Friday, September 30, 2011

Genesis 41:8-40

Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams, and for some reason he required an interpreter. Verse 8 tells us that “he sent for all of the magicians and wise men of Egypt.” Seriously, NONE of them could figure out what these dreams meant?? They seem pretty straightforward to me! Seven fat cows swallowed up by seven “lean, ugly cows”, and seven good heads of grain swallowed up by seven “worthless heads of grain?” None of the wise men could figure that out?? Beth Moore conjectures that they knew what the dreams meant but did not want to be the bearers of bad news, and possibly end up in the dungeon or worse.

So Pharaoh sought the help of Joseph, after the forgetful cupbearer recommended him. Joseph, who understood his place before God, refused to take credit for his interpretation:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Gen 41:15-16)

And Joseph, unlike the fearful magicians and wise men of Egypt, had no trouble telling the truth, as God revealed it to him:

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.

“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. (vs. 25-32)

Joseph recommended that Pharaoh begin to immediately take action and plan for the famine by appointing commissioners to store up the food during the good years to be ready for the bad ones. Pharaoh recognized a good administrator when he saw one, and, even more importantly, he recognized where the talent came from [just so you know, as an English major it pains me to not write, “. . . from where the talent came,” but it just sounds so stuffy!]:

So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (vs.38-40)

Now, had it been me who had been put in this position of leadership, I’d be thinking, “Oh no! Wait until they find out that I have no clue!” Joseph had just been exalted to a very high position in Egypt. Could he possibly be ready for such authority? Of course he was ready! Not only had God been preparing him for exactly this kind of work through his administrative duties in Potiphar’s household and in the prison, but, by this time Joseph had to be thoroughly convinced that God was with him and would guide him, and that God would never call one of His children to do something without also giving him everything he would need to complete the task. Next, we’ll see just how important Joseph became to the nation of Egypt, and the entire known world of his time.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Genesis 41:1-14

It’s amazing how a small phrase in scripture can say so much! Look at the beginning of chapter 41:

When two full years had passed. . . Oh my gosh! Two FULL years! Beth Moore reminds us that is 730 days of waiting! Remember that Joseph had already been in prison for a long time before the cupbearer was sent there, so the two years is just how long he had been forgotten. I love what Beth says about this: . . . we can almost hear the echo in the hollow of a clock’s relentless tick, “Nothing yet! Nothing yet!” Time can be a liar. Heaven is replete with angelic activity as God faithfully completes in the spiritual realm what He will release in the visible realm when the time is right. (The Patriarchs, P. 187)

It may LOOK like nothing is happening, but God is working in the spiritual realm at all times! This made me think about the many times in my life that I have had to wait for something, and looking back I can see God’s timing has always been just right. So often He makes us wait just so we KNOW that the eventual answer is from Him and so that only HE will get the glory. Always, He is working out something in our lives. So, I’m also wondering if any of you have stories of your own that you would share with us about waiting?? I would LOVE to hear them!

Now, let’s get on with Joseph’s release already! :)

When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream. (Gen 41:1-7)

This finally reminded the cupbearer of his promise! I can see him hitting his head, thinking, “Oh, my gosh - Joseph!!” He related to Pharaoh how Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream and that of the chief baker.

One important thing that Beth Moore notes about this cupbearer: we know that God was sovereign in the timing - He could have given Pharaoh the dreams at any time - but that does not negate the responsibility of the cupbearer who forgot his oath to Joseph, who had encouraged him in his time of need in prison. And, in fact, the cupbearer takes full responsibility in verse 9. Let’s look at three different translations of what he said:

I do remember my faults this day. (KJV)

Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. (NIV)

Today I have been reminded of my failure. (New Living Translation)

I have been focusing on the idea of our waiting, but this story is also about how we may have kept others waiting, too. Can you identify with the cupbearer here? Have people ever depended upon you and you let them down by forgetting them? Did you casually promise to pray for them, and then forgot? Think about the years your parents spent caring for your every need. Have you neglected them in their old age? One of my biggest regrets in my life is a time when I disappointed my mother when she needed me most!

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. (vs. 14)

Really? He was “quickly” brought?? It couldn’t have been fast enough! I’m imagining how good it must have felt to get cleaned up and shaved! Like being at a spa! Tomorrow we’ll see how God, having fully prepared Joseph for this moment, finally used him to bless millions!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Genesis 40

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. (Gen 40:1-4a)

Two men came into Joseph’s prison. [Did you see that it was in the house of the “captain of the guard?” Remember that the captain of the guard was Potiphar!] Potiphar assigns these two men to Joseph’s care (guess that tells us what Potiphar knew about his wife’s charges against Joseph. . .). We aren’t told what offenses landed them in prison, but we can speculate, based on the outcome, that the cupbearer was most likely innocent, while the baker was probably guilty.

