December 23, 2018 | The Messiah's Birth Brings Peace | Luke 2:25-35

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Socks and underwear.

Perhaps, there is no more practical gift you can give a loved one this Christmas. Two items that—I sincerely hope—all of us use. And according to a news story I read this week socks and underwear are the Christmas gift that people least want to receive. So if you don’t want to disappoint your loved ones this Christmas, maybe think of a different gift to give. You still have about 36 hours or so finish shopping (or start shopping). But if you’ve already got socks and underwear wrapped and nestled safely under your Christmas tree, all is not lost.

I mean, disappointment really isn’t all that uncommon around Christmastime. This time of year brings a lot of joy, but also a lot of pressure, right parents? You’ve got to pick out just the perfect gift, which means you have a plan. You have to know what your kids like and what they don’t like and the right colors and there’s always a new Christmas fad or hot toy that’s difficult to get your hands on. And even in the years where you nail it. . . years where you not only buy the right stuff in the right colors in the right sizes and you even find it on sale, you know, the mythical year when everything falls into place just the way you would have scripted it. . . .there’s a magical moment when your kid opens their perfectly selected, gift, loves it for 10 minutes, and then ends up playing with the box. So they’re not disappointed but you are!

We make such a big deal out of the things on the periphery of Christmas that the risk of frustration and disappointment is very real. One psychologist in the United Kingdom wrote that:

Capitalism drives Christmas on to being bigger and better and happier and more exciting than ever before. . . Christmas confronts us with the disappointment of life as it is compared with life as we remember it and life as we see it portrayed in the jingling, jangling adverts. - Nick Luxmoore, Pyschology Today

Here’s my pastoral concern at Christmas: While we sing about the baby Jesus sleeping in heavenly peace, we do so moving from event to event at a hellish pace. In the midst of the good, we forget that the moment in time we are celebrating is when God broke into human history to secure our everlasting peace once-and-for-all.

The Christmas parties, and school musicals, and family gatherings and gift exchanges aren’t bad. But if we exhaust our energies in those things and we set our hopes on the material gifts of Christmas we run the risk of missing out on the greatest gift of all.

We’re going to spend our time together this morning examining one of the more obscure figures of the Christmas story. A man named Simeon, who said the following words upon seeing our infant Messiah:

Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised.

When Jesus Christ was born to a virgin mother He brought with Him a promise of peace for those who belong to Him. That’s a promise that remains true today and it’s a promise that, if you call Him your Savior, will never leave you disappointed. Simeon’s story teaches us that we’ve been freed from anxiety to live in peace because we are experiencing the salvation bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Let’s read Simeon’s story together, beginning in Luke 2:25

25 There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

29 Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

This is the Word of the Lord. May His Spirit bring its truth to light in our lives today. Let’s pray.

I have one simple hope for this morning. It’s that we leave here convinced of this truth: The Messiah’s Birth Delivered True Peace.

Simeon was convinced of that truth and I hope we can be convinced of it not just this Christmas, but as a way we live life. The New Testament idea of peace doesn’t just mean the absence of war or absence of conflict or turmoil. It means much more than that. The Greek verb carries the idea of bringing together something that has been separated.

Missionary and Bible translator, Jim Walton, had an experience that I think can teach us much about this Biblical idea of peace.

Walton was translating the New Testament for a tribal group in the jungles of Colombia. But he was having trouble with the word peace. He recorded that:

‘During this time, Fernando, the village chief, was promised a 20-minute plane ride to a location that would have taken him 3 days to travel by walking. The plane was delayed in arriving, so Fernando departed on foot. When the plane finally came, a runner took off to bring Fernando back. But by the time he had returned, the plane had left.

Fernando was livid because of the mix-up. He went to Jim and launched into an angry tirade; much of which Jim couldn’t even understand.

Fortunately, he taped the chief’s diatribe. When he later translated it, he discovered that the chief kept repeating the phrase, “I don’t have one heart.” Jim asked other villagers what having “one heart” meant, and he found that it was like saying, “There is nothing between you and the other person.” That, Walton realized, was just what he needed to translate the word peace.

To have peace with God means that there is nothing—no sin, no guilt, no condemnation—that separates us. And that peace with God is possible only through Christ.’

Romans 5:1 tells us that Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And it’s only because of that declaration of righteousness that we can experience true peace. If you find lack of peace in your life as a consistent theme then the teaching of the Bible would indicate you may be unsettled because you lack this peace-generating relationship with God that is only possible through faith.

Simeon had that kind of relationship with God. Luke makes that clear with a very concise description of him in verse 25.

Simeon’s Scriptural biography is brief, but it’s profound. Here’s everything we know about Simeon in bullet point form:

His name: Simeon

His location: Jerusalem



Looking forward to Israel’s consolation

Holy Spirit was on him

Those last four things are an amazing biography. If those things can be said about us when we leave this earth we’ve been successful. We know nothing else about the man either before or after this short episode when Jesus was but 40 days old.

Yet, while we know little, what we do know about Simeon can tell us a great deal about the goodness of our God and the peace He offers to His children.

To experience that peace, we must be righteous. Now, if you grew up like me you might only know the word ‘righteous’ as an expression that Ninja Turtle Michelangelo often used to refer to pizza. I think Bill & Ted used it a few times as well. But as disciples of Jesus Christ it’s a word we need to be intimately acquainted with outside of dated 80s and 90s pop culture.

For our purpose today we are going to define righteousness as right standing in the sight of God. It means that Simeon was justified. The biggest problem in Simeon’s life had already been solved. What was it? His sin had separated him from God. Not only that but his sin had earned the wrath of this Holy God—because justice is in His nature so He must punish sin. Luke declares here that Simeon is justified in the sight of God. If you look back at 1:6 he made the same statement about Zechariah and Elizabeth.

There’s a good question for us who live on this side of the cross to ask as we examine these to whom the cross was still in their future: how were they saved—justified— if Jesus hadn’t yet been resurrected? Luke calls these three righteous, meaning they are right in the sight of the Lord. How can that be so? How were they saved?

Well, Scripture teaches us they were saved the same way we are saved: by grace alone through faith alone.

Ephesians 2 tells us that 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

We are saved by placing our trust in God, acknowledging that we cannot save ourselves and we are fully dependent upon God for our salvation. We see that salvation has come through Jesus Christ, but we are saved by faith gifted to us through the Holy Spirit in the same way God saved Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Simeon—here in Luke 2. Paul breaks this down for us in more detail in Galatians 3:

3 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?—He’s saying Hey, what happened? Your faith was strong and now you’ve strayed. How’d that happen? Look at verse 2 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard?—How were you saved? By something you did or by the Spirit? What did you contribute to your own salvation? That answer can only be nothing. Paul continues— 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing? 5 So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard— 6 just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?—How was Abraham saved? By what he did or by his faith? Paul says here it was by his faith and the writer of Hebrews agrees. Paul goes on in verse 7 to show us how all who are saved are saved in the same way—7 You know, then, that those who have faith, these are Abraham’s sons. 8 Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and proclaimed the gospel ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. 9 Consequently those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.

How are we made righteous? Through faith. Where does faith come from? The Holy Spirit. Do you want to know true and lasting peace? The only way to do that is to have peace with God. Don’t miss out on how radical that is. God grants us a peace treaty when we deserve total annihilation.

God has all the power and He’s in the position to—and would even be justified in—pouring out his wrath on us for our sin. And yet he gifts us an offer of peace through His Holy Spirit before we’ve done anything to deserve it.

During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union army led a siege of Ft. Donelson on the Cumberland River in Middle Tennessee. Grant’s troops surrounded the fort and—despite a few breakout attempts—it was clear that his forces were too strong for the 12,000 rebels inside. Their commander, Simon Bolivar Buckner, sent Grant a note asking him for a truce and terms of surrender.

Grant responded with a note that has fortunately been preserved over time. He wrote:

Sir: Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.

I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am Sir: very respectfully

Your obt. sevt.

U.S. Grant

Brig. Gen.

Grant was in a position of power and demanded unconditional surrender. God was in a position of infinitely more power approached us with an offer of peace—do you realize how incredible that is!?

You say, well, that’s true but doesn’t it depend on our response? We have to choose to accept him. And you know what, to a degree there’s some truth there. I do believe God has allowed us the autonomy to choose. But the problem is we never choose him.

Jeremiah tells us our own hearts steer us away from God: The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

And Paul tells us in Romans 3 that There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one righteous, not even one.

So how is Simeon righteous? Do Paul and Luke disagree? No. Simeon is made righteous based on the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, just like you and I if we belong to Jesus. On our own, we earn wrath and separation. God gifts us grace and righteousness. What’s the proper repose to that?

We can actually learn that from Simeon. Luke tells us he’s righteous and he also tells us he’s devout. That word literally means ‘to take hold of.’ Simeon understood what the faith God had gifted him meant for his life—both his eternity and his day-to-day existence.

Faith in God permeates everything you. It has implications for the way you work, the way you eat, the way you sleep, the way you get up in the morning, the media you consume, the way you treat your boss, your co-workers, or your employees. It dictates how you treat your spouse, how you raise you kids, how you spend your time and your money. Faith in God changes all those things. And they change because your heart changes. Works don’t save you and they don’t keep you saved, but the Bible teaches we were created for good works. In Christ we are a new creation and we’ve been created to carry out His mission—the very thing He’s guiding us to do. God’s purpose in the world redefines our purpose in life.

Simeon understood that because he devoted his life to looking forward to God’s purpose on earth. The end of verse 25 tells us he was looking forward to Israel’s consolation—that word there means comfort. It’s the same word Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 1:3—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. The God of all comfort is the God who provided the consolation of Israel by restoring them to Himself.

God, by His Holy Spirit, guided Simeon to the only source of true comfort, the only source of true and lasting peace that has ever come into the universe. He found that consolation in the child brought to the temple by Joseph and Mary that day. Israel had been waiting for that comfort for hundreds and hundreds of years. They had been awaiting the king who would provide their rescue and Luke makes it very clear to us that Jesus is this king who came to fulfill the law. From 2:21-38 Luke mentions the law five separate times.

He’s conveying an idea here that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the law. Israel was looking for a warrior king. A king who would provide physical rescue from the oppressive thumb of the Roman government. But Luke, in showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, paints Jesus as a different kind of king. The kind of king Israel really needed.

Rome was a problem for Israel, but not their biggest problem. Their biggest problem was their own sin. The purpose of the law was to reveal that sin to people. It set the standard for Israel. If you compare your life to mine, you may come out looking really good. But the law was the perfect standard of righteousness and that’s what God requires to be in relationship with Him, because He’s holy. The problem is that no man could live up to that standard. The law was meant to reveal our need for a savior. And so Luke reiterates over and over again that Jesus came under that law in His birth and will go on to fulfill that law with His life.

God’s Holy Spirit guided Simeon to see salvation in the person of a 40-day old child brought to the temple under the authority of the Old Covenant. God spoke through Simeon as he foreshadows the outcome of this baby’s life in verses 30-32. Let’s read them again:

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

That’s the great commission, isn’t it? Through Jesus Christ, in his humblest form, helpless, fully dependent on His earthly parents in this moment, God will rescue for Himself a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—Gentiles and Jews alike. And then Simeon goes on to say something a little more ominous:

33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

This child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many. That’s such a simple truth, yet when you really allow its full meaning to blossom in your mind it evokes a wide range of emotions. The name Jesus Christ brings great joy to those who belong to Him, but remains a stumbling block and even a dreadful sound to those who don’t know Him.

Simeon looked on Jesus and saw salvation, and it brought peace—ultimately. Even if you deeply love Jesus there will be times when that love brings about much turmoil and it should. Simeon looked at Mary and said her son was a sword that would pierce her own soul. That’s not something you say to someone’s baby, is it?

Simeon was pointing to Mary’s anguish at the sacrifice Jesus would become in just a few short decades, but there’s an even deeper meaning here. If you look to Jesus for salvation you will find yourself pierced. John MacArthur put it well when he said:

He engendered hostility.  And what came to the surface was bitterness and anger and hatred and venom and death because when the Messiah comes His holiness confronts wickedness . . . To be saved by Jesus, to enter into Jesus' kingdom, your sin has to be exposed.  If you acknowledge that and embrace that exposure and come to Him for forgiveness, you'll be saved and enter His kingdom.  If you hate that exposure and resent Jesus for doing it, you'll go to hell in your sins.  So, His life was a revelation.  How people responded reveals the condition of their heart.

Indeed, Jesus is destined to cause the rise and fall of many. If you lack peace, it could be because you lack a relationship with the one who brings peace.

Simeon was righteous, devout, and guided by the Holy Spirit. That guidance led him to see the very face of God. Whether you get socks and underwear this Christmas or whether you get nothing at all, if you’re here and you’re a Christian you’ve got something to celebrate this Christmas. You’ve been gifted faith by a Holy Spirit that has made you righteous, empowered you to be devout and will guide you to see the very face of God—just like Simeon.

This man’s words are prophecy, the very words of God Himself. What He said is true: Jesus Christ will be the turning point for you. Either He’ll cause you to rise or because you’ve rejected Him you’ll fall. Think about all those who encountered Him who missed it. Some very close to Him.

Our world changes each year because of the birth of Christ. Sure, the world has worked to cloud the joy of Christmas with gadgets and toys and gifts and trees and Santa Clause and yard decorations. None of those things are bad. But don’t let the buzz of Christmas distract you from the point—the Messiah, the savior of the world, has come. And He has won for us a lasting and eternal peace. Christ fought and won peace on our behalf. Have you taken hold of that peace this Christmas? Let’s pray.

December 16, 2018 | God's Providence and Promises Secure Hope | Genesis 50:1-26

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What are your hopes for the future? All of us have some, right. Christmas is a time when we have hopes for a variety of things—as well we should.

Billy Graham wrote back in 1969 that Christmas should be a time of renewed hope—not hope in a particular political concept, but Christmas hope; Christian hope; hope in Jesus Christ; hope that, despite our tangled bungling, God will bring order out of chaos.

Despite our tangled bungling, God will bring order out of chaos. I don’t know about you but sometimes the Christmas season seems like more tangled bungling on my part than it does actual celebrating. But we have joy because we know that God will bring order out of our chaos. In fact, that’s really the message of Genesis. This story of the beginning of God’s people leaves us with incredible hope. Hope that is not yet fulfilled, but we meet in Genesis a God who shows us enough of Himself that we can trust in Him to fill the hopes we are left with at the end of Genesis 50.

All of us know what it’s like to hope for something. We were asked from a young age what we wanted to be when we grew up. What did we hope to become? The answers are usually pretty standard—doctor, veterinarian, police officer, firefighter, scientist, and so on. Last year the website Fatherly and New York Life teamed up to poll over 1,000 children and found for the most part those answers change little over the years. Though, they did get some interesting responses: One 2-year-old boy wanted to be a dancing unicorn, a 6-year-old girl wanted to be a dragon keeper, and 8-year-old girl wanted to be a crazy cat lady, and a 4-year-old boy wanted to be the ice cream man at Costco. So at least there are some kids out there who still have imaginations.

But most of us don’t end up doing the thing we hope to do when we’re kids. Some of us view that as a good thing, others probably wish we could do things over to live out one of those childhood dreams. We’ve been studying Joseph since September and his life certainly didn’t take shape the way he would have hoped when he was a child. At age 17 he was sold as a slave in a foreign land and he spent the final 93 years of his life living there.

Joseph’s story has taught us much about the providence and promises of our God as He works to redeem a people for His glory. And as we finish it today, we will see from Genesis 50 this one final truth: God’s Providence and His Promises Create Hope for His People.

There are three movements to Genesis 50. The chapter is bookended by funerals with an apology sandwiched in the middle. Let’s read it together:

Jacob’s Funeral (vv.1-14)

50 Then Joseph, leaning over his father’s face, wept and kissed him. 2 He commanded his servants who were physicians to embalm his father. So they embalmed Israel. 3 They took forty days to complete this, for embalming takes that long, and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

4 When the days of mourning were over, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s household, “If I have found favor with you, please tell Pharaoh that 5 my father made me take an oath, saying, ‘I am about to die. You must bury me there in the tomb that I made for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Now let me go and bury my father. Then I will return.”

6 So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father in keeping with your oath.”

7 Then Joseph went to bury his father, and all Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt went with him, 8 along with all Joseph’s family, his brothers, and his father’s family. Only their dependents, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 Horses and chariots went up with him; it was a very impressive procession. 10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, which is across the Jordan, they lamented and wept loudly, and Joseph mourned seven days for his father. 11 When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a solemn mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place is named Abel-mizraim. It is across the Jordan.

12 So Jacob’s sons did for him what he had commanded them. 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave at Machpelah in the field near Mamre, which Abraham had purchased as burial property from Ephron the Hethite. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone with him to bury his father.

The Brothers’ Apology and Joseph’s Response (vv.14-21)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”

16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him. 18 His brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph’s Funeral (vv.22-26)

22 Joseph and his father’s family remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph.

24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.”

26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt.

This is the Word of the Lord. May the Holy Spirit help us to apply this word to our lives. Let’s pray.

We’ve just read the end of the first book of the Bible. We’ve seen how God through Joseph to rescue his family, but the more we study the more we realize God really is the main character of this whole narrative.

Everything that God has worked to do in human history since the fall—and I’d really argue even before—is to gather a people to the praise of His glory through His Son. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that the will of the Father who sent Him was that he would lose none of those the Father has given Him. Colossians 1:13 shows us how God has worked this rescue for us: He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col. 1:13)

God’s redemptive purpose has been at work since the very beginning of Genesis when Moses introduced us to a sovereign, yet personal God who created a perfect universe and ruled over it while remaining distinct from it. We meet humanity in chapter two—when God creates man and woman in His very own image. We see evil creep into the world as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in chapter 3. . .but we also get a promise. The very first promise of the gospel, in fact.

God looks at the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and says in 3:15

I will put hostility between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.

That’s the very first promise of the Gospel in all the Bible. God is promising that one day He would repair what had been broken in the Garden of Eden. When God sent His son hundreds of years later, Satan bruised His heel—but Jesus crushed the head of sin and death on the cross of Calvary. And here’s God dropping the first Gospel breadcrumb in just the third chapter of Scripture.

The rest of Scripture is the story of God preserving for Himself that offspring. It starts with a family—first in Seth who replaced his fallen brother Abel. Then in Noah in Genesis 6-9 as God reveals both His justice in punishing sin at the flood and His grace in preserving a family through which he would one day bring that offspring.

God enters into a covenant with Noah after the flood and later with a man named Abram—Joseph’s great grandfather. God promises Abraham some things in Genesis 12:

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.

God chose Abraham’s family as the family through which the offspring—Jesus—would one day be born. The last part of that promise is my favorite—all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. More specifically in His great commission—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). The promise of blessing to all the peoples of the earth is still being fulfilled today but that fulfillment is only possible through Christ.

We see that picture more fully today, but in Genesis it is revealed piece-by-piece as God works at first through family and begins to build them into a nation. He goes on to tell Abraham in Genesis 15 13 . . . “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

This promise to Abraham meets its fulfillment in the life of Joseph. Generations before He was even born God was sovereignly at work to work in Joseph’s life to make him the lynchpin in his plan to take Abraham’s descendants from a family to a nation. Yet, as we see in Genesis 50 Joseph never sees the family of God become the nation of God. Both Jacob and Joseph’s faith end—on this side of eternity—in hope, not sight. And that’s not bad. It was brought about by God’s providence and both Jacob and Joseph displayed a confident hope in their final actions. From the two funerals in chapter 50, we learn that hope for tomorrow comes from the same place as hope for eternity.

We see it first in the funeral of Jacob in verses 1-14. The chapter begins with Joseph’s overwhelming grief at the loss of his father. Notice that Joseph’s hope in the God of his father never falters in this chapter—or in the entire story for that matter—but his heart is still broken at the loss of a loved one. Hope isn’t the absence of hurt.

If Jacob were writing his own story, dying in Egypt would not have been the final chapter. He would have died not just in the promised land, but in possession of the promised land so that he could pass it along to his children. That wasn’t God’s plan, yet it shook neither the hope of Jacob or of Joseph.

We see, though, that hope for Joseph’s day-to-day continued to be rooted in the hope promised by the God of his fathers. We see it in his rejection of Egyptian religious customs in verse two.

Egyptian religion required that the body be preserved so that the deceased could enjoy the afterlife; so every dead body in Egypt was treated with care. The amount of care, though, was determined by how much money you had. Sound familiar?

You only got the full mummy treatment if you were wealthy—a pharaoh or a member of the nobility. According to one scholar, many poor were simply salted and left to dry in the sun.

I tell you that because we need to notice that Joseph was rejecting these cultural norms when he ordered the body of his father taken by the physicians and not by the professional embalmers who would have handled other important Egyptians in death.

We see how respected the family of Joseph was in Egypt that Jacob’s death was mourned for 70 days. The entire nation went into a state of mourning for the death of an elderly Hebrew immigrant who contributed nothing to their state of well-being. And they mourned for 70 days. It was typical to mourn for 72 days when Pharaoh died. This shows how respected that Joseph was in Egypt at the time.

And yet Joseph didn’t place his hope in being a leader in the most powerful nation on the planet. In verse four he asks Pharaoh to let him keep the vow he made to his father to bury him in the family tomb back in the promised land. Pharaoh allows it and what Moses describes from verses 7-14 is nothing short of a royal funeral procession out of Egypt and into Canaan.

Egyptian officials, the family of Jacob, and even the Egyptian army—the horses and chariots of verse 9—fill out what Moses writes is a very impressive procession. So impressive, in fact, that the locals began calling the place where they paused for a week Abel-mizraim, which meant the mourning of Egypt.

As Joseph lived out his hope here, we actually get to see the promises of God both fulfilled and foreshadowed for us in mighty ways through this once-in-history funeral event. The fact that Egypt was so disrupted by the passing of Jacob tells us how dear the family of Joseph had become to Pharaoh. Why? Because Joseph was a national hero. He saved them from starving to death and consolidated power in the household of Pharaoh to a degree that was probably never before seen in Egypt’s history. Pharaoh was good to Joseph and his family and therefore he was blessed. This is Genesis 12:3 parading north from Egypt. God told Abraham I will bless those who bless you. Egypt recognized how greatly it had been blessed by Joseph and, thus, declared national mourning for the loss of his father. In Exodus, Egypt learns the flip side of that verse—I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt. But for now, Israel and Egypt are mutually blessing one another.

This funeral procession in verses 7-14 is also a foreshadowing of another procession that will depart Egypt—though it won’t do so for about 400 years. Some of the language is strikingly similar. When Moses describes the exodus of Israel after the Passover, he’ll speak of Pharoah’s servants, and flocks, and herds, and horses, and chariots all over again. And that procession will also be carrying the bones of a dead Israelite. For, when Joseph’s descendants escape Egypt after generations of slavery they’ll be carrying his coffin. That’s what he asks as he lay dying in the last few verses of the chapter.

Moses tells us that Joseph lived to be 110 years old and in verse 24 he tells his brothers this: 24 “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.”

