In the book of Exodus, God’s redemptive plan shifts to focus on the nation of Israel. We meet them hundreds of years after the time of Joseph. They are still in Egypt, but they are no longer favored people because the new king of Egypt “did not know Joseph.” God had been fulfilling this promise to Abraham to make his people great in number, but the large numbers of rapidly reproducing foreigners threatened the Egyptian leaders. Pharaoh oppresses the people with hard labor and attempts to slim their numbers by killing male infants. Moses is spared, and under God’s guidance he taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal court. In the midst of the “groaning” of God’s people two heroes emerge. First, Moses. He is unable to deliver his people from their groaning and oppression and has to flee in into the desert. But the second hero will have sufficient ability. Chapter 2 concludes with these words of anticipation; “God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant… God saw the people of Israel and God knew.”
Reflect: Deliverance from the oppression of Egypt is the defining act of God’s Old Testament salvation. In this we see an important characteristic of God. He hears the groaning of his people, he sees their situation, and he knows. As you consider painful and frustrating parts of you own life and hold them up to God in prayer, remember that he “hears, sees and knows.”
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church he sought to correct a church that was distracted by great acts of power. He reminded them that love is the greatest of all attributes that a Christian can have. In this, we draw near to the heart of God. But more important than knowing God, is the fact that we are “known by him.”
I Corinthians 13:12-13 Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
* Note on the title "18a"; When the schedule was being made, there was a cut and paste error which resulted in one date being left out. We didn't catch this until further plans had developed, so the easiest way to deal with this was to simply make day #18a and #18b. I trust that you will not find this to be a huge difficulty.
The final two chapters set the stage for the sequel book of “Exodus.” First, as we read Jacob’s final blessings we begin to see the twelve sons as the twelve tribes. This is how we will meet them in the book of Exodus. (Note that there are technically 13 tribes at this point, since Joseph has two sons that are included with their uncles. But the tribe of Levi becomes the tribe of priests who do not possess their own land, but become associated with temple worship.) Second, Joseph’s final words anticipate a future deliverance from God which he calls a “visitation” (Gen 50:24-26). He foresees a day in which God will need to personally show up and act for the salvation of his people. And though this day was far off for Joseph, he lived with hope in that future deliverance. This sets the stage for the second book of the Bible, Exodus which is, essentially, about a “visitation” from God.
Reflect: The completion of God’s work of salvation often feels a long way off, but hope in future deliverance is the fuel for the Christian life. Let’s pray that God will continue to use this study of “redemptive history” to stir our imaginations and fuel our hope.
Connect: The author of Hebrews finds Joseph’s display of faith to be particularly encouraging.
Hebrews 11:1-2, 22 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation… By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
The book of Genesis has a lot of bleak stories in it. From the first sin, the first murder and heinous acts of corruption, we have seen humanity at its worst. The fulfillment to the promise of redemption made to Abraham has seemed to be (from a human vantage point) quite precarious. But God has proved to be faithful through very harrowing passages. As the book draws to a close the abundant blessing of God is on full display. There is a moment of peace. The family of Israel is settled, Jacob and Joseph are reunited, and Joseph prospers in his work. This is a good moment to reflect on the ways God has blessed us.
Reflect: Consider the various ways in which God’s blessing has been evident in your life. This does not mean we should expect a life of ease, but even in the midst of great hardship there are many things we can be thankful for.
Connect: Thankfulness is particularly important for people who live on the other side of the cross. And God wants Christian community to be a place where we inspire one another to greater thankfulness. How can you share some aspects of your thankful list (above) with others?
Colossians 3:15-16 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
While the presence of Joseph will ultimately mean salvation (from famine) for his brothers and their family, it also brings them into confrontation with the one whom they betrayed and sold into slavery years earlier. The story plays out at a fairly slow rate at this section and allows the drama to build. Joseph tests them. I don’t believe that he is torturing them, but offering them an opportunity for growth and for relational redemption. At the climactic moment, Judah offers his life in the place of Benjamin for the sake of his father’s heart. “Now therefore, please let your servant (Judah) remain instead of the boy.” Joseph is moved to tears by this encounter, and extends extraordinary mercy to his former oppressors. In both instances (Judah and Joseph) mercy leads to fullness of life.
Reflect: What broken relationships cast shadows over your life? How might the Lord be leading you to extend mercy in the midst of them?
