The God of Life Is Not Limited By Our Perception

After Joseph detained Simeon as collateral, he sent the other brothers to bring Benjamin back before establishing further trade between Jacob’s family and the Egyptians.  He sent them with the grain they had purchased, but he also secretly returned their payment as well.  In this way Joseph was able to bless his brothers, however, because the brothers could not fathom that the gesture was intentional blessing, they were terrified as they imagined that they would be accused of having cheated and stolen from the Egyptians.  Because of their fear, likely caused by the guilt they carried from their sin against Joseph, they cried out, “What has God done to us?”  Did you catch that?  Verse 25 says the returning of their money was something that was done for them, but they saw it as something done to them.

Do you sometimes think circumstances in your life are like a curse or a punishment because you fear one possible outcome?  Well, in the case of these brothers, and in your case, I’m glad the God of Life is the one who writes the end of our stories, and His children never have to fear the end of the story.

As it turned out, the brothers returned to Joseph with their youngest brother after they had fretted a good bit and eaten through the grain they purchased on the first trip.  They took twice the payment as before and were ready to grovel for mercy as they explained the “mistaken” returned payment to the steward of Joseph’s house.  He told them, “Peace to you, do not be afraid.  Your God and the God of our father has put treasure in your sacks for you.  I received your money.”  The brothers met Joseph again, ate as his guests, and were prepared for their return trip, but this time Joseph’s slight-of-hand was a test, not just a blessing.

Joseph had his steward frame the youngest brother, Benjamin as a thief, and when Joseph made the accusation, the brothers protested that none of them would steal from him, but that if any were found to be guilty of the crime, they would surrender to punishment of death.  Well, once the “stolen” property was discovered in Benjamin’s possession, the brothers all lost it.  They pleaded with Joseph for mercy for the sake of their aged and bereaved father.  Maybe it was this very compassion on Jacob, which was not a concern for these same brothers when they staged Joseph’s death all those years before, that fully broke Joseph.

Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, forgave them, absolved them from shame, exalted God’s sovereignty, begged them to receive the blessing of his provision during the remaining years of famine, and showered them with affection.  Honestly, if this all happened within a matter of minutes like the text seems to suggest, I feel bad for those overwhelmed brothers!  They had willfully committed some heinous sin, it’s true.  But they had lived in the darkness of shame and fear, slaves to Satan’s accusations for more than a decade.  Then, all of a sudden, the lights of love and forgiveness were switched on, and did they ever blaze with God’s glory!  That must have been a completely overwhelming moment for them.

In the end, Jacob was told the incredible story of Joseph in Egypt, and he even made the journey to see his long lost son for himself.  The whole family was resettled closer to the food stores in Egypt and worked as shepherds over the flocks of Pharaoh.  It became clear to those who once scoffed at the dreams once told by the young Joseph that such dreams  were actually a promise of blessing, not a threat of domination.  And that, my friends, is the goodness of this God of Life.  His authority is over all, and His generosity is beyond anything you can imagine.

The text discussed above can be found in Genesis 42:26-47:12.  I apologize for not including it in its entirety here, but I encourage you to read it directly from God’s Word.

The God of Life Enables And Requires Us to Forgive

Who has hurt you most?  Do you see him or her at home, work, or in the community?  Do you find that the very sight of this person sends you into a tailspin of revenge fantasies?  I will tell you that is a common response, but I will caution you that it is not a good response.  Many times people who hurt us are in some sort of authority over us, which is how they have the power to “get away with” hurting us.  Because of this, we might think that, if only we were able to gain authority over the one who caused us harm, we would have the opportunity to exact revenge – to make them pay.  Again, this is common, but this is not good – for you, actually.

I know of at least two people who were mistreated by people in authority over them, who suffered quite a bit because of the mistreatment, who were strongly tempted to exact revenge when the tables were turned, and who were given grace by God to fear God and to forgive those who did them harm.  The first person is named Joseph, and the other is me.  We’ll address Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers today, but if you want to hear my story, well, that will have to wait for another day.

Joseph’s brothers left him for dead in a pit, then sold him into slavery.  He later was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison.  When God prompted Pharaoh to pluck Joseph out of prison and set him as Governor over all of Egypt, he was overwhelmed with praise for God.  For a number of years, he enjoyed privileges that must have been hyperbolic relief from the previous decade plus of great difficulty.  Then, when the famine hit, Joseph began to receive desperate visitors who pleaded to buy grain for survival.  Imagine the moment when Joseph saw the faces of the very brothers who sold him into slavery appear before him, ready to beg.