You see, in death his hope was the same as it was in life. His hope rested on God’s divine providence in life and he trusted that same divine providence would sustain his family after he died. His dying statement is such a remarkable act of trust in God that the writer of Hebrews chose it—of all the things that happened in Joseph’s colorful life—he chose those words to highlight this man’s extreme trust in God. Hebrews 11:22 tells us that

By faith Joseph, as he was nearing the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions concerning his bones.

Joseph saved an entire nation, rescued his family, endured incredible hardship, but the most heroic thing he ever did was with his dying breath proclaimed such trust in God that he believed God would rescue his family from a captivity that didn’t yet exist.

He said “when God comes to your aid.” Understand, that his family didn’t need aid yet. They had it made. Things take a turn in Exodus 1 but in the moment, Israel was sitting pretty. He was telling his family to carry his bones to the promised land, to reunite them with his father. Joseph understood in death that he wasn’t the main character of the story. That God was still—in his divine providence—authoring the history of Israel. To understand that in death, we must first understand it in life. The hope that Joseph rested in for eternity was the same hope he rested in to get him through slavery, and false accusation, and prison—his vast hardships and also his vast successes. This seems counterintuitive but I think for some of us its easier to trust that God has our eternity handled than it is for us to trust that God has tomorrow handled. Heaven I’m sure of, but that electric bill is due tomorrow and I’m not sure where that’s coming from yet. I know Jesus is preparing a place for me, but I don’t know if my marriage is going to survive or what these test results are going to mean or whatever the uncertainty is. Compared to eternity, whatever it is that threatens our hope here on this earth is small. It won’t feel like it in the moment. That’s why the truth we’ll learn from the middle scene in this chapter is so helpful and it’s this:

Hope keeps life in the proper perspective. After Jacob’s months-long funeral had ended and his sons returned to Egypt, a fear crept into the minds of Joseph’s brothers.

Hey, dad’s gone now. What if Joseph’s still upset with us? Remember, we did sell him into slavery and all. They wonder aloud in verse 15 “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”

So they sent this message to Joseph (because they’re liars), “Before he died your father gave a command. They say hey, before dad died he said you have to forgive us for the whole slavery deal.’

After all these years and all Joseph’s kindness, the brothers still didn’t get it. Here’s the fundamental different between Joseph and his brothers: It’s where their hope came from. The brothers hope was in “what can I do” and Joseph’s hope is in “what God has done.” Do you understand the difference?

The brothers thought, Ok now that dad’s protective hand is no longer on us how can we manipulate the situation so that we’re still okay. But listen to Joseph’s response: 19 But Joseph said to them,

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph wasn’t concerned about what he could do to get back at his brothers. He recognized his circumstances as the outworking of God’s providence and he was going to use his position to bless rather than to get revenge. Why? Because nothing happened to Joseph—and nothing happens to you or to me that hasn’t been allowed, or ordained, by God in the first place. So if we take out revenge, who should we be trying to get revenge on?

If our hope is in our ability to influence our situation for our own good, then how do we respond if God’s providence finds us sitting in a slave caravan or a jail cell like it did for Joseph? But if our hope is placed in the God who is sovereign, the God who in His providence works to secure His promises for His children then we have a hope that is invincible.

The core of Joseph’s response in Genesis 50:20 is that this whole thing really isn’t about me in the first place it’s about God and what He is doing to rescue many people. God takes the evil planned by man and overrules it for His purpose—and His purpose is good.

Understand here that things are about to get very bad for Israel. Almost 400 years of slavery just scratches the surface. In Exodus 1 we are looking at a full-on attempted genocide. An evil Pharaoh will attempt to eradicate the Israelite race from the earth. But God works it for good.

Later on, when Israel is staring at captivity to another evil nation, Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah delivers the word of the Lord. You’ll probably recognize some of it:

10 For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”

I know the plans I have for you. Those plans were to make them captives for 70 years, but ultimately the plan was for Israel’s good.

There’s one more verse I want us to see as we close. We’ve looked at it over-and-over again as we’ve study Genesis 37-50.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Church, we have a God who is guiding the workings of our world to ultimately work out for your good and His glory. He’s been doing it since the fall of mankind and He’ll be doing it until Jesus returns.

The question that confronts us in Genesis 50 is—where is your hope? Have you ordered your life in such a way that your hope rests on your own abilities? The brothers never really seemed to get it. Even after Jacob’s death they’re trying to work things for their own good.

What do we leave this study of Joseph’s life with? How should it change the way we look at ourselves? What about the way we look at our God? Joseph is remembered among the heroes of our faith in Hebrews 11.

As I thought about that list this week, it got me thinking about the popularity of heroes in our culture today. Just this year 3 super hero films brought in over $1 billion dollars. We’re obsessed with heroes. I wondered why exactly that is true. Fortunately, one online magazine asked the same question. Here’s their answer:

In times of trouble, people tend to wish for someone who is bigger than them to help them. Superheroes are strong, tough, and can kick some serious butt. They are always fighting the “bad guys” whether that be the Nazis or aliens. They help people. They make sure they stand up for the common man. And ultimately, they save people. When things get scary, we all want someone to save us, to tell us things will be okay. People go to stories because of this. I think deep down, we all wish sometimes that someone like Captain America or Batman will come and beat up the bad guys for us.

But in reality, the story never ends with a super hero. It ends with a nerdy high school kid getting bit by a spider and ending up in the hospital instead of with super powers.

Joseph’s story teaches us that the hero has already come. For Joseph, he trusted that the hero was coming. Given the full scope of Scripture we understand that the hero came in humble fashion, fulfilling all the promises God made to His people from Genesis 3 onward. And we rest our hope in the God who—through His providence—secures His promises for His people.

Let me leave you with two of those promises as we close today. Romans 10:13 tells us that:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And Philippians 1:6 says: I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Where does your hope rest this Christmas?

December 9, 2018 | God's Providence Secures Future Blessings | Genesis 49:1-33

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Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come. Those are the words Jacob spoke to his sons at the beginning of Genesis 49.

Those are the words we’ll spend our time together digging into today. But before we do I want to spend a moment thinking about the value of the knowledge Jacob possessed here.

What would it be worth to you to know what will happen to you in the days to come? Just having knowledge of future things that don’t even matter is extremely valuable, right? In Back to the Future Part II the bad guy, Biff Tannen, concocted a scheme to go into the past and give himself a copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac. He finds the younger version of himself and the exchange goes something like this:

Older Biff: You see this book? This book tells the future. It tells the results of every major sporting event until the end of the century. . .The information in here’s worth millions and I’m giving it to you.

Younger Biff: Thank you very much. Now why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here.

Younger Biff, though clearly not the smartest guy on the planet, went on to make a fortune for himself with just the knowledge of who would win some meaningless football games. How valuable would information be to you? So many of people are desperate to know what happens next or if—in the end—we are going to be okay that it has grown into a major industry.

Horoscopes are still printed in newspapers and available as apps. Miss Cleo may not be around anymore, but “psychic services” are still a $2 billion industry. We have an awareness that we are finite. There’s an end in store for each of us and we want to know the answer to the simple question: is everything going to be okay?

The message of Genesis 49 is that God works in the lives of His people to secure their future and bring about their salvation. God, through His good providence, ordains the events of history—ruling and overruling the evil of men and turning that evil for his purposes—to accomplish the redemption of His people for His glory.

When Jacob, on his death bed, tells his sons, “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come,” it is both a promise and a prophecy. Let’s read the chapter together:


Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come.

2 Come together and listen, sons of Jacob;
listen to your father Israel:

3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as water, you will not excel,
because you got into your father’s bed
and you defiled it—he got into my bed.

5 Simeon and Levi are brothers;
their knives are vicious weapons.
6 May I never enter their council;
may I never join their assembly.
For in their anger they kill men,
and on a whim they hamstring oxen.
7 Their anger is cursed, for it is strong,
and their fury, for it is cruel!
I will disperse them throughout Jacob
and scatter them throughout Israel.

8 Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until he whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.
11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

13 Zebulun will live by the seashore
and will be a harbor for ships,
and his territory will be next to Sidon.

14 Issachar is a strong donkey
lying down between the saddlebags.

15 He saw that his resting place was good
and that the land was pleasant,
so he leaned his shoulder to bear a load
and became a forced laborer.

16 Dan will judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.

17 Dan will be a snake by the road,
a viper beside the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that its rider falls backward.

18 I wait for your salvation, Lord.

19 Gad will be attacked by raiders,
but he will attack their heels.

20 Asher’s food will be rich,
and he will produce royal delicacies

21 Naphtali is a doe set free
that bears beautiful fawns.

22 Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine beside a spring;
its branches climb over the wall.

23 The archers attacked him,
shot at him, and were hostile toward him.

24 Yet his bow remained steady,
and his strong arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father who helps you,
and by the Almighty who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
and blessings of the breasts and the womb.

26 The blessings of your father excel
the blessings of my ancestors
and the bounty of the ancient hills.
May they rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince of his brothers.

27 Benjamin is a wolf; he tears his prey.
In the morning he devours the prey,
and in the evening he divides the plunder.”

28 These are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them. He blessed them, and he blessed each one with a suitable blessing.

29 Then he commanded them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hethite. 30 The cave is in the field of Machpelah near Mamre, in the land of Canaan. This is the field Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hethite as burial property. 31 Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried there, and I buried Leah there. 32 The field and the cave in it were purchased from the Hethites.” 33 When Jacob had finished giving charges to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, took his last breath, and was gathered to his people.


A Word on Prophecy

As we were reading through this long chapter, you may have wondered how long, exactly, will we be here today. That’s a fair concern. Our goal today is not to tease out every single truth from this chapter. Sometimes, that is the goal. But, the goal of today’s sermon is to present the truth that Moses intended to preserve for us in the entirety of chapter 49. So we’ll spend most of our time examining Jacob’s statements to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi together, then Judah and Joseph separately—so there are three main sections we’ll focus on. The words to those four men take up 15 of the 26 verses in Jacob’s prophecy.

But before we dive in let me say just one thing about this text as a whole. The words in verses 3-27 are both poetry and prophecy. These verses are an extended Hebrew poem and the language is beautiful, but just as important for us to note is that these words are prophecy. Jacob is speaking divinely inspired words into the lives of his sons. Jacob is not just looking at the character and accomplishments of his sons and guessing at what their lives will turn out like. This is not, “You, son, are good at math, I think you’re going to be an engineer. You, son, are organized. I think you will be an executive. You, son, are good at Fortnite. You are going to live in your parents’ basement until you’re 35.”

This is Jacob speaking the word of the Lord. Later in the Old Testament, you’ll often find the phrase “the word of the Lord came to” preceding prophecy. Jeremiah 1:2 is one example, where we see the word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah.

When you see the word of the Lord spoken in Scripture you know that it will always ring true, because it’s always his prophet, Jacob in the case of Genesis 49, faithfully relating the message God has given him. In this moment, Jacob’s words equal God’s words. There’s a comfort here and I hope that comfort is the primary thing you leave here with today.

But there’s also a caution. Anytime someone begins a sentence with the words “God told me . . .” I get worried. My spiritual spidey sense starts tingling. Because ‘God told me’ isn’t followed by a verse of Scripture then whatever else follows ‘God told me’ has to be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. And that’s not because I believe that God isn’t speaking to His people today. It’s because God is speaking to his people today.

God speaks to us primarily through His word. We’re told in Hebrews the word of God is living and active. When we declare “God told me” we are declaring prophecy and that is extremely serious business. We know God will not contradict Himself and we know that His word is always true. ‘God told me’ is a serious declaration. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t still speak to His people. Scripture records over-and-over again God speaking audibly to His people. In my experience, though, that’s quite different from the way most modern Christians use ‘God told me.’ Typically, I’ve seen this come through God speaking through an inner voice, a still, small voice. Again, I’m not denying that can happen. . . but we don’t ever see that in Scripture. We see God speaking out loud, through a dream or vision, through a blinding light and through a thundering voice from Heaven among other ways but not really in the way most people say they hear God today.

What does that mean for us? I think the desire to hear from God comes from a good place. We want to be connected to God’s voice and the good news is that we can be. God speaks to us directly through Scripture as we study it. We primarily discern God’s will through knowing the Word of the Lord from Scripture. This issue is not new. It was addressed all the way back in 1689 by the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. Its sixth paragraph starts with these words

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. . .”

We have the whole counsel of God opened in front of us this morning and the truths contained in it are sufficient for every question and every need you’ll ever have in this life. Now that we’ve talked about the nature of the prophecy let’s get down to looking at the details. Again, we’re focusing on five brothers—Reuben, Simeon and Levi, Judah, and Joseph. The truth Jacob speaks into the lives of the other seven are not insignificant, but we see more clearly God’s providence at work in these five.

Reuben, Simeon, and Levi

Let’s look first at Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. We’ll examine them together and they’re all three negative. Verse 3:

3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as water, you will not excel,
because you got into your father’s bed
and you defiled it—he got into my bed.

These are some of the harshest words in all of the Old Testament, but there’s not much comfort for Simeon and Levi, either.

All three of these receive curses and not blessings from their father in his final address and it reveals something important to us about the sovereignty of God. Remember, God is at work to preserve for Himself a people—a people He has promised to bless richly. We learn from Genesis 49 that while God is sovereign over human actions, meaning that nothing happens that God doesn’t allow (or ordain), yet man is still responsible for the consequences of his actions. I won’t pretend that’s easy to wrap your mind around but let’s see how it’s true in the text.

Look at how well Jacob speaks of Reuben at the beginning of verse 3. My firstborn, my strength, excelling in prominence and excelling in power. That’s extremely high praise! Reuben was supposed to be the son of the promise! He was the firstborn and the blessing of all the nation of Israel should have come through him. Yet it didn’t. Why? Well, one answer is because—in His sovereignty God—chose another way. And another answer is because Reuben sinned. Turbulent as water, Jacob says, you will not excel because you got into your father’s bed. Back in Genesis 35:22 we learned that Reuben slept with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s concubines. And Jacob never got over this sin. We see how severe it was in Jacob’s mind because he addressed it twice in verse four.

Simeon and Levi committed a massacre against the Shechemites in Genesis 34. When Jacob tells these two what will happen in the days to come there is nothing positive. In fact, Jacob even says their families will be lost—scattered throughout Israel. Why? Because this was God’s sovereign plan and because these three men, through their disobedience, removed themselves from their position of greatest blessing within the family of Israel. We’ll dig a little deeper into this truth next week as we come to Joseph’s interaction with his brothers in Genesis 50 so if you have questions here make sure you come back. In the meantime, I found Charles Spurgeon’s words about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility helpful as I studied this week. He said:

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

Did these three brothers forfeit their blessing because of their actions or because it was God’s plan? Yes. That’s the best we can do. And there are two more things I want us to notice before we move on to Joseph.

First, even in these apparent curses we still see evidence of God’s grace. Joseph was within his authority to have these brothers punished at any time and Jacob could have disowned them. Beyond that, God could have poured out on them the wrath that their sins deserved, and yet none of those things happen. In fact, for their entire lives these men live as sons of Jacob and the tribes that grow from their families retain their name. They still belong to God and they still belong to Jacob’s family. This is a beautiful illustration of the assurance we have in Jesus Christ. Our disobedience may have consequences, but aren’t you thankful that you cannot sin your way out of God’s family? We’re not in on our own merit and we’ll never be out because of our failures, just like Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. If your life shows no pattern of Christlikeness, if you’re not bearing the fruits of the Spirit’s presence in your life found in Galatians 5, and if you have no desire to for holiness and the things of God then I’d strongly encourage you to examine yourself to see if you’ve ever really been in the family of God. But once you’re in the family, there is no disowning, there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation because there is nothing you did to earn your salvation.

Speaking of family, there’s one last thing I want us to catch from these three brothers. Really, it’s true of all 12 to one degree or another. It’s that your faith has consequences for future generations. Reuben’s tribe, though there was much promise, never showed any strength or leadership and Simeon’s tribe dwindles and is scattered.

We see the that truth writ large in the modern church. Parents, I hope you hear and take this to heart—particularly you fathers out there. It probably won’t surprise you to find that studies show a child is more likely to be active in church as an adult if his or her parents are active in church.

Research shows us, though, that one of the biggest factors on whether or not a child grows up to have an active faith is the spiritual role of the father. One major study found that:

(I)f a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).

Another study found that found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow.

I share these numbers with you for two reasons. One, to illustrate how imperative it is for families to disciple their children. But two, to show you that as a church we need to be aware of these numbers and ready to mobilize in three areas. First, pursuing our men. There are children and wives who attend our church whose husbands are not spiritually leading their families. Men, we need to love those men enough to pursue them with the gospel. Second, we need to come alongside those families and single-parent household, or grandparents who are raising grandchildren and help them to disciple kids who don’t have two strong spiritual parents giving them that guidance. We see from Genesis 49 the danger for future generations when there is a lapse in the faith. We have to be proactive so that we don’t see that kind of lapse in our church family. Third, if you are parents here today and you’ve ordered your life in such a way that church is optional for your family you have made a statement to your kids about how important your faith is. We have a Scriptural mandate to gather with God’s people on a regular basis and when we put shopping, or hunting, or sports, or the weather, or ‘I really just don’t feel like it’ ahead of church we are teaching our children how they should value church. Folks, Jesus didn’t die so that we can gather and worship together when we don’t have anything better to do. If you’ve set up your life so that church is the thing that you do when you don’t have anything more important going on, you’ve prioritized your life wrong. The good news is that you can change that. You an change the way you’re prioritizing your time and the things that you value as a family and that is a fantastic opportunity to teach your children why you’re making that change. Because we desperately want to leave behind a generation with a robust faith, don't we?


Ok, enough about the sons who failed. Let’s look at the two who were most lavishly praised in Genesis 49. As we examine Joseph’s blessing in vv. 22-26 we will learn that God sovereignly blesses His children through all their circumstances.

Jacob calls Joseph a fruitful vine in verse 22, invoking the image of a well-watered plant that is flourishing. This speaks to Joseph’s character, and we’ve seen his Godly character on display over-and-over again in this story, haven’t we? His character endured the rejection of his brothers, the lies of Potiphar’s wife, years in prison, and the hardships of leading a nation during a famine. He remained steady through all those attacks. How? Verses 24 tells us:

24 Yet his bow remained steady,
and his strong arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father who helps you,
and by the Almighty who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above

It’s because of the Mighty One of Jacob that Joseph was able to endure. Sure, his character was great but he endured more than one man ever could on his own. Hear all those names of God that Jacob lifts up over his son: Shepherd, Rock of Israel, God of your father, the Almighty. About these names, Kent Hughes wrote:

It was God in the full significance of these names . . .who. . . delivered Joseph and sustained him— and who would effect further blessing in his life. And for us his children, God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1: 3, 4a). The promise of his care for us is equally astonishing. Our awesome God will effect our care and blessing!

Some of us just need to hear that and believe it today. Whatever it is you’re going through, God has blessings in store for you if you belong to him. That’s what Jacob looks into Joseph’s future and sees. Abundant blessings. God never promises that they’ll be on this side of eternity, though. In fact, all these brothers would be long dead before Jacob’s words become truth. Yet, every single prophecy in Genesis 49 is found true.


Especially the most important one. Let’s jump back to Judah. Look at verse 8:

Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until he whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.
11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Here, we see the means by which God is going to effect salvation for His people, undo the curse of Eden, and rescue for Himself a new nation—not an ethnic one—but one from every tribe and tongue on earth. The truth of Judah’s blessing is that God’s sovereignty secures a future of blessing for His children.

The is the continuation of the promises God has been making since the fall. In Genesis 3:15 for the very first time He told Adam & Eve how He was going to undo the sin they had just committed. He further revealed to Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed via his offspring. That blessing comes in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who would hold the scepter of Judah. If you look at either of the genealogies of recorded in Matthew or Luke’s gospels you’ll be able to trace Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Judah. What does Jacob’s prophecy reveal for Judah?

Well, the first image here is one that should sound familiar to us since we’ve been studying Joseph’s life story for a number of weeks. Jacob tells Judah that his brothers’ descendants will bow down to him—exactly what was revealed to Joseph in his dreams back in Genesis 37. He is described as a lion and the most courageous leader in the history of Israel would come from his family line. King David—of the tribe of Judah—led Israel to unprecedented success and blessing. Yet, there would be one greater than David who would come.

Ultimately, the blessing of Judah is the birth that we’ll celebrate in just a couple weeks. What does the coming of Christ mean for those in God’s family? Look at verses 11-12 again:

11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Jacob looks ahead to the richness of Jesus Christ and His blessings here. Times will be so good and the harvest will be so abundant that you can tie a donkey to a grapevine and it will (1) be so strong it will hold him and (2) you don’t have to worry about the animal eating the harvest because it is so plentiful. He’s so wealthy he uses wine in the place of water.

The Messiah is a perfect picture of strength and power. He’s sufficient to meet every need that His people have—even though we did nothing to earn it.

Remember, Judah messed up just like Reuben. He committed sexual sin in Genesis 38. What’s the difference? Judah repented and changed. Reuben, it seems, never did.

Jacob died in perfect peace. He told his loved ones when his death was immanent, gave specific burial instructions, and then took his last breath. How can we have that kind of peace? We trust in the sovereignty of God to provide all the future blessings that have been promised to us in Scripture.

December 2, 2018 | The Satisfied Hope of a Dying Man | Genesis 48:1-22

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Hebrews 11 begins like this: Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.

We are going to settle in Genesis 48 today and you can begin there in your bibles. If you don’t have a bible of your own or you don’t have it with you today there are some black bibles in the pew racks. Today’s text can be found on page 43 in those bibles. And if you don’t have a bible of your own that you can read and understand please take that black bible home as our gift to you.

Faith, the unknown author of Hebrews tells us, is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. And by faith our ancestors won God’s approval. The chapter then goes on to list many heroes of Scripture and their great acts of faith. Abel’s sacrifice, Enoch’s ascension, Noah’s building of the ark, Abraham’s radical obedience and on and on. And when we arrive at verse 21 we find Genesis 48 encapsulated in one sentence:

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. (Heb. 11:21)

If we take the definition of faith in Hebrews one and lay it over this verse we’d find that Jacob, by the reality of what is hoped for and the proof of what is not seen, when he was dying blessed each of Joseph’s sons—and he worshiped. Jacob’s faith was so fully invested in the God of his fathers that the last meaningful action he takes on this side of eternity is to worship Him by passing on His covenant blessing.

Commentator Kent Hughes observed that Genesis 48 gives a remarkable portrait of an old man who took full charge of his own death. His faith on his deathbed was the singular triumph of his life. And there, while he did nothing that today is commonly referred to as worship, as there was no prayer or song, he intensely worshiped. This is because we worship when we, by faith, trust God for all of life and give ourselves to him.

I love that last line, because that’s a great measure of our faith, isn’t it? Do we trust God for all of life and give ourselves fully to him? Jacob’s faithfulness in the last days of his life was conclusive evidence that he fully rested in God for his ultimate satisfaction.

Faith says I can’t, God can and I’m satisfied with the result. And Hebrews tells us a life of faith wins God’s approval. How can you be more satisfied with the outcome of your life than that?