Connect: The theme of forgiveness finds its greatest and most expansive form in the NT as a reflection of the mercy of God revealed in Christ.
Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
I have intentionally used the language of Christology ("humiliation" and "exaltation") to describe Joseph. As we saw yesterday, his life had a painful downward bent to it. Sold into slavery, falsely imprisoned, forgotten in prison, he went down… down… down. But God is at work and redemption is at hand. In this series of chapters, we see Joseph going, up…up…up. He is in the upward side of the J-curve. (Again, I am not suggesting that Joseph knew about who Jesus would be, or that we should overlook his unique historical contribution, but this is the pattern of how God’s works redemption in the Bible.) We also want to notice that when he is exalted to the second highest position of power in Egypt, it has the effect of offering a form of salvation to both his family and to the Egyptians. Joseph’s God-given insight and natural wisdom cause him to save grain in the years of plenty that will feed people in the years of famine. This offers the Egyptian people an escape from famine. But it also becomes the means by which the people of Israel find relief. Their circumstances were so dire that they journeyed to Egypt “that we may live and not die” (Gen 42:2). When they arrive, God has already gone before them and prepared their salvation through the life and ministry of Joseph.
Reflect: In what ways in God calling you to be a channel of blessing to others? Like Joseph (and Jesus), this could prove to be a costly endeavor for you.
Connect: Ministry brings life to others, but often means suffering for the “minister.” But good news, God wins in the end.
2 Cor. 4:11-12 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Chapter 37 begins a new section in which we follow the life of Joseph. He will essentially be the main character for the remainder of the book. While Joseph is not a perfect character (the way he tells his dreams to his family seems to smack of pride), he is one of the more admirable ones that we meet in this book. His life is certainly exemplary in comparison to Judah (and this terrible incident with Tamar) as well as the other brothers who sell him into slavery out of jealousy. His life follows a pattern of setbacks and triumphs. But through it all, God is at work to protect the people of Israel and reveal himself. Over the years, the similarities between Joseph and Jesus have often been pointed out. We don’t want to go so far in the comparison that we lose sight of Joseph as a real historical figure, but a comparison illustrates the way in which salvation is worked out in the Bible. Joseph is extraordinarily gifted, he suffers for righteous reasons, and after suffering (and in some ways because of his suffering) he is able to save his people from death. This sort of "down-then-up" story line is what author Paul Miller calls “The J-Curve.” In the J-curve, God’s plan of redemption unites us to Jesus Christ as we share in his sorrows and in his victory. As we leave Joseph at the end of chapter 39, he is in a desperate place – alone, forgotten, imprisoned in a foreign land. But God is at work, and the upward sweep of redemption is on the way.
Reflect: Sometimes we suffer because of our own foolish mistakes, and sometimes we suffer as people who are righteous. Where have you, like Joseph, experienced suffering that you did not deserve?
Connect: The Apostle Paul was no stranger to difficulties, in fact they defined his life. He believed that God was at work through his pain and that all of his hardship was part of God’s redemptive plan, bound up with the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus.
Phil 3:8-11 For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
The chapters for this day illustrate an important point regarding Biblical history. While we often come to stories in the Bible expecting clear moral tales that have good guys and bad guys and easy lessons – most often that is not what we find. If salvation was a matter of human effort than we would benefit from a series of “morality plays” that show us how to be good people. But salvation is by grace, and the real world is messy. Sin affects all people and our human experience “East of Eden” is often sad, brutal and complicated. So it is with the story often titled, “the Defiling of Dinah.” It is all pretty terrible. Jacob’s daughter was raped by a neighboring tribal group and her brothers exact a gruesome revenge. All of this leaves Jacob and his family in a vulnerable place. Jacob responds by committing himself more deeply to God by removing all of the remaining idols from among his people (Gen 35:34). As the story progresses we see God at work to protect his people and keep his covenant promise that he would fight for them (Gen 35:5). And yet, we know from the story of Dinah that he does not protect us from all harm. And while the return to Bethel offers a reminder of God’s commitment to Jacob and his people, the story continues with a tragic note (Rebecca dies in childbirth), and an ominous note (the lineage of the Edommites is traced, reminding us of Israel’s enduring enemy.) This story is not really about the strength, power, or virtue of the leading characters, but rather it is about God’s faithfulness and his power to keep his end of the covenant agreement. In the midst of sorrow, we see God’s powerful presence working toward a long term redemption.
