Today the Moses narrative begins. We will follow him all around Egypt and through the wilderness as he leads the Israelites to the promised land. But as with Abraham and Joseph, we will see front and center the character of God. Moses was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro when God called him. God calls people who are already busy it seems. Gideon was threshing grain, Samuel was serving in the tabernacle, David was tending sheep, Elisha was plowing, four of the disciples were managing their fishing business and Matthew was collecting taxes.
Here in todays reading we see the story of the burning bush. And we see God. He took an ordinary bush and turned it into a miracle. He needed to get Moses attention. Some scholars look at the burning bush and see the nation of Israel. They are God’s light in the world, persecuted but not consumed. But the burning bush is also a picture of Moses. He was the weak bush and God was the empowering fire. And, with God’s help Moses could accomplish anything. The same is true for each of us.
We also see here Moses being very human, just like us. God called Moses to be the one to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt. God would do the heavy lifting, but Moses would be the boots on the ground along with his brother Aaron. Moses was sure God had made a mistake in choosing him. And how many of us have felt that way at one time or another. Once Moses got over the initial shock of the burning bush God spoke to him. God reminded Moses who he was…the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is history here and Moses knew about his ancestors thanks to his mother being allowed to raise him for a period of time.
You would think being called by God for a special purpose would bring excitement. But for Moses it was daunting, and he did not want to do this job. After God introduced Himself, He told Moses He had heard His people crying out under their burden of slavery. He was going to rescue His people and He was going to send Moses. And like many of us, Moses had several good excuses why he could not go, one of which was I don’t even know your name. God said to Moses, I AM. Or I AM who I AM. He is God who is and who was and who will come again. He has always been. In John’s gospel we see Jesus take on the name I AM and complete it. I AM the bread of life, the way, truth, and life, the good shepherd. There was a point where God got angry with Moses and said GO! I will send your brother to help you. And once again God reiterated His promise of land for His people…the promised land flowing with milk and honey. That means they will have an abundance of everything they need.
Leading God’s people out of Egypt would mean Moses and his family would have to leave Midian and travel back to Egypt. Little did Moses know that much of the land they traveled on their way back to Egypt, he would spend time wandering on with the Israelites. It is on the journey back that we see a strange event happen. In 4:24-26 we see what appears to be a random story about circumcision and God wanting to kill Moses. So here are some thoughts about this. Circumcision is a physical sign of the covenant promise God made with Abraham. And if you were not circumcised you were considered outside of God. The Lord met up with Moses and his family because Moses had not circumcised his second son. It seems that his wife was appalled by the ceremony when the first son was circumcised and may have resisted having the second one circumcised. Or Moses may have not done it to appease the Midianite family. The Midianites did practice circumcision, but it was done on the grooms wedding day as part of the ceremony. Not circumcising his second son was a disobedience to God on Moses part, a crime punishable by death. Moses could not lead God’s people if he were disobedient to one of the fundamental commands of the Lord. Genesis 17:10-14. This speaks to the need for obedience to God by a leader. And it shows just how serious God is about that obedience.
Once Moses and Aaron met up, they headed to Egypt. Meeting with Pharaoh proved to be just as God had told them. Pharaoh didn’t listen to them and instead punished the Israelites even more by forcing them to work harder and with less materials. This set the tone for Moses relationship with God’s people Israel. They hated Moses because they perceived he was the reason things were not going well. It was Moses fault they had to work harder with less materials. Just as it would be Moses fault when there was no water or food while they were wandering. Moses was now 80 years old and the most challenging part of his life stretched before him. He had no idea what awaited him, only that God had promised to go with Him.
Today’s reading finished with the family record for Moses and Aaron. This is not there by accident. This is God’s way of reminding those who read His word that God had prepared Moses and Aaron for their ministry in Egypt. Their arrival in Jacob’s family was part of God’s providence. The story of God interacting with His people continues, even to today as God still interacts in our lives.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Today we begin our journey through the book of Exodus, the second Book of the five Books of Moses. As you read here are a couple of things to think about. We are at the cusp of God fulfilling the second part of his promise to Abraham. Israel has become a great nation during their time in Egypt. From the original 70 members of Jacob's family some estimate there may have been nearly two million Israelites who left Egypt. And they left to go to the promised land, the land God said would one day be theirs. We look on as God not only delivers His people from slavery, but He also returned to dwell among His people. He comes to Israel to set them apart from every other nation and people. He claims them as His people. God also gives His people the law, the stipulations by which Israel bound itself to Him. The Book of Exodus records much about matters that defined the Israelites in terms of their relation to God.
Not only did God liberate His people but He showed His mighty power over the gods of Egypt. God was beginning to transform this unruly bunch of former slaves into a united nation of 12 tribes devoted to Him. But they had A LOT to learn.
