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.

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #12 July 25, 2017

We now proceed into the next phase of Joseph’s life, overseeing the fulfillment of everything which he had prophesied to Pharaoh in the context of interpreting the Egyptian ruler’s dream.  Keep in mind that Joseph’s interpretation was very specific and the Pharaoh’s response was equally specific.  He put everything on the line to support Joseph’s interpretation and implement his advice.  If Joseph had been wrong, Pharaoh would have been in big trouble!

But Joseph wasn’t wrong because the LORD had given him the interpretation, a fact to which he himself testified. During the first seven years of abundance, Joseph gathered up food and stored it in large silos in the various cities of Egypt.  He gathered so much corn that after awhile he stopped keeping records of how much it was for it was beyond measure.  Gen. 41: 49 puts it this way: Joseph collected so much grain – it was like the sand of the ocean – that he finally quit keeping track! 

The seven years of plenty came to an end and the seven years of famine began.  The earth would not produce; there was no rain for the crops. The famine spread throughout the entire Middle East but ‘in all the land of Egypt there was bread.’ Gen. 41:54  The seven years of abundance were a demonstration of God’s mercy; the seven years of famine to follow were a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.  Those under Pharaoh’s charge did not suffer hunger because the king had trusted the prophetic word, listened to wise counsel and implemented what he heard.  This reminds me of a verse in Proverbs:  A prudent man foresees evil coming and prepares himself; but the foolish ignore to their own peril.  Proverbs 22:3  Pharaoh had shown himself to be a prudent man and his entire nation benefited.  He had also exhibited the humility necessary to any good leader: he was willing to listen to advice, recognize its wisdom and put it into action.  Joseph was given absolute authority over the entire land of Egypt.

Meanwhile, God was about the business of bringing Joseph’s brothers face to face with their sin and calling them to account.  Neither they nor Joseph realized what God was up to until much later.

It is a great blessing when God uncovers our sin.  Yes it’s very painful for the last thing we want is to get caught for having done wrong.  We think it’s a “blessing” to get away without getting caught.  The truth is that it would be utterly horrible for God to let us go our own way and do nothing about it!  Despite any discomfort at ‘getting caught’, we must thank God for doing so.  Far better to deal with our issues in the here and now than later before the Judgment Seat.  Now we have time to repent, be forgiven and make things right and by so doing avoid being ashamed before the Throne of God.

It had been twenty two years since his brothers betrayed him.  Joseph had been waiting a long time for vindication but those were not wasted years for it was during that time that Joseph had gotten right with himself.  He’d gotten over any personal grudges and learned to forgive – his brothers who betrayed him, Potiphar’s wife who lied about him, Potiphar for throwing him into prison though he was innocent and even the butler who forgot all about him.

During those same twenty two years, it seemed as if ten of his brothers had gotten away with a heinous act of betrayal, selling their own brother into slavery.  That sin had led to another one: they deceived their father by dipping Joseph’s cloak in goat’s blood which caused Jacob to conclude that a wild animal had killed his beloved son.  When Jacob said, ‘I will go to my grave in mourning’, did the ten breathe a sigh of relief?  Did they actually believe that their father would never know?  They may well have.  For years, their sin went unpunished, unconfessed and unnoticed.  That was about to change.

The famine had reached Canaan where Jacob and his family lived.  As things got progressively worse, and news spread abroad that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob sent his sons to buy food for his large family.  Their journey culminated in the presence of the Prime Minister of Egypt who was in charge of all of Egypt’s provisions.

They didn’t recognize him.  He was twenty-two years older, dressed in Egyptian clothing, clearly the Governor of all that went on in Egypt and speaking to them through an interpreter.  And all the while, God was very much involved in what was happening though the brothers had no clue that He was!

We humans have a defense mechanism called repression; we sometimes do it voluntarily, more often involuntarily.  We push down into our subconscious what we don’t want to think about – like a major failure or sin of which we are deeply ashamed but which we’ve never resolved with God.  At the time of His choosing, God will bring it up again in His inimitable way, not to harass us but to give us opportunity to repent and be set free of the guilt and shame.  This is exactly what God was doing with the ten brothers.

