Shadow of Things to Come #15 August 15, 2017

In last week’s lesson the brothers of Joseph prepared to return to Egypt for more provisions, this time taking Benjamin with them.  When Joseph saw his younger brother, the scripture records that ‘he was deeply stirred’.  He quickly left their presence for he did not want to weep in front of them.  He invited them to dinner at his own home and as portions of food were distributed to each of his brothers, he ordered that five times as much should be given to Benjamin.

After the meal he commanded his house steward to ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.  Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and the money for his grain.’ Genesis 44:1-2  Joseph arranged yet another test to see how his brothers would react.

They had hardly left the city when Joseph sent his personal house steward after them to accuse them of stealing his silver cup.  When the brothers, horrified, protested vehemently that they would do no such thing, the steward starting examining the sacks til he found the silver cup in Benjamin’s. Their protests turned to shock and panic.  Hurriedly they made their way back into the city and to Joseph’s presence.  Keep in mind they still don’t know who he truly is.

Judah steps up and stands before the “Egyptian” to intercede on behalf of Benjamin for their father’s sake.  In response to the accusation, Judah confesses, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants.  Behold, we are my lord’s slaves both we and the one in whose sack the cup was found.’  Gen. 44:16

It is very important to note the word ‘iniquity’ in Judah’s confession.  There are three words used several places throughout the Torah and the Prophets: sin, transgression and iniquity.  Each has a specific meaning.

SIN means literally ‘to miss the mark.’ The Greek counterpart to the Hebrew word means ‘to miss the mark and not share in the prize’. So SIN causes man to lose a portion of the inheritance intended for him. SIN starts in the mind, in the motives, even before a physical action takes place.

TRANSGRESSION means to revolt or rebel, to break away from just authority; it implies a soul ready to pursue more and more evil; to step over the boundaries, cross over the lines into wickedness.

INIQUITY is of a different nature. Iniquity speaks not of a behavior or an individual sin but refers to the results of sin in your bloodline. Just as you inherit physical features from your ancestors, so you also inherit spiritual tendencies and inclinations.  The Scripture is very clear: ‘You shall not bow down and serve them for I, the LORD your GOD am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’ Exodus 20:5-6   Notice very carefully, that it is NOT the sins or the transgressions of the fathers, but the INIQUITY – the ungodly tendencies and character traits that are handed down from generation to generation from ancestors who did not know God and/or did not repent of their wickedness.  To give a simple example: how many of you have heard someone say,  ‘I know I’m stubborn; everybody in my family is stubborn. It’s just the way we are.’ That is INIQUITY – an accepting and agreeing with something the Bible calls sin and considering it instead as a ‘family’ characteristic with no intent to change it.

Keeping this understanding in mind, look at what Judah said to Joseph: God has found out (or exposed) the iniquity of your servants.  Judah is declaring that a recurrent sin in the family line has met its ‘waterloo’.  What was that iniquity? The family tendency that has gone unchecked? The practice of covering up the truth – deception.

Abraham lied about his wife, not just once but twice.  Years later, Isaac did the same thing though he was not even born when Abraham had lied about Isaac’s mother! Jacob used deception in his relationship with his brother, his father and Laban.  The brothers deceived their father into thinking that Joseph was dead.  Do you see the line of ‘iniquity’ from generation to generation?

The time had come to stop it. How? By confession and repentance.  From verse 18 to verse 34, Judah comes clean on behalf of himself and his brothers and offers to remain as a slave of Joseph in place of Benjamin.

Standing there listening to his brother’s confession and seeing the terror on the faces of the others, Joseph could not control himself any longer.  He was now convinced that their repentance was sincere and therefore, he put everyone else out of the house.  Weeping he declared to the eleven men before him, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’

Gen45

He drew them closer to him and explained everything that had happened since that fateful day when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. But here are the most important words he spoke to them in that moment:

‘Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant upon the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Therefore it was not you who sent me here, it was God…’ vs. 5-8

We learn from Joseph certain characteristics of true forgiveness.

First of all, Joseph put everyone else out of the room before confronting his brothers with the truth of who he was.  He did not humiliate them in front of the Egyptian servants.

Secondly, he made NO reference to the pain he had personally endured, but instead focused on what he had learned through it; namely, that God had a purpose and a plan for sending him to Egypt and therefore he did not blame or condemn his brothers even though what they did was deeply hurtful to him on a personal level.

