Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson #5 May 30, 2017

Joseph, in his new life as a slave in Potiphar’s house, was experiencing success. Potiphar quickly recognized Joseph’s many talents and his reliability.  God gave Joseph favor in the eyes of his owner, so much so that in a relatively short time, Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household for he recognized that Joseph’s presence was making a significant difference in the very atmosphere of the estate.  It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned in the house and in the field.  (Gen. 39:5)  I doubt that it ever entered Potiphar’s mind that Joseph was a threat to his marriage.

However, Potiphar’s wife had thoughts of her own about this Hebrew slave.  The Bible says that Joseph was ‘well-built and handsome’ (Gen. 39:6)  She had noticed that.  She had more than noticed it.  She clearly indulged unclean thoughts in her mind and the more she thought about it, the more her desires grew.

Potipharswife

Sin begins in the mind which is why the Scriptures exhort us to be careful how we think.  Unchecked thoughts create fantasies and fantasies urge us to action.  That’s exactly what happened with Potiphar’s wife.  So one day, when she and Joseph happened to be the only ones in the house, she made her move.

It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph and she said, ‘Lie with me’.  (Gen. 39:7)

Wow! Talk about being blind-sided! Here was a new kind of trial that Joseph had not faced before.  Just when things seemed to be looking up for Joseph, at least as far as his daily life was concerned, out of the blue here comes this seductive woman blatantly inviting him to sin with her.

Some people when tempted to adultery or immorality resist only because of what they stand to lose.  That was not Joseph’s situation at all.  It would have been so easy for him to get away with it. There was no family around for him to embarrass; he had no reputation to defend.  He was a slave, at the very bottom of society.  He was in a foreign country with no hope in the natural of ever seeing what good could come out of what had happened to him. And don’t forget: this was a healthy and handsome young man 18 or 19 years old, the age when such temptations are indeed powerful.

But look at his answer to Potiphar’s wife:  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.  How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?’  (Gen. 39: 8-9)

Two principles emerge from this part of the story that we dare not miss.

  1. If you are facing a new trial or temptation that you’ve never faced before, God is paying you a high compliment.  It means first of all that you passed the last test with flying colors, because if you didn’t you’d be facing the same old test again and again.  If God allows a new kind of testing to come your way, it means He has plans for you.  He is preparing you for what is to come.  He watches every move we make, every decision to praise Him instead of complaining or grumbling.
  2. Some commentators have opined that Potiphar was not a good husband and that’s why his wife acted like this.  Rubbish! That is sheer speculation.  It has become fashionable to blame parents, teachers, background, upbringing and who knows what else for our own sinfulness.  No psychological or sociological reason justifies sin.  Sin is sin, plain and simple.  That’s why Joseph’s answer is so profound and powerful: How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?’

Young as he was, Joseph had it absolutely right! The only thing that will ultimately keep a person from falling into sin is his or her love for God.

When our love for God births a passion within us to avoid any thought, word or deed that would put a wedge between ourselves and Him, that, my friends, and that alone will keep us from sinning, not out of a self-serving or self-protecting motive, but for the right reason: Sin is abhorrent to GodWhen you love Him with all your heart, soul and strength, what is abhorrent to Him becomes abhorrent to you.

Young Joseph, faced with this new trial, resisted the temptation and soon experienced what Shakespeare would say many years later: ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ Perhaps it was Potiphar’s wife who inspired this comment in Shakespeare’s play!

Application:

Are you facing some kind of test or trial that you’ve never faced before? Be encouraged! It means that God isn’t finished with you yet.  His plan for your life means He is also the one who prepares you to fulfill that plan.  A new kind of test means you passed the last one.  That’s good news! As you face your day today, stand tall, head held high, shoulders back and declare with the psalmist: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  And with Joshua: As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #4 May 23, 2017

Traveling down a road he never wanted to explore, led by Ishmaelites who now owned him, Joseph was suddenly forced to cope with circumstances he never could have imagined. For all intents and purposes, the favored child of Jacob was now a slave with no rights, no freedoms and no hope. On reaching Egypt, the Ishmaelites turned their ‘investment’ quickly into cash for their own pockets.  They sold Joseph to a man called Potiphar, a prominent officer in Pharaoh’s army, a wealthy man of some prestige in the city.