Though they didn’t recognize him, Joseph recognized his brothers.  Holding his own emotions in check, he accused them of being spies, to which they protested, ‘No, Master, we have only come to buy food.’ (Gen. 42:10)  Joseph continued pressing them and finally said, ‘This is how I’ll test you.’ (42:15) He commanded them to send one of the brothers back to fetch their only brother left at home with Jacob and threw the rest of them in jail for three days.  Can you imagine the discussions those men had during those three days???  Do you see the wisdom of Joseph in giving the brothers time to think?

On the third day, Joseph brought them out with this proposition.  One of the them was to stay in prison while the rest took food back for their hungry families and then return again bringing their youngest brother with them.  That would prove that they were telling him the truth.

Of course, the youngest brother was none other than Benjamin, the only other son of Jacob born of the same mother as Joseph.  The rest of them were his half-brothers from different mothers.  At that point, the brothers started talking among themselves, thinking that the ‘Egyptian’ before them wouldn’t understand what they were saying.

‘Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother – we saw how terrified he was when he was begging us for mercy.  We wouldn’t listen to him and now we are the ones in trouble.’ (42:21)

Joseph had been speaking to them through an interpreter but understood perfectly what they were saying. When he heard their words, he turned away and wept. After composing himself, he made Simeon stay behind as a prisoner and sent the others off.

We’ll pick up the story here next week.

Application:

Before God created the heavens and the earth, He created Repentance.  Before He ever made man, knowing we would need mercy, He had already provided the means for forgiveness, mercy and relief from the burden and shame of sin. He never intended that we should live under the heavy load of shame and guilt but that we would turn to Him in sincere repentance and receive His forgiveness.  Psalm 103:12 tells us As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  What an amazing and thrilling promise from God.

If you’ve carried hidden guilt and shame, the good news to you today is that forgiveness and freedom from that burden is available to you – right now, this moment.  Confess that failure to Him, receive His forgiveness , forgive yourself and let Him remove it from you as far as the east is from the west so you can go on and live your life in peace.

Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson #11 July 18, 2017

Thus far in our study of Joseph’s life, we have looked at events through his eyes.  This week I’d like us to take a different perspective.  Let’s look through Pharaoh’s eyes.

Pharaoh was the most powerful leader in that day, a man who was revered but also feared. He was considered unreachable and untouchable, but somewhere under all that external power there was a man with a soul who found himself in a desperate situation.  He’d had two deeply troubling dreams and was frantic to find someone – anyone – who could interpret them.  You see, the most powerful men are still men and have needs like everyone else. Thanks to his Cupbearer, Joseph was brought out of prison, presented to Pharaoh and after giving God due honor, the young man interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and followed the interpretation with profoundly wise advice.

Pharaoh'sdream

Pharaoh watches and listens to this ex-prisoner.  What was going through his mind?

He’d probably never heard of Joseph; didn’t know the young man existed! But God, when He is about His plans being fulfilled, will surprise even the greatest of men.  We must conclude that the Spirit of God was at work in Pharaoh even though he did not know the true God at that point.  Why do I say that? First of all, he rejected the interpretations of his magicians.  It takes a certain inner perception to know when you have not received the right answer.  It also takes the same to recognize true wisdom.  That kind of wisdom comes from the Spirit of God.

There are three men who put themselves on the line, who risk everything in this event.

First, the Cupbearer.  Remember that this man had already been imprisoned once before so you can be sure that he was very careful with his words.  Once was enough!  But seeing the distress that Pharaoh was experiencing, he came forward to inform his employer that a Hebrew prisoner had the gifting that Pharaoh needed.

And Pharaoh listened!  It takes a measure of humility to listen to a servant.  It also takes a serious measure of humility to acknowledge the wisdom that emerged from a prisoner just released from Pharaoh’s own dungeon!  When God is at work, and you have a measure of humility like Pharaoh, you will listen to someone you otherwise would pay no attention to.