The Hebrew text of the book of Exodus begins with the word and. This is the continuing story of God's salvation that He announced first to Adam and then to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The theme of this book is deliverance. That is where Moses comes in. He becomes not only deliverer but also legislator, mediator and judge. The book of Exodus begins with a genealogy of sorts, a list of the names of Jacob's sons who went to Egypt with him. For years the Israelites and Egyptians got along well. But a new pharaoh who didn't know history was intimidated and frightened by the sheer numbers of Israelites. Out of that fear he enslaved the Israelites. Israel had been a source of blessing to Egypt for many years and they caused no trouble. But fear is a powerful motivator. No people in history have suffered as much as the Hebrew people have, but every nation or ruler who has persecuted the Jews has been punished for it. That goes back to Genesis 12:3, ”I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”
The Egyptian task masters worked the Israelites ruthlessly. The Israelites built cities. They worked in the fields. And the harder the work, the more God multiplied them. That brought more fear on the part of the pharaoh. There had to be another way to keep the Israelites under control. Pharaoh determined they should kill all the male babies, but the girls could live. If this had succeeded it would have wiped out the Hebrew people. The women would have been forced to marry Egyptians and God's chosen people would have been absorbed into the Egyptian race. But these were God's chosen people, and He would not let that happen. What happens next is the first instance of civil disobedience recorded in scripture...refusing to obey an evil law because of a higher good. Pharaoh must have thought he could browbeat two Hebrew midwives to implement his plan, but Pharaoh didn't know the one true God! These women feared God much more than pharaoh and put their lives on the line in order to save Hebrew babies. God blessed them and gave them families of their own. But isn't it interesting that God chose to bless them with children when it was dangerous to be having children! Clearly God knew something no one else did.
With the birth of Moses and his siblings we see the beginning of the priestly tribe of Levi taking shape. Moses is the youngest of the three children, Miriam the oldest and then Aaron who became the first high priest. It was clear from early on that Moses was no ordinary child. And the family was sure God had a special purpose for him. Pharaoh had decreed that all male Hebrew babies were to be thrown into the Nile River. Moses mother did put him in the Nile but not as pharaoh commanded. Ever present, God used baby Moses tears to move in pharaoh’s daughter's heart. Miriam, who was standing nearby arranged for their own mother to not only raise her own son but get paid for it as well. This would not be the last time God would use a baby to save His people. God can use the weakest things to defeat the mightiest enemies. 1Corinthians 1:25-29. A baby's tears were God's first weapon in His was against Egypt. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses as her own son, giving him a favored position in the land.
We know very little about Moses early years. He spent 40 years serving in Egypt, perhaps even being groomed to become the next pharaoh. Amid all that Moses always knew he was a Hebrew and he identified with the Hebrew people. The day came when Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, perhaps to death, and he intervened. If the Egyptian official turned on Moses, which he may have, then Moses was defending his own life. Moses may have seen himself as a liberator for his people, but he could not kill them off one at a time. However, the Egyptians were only part of the problem. Moses discovered the Hebrews couldn't get along with each other either. When Moses learned his secret about killing an Egyptian was out, he fled to Midian. The Midianites were the descendants of Midian, one of Abraham's sons with his second wife Keturah. For 40 years Moses was a shepherd for his father-in-law in Midian. Just like God pruned and shaped Joseph, now He was doing the same thing with Moses. Israel was God's special flock and Moses was becoming His chosen shepherd.
God does not call the equipped. He equips those whom He call. The same is true for us today.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
This is our last day in the book of Genesis. So there are a couple of things I would like to touch on in depth. We see the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph. Both of them made the request to be taken from Egypt and buried with their ancestors in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre where Abraham and Sarah and others were buried. We also see the fear that lingered in Joseph's brothers lives when their father died. They were sure Joseph will now enact revenge. However Joseph assured them this would not happen. We look on as Jacob blessed Joseph's two sons, taking them as his own to replace Reuben and Simeon. And once again, we watch as the younger son receives the blessing and the older son is given to serve the younger.
The first thing I want to look at is actually in chapter 47. We read about the famine in the land and how the first couple of years people had money to buy grain from Joseph. But eventually the money ran out, and the famine was still in the land. So, Joseph allowed people to buy grain using their livestock. Scripture tells us Joseph had all the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan. Now he amassed their livestock. There was a point when they ran out of livestock as well. Next Joseph bought all the land effectively making the people Pharaoh’s servants. When the land was all bought up, the people sold themselves. Life was different for the people but at least they had food.
In this day and age Egypt was the bread basket of the world. They shipped their grain all over the world, both by land and by sea across the Mediterranean Sea. With the addition of all the livestock, land, money, and slaves Egypt became the most powerful and the richest country in the world. And they remained that way for nearly 400 years. Once the line of Pharoahs that had some Jewish blood in them no longer ruled, the new pharaoh enslaved God's people out of fear. The Israelites had settled in the land of Goshen, the district of Ramses. As slaves the Israelites helped build Egypt. They tended the livestock and did much of the work. Egypt had never had it so good. Complaining brought more work and no sympathy for the Israelites. They had continued to be fruitful and they multiplied, just as the Lord had promised they would. While the Egyptians were living the good life, the Israelites were groaning under the weight of their burdens. We will see their country come crashing down when the Israelites leave. But that is for another day. Joseph is part of the enlarging of Egypt's influence and power in the world. His descendants will be part of their undoing.