Each of these men had a strange dream on the same night, a dream that bothered each man greatly. Joseph saw their sad faces, and he asked them “What’s up?” They gave him the perplexing details of their dreams, and Joseph, the dreamer of dreams, showed his gift from God as an interpreter of dreams. He interpreted the dreams this way: the cupbearer would be restored to his position in three days, but in three days the chief baker would be hanged!  Joseph had one request of the cupbearer:

But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” (vs. 14-15)

Sure enough, in three days both men were called out of prison to appear before Pharaoh. The cupbearer was restored to his place of honor, while the baker was taken out and hanged. Joseph must have been anxiously waiting for word to come that he, too, would be freed. However, one of the saddest passages to read is the last ending of this chapter:

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. (vs. 23)

Oh, do you feel the weight of this? It is repeated twice for emphasis. Joseph was completely forgotten by the cupbearer! We can imagine Joseph waiting for word of his release, believing it to be imminent. Yet, no word came. First a few days went by, then several weeks, then months - and still no word. Talk about a wilderness experience!

I’m wondering if Joseph ever felt despair. Did he remember his own dreams from his youth and wonder if God would ever fulfill them? Would he ever again see the light of day? Had God forgotten him, even as the cupbearer did? Beth Moore reminds us of the following verses - ones you may want to memorize if you are feeling forgotten by someone or even by God:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:14-15)

Even though we forget Him all of the time, and spend much of our days without thought of Him, God NEVER forgets us - we are in His thoughts constantly (Psalm 139:17-18). And as we wait for the one most important promises of God, the return of Christ, let’s remember that God does not forget that promise, either. God’s timetable is not ours. Joseph ended up waiting for two years before he was finally remembered. The world has been waiting for two thousand years for Christ’s return. During his imprisonment, Joseph was being prepared by God for what was coming, even as you and I are being prepared for an eternity with God. Will we be ready when He comes? It could be today - it could be tomorrow - it could be years. Let’s not get weary in the waiting, but trust that God is doing a work in us to prepare us!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Genesis 39:11-23

If you and I are going to be victorious under tidal wave temptation, we are wise to rehearse in advance our reasons for standing firm. (Beth Moore, The Patriarchs, P. 180).

In yesterday’s passage we saw that Joseph gave Potiphar’s wife a strong explanation of why he was refusing her advances (vs. 8-10). Joseph had been bombarded daily with her proposals, but he had resolved to be faithful to God. He didn’t make that decision in the moment - he had long before determined what was righteous and that he would stand firm. When he finally ran from Mrs. Potiphar, she was left humiliated and angry, and she wanted vengeance. She quickly hatched a plot to frame him:

When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.” (Gen 39:13-18)

Beth Moore points out that, by calling in the servants, Potiphar’s wife put pressure on Potiphar to act on the charges. She played the race card in calling him that Hebrew, and she even shifted blame to Potiphar in the same way Adam did to God in the Garden: “that Hebrew slave you brought us. . .”

When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. (vs.19-20)

Potiphar burned with anger, but my bet is that it was not at Joseph, but his wife! I’m sure he knew her character - even as he knew Joseph’s - but he was forced to respond with firmness, because the other servants were watching. By rights he could have had Joseph executed on the spot, but instead threw him into prison. Even as Pilate could find nothing against Jesus, but responded to the crowd, Potiphar chose not to do the right thing, but the expedient thing. Once again, Joseph was seemingly abandoned.

However, we read the following in verses 20b-23:

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

Once again, the LORD was with Joseph in everything and everywhere! “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

We will see that God was absolutely sovereign in the life of Joseph. Joseph was being trained and used by God for the salvation of His chosen people. Joseph would need to practice being continually conscious of the presence of God - even when he didn’t see Him or feel Him. He would need to learn to lean on God for everything - including wisdom. He learned that when God was all he had, God was all he needed!