We can imagine that Joseph was tempted to forget God’s continuous mercy to him and try to make his brothers pay for what they had done.  We see in the text that he spoke roughly to his brothers after he recognized them.  He certainly could have been “playing the part” as they did not know with whom they were dealing.  However, we later see that he accuses them of being spies and incarcerates them for three days.  His demeanor changes abruptly when he observes the brothers lamenting mournfully among themselves in their own language.  God softened Joseph’s heart, and he wept at their confession of guilt toward him.  He later secretly blessed his brothers by returning their money to them after granting them the food they requested.

All acts of kindness and mercy are powered by grace from God, not by the human heart.  The human heart cannot love the person who has harmed them, but God’s heart is different.  God is love.  God’s own Son, Jesus pleaded with the Father to forgive his murderers before they had even completed their violent act.  You can both be forgiven of your sins, and you can forgive those who have sinned against you, but this is only possible through the fear of Holy God who has the right to invoke wrath and yet continually shows patience and mercy to His people.

“When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’  And he said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt.  Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.’  So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.  But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him.  Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

“Now Joseph was governor over the land.  He was the one who sold to all the people of the land.  And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.  Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them.  ‘Where do you come from?’  he said.  They said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’  And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.  And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them.  And he said to them, ‘You are spies:  you have come to see the nakedness of the land.’  They said to him, ‘No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food.  We are all sons of one man.  We are honest me.  Your servants have never been spies.’

“He said to them, ‘No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.’  And they said, ‘We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.’  But Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you.  You are spies.  By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here.  Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remained confined that your works may be tested, whether there is truth in you.  Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’  And he put them all together in custody for three days.

“On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me.  So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’  And they did so.  Then they said to one another, ‘In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.  That is why this distress has come upon us.’  And Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy?  But you did not listen.  So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them.  Then he turned away from them and wept.  And he turned to them and spoke to them.  And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.  And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey.  This was done for them.” – Genesis 42:1-25



You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar: A Plea for a Hymnody to Open Eyes

Victor Chininin Buele

Every Sunday morning, I scan through the local radio stations on my way to church.  Sometimes, it’s oldies that catch me; sometimes it’s our Mexican radio station; other times it’s NPR; most often it’s random stuff, even boy bands from the 90’s.  If you know me at all, you would know I have a bit of an aversion for the Christian radio stations and you would also know why and why I’m trying to actually listen to them from time to time.  Suffice it to say that part of it is because I often need only two or three chords to realize I am listening to the Christian radio station.  And yes, it’s stereotypical, and it paints with a very broad brush the efforts of Christian men and women throughout the world to reach the world, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.  That will be for another time.

Last Sunday morning, a song came up twice:

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!

I realized why I was so attracted to the song.  This was a hymn.  A very religious song.  A song very much like the ones I was driving to go play to lead the congregation of the saints to sing.  This post is not about or against feminism or women’s rights or anything remotely close to that.  That may be another time.

And immediately my heart broke.  I could picture a girl, driving away on a Sunday morning, getting on the same interstate on which I was driving.  But she would be leaving a strange bed, perhaps not even a decent bed, broken and betrayed, once again empty and without the affirmation and the affection she craved for the night before.  Or the months before.

I could picture a girl, desperate and afraid, ashamed of what’s to come.  I could picture another girl, determined to make it to the top and fully persuaded that she was making the right choice.  I could picture them both on a different day driving to our local Planed Parenthood.

I could picture these girls listening to this song.  I could see this song’s power to pump them up, to affirm their choices, to transcend their circumstances, and to tell them that they are the roaring champion.

We are all broken.

I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

This is the line.  It’s not the hook.  This is the line.

Where were we, Christian musicians?
Where were we, when this poor broken woman was led to realize that she stood for nothing and fell for everything?
Where were we, that we were not able to minister to this poor woman, pushed to the breaking point?
Where were we, to give aid to this woman, held down for a long time?
Where were we, that we missed the moment when she was brought to her knees and realized she’s had enough, enough of the nonsense?
Where were we, to tell her a different story?  Don’t we know the true Champion?
Where were we, to point her to the Maker of the thunder?  To the Avenger and Protector of the tired and broken?
Where were we, to point her to true freedom that transcends floating like a butterfly because of the stripes of a Savior who died so that she wouldn’t have to deal with the heartache and pain of attempting to be her own hero?
Where were we, like C. S. Lewis, to give her the story of the Roaring Lion?