The other thing I want to look at is chapter 49, Jacob blessing his sons. In reality, the only time Jacob used the word bless is with Joseph. I have mentioned before that these blessings given to sons were part blessing and part prophecy. Jacob's words were also a revelation of character and conduct as well as of divine purposes. Three of the sons learned their past conduct cost them their future inheritance. But Jacob assured each son/tribe a place in the promised land which would have brought comfort and hope for them. These words of Jacob were his last will and testimony. In them we see a beautiful revelation of the goodness of the gracious Lord who had cared for his servant for so many years. There is also a revelation of the Messiah, who had been promised to Jacob's people. In verse 10 we meet the one to whom the scepter belongs...Jesus. In verse 18 we meet salvation...Yeshua. In verse 24 we meet the mighty one, the shepherd, and the rock of Israel. In verse 25 there is the Almighty.
Jacob addressed his sons following their birth order, beginning with Leah’s six sons, and ending with Rachel's two sons, Joseph, and Benjamin. God gave Jacob six sons by Leah, the wife he did not want. But Leah was the mother of Levi which was the priestly tribe and Judah, the father of the royal tribe that included King David and eventually Mary and Joseph. Each sons words were tailor made for him. Reuben lost his privilege as the oldest because of his indiscretions with one of Jacob's wives. His costly sin was lust. Simeon and Levi who came next were guilty of anger and violence in the massacre of the Shechemites. When it came time to bless Judah, his father left a few things out. He said nothing about Judah leading the charge to sell Joseph into slavery. It was as though Jacob's feelings for Judah increased because he had offered to take Benjamin's place. When the family moved to Egypt it was Judah who went ahead to make preparations. And so it went, something for each of Jacob's twelve sons.
Jacob still did not hesitate to make it known that Rachel was his favorite wife and her sons were his favorite sons. Jacob said more about Joseph than any other son but he did not have much to say about Benjamin. The blessing Joseph received sounds a lot like the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob, giving prosperity and political influence. He used several names to describe the Lord, names we will see as we move through scripture. If you have children, take some time today and think about what sort of blessing you would give to each of them. How would you weave your faith and theirs into the blessings?
Jacob’s long and sometimes difficult life was over. He had made his last journey, given his last blessing and shared his last request. His work was done. He breathed his last and died. Many years ago he had fled home carrying only his staff. God had gone before him, blessed him, and guided him throughout his life. Hebrews 11:21 tells us he had his staff to the very end. ”By faith, Jacob, when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” He was a pilgrim to the very end.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
After being apart for 22 years Joseph and his brothers are all together once again. The circumstances are drastically different. Now Joseph has the upper hand. No doubt there was a time in his life when he would have used that to great advantage over his brothers. But not anymore. Joseph had seen God's handprints all over his life. He knew exactly why he was in Egypt and he had made peace with his life. Seeing his full brother Benjamin, listening to Judah's plea, and hearing about his father showed Joseph his brothers were at a place of repentance.
This was an official meeting at Joseph's house and other Egyptian officials were present. Joseph, who was always in control could no longer contain himself. This was not state business anymore, it was personal. He dismissed the Egyptians, who were obedient and left. But most likely they did not go far in case Joseph needed something. And they were curious!
Put yourselves in the place of the brothers. This Egyptian had messed with them. He had them tossed in prison for three days. He kept Simeon until the brothers returned to buy food a second time. When they had eaten with him, he seated them in order of their birth. Now it was just the Egyptian and them. What might he do next? Three words turned their world upside down. I am Joseph! They were terrified and speechless. And they stood guilty before their judge. None of them said I thought you looked familiar. No one claimed to recognize Joseph's voice. They stood in front of him as though they were cast in stone. He was weeping, and not silently. This was an ugly cry. What Joseph said next must have also rocked their world. They had heard his screams and pleading when they dropped him in the cistern. They saw fear when they took his fancy robe away and sold him. They had not thought of all the consequences selling Joseph would bring. They did not think about their father who loved Joseph way more than they did. All they thought of was ridding Joseph from their lives. They did not think they would ever have to deal with him again. Yet there he stood before them.
Yes, the brothers had done wrong, not only to Joseph but to their father as well. Maybe they did deserve to be punished. But Joseph was a different person now. We see Christ like behavior here. Listen in. “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then it was not you who sent me here, but God.” God had used the evil the brothers had done for good. In chapter 50 Joseph tells the brothers just that...you meant it for evil, but God intended it for good. Even though this sounded like good news the brothers still did not speak. Not only had their world been turned upside down, but someone had also given it a good shake. This man was their brother, but he was not angry, and he was not going to kill them and in fact God had been in the middle of everything. How would they explain this to their father?
This story of Joseph and his brothers teaches us to recognize the sovereignty of God in our lives and to trust His promises no matter how dark the day might be. God sent Joseph to Egypt so that Jacob's family would be preserved, and the nation of Israel would be born and ultimately give the Word of God and the Savior to the world. Without realizing it, Joseph's brothers were helping the Lord fulfill His covenant with Abraham. Perhaps the words Joseph spoke to his brothers seemed too good to be true. After all, Joseph had messed with them before. But he was speaking Hebrew to them and maybe they did recognize his voice after all.
Hidden sin had been exposed and dealt with, forgiveness had been granted, and it was time for reconciliation. This was possible because Joseph had suffered and triumphed. God had done a mighty work in him. This is a picture of what Jesus did for sinners in His death on the cross and His resurrection. Like Jesus, Joseph went from suffering to glory, from the prison to the throne. And He was able to share His wealth and glory with others. This is also a picture of Christ's experience with His own people Israel. They rejected Him when He came the first time, but they will recognize Him and receive Him when He comes the second time, and they will weep and repent.
