Surely, Joseph had considered the horror that he suffered through as a seventeen year old boy but now he was actually having those events played before him through the eyes of those who looked upon him with no compassion in his hour of need. 


Another thing that is interesting to me in chapter 42 is that the text tells us specifically that when Joseph was to send his brothers back to Canaan to get Benjamin, he decided to lock Simeon up.  Now why would he have chosen Simeon, the second born, at this point?  It is just an observation, but it appears that Reuben vindicates himself before Joseph with his testimony that he tried to keep his brothers from harming Joseph in 42:22.  Because of this, Joseph decided not to hold Reuben responsible for thse actions but Simeon instead since he was son number two.  After Joseph had Simeon thrown into prison, he had the others go back to fetch his little brother Benjamin.  For Simeon, there was some doubt about whether or not Jacob would consider his rescue worth the risk.


It seems a little strange that a father would not be willing to risk just about everything to save his son, but Jacob’s obvious favoritism toward the sons of Rachael would come forth here again.  When they went to their father with the instructions that Joseph had given to his brothers about their return Jacob responded, “My son will not go down there with you; his borther is dead and he is the only one left.  If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow” (42:38).  What is Jacob saying here except that there is a hierarchy of favoritism among his sons?  He is perfectly willing to sacrifice Simeon to save Benjamin.


It is at this point that Judah once again emerges as the savior of the lost son.  In chapter 43 he convinced his father to allow Benjamin to travel to retrieve Simeon as well as get more much needed food with these words:


“Then Judah said to Israel his father, ‘Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die.  I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him; if I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you. I will bear the blame before you all my life’” (Genesis 43:8-9).


It was with this commitment that Jacob was finally convinced and he reluctantly gave up his protective care of his prized son Benjamin.  So the brothers made their way back to Egypt and when they arrived Joseph decided to have them over to his palace for a meal.  In this situation we find an example of how confusing life can be from a purely human perspective.  When they were sent to Joseph’s house, they became convinced that they this was happening because Joseph was still angry with them.  They became nervous and their guilty conscience got the best of them.  They began to wonder about the fact that perhaps they were about to be punished because the silver that they had used to buy their food on their first trip was inexplicably returned to them. There is a sense in which they are beginning to wonder if they are being brought to Joseph’s house to become his slaves.  They began to feel very uncomfortable because they could not understand how it could be possible that there could be something positive in all of this for them.  It is in the midst of this personal confusion that they did their best to return their silver but Joseph’s steward pointed out to them that it was God who had given the treasure that was found in their sacks.  As the event went on they were treated with nothing but kindness and generosity from this man who had once spoke to them harshly, accused them of being spies and had locked one of their brothers up in prison. 


It appears that Joseph was sizing up his brothers about how he was going to treat them.  In the first test, he began to ask many questions about their little brother Benjaman (who was born of the same mother as Joseph).  It seems like he wanted to make sure that the brothers had not done away with Benjamin as they had with himself.  The second test that we notice as they travel home is whether or not they had changed their ways.  To find out, Joseph planted a silver cup one of Benjamin’s bags.  The group left, with tons of food and lots of gifts from Joseph triumphantly with their family in tact.  Then all of a sudden Joseph’s men came to the place where they were and said that one of the brothers had stolen Joseph’s silver cup.  The brothers were horrified and even rashly declared that if the cup be found amongst them that the one who had it would be put to death and the other’s Joseph’s slaves.  Now, take a moment to think of the irony of this proposal.  It was twenty-two years before that they debated whether to kill Joseph or sell him into slavery and in this case they flippantly offer both alternatives to the the Egyptians on their behalf.  As we know from the story, the worst possible scenario came to pass. Benjamin had the silver cup and so Joseph’s men took him.  The old brothers of Joseph would have let the boy be taken but something remarkable has happened in these men’s lives and they are now different than they were when they did what they did to Joseph.


Instead of returning home to their families, the brothers decided to go back into the city to do their best to gain back their little brother’s freedom.  The same men who were willing to sacrifice the one (Joseph)  to be free of him were now willing to personally risk everything for the sake of preserving Benjamin’s life. 


In the midst of the worst possible circumstances, with two sons of his own, Judah speaks for his brothers and again eventual savior of his family.  He stood to speak and at the end of his address to Joseph he said these words, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with is brothers.  How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (49:33-34).  It is with this that we see a common theme reemerge in the book of Genesis – the savior will come forth from the line of Judah and he will be the true Savior of the world.  The Judah in Genesis simply foreshadowed the one who came to die on the cross.  Do you know him?  The heir of the tribe of Judah is Jesus and he offers to you his grace.  But one other thing, Joseph demonstrated for them this grace after he was convinced that they had repented of their former ways.  Salvation begins with repentance (which means to turn away from sin and turn to trust Christ as our savior) and ends with grace.  The opportunity for grace and restoration is being held out before you through Jesus Christ and please remember, “It’s alright . . . Don’t be afraid.  Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks.” 

Genesis 39-41: What Blessings do you Bring?

January 28, 2009

One of the dangers that we must be careful of as we have navigated Genesis is that of spiritual slothfuness.  There is no doubt that the book of Genesis emphasizes God’s sovereignty throughout.  I am happy about this because the subject of God’s direct rule over the events of the world is one of my favorite subjects.  When Abraham deceived Pharaoh about Sarah being his wife, God straightened it out.  When Isaac lied about Rebekah being his wife to Abimelech, God straightened it out.  When Jacob lied to deceive Laban about his early departure from Laban’s household, God straightened it out.  We have meditated on story after story about people living recklessly yet eventually getting left off the hook by God.  After reading the patriarchal narrative to this point, one really begins to get the feeling that it our actions and our activities don’t really matter in some regard (obviously our actions do matter as we saw the permanent loss that Reuben, Simeon and Levi experienced because of their particular sins).


As we consider this section of Scripture, we must keep in mind the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12.  The following are the words from God to Abraham on the occasion when God invited the patriarch to step out in faith and follow him:


“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).