Joseph never expected this and certainly never asked for such traumatic events to intrude on his privileged life.  I doubt that many people have experienced the level of shock that Joseph did at this radical and sudden change.  He had to start a new life when he had no desire to do so.  Has that ever happened to you?

The day my late husband passed away is the closest I’ve ever come to what Joseph experienced. I was faced with having to start a new life I didn’t want, even as I coped with the grief and emptiness that followed his departure.  Any of you who have likewise gone through the loss of a loved one know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. You’ve grappled with the emptiness, the confusion, the uncertainty and the ever present question: What do I do now?  There’s no turning back when your spouse departs this life. You can’t daydream, like the wife of a soldier gone to war, about the longed for day of his return from the battlefield.  Neither could Joseph. God had so ordained the events he had just endured in such a way that there was no going back.

Whenever God generates a sudden break with our past, He will always bring something new for which we will eventually thank  Him.  And the new thing He ordains makes the transition bearable, and in time, even pleasant.

I notice three things about Joseph’s new situation.

First of all, Joseph had a respite from the hostility of his brothers.  He was free of the hateful and bitter words and behaviors prompted by their jealousy. Though a slave, he no doubt had a pleasant room to live in for Potiphar’s home would have been luxurious.  History tells us that in ancient times those who were slaves in the homes of the wealthy and powerful were generally well treated in every way.

Secondly he had the presence of the Lord with him.  We read: And the LORD was with Joseph. Gen. 39:2  Surely the Lord was with Joseph in his earlier life but he also had his doting father to whom he could turn for anything he wanted or needed.  When his brothers annoyed him, he knew his father loved him and he could depend on Jacob to stand by him.  For the first time in his life, all he had was God.

Perhaps you’ve never been to the place when all you needed was God and God alone.  If you have, and the proverbial rug has been pulled out from underneath you, then you understand what this means. God doesn’t do that to you because He’s upset with you or displeased with you.  Rather, when God turns your life upside down there’s only one fundamental reason in His heart: He wants you to depend totally and unequivocally on Him. He wants you to know that He is enough; that He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.

Potiphar

The third thing that strikes me is that in his new position, Joseph quickly finds favor with his ‘owner’, Potiphar.  Joseph is highly successful! He prospers in his new ‘career’ as a slave and is entrusted with increasing authority until he is in a short time in charge of all of Potiphar’s household! Potiphar was apparently an insightful man.  He recognized Joseph’s abilities and his integrity and therefore trusted him with his estate. And even more importantly, he did so because His master saw that the LORD was with him.  Gen. 39:3  The evidence of the presence of the LORD with Joseph was powerful enough that a pagan idolater acknowledged it.  Now there’s something to think about!

God didn’t have to give Joseph such impressive success but I see the immense love and grace of God at work.  The LORD knew that another betrayal was brewing and that Joseph’s success in Potiphar’s house would be short-lived.  Perhaps the Lord blessed him so in this first stage of his slavery to encourage him.

God is not in the business of demoralizing us.  He knows, as the psalmist wrote, that ‘we are but dust.’  Psalm 103:14  He is generous with His love and kindness; and amazingly sensitive towards our needs.  Yes, the day was coming when Joseph would be thrown into prison, but not yet.  First, God have him comfort and encouragement – a breather, so to speak.  Only later, would the next trial of his faith come upon him as suddenly as the last one.

