Monthly Archives: February 2014

Genesis 49

Israel is coming to the end of his life, and he calls his sons together to lay a bit of prophetic pronouncement on them. Much of what he says is either rooted in judgment from previous wrongdoing or prediction of things to come. We might note an obvious messianic prophecy in 49.10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be”. I am perhaps most interested in the tiny prayer with which Israel interrupts himself in 49.18: “I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD”. All of his life, Israel has believed the word of the LORD. He has met with Him on at least three occasions, and has benefited mightily from His grace, provision, and protection. He has experienced love, prosperity, beauty, triumph, tragedy, and honor. Throughout all of his life, he has waited patiently for the LORD in all things. Even when he didn’t actually know that he was waiting, he was waiting. He had believed, for example, for years that Joseph had been killed; now, at the end of his life, he recognized that he had just been waiting for God to reveal His protection of Joseph. At the end, Israel sees that God’s mighty hand is continuous: the LORD has His hand on his sons the same way He did himself and his own ancestors. His final words to his sons is a model of the faith that we all are to have: I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

 

Perhaps most striking, however, is the entire scene. This is an old man, surrounded by his progeny, who have such respect for him that they listen intently to him and record his words. What a stark contrast with our own culture, who are youth-obsessed. We are consumed with a desire to get younger, look younger, and make our churches younger. As we age, we sense a desperation that we are losing our relevance in our culture, and so we respond by trying to act or look young. When we are finally too old to be of relevance, we are shipped off to a place where none have to look at us. The youth-obsession would have short-circuited the ancient Hebrew. Living long enough to be old was considered a blessing from the Almighty, and such a person was to be respected and even revered. Note how Israel’s sons gather around him, listening intently and paying such attention to what he had to say that someone actually recorded it. We are told in ecclesiology circles that we must make our churches younger; that we must ardently chase after young people. But I would submit to you that making your church younger has rarely made it better; don’t overlook those whom God has blessed with longevity. Those are the folks who have been following His word for years, and have worked through many of the same questions you have and are even more committed to waiting on the Lord’s salvation than they ever were.

 

I am not insulted when someone tells me that I’m looking older. I am a young man, but I am light-years older than I was just a few years ago. The fact that I’m still alive is a blessing from God, and I do hope to be a really old guy one day. I look forward to age. It is a good thing and a blessing, not a curse to be dreaded. Today, I am going to find the opportunity to love someone old. Whether that opportunity is simply a brief act of kindness or a chance for an extended visit, I want to demonstrate this biblical respect for the old that is modeled by Israel’s sons. I want to stand against our backwards view of what is important in our own culture, and display respect and reverence for those whom God has blessed with long life. After all, only when you’re old can you truly say “I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.”

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Genesis 46:31-48:22

These last five years have not been comfortable, from a financial standpoint. When we moved from San Antonio in 2009, we were financially comfortable and stable in our careers. Since then, we’ve remained one step ahead of real trouble for years. Just when we needed a house, God provided one. Just when the money for seminary ran out, God provided a scholarship. Just when we needed a better job, God provided one. Just when we needed the bills to be paid, extra money came in. In the midst of the worst economic downturn in a century, we are blessed to live in the healthiest economic state and have a stable situation in which God has provided for us. It’s a lot like Israel’s family in Egypt.

 