It is with these words that God would use Abraham’s line to change the world.  There are great promises in these verses, yet there is also great responsibility which this passage bears out very clearly.  It is the responsibility of every believer to be a blessing in whatever place in life we may find ourselves.  There are no exceptions to this and it is a responsibility that is given to us as part of our spiritual heritage.  Once again God told Abraham, “you will be a blessing.”  It wasn’t, “you might be a blessing,” or “you may choose to be a blessing,” etc.,  God’s people are to be a blessing and we notice in this text that Joseph was a blessing without equal in his family.


As we left off last time, Joseph was sold into slavery when he was 17 years old.  He was dragged off by some Midianites and eventually landed a great position for a slave.  He became the head of the household of one of Pharaoh’s officials who was named Potiphar.  God blessed everything Joseph did in that household and the text is very clear about the impact that he made in the setting that he was placed,


“The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.  When his master saw that the LORD was with he and that he LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant.” . . .  So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate” (Genesis 39:2-8).


This text makes it abundantly clear that Joseph, while being blessed by God, also was put to work by his master.  The master made Joseph in charge of his household to such a degree that Potiphar only worried about what he would eat that particular day.  Joseph  served God with his whole heart and God blessed, but Joseph was not the only one blessed here, his master was greatly blessed through him [thus fulfilling the Genesis 12 promise for his life].


Next in the story Joseph suffered through a terrible event of betrayal.  Joseph was a man who really was a blessing and part of being a blessing among others is to demonstrate a life of moral holiness.  Potiphar’s wife had become attracted to Joseph and she tried to tempt him into immorality day after day.  Joseph had no interest in such a relationship fundamentally because he knew that it would be a sin first against God.  One day she caught him by his cloak and tried to pull him into this relationship that he did not want and he fled from her presence.  As the story goes, the woman framed Joseph and she waited until her husband got home to deliver the false report that Joseph attacked her and left his cloak (39:16-18).  While the text says that Potiphar burned with anger at the thought that Joseph attempted this, one wonders if there was some doubt in his mind about Joseph’s guilt in this matter. Obviously she was his wife and had probably exhibited questionable behavior before and Joseph was his servant and had only demonstrated the highest of character qualities.  It is my feeling that Potiphar had some doubts about the accuracy of his wife’s story so he sent him to the royal prison rather than to death as was permissible under law for a crime such as the one Joseph was accused of attempting.


When he went to prison we once again notice the theme of God’s blessing on Joseph’s work recurring at this juncture in the narrative.


“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him ; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.  So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.  The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:21-23).


We notice from these verses that Joseph, through God enabling power, arose through the ranks of the royal prisoners and eventually began running the prison for the warden. This gives you a picture of several character qualities that Joseph possessed.  A prisoner with this kind of influence could have used it in a selfish way in a prison, but Joseph never took advantage of his authority.  He was absolutely trusted.  While he was in prison he had the kings cup bearer and baker come to him to interpret their dreams.  Joseph interpreted the first as good news and the second as bad news.  Sadly, the cup bearer did not remember Joseph after he was released for two years until pharaoh had two dreams of his own.


These dreams were particularly startling and the Pharaoh did not know what to do with them.  He called out to all the wise men in his empire to come to him and interpret his dream and no one could.  The Egyptians, like the Babylonians would keep huge records of dreams and common interpretations of those dreams.  The dreams that Pharaoh had did not fit any of the patterns in the dream books that his officials had.   It was during this time of searching for a wise man to discern the meaning of the dreams that the cup bearer remembered Joseph in prison.  He mentioned Joseph and in a few minutes removed from prison, Joseph is able to interpret the dreams.  But this is the key; Joseph did not need the aid of books on dreams to interpret the dream. He did not need magic to interpret the dream and he did not need any type of past experience with the content of that dream to understand what it meant. He needed to do only one thing: seek his heavenly father for the meaning.  When asked whether he could give pharaoh the meaning of the dream, Joseph replied with this clear testimony of his faith: “’I cannot do it, ‘ Joseph replied to pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (Genesis 41:16) As for the rest of the story, we know the answer – Pharaoh took Joseph’s words to heart, made him the second most powerful man in Egypt and handed the running of the entire kingdom to Joseph at thirty years of age.  In thirteen years Joseph had risen from slave to prime minister because the hand of God was upon him.  But more accurately, God blessed the work of Joseph’s hands.


How about you? How are you using the gifts God has given you to be a blessing for others and for the kingdom of God?  Joseph was available and willing to trust, are you?  If you are, you will begin to see God use you in the most amazing and unexpected of ways.  The message here is that godliness is not an option, it is a responsibility . . . and a blessed one at that.

Genesis 37-38: God’s Will is Exactly What We Would Want if We Only Knew Better

January 27, 2009

Dr. Thrasher, one of the most popular professors at the Moody Bible Institute, would often say to his classes, “God’s will is exactly what we would want if we only knew better.”  There is no book of the Bible in which this saying could be better illustrated than in the book of Genesis.  The book of Genesis is a big lesson with many specific examples about the truth that God determines, by his own perfect counsel, his own course. God is not beholden to our expectations . . . our wants or even our dreams.  The book of Genesis continues to demonstrate for us that God has a plan and that plan will be accomplished without interruption.  I would also like to add one other fact: God’s Will, though not done according to our plan, will always result in his best for us.


This book has been a book about men attempting to impose their collective will on God’s amazing plan for the world.  Each time the patriarchs would attempt to control their world, their maneuvering would create all sorts of personal problems.  Abraham and Sarah tried to help God out by having the heir to God’s promise through the maidservant Hagar.  With the birth of Ishmael came word that this was not God’s plan and that this solution would not do.  Isaac did everything he could do to ensure that his favored eldest son Esau  would inherit God’s blessing for his life.  Yet, in spite of all he was given he squandered his birthright because he could not control his appetites and he lost his blessing because of his scheming brother.  Jacob tried to run and hide from his father-in-law, yet it was God who ultimately stopped Laban from killing Jacob.  Whenever the main characters of this narrative have tried to manipulate God’s plan, they have been burned in the process.  This text before us continues along this same theme.