God, I believe, was up to something else as well.  Joseph knew he was gifted in dreams and their interpretation.  What he didn’t know was that in a few years he would be prime minister of Egypt, required to administer an empire, deal with a staff and render just decisions for a nation.  At this point in his life, he may have thought that his gifting in dreams was all that he was created for.  But God…knowing how He would use Joseph in more ways than interpreting dreams in the future, provided the experience he never would have had in his father’s tent.  In the routine of his duties in Potiphar’s house, Joseph discovered – perhaps as a surprise to himself – that he had administrative talent and he had the opportunity to develop that talent.  He did so with excellence as is confirmed by Potiphar’s complete trust in the Hebrew slave.

Application:

There’s a popular saying: ‘Life happens.’  I prefer to say, ‘God happens.’  For the Bible believing person nothing is a coincidence.  Everything that comes our way is another opportunity to draw closer to God or to turn away from him because of our own self-centered inclinations.  You and I are most likely not destined to be Prime Ministers of any country, but the LORD does have a purpose for your life – He’s not through with you yet, for if He was, you’d be gone already! Therefore, what we take away from this week’s lesson is the exhortation to seek God with all our heart and soul for His wisdom and guidance in whatever life throws at us, that not one trauma, not one pain, not one sudden change and not one apparent disaster would ever rob us of the spiritual growth that is hiding within the situation you experience.

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Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #3 May 16, 2017

At the conclusion of last week’s lesson Joseph was at the bottom of the pit into which his jealous brothers had thrown him. Can you imagine the whirlwind of emotions that swirled in the mind of that 17 year old? Thoughts of his father,  of his privileged childhood, of his many colored tunic; feelings of utter panic as he felt around the walls of the dark pit looking in vain for some protruding rock or brick that he might pull himself up.  But there was none.  His cries to his brothers were met with silence.  Joseph looked death square in the face.

Did the thought even cross his mind in those moments that despite his brothers’ jealousy and hatred, he was in large part responsible for where he was?  Did the realization begin to creep in on him that his status as favored son and his arrogance about his dreams played a part in what was happening on that fateful day?  We don’t know for sure but there is no indication that he did.

It is not unusual for any of us to unexpectedly find ourselves in a painful or difficult situation. Our natural response is to accuse and to blame others – whoever they are – for causing us such distress.  Rarely do we look to God in those moments and ask, ‘Is this the result of poor choices or ungodly behavior of mine in the past? What do You want me to learn from this, my God?’

There is a principle we learn from the scriptures which is clearly demonstrated in agriculture.  The kind of seed you sow into the ground determines the fruit that will later come from that seed.  You don’t get apples from an orange tree. Neither do clusters of grapes grow from tomato seeds.

Every action, every decision carries consequences and in many cases the consequences may not be visible for months or years.  But sooner or later, the fruit will be seen.  When that fruit is bitter, the only rightful response is to recognize our responsibility in the situation and repent.  While there is no singular verse that says, ‘Joseph repented’, we can safely conclude that he did, albeit later in the unfolding story as we shall see in future lessons.

In the darkness of the pit, new sounds reach Joseph’s ears.  Men talking, camels snorting. A heavy rope is suddenly thrown down and hope surfaces, but only for a moment. It is not the rope of deliverance that he assumed; it is a rope of bondage.  As his head clears the top of the pit, he recognizes immediately what is happening.  A rough looking group of Ishmaelites, descendants of his great-uncle, Ishmael, are standing by his brothers.  Judah is negotiating with them and in short order money is exchanged.  The brief glimmer of hope fades as Joseph realizes his fate. Against his will, he is tied like an animal to one of the camels and the caravan moves on, Joseph with it.  Yesterday he was surrounded by the wealth of his father’s love and possessions.  I picture him shuffling through the sand, head bowed, tears streaming down his face.  Did he look back as the distance between him and his brothers increased?  Who knows? But the pain he experienced leaves us breathless.

JosephEgypt

There is no greater compliment any person can receive than to be tapped by God for a special and unique task.  However, it also brings with it a season of preparation so that the calling will not consume the person; but the person will be consumed with God.  Our personal relationship with the Lord must always be a higher priority than the work which He has called us to do.  God took over Joseph’s life and when He did, Joseph’s comfortable existence crumbled.