The Lord Jesus spoke to Paul, and we have the account of that in Acts 26:12-ff.  Pay close attention to verses 17-18.  Jim Wilson makes the point in his excellent book Taking Men Alive: Evangelism on the Front Lines that Jesus told Paul that he must do three things: 1) open their eyes, 2) turn them from darkness to light, and 3) turn them from the power of Satan to God.   He gives the analogy of a dark room where a person is with her eyes closed.  She cannot see.  What happens if you turn the light on? Nothing! Because “light does not cause sight.”  What if she opens her eyes while the light is still off?  “Open eyes do not cause sight, either.”  “When we have our eyes closed, we naturally want darkness.  But if we are in a dark room with our eyes wide open, we long for light.  Closed eyes want darkness.  Open eyes want light.  Open eyes are hungry for light” (p.13, ff)

Why are we not writing a hymnody to open eyes?

Listen, there is a ton of explicitly Christian music for us to use on a Sunday morning service.  Too much, perhaps.  Only a fraction of the songs that are produced today will endure the test of time.  Just because we have a guitar or a piano and thirty minutes on a Saturday, that doesn’t create the next In Christ Alone.  What are we using our talent and resources to produce?

Don’t you see?  Katy Perry would not make a dime unless there were broken women who opened their eyes in a dark room.  They are hungry for light.  And instead of Light they are given cheap fireworks that will last only but a second and will not even give that good of a bang.

The opportunity is there, will we be content writing average or even below-average songs that will do nothing but pad our ego?  Most likely, you are not Beethoven, Stuart Townend, Bob Kauflin, Mozart, or Taylor Swift or her cowriters.  But know this, the opportunity is there, and we are missing the jeep to take us on the safari to see the Great Lion, who as that wise man once said, isn’t safe, but He is good.  “He is the King, I tell you.”

The God of Life is The Answer to Man’s Need

After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, revealing a seven year period of abundance to be followed by another seven years of famine, he also advised Pharaoh how to navigate the coming devastation.  He directed the ruler of Egypt to appoint a manager over the whole land to prepare for the collections and distributions that would be required to survive the years to come.

This unsolicited, yet vital, counsel that Joseph offers is the last piece of the puzzle that brings to fruition the dream from Joseph’s youth.  The boy who told his brothers that he would one day rule over them, was about to do just that.  Pharaoh, upon hearing Joseph’s advice, realizes that a man in such a position would need to have the Spirit of God.  Since Pharaoh has never seen a more clear example of the work of the Spirit of God than the interaction he just had with Joseph, Pharaoh understood that Joseph was the man for the job.  With that, Joseph went from despised little brother, to slave, to prisoner, to Pharaoh’s right hand man.

I want to make sure you understand how that happened.  There are no bootstraps here.  This was not Joseph’s success.  God showered Joseph with grace in the midst of great trials, and it was God who led Joseph where he needed to be–who empowered him to face those challenges with peace and faithfulness.  While the world cries, “self-made-man,” Joseph knows he is God’s grace-carried man.  Are you being carried by grace or are you strangling yourself by trying to pull yourself up by the bootstraps?

“This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants.  And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.  Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.’  And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.'”  – Genesis 41:37-41

“Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph.  Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him.  Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh.  ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’  The name of the second he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.'”  – Genesis 41:50-52




The God of Life Is Not Silent in Human Suffering

We’ve all surely heard it asked or asked it ourselves: “If God is good, why does He allow massive tragedies to happen?”  It’s a valid question, but it also misses the point.  Because we have already seen that the darkness of the sin in each human heart is brought about by disobedience to God, we know that sin (and pain and brokenness) are constantly present in this world.  We see heartache and it upsets us because we were made to enjoy rightness in the world.  However, the rebel soul wants to enjoy that rightness in all things without being subject to the King of Righteousness, Jesus.

