Shadow of Things to Come — #19 September 19, 2017

We come today to our final lesson on the life of Joseph.  We have journeyed with him since he was a young teenager, full of zeal and lacking in wisdom, but truly called of God for a mighty purpose. We empathized with his suffering and were encouraged with God’s grace upon his life, granting him favor and spiritual gifts in keeping with the divine call on Joseph’s life.

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, Joseph buries his father in Hebron and then faces one last challenge with his brothers. With Jacob gone, the brothers fear that perhaps Joseph was good to them only because their father was present.  They concoct a plan to persuade Joseph to continue his kindness toward them.  Joseph’s response is a brilliant testimony to the lesson we learned last week: total forgiveness.

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To their fears, Joseph replies: ‘Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.”  Gen. 50: 19-21  His assurance that there was no play acting in order to impress Jacob, but rather his forgiveness of them was sincere and furthermore, he recognized the hand of God operating behind the circumstances that were painful.

It takes a certain maturity to recognize God at work when we are suffering or discouraged.  To do so, presupposes a living relationship with the LORD and a consciousness of His presence in one’s life.  It also reveals a heart that has learned to be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit of God accompanied by a readiness to obey.

Joseph has come a long way and I pray that we have, too.  Joseph continued to live in Egypt along with his brothers and their families.  At the age of 110, Joseph died after seeing three generations of his descendants.  His final request mirrored that of his father.  He asked his brothers to take his bones back to Israel when the LORD would restore them to their land.  Years later, Moses did exactly that, carrying the bones of Joseph to the Promised Land.

So what have we learned during these weeks?

We’ve learned that God can speak to a young person, immature though they may be, and impart a dream, a vision, a direction for their life.

We’ve also learned that with God’s call comes a time of preparation.  Joseph wasn’t ready at seventeen to see the fulfillment of his dream.  It took years of refining and maturing.  It still does.

We’ve learned that the journey towards the destiny of our life make take unusual twists and turns but at every step of the way, God is personally involved.

We’ve learned that it is foolish to waste our suffering and profoundly wise to profit from it.  Each trial or challenge is an opportunity to grow spiritually and draw closer to God.

Finally we’ve learned that unconditional and total forgiveness is a powerful force for good – not just for the forgiven, but for the forgiver.  Total forgiveness is what God grants to us when we repent and that same God commanded us ‘Be holy as I am holy.’  Lev. 11:44-45  Part of fulfilling that commandment is that we imitate Him by forgiving one another as He forgives us.

It is fitting that we conclude this series just three days before the Festival of Trumpets, Rosh Hashanah.  Four days later we observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It is a season dedicated to repentance as we prepare our hearts for the LORD’s appointed feast (Leviticus 23) and all that it prophetically signifies.

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If there was ever a time to make sure that we hold no grudges and harbor no bitterness, it is now – right now.

If there was ever a time to make sure you have forgiven anyone at all who has hurt you or offended you, it is now – right now.

If there ever was a time to make sure you’ve forgiven yourself, it is now – right now.

May this holy season bring you peace and joy in the knowledge of God’s eternal and unconditional love for you. And may all we learned from Joseph’s life remain with us and enrich our spiritual walk.

God bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon you and fill you with the awareness of His everlasting love.

Thank you for being part of this study.  We will resume our studies after the Festival of Succot (Feast of Tabernacles) which ends on October 12th here in Israel.

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #18 September 12, 2017

Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life in Goshen, the best area of Egypt at that time, being provided for by his son, Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt.  During those years, the Bible tells us that Jacob’s family acquired property and had many children.

At the ripe old age of 147, Jacob understood that his days were numbered and death approached.  He called Joseph to his tent and asked his favored son to swear that he would bury Jacob, not in Egypt, but take his body back to Canaan and bury him with his father and grandfather in Hebron, where Jacob’s tomb can still be visited to this day.  Having been assured that his request would be granted, Jacob had peace.

It was not long afterwards that Joseph received word that his father was ill.  Quickly he took his two sons to Jacob’s tent in order that his father might bless the boys that had been born to Joseph there in Egypt.  The scene is dramatic and profound.

Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed.  Then Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, ‘Behold I will make you fruitful and numerous and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.  Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are min; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.  But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.  Gen. 48:5-7

Jacob then proceeded to bless the two boys but something unusual happened. Normally the right hand of blessing was laid on the head of the oldest son and the left hand on the younger one.  Jacob did just the opposite, indicating that the blessing of the Firstborn would fall to Ephraim (the younger boy).  Joseph was dismayed and tried to correct his father, but Jacob held steady. In reply to Joseph’s attempt to move his hands, Jacob said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he will also become a people and he also will be great.  However his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’  Gen. 48:19

With this blessing, Jacob assured Joseph that his descendants would be many, so many that multiple nations would come into being because of the generations of Ephraim.  The depth of the prophetic significance of this act of Jacob, is beyond the scope of this post but it has a great deal to do with the restoration of the two Kingdoms – Israel and Judah – back into One People – a topic for a different time.

What grabs my attention here is the relationship of Joseph and his brothers after the entire family had settled in Goshen and were able to interact on a regular basis with the brother they had betrayed so many years earlier. Surely the issue of forgiveness had to be in operation big time!

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Joseph had to persuade his brothers that he had truly and thoroughly forgiven them.  He demonstrated that in a number of ways during the course of the narrative.

