Tag Archives: Genesis

How one family’s drama was healed – Characters: Joseph, Part 5

1 Nov

In this Characters installment, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel. His is a story of extremes. Joseph lost his mother in childhood, but was his father’s favorite. His father loved him, but his brothers hated him. He had dreams from God about how he would rule over his brothers, but they sold him into slavery. Purchased as a slave by an Egyptian official, Potiphar, God was with Joseph, and he rose in favor with Potiphar, but was treated horribly by Potiphar’s wife. So Potiphar has Joseph jailed, but there rises in favor with the warden. When he interprets the king’s dream, through God’s empowerment, the king releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command of all Egypt. Finally, it seems Joseph’s fortunes are settling into a good extreme. Then his brothers show up in Egypt, but now they don’t know Joseph is the governor. Shocked, emotional, Joseph throws them in prison, but eventually shows them a courageous act of mercy, giving them the grain they had come to purchase because the land was in a severe famine.

What happens next?

We learn in Genesis 43 that back in Canaan, Joseph’s brothers and father and family have eaten all the grain Joseph sent back with them. The famine has not let up, and they need more food. That means another trip to Egypt. But Joseph has thrown his family into turmoil because he said that if they come back to Egypt they must bring their youngest brother who had remained behind on their first trip.  You know who that other brother was?  His full brother Benjamin.  You can imagine that Joseph would really want to see Benjamin, the only brother with whom he shared both mother and father.  Their father, Jacob, however, loves Benjamin deeply, as he was Jacob’s only remaining connection to their mother, his wife Rachel whom he loved more than his other wives.  Jacob, for this reason, had not allowed Benjamin to go on the first trip to Egypt to get food.  Now Joseph has forced his hand, so Jacob concedes and sends Benjamin.  That brings us to Genesis 43:15. 

There we learn that once his brothers arrive in Egypt Joseph now invites them to his house. When Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, once again he is overwhelmed with emotion and has to leave the room.  When he finally composes himself, they have dinner together, but remember that his brothers still have no idea who Joseph is. They think he is just an eccentric governor of Egypt, who also holds their fate in his hands, because he is the one who can approve their purchase of more food.  Still toying with them, as he did on their first trip, Joseph seats them in order of age, which they think is an astounding coincidence.  He also gives Benjamin five times as much food as the others!  I bet Joseph had a hard time keeping from laughing as he watched them talking about this.

Joseph’s trickery continues through all of chapter 44, where he contrives to make it seem like they were trying to steal from him, and they are more distraught than ever.  Some scholars believe that in playing all these games with them, Joseph is shepherding his brothers to repentance.  Maybe.  It’s hard to know.  He plays quite an extensive ruse on them.  The games reach a high point at the end of chapter 44 when Joseph, having set them up as thieves, declares that their punishment is that Benjamin must stay behind, while the rest return to Canaan.  His brother Judah makes an impassioned plea for himself to stay behind in prison rather than Benjamin.  Perhaps that humility and sacrifice in Judah was the turning point for Joseph.

Turn to Genesis 45:1-8, and read Joseph’s amazing response.

Joseph can’t handle the ruse anymore.  He explodes in emotion and reveals himself as Joseph, the brother they sold into slavery 20 years before.  His brothers are terrified and shocked.

But as Joseph keeps talking, he describes the events of the last 20 years in a surprising way. He could be bitter, angry, and vengeful. Instead he says that God sent him into Egypt ahead of them, to save their family.  Joseph looks at all the years of pain and suffering and sees God’s faithfulness. 

Even in deep family drama, there is hope and redemption and forgiveness possible.  Even through the worst circumstances, even through our bad choices, God can and does use us when we make ourselves available to be used, like Joseph, to see our pain through God’s eyes.

Genesis 45 concludes in a beautiful fashion.  Look at verses 12-15.  The brothers are all reconciled, and what’s more, Joseph and the King Pharaoh invite Joseph’s whole extended family to move to Egypt and survive the famine.  And that is what happens.  Their father Jacob, now called Israel, moves his whole family to Egypt. 

Fast forward with me to Genesis 50:15.  The years have gone by and Joseph’s father Jacob has recently passed away. Joseph and his brothers keep Jacob’s wishes that they return his body to Canaan.  After doing so, they return to their homes in Egypt.  With Jacob dead, though, Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph will now finally take revenge on them for what they had done to him all those years before.  Look at Joseph’s response in verse 20.