Pharaoh exercised a simple form of ‘faith’, if you will, by doing what his Cup bearer recommended and he was greatly rewarded.  His best decision that day was to agree to the release of the Hebrew prisoner.

Secondly, Joseph risked his own life – literally – by giving the interpretation and following it with unsolicited advice.  Pharaoh could have had him instantly killed if he was displeased in any way with Joseph’s words.

Instead, hearing the interpretation of his dreams and the wise counsel that followed, Pharaoh put all his eggs in one basket.  Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?  Gen. 41:38  He promptly elevated Joseph to a position of great authority and responsibility.  The very one whose wisdom he recognized, he appointed to bring that wisdom to fruition.

There are several ways by which we can recognize when the Spirit of God is at work.  First of all, His activity produces peace.  Pharaoh’s troubled mind was now at rest. He understood the dreams, their meaning and the appropriate way to apply them.

Another evidence of the Spirit of God at work is an unhesitating authority.  Joseph listened to Pharaoh and then responded in a calm and clear manner.  Pharaoh could tell that Joseph was fully confident that God was speaking through him.  That gave Pharaoh confidence which then produced trust.

The Spirit of God at work is also simply straightforward – no manipulation or mental gymnastics.  In other words, Joseph basically said: ‘this is what God is saying and this is what to do about it.’

Keep in mind that Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph but he didn’t ask for any credentials, nor inquire about his track record of success.  Pharaoh heard, his inner man recognized the truth of what Joseph was saying and he acted on it immediately.  That, my friends, is faith.

Thirdly, Pharaoh put himself and his own reputation on the line before everybody!  He had rejected the “experts” but took the words of an “unknown” with full confidence. If Joseph was proven wrong after a year or two, Pharaoh would take the heat for it.  Clearly his conviction of Joseph’s authenticity was profound.

Rarely do we think of Pharaoh’s perspective when we talk about Joseph’s life, but we must take encouragement from how Pharaoh, a pagan, received the work of the Spirit of God and acknowledged the same without apology? No political correctness here!  Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?

Political correctness has become an issue in our day that has affected individuals, congregations and groups. It is stunning to see how totally absent it was from this scenario in Joseph’s life. Not one of the key players bowed to political correctness, but chose instead to listen and heed the Spirit of the Living God.

Application:

Fear of criticism and rejection weaken the strength of our commitment to God, to His Word and to His ways.  It is time to learn once again that when all is said and done, it is to HIM that we owe all our allegiance.  Fear has no place in the one who professes to love the LORD.  The times in which we live demand that we stand strong in our faith and courageous to live and speak the truth of God’s Word in our day to day lifestyle.

Shadow of Things to Come – July 11, 2019 Lesson #10

When God’s time has come for something to happen, there is no stopping it.  And when His time has not come, no begging, pleading or attempting to manipulate will work.  We fit into God’s timetable; He does not fit into ours.

Had God’s time for Joseph finally come?

Called into the presence of the Egyptian ruler, Joseph interpreted his dreams and declared that seven good years would be followed by seven years of famine.  He further advised the Pharaoh to appoint overseers in charge of the land and have them gather one-fifth of the produce during the seven good years and store it up for the years of famine.  Pharaoh was impressed with the young prisoner’s ability and his wisdom and turned to his servants, saying ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?’ (Gen. 41:38)   He immediately appointed Joseph to a position akin to Prime Minister, clothed him in fine garments and put his own signet ring on Joseph’s finger as a sign of the all encompassing authority bestowed upon him.  He gave Joseph an Egyptian name and a young woman named Asenath to be his wife.

