Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #8 June 20, 2017

Joseph is in prison, not for any wrong he had done, but by appointment of God though I doubt he realized it at the time.  How often does God allow things to happen in our lives that are painful, difficult, puzzling? We can’t see at the time why this is happening.  Sometimes we later recognize how God was working in the past but sometimes it remains a mystery and that’s where our faith holds us steady, trusting Him.  If only He would tell us that this difficulty we are facing is part of our preparation, but you have no doubt already recognized that God doesn’t do that because our Faith is precious to Him.

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Two new prisoners join Joseph at some point after his incarceration, the palace butler and the palace baker. I’m quite sure Joseph had no earthly idea that their presence in the prison had anything to do with his future destiny.  Yet, one night – who knows how long after they’d arrived – both of them had dreams which troubled them so much that they wanted an interpretation.  Ancient Egyptians understood that often – not always – our dreams contain messages and there were many interpreters of dreams in that society.  What the butler and the baker didn’t realize was that an interpreter was among them for anything involving dreams was deeply interesting to Joseph.  God had gifted him with the ability to interpret dreams though he’d not used that gift since arriving in Egypt.  His preparation required that he learn other skills he would need for a future he could not imagine.

So one morning, the butler and the baker look depressed.  Joseph notices and asks why.  They answer, We each had a dream and there is nobody to interpret it.  (Gen. 40:8)  Joseph replied that interpretations are from God.  Notice that he did not put the spotlight on himself.  First he acknowledged his God and turned their attention to Him before he said, Tell me the dreams. 

What’s also interesting here is that if anybody had a right to be sad and depressed it was Joseph!  Yet he noticed their sadness and sought to alleviate it.  Years ago I heard someone say that when we are depressed, discouraged or disheartened, our greatest need at that moment is to lift somebody else up; to give away what we so desperately need ourselves. Perhaps it was precisely because Joseph was not all wrapped up in his own misfortune that the Spirit of God so quickly gave him the interpretations for each of the dreams.  They were clear and to the point.

To the butler he said, Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. (Gen. 40:13)  That’s about as clear and precise as one can get! Joseph had full confidence that he had heard from God and gave the interpretation exactly as he heard it.

Imagine if you were the butler.  What relief this word gave him!

But now, what if you were the baker, standing there listening to the good news your co-worker had received.  Surely the baker’s anticipation increased – surely there would be a good word for him as well.

It was not to be.  Joseph was as truthful with the baker as he was with the butler, though the message to the baker was devastating. Within three more days, Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.  (Gen. 40: 19) It could not have been easy for Joseph to look his fellow prisoner in the eye and tell him that he had three days to live.  And imagine what those next three days would have been like.  Did the baker get angry with Joseph? Did he plunge into a deep depression?  Did Joseph try to minister to the baker in those final three days of his life? We don’t know, but what we do know is that on the third day what Joseph declared happened exactly as he had spoken it.  His integrity was intact.  He had spoken the truth he heard when it was pleasant and when it was not pleasant. He did not pander to his audience; he did not succumb to the fear of the face of man. He obeyed the Spirit of God.  An important message to all of us!

One would think that surely now Joseph is ready but in an unguarded moment, Joseph let a bit of self-righteousness slip out. Think of me when it will be well with you, he said to the butler, and show kindness to me.  Make mention of me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this place.  (Genesis 40:14)  That self-righteousness had to die in Joseph before he would be ready for exaltation. So the butler forgot all about Joseph…for two whole years!

To face his brothers later with true forgiveness in his heart Joseph would have to be utterly free from the need to manipulate anyone or any circumstance to his own advantage.   Joseph needed to know to the depth of his being that when God wants you in a place, He is well able to bring it about.  No manipulation on your part is required or acceptable.

Application:

As I’m writing these words I get the sense that someone out there really needs this word right now – perhaps more than one of you.  Or maybe you know someone who does not subscribe to this blog who is presently struggling with this very issue.  Please – share this message with them and encourage them to wait on God, to trust Him and to believe that God’s timing is perfect.

 

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #7 June 13, 2017

At the end of last week’s lesson, we left Joseph incarcerated in a dungeon though he had committed no crime. Generally speaking, we tend to think that if something tragic happens to us, that God is somehow punishing us for something we’ve done in the past that offended Him.  But is that what we should think?