In today’s reading we are given two separated stories that seem, in many ways, very much unrelated to one another.  Our introduction into this section begins with the story of Joseph, the eldest son of Rachael and Jacob, and his pronouncement to his brothers who were born of Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Joseph had a couple of dreams which made it clear that he would one day rule over them.  Not only did Joseph assert that he would rule over his brothers but also his father and his father’s wives as well.  Had Reuben come to the brothers and made the same claim, they probably would not have been quite as perturbed as they were with Joseph (though, they may have been somewhat annoyed).  This is because Reuben was the eldest son of Israel as he was the firstborn of Jacob and Leah.  As we have read thus far, the eldest son was entitled to the birthright, to have the honor of serving as the family priest as well as the receiving the blessing which was like a wonderful prophesy from God about his future.  There were great privileges given to the firstborn son in the ancient middle east and even today the eldest enjoys a significant degree of  prestige that younger siblings don’t receive. Reuben was the eldest son and Joseph was not and the idea that his older brothers would bow to him was not well taken.


To compound matters more, Joseph was the eldest son of a rival mother.  Rachael and Leah had strained relationships throughout their marriage to Jacob.  One has a hard time imagining what it must have been like for these two sisters to be married to the same man. Even more, to be married to the same man who preferred one sister over the other.  It is becoming clear in the Genesis narrative that while Jacob’s choice in marriage was Rachael, God’s choice for him was Leah.  It was in this place filled with competition for recognition and family position that created another battle of wills about who would carry on the family line. 


Because Jacob loved Rachael, the younger daughter of Laban more than Leah, he treated Joseph like the eldest son. As has been mentioned, these actions would have created a great deal of animosity between the brothers as this would have been a total miscarriage of justice within the culture that this family lived.  To make matters worse, Jacob gave his favorite son a special coat of many colors which further set Joseph apart from his brothers.  Finally Joseph came to the entire family and announced that one day each one would bow down to him. This would have been understood within the context that there would come a day when Joseph would literally rule over the rest of his family like a king his subjects.  This claim by Joseph (along with him giving their dad a bad report about them) pretty much drove them off the edge.  When he went with orders from his father to check on his brothers, they saw him off at a far distance and decided to kill him.  By the time he reached them, they had found a cistern for water that was empty and threw him down into it.  It is critical that we understand here that Reuben, the oldest son, had no intention of killing Joseph but had very desire to deliver him safely back to his father.  With Reuben out of the picture we are introduced to Judah who saved Joseph’s life by offering to sell the young man to some Midianites (Ishmaelites) who eventually bought Joseph for 20 pieces of silver.  Once again, it is very critical that we note that it was not Reuben who saved the life of Joseph — Judah is the one who saved Jacob’s life and it is Judah who would becoem the true heir of God.  


As we noted a couple of days ago, the messiah would emerge from the tribe of Judah because his immediate older brothers, Reuben, Simeon and Levi disqualified themselves by their acts of grave disobedience.  Because these older brothers had disqualified themselves as God’s choice as progenitor of the messiah, the mantle fell upon Judah.  You may be asking the question, didn’t God choose Joseph to be the son of blessing?  The answer to that is no.  While Joseph would receive the birthright from his father, Genesis 49:9-12 shows that Judah received the blessing.  What this means is that while Jacob chose Joseph, God chose Judah.  While Jacob chose Rachael, God chose Leah.  God will often accomplish his will in ways that we would never expect.


We learned at the end of chapter 37 that Judah was sold to the Midianites who eventually Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of pharaoh’s guard.  While Joseph was sold to the Midianites, the brothers dipped Joseph’s coat into blood and gave their father the idea that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.  The news of the death of his son Joseph’s death drove Jacob to the edge of despair.  This man who had so cleverly used deceit to his advantage, now would experience its own ugly consequence in his life. 


During this twenty-two year period in which Joseph was separated from his brothers and father, Judah moved on with his life.  Judah and Joseph had become, for the writer of Genesis, the two competing rivals in the book.   With the priority of Judah in mind, we now are introduced into another strange story in Genesis 38.  Here is one very good summary of the events that we chronicled in this chapter:


“In many societies, ancient and modern, the custom of Levirate marriage is known. According to the OT variety, the brother-in-law of a childless widow was expected to marry her to produce children for his dead brother. Dt. 25:5–10 regards such a marriage as desirable but not compulsory. However, in the earlier time of Judah and Tamar the brother had an absolute duty to marry his widowed sister-in-law, and the father-in-law was expected to see this duty fulfilled.Judah and his sons were reluctant to do their duty, and Onan practised a kind of contraception. This contravened the spirit of 1:28, the letter of the Levirate custom and the promise to the patriarchs, who had been assured they would have numberless descendants. So Onan died (10) because he had resisted God’s declared will. Judah, who should have been concerned to see his next son Shelah fulfil his legal duty and ensure the promise’s fulfilment, did nothing. Tamar, a widow, had no legal redress against her father-in-law’s injustice. So she contrived to trap him. She outwitted him and obtained her rights under the Levirate law and two sons for the household of Jacob. Indeed, one of her sons was the ancestor of David and Jesus. In the process she made a fool of Judah and showed up his hypocrisy, so that ultimately he was forced to confess, ‘She is more righteous than I’ (26). This is not to say that sleeping with one’s father-in-law is approved of; ‘And he did not sleep with her again’ (26; cf. Lv. 18:15) shows it was not. Tamar’s irregular behavior was, however, in this instance, warranted because of her father-in-law’s much greater negligence of morality and theology. It was her offbeat act that brought Judah to his senses.”[1]


In essence, the question here naturally is, what point is the author trying to get across in this story?  John Sailhamer, who had written a terrific commentary has demonstrated very clearly that this chapter is demonstrating that the seed of the messiah, which would come through Judah was nearly jeopardized at the very beginning of the narrative.  Tamar was a notable figure because she ensured that the seed of Israel would continue through Judah as God had promised.  Tamar gave birth to twin boys and in this story we find many parallels to Jacob and Esau.  Consider Sailhamer’s words at this point:


As the Jacob narrative began with an account of the struggle of the twins Jacob and Esau (25:22), so now the conclusion of the Jacob narrative is marked by a similar struggle of twins.  In both cases the struggle resulted in a reversal fo the right of the firstborn and th right of the blessing.  The result of both struggles was that the younger gained the upper hand over the elder.  As Jacob struggled with Esau and overcame him, so Perez overcame Zerah, the elder, and gained the right of the firstborn (vv. 28-29; cf. Num. 26:20, where Perez is regarded as the firstborn)” (EBC, 232).