God’s time for Joseph had surely come!  From the prison to the palace in the matter of a few minutes!  Can you imagine the thoughts that went through Joseph’s mind at this sudden turn of events? When he woke up that morning, little did he know what the day would bring and how his entire future would be dramatically launched.  Can you visualize him in your mind’s eye being escorted to a luxurious bedroom with servants ready to wait on him? He, who the night before had slept in a dark and gloomy prison cell? If ever there was an example of a ‘Suddenly, God…’ this surely was it!

We learn from the text that Joseph was 30 years old at the time that he was made ruler over Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself.  That means thirteen long years had passed since that traumatic day when his brothers had sold him into slavery.  Thirteen long years with no information about his father, his brothers, or any of his family.  Thirteen long years in which he could choose to believe in the dreams God had given him or give up in despair.  Perhaps somewhere along the line, Joseph had learned the principle that it’s never too late to become what you were created to be.

So Joseph traveled the length and width of Egypt during the next seven years, overseeing the bounteous harvests of the land, making sure that one fifth of all that was produced was put aside for the coming famine. And during those years he placed food in the cities lest the people starve during the time of famine.  Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.  (Gen. 41:49)

The proverbs tell us: A prudent man foresees evil times and prepares himself; the foolish man goes on his way and is punished for it.  Prov. 22:3  What Joseph did was wise and prudent. But notice that he was not just storing up food for himself and his own family.  It was for the entire nation, lest they starve.  That’s an important point: to store up food, water, clothing, bedding, etc. just for oneself, with no thought to the welfare of those around you is the furthest thing from what Joseph did.  He carefully laid up provision for the people over whom he had authority.  Little did he realize at this stage that the very famine he was preparing for would result ultimately in a reunion with his family.

But think with me for a minute.  Surely his elevation to such a high position in Egypt came as a complete surprise. As a young boy in his father Jacob’s tent, he couldn’t possibly have dreamed that such an unusual future beckoned him; and not only beckoned him but was actually the plan of the God of Israel in whom he trusted.

How many of us have thought we knew what our lives would be like only to be surprised by God? Our carefully thought out plans took a detour we never expected and may well have startled or confused us.  Yet months or sometimes years later, we can look back and recognize the hand of God in all of it.

Years ago there was a popular television series entitled “Father Knows Best” – (perhaps I’m giving my age away !) The truth is that Father DOES know Best – our Heavenly Father knows what is best for each of us and because of His love ordains the path on which we walk through life.  We can choose, of course, whether to follow Him or not.  As I ponder the young Joseph and all he went through, I’m thankful that he reached his destiny, aren’t you?  And we’re not anywhere near the end of the story yet!

Application:

Joseph exhorts us to hold on to our faith in God; to embrace any dreams the LORD may have given us, even when we think there is no possible way they could ever materialize. It’s never too late with God. Faith is the key that helps us understand that God’s timing is perfect.

Are you frustrated today – still waiting for something to happen? To find your soul mate? To get into your dream job? To enter into the purpose of God for your life?  Let Joseph’s example comfort and encourage you that God’s timing is perfect.  No delay is wasted time; it’s all preparation for ultimate success in God’s eyes.  For you see, God doesn’t just want you to fulfill the task He has assigned you to on this earth; He is just as interested that you become the person He wants you to be.

We are after all human ‘beings’ – not ‘human doings’!

 

Shadow of Things to Come – July 4, 2017

NOTE:  My apology that last week’s post did not go out because of technical difficulties. We pick up today where we left off two weeks ago.

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Now it happened that at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream. Gen. 41:1 You will remember that two years earlier, Joseph had correctly interpreted the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer and his interpretation came to pass exactly as he had spoken it.

Yet Joseph remained in prison two more years for the cupbearer forgot all about his benefactor after being restored to his position.  Some have opined that the LORD caused him to forget because Joseph’s spiritual training required these two more years.  Yet I often wonder how Joseph felt, what new prisoners may have joined him in the dungeon, how did he get along with them and did he wonder – perhaps frequently – if the cupbearer would ever remember him again.  Two years can be a very long time when you’re waiting for something to happen.