I remember my senior Economics class, in which the teacher required us to read the story of Joseph’s wise stewardship of Egypt’s finances. He was held up as a model of investment at the time, and we high school students ate it up. Now that I’m grown and familiar with the laws and traditions of our great land, I am less impressed with Joseph’s actions during the drought in Egypt. He exploited a bad situation for Pharaoh’s gain, selling the people into slavery to him in exchange for their lives. But my opinion is of course colored by my inculcation in a free society in which the government owns nothing and the people own everything. I have a tendency to be too hard on Joseph, who lived in a time of totalitarian government. The “people” had not yet learned that political power was theirs to wield, not Pharaoh’s. Joseph served at the pleasure of Pharaoh, and therefore worked diligently, loyally, and faithfully to strengthen his power and get Egypt through the drought. This he did. His economic rule is associated with wisdom, and this should not be discounted. Even though he essentially sells the Egyptian populace into servitude, he’s doing his job, inasmuch as he’s faithful to the one he’s sworn to be faithful to. It’s the story of his life. More importantly, the focus of the narrative swings back around to Jacob, who blesses Joseph and his sons by reminding them that the God Who had fed him and take care of him all of his life would also bless them (48.15). He has provided a safe haven for the family of Israel to prosper I the midst of horrific drought and poverty.

 

These are tough economic times we live in. We don’t always know which way to daylight; it seems we’re in a constant tunnel of financial trouble. Bills barely get paid, utilities barely stay turned on, there’s just enough gas in the tank to get to work. So many live this way nowadays that it’s considered the “new normal.” But we serve a mighty God Who is able to make a safe haven of prosperity and provision for us in the midst of such turmoil. He is, right now, broadening the path beneath your feet, unfolding your destiny, providing you with the resources you need. Like Israel’s family in Egypt, God is your Protector and Provider. Trust Him.

 

Genesis 45:1-46:30

Now we see the resolution of the conflict that has driven the Joseph narrative. The most central idea here is that God is sovereign, and preserves life upon the earth. He has made a way for Israel to survive in a terrible drought. Even more telling is the “inscrutable balance” (Ross) between God’s will and human will in this story. Despite the evil choice of the brothers at the beginning, Joseph ascribes to God the motive of moving him to Egypt to preserve life. God was so sovereign that He was able to move through the wicked actions of others to bring about His plan. When Jacob hears the news and packs up to move, he is once again met by the living God in a theophany, which connects this story to that of the patriarchs. God is sovereign, and keeps His promises to His people.

 

Joseph’s faith was strong precisely because of the adversity he’d had to endure. The direct challenges to his faith strengthened them throughout the years, and he was able to find meaning in the wicked things that had happened to him. He was able to see the hand of God in all that happened—good and evil. God was still sovereign, no matter what. No one is convinced of that in good times alone.

 

Regardless of what circumstance you’re in, God is in control. Regardless of what it looks like at the present moment, He is keeping His promises. He is still sovereign, and He is not at all surprised by your circumstances. Renew your faith in Him today as He guides you through darkness and light; this is how your faith becomes strong. He’s never stopped being sovereign, and still holds your destiny in His capable and mighty hand.

Genesis 44

As the brothers make their way back to their father, they do not realize that they are being set up. Joseph is testing their loyalty to one another—a prescient move, considering that they once were all too willing to throw one of their own under the bus, so to speak. As they make their way on the journey, they are overtaken by Joseph’s people, and suddenly everyone is accused of a crime they didn’t commit. The brothers are accused of spying, and Benjamin is accused of stealing; all are completely innocent of these charges. Yet the older brothers do a curious thing in this circumstance: they willingly accept the blame in the place of their youngest brother. They now are acting from a place of loyalty to their brother. Moreover, they can now put themselves in Jacob’s place and get some semblance of the heartbreak that the loss of a son might cause; they can empathize, which changes their behavior. In this moment of loyalty and faithful love, they willingly stand in for their youngest brother, ready to accept punishment for a crime they didn’t commit.

 

The Hebrews had a word for this kind of love: חֶ֕סֶד. It is a faithful, loyal, lovingkindness. It loves in the face of hate. It loves despite the circumstances. It loves the Other more than the Self. It is incredible that both Old and New Testaments have theology that is absolutely predicated on the nurturing of strong relationships with others. Jesus told His disciples that the world would identify them by their love for one another (Jn 13.35). Joseph here identifies that his brothers have grown spiritually by the love and loyalty they show to one another.

