Tag Archives: life

Finding God in our mess – Characters: Joseph, Part 3

30 Oct

Life can feel so messy. Have you ever been in one those the seasons of life where it seems like things keep going wrong? Just when you think you are getting past one hurdle, here comes another one. You jump one, then two, and you barely make it over the third, and you’re so tired, and you jump to clear the fourth hurdle, but you’re flagging strength doesn’t take you nearly high enough, and you crash into the hurdle, losing balance, crumbling to the ground. Been there?

Joseph was there. In this second installment in our series titled Characters, we’ve been following the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel, as he faces one hurdle after another. There are more to come. Will Joseph crash?

We read about Joseph’s life in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In chapters 40 and 41 we return to the topic of dreams.  Remember how 17-year-old Joseph had dreams about his family bowing down to him? That didn’t go over well. At all. His brothers responded by selling him into slavery, and he was purchased by an Egyptian official, Potiphar. God was with Joseph and he prospered serving in Potiphar’s house, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Though he ran from her, she lied to Potiphar saying that Joseph was making passes at her. Potiphar threw Joseph in jail, and life was awful again. Yet God was with Joseph, and in prison he prospered again, earning favor with the warden. This is when the dreams start again, but it is not Joseph who is dreaming.

Two men in prison with him have dreams: the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker.  If you want to read the story, open your Bible to Genesis 40:8.  Both men had been on the King Pharaoh’s bad side, and the king jailed them. In prison they both have mysterious dreams. The men don’t know what the dreams mean, and they tell this to Joseph. Joseph says to them, with confidence in God’s ability to provide interpretation, “Tell me your dreams.”  Again God is with Joseph, and he interprets the dreams.  The dreams are prophecies, and they come true.  Disaster for the baker, and restoration for the cupbearer.

In chapter 41 the text tells us two years go by.  Now the Pharoah, the king of Egypt, has some dreams.  Weird dreams.  My dreams can get pretty weird too.  I don’t know about you, but I have always had dreams, from childhood till now.  Sometimes they are nightmares, especially when I am sick.  That can really set off the weirdness at night.  Have you ever woke from a dream thinking, “Whew…it was just a dream…I am so glad that wasn’t real!” because it seemed real, and it was weird or awful.  Well, King Pharaoh has some strange dreams, and no one can interpret them, even the magicians and wise men of Egypt. 

Guess who is there watching the King desperately trying to understand his dreams?  The cupbearer.  Remember him?  He was one of the guys in prison with Joseph who had a dream. Joseph interpreted it, and the cupbearer was restored to favor with the king.  Now the cupbearer, watching the king struggle to interpret his dreams, remembers, “Wait…there was this guy in prison, Joseph, who interpreted dreams.”  He tells the king, and the king summons Joseph. 

What Joseph says when the king asks him to interpret the dream is awesome.  Look at Genesis, chapter 41:16. Joseph says to the king, “I cannot do it.”

That’s bold.

When the king calls, you answer.  When he says, “Jump,” you jump.  And when he says, “I heard you can interpret dreams,” you say, “Let’s do it, what is your dream?”  Not Joseph.  Joseph says, “I can’t.  But God can.”  See the humility in Joseph?  He has changed.  Even after being in prison for over two years, he isn’t angry at God.  He is devoted to God.  Joseph had gifts from God. He was dreaming dreams and was discerning them as a young boy, but it is possible in those early years he was not using his gifts in a God-honoring way.  It could be that he used his dreams to “show up” his brothers.  But when Joseph turned to God and found his identity in God, those gifts became powerful tools for good, as we have read in Genesis chapters 40-41. 

We all have gifts from God, and when we are asking God for his power to use those gifts for the mission of his Kingdom, our gifts are beautiful and powerful tools for Him.

Back to the story, we see Joseph using his gifts for God. Pharaoh tells the dream, and God gives Joseph the interpretation.  The dream was God’s message that a famine is coming on the land, and they need to prepare. 

Look at how Pharaoh responds to this.  Read Genesis 41:37-38, where Pharaoh sees the evidence of God in Joseph’s life, and thinks, “I want this guy on my staff.”  Pharaoh scoops Joseph up immediately, placing him in charge of all Egypt!

Let’s take a step back and notice the hurdles in Joseph’s life to this point: he went from losing his mother who died during the birth of his brother, to being the favorite son of his father, to having his coat of honor stolen from him, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, to being a slave in Potiphar’s house, but achieving success, only to have Potiphar’s wife lie about him, resulting in being thrown into jail.  How about that for a life of ups and downs?

Finally things come full circle in Genesis 41:41 as Pharaoh puts him charge of Egypt, even including giving Joseph a new robe.  You can bet the robes Joseph wore now were fancier than the one his father gave him years before.  But as Joseph puts on that Egyptian robe, did he remember his father?  Did he think of his brothers?