In other words, Joseph was the chosen son of Jacob but would not be the one God would use to carry on the messianic line.  Once again a pattern has been developed and sustained throughout the patriarchal narrative.  Abraham chose Ishmael but God chose Isaac; Isaac chose Esau, but God chose Jacob; Jacob chose Rachael but God chose Leah;  Jacob chose Joseph and God chose Judah; Judah would have chosen Zerah but God chose Perez. 


God doesn’t always do things the way we think they ought to be done.  His will often seems to be a mystery to us and his ways certainly aren’t our ways.  Yet, given the way things turned out after all of these confusing events I think that we can agree with Dr. Thrasher’s assessment is correct:   God’s will is exactly what we would want if we only knew better.

cf compare

[1]Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Ge 38:1

Genesis 36: Did God Really Hate Esau?

January 25, 2009
Petra, which was part of Edom became the dwelling place of Esaus descendants

Petra, which was part of Edom became the dwelling place of Esau’s descendants

Genesis 36: God Didn’t Hate Esau

Reading for Sunday, January 25, 2009

While a student in college, a professor for a class that I took on Romans had us write our own little commentary on a single chapter in that great book.  At that time I was on my own Calvin kick and I chose Romans 9 as the chapter I would focus on.  Not only would I focus on chapter 9 but also verses 10-13 which says,

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Looking back, I was not really interested in entertaining any other position other than the one that appeared to be obvious to me in the text, God hated Esau and he loved Jacob even before they were born.  What confused me greatly though, was that so many Calvinistic writers did not take this verse the way I wanted to take it.  In fact, I remember reading an article by Walt Kaiser, then Old Testament scholar and Academic Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (following this became the very distinguished president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) in which he disagreed that the idea of “hate” was intended in Romans 9:13.  Essentially, the Greek word μισέω   has two basic meanings.  The first means to hate or detest something and the second is defined this way,   ② to be disinclined to, disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment [1] Kaiser, along with many scholars, argues that Romans 9 ought to be translated in accordance with the second definition.    NT Scholar Robert Mounce writes this about this subject in his commentary on Romans,

“Neither national heritage nor personal merit has anything to do with the sovereign freedom of God in assigning priority. This accords with the testimony of Scripture, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Mal 1:2–3). This should not be interpreted to mean that God actually hated Esau.” [2]

So, it is clear that there is some disagreement about the meaning of the word μισέω and its application to the book of Romans.  Again, some say that we ought to translate it as “hate” and others argue that we should translate it “did not prefer,” or “disinclined to.”  So which should it be?  Both words could be used, but as interpreters of the Word of God to look at the overall context of a word and in this case, the background from which it springs.

I believe that this story and the preceding one give us a good indication.  In chapter 36 of the book of Genesis, the author goes out of his way to show us that Esau experienced the blessing of God. While he did not receive the blessing of Isaac or the birthright of Abraham, he did receive God’s blessing in his life.  Like Lot and Ishmael, he did not receive the promise and did not settle in the Promised Land as the heirs of the royal line had (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, et. al.,).  Yet, it is also clear that God did bless Esau as one he loved,

Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir” (Genesis 6:6-8, NIV 84) [3]

Throughout the rest of the account of Esau and his descendants we get the strong impression that God had been good to him.  We also get the impression from this narrative and the one in which Jacob returned from Laban’s house that he had also become a better man in terms of real character than his brother.

Because of these factors, it seems to me much better to understand the meaning of the word “hate” in reference to Esau ought to be translated, as many scholars have pointed out, “did not prefer.”  God preferred to give Jacob, not Esau, the blessing of being one of the patriarchs of the Messiah’s line before the boys were born.  Based on these factors, it seems to me that while God chose Jacob as his preferred vessel to carry forth His redemptive plan, He also really did love Esau.

[1]Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 653

[2]Mounce, Robert H.: Romans. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 27), S. 198

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ge 36:6–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Genesis 34-35: The Reason Jesus Emerged from the Tribe of Judah

January 24, 2009

Throughout the patriarchal narratives of Genesis, it has never been difficult to figure out who the son of promise has been.  God promised Abraham that he would have a son in his old age and God even supplied “Isaac” as his name.  While it took faith to wait (and Abraham even tried to “help” God fulfill his promise with Ishmael) it became obvious when Sarah’s son was born.  In the case of Isaac, he only had two sons who were eligible to carry on the promise and a prophesy was given to he and Rebekah that, “the older will serve the younger.”  In this text we are presented with the answer to a more complicated dilemma.  Which of Jacob’s son would become the son of promise who would be the forerunner of the Messiah of God.  In a sense, these events, nearly 2000 years before the birth of Christ set the stage to all that will follow throughout the rest of Scripture. 

We know from the Bible that Judah’s would emerge as God’s choice to carry forth the line of the messiah, Jesus Christ, who would be the Savior of the world.  But how was he chosen given that he had three brothers who were born before him and naturally had the claim to carry on the primary family line?  In a masterful way, this text, gives us the answer to this very important question.