The first thing to notice about Joseph’s season of preparation was that God gave him no advance notice of the price to be paid for the fulfillment of the dreams He Himself had given to Joseph.  When we think God has hidden His face from us, when our world crumbles and our hopes and dreams lie shattered on the ground, like Joseph’s were, it is then that FAITH will remind us of the words of Jeremiah I especially like this translation of chapter 29, verse 11-13: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’

The second thing to notice is that God put His finger on the very thing Joseph was most proud of: his dreams.  His reaction to the gift God had given him demonstrated his immaturity and his arrogance.  The very God who had bestowed the gift now initiated the process by which those dreams could ultimately come to pass.  There was nothing wrong with the gifts but there was a lot wrong with Joseph.  But God knew the kind of man He wanted Joseph to become and he needed to suffer what seemed to be the ‘death’ of his dreams before they could ever come to pass.  That journey had just begun.

The third thing to notice is that when God put His finger on Joseph, there was no turning back.  Any possibility of escaping his brothers and running home to Daddy was gone. God Himself became Joseph’s only hope. Though I doubt he understood what was happening as he trudged through the sand on the way to Egypt in the company of the Ishmaelites, somewhere along that road his distress must have been overwhelming. Yet, no doubt because of all he knew of his father’s experiences with the God of Israel, a spark of faith somewhere deep in his heart must have kept him from total despair.  At least he was alive and thankful to be out of the pit.  Who could have imagined that the spoiled teenager, the apple of his father’s eye, would find himself in such a situation?

Application:

We are sometimes too quick to celebrate the gift God has given us or the calling He has issued to us without having the wisdom to understand our need for preparation because of how God wants to use us in this world.  God has an amazing way of delivering us from horrible circumstances (the pit) only to lead us into other circumstances we never expected (years in Egypt).

What was accomplished by Joseph’s deliverance from the pit: There was no way back. Yes, he had to say good-bye to his father, good-bye to the land of Israel, good-bye to his beautiful tunic of many colors, but he could also say good-bye to the pit, to a premature death!

In your course of following God’s will for your life, you may be in a pit, you may be on the road to somewhere you never wanted to go, utterly distressed and wondering where God has gone!

Today, let me tell you where He is.  He’s looking forward to seeing you at the palace!

 

Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson 2 May 9, 2017

Last week we were introduced to a teenager who made three mistakes: he was a tattletale, he flaunted the gift his father gave him (the many colored coat) and he abused the gift God had given him (dreams concerning his destiny).  And we learned that while his gifts were real, he was not ready to handle them properly.  At seventeen, he had neither the wisdom nor the common sense.  God knew that even if Joseph didn’t.

God had a plan, not just for Joseph, but for His people as well.  For Joseph to fulfill his destiny, a path of preparation unfolded with all of its hardship, pain and disappointment.  We read in Psalm 138:8 The LORD will accomplish what concerns me, and that is exactly what we will see happen in Joseph’s life.

You may ask, ‘Why did God give him these dreams before he was ready?’  The answer is that the promise of God is what sustained him during his years of suffering.  In his heart, he knew there was a brighter future ahead; he knew the Lord had a purpose for his life though he had no idea how it would evolve.  But the promise was such that it gave Joseph an anchor in the storm, a hope in the whirlwind and a rock on which to stand.

A saint of God is remembered for saying that if he knew he had twenty-five years left to live, he would spend twenty in preparation and the last five fulfilling God’s call on his life. This was a man who understood what Joseph needed to learn.  As a teenager he was a diamond in the rough in need of a great deal of cutting and polishing.  The Master Sculptor began a process in which everything about Joseph that would interfere with his destiny would be chipped away so that a man of God would emerge to demonstrate godly character and integrity, as we shall see in the course of our study.

