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

The God of Life Operates on Grace, Not “Karma”

After Jacob swindled his careless brother out of his birthright, deceiving others and being deceived began to mark some of the biggest points in Jacob’s life.  By the time he crossed paths with Esau again, Jacob was quite afraid of what bitterness could have done to his scorned brother.  The last Jacob knew, Esau was out for Jacob’s blood, and that still put the fear in Jacob a couple of decades later.

Even though their father technically blessed Jacob (through trickery), making him the brother that would rule over the others, Jacob scampered around like a coward, hiding family members, sending peace offerings, and fretting up a storm.  During this final day or so before the reunion between these brothers who had been at war with one another since the womb, Jacob wrestled with God.  Jacob, as determined as ever, wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing–this time, a blessing that was truly his own. At this point, God inflicted him with a hip injury and proclaimed that Jacob had prevailed.  That’s not how we usually see a wrestling match end, with the one who is limping proclaimed the winner.  In this case, God actually gave Jacob a limp to show his weakness, and in that weakness God declared Jacob victorious.  Humility is indeed the remedy for the proud heart.

When Esau and Jacob finally reunited, Esau shocked his brother by greeting him with a strong embrace and a kiss.  Of course, they did argue, but this time it was over accepting gifts instead of placing blame.  These brothers didn’t have a history of goodness with one another.  They didn’t have a happy reunion due them, and they didn’t evolve into peaceful men.  These men were given grace by God Himself–not to defeat, but to forgive one another.

“And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him.  So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.  He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

‘But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.  And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’  Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.'”  – Genesis 33:1-5

The God of Life is Not Deceived By Man

Esau was foolish in his shortsightedness for following his momentary desire and trading a life-long position and privilege for it.

Jacob was foolish for listening to the wicked schemes of his mother and lying to his blind father.

Esau was foolish to blame anyone but himself.

Jacob was foolish to think he’d pull it off without a hitch.

They were both foolish to their status was their deepest need.

God foretold it all.  He was neither surprised nor deceived by any of them.  God isn’t fooled by any party lines or causes-of-the-moment either.  He sees straight through the words, the actions, the disguises and looks at our hearts–our deepest desires.  You can’t hide it, and you can’t spin it.  He knows the truth.  Will you stop striving to win the battle against your brother and instead will you love your Father, the God of Life?

“Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted.  And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!’  (Therefore his name was called Edom.)  Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’  Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’  Jacob said, ‘Swear to me know.’  So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way.  Thus Esau despised his birthright.”  – Genesis 25:29-34

“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.’

“Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau.  So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘U heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ;Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’  Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you.  Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves.  And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.’  But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.  Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.’  His mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.’

“So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved.  Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son.  And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck  And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.

“So he went in to his father and said ‘My father.’  And he said, ‘Here I am.  Who are you, my son?’  Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn.  I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your should may bless me.’  But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’  He answered, ‘Because the Lord your God granted me success.’  Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’  So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’  And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy lie his brother Esau’s hands.  So he blessed him.  He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’  He answered, ‘I am.’  Then he said, ‘Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’  So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.

“Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’  So he came near and kissed him.  and Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,

‘See, the smell of the son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!  May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.  Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and my your mother’s sons bow down to you.  Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’

“As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting.  He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father.  And he said to his father, ‘Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.’  His father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’  He answered, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.’  Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?’  Yes, and he shall be blessed.’  As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’  But he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.  Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob?  For he has cheated me these two times.  He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’  Then he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’  Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine, I have sustained him.  What then can I do for you, my son?’  Esau said to his father, ‘Have you but one blessing, my father?  Bless me, even me also, O my father.’  And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:

‘Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high.  By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.’

“Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.'”  – Genesis 27:1-41

 

The God of Life Doesn’t Make Mistakes

After the Lord called out to Abraham and prevented him from killing his son, Isaac, the boy grew into a man, worked the land, and took a wife, Rebekah.  For the people of God, having children isn’t something you might be interested in.  It is something that is a blessing from God Himself, which comes with a whole lot of work and a life-long reward.  We see multiple examples in the Bible where women who were unable to have children are heart-broken.  This might have been the case for Rebekah.

The first and only thing we know about their private life is that “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren” (25:21a).  This man must have loved his wife very much.  I imagine she was in such a state that it called her husband’s attention away from his daily work and to his knees in prayer.

How did God respond?  God granted Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah conceived.  Happy ending, right?  Well, yes and no.  Rebekah was no doubt elated at first, but she might have wondered how the pregnancy could be a blessing when she had some pretty strong-and perhaps even painful-symptoms or sensations as life grew within her.  In fact, she went to the Lord to ask why this was happening to her.  His response was that the children (Surprise, Rebekah!  You’re having twins) were fighting in the womb, and they would come out and fight for the rest of their lives on the outside, too.