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Psalm 103:10 – 11 says God does not deal with us after our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him.  God’s chastening or disciplining of us is not His way of ‘getting even’; it is preparing us for something better, more valuable and more worthwhile.  God disciplines us for our own good that we might grow in holiness.

Sometimes it appears to us as though God disciplines the people who least need it.  Consider Job. The Bible says that he was ‘righteous in his generation’.  One might think that God would go after the wicked instead.  There’s a principle here that we learn from agriculture.  A tree that is bearing fruit is the one that is pruned, stripped, cut back, not to take away its beauty, but that it might bear even more beautiful and delicious fruit.  A fruit tree that is not bearing fruit will be cut down and chopped up for firewood.  Therefore, never be surprised at God’s discipline in your life.  In fact, it is something to be thankful for.  It means that you’ve done well and now it’s time to do even better!

Perhaps the greatest test anyone has to pass before being used mightily for God is to be humiliated or rejected for doing right and keeping quiet about it.  God had a plan for Joseph’s life that went far beyond anything he could think or imagine at the time.   While Potiphar’s wife was ruining his reputation, God was watching Joseph’s heart and attitude.  Would he try to protect himself, defend himself? Or would he trust God to vindicate him at the time of God’s choosing?

Do you know that nowhere in the scriptures does it say that Joseph was ever cleared of the false charges? There is no verse that declares Joseph innocent in the eyes of those who knew him at the time.  Can you imagine how awkward it was for Potiphar’s wife when Joseph was made Prime Minister of Egypt a few years later and became, in fact, her husband’s boss! Can you imagine a conversation then between Prime Minister Joseph, the ex-slave and his former owner, Potiphar, the Captain of the Guard?

Given the culture of Egypt at the time, if Potiphar had totally believed his wife, Joseph would most likely have been killed.  Remember that Potiphar had complete trust in Joseph’s integrity to the extent that he had put his entire household into Joseph’s hands. I suspect that one look into Joseph’s eyes told Potiphar all he needed to know but for the sake of his own dignity, his wife’s reputation and perhaps his marriage, Joseph became the scapegoat.

There are unseen reasons for prolonged suffering. Joseph could have been vindicated quickly but that was not what Joseph needed at that point.  Instead he needed to learn that the God who had called him, the God who had given him dreams of the future, could be everything he needed no matter what the circumstances looked like.  But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor with the chief jailer.  Gen. 39:22

How do you like that?  One might be tempted to say ‘who wants favor with the head of the prison? I just want to get out of here!’  That doesn’t appear to be Joseph’s reaction for the scripture goes on to say that the chief jailer – rather quickly – put Joseph in charge of the whole prison.  He didn’t even supervise him! (39:23)  It is to this chief jailer’s credit that though an Egyptian pagan he had the good sense and wisdom to recognize an honest and godly man.  Within that prison framework, things not only went well for Joseph, they also went well for the Chief Jailer.

So in a place he never wanted to be, Joseph finds himself prospering because of the favor of the God of Israel.

Application:

Who knows what God may be about in your life?

Do you find yourself in a place you would never have chosen? Do you wonder whether your talents and giftings will ever find expression? Are you challenged on a daily basis by having to work for an unpleasant superior? Or alongside other workers that have nothing in common with you? The kind of people you don’t normally like?  Do you feel like nothing good could come out of this?

God can bless you and grant you favor right where you are.  His favor will be upon you just as it was upon Joseph if like him, you will embrace the grace to dignify your present circumstances with a thankful attitude, desiring more than anything to come through this period of your life like gold comes out of the fire – pure, brilliant and valuable in God’s eyes.

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Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson #6 June 6, 2017

Potiphar is furious! Returning home after a long day at work, his wife presents him with ‘evidence’ that his favored servant, Joseph, attempted to seduce her.  As you and I know, the truth is just the opposite but having been spurned, her lustful desire towards Joseph turned to hate and a desire for revenge.