Finally, his brothers talked with him. When Joseph was a kid at home the brothers hated him so much, they could not even talk with him. Now that there is reconciliation and forgiveness communication is possible. And we see the covenant promise God made with Abraham beginning to be fulfilled. Chapter 46 lists Jacob's family, 70 members in all who come to live in Egypt. From them God will make a great nation, just like He promised.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
We are now in the thick of Joseph’s story. And God uses dreams to move Joseph’s journey along. First it was Joseph’s dreams that got him into trouble with his brothers. Next came the dreams of the Pharaoh’s head baker and cup bearer. Now Pharaoh himself is having dreams, dreams that no one can interpret. We see Joseph’s faith in God on display here. He has learned that God is working in his life and we see it here. Two years have passed since Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cup bearer and now, he remembers Joseph. Joseph is quickly brought before Pharaoh. Yes, he will listen to Pharaoh’s dreams, but it is God who gives the interpretation. Joseph may speak the interpretation, but God is the one who gives Joseph the words. God gets the glory here.
God is right smack dab in the middle of everything that is happening here. It is God who gives Pharaoh the dreams, God who reminded the cup bearer about Joseph, God who led Pharaoh to summon Joseph and eventually God who moved Pharaoh to choose Joseph to ensure the success of storing and distributing food. God has pruned Joseph back to exactly the place He wants him to be. Joseph has now been in Egypt for 13 years. He brought prosperity to Potiphar’s household. He brought blessing to the people in prison with him. Now God would use Joseph to save not only his family but an entire nation.
But the biggest thing God worked in Joseph was helping him to wipe out the pain of his brother’s mistreatment and the challenges he had faced in Egypt. Joseph was now ready to make a new beginning. Once the famine reached Canaan and Joseph’s family was without food, Jacob sent them to Egypt to buy food for the family. In fact, families from many nations descended upon Egypt to buy food. Scripture tells us the famine was worldwide. Joseph recognized his brothers immediately though they didn’t recognize him. As an Egyptian he would have had a very different look, and, they were not expecting to ever see Joseph again.
Many believe Joseph was cruel to his brothers, treating them harshly and toying with them. But as God had pruned Joseph, so Joseph was testing them. Because true reconciliation requires sincere repentance and a humble confession of sin. And it takes time to reach that point. Through Joseph, God brought his brothers to the place where they admitted the evil things they had done to Joseph and their father. So, Joseph spoke and acted in a way in which the brother’s hearts were revealed and God brought them to repentance. The brothers had no idea this Egyptian who stood before them could understand their language and he listened in as they discussed the evil, they had done to Joseph. They discussed his cries and pleas as he spent time in the cistern, and they recalled their hardness of heart. And they recognized they had done wrong. God was moving in their hearts and using Joseph to do that.
We look on as the brothers and their father debate going to Egypt a second time to buy food. They really had no other choice, but now they were expected to bring Benjamin with them. Jacob watched as the only other son of his favorite wife Rachel left with his brothers. He had already lost Joseph, and Simeon was in prison in Egypt. Each loss placed a heavy burden of grief on Jacob. But he finally came to a place where he was able to say so be it. Never would have Jacob dreamed he would get all of his sons back as a result of this trip. God was working in the hearts of the brothers, leading them to a place of reconciliation.
The brothers had much to think about as they made their way back to Egypt. In fact, they had three different problems in addition to the weight of their father’s chronic grief. Once again, they had to explain why they had the money from paying for the grain the last time. They had to figure out how to get Simeon out of prison and they had to keep Benjamin safe. It seems that Joseph had an early warning system so that when the brothers were spotted entering town, he was notified. Joseph arranged for a banquet at his house for the brothers, but they assumed they were in trouble and they would be punished out of sight. Someone knew about the money. They might even be killed.
Simeon was brought out to them…one problem solved. This brought relief but not peace. They never expected to be entertained at a banquet, especially by the same man who had dealt harshly with them on their last trip. Perhaps things were looking up. They left Egypt with food for their families, provisions for their journey home and all the brothers except Joseph. Their father Jacob would be pleased. That celebration was to be short lived.
Not long after they left Joseph, his steward stopped them, asking why they had stolen from Egypt once again. And someone had stolen Joseph’s silver cup. They defended themselves passionately. They were not thieves. Hadn’t they proved that by returning the money from their first trip? They went so far as to offer to have the guilty party slain. That is how sure they were of themselves. Until…the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag. They tore their garments, a sign of grief and despair. So many thoughts and questions must have run through their minds. Judah became the spokesman for the brothers. In a long and detailed plea Judah told Joseph how much Benjamin meant to their father. He offered himself up in the place of the boy. Now we see the brothers concern for both their father and for their youngest brother, Joseph’s only full brother.
Today’s reading leaves us there, hanging in the balance waiting to see what happens next. That is for tomorrow’s reading. But once again we will see God’s handprints all over everything.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Wow! What a week of reading this has been. Once again, we have heard God's promise of land and descendants given to Abraham. We have seen clear evidence of his up close and personal relationship with the Lord as he pleads with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there are even ten righteous people there. Sadly, there were not ten righteous people there. The Lord does, however, save Lot, his wife and two daughters from sure and certain destruction. The rest of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when the fire and brimstone fell. Lot and his daughters were obedient but his wife just couldn't bear the thought of not having one last look at the place and life she loved so much...and when she looked, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Disobedience always has consequences.