As we begin looking at this passage we open with a very sad event.  After the family had moved into the area of Shechem, Dinah, one of the daughters of Jacob went out to “visit the women of the land” (34:1b). She caught the eye of the eye of a sick young man whose father was the ruler of the area.  This vile young man carried out an even more vile deed against Dinah — an act that was against her will.  After hearing of the news, Jacob’s sons were offended very deeply.  “They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter — a thing that should not be done” (34:7).  After this young man Shechem did this evil thing, he asked his father if he could arrange for a marriage between himself and Dinah and so the father came and began to negotiate such a deal with Jacob’s sons.  Realizing the great wealth of Jacob and his sons, Hamor ruler of the area made this proposal, “Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves.  You can settle among us; the land is open to you.  Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”  Hamor asked Jacob to make whatever proposal he desired so that his son Shechem could take Dinah as his wife.  

The sons of Jacob stepped forward and proposed one prerequisite for this intermarriage to take place: circumcision.  They would only make this deal to become one people if the men of Shechem would submit to this practice.  Like their father and their grandfather Laban, they had learned the art of deceit.  The men of the city, recognizing that this would be a painful price, though probably a far cheaper price than they had anticipated to acquire all the property of Jacob went with the plan.  They were all circumcised to man and three days into their pain, two of Jacob’s sons from the line of Leah, Simeon and Levi, went through the town and put every single man to death.  While Shechem deserved punishment, the killing of every man in the town was not something that was right before the Lord.  Jacob was obviously furious at his sons and he returned to Bethel, the place where he met with God on two of the most significant days of his life.  At this point in the text we see real spiritual growth in Jacob’s life as now before he returned to Bethel, he wanted to do so with a pure heart and a clear conscience.  He called on his giant family to, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes” (35:2).  Jacob, perhaps a little late, is beginning to understand that the spiritual health of his family is most important duty.  It is because of this event that Simeon and Levi were disqualified for carrying on the line of the messiah.  In Jacob’s final “blessings” to each of his sons, the following is what he prophesied for these two brothers: Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence.  Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.  Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!  I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-6). While he has begun to make this type of commitment to his family, the worst is not over yet as he will find that another of his sons will commit a serious act of betrayal. 

The second act of betrayal in this text by one of Jacob’s sons took place in 36:21-22.  Jacob had just experienced the most dramatic loss in his life to this point in the narrative.  While Rachel, his beloved wife whose relationship he had treasured beyond any other lost her life when delivering Benjamin.  This was a crushing blow to him as they were living in the region close to what is now Bethlehem.  Subsequent to her death Jacob moved his family to a place called Migdal Eder.  While he was there, his eldest son Reuben went and violated the maidservant of Rachael who was also one of the wives of Jacob.  One wonders if Reuben did this out of his intense jealousy of Rachael and the special treatment that she had received from Jacob.  Whatever his reasoning, he did something that was grossly sick and the entire family, including Jacob, were made aware of his twisted actions. 

As a result of this terrible act, Reuben was disqualified to be the one from whom the savior of the world would spring.  Once again, Jacob made this abundantly clear in Genesis 49 in the final “blessing/prophesy” for each of his sons. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.  Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, on to my couch and defiled it.”  So we learn here, that Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, forfeited the blessing of God that would have been his through his gravely sinful behavior.

So, it is because of these events that Judah would receive the mantle of the son of blessing.  He was the next in line of Leah’s sons after Reuben, Simeon and Levi.  In Genesis 49:8-12, we read this prophesy of the great blessing that would come to the world through Him, the eventual lion of the tribe of Judah. “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.  You are the lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son.  Like a lion he crouches and lies down.  Like a lioness – who dares to rouse him?  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.  He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”  Here of course, Jacob is speaking about the heir of Judah – Jesus the Christ. So, in conclusion these two chapters tell us two very sordid tales to help us understand why the messiah, who would be Jesus, would come from the tribe of Judah.

Genesis 31-33 (Revised): God is the Fount of All Blessing

January 23, 2009

To read the story of Jacob is to read of a man who was after every blessing he could get.  Not only was he after blessing, but he would go after it anyway he could.  Jacob was a man known for manipulation and deception.  When he wanted his brother’s birthright, he knew how to get it. When he wanted his brother’s blessing he knew how to get it.  Yet, as the narrative moved onward we saw more and more of his scheming for blessing became more and more ineffective.  Jacob the deceiver, became Jacob the deceived.  He wanted Rachael as his wife, and his father-in-law Laban gave him other daughter Leah in marriage.  He thought that it would take him seven years of hard work to gain the hand of Rachael and he was conned into working for fourteen years for his prize. 


As we noticed last time, every plot and every plan that he conceived on his own seemed to blow up in his face.  On the other hand, those things that were clearly out of his control and in the hands of God seemed to go his way.  God was in the process of teaching Jacob that real blessing does not come because of our own ingenuity.  Real and lasting blessing only comes by the grace of God as we learn in James, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”  In other words, true blessing comes from God on high.  It is also important to note at this point that God chooses to bless all people in various ways and in differing measures.  God has that right, but it is important for the Christian to remember that every situation comes by design for the ultimate and most blessed purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).


So we begin here in this section with a few issues that must be clarified if we are going to understand the flow of this passage properly.


1.       Jacob lived much of his life attempting to manipulate and deceive as much as possible so that he would received the blessings he really cared about (birthright, blessing & Rachael).

2.       As his life moved forward he came to realize that his manipulations for blessing often blew up in his face.

a.        He had to flee from his father’s house in fear of being killed because he had stolen his brother’s blessing.

b.       He was deceived by his father-in-law Laban and conned into working fourteen years for Rachael’s hand in marriage, rather than the seven that he was initially promised.


In this text we begin to see a phase of Jacob’s life where he is beginning to mature but also continuing to struggle with his desire to control his own future through the manipulation of others.  In this text we are beginning to see that Jacob is finally learning the lesson that his blessing does not come through his ability to make it happen but upon God’s graciousness in allowing it to take root in his life.