We need to be aware, though, that this kind of talk is like a foreign language to our culture. According to one news report a survey earlier this year asked Americans “If you haven’t yet made it, what’s missing?”

That’s a pretty good question, isn’t it. Most of you could think of something. What’s that thing you need to be satisfied? What is the missing component to happiness in your life?

You probably won’t be surprised to find out that the number one response to that question was income. Maybe that’s your response. But I want to submit to you today that any response to the question ‘what do you need to be satisfied?’ that does not find its center in a relationship with Jesus Christ will leave you empty and your deathbed scene will be one of regret rather than one of faith that rests on God’s goodness in your life.

Tim Keller wrote the following about happiness and satisfaction:

What will make you happy? What will really give you a satisfying life? Almost always you will answer by thinking of something from outside of you. Some of us have our hopes set on romantic love, some on career, some on politics or a social cause, and some of us on money and what it will do for us. But whatever it is that makes you say, ‘If I have that, if I get there, then I’ll know I’m important, then I’ll know I have significance, then I know I’ll have security’ – it’s likely something outside of you. Yet Jesus says, there’s nothing outside of you that can truly satisfy the thirst that is deep down inside you.

Jacob’s satisfaction and his faith rested in the same place in Genesis 48. It’s because of his faith that on his deathbed Jacob could worship God because all of his needs in life had been met. There’s no salary, no relationship, no status, no home, no car that will provide that satisfaction. The hottest Christmas present on the market will be played with and discarded by New Year’s but Jesus said “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)

How can we grow in this faith that reflects the truth that Jesus has met all of our needs? Let’s examine God’s goodness in Jacob’s life here in Genesis 48 to find out:

48 Some time after this, Joseph was told, “Your father is weaker.” So he set out with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.

3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful and numerous; I will make many nations come from you, and I will give this land as a permanent possession to your future descendants.’ 5 Your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt are now mine. Ephraim and Manasseh belong to me just as Reuben and Simeon do. 6 Children born to you after them will be yours and will be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance. 7 When I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died along the way, some distance from Ephrath in the land of Canaan. I buried her there along the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?”

9 And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons God has given me here.”

So Israel said, “Bring them to me and I will bless them.” 10 Now his eyesight was poor because of old age; he could hardly see. Joseph brought them to him, and he kissed and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, but now God has even let me see your offspring.” 12 Then Joseph took them from his father’s knees and bowed with his face to the ground.

13 Then Joseph took them both—with his right hand Ephraim toward Israel’s left, and with his left hand Manasseh toward Israel’s right—and brought them to Israel. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all harm—
may he bless these boys.
And may they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they grow to be numerous within the land.

17 When Joseph saw that his father had placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it was a mistake and took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not that way, my father! This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know! He too will become a tribe, and he too will be great; nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring will become a populous nation.” 20 So he blessed them that day, putting Ephraim before Manasseh when he said, “The nation Israel will invoke blessings by you, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

21 Israel said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22 Over and above what I am giving your brothers, I am giving you the one mountain slope that I took from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”

The first thing we learn about faith in Genesis 48 is that it rests in what God has already accomplished.

When Joseph comes to visit his ailing father in the text we just read, Jacob is ill and nearing the end of his life. He summoned his strength to receive his son and immediately began recounting God’s faithfulness over the course of his life. Here’s something important for us to notice about Jacob and it reveals how faith changes our perspective. When Jacob tells Joseph his life story, the beginning of the story and the focus of the story is on God, not on Jacob. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, being focused on someone else over ourselves is not a strong suit for many of us, church.

Instead of resonating with Joseph’s God-focused narrative, we are more apt to follow the words of the revered American philosopher, Toby Keith. He said:

I want to talk about me

Want to talk about I

Want to talk about number one

Oh my me my

What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see

Jacob, however, wouldn’t have resonated with Toby Keith. His life story began when God appeared to him at Luz and was defined by God’s continuing faithfulness to him. Jacob described a God who promised to make him fruitful and numerous, bring forth from his family many nations, and give the land of Canaan to his descendants.

Which is what leads to the radical display of reliance on God that Jacob displays in verses 5-7. Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh into his family and promises them an inheritance. This action has been looked upon curiously by scholars. Many think that the following passage starting in verse 8 was a type of ancient formal adoption ceremony. This adoption probably grew from his deep love for both Rachel and her firstborn son Joseph. Rachel died young, and Jacob never fully got over her loss. Had she lived on she likely would have bore many more children and so Jacob adopts his grandsons, through Rachel’s son, into his family—into the place of the firstborn, which was the place of the blessing—a position we’ve seen throughout this study to be extremely important.

There are three things we need to notice about this adoption and we’ll run through them quickly. First, Ephraim and Manasseh did nothing to earn this adoption. They were culturally Egyptian. Ethnically, they were half-Egyptian. Up until the 70-members of Jacob’s family entered Egypt they had never met another Israelite. And yet, God—through Jacob—was saying to Ephraim and Manasseh, ‘You will not be Egyptians. You are mine and I have chosen to carry on my covenant blessing to my people through you.’ The blessing that was originally Reuben’s, by order of being the first-born son. But 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 tells us that (Reuben) He was the firstborn, but his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, because Reuben defiled his father’s bed. He is not listed in the genealogy according to birthright. 2 Although Judah became strong among his brothers and a ruler came from him, the birthright was given to Joseph.

Reuben did something to lose the blessing, but the ones who gained it didn’t earn it in any way. That’s just like our salvation isn’t it? We did nothing to gain it, yet God granted us the faith to call on His Son for salvation. Ephesians 2 calls faith God’s gift (verse 8). And with that gift of faith comes adoption into His family, which is the second thing we should notice about the adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh. It’s an illustration of our adoption into God’s family.

Ephesians 1:4-5 tell us For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. 5 He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.

We did nothing to earn it, yet like Ephraim and Manasseh we have been adopted into the family of God.

Third, this adoption show us Jacob’s radical reliance on God. In verse 6 Jacob anticipated a question Joseph would likely have brought up at some point. He said I am adopting these two sons. The rest of your sons remain yours and will be recorded under the names of Ephraim and Manasseh for the purpose of inheritance.

Just by stating that there would be an inheritance Jacob is demonstrating incredible reliance on God. Remember where he’s at! He’s in a pagan nation in the midst of a global famine hundreds of miles from the land that God promised His family and yet he has the audacity to be thinking of an inheritance?

Jacob’s radical reliance on God to provide and inheritance for his offspring points us to the point of the next section. Verses 8-20 teach us that Faith Recognizes God’s Sovereignty.

Joseph brings Ephraim and Manasseh before Jacob and in verse 11 we find another marker of how God blessed Jacob abundantly in these last days of his life. He never expected to see Joseph alive again and is now meeting his grandsons! Faith trusts that God will be faithful even when logic and reason say otherwise.

The next scene, however, the one in verses 13-20 is kind of strange, isn’t it? Jacob goes to bestow this formal blessing on Joseph’s sons—by the way, so much of this scene is reminiscent of Isaac’s end of life blessing on his sons Jacob and Esau, from the blessing to the blindness. Moses continually draws from earlier scenes in Genesis to remind us of the big picture of what God is doing here. Again, we see the younger being the channel of blessing when every other culture of the time would have seen the older son as the bearer of the blessing. Here, despite Joseph’s effort to line the boys up perfectly so his feeble father could easily bless them, Jacob chooses the younger over the older.

Joseph thought surely Jacob was mistaken. “Not like that! This one is the firstborn.” God, throughout Genesis chose the younger son over the older despite conventional wisdom. Why? Because His ways are not our ways. You see, faith understands that God doesn’t always work in the way we want him to, or think we should—and faith is okay with that. Jacob had figured that out. He schemed to steal the birthright from Esau, but by this advanced age he fully understood that God, in His sovereignty, was going to work His will despite human interference. And so Jacob’s wisdom, shaped by the providence of God, led Jacob to choose the younger to bless the older.

And then finally, in verses 21-22 we se that Faith Endures to the End. Jacob stated very plainly that even though he was about to die he trusted that one day God would deliver on the promises He reiterated to Jacob over-and-over again throughout his life.

Faith accepts that God’s purpose is much bigger than my one individual life. And, in a chapter filled with odd behavior, Jacob does one last strange thing. He gifts something to Joseph that doesn’t currently belong to him. He gives him the land of Schechem where he once lived.

But he doesn’t currently possess that land. In granting Joseph this, Jacob is reiterating his belief that God would deliver to his descendants the land of Canaan.

Jacob’s faith in Genesis 48 is enshrined as an example for us to follow in Hebrews 11. We’ve been given many more examples across the history of God’s people in the centuries since Jacob lived.

On of my favorite examples of a fully-satisfied faith that endures to the end of a man named Adoniram Judson. If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share with you a brief sketch of his life as we close.

He was born in 1788 in Massachusetts and while in college it became clear to Judson that his faith was leading him toward the life of a missionary service in Asia.

He met a young lady named Ann in 1810 who was also committed to serving on the mission field and decided to write her father a letter asking for her hand in marriage. The letter reveals to us how committed Judson was to his faith:

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

He made it clear that he had no hopes to return to the comfort of home.

The two were wed in February 1812 and 12 days later sailed for India. It was in India that they felt called to go further into the unstable nation of Burma. They were told not to go there by missionary friends. Missionaries had gone there before and had no success. They had either been killed or they gave up and left.

They arrived in Rangoon on July 13, 1813. It was an unwelcoming place. Temperatures were almost 110-degrees with no air conditioning, they battled cholera, malaria and dysentery.

Once they arrived they didn’t hear any word from home for two years. Adoniram Judson never saw his mother, father, or brother ever again after leaving home in 1812. In fact he didn’t return home for 33 years. And his work wasn’t easy.

He and Ann had three children. All of them died. The first was born dead just as they sailed from India to Burma. The second was born in Burma and died after 17 months. The third, a girl named Elizabeth, lived to age two before passing away.

In 1823 they moved from the capitol, Rangoon, to Ava—about 300 miles further inland. The next year the British navy attacked the capitol city and all westerners were viewed as spies. Adoniram was imprisoned on June 8, 1824. His feet were chained and at night they would run a long bamboo pole through the chain and lift his feet so that only his head and shoulders were on the ground.

Ann was pregnant at the time and walked two miles to the prison every day to plead Adoniram’s case. While in prison he told a fellow prisoner: It is possible my life will be spared; if so, with what ardor shall I pursue my work! If not—his will be done. The door will be opened for others who would do the work better.

He was released after 17 months because he was needed as a translator. 11 Months later, Ann died. Adoniram spiraled into a deep depression.

He struggled in that depression for four years before gradually climbing out of it and resuming his work. Eight years after Ann died he married again—this time to Sarah Boardman whose husband, also a missionary, had died. After 11 years, 8 children (five who survived childhood) Sarah became ill and together they decided to sail home so that she could receive medical care. However, she died during the voyage.

He spent barely a year in the US, but he did fall in love again. He married Emily Chubbuck and they went right back to Burma—arriving in November 1846.

They had four years of hard, but successful ministry in Burma. In April 1850 Judson himself fell very ill. The only hope was to try to send him home for care. On the ship he was violently ill. He had a friend with him, Thomas Ranney. Ranney recorded that one of Judson’s last sentences was “How few there are who die so hard.” At 4:15 on a Friday afternoon April 12, 1850 Adoniram Judson died.

He faith in God had seen him leave his loved ones behind, bury two wives and six of his 13 children. But in those 38 years he translated the entire Bible into the language of the native people in Burma.

When he arrived in Burma there were no Christians that we know of. He was the first, but not the only, missionary to find success in that nation. There were 10,000 Christians by 1851, the year after Judson died, and by 1926 there were 192,000. The Burmese Baptist Convention, founded by those who came after Judson, today has 922,000 members.

By faith, the Judsons dedicated themselves to fulfilling the Great Commission in Burma. His first wife, Ann, wrote to a friend early in her marriage:

I have . . . come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his Providence, shall see fit to place me - Ann Hasseltine Judson

I submit to you that by faith, Adoniram and Ann Judson died satisfied because they placed their faith Jesus Christ, the only who who can truly satisfy, and they let that faith guide their lives.

That same faith in God guided Jacob to die worshipping, and because of that we find in Hebrews that his life was approved by God. What better outcome can you hope for?

Jacob stopped relying on his own schemes and plans to bring about his deliverance. By the end of his life, Jacob was 100% convinced that God would deliver his family. Though, he never saw that deliverance with his own eyes. Neither did the next generation, or the next. It would be 400 years before Israel even escaped Egypt. But God came through.

God has come through for you and I as well. If you belong to Christ you’ve been adopted into His family and have already been gifted an inheritance today. Ephesians 2:8-9 says 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

The faith you have is a gift. You didn’t earn it and you don’t deserve it. It’s a gift that is available to everyone in this room. What are you resting in today? It’s very possible that you can live out this life and come to the end of your days in great comfort, yet with overwhelming sorrow. That would be the opposite of Adoniram Judsons’ life. He left this world in agony, yet with a comfort knowing his life was not wasted.

What’s that thing you need to be satisfied? In reality, it’s knowing that God has already met every need you have in the person of Jesus Christ.

Our sin separates us from God and earns his wrath. In His goodness, Christ humbled Himself to a lowly birth and a hard life filled with sorrow here on this earth all so that God would be gloried as He redeemed us for Himself through His death. On the cross, Christ took the wrath that we earned for ourselves and paid its penalty. Now, God looks on us and sees Christ’s righteousness. And it’s because we have the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we know our faith will endure to the end. Let’s pray.

November 25, 2018 | God Works Good for His People | Genesis 47:1-31

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As we study the last 14 chapters of Genesis, we’ve been trying to see how this story fits within the big picture narrative of Scripture. A few times we have pointed forward to the cross as we’ve seen similarities between this story’s imperfect savior, Joseph, and the perfect savior he foreshadows. We’ve even seen some of those same characteristics Joseph’s extremely flawed brother, Judah.

We’ve also pointed forward to some of the promises of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, to see how they’re fulfilled in the lives of the folks we’re reading about. We’ve seen God’s goodness in a number of ways to Jacob, and Joseph, and Benjamin, and Tamar and even indirectly to Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt through Joseph and the wisdom God gave him concerning the famine.

We look at the big picture because as we study because we don’t just want to deepen our understanding of Genesis 37-50. We want to deepen our understanding of the Bible as one whole book. As a church, we want to both understand and embrace the unity of all the books of the Bible taken together—that’s what we call Biblical Theology. And it’s my hope that in the months and years to come we grow in our understanding of the storyline of Scripture and how its themes and promises interact with one another and with our culture so that we can apply them more clearly to everyday life.

That’s why we closed last week looking at a promise from the book of Romans. I want to read that promise to you again set against its immediate context within Romans 8. Here it is:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. That’s the promise, now here’s Paul providing background and detail of the promise in verse 29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? (leave on screen)

As we studied chapter 46 last week we saw that, without fail, God’s promises ring true in the family of Israel. Chapter 47 serves as a case study, so to speak, of how Romans 8:28 and following come to fruition in the lives of God’s people.

There Paul tells us that God, in His love for His children, works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. How’s that true? Well, in short; verse 29 tells us that He knew His own before they were born, chose to redeem them and conform them to the image of His son Jesus despite their rebellion, and He will one day bring them to perfection in glory with Him for eternity. And then he comes to verse 31 where we see ‘these things’ again in the CSB. What about all this stuff working in the world? Well, it ultimately can’t be against us. I mean, much of it seems to be against us, but our God will redeem it for our good because He loves us. Whether we perceive it as good or bad, God works it for our ultimate good in His lovingkindness for us.

Now, that’s a big concept but I think that sitting in this room we can all at least affirm that, can’t we? When we leave this building, applying it becomes very difficult. Because there are things at work in your life that certainly don’t seem to be ‘for you’ aren’t there? And many of the things we want to be for our good just don’t work out how we planned them. About a month ago a lot of people really thought that ‘good’ for them would have been to win the $1.5 billion Mega-Millions drawing. To the extremely vast majority of people, God—in His providence—decided that would not be for your good. That jackpot remains unclaimed, by the way.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we might not know what really is good for us. Last week at the church lunch my son thought it would be good for him to eat nothing but butter packets. Now, he could stand to gain some weight so it might not be the worst thing. . . but it’s definitely not the most nutritious lunch in the long term. And when I told him no, he was upset. We need to recognize together that we never fully grow out of that. What we think is good for us and what God knows is best for us are not always the same thing. All things do work together for your good if you belong to Him.

So the big question is how? How does God work all things together for good? Many of you have a lot of ‘these things’ stacked against you in life. What does all that mean? John Piper, in preaching on Romans 8 had this to say:

“Yes, there will be many enemies. Yes, there will be many adversaries and obstacles and miseries and distresses and opposition and seemingly pointless delays and breakdowns and all manner of futility. But, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors because of the sovereign love of God in Christ. Nothing will finally succeed against us.

If you hear the call of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ; if you come to God, loving him through Jesus Christ; if you trust God for the forgiveness of your sins because of the death of Christ; if you receive from him the free gift of righteousness by faith alone; then all things — from the sweetest to the most severe and bitter and painful — will work together for your good. God will be for you with all of his omnipotent wisdom and power. And if God is for you, no one can successfully be against you.”

As we study Genesis 47 this morning I think we’ll find it to be a case study in the truth of Romans 8. We’re going to read Genesis 47 together in five sections. After each section we’ll stop and briefly look at how God is working things together for Jacob and his family and what that means for you and I today. I think if you’ll consider these five ways with me you’ll see God really is at work in your life and that Romans 8:28 is just as true of you as it was of Israel.

First we see that:

God works all things for good by leading unbelieving hearts to favor His people

47 So Joseph went and informed Pharaoh: “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the land of Goshen.”

2 He took five of his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 And Pharaoh asked his brothers, “What is your occupation?”

They said to Pharaoh, “Your servants, both we and our fathers, are shepherds.” 4 And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to stay in the land for a while because there is no grazing land for your servants’ sheep, since the famine in the land of Canaan has been severe. So now, please let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.”

5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, 6 the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

God, in His Providence, granted Israel’s family a warm place in the idol-worshipping heart of the most powerful man in the world. At the right time, and even through the sinful hatred of his brothers, Joseph had been providentially placed in a prison where he interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s officials. Two years later, one of them remember Joseph’s gift when Pharaoh had a dream his magicians couldn’t interpret. And so he sent for Joseph to interpret his dream. And interpret it he did. So well that Pharaoh entrusted, basically, the very survival of his nation to Joseph.

And in the ensuing seven years or so, Joseph had gained more and more trust from this man. He had endeared himself so much to Pharaoh that he was prepared to give the best land in all of Egypt to Joseph’s family.

God prepared Pharaoh’s heart to receive Israel, this family of 70 foreigners, into his borders with open arms. God worked through Joseph largely in this way. Because Joseph could have poisoned the well of Pharaoh’s heart toward his brothers, couldn’t he? He could have said, “Hey, do you want to know how I ended up in Egypt to begin with?” Then the arrival of Joseph’s brothers was very different. If you remember back a couple of chapters ago, Joseph sent out all the Egyptians before he revealed to his brothers that he was Joseph—the one they sold into slavery. I think he may have done that because he was protecting the image of his brothers in the sight of Pharaoh.

God put the people in place and the circumstances in place for Israel to be favored the eyes of this unbeliever. There are unbelievers in each of our lives and the circumstances that lead us into relationship with them are under God’s providence. Remember, at the beginning of Exodus another Pharaoh comes along and he hates Israel. But that’s all in God’s providence as well.

In Genesis 47 God gave Israel favor in the eyes of an unbeliever to advance his purpose. As you consider the unbelievers in your life, what is God’s purpose for that relationship? His overarching purpose in the Old Testament was to prepare for Himself a nation out of which He would bring the Messiah. What’s His purpose today? To use His people to spread His gospel to all the nations of the earth. That's the great commission. What unbelievers have you found favor with? Think about why God has given you that favor in their sight. It’s no accident.

Another way God works all things for good in Genesis 47 is by sustaining Jacob’s faith. Verses 7-10 show us that

God’s works all things for good by affirming His promises

7 Joseph then brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?”

9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “My pilgrimage has lasted 130 years. My years have been few and hard, and they have not reached the years of my fathers during their pilgrimages.” 10 So Jacob blessed Pharaoh and departed from Pharaoh’s presence.

This is an odd exchange to us, this type of greeting would have been customary among Jacob’s contemporaries. Kent Hughes writes:

Though his words are not here recorded, the widespread custom of the ancient Near East would be to wish the king a long life with something like “Long live the king!” (cf. 2 Samuel 16: 16; 1 Kings 1: 31). That may be why Pharaoh then respectfully asked about Jacob’s age. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning’” (v. 9). Since Egyptian literature listed 110 years as an idealized old age, Pharaoh could hardly have anticipated the less than enthusiastic response of a man whose life exceeded that by two decades.

Pharaoh has no idea here, but God’s promise is here working itself out in the real-life circumstances of Israel and Egypt. God had told Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt. Literally, here, Jacob pronounces a blessing on Pharaoh, but God is in the process already of blessing all of Egypt because of their treatment of Israel. It’s true throughout the latter part of Genesis and in Exodus—when Egypt treats Israel well, they are blessed. When they treat Israel poorly, God pours out curses on them.

It’s in this moment that Jacob may have recognized that, though his life had been hard, God was at work to bless both his family and this nation. Jacob had been through much, some of it of his own doing and some of it undeserved. He had fled his homeland fearing for his life because he deceived his brother, slaved away over a decade working for Laban after being deceived himself, his daughter was sexually assaulted, he thought his favorite son died, his favorite wife did die, at least three of his sons were publicly disgraced and he faced the prospect of all 70 members of his family starving to death. His days truly had been hard. And yet, in this moment before the most powerful man in the world his faith doesn’t waiver. He stands and blesses Pharaoh because, I suspect, he was very conscious that the providence of God was guiding this moment.

What promises of God do you need to be reminded of today? Maybe it’s the truth of this next point:

God works all things for good as he secures His people’s future

11 Then Joseph settled his father and brothers in the land of Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s family with food for their dependents.

Joseph had his eye on the land known as Goshen, also called the land of Rameses, since before Pharaoh had even met Jacob. This was the best of the land when it came to raising livestock. And God, in His providence, prepared Pharaoh’s heart to want the Israelites to settle there. The Egyptians detested shepherds and so they would live apart from the majority of the Egyptian population.

At a time when the famine in the land was about to grow much, much worse Joseph had secured not just a great land for his family but also work. Look back at verse 6, Pharaoh says: “If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

The Israelites did not end up living where they lived and doing the work they did on accident. And you know what? Neither did you. God has secured your present and He has also secured your future. God planting Israel in Egypt at this time saved them from starvation and allowed them to grow into a massive people group. Through securing their present circumstances, God was ensuring a future for the nation.

Your present circumstances are the means by which God is preparing you for your future. What does your future hold? I don’t know. I mean, I know what it eventually holds—Revelation 22:1-5

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever.