Thirdly, he ‘rewarded’ their betrayal with good! In verses 9-13 Joseph instructs his brothers to go quickly and bring their father down to Egypt.  He promises to care for them and provide for them for the rest of his life.

Application:

Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers was expressed with kindness, protectiveness, and blessing.  Not a shred of self-righteousness or retaliation came out of his mouth.  The years of suffering had turned him into a man of God.  His message to us is loud and clear: Don’t waste your sorrows!  Let God use them to mature you, refine you and perfect you into the man or woman He created you to be.

 

Shadow of Things to Come #14 August 8, 2017

As chapter 42 of Genesis comes to a close, Jacob’s sons arrive at their father’s tent with grain but without their brother, Simeon, who remained imprisoned in Egypt.  They report to their father all the events of their encounter with the Egyptian Prime Minister saying that he spoke to them harshly and accused them of being spies.  They cautiously tell Jacob that the Egyptian demanded they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, as proof that they were not spies.  Jacob adamantly refuses.  You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.  (Gen. 42:36)

Time goes on, Simeon languishes in the Egyptian prison and the famine continues. The provisions which the brothers brought back are dwindling. Concerned for the welfare of his family, Jacob tells his sons to go again to Egypt to buy food.  Judah steps forward and reminds his father of the Egyptian’s request and gives his word that he will personally take responsibility for returning Benjamin home.  Jacob finally relented and instructed his sons to take with them gifts for the Egyptian so that he will be persuaded to release Simeon and Benjamin as well.  He concludes with these pessimistic words: And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.  (Gen. 43:14)

During his life Jacob has suffered some difficult moments.  For seven years he worked for the right to marry Rachel only to have his father-in-law trick him on his wedding night and switch Rachel for Leah. Later Rachel remains barren for years while Leah regularly presents Jacob with sons.  When Rachel finally gives birth to Joseph, Jacob is wildly delighted.  And when she then becomes pregnant again, his joy knows no bounds, but that joy quickly turns to deep sorrow as Rachel dies in childbirth.  Benjamin joins Joseph as Jacob’s favorites.  Faced now with the possibility of losing Benjamin he is utterly desolate.  Jacob never stopped believing in the God of Israel; but his experiences weakened his faith in God’s personal involvement in his life.

We cannot condemn Jacob for we are just like him.

When prayers seem to go unanswered or unexpected tragedy befalls us, what is our response?  Do we, like Jacob, fall victim to depression rather than maintaining a living faith?

Biblical faith is a channel of trust from our heart to God.  That does not mean that we must deny our feelings and emotions but that we must not judge God by them! Biblical faith means that when we cannot understand why certain things happen, we are nevertheless convinced that God does – and that He has our best interest at heart whether or not we can see it at the moment.

Biblical faith trusts Him because of WHO he is, not because of WHAT or HOW He does.  Our emotions do not dictate our faith; our faith rules our emotions.  We have come to believe and are persuaded of what Jeremiah proclaimed: For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good, to give you a future and a hope..’  Jeremiah 29:11

We accept with humility what Isaiah wrote:  His ways are not our ways; nor are His thoughts are thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8

We have come to understand that God does not exist for us; we exist for Him.  He does not sit in the heavens to pamper us or jump at our every whim.  We are privileged to know and serve Him; not the other way around.  It is one thing to acknowledge that God exists; agnostics do that.  It is entirely something else to trust Him with every aspect of our lives, knowing His heart towards us and that His plan is perfect, regardless of what we may think at any given moment.

Neither the brothers nor Jacob had any understanding on that day of what God was up to.  They had no clue that the ‘harsh Egyptian’ was in fact, their very own brother, nor that the God of Israel was working out His plan to save not only Jacob but all of his descendants through the present circumstances which they found so stressful.

Faith perseveres when understanding fails, but ONLY when our faith is grounded firmly in WHO GOD IS and we are convinced to the core of our being of His love and His perfect plan for our lives.