In this text we notice that relations between Jacob and his brothers-in-law had become more and more strained as they argued, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.”  Jacob also, “noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.”  As we noted last time, Jacob had met his match in Laban as his father-in-law was just as much a cheat and a manipulator as Jacob had been.  Jacob realized that he needed to take drastic action so he decided to go back home and see his parents as well as his brother as God had instructed him to do (Genesis 31:13).  Using his typical manner of deception, Jacob took his family and everything he had and headed out without saying a word to Laban.  Sadly, Rachael took the idols that Laban, which she hid, and took off with them as well. 


It seems that this instance where Rachel stole the household gods is a telling moment in the story.  It certainly leaves one with the impression that however committed to the God of Abraham Jacob was, that belief had not transmitted to his wives. Rachael, at least, must have continued to worship these idols in spite of the fact that she was married to Jacob.  This would be a very strange thing if Jacob had a vibrant and growing relationship with the Lord as his grandfather Abraham had.  It is because of this, that I am under no compulsion to believe that Jacob was yet a great man of God.  As we remember him saying to the Lord just before meeting Laban’s family he said, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes tow ear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set u p as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”  These are not words reminiscent of Isaiah’s when he cried in the presence of the Lord, “Here am I, send me.” These are the words of a man who wants to keep God at arms length and if and only if he blesses him, will he be willing to submit to the King of Kings as his personal Lord.

Laban was remarkably like Jacob and one can see his similar temperament in this treatment of Jacob throughout the narrative.  In this text we notice that three days after Jacob’s departure Laban gets word of it and began his chase after Jacob and the rest of the family.  One gets the impression that Laban may have been out for blood as he made his pursuit of Jacob as the Lord intervened before Laban could have done anything to him.  Laban testifies that the God of Abraham came to him in a dream and made something very clear, “I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, “be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” The interesting thing here, and it is important not to miss this, is that Jacob was afraid of Laban so he left without saying a word.  Laban found out anyway, was prepared to take Jacob’s life because he didn’t given him the common respect to bid farewell to his children and grand children yet was prevented to do so by God himself.  It is very important to glean from this that we need not manipulate our circumstances or our situation, even when we have great fear, because God is ultimately in charge which is a hard lesson for most of us to learn. 


The theme of Jacob’s deep thirst for blessing continues in the narrative as Jacob makes his way back to this story in chapter 32. Jacob, not wanting any trouble with his brother Esau sent some messengers there to let him know what he had been doing for the previous two decades.  As soon as the news went and returned, he found out that Esau was returning as well – with 400 men in tow.  Once again, even though God had just delivered Jacob after he attempted to deceive Laban with his quick flight, now he had to come up with a plan to pacify his brother who he had cheated so many years before.  Jacob sprung to action “in great fear and distress” (32:7a) and divided his caravan into two groups in order to preserve the lives of some of those with him.  It was in the midst of this time of distress that Jacob called out to the Lord and reminded God of the promises he had made to Jacob.  It is interesting that throughout this whole story, we have seen God remember his promise to Jacob, while Jacob has always operated like he could not remember who had always delivered him.


It was in this agony of prayer that he had the famous encounter in which he wrestled with God until daybreak (32:22-32).  This section of scripture has presented many challenges for scholars Gordon Wenham has written this about Jacob’s struggle,


“The whole incident is shrouded with mystery. Not only did it take place at night, but what was God doing attacking Jacob and yet being unable or unwilling to defeat him? Here the paradox of the human condition is vividly summed up. On the one hand, God allows, even puts his people into, difficult or impossible situations, but it is the same God who delivers us from them. We pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This experience of Jacob at the Jabbok summed up his career. It was God who had brought him to this crisis situation, confronting Esau, but it was the same God who would bring him through victoriously.”[1]


While this section is shrouded in mystery as Wenham asserts, there seems to be an obvious linkage between this verse and the rest of the narrative.  Just as Jacob was seeking blessing taking the birthright, stealing the blessing, running from Laban and attempting trying to buy off Esau’s anger; he is now fighting for God’s ultimate blessing.  The text gives us a dead give away that Jacob’s seeking of God’s blessing was the real reason for this great struggle in his life as we read, “When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, ‘let me go, for it is day bread.’ But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:24-26).  Once again, this is another instance in which Jacob sought a blessing ironically the night before he would meet his brother who had once pledged to kill him. OT scholar John Sailhamer has put it this way, “Here we see a graphic picture of Jacob struggling for the blessing, struggling with God and with man (v28).  Most significant is the fact that, according to this narrative, Jacob had emerged victorious in his struggle” (EBC, 210).  Jacob was finally turning to God to help him in his time of need rather than relying on his own techniques of manipulation, deception or evasion.  While Jacob was finally turning to God in his hour of great need as his only deliverer, he could not see what every reader already knows: he already had the blessing that he was seeking.  Like all of us, Jacob failed to remember the past provision and blessing in his future time of need. God would touch is hip so that Jacob would never again forget. 


In chapter 33, we finally find out that God would be faithful to Jacob as he had promised even before he was born.  He was the son of promise and God had been patient with Jacob through the entire ordeal.  Finally Esau met Jacob and rather than killing him, he “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.  And they wept” (33:4) Then Esau, referring to all the gifts of animals that Jacob had sent ahead said these telling words in 33:8, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?” After Jacob explained that he had done this in order to keep his life, Esau answered, “I already have plenty, my brother.  Keep what you have for yourself” (33:9).  It doesn’t take very long to learn from these verses which brother is the better man.


What lesson should we take from this section?  We must learn to rest in God’s good Will for our lives.  Jacob was a man who spun his wheels in constant activity that really got him nowhere.  The only things that worked out for him were those things that were beyond his control.  God was the one who worked behind the scenes of his life and constantly and patiently cleaned up the patriarch’s messes.  If we want to be most effective for God, we must learn to resist the temptation use manipulation, deception and stealth to get what we want.  God calls us to be ourselves and walk with him daily so that as we walk  with him we can be assured of accomplishing all that he has determined for us to do according to his good and perfect will. 