We also see Abraham once again pass his wife off as his sister out of fear for his life. And once again, we find those Abraham deceived giving him more livestock and servants. Plus, he received an offer to live wherever he wanted. To us this makes no sense. But what it does show us is that God can and does use all kinds of people to work out His plans and purposes. That doesn't give us license to intentionally commit sins thinking there will be no repercussions.
There is great joy when at 100 and 90 respectively, Abraham and Sarah welcome their first child, Isaac. His name means laughter. And who wouldn't laugh at the thought of people that old having their FIRST child. He brought them much joy and delight. And finally, the stigma that had followed Sarah all her life was removed. Their joy was tempered however, by the conflict with Hagar and Ishmael, Sarah's maidservant and her son by Abraham. He was the child of impatience on Abraham and Sarah's part. God would make a nation out of him as well but the conflict between the two sons...Isaac the son of the covenant and Ishmael son of the world...has been an issue to this day with the sons of Ishmael being the Arabs and the sons of Isaac being the Israelites. Sometimes consequences are very far reaching.
Abraham is severely tested when the Lord asks him to sacrifice his only son. But Abraham is obedient, holding on to the promise, it's fulfillment, and God's faithfulness. We look on as Sarah dies and we watch Isaac find a wife from the distant relatives, not the Canaanites. Abraham remarries after Sarah's death and has six more sons. But he left all he had to Isaac. Abraham lived 175 years. He is the only person in scripture whom God calls His friend. Isaiah 41:8
God appeared to Isaac and reaffirmed the covenant promise of land and descendants to him. And we watch as Isaac tells the same lies as his father. He too was afraid he would be killed because his wife Rebekah was beautiful and they would kill him to have her. Isaac and Rebekah have twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a hunter and Jacob a homebody and a schemer. Over time Jacob managed to buy or steal both the birthright and blessing that was due to Esau as the oldest son. Again, there is division between sons. The descendants of Esau become the Edomites who are perpetually at war with the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites.
Jacob flees the family home to seek safety from Esau and to find a wife from his mother's family. Along the way he is visited by the Lord in a dream, assuring him He will be with him. Jacob left home with only his staff. We will watch him return home with four wives, twelve sons and a daughter who are named, dozens of man and maid servants, plus thousands of head of livestock. He fell in love with Rachel who was his cousin and works fourteen years to earn her. Jacob who has been a deceiver is now deceived into marrying Rachel's sister Leah whom he does not love. In spite of all the family drama, God prospers Jacob. Eventually God appeared to Jacob in a dream and told him it was time to return home. That journey was perilous for Jacob because he would be forced to confront Esau who had threatened to kill him.
He made great preparations for the meeting, forgetting that God had promised to go with him and protect him. We don't look much different than Jacob sometimes. We forget too that the Lord goes with us and we make preparations out of fear. In this reading we see also the deaths of Rebekah‘s nurse, Isaac, and Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel.
Jacobs story is beginning to wind down and his favorite son Joseph moves to center stage. Through all of this we continue to see God's hand at work. He has made a covenant promise with Abraham and God will keep that promise. Through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we see God working. Now, as Jacob's family struggles with division, hate and envy we watch as God begins to use Joseph as the next link in the covenant promise journey.
Truth be told, the stories of the patriarchs don't always look much different than ours. We too know division and envy, maybe even hate or rivalry. But just as God continued to work in Abraham's family and beyond...He will work in ours. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Nowhere did He mention smooth sailing if we believe. But He will walk with us through whatever is happening in our lives...always.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Now we move from Jacob's story to Joseph. He is the 11th son of Jacob but the first son of Jacob and his favorite wife Rachel. Joseph is the favorite son hands down. His father made for him an ornate robe. This garment set Joseph apart as a person of consequence. It was the garment of a rich ruler, reaching to Joseph's ankles. It had long sleeves as well...not what any well-dressed shepherd would wear. Jacob no doubt intended to send a non-verbal message to the family with this robe. It shouted; Joseph will be my heir. After all Jacob's first-born Reuben had forfeited his place as the first born due to indiscretions. The next sons, Simeon and then Levi were the leaders in the slaughtering the men of Shechem. And Jacob's first four sons had Leah as their mother. Jacob hadn't intended to marry her. He was tricked. The servant girls and their offspring didn't count. That left Joseph as Jacob's first-born. The brothers HATED Joseph. And hate is a dangerous sin because it generates other sins.
Joseph's dreams did nothing but add fuel to the fires of hate the brothers felt for Joseph. How could Joseph possibly become a ruler and why would his brothers ever bow down to him. It was all preposterous. Even Joseph's father was dismayed. We could write page upon page about Joseph's story but here are some thoughts. There are profound theological implications in this story of Joseph. The handprints of God are everywhere in these chapters even though we do not see God work in the same ways we have with Joseph's ancestors. God over rules human decisions and in the end, we have Joseph as a hero, saving countless lives because God used him. God had ordained Joseph would go to Egypt and this is the way He accomplished that.