Joseph dreamed that his eleven brothers and his parents would one day bow down to him. He may well have expected the dream would come to pass quickly.  Aren’t we all like that?  Yet by studying the heroes of Scripture we learn something different.  Most often, a long time passes before the ‘dream’ or the ‘calling’ comes into play.  Think about Moses.  As an adult, he chose to leave the palace of Pharaoh behind and all the prestige he enjoyed there to identify with his people, expecting they would receive him with joy. Instead Moses was ushered into a forty year period of preparation! At the age of 80, he entered the most important part of his life.  In our last study on the life of David we saw that after being anointed king by Samuel, many years of trials and hardships were David’s lot before he finally ascended to the throne of Israel.

Joseph was pretty enamored of his dreams and I strongly doubt he had any idea that his dreams were about something much bigger than himself: the preservation of Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel.

JosephCoat

So we read in Genesis 37: 12 -17 that one morning, Jacob sent Joseph off to check on his brothers’ welfare. The eleven were pasturing their father’s flocks of sheep at some distance from the homestead, a common practice in those days.  Joseph willingly accepted the assignment and I wonder if he was thinking, Perhaps this will be the moment that my brothers bow down before me.  Little did Jacob realize as he watched his son depart that morning that it was the last time they would see each other for a very long and painful season.  Daddy’s boy was about to lose his privileges, his comforts and his security.

The brothers saw him coming from afar.  How could they not? His brightly colored tunic stirred their wounded feelings and simmering bitterness. But they also were deeply aware of the principles and values of their great-grandfather, Abraham, their grandfather, Isaac and their father, Jacob.  It was not a simple thing for them to get rid of this annoying younger brother.  They would need a foolproof plan if they were to get away with it.

One said, ‘…let us kill him and cast him into some pit and we will say that a wild beast devoured him.  Then we shall see what will become of his dreams.’  Gen. 37:19  Look at those words carefully. Did you catch it?  It was his dreams that they feared.  They had seen that though their father rebuked Joseph when he spoke about his dreams, nevertheless, Jacob ‘kept the saying in mind.’ (vs. 11)  When their father gave the impression that perhaps the dreams were real it gave them pause. They were afraid that just maybe there was something to those dreams and they wanted no part of it.  If they could just get rid of Joseph, their struggle with his dreams would be over.

There will always be some who militate against God’s purpose for your life.  Yes, Joseph was insensitive and self-centered, but that was no excuse for the wicked reaction of his brothers.  One of them, Reuben, intervened. Not wanting to be party to the murder of a brother, Reuben said, ‘Let’s not kill him…but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness and lay no hand on him.’ (vs. 21-22)  What he didn’t tell the others was that he planned to go back and rescue Joseph, probably give him a stern warning and send him back to their father.  However, Joseph didn’t know that.

All Joseph knew at the time was that on his arrival, he was roughly stripped of his beautiful coat, dragged over to the pit and thrown down into it with no food, no water and no hope.  There can be no doubt that he called out to them, pleaded with them. But ‘then they sat down to eat a meal.’ (vs. 25) One can almost feel the callousness, the coldness, the bitterness of the brothers against Joseph.

Application:

At the bottom of that pit, Joseph’s dreams were as shattered as he was. We can only imagine the anguish, the thoughts of despair, the doubts about his dreams that assailed him in that dark and desperate situation.  As far as he could see, he had no future.

Have you ever felt like that? Here is God’s answer: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for good and not for harm to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

In the depths of that pit, Joseph had a choice: to despair that his life was over and nothing would come of his God given dreams – or – to hold on in faith and hope that the God who sees down to the darkest and deepest pit had not abandoned him nor forgotten him. Many years would pass before he would accurately recognize what that day would mean in his life.  Hindsight would teach him later but for the present, trusting God was all that Joseph had left.

It’s all we have as well in good times and in difficult times.

Remember this: God has a plan for your life; and God never forgets His plan.  He will accomplish what concerns you.  On your darkest day, God is as faithful as on your brightest morning.

Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson 1 May 2, 2017

Though many a sermon has been preached and many a book has been written on the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, patriarch of Israel, we dare to begin a study of his life trusting the Spirit of God to show us what we need to see and grant us the understanding to apply the events and lessons of Joseph’s life to ourselves and our place in today’s world.