We read in Gen. 45:3 that the brothers were “troubled at his presence” when they initially realized who the Prime Minister of Egypt really was! If you remember, when he was ready to reveal himself, he commanded every Egyptian to leave the room. (Gen. 45:1) He refused to humiliate and shame his brothers in front of his servants and assistants.

This is the first of five principles that reveal what true forgiveness is.  An unforgiving spirit wants other people to know how we were hurt. Joseph, on the other hand, acted just the opposite. He protect his brothers’ reputations before those who knew nothing about what had happened.

Secondly, he did everything in his power to make them feel at ease in his presence.  He held no grudge.  When we want the offender to feel uncomfortable around us, we betray our own lack of forgiveness toward them.

Thirdly, Joseph didn’t let his brothers entertain anger against themselves.  He said, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt.  Now therefore be not grieved or angry with yourselves.  It was not you who sent me here but God in order to preserve life.”  Gen. 45:4-5  Joseph had learned to see the hand of God beyond his feelings and the behavior of his brothers. Seeing God’s involvement freed him to forgive his brothers from a sincere heart.

Fourth, he made it easy for them to forgive themselves when he urged them ‘Do not be angry with yourselves.’  He does not deny his hurt at their betrayal; he rises above it so successfully that he is able to help the very ones who hurt him to forgive themselves.

Fifth, he did everything he could to help them save face; to protect their reputation.  It appears from the scripture that Joseph went so far as to make sure that Jacob, their father, would never know what had really happened.  He covered for his brothers.

That, my friends, is a picture of total forgiveness.

It is also a picture of how God forgives. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and He remembers them no more.  That promise is His response to our repentance – what a compassionate, gracious God He is!

Application:

All of us have made mistakes – some big, some small. Have you experienced the gracious forgiveness of God toward you?  If you have, the next question is, have you forgiven yourself?  It is irrational and prideful to stay angry with yourself when your Heavenly Father has already forgiven you.

All of us have been hurt – it’s part of life.  Have you forgiven? Are you able to let it go and not talk about it to others? Do you have the maturity and grace to ‘cover’ for the one who hurt you?

Let us all ponder these five principles of total forgiveness we see in Joseph’s behavior and ask God to help us in our relationships with others to forgive as He forgives us.

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #17 September 5, 2017

At the end of our last lesson we joined Jacob and all of his family as they set out for Egypt to be reunited with Joseph.  We can only imagine the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that accompanied them.

All the persons belonging to Jacob, who came to Egypt, his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons, were sixty-six persons in all and the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy.  Gen. 46:26-27

It would have taken several days.  Can you imagine the conversations, the thoughts, the emotions during that journey?

Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die since I have seen your face that you are still alive.’ 46:29-30

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I suppose only those who have experienced a prolonged separation from those whom they love can begin to really appreciate the impact of this reunion on Joseph, on Jacob and on the entire family.

With Pharaoh’s blessing, Joseph settles his family in the best part of Egypt, an area called Goshen where there was pasture for the animals.  Pharaoh even committed the care of his own flocks to the brothers of Joseph for the famine in Egypt was still severe.  Only in Goshen was there a remnant of pasture land.  Joseph provided food for his father and his entire family.

During this time of famine, Joseph had enormous power.  The life the people once enjoyed became a desperate struggle for survival.  Personal reserves were gone. Everyone needed help.  In that setting Joseph had every opportunity to take advantage of the situation, had he been a lesser man. He could have increased prices, asked for and accepted bribes and focused only on his family.  He didn’t.  He handled the situation with integrity.  In response to Joseph the people do not rebel or grumble.  Instead they praise him, respect him and trust him. His integrity affected not just his family but the entire nation.

Those who act with integrity make an impact on the world around them.

It is one thing to observe integrity in someone else and another to possess it ourselves.  How is a lack of integrity recognized?

Do we try to pass a child off as younger than they really are in order to save a couple dollars at a museum or movie theater? Do we tell our children to inform callers that we are not at home even though we are? Do we under-report our income to deliberately cheat on taxes?  Are we friendly to a neighbor to their face but gossip about them behind their back?

Each of these is an example of a lack of integrity.  Little things, you protest?  It’s in the little things that we show what we really are!

Integrity is a big deal! So how do we cultivate it?  A couple of thoughts…

***Make a commitment to read at least two chapters in God’s Word every day.  The Word of God is the guide for honest and holy living.  Spending time EVERY day – even the few minutes it takes to read two chapters – will make a difference in your value system, your outlook and your behavior.  Consistently reading the Word of God impacts the way you think and how you think is how you will act.

***Recognize that integrity is best measured by what you do when no one is looking. Examine yourself.  Is your behavior different at work when the boss isn’t around? Or are you the same employee regardless?  What do you watch on television when you know that everyone else in the house is asleep? What about the internet? Do you quickly click the minimize button when your spouse or your child walks in the room?  Doesn’t that tell you something?

Application:

Integrity means being the same person when you’re alone as when you’re in the company of others.  A person who values integrity wants to weed out any behavior that can turn into the cancer of hypocrisy.

Being an person of integrity doesn’t mean that you are perfect, but that you strive consistently to live out what you profess you believe.

A person with integrity will stand when others fall.  They will be remembered when others are forgotten….like Joseph.

In a world where integrity has largely fallen into the dustbin of history, choose to be different: honest, upright, straightforward, kind and faithful.  Choose to be a man or woman of integrity.