Behind this story of Joseph is the heart of a covenant making God who always keeps His promises. Remember the covenant promise to Abraham was twofold...land and descendants. It was not yet time for the land, but God was working through Abraham's descendants on the descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky promise. We also see in this story Joseph as one of the richest illustrations of Jesus Christ found in the Old Testament. Joseph is like Jesus in that they were both beloved by their fathers. Both were obedient to their fathers will. They were both hated and rejected by their own brethren and sold as slaves. They were falsely accused and unjustly punished. And both were finally elevated from the place of suffering to a powerful throne, saving many people from death. The difference is that Jesus gave His life to save people.
When Joseph arrived where his brothers were grazing their sheep, they saw their chance to rid themselves of Joseph for good. People sold into slavery in Egypt were never seen or heard from again. This meant their deed would never be discovered. Except that God was still in control. Joseph was 17 when he was sold and 30 when he was elevated to the throne in Egypt. Add 7 years of plenty and two years of famine and there are 22 years before Joseph is reconciled to his brothers. In the middle of the Joseph story, we find the story of Judah and Tamar. It seems random and out of place until we remember that the line of Judah is the line is the royal tribe from which the Messiah would come. That makes anything that happens in the tribe of Judah consequential.
Egypt in the time of Joseph was mostly a land of small villages. They were inhabited by poor peasants who raised grain and vegetables. But they had an advanced irrigation system thanks to the annual flooding of the Nile River. The Egyptians recognized over 2,000 gods and goddesses as part of their religious system, including Pharaoh himself. Their government was a bureaucracy with many levels of officials and thousands of scribes to write everything down. They were well known for their horses, their medicines, their calendar of 365 days in a year, embalming and their weapons for war. There were many Jewish slaves in Egypt. But Joseph was different because the Lord was with him.
We do not see direct evidence of God appearing to Joseph, but we see His handiwork. Joseph begins his journey to Egypt in a pit, tossed there by brothers who hated him. Little did Joseph know, but God had big plans for him. It would involve changing Joseph's attitude and his heart. It would be hard for Joseph and he wouldn't always understand. He was sold into slavery in Potiphar’s house. Even though he was a slave God was with him and everything he did prospered. God was at work and Joseph was being noticed. The bad news was it was Potiphar’s wife who was the most interested. Joseph refused her advances but eventually she schemed and got Joseph in trouble. He found himself in another pit, this time Pharaohs dungeon. Again, God prospered Joseph and he rose to a trusted position in the jail. We read the Lord was with Joseph and showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
God gifted Joseph with the ability to interpret dreams and he correctly interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaohs servants. But they forgot about Joseph when they gained their freedom. Jail became the school where Joseph would learn to wait upon the Lord. In God's time Joseph was ready to be released to fulfill the purposes God had for him. God's handprints were all over Joseph's life. They are all over our lives as well. We may not see them when we are in the thick of things, but when we look back over our lives, we will see them everywhere.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Jacob is front and center once again in today's reading. He has left his father-in-law Laban’s home and is headed back to his father Isaac. It is not an uneventful journey. We see in Jacob some of the things we face in our lives. Jacob wavers between faith and fear. We see him trusting in God but also, he schemes. Jacob asks God for help and then tries to act In his strength not God's. Challenges do not make a person; they show what a person is made of.
As Jacob heads back to his father he is now traveling with 4 wives, 12 sons and a daughter, man and maid servants, and countless animals. When he had headed the other direction all he had was a staff. On the trip to see Laban, Jacob had seen angels and he came to realize God was with him. Now he encounters an army of angels before him. He knew they were from God and that they had arrived to protect him and fight for him. There was no reason to be afraid. But Jacob was afraid because he would encounter his brother Esau. Jacob had no idea what kind of a reception he might receive, and he was worried about his family and his own life. Esau had been angry enough to want to kill him. He takes some comfort in the promise God made to him concerning descendants like the sand on the seashore. Jacob prays, acknowledging what God has told him previously, but his prayer sounds like Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
Not fully trusting God, Jacob prepares a sizable gift for Esau who has become prosperous in his own right. He secured his family, putting the children of his servants first and leaving Rachel and Joseph behind all the others. He had already forgotten about God's angel army protecting he and his family. When Jacob had moved everything across the Jabbok River, he laid down to sleep. He had given his herdsmen instructions for when they encountered Esau, but instead of confidence, we hear Jacob groveling. He had forgotten the fact God had made him lord over his relatives, including Esau. Genesis 27:29. He was fearful of encountering Esau and sleep did not come. Jacob was alone. And when we are alone and at the end of ourselves then God can come to us and do something in and for us.
God meets us at whatever level He finds us to lift us to where He wants us to be. He came as a traveler to Abraham, a soldier to Joshua the general and to Jacob who had spent most of his life wrestling with people...Esau, Isaac, Laban, even his wives, God came to him as a wrestler. When God encountered Jacob at Bethel, He promised to bless Jacob with prosperity, and God had fulfilled that promise. But there is much more to life than that. There is also Godly character and allowing the Spirit to influence your life. Jacob had spent his life fighting God and resisting His will. The only way to victory is through surrender. God cannot fully bless someone until He has conquered them. God conquered Jacob by weakening him. Just like Paul and the thorn in his flesh, now Jacob would walk with a limp. Now God had Jacob's full attention.