[1]Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Ge 32:3

Genesis 29-30: The Best Way is to Trust God’s Way

January 22, 2009

I honestly don’t know where to go with our reading today.  This is a story that I have been very familiar with my entire life.  In fact, I am so familiar with it that I have lost the impact of its obvious sting.  A friend emailed this comment to me last year after a play depicting the life of Jacob at the Christian School that my children attend.  He wrote,


“Friday’s First Grade play is a perfect example of what I was talking about cultural changes that although they are in the Bible, no one should try to say that the Bible says you can have lots of wives and if that is not enough you can use their maids also.   I hate to sound prudish, but some Bible stories, like that one, sound like the storyline from Desperate Housewives.   I can almost understand why the Roman Catholic church did not want people to read the Bible.  It can really be confusing.”


My friend is from a Roman Catholic background and for most of his life was discouraged from reading his Bible so the story obviously struck him very strange.  Like my post on Elihu, this section of reading has given me much to think about.  There are so many issues to sort through and certainly too many to cover here.  There are many issues that are important such as the significance of mandrakes in the ancient world, the topography of Syria and the size of stones that covered wells during this time.  For the purpose of this blog it is my desire to make some observations that may help us uncover some spiritual lessons hidden in this text. 


This passage is mystifying on many different levels.  When it was time for Isaac to take for himself a wife from this side of the family, Abraham sent a servant there to find the one that God had intended for Isaac to marry.  Abraham, at this point in his life was very strong in his faith and he had no doubt that God would bless his son with a wonderful wife, which is exactly what happened.  In this text, when it is time to find a wife from this part of the family, the circumstances are vastly different.  When it was time for Isaac to marry, a servant went bearing valuable gifts.  As one commentator noted, it was probably very disappointing to the “money hungry” Laben to find Jacob step into his life appearing to have nothing in hand.  Laban probably thought of the Abraham, Isaac side of the family as the “rich” relatives, which they were, yet Jacob had very little to offer to him.  Jacob came to him in this state because he had acted in a way that was unbecoming of a man of genuine integrity.  He had basically stolen his brother’s blessing and he was running for his life because of it.  Jacob was the grandson of a man who believed that God could raise the dead, but he could not trust that God could do a miracle in his own life.  It is my contention in this post that Jacob, at this point in his life, was still basically an unconverted man.


At the end of chapter 28, God came to Jacob and laid out before him an affirmation of the amazing promise of blessing that he had given to his father and grandfather.  After being told that his descendants would be, “spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south” and “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring”; Jacob responded anticlimactically, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (28:20-22). From my understaning, these are not the words of a grateful man who knows and walks with God.  These are the words that only a man who doesn’t know God would utter.   If we take Jacob at his word, there very little doubt that he did not know the Lord at this point in his life. 


The way this story unfolds is very different than the narratives about the other two great patriarchs.  With Abraham and Isaac, there seemed to be a real attempt at marriage between one man and one woman as God intended.  While they lived in a world in which polygamy was common, Abraham lived into old age before he took on another wife which was the result of a time when he did not trust God to fulfill his  promise in the way he said he would.  In the story of Isaac and Rebekah we are given the impression that this marriage was all about the two of them which was clearly the way God intended it to be.


Here with Jacob we gain a new perspective.  Jacob’s youth was filled with a series of events in which he attempted to be the master of his own destiny.  Yet, the more he did and the harder he worked to get his own way, the more things seemed to fall apart.  He went after his brother’s birthright and his blessing and all that basically got him at first was banished from the only life he had ever known.  In this text, we have this kid who is running for his life with very little of his own resources, yet the author really makes it clear that he is very interested in finding a wife.  My own impression is that Jacob pretty much decided that he wanted to marry Rachael the day he saw her.  Shortly after arriving on Laban’s land, Jacob entered into an agreement to work for him for seven years in order to gain Rachael’s hand in marriage. Presumably this was his payment because he had no great gifts of gold, silver and precious jewels to give Laban as a price for his daughter. 


After he had spent seven years working to get what he wanted; the day after his marriage ceremony he woke up to find out that he had not married Rachael but her sister Leah.  Jacob was furious and went to Laban and renegotiated a another seven years of work to be united to Rachael as man and wife.  The rivalry between these two sisters was too hard to bear.  Jacob loved Rachael but did not care for Leah, yet he still had six sons with her.  When Rachael saw that her sister was having all the kids, she offered Jacob her maid to have children in her place and Bilhah had two children for Rachael.  Leah  was not going to be outdone by Rachael’s surrogate, so gave her maid servant to Jacob and she had two more children through Zilpah.  For those who have read the book of Genesis, we know that Rachael eventually had two boys and those were the ones who were really treasured by Jacob.  These two were Joseph and Benjamin and in giving birth to the younger one Rachael would eventually lose her life.


So what do we make of all of this in this story?  Are we given this story so that we will begin to believe that this is the way that God had intended Jacob’s life to be?  We certainly know that God’s blessed Jacob in spite of all the stuff he pulled, but this was going to be the case simply because God promised that it would be so to his grandfather and to his father.  Old Testament scholar,  John Sailhamer makes this brilliant observation about the text, “Jacob’s schemes, which had brought him fortune thus far, were beginning to crumble.  Such schemes will not be sufficient to carry out the further plans of God.  Jacob had chosen Rachel, God had chosen Leah.  In the conflict that ensued between Jacob and his two wives over the birth of their sons, the pattern is set for the remainder of the narratives in Genesis.  One of Leah’s sons was Judah (v. 35), while Rachael was the mother of Joseph (30:24)” (EBC).