Are you feeling abandoned, betrayed, falsely accused? Are you questioning God and wondering if He’s gone on a break and doesn’t see what’s happening, because He just isn’t answering your prayers on your timetable? Stay tuned! The LORD is not finished refining Joseph (or you) - even though no one else is faithful to Joseph - God IS! The next chapter is a good one!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Genesis 39:6b-11

We read yesterday about how Joseph’s presence brought an overflow of blessing from God to Potiphar’s household. Potiphar saw the hand of God on Joseph, but apparently his wife, a cougar on the prowl, saw only a hunk:

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” (Gen 39:6b-7)

According to Beth Moore, this is the only time Scripture describes a man as “well-built and handsome.” She points out that being so good-looking can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. For a young man, like Joseph, the attention of Mrs. Potiphar, would be a curse! She worked her feminine charms on him daily:

But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (vs. 8-11)

Paul wrote to young Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts.” (2 Tim 2:22) Joseph avoided even being around Mrs. Potiphar. When she made her advances he rebuffed her, telling her he could not “sin against God.” And Jon Courson points out that it was this attitude that enabled Joseph to bear up under the temptation. Courson writes:

This is what is known throughout Scripture as “the fear of the Lord.” Joseph was in constant awareness of the “there-ness” of God - an awareness equally convicting and comforting. Yes, he was severed from his family and his country, but Joseph knew he was never alone. (Courson’s Application Commentary: Old Testament, P. 176)

Joseph could have sat down and tried to talk things over with this woman. He could have counseled her about her marriage or attempted to convert her to his God. But he actively avoided her, and, finally, ran from her. Often Christian pastors have a struggle with “pastor worship” from a congregation, and need to daily fight this fight. Ethical pastors will avoid ever being alone in a room with a woman, because they are so aware of the potential for disaster - even in just the appearance of wrong. We, too, would be wise to avoid anything which tempts our thoughts to stray. If certain music can carry you back to the good old days with an old boyfriend, avoid the music! If you receive a Facebook friend request from an old flame, DON’T accept it! If even going to a class reunion will be a possible temptation, DON’T go!

Joseph did all the right things, and yet, we’ll see next that it did not keep him from painful trials! Practicing the presence of God, as Joseph did constantly, will be what keeps him from falling into despair. Can’t wait to see what happens next!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Genesis 39:1-6

We return to the story of Joseph. When we last saw him, he was headed south into Egypt with a caravan of Ishmaelites!

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. (Gen 39:1-6)

Verse 2 says it all: “The LORD was with Joseph. . . “ And just in case you missed it, the idea is repeated in verses 3 and 5! Joseph just happened to be purchased by Potiphar, a high-ranking official in Egypt, the captain of the guard. Potiphar, a pagan, saw something special about Joseph. It was obvious to him that the LORD was with Joseph and blessed everything Joseph undertook. So Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household, relaxing in the blessings he received because of his association with Joseph. What a testimony to Joseph’s character that Potiphar could see that Joseph was different!

Remember that here was a young man who was betrayed by the very people who should have loved him, was forcibly uprooted from family and home, and sent into a foreign culture as a slave. He went from being the apple of his father’s eye to a man in chains, sold to the highest bidder. He had every reason to be depressed or even hateful, but, because he was still the apple of his Heavenly Father’s eye, he was able to rise above the betrayal and trust God. He had never left the LORD’s presence, and therefore reflected the light of God to others. Amazing!

And, because Joseph trusted and relied on God, even in the worst of circumstances, those around him were also blessed. Wouldn’t that be great if that could be said of us? That others might be blessed through their association with us - AND that they would recognize the source of the blessing as God alone?? That is what I’m praying for today and for this school year - for my students and the parents in my classroom - that they would be blessed by being in my class this year, and that they would recognize God as the difference!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Genesis 38 - a final word

If all that God wanted to do in giving us His Word was to relate a bunch of entertaining stories, He certainly accomplished that, as this chapter has shown us. We saw deception and intrigue, scandalous behavior, and a great climax with the revelation of Judah’s sin. However, this whole book is really about redemption. As much as we almost cheer when Judah is “outed,” we need to remember that this is not the end of the story. We saw yesterday that Judah immediately acknowledged his responsibility for what happened with Tamar when he saw the evidence:

“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. (vs. 26)

Beth Moore points out that this is the beginning of change for Judah, and that, by the end of this book, we will see a transformed Judah. Hallelujah! She writes the following:

The recognition of his own sin over another’s was the beginning of his transformation. Come to think of it, it always is.

If “character change is what Genesis is all about”, and if Abram became Abraham and Jacob became Israel, what are you and I becoming? Hebrews 4:12 tells us God’s Word is alive and powerful and so sharp that it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow. The most dramatic “cure” for certain cancers is a bone marrow transplant. God’s Word is meant to get all the way into our bones, curing our character sicknesses with the most dramatic of all marrow transplants. Christ is our donor. A perfect match for all infirmed. (The Patriarchs, P. 177)

Since my dear sister, Jodi, just underwent a complete bone marrow transplant, Beth’s words take on even more significance for me. Jodi has been given brand new marrow that is now cancer free! Her old, cancer-ridden marrow, that would have led to certain death, has been completely replaced with spanking clean, pure marrow! She has been saved from death to life! This is the work that Jesus has accomplished in our sin-ridden lives!