That’s the future God is ultimately preparing you for. That’s why all things are working together for your good. And he’s working through your normal everyday life to do just that.

When we recognize God’s providence has shaped the way you spend your day-to-day life it will help us further appreciate His care for us. Over time, I hope that becomes clear to us as, over time, it became clear to the Israelites as we see, in our next section that:

God works all things together for good as he provides for His people while others suffer

13 But there was no food in the entire region, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were exhausted by the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the silver to be found in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan in exchange for the grain they were purchasing, and he brought the silver to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the silver from the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan was gone, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die here in front of you? The silver is gone!”

16 But Joseph said, “Give me your livestock. Since the silver is gone, I will give you food in exchange for your livestock.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks of sheep, the herds of cattle, and the donkeys. That year he provided them with food in exchange for all their livestock.

18 When that year was over, they came the next year and said to him, “We cannot hide from our lord that the silver is gone and that all our livestock belongs to our lord. There is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die here in front of you—both us and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. Then we with our land will become Pharaoh’s slaves. Give us seed so that we can live and not die, and so that the land won’t become desolate.”

20 In this way, Joseph acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, because every Egyptian sold his field since the famine was so severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph moved the people to the cities from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 The only land he did not acquire belonged to the priests, for they had an allowance from Pharaoh. They ate from their allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

23 Joseph said to the people, “Understand today that I have acquired you and your land for Pharaoh. Here is seed for you. Sow it in the land. 24 At harvest, you are to give a fifth of it to Pharaoh, and four-fifths will be yours as seed for the field and as food for yourselves, your households, and your dependents.”

25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “We have found favor with our lord and will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” 26 So Joseph made it a law, still in effect today in the land of Egypt, that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. Only the priests’ land does not belong to Pharaoh.

You may have some difficulty with this passage and if you do, you’re not the first. It could seem that Joseph is taking advantage of the people by, essentially, taking all that was valuable in the land and consolidating it under Pharaoh’s rule. But that’s certainly not how it felt to the Egyptians. They call him savior in verse 25.

He does enhance Pharaoh’s wealth, which ultimately leads to God’s people being further blessed as we saw last week when we looked ahead to Exodus 12 where the Israelites leave Egypt with a vast fortune.

Egypt, though they’re suffering here, will be blessed just by being associated with God’s people even though they don’t belong to Him. But ultimately, the only ones blessed are those who belong to God. Egypt rejects the God of Israel and for that they are condemned.

I understand that may sound unfair . . . yet we need to acknowledge who gets fair treatment here. By the middle of Exodus, Israel is greatly blessed and Egypt is devastated. Who earned their outcome? Did the Israelites do anything to earn this blessing? No. Did the Egyptians? Yes.

The Egyptians end up in agony, because they earned their agony. God’s people end up in the promised land and they didn’t earn it a bit. In fact, they fail at almost every turn. Why does God bless them? So that God could preserve them as a people for Himself out of which He would bring the Messiah. Joseph was an imperfect savior. So was Moses. But one better than Moses was to come. There’s one glaring thing that stands out as your see all the forerunners of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. They all leave the biggest problem unsolved. Jesus doesn’t do that.

We could camp here longer but for the sake of time need to move on to verse 27 where we see that

God works all things for good so that His people persevere even faced with death

27 Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen. They acquired property in it and became fruitful and very numerous. 28 Now Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years, and his life span was 147 years. 29 When the time approached for him to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor with you, put your hand under my thigh and promise me that you will deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt. 30 When I rest with my fathers, carry me away from Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”

Joseph answered, “I will do what you have asked.”

31 And Jacob said, “Swear to me.” So Joseph swore to him. Then Israel bowed in thanks at the head of his bed.

Jacob had remained faithful through much—loss, doubt, and even the huge step of leaving behind the land of promise. But there was one much more difficult test of faith he’d have to face. Death. And in that moment, we see how strong his faith truly was.

Why did he want his remains transferred back to Canaan? It wasn’t so that he could be with God. In verse 30: ‘When I rest with my fathers.’ He knew he’d be eternally reunited with Abraham, Isaac, and their God. But because he believed God’s promise, he wanted his body to be in the land his family would one day possess.

Jacob’s faith persevered to the end because he believed God had worked all things together for his ultimate good. What about us?

November 18, 2018 | The God Who Keeps Promises | Genesis 46:1-34

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In the 1930s a young lumber yard worker in California was taught basic principles of Christian discipleship by a good friend.

He took those principles to heart and devoted his life to sharing those principles with others. He started with just a few high school students and eventually expanded his life-on-life discipleship method to some local sailors.

Eventually, 125 men on their ship, the U.S.S. West Virginia, were growing in Christ and actively sharing their faith. By the end of World War II, thousands of men on ships and bases around the world were learning the principles of spiritual multiplication by the person-to-person teaching of God’s word.

The organization that grew from this discipleship process is known as the Navigators—a ministry that now spreads the gospel in over 100 countries. Their founder, a man named Dawson Trotman, died in 1956. In one of his last messages to Navigators’ staff said this:

Let me tell you what I believe the need of the hour is. . . I believe it is an army of soldiers, dedicated to Jesus Christ, who believe not only that He is God, but that He can fulfill every promise He has ever made, and that there isn’t anything too hard for Him. It is the only way we can accomplish the thing that is on His heart - getting the Gospel to every creature.

He can fulfill every promise He has ever made. Do we really believe that?

How much?

The title of the sermon series we’ve been in since September is Joseph: Providence & Promises. Over the past several weeks we have seen how the hand of God acting in His providence-and by providence I mean God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose—has been working to reunite a family that was torn apart by sin.

But we’ve also seen that His purpose is much, much bigger than that. God is at work to build a nation through which He will save nations in the book of Genesis and in the chapter we are studying today that purpose really takes shape as the family of Israel will enter into the land of Egypt at Josephs invitation.

We are going to read together Genesis 46:1-34. It unfolds in three vignettes and all three are significant for different reasons. I’ll point them out as we go. The first is in verses 1-7:

46 Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said.

And Jacob replied, “Here I am.”

3 God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”

5 Jacob left Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel took their father Jacob in the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him, along with their dependents and their wives. 6 They also took their cattle and possessions they had acquired in the land of Canaan. Then Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt. 7 His sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters, indeed all his offspring, he brought with him to Egypt.

And in verses 8-27 Moses records for us the members of the family of Israel who made the journey to Egypt with him:

8 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt—Jacob and his sons:

Jacob’s firstborn: Reuben.

9 Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.

10 Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.

11 Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

12 Judah’s sons: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan.

The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.

13 Issachar’s sons: Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron.

14 Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

15 These were Leah’s sons born to Jacob in Paddan-aram, as well as his daughter Dinah. The total number of persons: thirty-three.

16 Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.

17 Asher’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah.

Beriah’s sons were Heber and Malchiel.

18 These were the sons of Zilpah—whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah—that she bore to Jacob: sixteen persons.

19 The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.

20 Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph in the land of Egypt. They were born to him by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, a priest at On.

21 Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

22 These were Rachel’s sons who were born to Jacob: fourteen persons.

23 Dan’s son: Hushim.

24 Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

25 These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons.

26 The total number of persons belonging to Jacob—his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons—who came to Egypt: sixty-six.

27 And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt: two persons.

All those of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt: seventy persons.

And finally we have the reunion between Jacob and his son Joseph; whom the thought was dead starting in verse 28:

28 Now Jacob had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to prepare for his arrival at Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, 29 Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel. Joseph presented himself to him, threw his arms around him, and wept for a long time.

30 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I’m ready to die now because I have seen your face and you are still alive!”

31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s family, “I will go up and inform Pharaoh, telling him, ‘My brothers and my father’s family, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds; they also raise livestock. They have brought their flocks and herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh addresses you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you are to say, ‘Your servants, both we and our fathers, have raised livestock from our youth until now.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen, since all shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.”

The three scenes in this chapter illustrate two truths for us about God’s promises. The first is that God’s Promises Reveal His Character.

Moses starts chapter 46 by telling us Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-Sheba. The names Israel and Jacob both refer to the same man and appear to be used interchangeably by the author in the latter part of Genesis. But I suspect here that Moses uses Israel to refer to Jacob intentionally in two of the verses we just read (verse 1 and verse 8—the first verse of the first two scenes).

By saying Israel set out—using the name God had given Jacob in Genesis 32—Moses is making a larger point. This is the name by which the nation would be known and it draws our attention to how momentous this occasion really was in the history of God’s people.

Listen to the last part of the promise God made to Abraham—Jacob’s grandfather—in Genesis 15:

18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring. Here’s the thing: Jacob was living in that land. It wasn’t his, but he resided in the region. And on his way from Canaan to Egypt, the last place through which he would pass is Beer-Sheba.

It was no accident that Jacob camped there. Both his father Isaac in Genesis 26 and his grandfather Abraham in Genesis 21 had built altars there. It was a significant site. As he is literally on the edge of the promised land, Jacob stops to worship.

Now, because many of us know the end of Jacob’s story we may not think as much of this but the fact that he was now leaving this land that was promised by God to his family seems like the last thing you’d want to do.

In fact, listen to what God told Jacob’s father back in Genesis 26:

There was another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time. And Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; 3 stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, 5 because Abraham listened to me and kept my mandate, my commands, my statutes, and my instructions.”

Jacob would probably have known that God commanded his father not to go into Egypt. But we know that God engineered circumstances in Jacob’s life that have led him to uproot his entire extended family and relocate to Egypt—the only place during this most recent and most severe famine that still had food. And God uses this quiet moment at Beer-Sheba near the beginning of Jacob’s long journey to reinforce the promises He had already made to him. Look back at verse 2:

2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said.

And Jacob replied, “Here I am.”

3 God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”

What God does here is echo the promises that He has made not just to Jacob but to both Abraham and Isaac. The beginning of Genesis 15 tells that

After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield;

your reward will be very great.

And in Genesis 26 we see this exchange between God and Isaac:

23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba, 24 and the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham.”

God makes it clear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob over and over again that He is going to care for them. He will deliver on His promises even when it seems like He’s absent. Here, as Jacob is departing the promised land God promises him six things in verses 3-4. These six things give Jacob the assurance He needs to follow through with his plan to go to Egypt:

First, I am God the God of your father. This God who Jacob worships has been come through over and over again in the history of this family. There’s no legitimate reason for Jacob to doubt this time will be any different.

In fact, if Jacob was to place his trust in literally anything else it was 100% sure to let him down. Anything you substitute for God will eventually fail.

Secondly, he says, do not be afraid to go down to Egypt. There was great reason to fear for Jacob. He was laying his life in the hands of these Egyptians. He had been told his son awaited him there, but hadn’t yet seen him with his own eyes. There were many unknowns, but God lays those fears to rest.

Third He says I will make you a great nation there. We’ll cover the last three promises shortly but I want us to camp here for a minute. It is in Egypt that God’s promise to turn the family of Abraham into a great nation will be fulfilled. A couple of scholars have pointed out a number of similarities between Israel’s entry into Egypt with the family of Noah entering the ark earlier in Genesis.

I’m not altogether convinced that’s what Moses has in mind here, but I do think the imagery fits beautifully, doesn’t it? The family God has chosen enters into what at first appears to be a very uncertain place of safety during a time of great natural disaster only to see God—in His providence—secure their deliverance. Egypt is the ark in which the family of Jacob becomes the nation of Israel.

Verses 8-27, the bulk of this whole chapter, list the name of Jacob’s extended family. And it’s from those 70 people that God will, within the safe confines of Egypt’s borders, allow them to grow into a people group so vast that it causes a Pharaoh a few generations down the line to fear they could rise up and overthrow him.

That’s recorded in the opening of the Exodus. Exodus 1:6ff:

Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation eventually died. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful, increased rapidly, multiplied, and became extremely numerous so that the land was filled with them. (And then we have the most terrifying words in the Old Testament up to this point)

8 A new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.

This new Pharaoh did not know Joseph as the one who saved Israel during the famine. He viewed these people as a nuisance. And the Egyptians treatment of the Israelites quickly grows brutal.

The Israelites cry out to the Lord over this brutality and in His providence, He rescues them. You find that story in the first part of the book of Exodus. Moses engages Pharaoh and the Lord sends plagues onto the Egyptians culminating in the Passover.

We’ve seen the 70 journey into Egypt and Exodus 12:35 and following show us what this little family had become:

35 The Israelites acted on Moses’s word and asked the Egyptians for silver and gold items and for clothing. 36 And the Lord gave the people such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them what they requested. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.

37 The Israelites traveled from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand able-bodied men on foot, besides their families. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 The people baked the dough they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened loaves, since it had no yeast; for when they were driven out of Egypt, they could not delay and had not prepared provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that same day, all the Lord’s military divisions went out from the land of Egypt.

God’s promise to Abraham—affirmed to Isaac and to Jacob—came to fruition some 430 years after the events of Genesis 46. Israel becomes a nation in Egypt. But on the front end, just going there would have been extremely difficult for Jacob. That’s why God offers up three final promises in verse 4:

The fourth promise: I will go down with you to Egypt. Then, He goes on to promise him, and I will bring you up again. And finally, your son, Joseph, is going to close your eyes. You are going to make it to Egypt. You are going to be reunited with your son, Joseph. And when the day comes for me to take you home, it is your son who is going to close your eyes.

Jacob had been in a state of mourning ever since Joseph had died. When he sent 10 of his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food earlier in this story it became clear that keeping his family together was one of the few remaining priorities in his life. But God had something greater in mind. And as we see that unfold we are convinced that:

God’s Promises Reveal His Character. And we find a final truth toward the end of the chapter. In verses 28-34 we see Joseph and Jacob finally reunited and learn that Joseph is hard at work to prepare a place for his family to thrive in Egypt.

Not only do God’s promises reveal His character, but God’s promises secure His people. If the story of Jacob and Joseph and the other 11 brothers was a movie this would be the most emotional scene of all! This is the reunion of a father with his most beloved son after over 20 years of separation.

Jacob proclaims that he can finally die in peace now. Joseph’s response, though, is not about death but about life. He immediately begins preparing the family for an audience with Pharaoh. God had worked in His providence to put Joseph in a place where he would have the influence to secure God’s promises for this family. He wasn’t just securing good land here, and Goshen was good land. He was setting His people apart from the Egyptians. If they were going to be a distinct nation, they had to remain separate from the Egyptians so as to not absorb their idolatrous religion. If you’re familiar with Israel’s history you know this was something they struggled with over and over again. Placing them in Goshen was a way God physically set them apart so that they would remain spiritually set apart—which is the true meaning of holiness. To be holy means simply to be set apart.

God’s promise to make Israel a great nation secured for them safety and security in the best of the Egyptian land.

So what does this mean for us, separated by thousands of years and just as many miles from the events that took place in Egypt?

God’s promises reveal His character and God’s promises secure His people. There are a number of ways this is true but for the sake of time we are going to examine only three here today. Three New Testament promises the reveal God’s character and work to secure His people.

The first is that God promises punishment for unrighteousness. Paul devotes much of the first three chapters of Romans to teach us this truth. Let’s look at 1:18-19

For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.

Because God is good, He is fully committed to punishing injustice. Paul writes that His wrath is revealed—present tense. Not will be revealed at the end of time, but God’s wrath is right now is kindled against unrighteousness. We serve a God of reconciliation who seeks to save those who are against Him—and if you’re not redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ you’re against God. There is no neutral ground. You either belong to Jesus Christ or you’re an object of wrath. Why? Because in His goodness God cannot allow evil to go unpunished.

But we have seen over and over again as we’ve studied Genesis the great lengths God goes to so that He can bring about confession and repentance. That’s, ultimately, what the whole story is about.

In the beginning mankind was in a face-to-face relationship with God. But our sin separated us from Him. And so from the moment in Genesis 3:15 when God first promised the Gospel—the Messiah who would right the wrong of Eden—He has been at work to redeem a people for His glory.

So the promise for you today if you belong to God is that you ARE saved. Every day you wake up you have a reason for joy, a reason for celebration no matter what else is going on in your life. And if you don’t belong to God, the promise awaiting you is judgment. But there is good news, because that promise no longer has to be true. You can be reconciled to God today.

The second promise, and we’ll move quickly here, is that God promises perseverance for His children.

Philippians 1:6 I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It’s natural to have doubt. That may even be why Jacob stopped at Beer Sheba in the first place. But because we weren’t saved by our actions or our goodness, or our works—we are not sustained by those things either.

We sing a song here from time-to-time that I love dearly. The words were written over 100 years ago by Ada Habershon. The tune is more modern but I love the honesty of the opening verse:

“When I fear my faith will fail

Christ will hold me fast

When the tempter would prevail

He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path

For my love is often cold

He must hold me fast

God has began a good work in you and He will not leave it unfinished. If you’re here and you know you belong to God you can stand firm on that promise.

Finally, and this is a promise we’ve looked at several times in the past three months. God promises your circumstances ultimately bring about goodness.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Jacob never fully saw the good that came from the circumstances of his life. Neither did Joseph. And you may not either. But you can rest in knowing this promise remains true. Let’s pray.

November 11, 2018 | The Secret of Forgiveness | Genesis 45:1-28

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In Matthew 18 Peter asked Jesus a question. He wanted to know how many times he had to forgive someone who offended him. He proposes a rational, even generous number. Should I forgive them seven times?

Jesus, as was his custom, responded with a parable. He told Peter the kingdom of heaven could be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One man owed him a sum that, according to one scholar, would equal over $7 billion in modern currency. The servant, like most of us in this room, knew he would never earn that much money in a lifetime. The king ordered that the man and his whole family be sold as slaves to pay the debt. But the servant begged the king to have mercy. He promised he’d work off the debt and pay everything he owed. Knowing this to be impossible, the king had compassion and released him. Not only did he release him, but he forgave the entire loan.

That’s pretty extreme forgiveness, right? But then the parable takes a turn. Jesus told Peter that the forgiven servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him—using the same estimate as before—around $11,000. That’s not a small amount of money to most people, but remember, this man was just absolved of a $7 billion debt. This second servant, however, couldn’t pay the $11,000 so the original servant did the rational thing. He started choking him.

Then, he demanded he pay what he owed. Eventually, he had him thrown into debtor’s prison. The king found out about this injustice, so he summoned the original servant. Let’s pick up in Matthew 18:32:

32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”

Quite the change in tone, right? The servant went from forgiven an insurmountable debt to thrown into prison to be tortured until he could pay what he owed. Based on the size of the debt, how long do you think he’d be tortured? Forever? That’s unsettling. But then Jesus throws out this mic drop moment in verse 35: So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.

Listen, we need transparency as a church, don’t we? I just want to be transparent here. Life seems like it would be a lot easier if we didn’t have a Biblical mandate to forgive. If we could hold just a little grudge here and there, wouldn’t it be just a tiny bit easier to get through your day-to-day? This is one of the toughest teachings, I think, for a disciple to come to terms with.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you have renounced any right to withhold forgiveness from someone who genuinely seeks reconciliation. That’s what I’ll refer to today as gospel forgiveness. We have been forgiven—not on our own merit, but because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Therefore, we must forgive in return.

That’s not just a good idea that some other people try—like yoga, or eating kale, or sending birthday cards. It’s Biblical teaching supported by all four gospels, and the epistles, and the Old Testament law, and the prophets, and the Psalms. It’s all over Scripture. But it’s not easy. It’s not even all that easy to define, is it? I mean, we say you’re forgiven but how do we act afterward? Is it as though nothing ever happened? Do we love them but treat them with an air of suspicion? What does gospel forgiveness really mean?

Author Ken Sande has done work in the field of forgiveness and reconciliation among Christians for over a decade. He wrote that

“To forgive someone means to release from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about them, and not punish others for them. Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

[1] “I will not think about this incident.”

[2] “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”

[3] “I will not talk to others about this incident.”

[4] “I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

I think that’s pretty clear . . .but it’s also extremely difficult. Supernaturally difficult, even. In Genesis 45 we see a perfect portrait of forgiveness and I think we’ll find some truths to help us wrap our minds around this tough teaching today.

Let’s read together:

45 Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 But he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and also Pharaoh’s household heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. 5 And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

9 “Return quickly to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: “God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me without delay. 10 You can settle in the land of Goshen and be near me—you, your children, and your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and all you have. 11 There I will sustain you, for there will be five more years of famine. Otherwise, you, your household, and everything you have will become destitute.”’ 12 Look! Your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin can see that I’m the one speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”

14 Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

The Return for Jacob

16 When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and go on back to the land of Canaan. 18 Get your father and your families, and come back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you can eat from the richness of the land.’ 19 You are also commanded to tell them, ‘Do this: Take wagons from the land of Egypt for your dependents and your wives and bring your father here. 20 Do not be concerned about your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

21 The sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he gave them provisions for the journey. 22 He gave each of the brothers changes of clothes, but he gave Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 He sent his father the following: ten donkeys carrying the best products of Egypt and ten female donkeys carrying grain, food, and provisions for his father on the journey. 24 So Joseph sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving, he said to them, “Don’t argue on the way.”

25 So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They said, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

28 Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”

There are five truths about gospel forgiveness that are revealed as we study this chapter. First,

Gospel forgiveness is fueled by compassion

Joseph’s compassion for his brothers is evident from the very first verse. Upon hearing Judah’s plea, his offer of his own life in the place of Benjamin’s, Joseph is overwhelmed with compassion.

And that’s an important point about gospel forgiveness. Compassion carries with it a desire to somehow lessen the pain or ease the circumstances of the one you’re compassionate toward.

Everything that Joseph does in this chapter from the very first verse is an outpouring of compassion toward his brothers. He wanted nothing but good for them and he knew it was in their best interest to feel his forgiveness. He says, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”

That statement would have struck fear into the hearts of his brothers. The one you sold is now your judge. But he softens the fear by asking about Jacob. Not just is he still living—he had already asked them that. What Jospeh is getting at here is “Is my father still “with it”? Is he going to remember or know me? And then he draws them close. Gospel forgiveness seeks to compassionately bring together relationships that have been separated by sin.

As we look at Joseph’s compassion here let me point out two quick things that will help us apply this—First, forgiveness isn’t fully realized until there is repentance. Practically, this means that when you find yourself in conflict with another believer—whether you’re the one offended are you’re the offender—there must be repentance before forgiveness can be fully realized. Really, all of these truths about gospel forgiveness only apply to believers because non-Christians do not have the same context for forgiveness that we do. You should be surprised—maybe even shocked—anytime an unbeliever extends an apology and maybe even more shocked when they accept one.

Second, you need to prepare your heart beforehand to forgive when repentance happens. Joseph did. His heart was already bursting with love for his brothers even though they wrecked his life. This is the third time he wells up with emotion for his family since they came to buy food a few chapters ago. His heart was already soft toward them because he had adopted a position of forgiveness toward his brothers before they even repented.

It’s in this next truth, though, that I think we find the most important secret to forgiveness. In fact, I think this is the most important thing we can learn from chapter 45:

Gospel forgiveness acknowledges God’s sovereignty

Look back at verse 5 with me: And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.