As we continue in Genesis chapter 41, look at verse 51. Joseph marries, and has two sons.  Even though he marries an Egyptian priest’s daughter, he names his sons in honor of God’s work in his life.  God has made him forget his trouble and his father’s household.  Yet he is talking about his father’s household. So he hasn’t forgotten.  Maybe the family drama still stings a little.  Or a lot.  Yeah, he is now second in command of all Egypt.  He is at the heights of power and wealth and fame.  Yeah, he has a family now.  God is good, and has blessed him, and Joseph is faithful to God.  But that doesn’t mean the memories are wiped clean.  That doesn’t mean the past doesn’t still sting a bit.  

At the end of Genesis 41, we learn that a major famine has come upon the land, as was predicted through Pharaoh’s dreams.  Under Joseph’s leadership, then, Egypt not only prepared enough food for its own people to make it through the famine, but they had so much extra, they were able to sell food to people from other nations too. That fact will have significant ramifications for Joseph, which we’ll see as we continue the story in the next post.

For now, no matter how messy your life has been, know that God is faithful. Keep pursuing him, even in the mess.

Was God being manipulative when he said, “If you obey me, you will live”?

18 Sep

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Is God being manipulative when he says, “If you obey me, you will live”?

Is he being threatening?  Why in the world would God say that?  If you remove the Christian filter from your mind, you can read God as sounding an awful lot like an abusive boyfriend.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we come to a passage where God says that.  Jesus says it too.  Let’s take a look.  What are we to make of this?

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 1, and we read the word “Hear”.  “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema,” and Moses uses it many times in the next few chapters, the most famous occurrence is in chapter 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That Shema is known as THE Shema, a kind of credal statement uttered by the people of Israel regularly still to this day.  For them it is like the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

Shema means, “Hear, Listen, understand.”  Moses is saying, “Pay attention, people! Important information is about to arrive. Listen up! You don’t want to miss this.”

And what is the important info Moses has for them?  Well, there is a lot.  Look at what he says in verses 1-5.  They absolutely must get this because their lives literally depend on it.  They need to hear the Law, and then follow and obey the law, he says, to live.  To live!

And why?  Because of verse 3.  Moses basically says to the people, “You remember that situation at Baal Peor, right?”  You can read all about what happened at Baal Peor in Numbers 25.  It was a fairly recent event in the life of the nation, so Moses doesn’t need to retell it here in Deuteronomy 4.  He just has to say, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor.”  What they saw would have been hard to forget.

The place was called Baal Peor because an idol to the Canaanite god Baal was there.  Some of the people of Israel were enticed to worship it, probably because there was temple prostitution there.  Some of the men indulged, which was bad enough, but they also participated in worship rituals, which included bowing down to the idol of Baal.  Imagine God watching them.  It was like a one-two punch to him.  First punch in the gut when they participated in sinful things, second punch right across the face when they bowed down to Baal.  How would you feel if you were God?

Betrayed.  Angry.  Jealous.   Maybe all that, maybe more.  God is a relational, emotional God, and Israel had really hurt him.  We learn that thousands of the Israelites died that day as a result of their severe disobedience.  Fast-forward to Deuteronomy 4, and the people Moses was talking to remembered that day.  The lesson God taught on that horrible day in the life of their nation was one they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.  Follow God’s Law and live.  Disobey and die.  It couldn’t have been more clear to them.

Moses also connects the obedience of the people to their ability to remain in the land. If the people obey, not only will they live, but they will also live in the Land.  In chapters 1-3 we learned that some of the tribes, 2 ½ of them, had just received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River.  The rest had yet to cross the Jordan where they would receive their land.

They had come all this way from Egypt. Did they want to live in the Land?  Yes, they absolutely did.  So Moses reminds them that the promise of life and land was conditional.  God’s love for them was unconditional, meaning it would never change.  But life in the land was conditional; they could lose it.  If they followed God’s law, and held fast to them, they had nothing to worry about.

This is an instructive word for us too.  Jesus once said in John 14:15, “if you love me, obey my commands.”  In our modern sensibilities, we bristle at the suggestion that we are to obey another person.  It sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  And to tie it to the idea of love sounds really manipulative.  “If you love, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does God say this to the Israelites, and why does Jesus say it to his followers?  Are they manipulative?  Are they being demanding?

Maybe. Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe God had the Israelites’ best interest in mind.  Just like Jesus does for his followers.  They know the best possible way to live.  They are not just trying to twist people’s arms into praising them and following them.  Instead they love us and want what the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying them.

God’s call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  Obey and live, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  Paul would go on to talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I believe that teaching is an example of why it is so important and amazing to follow the way of Jesus.  Paul said in Galatians 5 that we walk in step with God’s Spirit, following his way, what will flow out of our lives are the best qualities of life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Jesus often talked about how following his way leads to eternal life, but it also leads to a new kind of life in the here and now.  Israel could access that life, God said, if they obeyed him.  We can access that life, if we learn to follow the way of Jesus.  What is that way?  Read the stories of Jesus in four accounts of his life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What do you see?

If you want to learn to be his follower, comment below.  I’d love to talk with you further. Take a look at what Paul says about following Jesus in the teaching right after the Fruit of the Spirit: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Let’s talk about how to do that!  Let’s talk about how to really live.