Anytime the good news of a new baby is received, God’s people recognize that person as the gift from God’s hand that he or she is.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  Whatever the fears of the mother (like Rebekah seemed to fear what was going wrong inside her womb), or whatever prognosis is revealed (like the prophecy given about children that would cause great conflict), God alone opened that womb, gave the gift of those children, and would cause ultimate blessing to come about (for the whole world, don’t forget) through the growth of Abraham’s family.  Every child is a gift to be received with joy.  To resent or reject such a precious gift is to despise God and rob the world of unknown blessing.

“These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.  And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord granted his prayer and Rebekah his wife conceived.  The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’  So she went to inquire of the Lord.  And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.’

“When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.  The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.  Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.”  – Genesis 25:19-26

The God of Life is Not Safe, But He Is Good

Have you ever been so amazed by a gift that you forgot all about the giver of that gift?  You might have carefully decided on, saved to purchase, and intricately wrapped this perfect gift, but if it becomes simply a thing that you own instead of something that was entrusted to you, you will use it selfishly, and the love with which it was given will have been lost.  Unfortunately, humans often do this with God.  God gives them skills, opportunities, loved ones, etc., and if those gifts are seen as personal property, the Creator and Giver of those gifts is rejected, and worship is misplaced (either onto the item for being perfect, or onto one’s self for having possession of such perfection).

In this text, God tests Abraham, who has been given the “perfect gift” of a long-awaited child.  God does not mince words.  He tells Abraham to prepare to offer his precious son back to God as a sacrifice of worship to God, the Giver of that child.  I wonder if Abraham thought, No, Lord, you can’t be serious.  Why?  I suppose that is what I would ask.  We don’t have record of what Abraham thought in that moment, or in the three days it took for them to get to the appointed site of the  sacrifice, but I imagine he was praying every step of the way.

Abraham obeys God in each detail, and he leads others (his son, his servants) to do likewise, assuring them God is at work, even though they don’t see how.  I think C.S. Lewis’s words about the Lion Aslan being “not safe, but (he’s) good” apply to the God of Life.  It was not foolishness but faith.  God gave His word.  God kept His word.  God gave Isaac to Abraham.  God’s good gift, apart from God Himself, held no blessing.  Abraham received the gift of his son on the Giver’s terms, loving them both, but worshiping only God.  Abraham’s faithfulness was met with relief as God provided a ram to be ultimately sacrificed.

Do you know this was not the only unbelievable three-day-long nightmare in the Bible?  The disciples of Jesus suffered great heartache, confusion, and doubt after the crucifixion was finished and before the resurrection took place.  Does God throw His people some curve balls that seem downright wrong?  Maybe.  But He is never in the wrong.  We just haven’t heard the end of the story yet.

“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’  And he said, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.  And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.  On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.  Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.  And he took in his hand the fire and the knife.  So they went both of them together;  And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’  And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’  He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  Abraham said, God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’  So they went both of them together.

“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and lad him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’  And he said, ‘Here I am ab.’  He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.  And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” -Genesis 22:1-14

The God of Life Is Just

Right after the final installation of the “Abraham and Sarah are going to finally have the promised child” saga, the text reveals just how harrowing the journey to Abraham’s blessing will be.

Because of the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, God has determined to go and judge rightly if the situation is as has been told.  God hears both sides of every story–even in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham, seemingly compassionate on the people of those cities, asks God if He would really destroy all of the God-fearing people along with those who outright rebel against God.  It all started as a fairly confident plea blended with borderline accusation.  Abraham’s first estimation was 50 righteous people,  and God unreservedly agreed to spare the whole population if just 50 God-fearing people could be found.  As Abraham observed the mercy of God in those moments, his assumptions of the presence of righteousness in the city waivers.  He moves quickly from, What if there are 45? What about 40? 30?  20?  Then, finally, what if only 10 righteous people can be found?  And God said yes.  He was so intent on showing Abraham the dept of his mercy (as if Abraham hadn’t been seeing it in his very own life for decades already), that He “bargains” all the way down to sparing all of the judgment due Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 God-fearing people.

I wonder what Abraham thought and felt when he realized that God’s generous mercy was like a precious treasure despised.  Not even 10 righteous people had been found among the masses, and the judgment was delivered.  Even in the last evening before the destruction, the people of that city were urged not to embrace wickedness, but they refused to repent.  God’s persistent mercy is powerful because He is prepared to judge in Holiness – not it fury.

“Then the men set out from there, and they looked down on Sodom.  And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.  The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?  For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.’  Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.  And if not, I will know.’

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.  Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city.  Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’  And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.'”  – Genesis 18:16-26