And what about Tamar? She had certainly been wronged by this family! She had been widowed, then used like a harlot by her brother-in-law, then set aside and forgotten by her father-in-law. Though we can’t excuse her actions in this chapter, we can certainly understand the pain that motivated her. Did God change her and redeem her? Well, her inclusion in the line of Christ, along with that of several other pagan women, shows us how God has been weaving His story of redemption through ALL mankind and to ALL mankind from the beginning. Her story has been set out for all to see for thousands of years now. She not only has her name in God’s Book, she surely must have her name in the Book of Life. She became, with the birth of Perez, the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of King David! (I hope I counted those correctly in Matthew 1)

This is what Paul spoke about in Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Our sovereign God has been working continuously to redeem mankind, not only from sin, but from the law that had no power whatsoever to save us. He has grafted all who believe in Christ into this family:

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 4:4-7)


Monday, September 19, 2011

Genesis 38:12-30

After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. (Gen 38:12-14)

Notice that a lot of time had passed since Tamar had been sent back to her father. When she hears that Judah has gone with his buddy, Hirah, to where the sheep were being sheared, she comes up with a plan to right the wrong done to her. For, by now, she realizes that Judah has no intention of giving her to his third son, Shelah. So she dresses up like a prostitute, with a veil on her face, and waits by the road. Sure enough, Judah hires her to meet his needs. But not before Tamar exacts a promise from him along with some of his possessions as insurance. Judah promises to pay her with a young goat, and as a pledge that he will indeed follow up on the promise, he leaves her his seal and its cord, along with his staff. These would be like leaving his credit cards, Driver’s license, and passport! They were the essentials needed to prove his identity and to do business.

When he later sends the goat back with his friend, Hirah, the prostitute is no longer there. This whole scene is like something out of a Shakespearean play (or today’s political headlines)!

Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.” (vs. 20-23)

Uh-oh! Judah realizes he has been had, but rather than involve the local authorities, he prefers to keep it quiet, because he wants to keep his reputation intact. He’s fairly certain he has dodged a bullet, even if the woman has taken his possessions. However, the Bible tells us that our sins will find us out (Num 32:23), and, eventually everything comes to light:

About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (vs. 24)

I love what Jon Courson writes about this: “It’s amazing how my sin looks on someone else!” Judah in his self-righteous indignation is ready to have her executed for her sin, which is also HIS sin! This is just like when Nathan, the prophet, tells David the story of the rich man who takes the one lamb from the poor man (as David had taken Bathsheba from Uriah), and David insists that the man must be put to death. Then Nathan calmly says, “You are the man, David!” YIKES! Fortunately, Judah, just like David, immediately takes responsibility for his sin, and acknowledges that Tamar, “... is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son, Shelah.” (vs.26)

Okay - haven’t we ALL been like Judah at one time or another? We are horrified and offended by the sins of others that we, too, have also committed! I don’t know about you, but this has actually been an area of struggle for me recently, so this story is painful for me to read. How often I have been pointing the finger that comes right back to me!!! LORD, thank you for your Spirit, who catches me in the act and gently reminds me of my sin!!! Thank you, LORD, for your grace that not only points it out, but COVERS it! Amazing!

We’ll finish up with Tamar tomorrow, because we don’t want to miss the point of her being mentioned in this almost parenthetical chapter.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Genesis 38:1-11

Today’s chapter is a break in the story of Joseph. The drama is compelling and the lessons amazing! This is the story of Judah and Tamar. As we know, Jesus was from the line of Judah, so this little side trip in Genesis is important to His story. If you read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, you will find Tamar, a Canaanite woman, is mentioned along with Rahab (also a Canaanite), Ruth (a Moabite), and Bathsheba (wife of a Hittite). These four pagans are the only women mentioned, besides Mary. So we want to pay attention to what God tells us about Tamar.