We humans tend to have a difficult time with patience, particularly in our modern society which is so geared towards “instant” everything.  Yet the scriptures teach us that God Himself is incredibly patient with us, remembering that we are but dust.  Can you imagine where we’d be today if God had not had patience with us?  We do well to thank Him for His long-suffering with His children, ourselves included.

Why is patience such a problem? Bottom line: we want what we want when we want it! There’s something of a two year old that lives on in each of us; that toddler who used to stubbornly insist, ‘I want it NOW!’ Remember him or her? We all did it in one way or another, didn’t we? It’s a bit embarrassing to realize that when we lose patience with others, the two year old is poking his ego out for all to see!

What’s more important is that when we lose patience with others, we are far from being God-like.  When He has graced us with so much patience throughout our lives, should we not do the same towards our family and friends?  We are taught to forgive others in the same manner that we have been forgiven.  Well, the only reason we are forgiven when we repent to the LORD is because He is patient and kind towards us!  Therefore, the same principle that applies to forgiveness, applies to patience: Do unto others as the LORD has done unto you!

So after two full years Pharaoh has a dream and none of his wise men or magicians had a clue what it meant but the dream was vivid enough that Pharaoh was disturbed and couldn’t forget it!  It was then that the cup bearer recalled his fellow prisoner and informed Pharaoh that Joseph had accurately interpreted not only his dream but that of the Pharaoh’s former baker.  Pharaoh was impressed and sent for Joseph.

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It would have been entirely against protocol for a prisoner to appear before Pharaoh in his prison garb, unshaven and unclean so Joseph quickly shaved and put on appropriate clothing.  No sooner had he entered Pharaoh’s throne room, but the Egyptian leader said to Joseph, I dreamed a dream but nobody can interpret it. But I’ve heard that just by hearing a dream, you can.  Gen. 41:15

First thing to understand is that the ancient Egyptians fully believed that dreams were messages from the supernatural world. They often attributed them to their so-called ‘gods’ but Pharaoh was about to find out that the God of Israel was not one ‘among the gods’ but the true and only God.

Second thing to note is Joseph’s answer. Not I, but God. It is God who will set Pharaoh’s mind at ease. Gen. 41:16  Before hearing one word of description about the dream, Joseph makes clear to the Egyptian ruler that there is only ONE who correctly interprets messages that come in dreams: God Himself – the One God, the God of Israel.  Joseph seeks no advantage for himself.  His very first declaration is to honor God.  Keep in mind this is after some 12-13 years of imprisonment on a false charge!

Pharaoh details his dream, actually two dreams. (Gen. 41: 17-24) and Joseph answers: Pharaoh’s two dreams both mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh what he is going to do. Gen. 41:28

There are numerous examples in Scripture of God speaking to His servants in dreams.

Have you ever had a dream and wondered if it meant anything?

Did you ever ask the LORD about it?

Some people tend to dismiss dreams as unimportant and many of them are in fact unimportant.  However, there are times when the LORD chooses to communicate with us through dreams.  Usually those dreams are hard to forget and though brief in duration contain a powerful message from the Spirit of the LORD direct to your spirit.

Keep in mind that everything written in the Scriptures is there for our instruction and as examples to us of how God worked with and through other human beings just like us. The issue of dreams is no different.  Sometimes it is only when we are asleep that God can get our attention!

Application:

Please don’t start thinking that every dream you may have is a heavenly message but are you willing to consider that perhaps the LORD has or will communicate something precious to you by way of a dream? Are you open to the possibility?  If so, let me encourage you to look up the dreams that are recorded in the Bible, learn from those passages and open your heart to receive from the LORD in a dream.  Thank God, Joseph did.  It all started with two dreams he had as a teenager, dreams that would come to pass in God’s perfect timing.

Don’t go seeking dreams – seek the kind of faith Joseph had that enabled him to hold on to the promise from God, even through his darkest days.  But should God speak to you through a dream, don’t discount it and don’t ignore it.  Ask the LORD to help you understand His message fully.

 

 

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.