Joseph acknowledged that the circumstances of his life were much bigger than the relationship between himself and his brothers. Their actions were sinful, and the brothers had to deal with the consequences of that sin, but Joseph acknowledged that nothing happened in his life outside the providence of God—meaning God’s actions in the workings of His creation to bring about His purpose. There are no accidents with God. Men have evil intentions but God takes those intentions, those evil plans, and He uses them to bring about His purpose. Nothing happens by random chance. We believe in a God who is sovereign over all the actions of His creation.

And when we acknowledge that nothing has happened in our lives, no one has wronged us in any way that has happened outside the knowledge, control, and infinite wisdom of a sovereign God—then we are freed to forgive in a way that brings about reconciliation and honors the God who allowed the broken relationship to further His plan and purpose.

Scholar Allen P. Ross wrote:

Reconciliation comes through forgiveness, and forgiveness through the recognition of Gods sovereignty. When the one who has been wronged can see things as God sees them, can perceive them as God planned them, and can communicate that understanding as the basis for compassion and forgiveness, then reconciliation is possible. But anyone who bears a grudge or hopes to retaliate has not come to appreciate the meaning of the sovereignty of God. And without the forgiveness that comes with such an appreciation, there can be no reconciliation.

Joseph is clear with his brothers—God sent me here. He points to God’s control over his circumstances in Egypt in verse 5, verse 7, verse 8, and in verse 9. His perspective allowed him to both forgive his brothers and glorify God by recognizing Him as the one who is sovereign over his circumstances.

This is one of the clearest places in the Bible we see the sovereignty of God taught through the workings of creation. God’s sovereignty frees us to forgive. If you’ve offended me in some way, God—through his divine providence—has a purpose for that offense. We may never know that purpose. Joseph did not live to see the great nation Israel would become while in Egypt for 400 years, but his life was the catalyst for that.

We serve a really big God who is doing really big things and if someone has wronged you in some way, it’s not outside of his really big plan. So what’s the best thing that we can do? Forgive and be restored.

Which leads us to the next truth:

Gospel forgiveness seeks to restore relationships

Look again at verses 13-15 Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”

14 Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

This wasn’t just an outward forgiveness. Remember, they hated Joseph so much that they couldn’t even speak peaceably to him in chapter 37. Now, we see what we would consider as distinctly unmanly behavior, right? Weeping, hugging, and kissing—the restoration of affectionate, compassionate, loving relationships.

The goal of forgiveness is to achieve a relationship that functions as though the sin never happened. That’s the goal. Is that easy? Absolutely not! But, remember, what we are after here is gospel forgiveness. We want to give the same kind of forgiveness that we’ve been given by God. What does God do with our past sins?

Corrie ten Boom, in her book Tramp for the Lord, had these words to say regarding forgiveness: "It was 1947 ... I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander's mind, I like to think that that's where forgiven sins are thrown. 'When we confess our sins,' I said, 'God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever ... Then God places a sign out there that says No Fishing Allowed!’"

Gospel forgiveness doesn’t just restore relationships. It goes farther:

Gospel forgiveness achieves gospel forgetfulness

Look at verse 24: 24 So Joseph sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving, he said to them, “Don’t argue on the way.”

There was much for the brothers to discuss, right? We’ll see later on in our study that they still have some lingering doubts about Joseph’s forgiveness but in his wisdom Joseph instructs them to not belabor their difficulty by arguing about the situation.

There was much to talk about, right? Who had the idea to harm Joseph in the first place? Reuben was going to release him, certainly he had some things he wanted to say. But Jospeh steps in: We’re being reconciled. Don’t let your feelings about the situation drag you back to disunity. Go in peace back to Jacob, which is where we find this final truth:

Gospel forgiveness restores life

The final verse of the chapter: 28 Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”

This would have been a difficult reunion for the brothers. Because in telling Jacob that Joseph was alive they would have had to come to a full confession of their sin, which they hadn’t done to their father yet. Initially, he doesn’t even believe them. But once reality sinks in he is elated.

Remember back to the last chapter, Jacob said if you come back without Benjamin I might as well die. This man was dejected over his broken family—even though he seems to be the reason for a lot of the brokenness. But here, he has new life! There’s a vitality to his words. That’s what gospel forgiveness does, it breathes new life into dead relationships.

We’ve seen five truths about gospel forgiveness—it is fueled by compassion, it acknowledges God’s sovereignty, it restores relationships, causes us to forget others’ sins, and restores life.

Now that we have those five truths on the screen, we need to note two points of application for this text. One is easy to see and it’s probably where your mind is focused right now. It’s what we talked about in the beginning of our time together today As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have renounced any right to withhold forgiveness from someone who genuinely seeks reconciliation.

We see the fruit of that sentence in this text, but it’s so hard. That’s all true and important, but there’s another application here that we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about and it’s this:

If you belong to Christ, you have experienced all five of these truths. God, in His compassion for you, because of His sovereign plan has restored you to relationship with Him, forgotten your sin, and brought you to life. It’s because these things are true about you that they must be true of your interactions with others.

It is only because God has acted in His goodness to forgive us that we can have a relationship with Him.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 teaches us much about what it means that we are forgiven and why we are to forgive:

 It is clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, 6 since it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, 8 when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Who repays? Not you and I but God. He gives relief and it’s only because of His righteous judgment (according to verse 5) that we will be counted worthy of His kingdom. What do we deserve? We deserve his vengeance. What did we do to earn his forgiveness? This is a very important question to understand your own salvation. What did we do to earn his forgiveness? Nothing!

Romans 3:10ff speaks to the nature of the human heart—

There is no one righteous, not even one.

11 There is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away;

all alike have become worthless.

There is no one who does what is good,

not even one.

We are included in the no one. But wait, don’t we have free will to choose God? Yes! And you know what you chose? Death. We’ve all turned away. We’ve all offended God. What was His response? Before the foundation of the world, according to Scripture, He chose to be in a relationship with you despite knowing you’d sin. Through His Holy Spirit He gifted you the grace to see that Jesus Christ is the savior and to place your faith in Him and Him alone for salvation and God secures that salvation for eternity.

God brought about our reconciliation—according to 2 Corinthians 5:19—That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.

We have been reconciled to God—brought from death to live according to Ephesians 2. And now we have the message of reconciliation committed to us. When we forgive and enter restored relationships we are imaging the gospel to the world. In that, God will be glorified and we will experience His goodness. Forgiveness IS hard. It’s supernatural even. But if you belong to Christ you have experienced supernatural forgiveness. And that’s exactly why you’re able to forgive supernaturally. Let’s pray.

November 4, 2018 | When God is Against You | Genesis 44:1-34

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I have good news for some of you in this room today. If you’ll look underneath your seat you’ll find. . . .nothing. That’s not the good news I have for you. This isn’t Oprah, I just wanted to make sure that you’re with me before I share this good news. Because at first, I fear it won’t sound like good news. In fact, when I share it with you you may think I’m crazy. You may think I’m wrong. You may even get offended by it. I didn’t even want to share it, but the more I studied Genesis 44 the more I became convinced that this is the truth of the text. This is the reason that God, through the human author Moses, told this story in the way that he did and has preserved it for us for generations.

Are you ready for the news? Here it is: The good news for some of us in this room is that God is against you. I think that through the text we are about to read I can explain how that’s true, but with that being said I’m pretty sure that none of us in here this morning came hoping to hear that message. And I could stand up here and tell you what I think you want to hear. I could say things like; focus on being a blessing and God will make sure you’re always blessed; God loves you just the way you are and doesn’t want to change anything about you; or God wants us to prosper financially. Where are my hunters at? I could tell you that if you just increase your tithe a little bit that deer that you’ve been tracking, you know the one, he’d finally come close enough for you to get a clear shot. I could tell you all those things and that would be a lot more enjoyable for me than to tell you that if you’re here and you have unconfessed sin that God just might be working against you.

That’s the truth that will lead Judah to conclude in verse 16 of chapter 44 that “God has exposed the iniquity of him and his brothers. He concludes at the end of an extremely tumultuous time in their lives when they feared starvation, imprisonment, and even death—that it was God who was at work to expose their guilt. Let’s read the whole chapter to see how Judah arrives at that conclusion, what it leads him to do, and what it all means for those of us in this room.

We’ll start with verses 1-12:

44 Joseph commanded his steward, “Fill the men’s bags with as much food as they can carry, and put each one’s silver at the top of his bag. 2 Put my cup, the silver one, at the top of the youngest one’s bag, along with the silver for his grain.” So he did as Joseph told him.

3 At morning light, the men were sent off with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone very far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’”

6 When he overtook them, he said these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord say these things? Your servants could not possibly do such a thing. 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found at the top of our bags. How could we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If it is found with one of us, your servants, he must die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

10 The steward replied, “What you have said is right, but only the one who is found to have it will be my slave, and the rest of you will be blameless.”

11 So each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 The steward searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

God Pursues Sinners

In these opening verses we see how God pursues sinners. God works through Joseph and his steward to facilitate a plan that will not only bring this family together but cause the brothers to finally face the sins they committed all the way back in Genesis 37.

I want to answer an objection that I think some of you may have to what we have been talking about so far. You may be thinking, now wait a minute. God Himself isn’t really orchestrating all this. If you’ve been with us the past few weeks you can see how Joseph has been putting his brothers through the ringer a little bit—and with good reason.

When we started this study we saw how Jacob’s favoritism and perhaps Joseph’s arrogance drove his brothers to have such a deep jealousy and hatred for him that they couldn’t even speak to him. One day, when they caught him all alone they stripped him, beat him, and threw him in a pit. They would have killed him, had Judah not suggested they sell him into slavery. They did so back in chapter 37 and they took Joseph’s distinctive robe, dipped in into the blood of a goat and sent it back to their father. Verse 33 records his response:

33 His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe,” he said. “A vicious animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces!” (leave on screen)

Since that moment Joseph has gone through some extreme ups and downs. He was first sold to a man named Potiphar who was a high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s government. Joseph did well as a servant in his house and was placed in charge of everything until he was accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. God was with him in prison, though, and revealed to him the dreams of a pair of important political prisoners—who after a number of years remembered his gift and recommended to Pharaoh that he seek him out when Pharaoh had dreams he couldn’t interpret. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams as a prediction of epic famine and Pharaoh placed him in charge of preparing the nation for the famine and then distributing the food.

It was in this role that Joseph’s brothers come before him to buy food and that sets up the past several weeks of our study here in the book of Genesis.

The doubt I fear some of us may have is that God really is the one driving all these events. I mean, Joseph is having a little fun at the expense of these brothers who so greatly betrayed him, right?

But I think I can prove to you just from the text that God is pulling the big picture strings in this whole narrative. Remember, at the end of the last chapter the brothers feasted with Joseph and became drunk. Chapter 44 begins with Joseph conspiring together with his steward to frame his brothers for theft. Then he wakes and sends them off at sunrise. The picture in my mind here is 10 hungover men stumbling out of bed and heading back toward home with an extreme sense of relief. Remember, they had feared they would be imprisoned or even killed. They worried that Benjamin would be taken captive, but none of those bad things happened. Until, that is, Joseph springs this plot. But Joseph’s words reveal something to us about who is really acting to put these events in motion. He said to his steward in verse 4b: Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’

You’ll notice on the screen that two things are underlined there. In the original Hebrew, Joseph used the same word in verse 4 that his father had used back in chapter 37, where the CSB translates it vicious. He’s going to accuse them of repaying the good he had done them with evil—which in reality they had already done over 20 years earlier. The second underlined phrase, what you have done is wrong, was also uttered by his father just in the last chapter. The CSB renders it a little differently but in 43:6 Israel says:

6 “Why have you caused me so much trouble?” Israel asked.

Why have you caused me so much trouble and what you have done is wrong are the exact same phrases in Hebrew…and this phrase is only used three times in the entire Old Testament. The word literally means to be evil. And in the big picture, that’s what God is dealing with here. He’s dealing with the evil that is residing in the hearts of the brothers.

This is not about Joseph’s revenge, it’s about God’s reconciliation. We won’t see a full reconciliation in this chapter, but it’s coming.

But we do see that God pursues the brothers so that they will recognize and repent of their sin. Jospeh sends out the physical pursuit, but for the last several chapters God has been at work to spiritually pursue these men who are carrying the guilt of some pretty extreme sin.

Joseph’s steward catches up to these men quickly and makes the accusation that he already knows to be true because he’s the one who slipped Joseph’s cup into Benjamin’s sack. The brothers, though, are indignant. They say, we brought back the silver found at the top of our bags last time. Why would we steal from you now?

There’s another theme introduced in verse 8. The word for ‘found’ shows up eight times in this chapter. I think Moses is showing us here that what is really being found here is more than just silverware.

The brothers have confidence in verse 9. If it’s found with one of us, you can kill the one who stole it and the rest of us will become your slaves. But the steward, already knowing his plan, tells them only the one who is found guilty will be enslaved. The rest can go.

So they lower their sacks and the search begins. Moses tells us he began with Reuben and found nothing. Then he moved on. Simeon, Levi, Judah, and Dan were searched. They were all found to be telling the truth. None of them had stolen anything. The steward moved on to Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun. I imagine that with every cleared search that the brothers became a little more puffed up. See, we told you we didn’t take anything. And the steward arrives at Benjamin. The last brother to be searched and he goes through the same process of opening the grain sack, rather deliberately, and there he finds Joseph’s personal cup.

Let’s read on to see the reaction this brings about starting in verse 13

13 Then they tore their clothes, and each one loaded his donkey and returned to the city.

14 When Judah and his brothers reached Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. 15 “What is this you have done?” Joseph said to them. “Didn’t you know that a man like me could uncover the truth by divination?”

16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed (found) your servants’ iniquity. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.”

17 Then Joseph said, “I swear that I will not do this. The man in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you can go in peace to your father.”

These verses show us the second truth about what happens when God is against us: God Exposes Sinners to Bring About Confession

Did you notice that the brothers don’t even argue their innocence? They immediately began mourning, just as they would if someone in their family had died. They didn’t plead their innocence. Did they do anything wrong? Well? Maybe not in this chapter. But I think what we see here is that they are coming to grips with the reality of their evil actions.

They immediately rush back to Joseph and throw themselves before him, but not to plead their innocence. Verse 16 reveals to us so much about what God is really doing here. Judah says “God has exposed your servants’ iniquity.” That would literally read God has found—it’s the same word in the original language—your servants’ guilt.”

The brothers didn’t commit this specific crime, but they have finally recognized that God himself has exposed their evil past. That’s why it’s good news today if God is working against you. Because if you have unconfessed sin, if you’re committing a habitual sin that you have not repented of, when God acts in your life to break you (Rocky IV?)—when He places circumstances in your life that cause you to see your own sin, mourn your own sin, and confess your own sin—that’s good news.

What all did He do in the lives of these 11 brothers? He brought about this famine, He elevated Joseph to a position of power in the one nation that had food left, He softened Jacob’s heart to allow them take Benjamin back to Egypt, and He led Joseph to plant this cup in Benjamin’s sack all in His providence as He was working to expose these men as sinners to bring about this confession that He was the one against whom they’d sinned and with whom they needed reconciliation.

Every sin is an affront to a Holy God. Look at what King David writes in Psalm 51:

For I am conscious of my rebellion,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you—you alone—I have sinned

and done this evil in your sight.

So you are right when you pass sentence;

you are blameless when you judge.

5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;

I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Against you—you alone—I have sinned. Now, Psalm 51 is David’s psalm of repentance after he was confronted by Nathan in the wake of his affair with Bathsheeba. Not only had he committed adultery, but he had acted to cover up his sin and essentially had Bathsheeba’s husband put to death. It seems like he sinned against a whole bunch of people doesn’t it? So how can Psalm 51:4 be true? How is David’s sin against God alone? Well, I turn to longtime pastor and author John Piper to help with this answer. He wrote back in 2008:

(T)he thing that makes it sin is its vertical dimension. It is disobeying God's law. It is denying that he satisfies your soul . . . It is sin in that it is an assault on God's authority and his right to tell you what to do. What makes sin sin is its Godwardness. That's why the world doesn't understand how serious hell is, because they don't understand how serious sin is. And they don't understand how serious sin is because the only way the world thinks about sin is in terms of "You hurt me and I hurt you, and that shouldn't be." And that's true: we shouldn't hurt each other. But they don't even bring God into the picture, and that's where sin becomes sin.

The biggest problem in the lives of Joseph’s brothers is that they had committed a sin not merely against Joseph but against the Creator of the universe Himself. And they had not yet fully confessed or repented of that sin. It had been buried for over 20 years. They had never dealt with this sin and it was ruining them. God was working against their plan and purpose because all they wanted was to go back home together. But God thwarted their plan so that He could break them, so that He could expose their sin so that, ultimately, they would be reconciled both to their brother and to Himself.

Let’s read the rest of the chapter to find out what happens next:

18 But Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let your servant speak personally to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 and we answered my lord, ‘We have an elderly father and a younger brother, the child of his old age. The boy’s brother is dead. He is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him to me so that I can see him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘If your younger brother does not come down with you, you will not see me again.’

24 “This is what happened when we went back to your servant my father: We reported to him the words of my lord. 25 But our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ 26 We told him, ‘We cannot go down unless our younger brother goes with us. If our younger brother isn’t with us, we cannot see the man.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One is gone from me—I said he must have been torn to pieces—and I have never seen him again. 29 If you also take this one from me and anything happens to him, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.’

30 “So if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us—his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life— 31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Then your servants will have brought the gray hairs of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ 33 Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm (find) my father.”

Our third and final main point we see from this section is that sinners respond with repentance and that repentance ultimately leads to reconciliation—though to see that in full you’ll have to come back next week.

But before we dive into that we just need to note the extremely remarkable character change that has taken place in Judah’s life during our study. In chapter 37 it was on his suggestion that the brothers sell Joseph into slaver. In chapter 38 we see his greed through the neglect of his daughter-in-law Tamar, who he then sleeps with, though he doesn’t know it’s her, and then when he finds out she’s pregnant his first impulse is to have her put to death. Last week we saw him put his relationship with his father, his honor—a very important thing in this culture—on the line so that Jacob would allow Benjamin to come with him. And today, in chapter 44 he literally offers up his own life to redeem Benjamin’s.

Judah recounts the interaction he had with his father, telling Joseph that Jacob would surely be overtaken with grief if the brothers showed up without Benjamin and asks Joseph to allow him to become a slave in Benjamin’s place.

Judah, here, recognized the impact his sin has on those he loves. That phrase at the end of verse 34: I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father. The word for grief there is evil again. . . the same one we looked at earlier. And overwhelm is the last instance of the word that was translated earlier as found. Literally, Judah says he couldn’t bear to see his own evil find his father because he knows his father can’t bear it.

Judah’s sin had finally broken him. And it caused him to truly repent. Notice, repentance is different than confession. Confession is recognizing sin, repentance is is turning away from sin.

Judah’s situation here really mirrors his situation in Genesis 37. He’s been sent out by his father, finds himself in a spot where his half-brother, the son of Rachel, his father’s favorite is in peril, and has the opportunity to return to his father, lie, and save his own life. That’s exactly what he did in chapter 37. But here, Judah does the opposite. He offers himself as a substitute slave for his half-brother. That’s what repentance looks like.

You may think that repentance is just for unbelievers. That’s the thing you do when you accept Christ, right? You confess your sins, repent of them, and pray for God’s grace to help you be free of sin. That’s correct. But you don’t do that once and walk away. That should become a regular part of your walk with Christ on this side of salvation. Why? Because it’s how we receive the grace Christ earned for us on the cross.

Tim Keller helpfully draws a distinction between religious repentance and gospel repentance. “In religion we are sorry for sin only because of its consequences for us. Sin will bring us punishment – and we want to avoid that, so we repent. . . Thus in religion, repentance is self-centered; the gospel makes it God-centered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself. In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus suffered for our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer to merit God’s forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. God forgives us because he is “just” (1 John 1:9). That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance!

In religion we try to earn our forgiveness with our repentance. In the gospel we simply receive it.”

When God works to reveal our sin, when His Spirit drives us to confession, then repentance is the natural outcome. Judah’s heart has been changed in this text. He not only acts in the opposite way, but he also offers himself in the place of the one who is the object of Joseph’s wrath.

There is no trying to justify the sin of the brothers in chapter 44. There is no pleading their innocence. Their own their sin, confess it, and repent. If God is working against you today, it’s so that you, too, will own your sin, confess it, and repent. No excuses. Just grace.

Everything God was doing in the brothers’ lives since we revisited them a few chapters ago has been leading to this moment. God has been testing them and here, with Judah as their leader, they pass with flying colors. And it’s not because of any heroic action, it’s simply because they confess and repent.

We get the payoff in the next chapter. Finally, these siblings are reconciled. But really, the picture is incomplete. Because we’ll see before the end of the story that there is still some fear, still the potential for some judgment rolling around in the back of their minds. That’s because the reconciliation between Jacob’s sons in imperfect. It’s only a shadow of the perfect reconciliation that is to come when one of Judah’s descendants, who the world would know as a man named Jesus of Nazareth, made himself the substitute servant so that we could live. God freely offered up His son to bring about our justification and to open the door on our repentance. So today we can repent and know that we’ll be heard.

Is God working against you today? Is He actively trying to bring about confession and repentance in your life? If He is, know that all the hardship you’ve gone through is worth it. We know that because Romans 8:28 tells us:

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

What’s that purpose? If we read on we find out:

29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

If we belong to God he is conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. And verse 30 tells us He’s going to be successful. As that takes place, what do we find out? Well, when it seems God is against us—it’s really because he’s for us. Doesn’t that make sense?

How many of you had a hard time getting kids to eat things that are good for them? Our problem is we think we grew out of that. Sure, we eat peas now but we still cry over the hard things we go through even though someone much smarter than us is spoon-feeding those hard things to us.

501 years ago this week, a young and relatively unknown German monk and university professor was enraged. His anger was stoked because the church had abandoned traditional Biblical teaching for something that was more appealing in the eyes of men. So he composed a list of 95 theses, or objections to the church’s current teachings, onto the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. A copy of this document fell into the hands of a printer, who saw that they were distributed through all of Germany in a manner of a few weeks and young Martin Luther became one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity almost overnight.

The very first of the theses stated that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

I think that’s a true statement. We will continue to fight sin in our lives so long as we are on this side of eternity. So, here’s my question to you: when is the last time you have truly repented?

I invite you today to come, confess, repent, and experience the goodness of God’s grace and mercy.

Lamentations 3:22-24

Because of the Lord’s faithful love

we do not perish,

for his mercies never end.

23 They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness!

24 I say, “The Lord is my portion,

therefore I will put my hope in him.”

October 28, 2018 | God's Providence Reveals His Mercy | Genesis 43:1-34

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Imagine with me for a moment that when you walked into church this morning, one of our greeters said, “Welcome to First Baptist Church, here’s $5.” You’d be surprised. You’d probably say thank you, maybe even ask why the church is passing out money. You’re used to us asking for money, not giving it away, right?