Amazing.  He continues to see God at work.  All these years later, the wounds of the past are healed.  Sometimes it takes time, repeated affirmation, especially when the wounds are deep.  Forgiving 70×7 as Jesus taught in Matthew 18 can mean that we have to forgive an offense multiple times because the hurt just keeps coming back.

There were many ups and downs in Joseph’s life.  Trials, temptations, jail-time. But when he was close to God, though the circumstances didn’t necessarily change, he clearly saw God at work. 

God is at work for redemption of what is broken.  Even when we are wounded and feeling lots of deep emotion about pain that people have caused us, we can pursue healing and reconciliation. That’s what God specializes in.  Maybe it seems like God isn’t there.  It can often feel that way.  Keep pursuing him. 

What is broken in your life that you need to take a step toward healing?

Be determined in God’s direction – Characters: Jacob, Part 5

25 Oct
Photo by sporlab on Unsplash

I love the picture above. Having done a good bit of running myself, I am always amazed at people who keep at into their older years. My grandfather participated in the Senior Games into his 90s, winning speed walking events. That is the picture of determination.

In this series of posts we’ve been following the life of Jacob, a life marked by determination. We’re not finished with Jacob’s story just yet.  Next week we’ll see him again, though we’ll be focusing on the life of one of his sons, Joseph.  For now let’s think about some of the themes we saw in Jacob’s life to this point.

First, determination.  Jacob showed his determination for the birthright, and then for the blessing, and then for wives, and for wealth.  But all this was focused on his selfish desires. We saw Jacob’s life take twists and turns, and eventually his determination changed its focus toward God’s blessing.  How did that happen? It was directly resulting from God stepping into his life, over and over.  Therefore we could say that Jacob’s life is a story of God’s determination, God’s unrelenting passion for his promises.  Yes, Jacob’s determination moves from selfishness to selflessness.  Yes, Jacob moves from being a deceiver to a truth teller.  He reconciles humbly with his brother, even at the great cost of herds of animals.  But all of it is rooted in God’s determination for Jacob.  God doesn’t give up on us! 

Second, God uses faulty, broken, sinful people.  We call this redemption.  The genealogy of Jesus is littered with broken, sinful people.  Jacob is one of them.  When we first meet Jacob, he is not a virtuous hero.  He is a sneaky, conniving, liar.  He is an opportunist who is looking out only for himself.  And yet God doesn’t give up on him.  God is faithful to his promises, even when it seems Jacob is totally lost.  In Jacob’s life, we see a specific example of one in whom God’s redemption brings a wonderful change from selfish, deceiving opportunist to a truthful, selfless worshiper of God.  God wants no deception in our lives.  We are to be people of truth, even when the truth will put us at a disadvantage.  Are there ways you are being deceptive?  On social media?  At work?  In school?  Financially? 

Thirdly, another lesson we learn from the story of God’s redemption of Jacob is that we can be so quick to write people off.  Especially those that are not behaving well.  Have you written people off in your life?  Do you think God is done with them? I know it is so hard when they hurt you, and when they don’t change.  It doesn’t mean you need to be best friends with them, even if you are in the same family, but don’t write them off.  They could be so toxic that you need to separate yourself from them.  But at the very least keep praying for them.  They might be a Jacob in his selfish stage. 

Finally, pray that God would bring them to the point where they would wrestle with God and not give up. That can apply to all of us.  Do we wrestle with God?  How does one wrestle with God? Prayer is key.  I think of the parable in Luke 18 where Jesus taught his disciples to pray and not give.  He said that wrestling in prayer is like a lady who goes to a judge to get some justice in a situation in her life, and the judge won’t hear her case.  But the lady keeps coming back.  Every day.  Nonstop.  Until finally the Judge says in frustration, “Lady, you are wearing me out!  I’ll hear your case.”  We need to pray like that.  Pray and don’t give up.  Wrestle with God. Be honest before him. 

For one of my seminary classes this fall, I have to do an assessment on a ministry, so I asked Love INC of Lancaster if I could assess their ministry, and they agreed.  One of their primary ministries is like a Christian Uber that connects church volunteers to people in need, driving them where they need to go, usually medical appointments.  I met with their director Kim Wittel this past week, and she told me the story of one of their clients, a lady who had a very grumpy personality.  This particular lady needed a ride to a medical appointment, so one of their partner churches had a volunteer who drove the lady to an appointment.  The driver began taking this lady to more appointments, even though the client was rather grumpy to the driver.  Little by little the driver learned that this lady had more needs, including food.  So the driver and a friend would bring her food.  The grumpy lady would respond that she didn’t like it and it tasted bad.  But the driver persisted in love.  As time went by the Lord broke through, and the grumpy lady admitted some horrible experiences she had in the past.  Eventually she agreed to talk with the pastor of the church, and the lady gave her life to Christ.  Sadly her medical condition worsened, but on her death bed she was not only baptized, but also volunteered to lead a prayer thanking God for all he had done in her life.  God is persistent like that!

