Joshua – The Man and the Book October 17, 2017

Welcome to a new series on Coffee and Commentary.  Over the next several weeks we will be looking into the life and times of Joshua, his prophetic significance as a prototype of the Messiah and the relevance of his book and the man himself to our present times.

For thirty-eight years, Joshua son of Nun was a faithful servant to Moses. Through times of joy as well as sorrow, Joshua watched, listened and learned as he attended to Moses’ needs and stood by him throughout the years in the desert. He was a young man when he began serving Moses, and a devout one, for we read in the book of Exodus, “And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned again into the camp but his servant, Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the Tabernacle.” Exodus 33:11  Joshua was a man who loved the presence of the Lord.

He was devoted not only to the LORD but also to Moses. On one occasion, hearing that two men, Eldad and Medad, prophesied in the camp, “Joshua, son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, Moses, my master, make them stop!” In response Moses corrected his assistant with these words, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all of the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them all.” Numbers 11: 28-29

It takes a special person to not only be content with a number two position but to actually flourish in it. Not too many stand in line to be second in importance; most prefer to be first. To make a career of being a servant is not appealing to the modern secular mind; it is not discussed as a desirable profession in high school or college career seminars. Yet servanthood is essential to true spiritual success.

Nowhere in the Torah do we get any hint that Joshua was vying for position or serving with a view to promotion. Nowhere does he indicate any desire to take over for Moses in the future. We detect no ambition, no self-seeking in Joshua’s relationship with Moses.

But as the Torah comes to its conclusion we read: ‘So Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, just as the LORD had said. The LORD buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. The sons of Israel wept for Moses on the plains of Moab for thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end. Now Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.’ Deuteronomy 34: 5-9

At the end of those thirty days, the children of Israel are positioned along the banks of the Jordan River. Their next step is to enter the Land but Moses has left them.

Consider: for forty years, they’ve been fed supernaturally. Their clothes didn’t wear out and neither did their shoes. Miracles were commonplace, a regular part of their life. In fact their very lives depended on daily miracles, many of them performed at the hand of Moses.  Now, their entire life is about to change dramatically.

Can you imagine the conversations as the thirty days are coming to a close? “What are we going to eat over there? Where will we get water? Will the natives welcome us or not? What kind of people are they anyway?  Do you think we can really trust Joshua? We’ve never seen him do a miracle! Why did Moses have to die now ??”

The thirty days are up; now what?

Joshua 1:1-3 It happened after the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses, my servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all the people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. Everyplace on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.

The servant of the servant of the LORD was now appointed leader. I try to think how Joshua must have felt. Me? Step into the shoes of Moses? Really?

Yes, really.

We tend to think of the death of Moses only as ‘punishment’ for his disobedience in striking the rock. I believe there is more to it.  It was the kindness of God that removed him.  Moses had finished his course. He had completed his mission. He was the deliverer and the lawgiver. He was a shepherd and a teacher. He had watched over the flock he led out of Egypt right up until the last one died. He was a ‘father’ to them. When Amalek rose up against Israel in the desert, Moses told Joshua to choose men and go out and fight while he went up on the mountain to pray. (Exodus 17)

The calling and anointing on Moses was not suited to what Israel needed to do next – take the Land. God had another man in mind to lead Israel into the next season of their national history.

The sons of Israel who mourned Moses were a new generation with different needs and different challenges . They had already been told they were to ‘take the Land’. The process would involve fighting for it, waging war, working hard. Their lives were about to undergo a radical change. They needed a different kind of leader.

Enter Joshua.

It was a monumental shift for all concerned but perhaps most of all for Joshua himself. But look at the gracious encouragement the LORD gave him.

‘No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life.

Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you nor forsake you.

Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

Only be strong and very courageous;

Be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you;

Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.

For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success.

Have I not commanded you?

Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1: 5-9

Notice carefully everything that the LORD said to him.

  • No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. –Nobody will bring you down, Joshua. No Korachs, Dathans or Abirams will arise to challenge your authority like they did to Moses!
  • I will be with you just as much as I was with Moses. Moses may have left but I’m not leaving, Joshua!
  • Be strong and courageous! There would have been no need for God to command him to be strong and courageous if he already was!
  • Joshua, you will give the people possession of the Land. It will happen!
  • Only two things I command you – be strong & courageous. You can do this thing, Joshua!
  • Now let Me tell you how you do this thing – this Book shall not depart from your mouth: get in My Word, stay in My Word, Memorize My word; don’t look anywhere else for guidance or inspiration. All you need is in My Word.
  • You will succeed
  • Remember – this was My idea! Have I not commanded you? I called you and prepared you when you had no idea what was coming.
  • Do not tremble or be dismayed.. No cold feet, no upset stomach, no nervousness. I’ve got this, Joshua. Just follow Me and we’ll get this done. It’s a new season. You’re going to do things that have never been done before and see things you’ve never seen before, Joshua.

Joshua’s immediate response to what the LORD said to him was to give the word: Get ready, prepare your provisions, we’re going in! In three days!!

It is to Joshua’s eternal credit that he put aside his personal grief at the loss of Moses, overcame his hesitation, his fear, his anxiety, and rallied the people to move on into their destiny, though the unknowns were many.

What inspiration and/or exhortation do we draw from this first encounter with Joshua?