If the greeter told you we were giving $5 to everyone who showed up today, you’d think that was a nice gesture. It’s not going to change your life but it’ll get you one of those KFC $5 lunches. That’s not a bad way to start church.

But now imagine that you walked in and the greeter says, “Welcome to FBC, I just want you to know I paid off your mortgage.” Your reaction would be completely different. If he explained to you that he loves you and wanted you to be out from under the burden of that debt you’d have a completely different reaction than you would over a $5 bill.

You’d ask why? Why did you do something so kind? Why did you spend so much on me and my family? It would rock your world. You wouldn’t be listening to anything I’m saying right now. What you would be experiencing is mercy. One secular definition of mercy is kind and gentle treatment of someone having no right to it.

We struggle to understand mercy. Kindness, gentleness, even forgiveness toward someone who has no right to lay claim to such treatment is not in any way our default mode. We default to in our best to fairness and at our worst to vengeance.

Mercy tints Genesis 42 the same way a colored lightbulb casts everything its light touches in subtly different hue. We have a printer in our bedroom that has a blue light that doesn’t seem all that bright when the lights are on. But if we forget to turn it off it’s like having a little blue sun planted six feet from our bed. It’s still dark, but there’s a soft blue light coloring everything in the room. Mercy does that to the events we are about to read.

God is teaching mercy in His providence through this chapter as He works to fulfill the promises He made to Adam in Genesis 3, and then Abraham in Genesis 12.

A number of scholars have pointed out that 43-45 comprise one unit that reflects some really clear parallels to chapter 42, which we studied last week. Remember, the chapter and verse designations in your Bible were put there later on so that we can reference them easier. Moses didn’t add them as he was writing down this narrative for us. So these three chapters form a parallel to chapter 42. You can see it reflected in the table on the screen and then pick them out as we read together in just a moment.

42:1-4 Jacob’s sons sent to Egypt 43:1-14

42:5 Arrival in Egypt 43:15-25

42:6-16 First audience with Joseph 43:26-34

42:17 Brothers in custody 44:1-13

42:18-24 Second audience with Joseph 44:15-45:15

42:25-28 Departure from Egypt 45:16-24

42:29-38 Sons report to Egypt 45:25-28

Today, we’ll only make it through the first audience with Joseph. While we won’t see the full narrative I do think we’ll see some really complete teaching about what mercy truly is and how it is applied to our lives as God works in human history to show His mercy to His people.

Here’s the truth I want you to leave believing today: God’s providence reveals His mercy and compels us to reflect His image by living mercifully.

There are four truths about mercy that frame this chapter for us and the first of them is this:

Selfishness clouds mercy

Let’s read the first seven verses together—if you don’t have a Bible with you there are some black Bibles in the pew in front of you. This text is on page 38 in those.

Now the famine in the land was severe. 2 When they had used up the grain they had brought back from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little food.”

3 But Judah said to him, “The man specifically warned us: ‘You will not see me again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go, for the man said to us, ‘You will not see me again unless your brother is with you.’”

6 “Why have you caused me so much trouble?” Israel asked. “Why did you tell the man that you had another brother?”

7 They answered, “The man kept asking about us and our family: ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ And we answered him accordingly. How could we know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother here’?”

Moses does something subtle in the beginning of chapter 43. I think he’s drawing us back to chapter 12 here, reminding us of another famine. Genesis 12:10 says:

There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to stay there for a while because the famine in the land was severe.

Genesis 43:1 Now the famine in the land was severe.

In Genesis 12 Abraham ends up in Egypt because of a famine. He doesn’t honor God in the way that he conducts himself there, but God is merciful to him and continues in this covenant relationship with him anyway. He tells him just a few chapters later

“Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. (15:13)

And here in Genesis 43 we have Abraham’s great grandson arguing with his great-great grandsons about how exactly they are going to return to that same country—Egypt—where Abraham sought shelter during a famine.

Jacob’s selfishness is on display here as the situation for his family grows dire. God caused this famine to further His purpose in history—but for Jacob it’s all about him. In verse 6 he says “Why have you cause me so much trouble?”

God was working to bring this family to rescue through reuniting them with Joseph. At the end of the last chapter, Jacob refused to let Benjamin go to Egypt with his brothers at the risk of losing him. We even laughed at Jacob in the last chapter, didn’t we? Remember back in 42:36 when he said Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!” Have you ever been there? Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when sorrow is the appropriate response to your circumstances. There’s a time to weep. But Jacob’s perspective was all wrong. The entire world is suffering from a famine—rather literally of Biblical proportion—and his response? Whoa is me.

Because Jacob was so self-centered here he was unable to see the mercy that God was laying before his family. Nations were starving. Yet, there was a man in Egypt who had favored his family. He had given them a great deal of very valuable food and let them keep the sliver they planned to use to buy it. He gave them a gift. And it threw Jacob into agony. Why? Because he was too focused on himself and his own plans for his life to see the goodness God was laying before him.

Sometimes, I’m the biggest obstacle to seeing God’s mercy in my own life. You see, when we start thinking about Jacob’s motives here, I think we figure out that really what he wants is to keep his family safe and together. He has already lost a child—the one that he favored over all the others. And he is clinging to Benjamin because he doesn’t want to go through that pain again.

But, ultimately, what is God trying to do here? He’s actually working to reunite this whole family and He’s using this famine as a tool to that end. And God is going to bring about a reunification that Jacob doesn’t even think is possible at this juncture. He thinks Joseph is dead, yet in just a few chapters this entire family will be together in the safety and security of Egypt. Do they deserve that? Well, no, frankly. This family has torn itself apart. Jacob is even berating his sons in the verses we read. Verse 6 — why have you caused me so much trouble? Oh, if he only knew!

But the true source of Jacob’s trouble was himself. It was his own favoritism of Joseph that pushed the brothers’ hatred to the breaking point. And it was his selfishness that blinded him to the mercy of God at work in his family. But God uses the sons with whom Jacob is so frustrated to break through. Let’s read on:

8 Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me. We will be on our way so that we may live and not die—neither we, nor you, nor our dependents. 9 I will be responsible for him. You can hold me personally accountable! If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we could have come back twice by now.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your packs and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balsam and a little honey, aromatic gum and resin, pistachios and almonds. 12 Take twice as much silver with you. Return the silver that was returned to you in the top of your bags. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also, and go back at once to the man. 14 May God Almighty cause the man to be merciful to you so that he will release your other brother and Benjamin to you. As for me, if I am deprived of my sons, then I am deprived.”

We see here that selflessness reveals mercy.

Even though Jacob was in such crisis just a verse earlier, a simple yet selfless statement from Judah snaps his father back to reality.

Judah accomplishes what Reuben failed to do in the last chapter. Look back just a page at what Reuben said in 42:37

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You can kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.”

What’s different about Judah’s offer here? Instead of offering someone else, Judah offers himself. “I will be responsible for him. You can hold me personally accountable! If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever.”

Judah didn’t put someone else’s life on the line. He put his own life on the line to reassure his father that all would be well. In God’s providence, He’s leading Judah—who was the epitome of selfishness back in chapter 38—to be an instrument of his mercy in the lives of this whole family. Judah put his life on the line to save his family. Reading this with the benefit of God’s complete Word we should notice that there would be another from Judah’s family who put His life on the line as a substitute. Luke 3 traces for us the family tree of one who was the earthly son of another man named Joseph. And if we trace that family tree all the way back to verse 34 (around 50 generations) we will see that Jesus family tree leads us directly to Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.

Judah put his life on the line and his selflessness allowed the mercy of God to be manifest for his whole family. Jesus gave his life so that God’s mercy would be manifest to all the nations of the earth—directly fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. How big a God do you serve?

It was a seemingly simple proposition from Judah but it had implications that ring for eternity and it also causes his father to do an about face. He was staunchly against sending his sons back with Benjamin but when Judah steps up and lays his life on the line, he relents.

He says take the absolute best from the land and twice as much money as you did last time. Remember, Joseph had their silver slipped back in their sacks when he sent them away. There was still fear here that they’d be branded as thieves. So he sends them with the gifts and money and with Benjamin and then he prays. Notice what he prays for, look at verse 14 again: May God Almighty cause the man to be merciful to you so that he will release your other brother and Benjamin to you. As for me, if I am deprived of my sons, then I am deprived.”

What does he pray for? Mercy! The very thing God has been altering the course of nations to show this family is finally what Jacob prays for! And who did he pray to? The Hebrew there is El Shaddai. God Almighty. That’s an important name for God in the Old Testament. We see it used in the narratives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and it’s used as a reminder of God’s power to Moses. It’s the fuel for our understanding of God’s characteristic omnipotence—meaning that God is all powerful. Referring to God as almighty means that He has all the power necessary to do anything and everything He wants to do. Jacob is recognizing that truth about God here.

And in the process he has gone from selfish to selfless. “If I am deprived, I am deprived.” He has given up on his own agenda. Selflessness has caused God’s mercy to come into view. And in the next section we’ll learn that

Submission magnifies mercy

Let’s read on in verse

15 The men took this gift, double the amount of silver, and Benjamin. They immediately went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his steward, “Take the men to my house. Slaughter an animal and prepare it, for they will eat with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph had said and brought them to Joseph’s house.

18 But the men were afraid because they were taken to Joseph’s house. They said, “We have been brought here because of the silver that was returned in our bags the first time. They intend to overpower us, seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.” 19 So they approached Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the doorway of the house.

20 They said, “My lord, we really did come down here the first time only to buy food. 21 When we came to the place where we lodged for the night and opened our bags of grain, each one’s silver was at the top of his bag! It was the full amount of our silver, and we have brought it back with us. 22 We have brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in the bags.” 23 Then the steward said, “May you be well. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

Verse 15 tells us they return to Egypt with haste. Joseph sees that all his brothers are gathered and orders a feast prepared. Instead of being ordered to the place where all the other foreigners were going to barter for food, the brothers are taken to Joseph’s personal residence.

This caused them fear. They begin horriblizing. I’m not sure that’s a word. . .but it’s one I use sometimes. When you think about the worst possible things that could happen. You know, when your check engine light comes on so you can pretty much assume that your car will be dead within a few days. They think about the worst-case scenario . . although they have different priorities than I do—in verse 18 they worry that they’ll be overpowered. That’s bad. Then seized. That’s worse. Then enslaved. Ok, things are looking dark. And they may even take our donkeys. That’s crossing a line!

Perhaps it’s not a progression of fears. But either way, they were extremely uneasy. They approach the steward and immediately begin to plead their case. They openly and honestly lay out all the details of what happened. They seem to be truthful here, even though they paint themselves as the victims.

But verse 23 reveals to us one of the most astonishing truths in this whole chapter. Let’s see it again:

Then the steward said, “May you be well. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. I received your silver.

There’s a lot to unpack here. He puts them at ease with a very specific word. The Hebrew word is Shalom. It’s used all over the Old Testament. It’s used in Psalm 85 to speak of the Lord’s favor toward His people.

Faithful love and truth will join together;

righteousness and peace (shalom) will embrace. (85:10)

The steward instructs the brothers to be peaceful, not fearful. This man, who had worshipped the gods of Egypt and now was either converted by Joseph or knew him well enough to know how he spoke of the one true God, told these sons of Israel that their God must have had mercy on them!

There is nothing for them to fear on this day. God’s mercy has gone before them. Their willingness to submit, to go into this potentially dangerous land on behalf of their father and their family has served to magnify God’s mercy in their lives so much that even this outsider gives God glory. Submission magnifies mercy.

Finally, we’ll see here that fellowship celebrates mercy. Let’s finish the chapter:

24 The steward brought the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet, and got feed for their donkeys. 25 Since the men had heard that they were going to eat a meal there, they prepared their gift for Joseph’s arrival at noon. 26 When Joseph came home, they brought him the gift they had carried into the house, and they bowed to the ground before him.

27 He asked if they were well, and he said, “How is your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?”

28 They answered, “Your servant our father is well. He is still alive.” And they knelt low and paid homage to him.

29 When he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother that you told me about?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Joseph hurried out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep. He went into an inner room and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. Regaining his composure, he said, “Serve the meal.”

32 They served him by himself, his brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who were eating with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, since that is detestable to them. 33 They were seated before him in order by age, from the firstborn to the youngest. The men looked at each other in astonishment. 34 Portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of theirs. They drank and became drunk with Joseph.

Joseph was harsh with his brothers in chapter 42. There is no harsh treatment to be found in what we just read. The steward extended customary hospitality to them and they were prepared a meal. Immediately after Joseph shows up, he asks about their aging father—no doubt wanting to know his condition after all these years. Their reply? It’s shalom again. He’s at peace. He is well—though he’ll be much better soon, when God’s mercy reunites this family.

Then he notices Benjamin, his full brother. The only other son of his late mother and he’s so overcome with emotion that he has to excuse himself. Literally the wording tells us his compassion grew hot. The same word is used both for a mother’s compassion toward her child (1 Kings 3:26) and of God for His people (Hos. 11:8). Joseph deeply loves Benjamin—and really all his brothers as we’ll come to find out later.

Joseph composes himself, returns, and then they have a feast. Their fellowship celebrates both the mercy that Joseph is extending to them in this moment and it foreshadows the reunion that is to come. But it also shows us the envy and jealousy that was present in this family has started to fall away.

If we remember back to what got us into this mess in the first place, it was the envy and jealousy of the brothers over the favored status of the youngest. Now, we see Joseph lavishing Benjamin in the presence of the others yet their is no hint of jealousy.

Finally, after decades of dysfunction we are seeing God’s mercy manifest in this family’s actions. It’s a huge change and concrete evidence of God’s hand at work, because this kind of change doesn’t happen without God being involved.

God’s has—in His mercy—acted on a global scale to reunite this family. How big is God’s mercy? Charles Spurgeon captured it well when he said:

There is nothing little in God; his mercy is like himself–it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. It is undeserved mercy, as indeed all true mercy must be, for deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice. There was no right on the sinner’s part to the kind consideration of the Most High; had the rebel been doomed at once to eternal fire he would have richly merited the doom, and if delivered from wrath, sovereign love alone has found a cause, for there was none in the sinner himself. It is rich mercy.

What should we take away from this text? God’s providence reveals His mercy.

We need to acknowledge that our selfishness clouds God’s mercy and makes it difficult for us to see His plan. To combat selfishness, we must empty ourselves. Remember, selflessness reveals mercy.

In our selflessness we will be willing to submit to whatever circumstances God puts in front of us. And in our submission we magnify the mercy of God.

And our fellowship together will magnify the mercy of God in our lives. As we grow toward Him together, we see His mercy more clearly through one another.

All of us who belong to Christ have been forgiven more than we could ever imagine. We’ll never know the fullness of God’s mercy on this side of eternity because it’s beyond our comprehension. But we can know today that we’ve been forgiven more than we could ever repay. And thank God, He doesn’t ask us to. David Mathis wrote:

Our God is not simply sovereign, wonderful as it is to celebrate. And he is not only a God of uncompromising justice, thankful as we are that he is. He is the mercy-having God who invites us to look not only at his awesome authority and sovereign strength, but to set our eyes on his mercy and see into his very heart.

Mercy is a window into the heart of the Creator. We glorify Him when we recognize that mercy. El Shaddai show us His mercy today. Let’s pray.

October 21, 2018 | God's Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance | Genesis 42:1-38

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Zeb and Zeke had a plan. Now, Zeb and Zeke were not good guys. We don’t want to be like Zeb and Zeke.

You see, Zeb and Zeke hijacked an armored car filled with money. Now, an armored car isn’t the easiest thing for one to just hide so, Zeb and Zeke devised a plan. The sank the stolen armored car in a swamp. Then they waited—a few years—before they went back to it to tap into their ill-gotten treasure.

But there were two problems. First, they couldn’t find the exact spot where it sank. Second, in the intervening years the area had experienced significant growth among fishermen and outdoorsmen.

So Zeb and Zeke, resilient criminals that they were, hatched another plot. This one seems kind of out there, so you have to stay with me. They decided to dress in elaborate witch and zombie costumes to scare off local fishermen and tourists while they searched for the armored car in the dead of night.

It seems to have worked for a little while. They even fooled local law enforcement. Ultimately, it looks like they would have gotten away with it, too. Had it not been for a group of kids. Meddling kids, according to Zeb and Zeke. Meddling kids and their dog.

Ok, Zeb and Zeke aren’t real. They were the villains on an episode of Scooby Doo that first aired in December 1969. If you aren’t familiar with the show, the premise is four young adults drive around in a van with a dog solving crimes that are inevitably perpetrated by bad guys in costumes and masks. Typically, the show ends with a scene where they’ve caught the villain and proceed to unmask him or her and explain their plot to the bumbling sheriff who never would have been able to solve the case without them.

Often, after they’ve laid out the plot the bad guy will say “I would have gotten away with it, too, had it not been for those meddling kids and that dog!” The line varied, but that’s the gist.

I loved that cartoon. And, as those of you who have young kids can attest, children’s cartoons are getting worse every second and so a few of years ago I thought it would be a good idea to let Sophie test out a couple of episodes of the old Scooby Doos. Even though they’re a little scary, she enjoyed them in the moment, but after she ended up terrified and sleeping in our bed a few nights in a row we decided to kick Scooby out of the house.

I loved the show, though, because you always knew the bad guy would never get away with it. The good guys always solved the crime and the bad guys ended up in handcuffs. Wouldn’t it be great if life worked that way?

We’ve been studying the last section of the book of Genesis from chapters 37-50 for almost two months now and it seems like the bad guys have gotten away with something doesn’t it?

If you remember back to Genesis 37, Joseph was beaten, stripped, and sold into slavery by his brothers. That’s pretty bad, but really he got off easy because in the beginning they wanted to kill him. Joseph’s brothers are bad guys. That was highlighted for us in Genesis 38 when we focused in on Judah and his illicit relationship with Tamar.

But we’ve spent the past few chapters focused in on Joseph and his brothers have been an afterthought. As we open chapter 42 today, though, we’re going to see a stark truth begin to take shape and it’s this: God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance.

That’s the overarching theme of Genesis 42. What is God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. So God acts in creation to bring sinners to repentance. That’s what we’ll see in this chapter as we revisit the villains who kicked this story into motion with their abuse of Joseph. Let’s read Genesis 42 together:

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance

This chapter opens in ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ fashion. The focus for several chapters has been on Joseph, but now it shifts back to Jacob and the remaining 11 sons. We need to remember that none of the human players in this drama are the main character. God is the main character and driving force of this entire story and his purpose here is bigger than any one person, family, or nation. He’s working out an eternal plan to restore sinful and broken humanity to himself.

In the beginning, creation was perfect and God was in a face-to-face relationship with mankind. Adam an Eve had a personal and unhindered relationship with God. But sin broke that relationship. They were cast out of the Garden of Eden and out of the presence of God because of their sin.

God offers a promise, though, in Genesis 3:15 that He will one day restore that relationship and He’s actually going to use Adam and Eve to do it. He says Eve’s offspring will one day crush the head of sin and death forever in that verse. He’ll make it so that sin and death is no more.

He further reveals to a descendent of Adam and Eve named Abraham in Genesis 12 that He’s going to use his family to make that promise come true. I think I have mentioned this connection to some degree every week in this series and I do that because it’s imperative for our understanding of Joseph’s story that we have it set in the context of the entire Bible.

One of the implications of setting this story within the big picture of Scripture is that we need to recognize that no one gets away with anything, ever. Just like every bad guy on Scooby Doo gets unmasked, so every sin that has ever been committed will be made right by our Holy God. And it happens in two ways: either on the cross or for eternity in a place called hell.

Sin earns the wrath of God. Romans 6:23 tells us the wage that sin earns for us is death, but one chapter earlier Paul teaches us something even more dreadful than that. Romans 5:10a For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son

Sin makes us enemies of God. Because He is holy and just, God must punish sin. Jonathan Edwards wrote:

"Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.”

So if this Holy God against whom mankind has committed cosmic treason is the main character of Genesis 42, then how should we read it?

Thus far, these brothers—who are a part of the family God has chosen as His own—are wicked. And instead of pouring our the wrath they deserved, God acts to push them toward repentance.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Hardship

We looked last week at how this monumental famine that had ravaged the entire Middle East was a tool God used to place Joseph in a position of power and authority in Egypt.

This week we see this same plague used as a tool to re-unite this broken family and to bring about repentance from Joseph’s brothers.

Jacob heard there was plenty of food in Egypt, but his sons didn’t seem to be showing much initiative even though things looked pretty dire. He said ‘Why are you just sitting here staring at one another? There’s grain in Egypt, go buy some so that we don’t starve to death.’ Moses is showing us here that this family hasn’t changed much since we last saw them. They’re still dysfunctional.

That is made more clear in verse four where Jacob keeps Benjamin at home instead of sending him with the other 10. Benjamin was the other son Jacob had with his favorite wife, Rachel. Joseph had been the favorite and now it’s clear that his brother Benjamin had taken his spot after the other 10 convinced Jacob that Joseph had been killed.

So in God’s providence, the brothers set off for Egypt. Nothing happens by accident in this story, nor by luck. In fact, neither of those things exist if we rightly understand God’s sovereignty. On this particular day by the grace of God, Joseph was in charge of the distribution in the city where the brothers came to buy grain. But they didn’t recognize him. After all, it had been at least 20 years and they’d written him off—perhaps as dead—long ago. They were foreigners who would have dressed different and spoken a different language than the Egyptians and he recognized them quickly but didn’t reveal himself.

Why didn’t he reveal himself to them immediately? I really don’t know and I don’t think the text ever gives us a specific answer. I don’t think, though, that this was done out of spite. If Joseph harbored hatred for his brothers, this would probably be a very short chapter. In fact, if I sat in Joseph’s chair this would be a very short chapter. Imagine the temptation here! He probably had the power to have these men executed on the spot. They wrote him off as dead, perhaps he could do the same to them. And if he wanted to harm them, I think he would have gone about it differently.

The best explanation here is that God was working through Joseph to bring about repentance in the brothers’ lives. There are just too many parallels here for the answer to be any different.

In Genesis 37, Jacob sent one son to the whole group. In Genesis 42, Jacob, though he doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing, sends the sons to go see Joseph. In 37, the confine Joseph but in 42 Joseph confines them. In both chapters, a severe punishment is spoken of, but a more less devastating punishment is inflicted. God’s fingerprints are all over this situation.

And it’s because of that that we need to notice that, even though Joseph causes considerable hardship for his brothers here this is actually an act of grace. What do you think the brothers deserved for what they’d done to Joseph? Whatever they deserve, he gives them grace. And that grace ultimately will bring about conviction and repentance.

Let’s look further into the text to see how that’s true. Joseph accuses them of being spies, they plead their innocence and Joseph throws them in jail. But after three days he changes his mind. Look at verse 18 again:

On the third day Joseph said to them, “I fear God—do this and you will live.

Had they been thinking clearly this would have been a huge giveaway for the 10 brothers. Here is an Egyptian official, a leader in a polytheistic land, saying he fears God. The real one. But, perhaps due to fear, they don’t catch the hint. Joseph tells them he’ll let nine of them go with enough food to keep their large family back home alive. But that he’ll keep one of them until they return with Benjamin so that he can know for sure they’re being truthful.