So whether the question of God’s goodness arises from true curiosity or from a heart of resentment, the answer is the same.  God will allow the painful consequences of sin to affect us (some admittedly more than others), but we must remember three things.  First, God shows mercy, and we do not suffer all that we possibly could suffer.  When Pharaoh had the dream, God did not have to have Joseph on hand to give warning of the coming famine.  If he had dismissed the dream when his magicians couldn’t help him interpret it, he would have had no preparation for the massive loss of life to follow.  Did God prevent the famine?  No.  But he gave warning of it, and that was mercy.

Another thing to remember is that when we do suffer, we are being given the opportunity to see the big picture in a way we can’t when we coast along through life.  Crisis puts us on high alert, and that is what often saves our lives in an emergency.  What if the same is true of heartbreak putting us in a state of alertness to God that our souls might be saved?

Finally, God sometimes allows us to suffer great pain, but He never enjoys our pain.  That’s not the way God works.  God doesn’t create so that He can destroy.  Destruction is Satan’s area of expertise and delight.  If you or someone you know is suffering, God knows about it, and He is an ever-present help in times of need.  He takes no joy in either seeing His faithful persecuted or in seeing the fool persist in rebellion.

So if you want a new question to ponder, maybe it should be: Why does Satan insist on destroying everything that God creates as beautiful?

“After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing my the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass.  And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile.  And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows.  And Pharaoh awoke.  And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time.  And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk  And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind.  And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears.  And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.  So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men.  Pharaoh told them  his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

“Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my offenses today.  When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I , each having a dream with its own interpretation.  A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard.  When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream.  And as he interpreted to us, so it came about.  I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.  And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.  and Pharaoh said to Joseph, I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it.  I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.’  Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’  – Genesis 41:1-16

Pharaoh proceeds to retell the dream to Joseph.

“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.  the seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one.  The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears  blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.  It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do.  There will come seven years of great plenty through all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt.  The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.  And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God , and God will shortly bring it about.  Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.  And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.  That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:25-36



The God of Life Works in the Lives of All Kinds of People

Joseph, still incarcerated, and yet seeming to have some degree of authority over other prisoners, diligently performs his duties, even asking what might be bothering other inmates.  He shows no competition, resentment, or indifference.  On the contrary, he is quite happy to involve himself in their lives in ways that bless them (well, one of the men who learned the dark interpretation of his dream might not have felt like he was blessed).  Joseph does plead with the cupbearer, in return, to remember his (Joseph’s) kindness when the man once again enjoyed his freedom.  Unfortunately, Joseph’s request was not honored in a very timely manner, and it seemed that Joseph had been mistreated once again.

However, when we consider that God gave those men dreams so that Joseph would be able to give testimony to God being the Author of all interpretations, we can imagine that Joseph, the poster child for hard knocks, was encouraged to see the hand of God at work around him.  God giving those men dreams provided Joseph with additional opportunities for blessing those around him (that is, after all, the purpose of the chosen people of God, to be a blessing to all the earth) and to remind Joseph that God is with him, even in dark seasons.

So, maybe you’re not a Christian, and maybe you don’t like the Christians you know.  I can’t change that.  But there is something you can’t change either: God is at work in your life, and He does bless you through that work–and through His people.  Are you sure that’s not something that intrigues you just a little bit?  God’s people blessing those around them and not cursing them when they are mistreated in return?  What are you waiting for?  Open the Bible.  Call up that Jesus-follower friend of yours.  It’s time for a prison-break!

“Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt  and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt.  And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captian of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined.  The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them.  They continued for some time in custody.

“And one night they both dreamed, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison – each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation.  When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.  So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’  They said to him, ‘We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.’  And Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God?  Please tell them to me.’

“So the cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, ‘In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches.  As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes.  Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.’  Then Joseph said to him, ‘This is its interpretation:  the three branches are three days.  In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup  in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.  Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.  For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.’

“When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, ‘I also had a dream:  there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.’  And Joseph answered and said, ‘This is its interpretation:  the three baskets are three days.  In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head – from you!- and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.’

“On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a fest for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.  He restored the chief cupbearer to his postion, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.  But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.  Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”  -Genesis 40:1-23

The God of Life is Always With His People

Unfortunately, when many think of Joseph’s story, the first thing they notice is how much he was mistreated by people.  While he did suffer a lot of injustices, what really stands out to me in this passage is God’s constant care for Joseph.  You see, God doesn’t prove His faithfulness to us by always allowing us to avoid hardships.  Sometimes God makes more of an impression on us–and on those around us–when He allows us to go through the awful stuff–with Him right by our side!