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Joseph was in the worst possible position. There were no witnesses for the Bible says they were ‘alone in the house’. He was a slave with no status and therefore had no possible way of defending himself. The only one who could tell the truth was the very one accusing him to her husband. As the lady of the house, she would be believed far and above a slave. Escape was impossible, there was no recourse to a lawyer.  Before he knew what happened, Joseph was slammed into prison for a crime he did not commit.  This was the next test Joseph had to pass and it was profoundly difficult.

Betrayed again! First by his brothers and now by an immoral woman, Joseph might well have stared at the damp and dark prison walls and wondered, ‘Why, God, why?’  Yet in his heart, Joseph knew he had done the righteous thing when he said to Potiphar’s wife: How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)

Keep in mind that the Torah had not yet been given.  This was years before the event at Mt. Sinai.  Yet Joseph already knew that adultery was wrong.

Notice also that this was not a one-time attempt by Potiphar’s wife. And it came to pass as she spoke to Joseph day after day, that he would not listen to her. (Genesis 39:10)  She was persistent but so was he.

We may mistakenly fall into the trap of temptation if, after conquering it once, we think all is well and we let our guard down.  Temptation to sin is as persistent as Potiphar’s wife was with Joseph.  Just because you overcame an evil inclination once doesn’t mean it won’t come around again. In fact, it almost always will!  Like Joseph, we cannot let down our guard and we do well to imitate his behavior.  He not only refused her but when she kept repeating her request, he did all he could to even avoid her very presence. That means, if you have any idea where temptation will confront you, if at all possible, don’t go there!  Do not fool yourself into thinking, ‘I’m strong enough to handle it’.  Spiritual strength is not just the ability to resist temptation; real spiritual strength is demonstrated in refusing to go where you know temptation is waiting for you!

The lack of moral character in Potiphar’s wife is even more evident as we continue to read.  In front of other slaves, she even blamed her husband for the ‘alleged’ crime of Joseph. Speaking of her husband, she said, See, he[Potiphar] brought in a Hebrew to us to mock us. (Genesis 39:14) She stooped so low as to malign her own husband in the eyes of the household slaves.

A person filled with rage and a desire for vengeance will always say and do irrational things that expose the very weakness of their case.  Uncontrolled anger will always lead to more sin.  If this woman had been honorable, she would have said nothing at all but taken Joseph’s refusal as a wake-up call and perhaps come to her senses.  But no – she had to tell everybody how ‘terrible’ Joseph was.  And it wasn’t even true!  It reminds me again of Shakespeare: ‘The lady doth protest too much!’

Yet, despite his good and moral choices, Joseph ended up in prison.  Falsely accused and helpless.

God actually did Joseph a great favor for whenever we are in a helpless position, that is when God Himself takes over.  That is what He does when He is grooming a person for a position of influence in His kingdom.  The most important test that any person may have to pass before he/she is ever ready to be greatly used by God is to be punished for doing the right thing and to keep quiet about it, letting God Himself be one’s defense.  The tendency to self-righteousness, self-defense and self-justification is a powerful force to the ego.  It was not easy for Joseph; it is not easy for us.

But the reward of doing so is well worth whatever patience and humility it requires.  You may not know the future, but God does.  He is preparing you for an important task.

Application:

Fighting against what God is doing in your life only prolongs the period of testing. To turn to Him and humbly accept His work in your life is the only sane response. It’s in those times that the prayer of David, ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall forever be in my mouth’ becomes the sustaining force.

As we will see, even in the prison, Joseph had the favor of the LORD. By that we know that he kept an attitude of faith and trust, even when he didn’t understand why he had to undergo such a difficult imprisonment.

Faith isn’t faith when you see and understand; faith that pleases God is when we trust Him without understanding why certain things have happened.

Joseph had a dream – in fact, more than one. In the darkest hours of his life, remembering what God had shown him in those dreams were a stabilizing factor.

A wise man once said to me: Don’t doubt in the dark what you knew in the light.  I pass that on to you in the hope that it may provide you with courage to trust and believe when hope and the future seems lost.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

The Shepherd King #43 April 18, 2017

We now come face to face with the final years of David, King of Israel. His life has been an open book before us, teaching us many important lessons along the way.  His final years are recorded in the beginning of I Kings and the ending of I Chronicles.