Jon Courson says in his introduction to this story, “Jewelers wisely display diamonds against black velvet, knowing the dark background highlights the beauty of the gems.” The ugliness of sin in our background certainly makes the grace of God more brilliant in our lives! Or, as the apostle Paul wrote:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor 4:7)

Only God could take the sin and deception we read of in this chapter, weave it into the line of the Savior, and redeem the line for His glory and our salvation! So let’s get into the story:

At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him. (Genesis 38:1-5)

Of course, the first thing we need to note is the opening, “At that time...” What time is it referring to? Well, Judah and his brothers had just sold off Joseph and deceived their father, who was completely unconsolable. It was Judah who had argued that the brothers NOT kill Joseph, but rather sell him to the caravan that just happened to be coming toward them. Nevertheless, having to watch his father’s agony day after day must have been too much for him, so he splits from the family. He heads for a pagan area and stays with his pagan buddy, Hirah. There he meets his Canaanite wife and has three sons. Judah ran from one dysfunctional family, only to create his own:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also. (vs. 6-10)

Goodness! What a pair these boys were! Er is the first individual mentioned in the Bible to be put to death by God. The previous judgments had been against groups (the people of Noah’s time and Sodom and Gommorah). So, he must have been one nasty fellow! Jon Courson writes in his commentary here, “... the problem with wickedness is that it’s contagious. Wicked people draw other people into their depravity. So, the LORD, in His wisdom and mercy, deals with the problem decisively.” (Courson’s Old Testament Commentary, P. 173)

When Er’s brother, Onan, was ordered by Judah to take his brother’s widow and produce an heir for him, he disobeyed and “spilled his semen.” He was willing to take pleasure from Tamar, but he would not give her a son. Courson makes an important point here:

This verse is often misused as a statement against birth control. The issue here, however, isn’t about family planning. It’s about family plotting - for in his actions, Onan is saying, “I’m going to despise the directive of my father and trample on the casket of my brother. Thus, this scenario has nothing to do with God’s opinion about family planning - and everything to do with a man determined to manipulate the situation. (Courson, P. 173)

With two sons gone, Judah decides the problem must be Tamar! So he sends her to live with her father, with the promise that as soon as number three son is of age, she will have him! (vs. 11) Will Judah keep his word, and will Tamar ever have her son? Stay tuned!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Genesis 37:29-36

When the eldest brother, Reuben, returned from wherever he’d gone, he found that Joseph was gone, and “he tore his clothes.” (Gen 37:29) Reuben had intended on somehow rescuing his brother and returning him to Jacob (vs. 22), but now it was too late. Sometimes the moment to speak up and act is gone before we have had the courage to step out boldly. Each day we are faced with opportunities to do the right thing or to present Christ to others. Often, when the moments pass us, they never return. Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Joseph was gone, so now Reuben joins the cover up.

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.” (vs. 31-33)

Remember that Jacob had used the skin of a goat to deceive his father, Isaac in Genesis 27:16. Here, his sons deceived him with the blood of a goat. What goes around comes around, or, as the Bible says it, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

The brothers had hoped to be rid of Joseph and the hold he had on their fathers’ attention. But the opposite happened. Jacob became unconsolable:

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him. (vs. 34-35)

The loss for Jacob was so great that he refused the comfort of his other children. Jacob would spend his days grieving for what he had lost, rather than appreciating what blessings he had (although I’m sure we could argue whether or not these kids were a blessing)! The brothers had completely blown it! They nursed their jealously until it grew into unmitigated hatred. They plotted to kill Joseph (and for all intents and purposes, Joseph WAS dead to his family for years). They sold him as a slave. And, finally, they covered it all up with deception. Their hopes for finally having their father’s approval died when Jacob refused their comfort. Sin never satisfies - it ALWAYS brings death.

Don’t you wonder what was going through Joseph’s head through all of this? Isn’t it amazing that it appears he was silent throughout? We are not told of him protesting or resisting. Did he cry out? Certainly he must have been overwhelmed by the extent of their hatred for him. This was rejection on a huge scale. He wasn’t merely abandoned - he was sent away. Joseph would be the perfect example of the person who lets God be his defense. In the same way, Jesus did not speak to defend Himself when he was arrested and tried and crucified. This chapter ends with almost a footnote:

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. (vs. 36)

While all looks hopeless for Joseph, we will see that God has actually rescued him. Even before Joseph was thrown into the pit, God was sending the answer in the form of the Midianite merchants. If Joseph could have seen what lay ahead for him, and for his family, in Egypt, he would have rejoiced. But at this point in the story, he must have felt desolate and deserted. When we are at our lowest point, and think all hope is gone, we need to remember that God’s plan is still unfolding, and He is already sending help our way! Can’t wait to see it all unfold!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Genesis 37:20-28