Perhaps you have heard the saying: A diamond is just a simple piece of coal that made good under pressure.  I can think of no better description of Joseph’s life, can you?

diamond

Joseph emerges onto center stage in Genesis 37:2-4 where we read:

Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives.  And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.  Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a cloak [or tunic] of various colors.  His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

A teenager – and an immature, spoiled one at that – is the Joseph we first encounter in this passage.  A mere 17 years of age, there is nothing in these opening verses that make Joseph look good.  He was a tattletale and nobody likes a tattletale.  His father made the deadly parental mistake of favoring him above his brothers, openly, without restraint. His brothers were jealous and angry.  We are therefore introduced to a seriously dysfunctional family situation!

Yet, despite his youthfulness, his immaturity and his self-righteousness, God gave him prophetic dreams.  It’s tremendously comforting to us that the Scriptures do not hide the faults and failings of its heroes, but lets us know ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ since that’s who we all are – sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes downright ugly! We can identify and we can also be assured that God can profoundly use an imperfect child of His.

Generally speaking there are two basic reasons why somebody becomes a tattletale: self-righteousness and the desire that everybody else should know their superiority! When the tattletale demeans someone else, they get a false sense of their own superior value.  Taking on the persona of a spy, they delight in passing on negative information for the purpose of making themselves look better.  It can either be gossip – the repeating of negative information about others that may be true; or it can be slander – relaying information that is not true and is spoken with the intent to harm the other person.

Joseph, it would seem, was in the habit of criticizing his brothers to his father for the level of anger and jealousy they had towards him is too deep for just one offense.  Joseph certainly had some relationship and personality issues.  He demonstrated no concern for the feelings of his brothers and used the favor he had in Jacob’s eyes as justification for being a fault-finder.  In his case, being the ‘favorite’ did him little good.  He no doubt enjoyed certain advantages but his ego was bigger than he knew how to handle at this point in his life. But though the future Prime Minister of Egypt and Preserver of Abraham’s descendants got off to a pretty rotten start, God saw beyond that and was well able to take this spoiled, arrogant teenager and turn him into a man of God.

Jacob, his father, also suffered greatly from his parenting mistake.  Thinking he was gifting his son with a beautiful cloak because of his love, he, too, was blind to the feelings of his other sons.  Having it made was bad enough, but having Joseph wear it pretty regularly only made things even worse.

So in this first lesson we take away two major principles.

Gifts that we have received – from God and from other people – are never to be flaunted insensitively.  This applies equally to spiritual gifts and to material blessings.  It is one thing to express thankfulness but entirely another to boast in word or manner about one’s gifts.  The vari-colored tunic didn’t have to be a stumbling block.  It was Jacob’s lack of taking his other sons into consideration and Joseph’s immaturity and ego that made it so.

Our immaturity, our failures and our inadequacies will never disqualify us from being used by God, but what they will do is invite the discipline of the LORD into our lives in order to form us into the man or woman we must become in order to fulfill the destiny for which He created us.

Application:

Gossip is deadly to good relationships. Repeating negative information about others displeases the LORD and damages our integrity.

God is able and ready to form us into the person He wants us to be in order that we might fulfill the purpose for which He put us on this earth if we will submit to His discipline in our lives however He may choose to send it.

What do these two principles say to you today – right now – in your present life situation?

 

New Study Begins Tomorrow, May 2nd

Hello there friends and subscribers,

The first issue of our next Bible study will post tomorrow, May 2nd.  I’m excited about what we will learn together over the next several weeks.

Biblestudy

Want to know what we’ll be studying together?

Watch your inbox tomorrow for another adventure in the pages of God’s Word. If you want to venture a guess as to what we’ll focus on, leave me a comment below.

How about mentioning this blog to a friend or family member?

Til tomorrow – may the presence of the Lord fill you and surround you!

Leah