God has used all these difficult circumstances, the famine, the long journey to Egypt, the fear of imprisonment, and maybe even of death to bring them to the threshold of what we see in verse 21. Let’s look again:

 Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”

22 But Reuben replied: “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Now we must account for his blood!”

Here we see the second way God’s providence calls sinners to repentance and that is through guilt.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Guilt

They are speaking Hebrew among themselves here, not knowing Joseph understands every word and they confess—for the first time in the text and maybe the first time in their lives—their guilt concerning Joseph.

Hard circumstances do not always mean that God is convicting you of sin, but sometimes they do. How do we know the difference? Well, Scripture teaches that we actually need help to see our own sins because we can be spiritually blind to them.

Psalm 19:12

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my concerns.

See if there is any offensive way in me;

lead me in the everlasting way.

When is the last time you’ve asked God to search your heart and convict you of your sin? (we want him to convict others) Because we have a sin nature still fighting for control of our lives, sometimes we will be blinded to our own sins. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to identify those sins and kill them.

Pastor and author Paul Tripp wrote the following:

Because I am a believer, and the heart of stone has been taken out of me and replaced with a heart of flesh, my conscience bothers me when I sin. This is the beautiful, convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. When my conscience is activated and bothered, I must make one of two choices. The first and best choice is to admit that what I have done is wrong and place myself once again under the justifying mercies of Christ, receiving his forgiveness. Or I can erect some system of self-atonement that essentially argues for the rightness of what I’ve done. I am making myself feel good about what God says is not good. I am participating in my own spiritual blindness. Everyone still living with sin is a skilled self-swindler.

Because we are so good at swindling ourselves, Scripture also teaches us that we need each other:

Hebrews 3:12-13

Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.

If you look at verse 22, it’s Reuben—the one who was against killing Joseph in chapter 37—who’s the voice of reason here. He’s the one who calls out the other brothers in the text. God used the circumstances of their life to bring about guilt for their sin.

The brothers are admitting their guilt right in front of the one whom they wronged, but they don’t know he understands them.

After hearing their admission, Joseph takes Simeon into custody but lets the rest return home. On their way home we see a third way God’s providence calls sinners to repentance and that is through fear.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Fear

Look down at verse 27 again:

At the place where they lodged for the night, one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver there at the top of his bag. 28 He said to his brothers, “My silver has been returned! It’s here in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, they turned to one another and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

When Joseph sent his brothers home, he instructed the servants to fill their sacks not just with grain but with the money they had intended to use to make the purchase. He was giving them a gift. But upon seeing it they feared. They thought they were being framed for stealing.

Sin can cause us to so misinterpret what is happening to us that we see a gift as a curse. I think that’s what John Newton meant when he wrote the now famous lyrics “’twas grace that taught my heart to fear.”

Why should we fear grace? Because it reveals our standing before a holy God. They saw this gift of grace and they trembled before it. And then finally, we’ll see the last way God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance and that is through sorrow.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Sorrow

The brothers return to their father and recount the story fairly accurately in verses 29-35. But they still leave out the truth about Joseph. They’re still hiding their sin and it causes such great sorrow for everyone involved.

Sorrow for the brothers because now they’re going to have to live separated from Simeon for a time, since Jacob will not allow them to take Benjamin to Egypt. More sorrow for the 9 remaining, knowing that Joseph and now Benjamin are the favorites.

Sorrow for Jacob in knowing that his family has been further separated. In fact, after 20 years we see the emotion he felt toward Joseph is still very raw in verse 38. Sin causes so much pain. And the whole family sees it. Reuben wants the pain of sorrow to go away so badly he offers up his two sons as collateral in the hope they can be reunited. Eventually, there is sorrow for the whole family because the food they were given will run out and the famine is still raging.

And yet, in the midst of all this brokenness God is still at work. As we finish, look back at verse 24 with me. It says Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept.

What Joseph was doing—forcing his brothers to come to terms with their sin—was hard. And it broke his heart. Joseph’s heart here reflects God’s heart for his children. He weeps as He is breaking us down so that repentance can come. F.B. Meyer captured this thought well:

We suffer, and suffer keenly. Imprisoned, bereaved, rebuked, we count God harsh and hard. We little realize how much pain He is suffering as He causes us pain. . .we should feel that we were as safe amid his rebukes as ever we were amid his tenderest caresses.

Joseph was rejected by his brothers, only to later save them from starvation. Later, another like Joseph would come. Rejected by the entire nation of Israel, though He did not wrong. In His providence, God allowed Him to be crushed for our iniquity. Jesus Christ became the sacrifice for our sins that we could never offer on our own. And He did it all so that we would be reconciled to God forever.

Because nobody gets away with anything, ever. What does that mean for us in this room today?

Well, either the punishment for your sin was paid for on the cross or you’re still under the wrath of an Almighty God.

For those of us who belong to God, what now? Well, we are still called by Scripture to confess our sins. Jesus commands confession in the model prayer in Luke 11. 1 John 1:8 tells us that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us.

If Christ took our punishment, why do we need confession?

Because confession of sin is the application of the gospel to your life. When you confess and repent of sin as a Christian you are allowing God to apply His grace and reconciliation to your life and expressing true gratitude for what has been accomplished on your behalf on the cross of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your sin or sit on your sin. German pastor and WWII martyr Bonhoeffer wrote:

“he who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. . . . But it is the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come as the sinner you are, to the God who loves you.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together)

Everyone in this room is in the same boat. Just like Zeb and Zeke. We’ve laid our plans—some outlandish and some benign. We’re all great and desperate sinners. And just by virtue of you being in this room today God’s providence is calling you to repentance.

We get the 10,000-foot view of the lives of these 10 brothers. We see how God worked in their circumstances, through their guilt, their fear, and their sorrow to bring about repentance. I hope that each of us sees anew this morning how God is at work in us to bring us to repentance.

God is the one who unmasks the sins of our heart. And we desperately need Him to do so. Let’s ask Him to do that for us today. In Genesis 42, Jacob’s 10 sons travel to Egypt in search of food to save the lives of their whole family. In traveling there they carry the hearts laden with the burden of sin. They needed something more than physical food, they needed the spiritual life that is found in repentance. That’s the same thing we need this morning. Let’s pray.

October 14, 2018 | The God of Joseph Reigns Over the God of Egypt | Joseph: Providence and Promises

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The most powerful man in the world is in crisis. That is the situation we are faced with in the Genesis 41 this morning. Forbes magazine publishes a list every year of the most powerful people in the world. The people on that list are who you’d probably expect—leaders of nations and leaders of the world’s largest corporations. But there is no one alive today who experiences power on the scale of the man we’ll be talking about today.

Pharaoh was the title of the king of Egypt, but he was much more than a king. To his people, he was both a ruler and a god. One ancient Egyptian writing called him: The Good God, beloved of gods, The Son of Re, who acts with his arms. He had absolute authority in Egypt—which was, at the time, the most powerful nation in history.

We’ve already seen him execute that authority in our study of Genesis 37-50. Last week he we saw he had the power to imprison, execute, and/or restore his servants at will.

So what happens when the god-man Pharaoh has a crisis that he can’t solve? Let’s read Genesis 41 together and find out.

Verses 1-7

41 At the end of two years Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing beside the Nile, 2 when seven healthy-looking, well-fed cows came up from the Nile and began to graze among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, sickly and thin, came up from the Nile and stood beside those cows along the bank of the Nile. 4 The sickly, thin cows ate the healthy, well-fed cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5 He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven heads of grain, plump and good, came up on one stalk. 6 After them, seven heads of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven plump, full ones. Then Pharaoh woke up, and it was only a dream.

Two years have passed since the cupbearer was released from prison. This is the man whose dream Joseph rightly interpreted in the last chapter. He had promised to remember Joseph when Pharaoh restored him to his position of authority, but he failed to do so.

His first dream is of seven healthy looking cows, who come up from the nile, turn to Pharaoh and say “Eat more chicken.” No? Ok. So seven sickly cows devour seven healthy cows. The second dream is similar, dealing with heads of grain. But we need to note these were no ordinary dreams. They were so vivid that when verse 7 tells us ‘it was only a dream’ we’re led to believe they were so lifelike and graphic Pharaoh thought they were real.

These agricultural images would have been deeply unsettling for Pharaoh because not only was agriculture the lifeblood of his empire, but his people believed him to have power over nature itself.

These dreams are both very bad omens for Pharaoh and a telltale sign for us as readers of this text. It’s the third time we’ve seen a couplet of dreams. This time, Pharaoh’s dreams have implications not just for one family, or one nation, but ultimately all the nations of the earth. Let’s continue reading to see how that’s true.

Verses 8-13

8 When morning came, he was troubled, so he summoned all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I remember my faults. 10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and he put me and the chief baker in the custody of the captain of the guards. 11 He and I had dreams on the same night; each dream had its own meaning. 12 Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation. 13 It turned out just the way he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

Moses doesn’t say—Pharaoh had these dreams, fell back asleep, and then was curious what they meant in the morning. No, Pharaoh was deeply troubled here. He was anxious. The picture is of a sleepless, disturbed night followed by a frantic assembly in the morning of all the magicians and dream interpreters of Egypt. Over 400 years later, another group of Egypt’s leading sorcerers would square off with Moses in Exodus 7. Here, like their counterparts a few generations down the road, they were unsuccessful in providing Pharaoh what he needed.

It’s when all their efforts have failed that the cupbearer pipes up. And it is in this short recollection that Joseph’s life is forever changed. Joseph had one simple request for this man in the last chapter—remember me. In verse 9 he says “Today I remember my faults.” Finally, now that it benefits him the cupbearer remembers Joseph. And we learn in verse 14:

Verses 14-16

14 Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and went to Pharaoh.

15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.”

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

“Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph.” With those five words Joseph’s life would never be the same and God’s sovereign plan for Joseph’s life begins to really take shape. It had been 13 years since Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. God’s providence had taken Joseph on a 13-year roller coaster ride of a few emotional highs and some extreme and prolonged lows. He has endured physical, emotional, and probably even spiritual distress over this period but as soon as Pharaoh says ‘bring me this Hebrew slave’ his life is changed.

Joseph is taken into Pharaoh’s presence and Pharaoh asks if he can interpret his dream. This is where the main point of today’s text really comes to the forefront. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.”

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Remember, Pharaoh is supposed to be the god-man. He’s supposed to know all. The Egyptians worshiped him. Yet, Joseph is clear. ‘It’s not me.’ It’s not me who interprets dreams. I’m not able to. It is the true God, the God of Jacob, the Israelites’ God who does that.

But Pharaoh is unfazed. He wants an answer so badly that he apparently ignores the fact that Joseph is subverting Egypt’s entire hierarchy of gods here. The most important thing we learn from this chapter is that God is sovereign over not just Joseph’s life, but over the circumstances of nations. God is in control in Egypt—even though they’re a pagan nation and a powerful one at that—God very much reigns over this land. Let’s read on:

Verses 17-36

17 So Pharaoh said to Joseph: “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when seven well-fed, healthy-looking cows came up from the Nile and grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows—weak, very sickly, and thin—came up. I’ve never seen such sickly ones as these in all the land of Egypt. 20 Then the thin, sickly cows ate the first seven well-fed cows. 21 When they had devoured them, you could not tell that they had devoured them; their appearance was as bad as it had been before. Then I woke up. 22 In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, coming up on one stalk. 23 After them, seven heads of grain—withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind—sprouted up. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed the seven good ones. I told this to the magicians, but no one can tell me what it means.”

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years. The dreams mean the same thing. 27 The seven thin, sickly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven worthless, scorched heads of grain are seven years of famine.

28 “It is just as I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will take place, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows it, for the famine will be very severe. 32 Since the dream was given twice to Pharaoh, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and he will carry it out soon.

33 “So now, let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this: Let him appoint overseers over the land and take a fifth of the harvest of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 Let them gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. Under Pharaoh’s authority, store the grain in the cities, so they may preserve it as food. 36 The food will be a reserve for the land during the seven years of famine that will take place in the land of Egypt. Then the country will not be wiped out by the famine.”

Egypt’s entire religious system had failed to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, but Joseph is extremely specific about what God has revealed here and not only that but God also gives Joseph a solution. He tells Pharaoh there would be seven good years followed by a severe famine. To save Egypt, God gives Joseph a plan: save 20% of your food over seven years, spread it out over store cities so it will be accessible and you’ll have enough food to survive the famine.

It took extreme courage for Joseph do to what he did here. This was the most powerful man in the world. He didn’t have run his ideas by congress or any kind of court system, remember in the last chapter he had the baker executed on the spot. Joseph was giving him bad news, and he could have had Joseph killed in just the same way. But Joseph spoke God’s word to Pharaoh and he responded well. Let’s read on:

Verses 37-45

37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, 38 and he said to them, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are. 40 You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only I, as king, will be greater than you.” 41 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and placed a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had Joseph ride in his second chariot, and servants called out before him, “Make way!” So he placed him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh and no one will be able to raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt without your permission.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah and gave him a wife, Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

God exalts Joseph from from an imprisoned former slave to essentially the prime minister of the most powerful country in the world. Just like he was found faithful and promoted in the house of Potiphar, and then in prison, Joseph was exalted over the entire nation of Egypt. He became the second in command, with all the authority of Pharaoh himself. His initial task is to prepare the nation for the coming famine, and he does it well. Look at verse 46:

Verses 46-54

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout the land of Egypt.

47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced outstanding harvests. 48 Joseph gathered all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and put it in the cities. He put the food in every city from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it because it was beyond measure.

50 Two sons were born to Joseph before the years of famine arrived. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh and said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and my whole family.” 52 And the second son he named Ephraim and said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 Then the seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every land, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When the whole land of Egypt was stricken with famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food. Pharaoh told all Egypt, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” 56 Now the famine had spread across the whole region, so Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Every land came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, for the famine was severe in every land.

At thirty years old Joseph is paraded throughout Egypt as the new prime minister, the one who is going to lead the nation through a coming famine. He follows the plan laid out earlier and the nation is blessed greatly. Joseph, himself, is blessed greatly and we can see that—even in the midst of a still god-less people—Joseph hasn’t abandoned his faith in the one-true God. He was faithful in prison and he’s faithful in the palace. We see that in the names of his children. Manasseh, meaning God allowed him to forget the pain of his past, and Ephraim, God has made me fruitful. God has blessed Joseph in some incredible ways.

It took us a little while, but we’ve seen the story. Now let’s look at what it means. There are three things I think it is important for us to see here in the time we have remaining. First,

God Reigns Over Nations

Kent Hughes said it well: “(W)e are here confronted with the premise upon which all biblical history rests: Kings do not make history. Rather, God uses them to effect history.”

That is true all throughout the Bible. Look at what God says to Cyrus through the prophet Isaiah:

I call you by your name,

for the sake of my servant Jacob

and Israel my chosen one.

I give a name to you,

though you do not know me.

5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;

there is no God but me.

I will strengthen you,

though you do not know me,

6 so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting

that there is no one but me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

7 I form light and create darkness,

I make success and create disaster;

I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Is. 45:4-7)

Cyrus did not believe in God. But God clearly says I’m going to use you for my purpose. There is no God but me. God reigned over nations when Joseph lived, he reigned over nations when Isaiah lived hundreds of years later, and he reigns over nations today.

We live in times that are uncertain to us, but there is nothing that has happened in the United States of America that has ever caught God by surprise. He is working through ruling authorities today, just as much as He was working when he appointed a former slave and prisoner and immigrant from another nation, to be the prime minister of Egypt to guide them through a famine.

We may not understand how God is working. We many not understand why God is working the way He is. But God reigns over the United States today and over the rest of the nations of the earth.

What does that mean for us? It should mean comfort. In a time where anxiety is perhaps higher than ever in regard to the national political climate we can find rest. In a time where the volume of the political climate has surely never been louder, we can rest at knowing that whether you like the current guy, the last guy, or the next guy or gal or whatever, God reigns over our country. When we don’t understand, it’s actually good. Why? Because it forces us to more fully rely on God’s sovereignty. John MacArthur wrote: There may be times when the authority figures over us seem inept or unjust or even openly wicked. Yet we must recognize their authority comes from God, and He has placed us under it for His purposes. There can be few situations more unjust than slavery, yet Joseph submitted— and God blessed his faithfulness.

God has a purpose for every ruler that is appointed. Kings don’t make history. God uses them to write His story. Next,

God Reigns Over False Beliefs

Egypt had an intricate system of gods and goddesses and each of them are proven to be impotent in this chapter. The assembly of Pharaoh’s magicians and wise men in verse 8 represented the sum of all the religious leadership in that pagan nation had to offer. And they could come up with nothing.

God provides one man. One man who says in verse 16 that “it’s not me, but my God who will give the answer.” There is only one source we can look to for the truth. We’ve been here for a while, I need to make sure you’re still with me. We call this the congregational participation portion of the morning message. I’m going to sing for you. Well, not sing really, but I’ll start a song lyric and you finish it for me. Ok? Jesus loves me, this I know . . . for the Bible tells me so.

We teach this to kids, but it seems as though the Church loses this truth more and more all the time. We have to turn to Scripture for our truth. The Egyptians couldn’t find the answers they were looking for in their pantheon of gods. Neither could the Greeks in Athens when Paul preached to them in Acts. And it can’t be found in your horoscope or in popular psychology or in even within yourself. We have to be rooted in the reality of Scripture because that’s the only reality that ultimately matters.

The reality of our lives according to Scripture is that God is holy and we are not. Because God is holy, He punishes evil. Our sin—our selfishness, our greed, our jealousy, etc.—has separated us from God and earned His wrath. But in his great love and mercy God became a man in Jesus Christ, lived perfectly, died on the cross and took the punishment that was deserved by all the people who will ever turn form their sins and trust in Him, rose again from the dead, and now calls us to repent of our sins. If we repent of our sins and place our trust in Jesus Christ we will be saved. That’s reality according to Scripture and that’s the only path to salvation. And if we are not living in light of that gospel everyday then we risk finding our comfort in something that is false.

I don’t believe anyone in here bows down to Ra, the Egyptian sun god every morning. But we do run the very real risk of substituting false ideology for the true gospel if we aren’t careful.

One of the ways this happens is when we don’t devote ourselves to Scripture well enough to know when we see false teaching. There are many teachers and authors who fall under the banner of Christianity who minimize the value of Scripture and if we don’t learn it for ourselves then we are at risk of veering off course.

One of the most well-known and often-quoted pastors in the country recently released a book in which he calls the Old Testament outdated and obsolete. He’s wrong and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Biblical Theology. But if we hadn’t examined the Old Testament and seen how God has written the gospel on every page of this story, we’d be tempted to believe.

If we don’t deepen our understanding of Scripture then we are extremely prone to damaging false beliefs. One that I have encountered a few time since I’ve been here is the line that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s pretty. That may even be helpful under some circumstances. It’s just not biblical. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that we won’t be tempted beyond our ability and that God will provide a way of escape. That’s temptation, not general trials and circumstances. See what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he writes this: We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself.

Paul was afflicted beyond his strength. If we believe God won’t give us more than we can handle, then when He does so, what are we left thinking? Is something wrong with us? No. God will absolutely give us more than we can handle. Why? Paul tells us in the very next verse of 2 Corinthians 1:

9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.

We need to know that Christianity is not about our performance or our own ability to endure. Whatever ability to endure we have comes from God.

One of the other false beliefs we run the risk of falling into over the course of our Christian walk is that our salvation is somehow sustained by something that is in us. We acknowledge that salvation comes from God, but on this side of the moment of salvation we can begin to practically live in such a way that would lead us to believe that we’ve now got this all figured out.

Sure, I needed Jesus to get saved but now that I believe the gospel then my standing in God’s sight is based on how well I’m doing. Self-reliance is the antithesis of the gospel. Calling on Jesus for salvation is the ultimate admission that “I can’t”. And there never comes a point in the Christian life where “I can” becomes the new truth. But that beliefs is pervasive within Christianity today.

One of the best-selling books by any Christian publisher this year has this statement as its thesis: “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”

That’s the opposite of the gospel! And Christians are buying it by the thousands. God shows us in Genesis 41 that His truth and His truth alone reigns over all the false wisdom of the Egyptian gods. His truth is the only truth. Finally, we need to see that:

God Always Keeps His Promises

We’ve used Romans 8:28 several times in this series.  We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

We’re reminded of that verse as we see the end of chapter 41. After Joseph had executed his plan to prepare Egypt for the famine we see that Every land came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, for the famine was severe in every land.

We get to see here that the promise of Genesis 12:3 is already coming to fruition. God told Joseph’s great grandfather, Abraham,

all the peoples on earth

will be blessed through you. (12:3b)

This is the first time that tangibly starts to become true. But Joseph isn’t the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. As vital as food is during a famine, God’s promise meets an even greater need. The ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 came in the person of Jesus Christ. And it’s a promise that is still being fulfilled today. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 commands us to make disciples of all nations. The gospel for all the nations of the earth. That’s what God was promising Abraham in Genesis 12.

When we see God’s faithfulness moving on a nation-sized scale, it should bring us great assurance. The machinations of Egypt were no problem for God and neither are your present circumstances. We see God’s promises coming to fruition in Joseph’s life. He’ll do the same in ours. What has He promised? Two things quickly as we close:

The first promise is found in Philippians 1:6:  I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

God saved you and He will keep you saved until the coming of Jesus Christ. He began the good work in you and He’s the one who will carry it on.

The second promise is found in Jude 24-25

Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever.

He will protect you from falling away. And He will make you stand in the presence of His glory without blemish and with great joy. Those are two things we could never do on our own.

We are about to sing a song, and one that I’ve grown to love. I love it because it’s simply a prayer.

When I fear my faith will fail,

Christ will hold me fast;

When the tempter would prevail,

He will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path;

For my love is often cold;

He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,

He will hold me fast;

For my Savior loves me so,

He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,

Christ will hold me fast;

Precious in his holy sight,

He will hold me fast.

He’ll not let my soul be lost;

His promises shall last;

Bought by Him at such a cost,

He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,

Christ will hold me fast;

Justice has been satisfied;

He will hold me fast.

Raised with Him to endless life,

He will hold me fast

‘Till our faith is turned to sight,

When He comes at last!

God is sovereign over nations. He’s also sovereign over your life and mine. Would you pray with me?

October 7, 2018 | When You Can't See God | Genesis 40:1-23

When You Can’t See God (pdf)


Willard Duncan Vandiver led an interesting life. Before he grew the fantastic mustache and wild shock of white hair you see in the picture on the screen, he moved with his family from West Virginia right here to Boone County, MO. His parents farmed in Boone County in the 1850s while Willard was just a young boy. Sometime later in his childhood they moved to Fayette, where Willard later attended Central College (now Central Methodist University). He was a successful student. He studied law and went on to become a professor and later president at Missouri State Normal College (now SEMO), in Cape Girardeau.

In 1896 he was elected to the U.S. Congress and it was while serving there that that he made an off-hand remark during a political speech that left a legacy that would long outlive him.