As I have been reading and rereading today’s passage, the LORD has been convicting me of how my own behavior has, at times, mimicked the behavior of Joseph’s brothers here. Let’s look at what is in their hearts as they see Joseph coming:

“Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Gen 37:20)

Look at what motivated their hated of Joseph: jealousy. They were contemptuous of his dreams that indicated he would rule over them. And they were jealous of the attention their father paid to his favorite son. Jealousy fed leads to hatred. Think about people around you who provoke envy in your heart: neighbors who seem to have an easier life (or easier kids), co-workers who appear to be getting farther ahead than you, a sibling who has a better marriage... Envy comes from a lack of contentment and gratitude. If we are truly thankful to God for the MANY blessings He has given us freely, we do not need to be stewing over who has it better - we can be happy for those who are doing well, not jealous.

Note that eldest brother, Reuben, makes an attempt to mollify the brothers in order to rescue Joseph:

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. (vs. 21-24)

Why didn’t Reuben just call his brothers out on this whole thing, rather than give them another option? They ripped off the offending robe and threw him into a waterless cistern in the middle of the desert! Now, apparently Reuben intended to come back and rescue Joseph, but he did not show moral courage or leadership here - he vacillated and, therefore, became as guilty as his brothers. We’re not told where Reuben went to, but verse 29 would indicate that Reuben had stepped away for a moment, because he was not there when the brothers proceeded with their actions against Joseph.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. (vs. 25-28)

How callous were these brothers that they could sit down and eat their meal while their brother was surely crying to them from the bottom of the cistern? Judah steps up, just like Reuben and makes a half-hearted attempt to mitigate what they’ve done. “Hey, bros, this is not going to help us if we kill him - we’ll be in deep trouble then - so let’s just get rid of him, because, hey, he’s our baby brother!” He was just trying to put lipstick on this pig. They technically wouldn’t be guilty of murder, but, as Jesus pointed out, they had already committed murder in their hearts.

So they sold Joseph to an Ishmaelite group of traveling salesmen for some silver (just like Jesus was sold). Problem solved! The brother was gone, and now they would have all of Dad’s affection, right? Wrong! We’ll look at the results of their actions tomorrow, but for now, as we sit in on judgment of these nasty boys, can we even identify just a bit with what they did??? Both Reuben and Judah showed more concern for what others thought of them than for doing the right thing. Has this ever happened to you?

This is where God convicted me this morning! It is so difficult to stand out in a group and call out gossip for what it is. It’s easier to laugh at tasteless jokes than to admit offense. When the mob we hang with is ready to lynch someone’s reputation, do we find the courage to call it wrong? It is HARD to stand up for what is right, but Jesus did not call us to EASY! Do you see the parallel here between Reuben and Judah with Pontius Pilate in listening to the mob crying out for Jesus’ blood? He washed his hands of the mess, as if it took away his guilt in the murder. Moral courage calls for more.

We’ll see tomorrow that they really didn’t solve their problem with Joseph. Sin never makes things better...


Friday, September 9, 2011

Genesis 37:14b-20

Today’s passage is all about betrayal, and Beth Moore refers us to a passage from the Psalms that speaks to the pain of betrayal:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. (Psalm 55:12-14)

Perhaps, like David, you have felt the pain of such a betrayal. We aren’t surprised when an enemy is against us. Even though it hurts, we can explain it away and brush it off. But, when someone we have been close with turns against us, the pain is deep and the scars lasting. This is the betrayal experienced by Joseph, whose brothers had grown to HATE him.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Gen 37:14b-20)

Before we get to the brothers, note that Joseph actually received help from the Shechemite, who should have been the enemy. Sometimes it seems like we receive better treatment from those outside of the church than our own brothers and sisters in Christ. That is truly pathetic! There were instances in the New Testament when Jesus was better received by Gentiles (the Roman Centurian, the Samaritan woman). And, of course, He was rejected by His own, who plotted to kill Him even early in His ministry.

Which brings us back to Joseph’s brothers. Joseph had traveled a great distance to check up on his brothers (and I can imagine that like all little brothers, he desperately yearned for the respect and affection of his big brothers). However, as soon as they saw him coming, their hatred reared its ugly head and they immediately plotted to KILL him! This never fails to shock me! I can understand their being truly annoyed with this kid brother wearing the obnoxious coat that screamed, “Dad loves me best!” (see verse 23) I could comprehend it if they had planned to “pants” him or taunt him - but KILL him?