 

Today, you and I will have opportunity to show our חֶ֕סֶד to ourselves or to others. Is there someone in your life to whom you can show some loyalty today? Am I living for myself, or someone else? We’re identified as Christ’s servants by our ability to do this, and we are empowered to do this by His Holy Spirit.

 

חֶ֕סֶד today.

 

Genesis 43

As the story progresses, we see a marked difference in the character of the brothers from the last time that Joseph had seen them. Before, they were jealous of Jacob’s favoritism. Reuben had saved his life from outright murder, but had failed in his responsibility as the eldest to put a stop completely to the wrongdoing. Now, at the beginning of chapter 43, Reuben has changed. He insists that he must go back to Egypt because it was his responsibility to do so. It was his duty, and he must. Also, we note that once again Jacob is still showing favoritism to one of Rachel’s sons—this time Benjamin. But the brothers react differently. Rather than take out their anger on the Benjamin, they now have matured.  They protect him out of a sense of loyalty to their father, rather than acting in selfishness as they had done before. Dr. Ross’ exposition of Genesis (Creation and Blessing) presents the circumstance as Joseph testing the brothers for jealousy, which in turn formed an example for future leaders of Israel. As Jacob himself relinquishes Benjamin to Egypt, he entrusts his work and the boy’s safety to the providence and protection of the God Who had done the same for him so many times.

 

Everyone has grown in this pericope. Joseph is older, and a leader. The brothers are no longer acting out of jealousy. Reuben stands up and responds to his duties responsibly this time, and Jacob entrusts his work to God Almighty. If we are growing spiritually, we should look the same. We should become less jealous of one another over time. We should become more cognizant of our duties over time. We should become people who do not shirk duty over time. We should trust God more over time. OVER TIME, we should grow in our faith—which, in turn, will transform our actions. The process is not immediate; it takes place OVER TIME. But it does take place; if it’s not happening in your life, you are not growing.

 

Reuben bore up under his duty even though the future looked relatively hopeless—the same as Joseph had done. And Jacob trusted God with his family and his life’s work. We are also God-trusters today, and we bear up under our duties as those who belong to Him. We trust Him with our work, and we trust that He accomplishes what He wants to accomplish through us.

Genesis 40

The Hebrew word חָ֫סֶד contains such depth. It is translated “love,” but it means so much more. It means a special type of loyal love—a faithfulness, or loyal kindness. It is the type of love that we are called to have for one another as brothers and sisters, and it even describes the depth of never-ending loyalty that a man and wife should have for one another. Many of us spend so much of our time on the earth looking desperately for חָ֫סֶד, only to be disappointed. There is only One on Whom we can count for חָ֫סֶד, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like He’s around.

 

Chapter 40 finds Joseph unjustly imprisoned. But there are no Hollywood celebrities to make up t-shirts and conduct internet campaigns to get him out. There is no full-length feature film made for his release. There is no societal expectation of his rehabilitation (from a crime he didn’t commit). He is, quite literally, left to rot in a very dark and despairing place. Joseph had to feel that he had been completely forgotten. But it is in this dark dungeon that Joseph simply goes about his business, exercising the original gift that he’d always had. When his cellmates, the chief butler and chief baker, had disturbing dreams, he was able to provide the interpretation. His gift had always been a hermeneutic for dreams, and when his cellmates ask about them he rightly ascribes that gift to the Gift-giver: “do not interpretations belong to the realm of God?” (לֵֽאלֹהִים֙  פִּתְרֹנִ֔ים, 40.8). And there, in that dark place from which there seemed no escape, he did his thing. He was simply himself, in the place where he was. We might also note that today’s reading doesn’t end with anything that we might call “happy.” He is once again betrayed by someone with whom he shared previous closeness—the chief butler, who is repeating the sins of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph’s brothers. When he gives the chief butler the interpretation, he specifically asks for the man to show him some kindness and loyalty (חָ֫סֶד, 40.14) by remembering him to Pharaoh. By the end of chapter 40, however, Joseph has learned that he cannot count on חָ֫סֶד from anyone on the earth: his father, his brothers, the Ishmaelites, Potiphar, Egyptian women, the baker or the butler. The only One on whom he can count for חָ֫סֶד does not seem to be answering him at the moment, but yet he trusts Him.