Application:

It serves us well to remember that this life is at best temporary but an eternal world awaits us.  When we get there, it will be our undying trust in the Holy One of Israel that will be our glory.  Biblical faith ‘sees’ beyond the circumstances or unexpected events and cries out with David, ‘ I will bless the LORD at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’  Psalm 34:1

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #13 August 1, 2017

Benjamin, Joseph’s little brother, had not come with the other ten brothers to Egypt.  As nine of them returned home, leaving Simeon in the Egyptian prison as a guarantee that they would return, the conversations on the way must have been intense.  They were returning to their father with food, but also with a heavy heart.  Things had not gone so well in Egypt.  What started out as a simple journey to find food – they thought – had turned into a nightmare they could not understand.  The Egyptian Governor had accused them of being spies, imprisoned them for three days and then insisted they return with their youngest brother in tow.  How would they ever explain this to their aged father?

Joseph had overheard his brother, Reuben’s conversation with the other.  ‘Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? And you would not listen?’ he berated them.  Reuben being the eldest son had tried to exert his influence over the others but to no avail.  Now he was saying, ‘I told you so.’  But it did no good.  It was too late, in their opinion.  And all the while that conversation was going on, Joseph understood them but said nothing.  He couldn’t without giving himself away.  So instead he turned away from them and wept.

I wonder how often we have been the Reubens who said to others, ‘I told you so.’  Adding guilt to someone who is already feeling the shame of what they’ve done accomplishes nothing positive; it only makes things worse.  It is our ego that wants to be recognized as being ‘right’.  In this regard, I am so often reminded of my late husband who frequently said, ‘It is better to be kind than right.’ How true!

The real issue going on here is that their consciences were finally getting to them.  Some people seem to be able to go years with being troubled by their conscience.  Sooner or later covered up sins for which we have not repented catch up with us, if not in this life, certainly when we stand before God at our death.  Better to deal with it now.

That’s where Joseph’s brothers find themselves, having to come to terms with their 22 year old sin. Can you imagine how Joseph felt listening to his brothers say, ‘We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the terror in his face when he besought us and we would not listen.  Therefore this distress has now come upon us.‘  Gen. 42:41

It is to their credit that these men, guilty though they be, had the good sense to understand that they were reaping the consequences of their own sin.  Do you realize that’s quite admirable? How many times have people fallen on hard times or suffered some sudden misfortune and it never occurs to them to question if their present circumstance is a result of some ungodly deed in their past?  There is a firm principle in the scripture that serves us well if we abide by it.  Whatever a man sows, that will he reap.  It’s another way of saying, ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.’

God is amazingly merciful and generous in giving us time to repent for our misdeeds.  That’s why sometimes we fail to recognize the connection between our present misfortune and our previous failures.  This is not to say that every misfortune is a direct result of some sin or failing in our past, but we need to face the fact that many of them are!  When we don’t understand that, we resort to finger pointing, accusation, blaming others and not taking responsibility for our own problems.

One of the greatest lessons we learn from Joseph’s brothers is their maturity in recognizing their responsibility for the ill treatment they received at this “stranger’s” hands. Their betrayal of their brother had come back to haunt them and they knew it.

What are the signs of a troubled conscience? The first is the revival of the memory, then fear of being exposed.  The one thing they did not want was to be found out; the one person they did not want to know about it was their father.

Joseph commanded that their sacks be filled with corn and told the workers to put every man’s money back into the sacks and to give them provisions for their journey.  (Gen. 42:45) Why in the world did he do that?

Sometimes God puts the man or woman he wants to use in the perfect situation to vindicate themselves as a test.  Joseph could have done so but he didn’t.  He passed the test; he would wait for God to vindicate him at the perfect time.

The first evening of their journey back the brothers discover the money they had paid for the grain back in their sacks.  They panic. You might think they would have been delighted.

The nine brothers conclude that God is the only explanation. “What is this that God has done to us?” they lament.  (42:48)  God was boxing them in and they were getting closer and closer to being exposed.  When they returned home, they were extremely careful in their choice of words. ‘The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us and took us for spies. And we said to him, ‘We are true men and not spies’, but he demanded that we bring our youngest brother to him as proof that we are not spies. That was the worst thing their father wanted to hear but they had to say it. There was no way out.

Application:

These brothers speak across centuries to us: learn to repent quickly for what you have done.  The longer you hide your sin the worst it is.  God knows already when we have failed; better to run to Him, confess our sin and ask forgiveness; then go make it right if we have sinned against a fellow human being.  To leave it festering in a troubled conscience brings all manner of physical and emotional distress, such as we now see in Joseph’s brothers.

How will Jacob handle the news they bring?  We’ll take an in depth look at Jacob next week.