Why we need to wrestle with God – Characters: Jacob, Part 4

24 Oct

In this series, we’ve been looking at a character in the Hebrew Bible, a guy named Jacob. In the previous post, we left Jacob about to cross over the border of his brother, Esau’s land. He had deceived his brother 20 years before, and when Esau found out, Esau threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, and the twins didn’t talk again for two decades. Jacob’s life and fortunes had changed dramatically in the ensuing years. Now he has a large family and great wealth through vast herds of animals. On his way home with his family and property, he arrives at Esau’s land. Jacob gets word that Esau is on the way with 400 men, coming to confront Jacob. So Jacob prepares a huge gift of numerous animals, hoping to smooth the way with Esau. He sends the gift ahead to Esau. Before we find out what happens when Esau receives the gift, something else occurs.  Read Genesis 32:22-32 to learn about this surprising event.

Jacob wrestles God!  Or should we say it as a question: Jacob wrestles with God? What is going on here?

Look at verse 26.  Jacob has refused to give up this wrestling match, even after God wrenches his hip.  Jacob will not let go, saying to God, “unless you bless me.”  Sound familiar?  Jacob determined to get a blessing?  Where have we heard this before?  20 years earlier when he stole his father’s blessing that was supposed to go to Esau!

In verse 27 God asks him a question, “What is your name?”  That should sound familiar too!  Again, go back 20 years earlier when Jacob entered his father’s tent, and Isaac asked him, “Who is it?”  And what did Jacob say?  He lied.  He said, “It is your son Esau.” 

Back to chapter 32, what will Jacob say when God asks Jacob his name?  Now he tells the truth.  He says his name, “Jacob.”  He is a changed man.  The deceiver has become a man of truth, a man who wrestles with God.

Wrestling leads to relationship.  God is relational, not distant and uninvolved.  He wants us to wrestle with him.

The physical act of wrestling is not the focus of this passage, though.  Jacob’s determination is the focus.  Jacob was always a wrestler, even in the womb, grasping his brother’s heel.  But it is his determination that is really the important point.  Early in his life, it was a determination that was focused on his own concerns, a selfish determination.  He was quite willing to connive and deceive in order to get what he wanted. 

But God intervened, even to this selfish man, and Jacob learned to be determined for God.  When he wrestles God, he is still determined, but his determination is modified by truth.  He tells his name truthfully. 

God is so pleased.  Look at verse 28.  “You have a new name.  Israel.  You struggle with God and men and overcome.”  That is where the name of the nation of Israel comes from.  The word Israel means, “he struggles with God.”  Isn’t that interesting?  The name of the nation is about relationship with God.  Israel’s name signifies what God wants, a relationship where his people wrestle with him and don’t give up!

The next morning, Genesis 33:1 tells us, Jacob looked up and saw his brother, Esau, coming with 400 men!  What happens when the two estranged brothers face each other after 20 years?

He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

Genesis 33:3-4 (NIV, 1984)

It is a beautiful reconciliation.  That’s what God can do!  He is in the business of redemption and reconciliation when we submit ourselves to the transforming work he wants to do in our lives. 

Throughout the rest of chapter 33, we learn that Jacob continues his journey to his home land, honoring God.  In chapter 35 he settles in land of Canaan where he honors God.  Jacob called the place Bethel, which means House of God.  God confirms the blessing, as well as Jacob’s new name, Israel, reminding us that his family will be the beginning of a nation.  Jacob sacrifices to God there. 

We’re not done with Jacob’s story. Next week we’ll learn more about him, but through the lens of his son, Joseph. Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this first Characters series by looking at what we learned through God’s work in the life of Jacob. For now, reflect on what we saw today. Jacob wrestles with God and reconciles with Esau. Can it be said of you that you are wrestling with God? It might at first sound like a bad thing, to wrestle with God. But as we saw in Jacob’s life, it was the evidence that his determination had changed focus from self to God, thus leading to reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau. How do you need to wrestle with God?

God can still use you after you sin? Characters: Jacob, Part 3

23 Oct
Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

Have you ever messed up and thought, I’ve ruined my life? Maybe it was a mistake a work. Maybe it was a terrible relationship choice. You might have been selfish or unkind with what you said to a family member or friend, and now things between you are cold. Are you wondering if there is hope for you?