 

I would love it if the phone rang today and someone of power and influence was on the other end telling me that I had been chosen to pastor a church or write a column for the denomination’s magazine or ghost-write someone’s book or serve in a full-time ministry position somewhere. That would seem to be the providence of God. But when I’m done uploading this devotional, I will get dressed and go to my job as a commercial paint estimator and negotiator for a company that is always on the verge of going belly-up. I am not currently in the place that I feel I’ve been called to be, ultimately. But I do have the opportunity to do the things that I do well: study, think, write, communicate. All I can do today is commit myself to doing those things that I do well and trust God. He has been loyal and faithful to me, despite my unfaithfulness to Him. As long as I’m counting on some person of influence and power to come and get me, I will be disappointed. If I count on God for the חָ֫סֶד that I need, I will never be disappointed.

 

Do what you do today. Right there where you are. Trust Him for your needs, and do those things that you were born to do. You have your gifts and abilities, and you’ve been given a sphere of influence in which to exercise them. Do it, and trust in His חָ֫סֶד. You will never be disappointed that you did.

Genesis 39

When I was a pastor in South Texas, I would work diligently to prepare messages for the small flock. When Sunday morning would come, I would ardently hope that we would have a good crowd, so that many people would hear this great message I’d prepared. It was always my greatest fear that I would get there and there would only be a token audience of one or two people. My real fear wasn’t that there wouldn’t be a “big” enough crowd, but that I would be so deflated that I would be less than faithful in executing my duties. It was all part of the growth process for me; what I needed to be reminded of what that there was always just an audience of One.

 

Joseph has been brought to Egypt, where he has been subsequently sold to Potiphar, a military officer in Pharaoh’s guard. The text tells us that God was with Joseph (39.1), and made him “prosperous.” It is difficult for us to imagine a man being considered “prosperous” as long as he is in slavery, but that is precisely what the text says. “Prosperous” may simply be “having what you need when you need it.” Everything that Joseph did was blessed. His work was blessed, and his master entrusted his entire household to Joseph. But, thanks to the Fall, bad things happen to good people. Joseph found himself in a situation in which the woman of the house wanted to seduce him, and he refused (מָאֵן, 39.8). He resisted temptation in a most difficult environment, and did so because he rightly recognized it as sin (39.9, חָטָא). The sin wasn’t just sexual; it was faith-related. Josephs’ faithfulness to Potiphar was a reflection of his faithfulness to God, which is why he associated the temptation with sinning against God. He had been found faithful, and he needed to behave that way. Ironically, the man who had placed so much faith in Joseph quickly lost it at the word of his wife. Though Joseph was the truly faithful one in this story, by the end of the chapter only God knew it. If Joseph was to be righteous, he would do so to an audience of One.

 

I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point in our development we decide we need the good opinion of others to survive. We want to hide our character flaws, but we want the whole world to see our righteous acts. We want credit for doing the right thing, while we hope everyone’s looking the other way when we do the wrong thing. But our performance is really to just an audience of One, and if we make it our priority to be faithful to Him, nothing else matters. God is the master of our destiny; we need be faithful to Him. Granted, one way that we do that is to be faithful in the tasks that we are given at the current moment. God was with Joseph and prospered all that he did. How faithful are you being with the load that you have? Are you faithful with your homework? Your employment? The things that God is calling you to do? When you execute your duties faithfully, you demonstrate faithfulness to God. No one else may ever notice it but Him—but He is the only One Who is important. He’ll take care of the rest. He is the One Who truly prospers you, and He will be the One Who broadens the path beneath your feet.

 

Be the faithful one today. The audience of One is never looking away, and He prospers and rewards you.