In this chapter, we read four times that the Lord was with Joseph; three times that anything Joseph did, the Lord made successful; and twice that the blessing of God on Joseph directly benefited Joseph’s bosses.  All of this, of course is while Joseph is a servant and a prisoner.  So is Joseph’s life difficult or abundantly blessed?  Yes, and yes.

As a servant, Joseph was of the highest caliber.  He basically ran the show.  But he kept away from his master’s wife because he refused to dishonor his master and to sin against God.  Joseph knew God was always with him and that God’s blessed presence is always better than an entanglement with sin.

“Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharoah, the captain of the guard, and Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.  The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.  His master saw that the Lord was with him and that they Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.  So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.  From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.  So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.  And after a time his mater’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, not has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife.  How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’  And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

“But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’  But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.  And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them. ‘See, he has brought among us a
Hebrew to laugh at us.  He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.  And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.’  Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, ‘The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.  But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me  and fled out of the house.’  “As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, ‘This is the way your servant treated me,’ his anger was kindled.  And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.  But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison.  Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.  The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him.  And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.”  – Genesis 39:1-23

The God of Life Gives Hope

If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, let me tell you something:  not all of God’s people are wise, and some aren’t even very polite.  Is that good?  No.  But does God use not-so-amazing personality types to do amazing things?  You bet.

In this story there is a father who plays favorites, a youngest son who seems like quite the braggart, and a bunch of brothers who are so unhappy the both of them that they are willing to kill one and lie to the other about it.  Do you know what the primary theme of this passage is?  Hope.  That sounds pretty crazy, I agree, but it’s true.  The hope introduced here is not found in any of these people–it’s found in their God.  Oh, and for the record, I am not asserting that all of those murderous brothers are people of God, at least not yet.

Before things get really ugly (and, you should know, they are going to get a whole lot uglier as we read more in the days to come*), Joseph is given a dream that foreshadows his life.  However, the dream is a metaphor, so most of the people (i.e., the brothers) who hear about it don’t see it as the beacon of hope that it is, so they become resolved to make sure it never comes to pass.  And that wasn’t an accident, or even coincidence.  God does what He does to bring about His ultimate purposes.  Humans, shortsighted as we are, see that “A” leads to “B”, and if we don’t like the way things are going, we are ready to turn things in another direction–our own way.  We often fail to sit tight and wait to see what God might bring about with steps “C,” “D,” E, ” etc.  And God doesn’t mind if we’re upset and seek answers.  He might not give the answers we want, but there is always a dialog to be had.  When we listen as well as speak, He sometimes even shows us rays of hope, like the unlikely “ray of hope” that Jacob’s dreams were.  They didn’t seem to offer hope to Joseph’s father or brothers at that moment, but within a few years, if only they could think back upon them, they would have offered much hope in a very dark time.

*The first part of this text can be found below, but for the rest of the story, read Genesis chapters 39-46.  I will address the rest of the text on this blog in the days to come, but this is a gripping story, and I don’t want to hold you back if you are reading this for the first time.

“Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.  These are the generations of Jacob.

“Jacob, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers.  He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives.  And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age.  and he made him a robe of many colors.  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.  He said to them, ‘Hear this dream that I have dreamed:  Behold we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright.  And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.’  His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us?  Or are you indeed to rule over us?’  So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

“Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream.  Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’  But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall I and your bother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?’  And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

“Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem?  come, I will send you to them.’  and he said to him, ‘Here I am.’  So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.’  so he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.  And a man found him wandering in t he fields.  and the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’  ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said,.  ‘Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’  And the man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’  So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

“They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.  They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.  Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.’  But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’  And Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this [it here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him’ – that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.  So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore.  And they took him and threw him into a pit.  The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

“then they sat down to eat.  and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.  Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’  And his brothers listened to him.  Then Midianite traders passed by.  And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.  They took Joseph to Egypt.