This points out two dangers: that of nursing a grudge which feeds thoughts of revenge; and the danger of the mob mentality. When we stew over negative thoughts about someone we work with or about a family member or neighbor, we begin to fantasize ways to get our revenge - either through spreading gossip or finding the perfect nasty remark to make or ways to undermine their reputation, etc. Once we do this in our imagination, it’s a quick step to actually acting out our plots. A better solution? Jesus told us to pray for our enemies! Or go to them to work out a resolution and reconciliation if possible.

We know that people will do things in a group that they would never do by themselves. Every year I warn my fifth graders about the importance of choosing good friends in middle school and the need to hang out with kids who will encourage them to be their best, because if they hang with a bad crowd, they will surely do things they will regret. And the same is true for us: it matters where we seek fellowship. Do you surround yourself with believers who are like-minded, encourage you in obedience, support your marriage, cheer you on to continue to grow in Christ? Or are you hanging with the group from work that likes to party on Friday nights, or the women in your neighborhood who meet in the street to complain about their spouses, or the “friends” who counsel you to continue in an inappropriate relationship?

We know that the events here in Genesis 37 were used by God to work His eventual plan for the salvation of His people - but that does not mean He condoned the actions of the brothers. The greatest miracle is that God is able to work ALL things together for good - even the evil betrayal of brothers!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Genesis 37:12-14

Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. (Gen 37:12-14)

As with the entire story of Joseph, there seems to be two parts to what is happening here: the literal and the spiritual. I always just like to read exactly what is said and start there to get my gut reaction. And I think that is why I like Beth Moore’s take on this scene. We see that Joseph, a strong young man, is at home with Dad while the brothers are out doing the work of tending the sheep. So, right away, I’m upset with Jacob for continuing to set Joseph and his brothers against each other through his partiality. What he means to benefit Joseph actually works against him - as all demonstrated favoritism does! For it certainly must have rankled the brothers that Joseph remained at home while they were sweating with the sheep.

Jacob, called Israel here, asks Joseph to check up on his brothers to see “if all is well” with them down in Shechem. The word for “well” here is shalom, so Jacob is wanting to know if the brothers are experiencing peace in Shechem. And he surely should worry about that, since Shechem is the site of Dinah’s rape and the vengeful mass murder that followed. Beth points out that shalom is also the word used in verse 4, when we are told that Joseph’s brothers “hated him and could not speak a kind word [shalom] to him.” Because of their hatred towards him, they could not speak peace to Joseph. Certainly there is no peace in this family! And now Jacob is asking Joseph to report on the brothers. I’m sure it was out of true concern, but it feels like Joseph is always in the position of ratting on his brothers! That is my gut reaction!

I think back to my childhood when my mother was always making my older sister watch us three younger ones. Bless my mother, she surely could have, and should have worked it that it wasn’t seen as a punishment to my teenage sister, who yearned to be with her friends. But my sister hated having to do it, and we therefore hated having her watch us. Not a good thing! She had to go away to college for me to appreciate her!! :)

Now, Jon Courson, bless his heart, looks at this same scene and sees the parallel to the story of Christ being sent to his brothers by the Father to bring peace. Just as Joseph immediately responded in obedience and willingly left home to go to the dangerous and sin-filled Shechem, Jesus obeyed the Father in all things and agreed to leave the glory and peace of Heaven to come to our sin-filled world that we might be saved! To his father’s request, Joseph answers, “Very well,” or as the King James version says it, “Here am I.” And Jesus IS the I Am who is ALWAYS here. He willingly became a man that He might bring us to the Father! Hallelujah and amen!

What are some of our take-aways here? First, as a parent, don’t set your children against each other!!! Your job is to foster love between them, not competition! :) Then, we must look at the need for obedience in all things to our Father. When He asks us to do something or go somewhere that we know is going to be risky, do we respond with “Here am I,” or do we whine, “You want me to go WHERE???” The place of obedience is always the place of blessing and peace. What will obedience cost you? What might you have to give up? A relationship that you know is not godly? A house? A job? Even though Joseph is being sent into a very dangerous place here, it is all part of God’s wonderful plan of salvation for his family. What if we don’t obey what God is asking us to do? What might be the ramifications, not only to ourselves, but to those we love. To obey is ALWAYS the best choice!!

Tomorrow we’ll see what happens when Joseph goes to check on his brothers!!!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Genesis 37:5-11

Today’s segment of Genesis 37 has many warnings for us, that go way beyond the flannelgraph version of the story of Joseph’s dreams.