  1. He faithfully and unselfishly served another person’s ministry for decades, committed to doing whatever was necessary to enhance that other person’s success.  Do I care as much about other people’s success as I do about my own?
  2. When his ‘promotion came’, he didn’t throw a party. He trembled and was humbled at what lay before him.  God always meets the humble of heart and sends encouragement and support in one way or another, like He did to Joshua.  Joshua had learned from Moses that only by the grace of God do we accomplish our purpose.  Do I truly depend on God’s grace or do I think I can do fine on my own?
  3. The Word of God is the source of life, strength, courage, inspiration, guidance – everything we need.  The Lord’s direction to Joshua to immerse himself in the Word applies to each of us as well.  How about adopting the motto: ‘No Bible, no Breakfast!’  Do I start my day with God? With His Word?  It should be more necessary to us than that oatmeal or scrambled eggs!

Has the Lord impressed something else on you from this lesson?  Please share it below so we can all benefit and grow in Him.

Til next week, walk with God moment by moment.

 

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

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

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

Gen50

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

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

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

So what have we learned during these weeks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

RoshHashana

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #18 September 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application:

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

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

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

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #17 September 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

JacobJoseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come # 16 August 22, 2017

In Genesis 46-47, Jacob and his family embark on their “Family Reunion in Egypt.” Jacob has just received the astounding news that his favorite son, Joseph, is alive. So he prepares the family to leave Canaan and head out to join Joseph in Egypt.

JacobEgypt

“So Israel set out with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.”  Gen. 46:1

Jacob is 130 years old as he sets out for Egypt. If he were alive today, he would have been retired and living on Social Security for over 65 years. This is not the time when people begin making radical changes in their lives. But Jacob is about to launch into one of the most remarkable faith ventures of his life.

Yet, in order to participate in God’s incredible plan:

1. He had to leave everything familiar and the security of his earthly comforts. Often, following God’s plan includes stepping out in faith and taking a risk. If God calls you to another location or another job, will you go where He leads despite the risks to your personal comfort and security?

2. He had to believe that he still has a mission from God. His age did not deter him, nor the inconvenience of a long and arduous journey. Jacob, now called Israel, kept alive the passion of his life, even during years of suffering and aging, the reality of his destiny.  He never ‘retired’ from the purpose for which God created him and called him.

3. He had to be willing to obey God’s Word no matter the cost. Jacob understood that God’s purpose in our lives is not to pamper us, but to perfect us.  When Jacob made mistakes, he repented, got back up and continued to walk with God.  Faithfulness is highly prized by our Father in heaven.

Jacob starts off right by first offering sacrifices to God, offerings of thanks that Joseph was still alive.  The psalms exhort us to give thanks to God at all times, on the good days and the so-called ‘bad’ days. A thankful heart turns the disappointments and frustrations of life into opportunities to grow spiritually.  And the truth is, my friends, we have every reason in the world to be thankful every single day.  God’s mercies are new every morning, we read in Lamentations. His faithfulness is forever.

Jacob offered sacrifices at Beersheba. Why Beersheba? It was the point of no return. Before Jacob advanced into the desert wasteland that separated Canaan and Egypt, he determined to inquire of the Lord to be absolutely certain he was in God’s perfect will. Furthermore, Beersheba was a significant place to Jacob’s family. This is where Abraham had dug a well, planted a tamarisk tree, and called on the name of the Lord (Gen. 21:30-33). Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, lived in Beersheba after offering Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:19). Isaac, Jacob’s father, also lived in Beersheba (Gen. 26:23, 32-33) and built an altar there (Gen. 26:24-25). It is fitting that Jacob now presents his sacrifices in Beersheba.

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves at significant intersections in life when we must make critical life decisions that will have far-reaching consequences on our own lives and the lives of others. How do you make decisions at such points? Many people simply make the best decision they can based on the information they have without turning to God for guidance.  But there is a better way.

In Genesis 46:2, “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night.”  In this vision, God twice calls Jacob by name: “Jacob! Jacob!” (Gen. 46:2)  If you can’t figure out why someone would call out a person’s name repeatedly, then you must not have children. Jacob is smarter than most because he immediately responds with the words, “Here I am.” These are the same words Jacob’s grandfather Abraham used when God called on him (Gen. 22:1). This is the only proper response when God speaks.

God identifies Himself. He says, “I am God, the God of your father” (46:3). He then comforts Jacob with the words: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.”

Why would Jacob have been afraid?  Jacob is concerned about making a mistake that would affect his life, the lives of those in his family, the future of the nation of Israel, and the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God. So God affirms His promises to Jacob (46:3b-4). He declares what His good purpose is in bringing Jacob’s family to Egypt.

1. I will make you a great nation in Egypt. This promise is a reaffirmation of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants and demonstrates the unconditional faithfulness of God.

2. I will go down to Egypt with you. God informs Jacob that He will go with him into hostile enemy territory. Where God guides, He provides…and protects. There is no need to ever fear.

3. I will bring you back to Canaan again. God is fulfilling the words He spoke in Gen. 15:13-14 when He told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs but in the end God would judge the oppressive nation in which they stayed and God’s people would be released.

4. Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes. Jacob would enjoy 17 more years of life. And instead of dying without his son to comfort him, God promises Jacob that his son, Joseph, would be there to close his eyes at the moment of his death.

After hearing directly from the Lord, Jacob and his family left Beersheba and traveled to Egypt (46:5-7). While this must have been a challenging endeavor, there certainly was great excitement in the air.

Application:

Jacob faced a critical, life-changing decision. But instead of forging ahead (like he had done in the past) he stopped and sought God’s guidance. Then he listened for God’s answer. When he heard the answer he moved forward obediently and with confidence.

That’s the sequence. It’s not complicated. We must ask, listen, and obey. If we do that, God will lead us, protect us, and give us the strength to face the future.

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.