“When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?’  Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  and they sent the rove of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’  And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe.  A fierce animal had devoured him.  Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.’  Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’  Thus his father wept for him.  Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharoah, the captain of the guard.”  – Genesis 37:1-36

The God of Life Will Not Share His Glory With False Gods

God commanded Jacob to go on a journey to remember that God has always been with Jacob and answered him.  This actually meant that lots of people would go on this journey with Jacob.  Before beginning the journey, however, Jacob instructed everyone in his household (family members and workers alike) to put away other gods/idols and to prepare themselves for this time when Jacob will honor and meet with God.  Everyone reportedly turned over such objects, and they traveled safely to their appointed destination, with the hand of God protecting them from attack.

Once they arrived, God gave Jacob a new beginning, complete with a new name–Israel.  He also identified Himself by the name God Almighty, perhaps to remind Israel that the promise He (God) made to Abraham and Isaac is the promise that will continue to be fulfilled through him (Israel).   As He did with Adam and Noah, God tells Israel to be fruitful and multiply.

These days many people seem to think that becoming familiar with and “drawing from” lots of different religions is the way to be culturally relevant.  While I agree that we should be well aware of the practices of people from all walks of life, to get to know them as whole human beings, understand them, and empathize with them, the God of the Bible is not interested in being on anyone’s spiritual buffet.  Being in the presence of God Almighty requires the surrender of any man-made god.  It also requires humility, submission.  God calls, and God’s people respond.  He blesses more richly than anyone could think possible, but that will be in His purposeful timing.  Put away the gods of this life from which you seek favors, and see what this Almighty God of Life will do to bless your surrendered soul.

“God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.  Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’  So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’  So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears.  Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.”  – Genesis 35:1-4

“God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him.  And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’  So he called his name Israel.  And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty:  be fruitful and multiply.  A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.’  Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.”  – Genesis 35:9-13

The God of Life Leads Men to Care for Women

After reconciling with Esau, Jacob settles his family in the land of Canaan.  His daughter Dinah went out to visit with the women of the land, and she was raped by Shechem, the son of the man from whom Jacob had purchased land.  When Jacob’s sons returned from their work in the fields and they found out what had been done to Dinah, they were furious.

After such a horrid event, Shechem and his father Hamor had the audacity to approach Jacob and his sons seeking not only to marry Dinah to Shechem but also to arrange more marriages between Jacob’s family and their own.  Dinah’s brothers would have no such thing.  They set out to capitalize on Shechem’s desperation to possess their sister and tricked him by giving a verbal agreement to intermarry with them, on one condition–that Shechem and all of the men of his tribe be circumcised.  The men actually agreed to this, and then–when they were in great pain–two of Dinah’s brothers passed through the town killing all the men.

Now, when this news reached Jacob, he was concerned about the problems their family might face from surrounding tribes who would hear of the deaths of Shechem and his men, but the brothers responded to their father that they were not willing to tolerate having someone treat their sister like a prostitute.

The Bible is not a trivial book.  The BIG God of Life is displayed in its pages.  He speaks in and through these pages.  We are finite, fallen creatures, severely affected by the sin of our father Adam.  The text we read today is a bloody text.  The men in this text sin–the rapist, his father, the brothers, Jacob.  There is no human example to follow here.  We could despair about that, but we must remember that this text is ultimately about the perfect God who leads His horribly broken and sinful people.  Nevertheless, these brothers were so caring for their sister in her distress and pain, that they presented themselves with fatherly authority as they delivered their ultimatum to Hamor and his wicked son.  They said, “But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”  They cared for, protected, and defended the women with whom God had blessed them.  We can sit in our comfortable chairs and judge their violent response all we want, but will we care for all the women who are hurting, even now?  Will we stand up for them?  Will we protect them?  Will we help them trust in God?

“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.  And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.  And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob.  He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.  So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl for my wife.’

“Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah.  But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.  And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.  The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it and the men were indignant and very angry because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.

“But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The should of my son Shechem longs for your daughter.  Please give her to him to be his wife.  Make marriages with us.  Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves.  You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you.  Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.’  Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give.  Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me.  Only give me the young woman to be my wife.’

“The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.  They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us.  Only on this condition will we agree with you – that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised.  Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people.  But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.’

“Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem.  And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter.  Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house.  So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, ‘These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it., for behold, the land is large enough for them.  Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters.  Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people –  when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised.  Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours?  Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.’  And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, and all who went out of the gate of his city.

“On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.  They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away.  The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister.  They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field.  All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’  But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?'”  -Genesis 34:1-31