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. (Gen 37:5-11)

Beth Moore jokingly calls Joseph a 17 year-old “brat” here. Not only did he tattle on his brothers, but then he revealed to them the dream that indicates that he will one day rule over them. Their reaction was to hate him even more! Bad enough - but then he reveals to them the second dream! Even his father, who adored him, thought this was just too much. Beth suggests that sometimes it’s wiser to keep our dreams to ourselves.

Whenever God gives a vision, it is not for the glorification of the man who receives it, but for God’s glorification. Beth poses an interesting thought when she says we need to guard our hearts against SELF-promotion, because pride is also Satan’s biggest problem, and the trait which got him kicked out of heaven (remember he wanted to be like God - which is exactly what he tempted Eve with). Therefore, when we sense that God is calling us to a work for Him, or has given us a vision for some ministry, Satan loves to come alongside and tempt us to somehow promote ourselves. Beth uses a good test: if God gave you a vision, but then told you He was giving the ministry to someone else, would you be as excited about the vision?

That is NOT to say that you should NEVER share the vision God gives you. The reality is that Joseph was acting as a prophet here, and speaking forth the truth. However, what the brothers didn’t get was that these dreams were for their BENEFIT. Joseph’s eventual rule in Egypt would be for the salvation of his family. Jon Courson points out the parallel between Jesus and Joseph here. Jesus came to save His own people, but they would not have Him rule over them (see John 19:15).

We can see the tension building here in this family. Oh my! I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s verses!!! I’m off to the first day of school! I only had two hours of sleep last night. Woke up at 1:00 and could not shut off my brain! Just like the kids, I always get a stomach ache the first day! Thankfully, this is a minimum day!

Just wanted to make one plea to you all. Please forgive me for constantly referring to Beth Moore and Jon Courson - but after 35 years of Bible study, I’m an amalgamation of all those I’ve learned from. There isn’t an original thought in my pea brain! And that is scriptural, for Solomon told us in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Love you all!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Genesis 37:1-4

I’ve been delaying moving forward in Genesis, because we are coming to my favorite chapters, and I wanted to start this as I’m back to my routine of daily study. School starts on Wednesday (although I go back today), so I’ve been saving this part. We now begin our study of the life of Joseph. Jon Courson points out that while God gave one verse to his creation of the universe (Gen 1:36), he gives 12 chapters to Joseph. What does that tell you about how God values the life of one individual, including you? Wow!

Joseph has always been considered a type of Jesus. There is almost nothing negative noted about his life (much like one other OT character, Daniel). Both Joseph and Daniel were taken captive into enemy territory, and rose to places of prominence within the government while maintaining their personal integrity and their commitment to God. Their focus was on pleasing God, not man, so we have much to learn from them.

Genesis 37:2 tells us, “This is the account of Jacob.” Since we’ve just left the chapter devoted to Esau’s descendants, this may be why Jacob is listed as the star. However, these remaining chapters are truly more about Joseph and his role in the salvation of Jacob’s family. I said that there is almost nothing negative written about Joseph. However, Beth Moore and Jon Courson have different takes on these first verses:

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. (Gen 37:2)

Okay, right off the bat I’m thinking that Joseph was a tattletale - and, as a teacher, I know how others respond to the class tattletale, so I’m seeing a problem here. While Beth Moore also sees it this way, Jon Courson gives Joseph the benefit of the doubt as the obedient son, completely loyal to his father’s interests, seeing after those interests. Courson says that, like Jesus, Joseph was not trying to please others, only his father. I’ll leave the interpretation to you, but, either way, we can see why Joseph’s older brothers would not be thrilled with him. But there’s more:

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (vs. 3-4)

This is really the heart of the matter in this family: dad showed partiality to Joseph. He not only loves him the most, he blatantly displayed it, making for Joseph a fine coat of many colors that confirmed the favoritism. He probably received the biggest cuts of meat at dinner and the softest bed, too! The excuse for this partiality was that Joseph was “born to him in his old age.” However, so was Benjamin! Joseph was the firstborn of Jacob’s love, Rachel, which was probably what led to the special bond he felt. And how did Joseph’s brothers respond? They weren’t just annoyed - they actually HATED him for it! That is a strong word! They never said a kind word to their little brother!

We’ll see that Jacob suffered dearly for showing favoritism to Joseph. We need to learn this lesson as parents! It is so important that we encourage good relationships between our children. Showing partiality to one drives a wedge between siblings, and in the long run will not only hurt the child who is favored, but will also come back to haunt the parent. We have frequently heard that the problem for parents is that children do not come with a manual that tells us how to handle them - but that is not true! We have God’s Manual for Parents right here in His Word. Genesis is filled with examples of what NOT to do. We’ll see more tomorrow!