In chapter 30 we read that Jacob negotiated an agreement with Laban so that he could begin to build his own wealth.  We notice that everything Jacob did prospered beyond was would be reasonably expected under the best of circumstances.  Jacob had tended Laban’s sheep for many years.  One day he went to his father-in-law and asked him if he could take some of the sheep as payment for all his hard work.  Laban agreed and God took this small flock that Jacob started with and made it grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Yet, the text makes it clear that Jacob had nothing to do with the way his flock prospered.  God was working behind the scenes of his life showing him that he did not have to manipulated the endgame of his life.  God was in control of it and God had a good plan for it.  Jacob simply had to learn to trust God, rather than his own deceptive and manipulative ways achieve his hopes and dreams.   The text comments on how much God blessed him saying, “In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys” (30:43). 


While every scheme Jacob tried to pull off in chapter 29 backfired on him, everything wonderful that happened in chapter 30 was beyond his control and was in the hands of God.  Everything that was beyond his control was blessed while everything he tried to control and manipulate would backfire terribly.  Yet, this is the lesson that every person must learn before trusting God.  We must come to the end of ourselves so that we may truly understand to experientially as well as intellectually that, “the fear of God is the beginning of knowlege” (Proverbs 1:7a). God was teaching Jacob this very important lesson: There is no need to manipulate our future because God has his best already in mind for us.  There is no better way than trusting His way.  But Jacob will learn this lesson later in the narrative when he finally bends his knee to God’s Lordship in his life. 

Genesis 27-28: God is Not a Concept

January 21, 2009

When you learned for the first time about God’s omnipresence, how did it affect you?  For some people they realize that because God is omnipresent, they don’t have to be lonely.  For others omnipresence means that they don’t need to be afraid.  For me, the reality of God’s omnipresence has become a tremendous motivator for personal holiness.  The word omnipresence simply means that God is everywhere.  Because the word has been used so often and for so long, it can become too familiar.  Probably most of us have found ourselves thinking of God more as a concept than as a person.  We make it a point to defend belief in God in the public square and we love to argue about the kind of God we will believe in and the kind we won’t.  Yet, somewhere in the middle of all of this, it is very possible to forget that God is a living being “who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” I think this is why it bothers many of us so little when God’s name is profaned as it is very difficult to offend a concept.  


In our reading today, we notice as we enter this text that we are introduced to a set of people living during a particular time who genuinely respected the power and the presence of God.  In fact, they respected his power and his presence so much that they were willing to risk their own lives and their own futures in order to gain his blessing. 


In chapter 27, we notice that Isaac is moving toward the end of his life and it is now time for him to give his blessing.  For many of us we wonder what the big deal was about this blessing that Isaac was about to give. As we already discovered in chapter 25, Esau had already traded his inheritance for a big bowl of soup.  The birthright was worth two thirds of the inheritance and the son who received it was to take the place as spiritual leader and patriarch of the family.  Esau “despised” his birthright so he sold it very easily to Jacob knowing that having a third of his father’s estate would still have made him a very rich man and one free of all the responsibility that the birthright required. 


Yet, in this chapter we don’t know if Esau is beginning to mature but we find out that the blessing was something that Esau really wanted.  The blessing would be a prophesy from God for his life that his father would bestow upon him and this promise would follow him and his children’s children.  As the reading shows, Jacob and his mother Rebekah set up a covert operation and literally stole the blessing from Esau.  God’s promise that the older would serve the younger became enshrined the moment that Isaac prayed this blessing upon the head of Jacob.   While there are aspects to this that are hard to understand, there is one thing we do understand: these people actually believed that God would fulfill whatever blessing was pronounced on each of the boys.  They understood that God himself was behind the blessing that they would receive.  The power of the blessing did not come from Isaac bu from the God who inspired him to say what he said.  This is why the blessing could not be changed once everyone realized that Jacob had deceived his brother.  God was ultimately behind Isaac’s blessing of Jacob and he was also the one who determined what Esau’s future would be as well.  Isaac did not refrain from blessing Esau because he didn’t want to but because he couldn’t.  His blessing was from the God who was present, not from his own imagination.  While, ultimately, this circumstance seemed to be manipulated by Jacob, it was ultimately God’s will that prevailed.  Once again, the money issues had already been decided, but it was God’s blessing for the future that was really sought and it was when Esau felt as though God’s blessing had been stolen from him and his posterity.  Because of this Esau was now ready to do Jacob in. 


Jacob and his mother Rebekah had some advance warning on the intention of Esau so Jacob was sent off to the home of Laban his uncle (Rebekah’s brother), in order to find a wife.  On his way he stopped at a place in his travels for the night called Luz.  When he drifted off to sleep, he had an amazing dream in which he saw angels traveling up and down a ladder between earth and heaven.  At the very top of this stairway was God himself and in the dream God reaffirmed the promise that he had made to Abraham and to Isaac.  When Jacob awoke from his dream he named the place “Bethel”. The name is very interesting as the word “beth” in Hebrew means house and “el” is one of the words for God.  In other words, he named the place “house of God.”  After this experience Jacob’s relationship with the Lord took on more significance and with it came a growing realization of God’s continual presence in his life.  “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s hose, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”  It is amazing here that while Abraham walked with God and Isaac walked with God, Jacob still hadn’t made up his mind about whether he was going to walk with God.  Yet, this experience was one in which God demonstrated his abiding presence through the dream would become the beginning of a deep work of grace in the young patriarch’s life.


So where are you in your walk with Jesus Christ?  Is he real or is he a concept for you?  When you are tempted to sin, do you remind yourself that he sees exactly what you are doing?  When you discuss him and what he does, do you talk like an impartial observer who is judging between the merits of various ideas? Are you passionate about the idea of God or are you passionate about God himself? Ecclesiastes 5:7 became my life verse as I began to grow in my understanding of God’s omnipresence and this doctrine’s practical application to my life, “much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, stand in awe of God.”  Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob all realized what was at stake when it came to God’s blessing.  God was real for them, not as a concept but as a mighty and holy being who is the true king of the universe.  If every Christian would begin to really interact with God, as he is, the world will be turned upside down.  God is not a concept . . . he is a person; may we all live in continual awe of him for he is worthy and he is ever-present.