Reflect: Life is full of sorrows and there are often no easy answers to resolve the mysterious and painful presence of evil in the world. But the living God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ, a human being who was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” What sorrows can you hold before the understanding knowledge of Jesus?
Connect: The prophet Isaiah showed that the Messiah would enter into our suffering.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
As we saw last week, Jacob was not a very admirable person. He tricked his father and brother and received the inheritance through deception. And yet, God chose to love him. This is good news for all sinners - God loves us in our brokenness and accepts us as we are. But the story of Jacob shows us that the love of God also works to transform us. Because of his feud with Esau, Jacob had to flee to Rebecca’s family. There he falls in love, works hard to earn the right to marry the girl of his dreams… and then he is deceived by his uncle Laban. This is a messy story and one can’t help but feel sorry for Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob. But for Jacob the setbacks continue. Even though his work as a shepherd is blessed with physical abundance, his uncle again deceives him and steals from his flock. Jacob “the deceiver” is getting a taste of his own medicine. When the pressure from Laban gets to be too much, Jacob decides to take his family back to his homeland, setting up a tense reunion with Esau in which Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed.” But before his encounter with Esau, Jacob has a strange wrestling match with a supernatural opponent. In the face of adversity he hangs on to the angel – essentially, hanging on to God – until he extracts a blessing. Jacob receives not only a blessing, but a new name – Israel. And from Esau he receives unexpected grace. From now on, Israel will walk with a limp – a reminder of his struggle with God. But he returns home a different person, humbled and contrite. God has been at work through these difficulties.
Reflect: In what ways has God used adversity in your life to shape and change you? How might he be doing that now?
Connect: Many Biblical authors show that God uses difficulties to transform us.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The next section of chapters will cover the next generation, and be defined by conflict between two of Abraham’s grandchildren – Jacob and Esau. Though he is the younger son, Jacob will be the one through whom the blessing of Abraham is transmitted. He will eventually be renamed Israel and his twelve sons will become (roughly) the twelve tribes of Israel. On one level, the point of Jacob’s life is that God chose to bless him because of his sovereign choice and because of his grace. Jacob is not a particularly likeable character. At a human level, he deceives his father, manipulates is brother, and cheats his way to the all-important blessing. God’s sovereign choice in salvation is to bless people who do not deserve it. On the other hand, Esau is also responsible for the fate that befalls him (Heb 12:16). First of all, he despised his inheritance and sold it for a bowl of soup. Second, he married into the surrounding nations by taking “Hittite wives” (Gen 26:34-36, Gen 27:46) which threatened to introduce religious compromise.
Connect and Reflect: When we see God choosing Jacob we see undeserved grace (Rom 9:10-13). When we see God rejecting Esau we see warnings about how unbelief in the promises of God causes us to value the wrong things (Heb 12:15-17). How has God acted with sovereign grace in your life to give you what you don't deserve?
Romans 9:10-13 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Hebrews 12:15-16 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God… that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.
2We continue to follow the story of God’s blessing as it moves down to the next generation. Isaac’s quest to find a wife is important because it is necessary to continue the lineage of blessing. The story about the camels being watered (Gen 24) is not a divine blueprint for finding a spouse. Rather, it shows God’s divine intervention to safeguard the promised lineage of Abraham through his descendants. (There was danger in this situation, because if Isaac had taken a wife from the surrounding nations, it would threaten to introduce the pagan practices of the surrounding cultures.) In this section there are several clear links between Abraham and Isaac. On one hand, we see a positive transmission from father to son: God reaffirms his commitment to bless Isaac in the same manner that he promised to bless his father Abraham (Gen 26:1-5). On the other hand, we see a negative transmission from father to son: Isaac gives in to unbelief and dodges the responsibility to protect his wife by claiming that she is his sister. Just like his dad did. This is a near fatal error because it threatens the lineage of promise. Once again, God has to intervene on behalf of his chosen people to protect them by using a (seemingly) pagan king to protect Rebecca.
Reflect: In what ways have the positive and negative aspects of your parents’ life been transmitted to your life?
Connect: The consequences of our parents’ actions can have a lasting impact on our lives – for good or for ill. In the NT, Paul showed how the faith of Timothy’s ancestors was instrumental in shaping him for good. How can you leave a spiritual legacy of faith – either through parenting or mentoring?
2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.