I Kings opens with this verse: When King David was old and well advanced in years… One of the most biblically documented life is facing the inevitable.  The rest of this verse says, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.  (I Kings 1:1)

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Our minds revert to the young man who killed a lion and a bear; a young man who slew Goliath with one small stone and saved Israel from captivity; the one who had conquered nations and wrote magnificent words of praise to the God of Israel. It is jarring to consider him now as old and frail, particularly since he was facing death at a much younger age than many of the other biblical patriarchs.  David was just 70 years old.

How much activity, how much experience, how much faith and how much worship he had packed into those 70 years! He had known amazing success as well as abject failure and if there is anyone who understood our modern plague of stress, surely it was David. Most of his life had been lived in what we might describe as a roller coaster of highs and lows but the important issue is that David met God at every one of those moments.  His psalms prove it.  Now he is weak and chilled, struggling to stay warm.

Enter David’s fourth son, Adonijah.  Like his half-brother, Absalom, Adonijah took advantage of his father’s failing health and declared himself king.  He was the oldest surviving son so it was logical to expect that he would inherit the throne: inherit, not seize it!

Though we haven’t heard from Samuel for many years, the prophet suddenly re-appears. Joining Bathsheba, Samuel approaches the king to disclose the insolence of Adonijah for it was Solomon whom God had appointed to be the next king, not Adonijah.

Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, ‘Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggit, has become king without our lord David’s knowing it? Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son, Solomon.’ I Kings 1: 11-12

The prophet sent her to her husband.

Bathsheba bowed low and knelt before the King. ‘What is it you want?’ the king asked. She said to him, ‘My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the LORD your God: Solomn your son shall be king after me and he will sit on my throne.  But now Adonijah has become king and you, my lord the king, do not know about it.’  I Kings 1:16-18

Nathan then approached the king, testifying to the truth of what Bathsheba had said. David then confirmed his promise that Solomon was to be his successor and with an oath addressed his wife and the mother of his son, Solomon:

The king then took an oath: ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out today what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel. Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.  I Kings 1 29-30

David, chilled by his impending death, revived and assumed control to perform the will of God.  He was still the king! And his devotion to God’s will being done had not wavered. When Bathsheba called on him for something only he could do, the need of the moment exerted enough life back into his soul that he rose from his bed and formulated a plan to ensure that Solomon would sit on the throne.

King David said, ‘Call in Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.’  When they came before the king he said to them: ‘Take your lord’s servants with you and set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to Gihon. There have Zakod the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel.  Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ They you are to go up with him and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place.  I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.’  I Kings 1: 32-35

They did exactly what they were told and Solomon was enthroned as King.  He may not have been the ‘logical’ choice for he was not the oldest living son. However, Solomon stands forever as a testimony to God’s divine mercy, the very embodiment of the God of second chances.  He was the innocent one whose conception was shrouded with guilt. He – and not Adonijah – was God’s choice.

Our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness; He is a God of love.  Contrary to the notions of some, He is not an angry, vengeful God.  His love is eternal, overwhelming and boundless.  Solomon’s reign is one of many testimonies to that truth.

When the news was carried back to David that Solomon had been crowned, ‘the king bowed in worship on his bed and said ‘Praise be to the LORD.’  I Kings 1:47-48

This is the very last verse when the word ‘king’ is used in the Bible with reference to David.  It is stunning to notice that David’s reign ended the way it began: the praise and worship. On that earlier day, he danced with all his might before the LORD. On this last day, he bowed on his bed and worshipped.  Despite all of his ups and downs, his failures and his mistakes, there is one great consistency throughout the life of David: he was a man of worship and therefore, he was a man after God’s own heart.

His final piece of advice to the new king, his son, Solomon reflects the core motivation of his entire life: ‘Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God.’ I Chronicles 22:19

That advice is the closing lesson to each of us regarding the life of David.  It was spoken to Solomon but as it is quoted in the Scriptures, which are written to all of us, may it be the greatest lesson we all take away from this study of David over the last several months.

Application:

Now, my dear readers, devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Selah!

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We have completed our study of the life of David.

We will begin a new study on the first Tuesday of May.

May the Lord bless you and fill your heart with His presence and His peace.