Perhaps that’s how Jacob felt. We’ve started a series called Characters, looking at people who have messed up and how God interacts with them. The first character we’ve met is a guy named Jacob. In the previous post, we learned that he was a sneaky guy, and he was on the verge of trying to steal the blessing from their father that was supposed to go to his older twin brother, Esau. Let’s jump into the narrative at Genesis, chapter 27, verse 18.

I particularly want to point out how Jacob answers his father’s greeting, when Jacob enters his father’s tent. This is important.  Isaac asks, “Who is it?”  And Jacob lies, claiming that he is Esau, who was out in the countryside hunting for food to bring his father.  Isaac, suffering from poor sight, believes Jacob, and Isaac gives Jacob the blessing that was due Esau.  As we already saw in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, Jacob, the younger twin, has once again “grabbed the heel” of his older brother.  Esau, of course, soon finds out and is furious, threatening to kill Jacob.  So their mother Rebekah warns Jacob to leave immediately and flee to a faraway land where her brother Laban lives, until Esau calms down.

In chapter 28, in verses 10-22, we learn that Jacob has left to travel to Laban, but on the way, one night Jacob has a dream.  In the dream, God affirms that the blessing has been passed on to Jacob.  The younger is receiving the promise that was supposed to go to the older, and in this case, it is the promise that God first gave Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, then passed on to Isaac, that now God reconfirms with Jacob.  God says that just as he is the Lord of Abraham and Isaac, he is Jacob’s Lord, and he will give Jacob land, and will turn his family into a great nation through whom God will bless all people on the earth.  Jacob awakes afraid, in awe of what has just happened, and he vows that Yahweh will be his God.  It is a momentous event in Jacob’s life. 

After some really devious, sinful behavior, it is astounding to think that God, at this moment, still maintains the promise to Jacob. Doesn’t it seem like God should be punishing Jacob?  Doesn’t it seem like God should take the blessing and promise and give it to Esau?  Doesn’t this all seem unfair? 

To those questions, consider God’s ways with me for a minute.  God is a God who uses the flawed, the downright sinful.  How many of you have been redeemed?  By that I mean, how many of you have had sin in your life, harmful and hurtful choices that have damaged others, and yet God has taken a disaster and reconciled, healed, reunited, and rectified, making right what was wrong?  God is surprisingly forgiving and merciful like that. 

Jacob is not at the end of his life.  He is still a young man.  In Genesis 29-31, Jacob does go to and work for his uncle Laban.  During a long period of many years, through which Laban fools Jacob into marrying not one but two of his daughters, Jacob is persistent.

Perhaps in this we see character being formed in Jacob’s life.  No longer the deceiver, Jacob now learns what it is like to be fooled.  It is terrible to be taken, lied to.  Through the process of these years, God is still at work. Jacob gains not only two wives, but marries their two servant girls as well, for a total of four wives.  We don’t have time to discuss polygamy, except to say that in ancient Israel this did happen, not that God was approving of it.  Jacob’s wives bore him 12 sons, who would become the 12 tribes of Israel, including the half tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim who were Jacob’s grandsons, through the line of Jacob’s son Joseph (who did not become a tribe, and who we’ll meet next week).  Considering what has happened in Jacob’s life, can you start to see God fulfilling his promise to make Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s family into a nation?

Jacob works for his uncle Laban for a total of 20 years and then decides to leave to return to the land of his family, the land of Canaan.  That story of Jacob leaving Laban takes place in most of Genesis chapters 31 and 32, and it is filled with intrigue and drama.  I’ll summarize it by saying that God blesses Jacob greatly through it all.  By the time Jacob leaves Laban with his wives, children and herds of animals, Jacob is a very wealthy man. 

At the beginning of chapter 32 we learn that Jacob’s family’s journey is taking them to the border of the land ruled by his twin brother Esau.  20 years have gone by since they last saw each other.  20 years since Jacob deceived Esau of the birthright and blessing.  20 years since Esau said that he was going to kill Jacob.  20 years since Jacob fled for his life.  Jacob never got the birthright.  He ran away in fear for his life, taking with him literally nothing but the clothes on his back and a staff.  Now 20 years later, he has four wives, 12 children and countless animals.  But things with Esau were never made right.  What would 20 years do?  Would time heal the wounds, or would it only solidify Esau’s anger? In Genesis 32:1-21, Jacob decides to send ahead of him a huge amount of animals as a gift to Esau.  Jacob is trying to smooth things over.  He’s heard that Esau is coming to meet him with a force of 400 men.  Check back tomorrow to see what happens.