While Jacob wrestles with this man, he asks Jacob his name. It isn't that the man is looking for information. The last time someone had asked who are you, Jacob lied. His father asked him and in order to get his blessing Jacob answered I am Esau. By asking Jacob his name, the man wanted to know...are you going to continue to live up to your name, deceiving yourself and others, or will you admit what you are and let me change you. In scripture receiving a new name means making a new beginning. We have seen it in Abram and Sari becoming Abraham and Sarah. We see it in Saul turned Paul. And we have the promise of a new name when we meet our crucified and risen Lord. Jacob is named Israel, which means he struggles with God, or let God rule.
God has intervened in Jacob's life in a big way. That does not mean he will have smooth sailing the rest of his life. He does encounter Esau and the meeting is cordial. But they go their separate ways. There is peace but no real relationship. Jacob has trouble with the Hivites who want to intermarry with them. Worse yet one of the sons of the ruler of the Hivites defiles Dinah, thinking that he could then have her for his wife. And worse than that, Jacob's sons use circumcision, the sigh of God's covenant with Abraham, to deceive and ultimately destroy the Hivites, killing all the men and taking everything else as plunder. Jacob tells them “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the people living in this land.”
Jacob may have felt good about his encounter with Esau and he could report to his father they had met and reconciled but there would be grief for Jacob. Rebekah’s nurse died along the way and was buried. Rachel, who was carrying Benjamin went into labor on the way to Bethlehem and died giving birth. She was Jacob's favorite wife and he mourned deeply. Now he had two sons by her, and they were his favorites. He learned about favorites growing up and that would become a huge problem for him in a few years. We then get a brief genealogy for Jacob, we see that he gets to spend time with his father Isaac, and Isaac also dies.
Today’s reading ends with Esau's genealogy and then we do not hear much of him anymore because the covenant promise moves on through Jacob. Just like us, Jacob struggles with family and faith. Just like us, God is faithful and continues to meet us where we are. But God refuses to leave us where we are. He leads, guides, and sometimes shoves us where He wants us to go. Sometimes we take the direct route and sometimes we take the scenic route. But when God has a plan for us, He will get us to where He wants us to be...Every time.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
As we continue our March through scripture, we return to Jacob's story. We looked on as a starving Esau returned from hunting. He asked Jacob for a bowl of the stew he had prepared, and Jacob sold him the stew for his birthright. At that point Jacob now stood to inherit a double portion of his father's estate. Today we see Jacob once again scheming, this time at the guidance of his mother. Not only did the older son have a birthright, but he also received his father's blessing. The blessing was part prophecy and part setting the older son over and above the younger. This was an even bigger deal than the birthright. But we see this family self-destructing. Isaac loved Esau the most and Rebekah loved Jacob. This had been a problem for years and now it would cause division and separation. They believed in God but did not trust Him to carry out His plan. As you know, God has His own time schedule, and it looks nothing like ours.
The family blessing came shortly before the family patriarch died and Isaac was close to death. He called for Esau to being him some of the tasty meat he loved, and Esau took off to do just that. Rebekah overheard and set the scheming in motion. Perhaps both Rebekah and Isaac forgot that God had told them Jacob would receive the blessing. Even so, Isaac was taking matters into his own hands and he was going to bless Esau. No doubt Isaac knew Esau had despised his birthright and sold it to Jacob. Esau farther disqualified himself by marrying pagan women. Did Isaac really think he could fool God and give the blessing to worldly, unbelieving Esau?
We watch the story unfold. Jacob and Rebekah deceived Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing. This blessing set Jacob over his relatives. The blessing gave Jacob prosperity and invoked curses for those who dared curse Jacob. Isaac blessed Jacob with natural and material wealth and political authority. Jacob was given not only God's blessing but also His protection. Esau arrived shortly after Jacob left his father, but it was too late. There was nothing left for Esau. We see two different reactions to Jacob's deception. Isaac trembled violently, agitated because God had overruled his own plan to bless Esau. Esau wept bitterly. The man who despised his birthright and married pagan women now wept and cried out for his father's blessing. It was Jacob's fault after all.
When Isaac did bless Esau, we see Esau is removed from the blessings of land and sky that had been given to Jacob. Instead of ruling, Esau would live by the sword. Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, would live towards the southern end of the Dead Sea. They would forever be enemies of Jacob’s descendants and during King David's reign, the Edomites were subject to the Israelites. Esau was under the authority of Jacob. Esau carried a grudge. He would kill Jacob when he had the chance, not realizing that he would still be denied the birthright and the blessing. Eventually Isaac called Jacob to give him a blessing. And he sent Jacob off to Haran, to Rebeka's family to find a wife of the same faith. Esau, seeing how much his parents despised the Canaanite women, took another pagan woman as a wife.
As with both Abraham and Isaac, we see Jacob prosper even though he is not totally honest. But we also see the beginnings of Jacob's faith in the Lord. As he fled from an angry Esau, he stopped for the night. The journey from his home Beersheba to Haran is nearly 500 miles. He went as far as he could the first day to put distance between himself and an angry Esau. That first night Jacob had an encounter with the Lord. What could have been frightening was instead awe inspiring. It brought Jacob to worship the Lord. And once again, God reminded Jacob of the covenant promise He had made with both his father and grandfather. Again, we hear the promise of descendants and land, the very land Jacob was camping on.
So often we need to be reminded of the goodness and promises of God. And many times, we need to be told of the mighty things God has done for us. Because we forget. Because the noise of the world tries to drown out the voice of the Lord. Because God does not want us to be left up to our own devices. So, every Sunday we hear the blessing Aaron gave the Israelites; the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord makes His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. A reminder that God goes with us...always. Every Sunday we come to the Lord's Table. We hear the words, my body broken for you, my blood shed for you. Eat to remember me. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our salvation. We cannot forget.
Now we see Jacob the home boy, out in the world with just his wits and his father's blessing. Now he was a pilgrim just like Abraham. Now he would walk by faith. Even after he arrived at Laban’s house, Jacob needed to walk by faith. And we see Jacob, the great deceiver being deceived. We also see the beginnings of God fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham and Isaac. Not only did Jacob find two wives, but he also had two concubines. Together they had twelve sons and one daughter who were named. These twelve sons would become the twelve tribes of Israel and the beginnings of descendants as numerous as stars in the sky.
God had kept His promise. But He always does. He wants us to remember that too.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Altogether, Abraham lived 175 years. He died at a good old age. He was an old man full of years. That is Abraham's obituary. He had two wives, Sarah and Keturah. And his two sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, the cave Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite so he could bury his wife Sarah. We know already that Ishmael lived away from Isaac and we see that Abraham gave gifts to the sons he had with Keturah and sent them away from Isaac. It was clear Isaac would inherit the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. And Abraham left everything he had to Isaac. Keturah’s sons received gifts but Isaac received the whole inheritance and the blessings of the covenant.
There are plenty of things to learn from Abraham. He left us a clear witness of salvation through faith. Paul cites this in Romans 4:1-5, Abraham believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness. He could not have been saved by the law because the law had not been given yet. And the covenant of circumcision did not save him either because we see God declare Abraham righteous long before circumcision. Abraham was saved by faith and faith alone. We are saved by faith through grace.
Abraham also showed us an example of living a faithful life. Wherever Abraham went, he pitched his tent and built an altar. He always showed people he was a worshipper of the one true living God. He showed us how to walk by faith long before we read 2 Corinthians 5:7. Like the rest of us he had moments where he failed but by and large Abraham was a very faithful and faith filled man. And that true faith will show itself in our obedient response to the Word of God as well.
Abraham gave the world the gift of the Jewish nation...Israel. His grandson Jacob is renamed Israel by God, and his twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel. This in and of itself does not save anyone but it is through the descendants of Abraham we have a Savior. When we look at Jesus genealogy in Matthew's gospel, we see Abraham listed. God promised Abraham that through him the world would be blessed, and God has kept that promise.
By comparison Isaac led a much quieter life than Abraham or Jacob. He didn't travel far, never leaving the land of Canaan. He was 40 when Rebekah became his wife. She was his cousin. We see early on he prayed to his father's God. Isaac and Rebekah waited 20 years for a family. Like Abraham and Sarah, God acted in their lives when the time was right. Again, we see that our times are in God's hands and His timing is never wrong. Isaac prayed on behalf of Rebekah because she, like Sarah was barren. The fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham depended on Isaac having a son to carry on the lineage. But God already knew that!
When pregnancy came, the twins Rebekah carried fought in her womb. It was usual and Rebekah went to inquire of the Lord. She too was a person of faith in the one true God. What the Lord told her would trouble her all the days of her life. The boys she carried would struggle and fight against each other their whole lives and their descendants beyond them. And the younger...Jacob would serve the older, Esau. Just as Isaac was the second born to Ishmael, Jacob was the second born to Esau. God chose the second born twice. He does not make mistakes.
Trouble began early on. Isaac and Rebekah chose favorites, creating more division. Esau was an outdoorsman and Jacob a home body. Rebekah favored Jacob and was willing to do anything to help him succeed. It is also clear that Esau didn't think much of things of faith, but Jacob did. God had already chosen Jacob, so he didn't need to scheme but he did. Jacob was cooking one day, and Esau came in from the field, starving. He asked for some of Jacob's stew and Jacob sold it to him for his birthright. The birthright was the oldest sons share of the family's estate. In the ancient world the firstborn typically received a double share of the inheritance. It was a big deal. But selling it for a bowl of stew showed that Esau cared little for things of family and faith.
When Abraham arrived in Canaan there was a famine and he left for Egypt. Now a famine threatened Isaac as well. He was ready to flee Canaan, but God appeared and asked him to stay put. In other words, Isaac was to trust the Lord. God reiterated the covenant promise of land and descendants once again. God has to remind us occasionally because we forget. Some three thousand years later God is still reminding us of His promises. Isaac fell into the same trap as his father, telling people his wife was his sister. And like his father he prospered.
Today’s reading leaves us with one sentence that shows Esau’s disregard for family. He married not one but two pagan wives. Scripture tells us they were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac was at peace with his neighbors but there was war at home. Jacob was faithful and Esau was of the world. And we will see in the next reading Esau took a third pagan wife, just to provoke his parents.
The closer we draw to the Lord, the harder the evil one tries to mess things up. He crouches at the door waiting for any opportunity. Isaac and Rebekah were faithful, turning to the Lord in prayer. We will see Jacob also trusting in the Lord in good times and bad. He and many others before us have shown us the way to do the same. This is a crazy world we live in. The Lord is the only sure thing we have to hang on to. Don't let go.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W