Accounts vary, but Vandiver is quoted as once saying during either a political debate or a speech, "I am from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

The quip was a memorable one. So much so that the state now carries it as a nickname. Even though Vandiver probably isn’t the first one to make the statement, he’s credited with bringing it to popularity.

My question this morning is what do we here in the Show-Me State do when God seems to be absent? Most of us don’t raise corn or cotton and I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would raise cockleburs. . . but we are still a people who want to see tangible proof of the things we believe. We want God to show us His faithfulness. We sang earlier about our strength rising as we wait upon the Lord to demonstrate that faithfulness.

The problem in the text we are going to read this morning is that it doesn’t appear as though God is very present. In fact, we have seen Joseph treated very unfairly in two different settings now. First, by his brothers who stripped him, abused him, and tossed him into an empty cistern before selling him as a slave. Then by Potiphar and his wife as she accused him of assaulting her and Potiphar believed her and had him thrown in prison. But at least in chapter 39 we had a comforting refrain—God was with Joseph. In the darkest moments we had the reminder that God was with Joseph.

Chapter 40 doesn’t offer us that assurance—at least not on the surface. If you were to look at chapter 40 and say “show me” the evidence that God’s providence is working all things for good in Joseph’s life—that would be tough after a first read through. You could read this chapter and ask, ‘where is God’s faithfulness?’

There’s a theme in this story we have touched on at least a little bit every week and that is that God, not Joseph, is the main character of the story. And if we believe that, it makes God’s apparent absence in this chapter even more unsettling. The external circumstances of Joseph’s life change little from Genesis 40:1 to 40:23. At the beginning of the chapter, Joseph is alone and in prison. At the end of the chapter, Joseph is alone—now forgotten by someone who was supposed to help him—and in prison.

So what are we to think of this God—the main character, the driving force behind this story—and His treatment of Joseph so far? This is where “show me” isn’t enough. Because if we limit ourselves to a God we can see, our God is too small. If we limit ourselves to a God we can see, our God is too small.

Genesis 40 is a story of faithfulness in the midst of apparent silence. Of God’s hand of providence working even when He seems to be absent.

Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of Joseph’s life but what it’s really about is how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

God’s providence secures His promises. What do I mean by God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose.

God’s providence is all over this story. But He works in ways that could be easy for us to miss and Joseph responds in such a way that I think we can see he trusted in God’s faithfulness even though he didn’t fully understand what God was doing.

To really understand chapter 40, what it sets up for the rest of Joseph’s story, and how these things matter for you and I today I want us to examine this text in light of three things: Joseph’s faithfulness to a God who seems absent, God’s faithfulness to Joseph, though He seems absent, and God’s faithfulness to the nations through His quiet movements in Joseph’s life.

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-23 together:

After this, the king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guards in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guards assigned Joseph to them as their personal attendant, and they were in custody for some time.

5 The king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker, who were confined in the prison, each had a dream. Both had a dream on the same night, and each dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked distraught. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We had dreams,” they said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph: “In my dream there was a vine in front of me. 10 On the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is its interpretation,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. You will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand the way you used to when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison. 15 For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon.”

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was positive, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream. Three baskets of white bread were on my head. 17 In the top basket were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

18 “This is its interpretation,” Joseph replied. “The three baskets are three days. 19 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from off you—and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh from your body.”

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he gave a feast for all his servants. He elevated the chief cupbearer and the chief baker among his servants. 21 Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position as cupbearer, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Joseph’s Faithfulness When God Seems Distant

The prison phase of Joseph’s life started off remarkably similarly to the period where he was a slave in Potiphar’s house. The end of chapter 39 tells us the warden put all the prisoners under Joseph’s authority and that he fully trusted Joseph. We talked last week about the importance of the refrain of chapter 39—God was with Joseph. That chapter closed by telling us that God made everything that Joseph did successful.

That success may have plateaued, though, because when chapter 40 opens Joseph is still in prison. This was not an easy period in Joseph’s life. Even though he was elevated to the position of trustee or something like it, his circumstances in prison would not have been easy.

Yet, it’s clear that he remained faithful to the Lord and His promises in Joseph’s life. Remember back in chapter 37, God gave Joseph a pair of dreams in which he was lifted up and it seems—based on his conduct for the remainder of the story—that Joseph clung to those promises from God.

He would have had a myriad of reasons to abandon hope. When God falls silent, or His providence directs our lives in a way we don’t understand, it’s natural for us to ask why. Why, God, did you allow this hurt into my life? Why, God did you allow this hard circumstance to happen?

Think about the whys Joseph could have asked. Why did you allow my brothers to hate me so much they wouldn’t even speak to me? Why did you allow dad to show favoritism that drove them to such a jealous hatred they wanted to kill me? Why did you allow them to beat me, strip me, and leave me for dead? Why did I get sold as a slave? Why did you send me into that household where I was tempted toward illicit sex? Why did you allow me to be falsely accused? Why am I rotting here in this Egyptian prison cell with no prospect for freedom?

There are some really big ‘whys’ sitting in this room today. And when you ask God your really big why questions, you feel like the only answer you’re hearing is silence. And that may actually be true. . .but I hope you’ll find by the end of this sermon that silence from God isn’t bad and I know we can see from Joseph’s life that silence from God wasn’t an excuse to stop being faithful.

This is the first of two false beliefs this chapter lays bare. It’s the idea that God’s goodness in our lives is based on our performance.

Joseph was faithful to God’s promises in his life even though he had dozens of excuses not to be. Joseph must have understood a hard truth that I hope this text causes us all to wrestle with today. God’s favor is not tied to life’s circumstances. If you have a flat tire, that doesn’t mean God is mad at you. Yet, so often we tend to view our circumstances as a commentary on God’s view of who we are as a person. Or we think that if we are good, God will improve our circumstances. I love what Jerry Bridges wrote in The Discipline of Grace Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

We don’t have to read far into the text to see that Joseph’s character—how he related to God and the people around him everyday—was not destroyed by his circumstances. In the first eight verses we learn about Joseph’s faithfulness to God through his character and his speech.

In verses 1-5 two government officials run afoul of Pharaoh. The chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Now, I concede those may not sound like the highest of government offices. In fact, I think baker doesn’t sound like a very important office at all. But these would have been high ranking men with large staffs of underlings and their responsibility would be to ensure that the food and drink that came to Pharaoh was safe—untainted by a political, or family, or national rival. These would have been very important men. And based on the word used in verse 1 it seems their offense was legitimate. Unlike Joseph, they are not innocent.

And when they are thrown into prison—because they’re important officials—they’re assigned a personal attendant by the captain of the guards. We’ve already met a man who holds that very same title back in the last chapter. Back in verse 39:1 we learn Joseph and been sold to Potiphar, who was an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards. We’re not specifically told that Potiphar still hold this office in chapter 40, but it is reasonable to think so.

It reveals a great deal about Joseph’s character and work ethic that Potiphar would choose Joseph to hold this important role after what they’d been through together. Joseph’s faithfulness to God is demonstrated in his moral character over and over again in this story. He’s held up as the opposite of all the morally corrupt people surrounding him—from his father who played favorites, to his homicidal brothers, to adulterous Judah and Tamar and Potiphar’s wife. Joseph is the photo negative to the corruption of the other characters in this narrative.

Now, what I don’t want us to do is to only look at Joseph’s actions in all these situations and reduce this to story about morals—because it is much, much more than that. If we reduce Scripture to tales of moral dos and don’ts, then we no longer have Scripture. This isn’t Aesop’s fables for Christians. We’re looking at God working something much bigger than a morality play here, not just in the life of Joseph but in all the nations of the earth.

But at the same time, we don’t want to miss that Joseph’s faithfulness to God is displayed in his moral character. Potiphar still saw in Joseph a character that was different from those around him, causing him to stand out from the rest of the people we’ve seen so far. The warden sees it as well, which is why he has this position of authority in the prison to begin with. God’s people should be marked by a character—the way we treat God and His creation—that is vastly different from those around us.

And we see in Joseph’s life that his character put him in a situation where he had the opportunity to point those around him to his God. Look at verse 6:

6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked distraught. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We had dreams,” they said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Joseph did something revolutionary here. He asked how someone was doing and actually waited for the answer. I know it sounds insane, but I think we should give it a go.

In all seriousness, notice that as Joseph was going about his regular, daily routine he paused long enough to take a genuine interest in the people his job put him in relationship with. And then he’s going to steer the conversation toward his God.

These two men had some form of contact with one another and they both had a dream on the same night. In Egyptian culture dreams were a big deal because it was generally believed that dreams put you in contact with the afterlife. The interpretation of dreams was its own enterprise. There would be professional interpreters who kept books of dreams and their interpretations. But these two prisoners wouldn’t have had access to those professionals.

Then along comes Joseph. If you look at the last part of verse 8, he says

“Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Not only did Joseph demonstrate faithfulness to God through his character but also through his words. These men wanted some sort of divine wisdom from their pagan society and Joseph says, hey these unknown truths they belong to my God, the one, true God. They don’t come from a horoscope, they don’t come from a fortune cookie, my God holds the future. Joseph seized the opportunity to speak God’s truth during his own moment of crisis when he’s been unjustly imprisoned.

Here’s the second false belief this chapter helps us to combat. Some think that because God is sovereign—because He’s working in His providence to accomplish His purpose—we don’t need to do anything. What’s the point? God’s going to work it out anyway. Here’s a simple problem with that line of thinking: If you were in a room with everyone in Scripture who worshiped God and you held that view, you’d be the only one.

God’s sovereignty does not render man’s responsibility null and void. Instead, over and over again Scripture shows us how God uses the obedience of His people to accomplish His purposes. That’s what we see here.

Joseph tells them both Pharaoh will lift up their head, an expression that meant to be called before the king. The cupbearer would be restored and the baker would be executed. But Joseph makes an appeal to the cupbearer. He asks that when he’s restored, he’ll remember Joseph and free him because—after all—Joseph hasn’t done anything to deserve to be in prison.

Events play out exactly as he said they would and it looks like there might just be some hope for Joseph. Yet, the chapter ends on a depressing note: 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

It doesn’t seem like chapter 39 accomplished anything! Joseph started out as a prisoner with no hope of pardon. It ends with Joseph, a prisoner with no hope of pardon who had been given false hope that he might be freed! Emotionally, he’s worse off in verse 23 than he was in verse 1. Joseph has proved his faithfulness by his character and by his words, but on the surface it seems as though he has been forgotten by not just the cupbearer, but by God himself. The refrain of chapter 39—God was with Joseph—is absent in chapter 40. Does that mean God has taken his hand off Joseph? Absolutely not.

I shared this quote with you last week, but I want you to see it again because it’s so helpful: God is often absent in the ways we most desire, but present in the way we most require. (David Bowden)

While it may seem on the surface level that God is less present in chapter 40 than in chapter 39, that is no where near true. We’ve seen Joseph’s faithfulness to God in prison, let’s now see how God remains faithful to Joseph even though He seems silent.

God’s Faithfulness to Joseph in Ways Joseph Can’t See

There are at least four ways in this chapter we see God’s providence at work in ways that we can see since we get to see the story in its entirety. That’s not a luxury we have for our own lives, but God is no less sovereign over ours than he was over Joseph’s. I like to think of it this way: God can see both ends of the train. I grew up in East Tennessee, where we had a lot of hills, forests, mountains, and things like that. If you saw a train, at most, you’d see a few cars as they went by but there was never a long enough stretch of the tracks visible for you to see the whole train. Then when I was 26 we moved to Iowa. And they don’t have any of those geographical features. And for the first time in my life, I was able to see a whole train. I thought it was pretty cool. I could see the engine all the way back to the last car. We never get that view of our own lives, but since we see that in Joseph’s life we can see at least four ways that God was at work in the circumstances of this very chapter. I’ll go through them quickly:

The location. We see that the prison Joseph was sent to in Genesis 39 was the king’s prison. So when Pharaoh sends these two officials away in chapter 40 they end up in the very same location as Joseph. Had Joseph been sent to a different prison he would haven ever crossed paths with the cupbearer.

We looked at it briefly as a component of Joseph’s faithfulness, but had Potiphar never purchased Joseph as a slave in the first place then Joseph would have never proven his worth as a servant in his household and he would not have been assigned to the cupbearer and the baker. God’s hand was guiding these seemingly random events of Joseph’s life for a much greater purpose.

God was active in the lives of these officials. Remember, the human side of this whole epic was set in motion by sin. The sin of favoritism on the part of Jacob, perhaps the pride of Joseph, and the hatred of his brothers. Just as God worked in those sins, a fact Joseph grows to understand because he will later say to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result-the survival of many people. Just as God redeemed the sin of Joseph’s brothers for good, whatever evil plot landed the baker and the cupbearer in prison was ordained by God for His good purpose. Remember the promise of Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

God’s providence caused Joseph to be forgotten. This one is tougher for us to come to grips with, but the cupbearer forgetting Joseph was an act of God’s providence. And though it would have caused Joseph great heartache and distress it won’t be long until we can clearly see in the text why God would have Joseph wait. He will eventually be released directly by Pharaoh himself and made an high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s government. Had the cupbearer released him, that probably never happens and Joseph would have probably starved to death in the famine that was to come.

One of the most difficult commands God will ever give His children is a single word: wait. But it’s always for our good and His glory. I can’t even imagine how hard this waiting would have been for Joseph. John Calvin’s words might help us come to grips with God’s actions here:

"Thus, when God might have delivered the holy man directly from prison, he chose to lead him around by circuitous paths. The better to prove his patience and to manifest by the mode of his deliverance that he has wonderful methods of working hidden from our view. He does this that we may learn not to measure by our own sense, the salvation which He has promised us.”

Speaking of that salvation, there is one more way God demonstrates his faithfulness here that I want us to notice this morning.

God’s faithfulness to all His people in imaging Christ in Joseph’s life

We’ve seen already in our study that Joseph’s life provides us an image of the savior to come. Joseph will be the one to save both his family and the entire nation of Egypt by the end of Genesis. But he can only save them from starvation. He’s an imperfect savior because he has no power over sin and death. But his life offers us a glimpse of the savior who Genesis 3:15 promised would crush the head of sin and death once and for all. The same savior God promised would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth in Genesis 12.

The gospel itself is pictured in the life of Joseph in the events of this chapter. What’s the gospel? I try to provide you with different definitions over time so that we can take in the fullness of the gospel in all its facets. Here’s a great definition of the gospel from Mark Dever, pastor of a baptist church in Washington, DC:

( The gospel is the) good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.”

Aspects of that perfect life and death are pictured for us here in Genesis 40. Just like Christ would be condemned, though innocent—so was Joseph. Both were victims of false accusations, and both were held captive with two guilty criminals. Both narratives take place during a festival when a guilty criminal was freed, but the innocent man remained under condemnation.

But the most striking similarity here is that both innocent men were forsaken. Joseph was forgotten by the cupbearer. While Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:46, we read this: About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Here’s where I hope this hits home for us today. Just like God wasn’t passively standing by in Joseph’s abandonment, He wasn’t standing idle while Jesus died on the cross, either. As Christ took the wrath that you and I earned for ourselves on the cross of calvary God, in his divine providence, was pouring out the wrath that we deserved on Jesus as the offering that would die in our place.

Isaiah 53:10 says

Yet the Lord was pleased to crush him severely.

When you make him a guilt offering,

he will see his seed, he will prolong his days,

and by his hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.

There’s no way Joseph could have seen all that God was doing in these moments. Remember, if we limit ourselves to a God we can see, then our God is too small. Even when we feel alone, we have to remember God has not abandoned us. He has already shown His faithfulness. He showed it on a cross over 2,000 years ago. Let’s pray.

September 30, 2018 | Three Temptations and a God Who Overcomes | Joseph: Providence and Promises

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 39. As we continue our look at the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 we rejoin the hero of the story this week. Last week’s text took us on a detour into the life of Joseph’s brother Judah, his sin, and its consequences and we learned that God both can and does accomplish His purpose through the shortcomings of His people.

When we last saw Joseph at the end of chapter 37 he had been taken to Egypt by Midianite slave traders and sold to an officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar.

There is an incredible beauty to this text. God wraps a story of spiritual success in the face of temptation within the grander narrative of what He’s doing in human history to secure His promise of rescue that stretches all the way back to Genesis 3.

There, he promised in verse 15 that one day Eve’s offspring would crush the head of sin and death forever. Later, in Genesis 12, He revealed that He would bring about that offspring through the family of a man named Abraham and that He would do it by growing Abraham’s family into a great nation.

So, we know—because God is true to His promises—that He is going to turn this family into a great nation. Later in Abraham’s life God told him this:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed.

We’ve said before in this study that Joseph’s story is the pivot point in this epic narrative. Joseph, through being sold into slavery by his brothers, becomes the first member of this family to become a resident alien in a land that does not belong to him.

Egypt becomes the safe harbor where the family of Abraham would grow into the nation of Israel. And it started with Joseph.

But within that great big picture of what God is at work doing in the family of Israel there is a ground level story of integrity and devotion to God in the face of some very real temptation.

We are going to look at this chapter in the light of three different temptations. One will be obvious. The other two, while less clear upon a first reading, I believe are very much present in the text and I think that all three are present in the lives of people in this room today. They are the temptation to forget, the temptation to give in, and the temptation to give up.

The Temptation to Forget

Genesis 39:1

Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. An Egyptian named Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, 4 Joseph found favor with his master and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority. 5 From the time that he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph. The Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields. 6 He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

For all the agony Joseph went through in Genesis 37 from being stripped of his distinct robe, beaten by his brothers, tossed in a cistern and left to die, and then being rescued from the pit only to be sold as a slave, this section of his life actually turns out pretty well.

One of the core truths I hope we take from this study is that God is sovereign over every circumstance of your life. Even when you feel alone, God is not just with you but He is profoundly involved in the day-to-day events and small moments of your life. Joseph would have had reason to feel very alone in this new context. He was ripped away from everyone and everything he knew and was spit out into the capital city of the most powerful nation on the planet at the time. They not only had a different way of talking, dress, and conduct, but they also would have worshiped a pantheon of different gods. Joseph was the only man in Egypt at the time who worshipped the one true God.

And while this would have been terrifying, painful, and lonely on a scale I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around, these verses make two things very clear to us. First, God didn’t abandon Joseph and second, Joseph didn’t abandon his faith in God.

Author David Bowden said it well: God is often absent in the ways we most desire, but present in the way we most require.

The very fact that Joseph was sold to this man, Potiphar, shows us from the outset that God was present with Joseph right in the midst of the mess that had become his life. Chapter 37 calls Potiphar the captain of the guards. He was an important guy. At the very least, he was captain of Pharaoh’s guard, but based on the word used to describe him in the original language and its usage elsewhere he may have even been the commander of Pharaoh’s entire army. This guy mattered. And so he would have been very wealthy. Joseph went from the pit in chapter 37 to the palace in chapter 39.

There’s no booming voice from heaven, no burning bush, but we do see clearly in the text that God was with Joseph—in verse 2—and therefore he became a successful man. Because God blesses Joseph so much in his work as a slave, Potiphar notices and puts him in charge of his entire household. Everything Joseph touched turned to gold to the degree that Potiphar decided he was better off letting Joseph manage it than managing it himself.

And here’s where the temptation comes in. You have to rely on God to get you out of the pit. . . but when you’re in the palace it’s easier to forget who is with you. When everything in life is going great then the temptation is to think that it’s going great because of something I did. We tend to think that because we work hard, because we are skilled, and because we’re intelligent we are successful and the temptation is to forget that all our successes in life come to us because we have a good God who loves us.

Remember, we said the first week that Joseph is not the main character of his own story. That’s why when he’s in the pit, we don’t see “Oh, whoa is me.” And when he’s in the palace, we don’t see “Hey, look at me.”

Because Joseph overcomes the temptation to forget God in the midst of comfort, not only is God glorified but he was so glorified that even Potiphar could see it. This man, who would have worshiped many false gods, saw in verse 3 that the true Lord was with Joseph.

Joseph took the comfortable circumstances God had placed him in and used them for His glory and God prospered Him.

But even though that’s true, we can also see here that prosperity isn’t the goal for Joseph. If God worked that way all the time, we’d be all in. But—thankfully—He doesn’t. Because if God rewarded us based on our performance in light of His holiness we’d all deserve to spend an eternity separated from Him and in torment in a place called Hell. Prosperity wasn’t Joseph’s goal because, as we’ll see in the next section, Joseph loses his prosperity but not his trust in God.

The first six verses are overall pretty positive, but at the end of verse six there’s this hint of change coming and we see it clearly in the next section. Let’s start with verse 6 again and then read on.

The Temptation to Give In

6 He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

7 After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”

8 But he refused. “Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. 9 No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do this immense evil, and how could I sin against God?”

10 Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her. 11 Now one day he went into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there. 12 She grabbed him by his garment and said, “Sleep with me!” But leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment with her and had run outside, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “my husband brought a Hebrew man to make fools of us. He came to me so he could sleep with me, and I screamed as loud as I could. 15 When he heard me screaming for help, he left his garment beside me and ran outside.”

Potiphar had placed his full trust in Joseph to manage his household affairs, even though he was only in his late teens or early 20s at the time. And just like his brother Judah in last week’s text Joseph is confronted with sexual temptation. But, unlike Judah, Joseph resists.

And he resists over and over again. If anyone were going to give in to this temptation, Joseph makes a prime candidate. Judah gave in almost immediately in chapter 38. Moses describes Joseph in this text as constantly fighting off the advances of this woman who, in reality, held all the power in this relationship.

Think about everything Joseph had been through! One commentator considering Joseph’s fight agains this particular temptation put it this way: Add to this the fact that Joseph knew the dysfunction of a father’s favoritism (37: 3), the scorn of ten brothers’ hatred (37: 4-5, 8), the betrayal of being sold for profit by those responsible for him (37: 27-28), the disdain of a slave’s life as chattel (37: 36; 39: 1), and the dissolution of transplantation to foreign soil and culture (39: 1). With this as his bio, Joseph had every reason to be angry, bitter, resentful, cynical, fearful, self-serving, and self-pitying. . . . Joseph had every human reason to find fleeting solace in an illicit embrace— frankly, to “act out!”

So, with all those ready-made excuses in his pocket, how was Joseph able to withstand the temptation?

Well, he makes three reasons plain in the text. It would violate his master’s trust, it would be evil, and ultimately, it would be a sin against God Himself.

Notice, that the first reason is one that many would use as an excuse. He basically says, ‘Hey, Potiphar trusts me so much that I’m here and I’m unsupervised.’ Verse 8: “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority.”

Joseph fully had the freedom and the access to commit this sin, yet he held strong because he wouldn’t sin against Potiphar. He then makes two definitive statements about the act she’s asking him to commit. It’s evil and it’s a sin against the Lord.

Joseph was able to overcome the temptation to sin because he truly understood the consequences of his actions. He had been the victim of great sin and he refused to victimize someone else. His response to this temptation was steadfast.

There was no debate here. Joseph’s morality was solid because it was founded on a serious relationship with God. He wasn’t playing with sin here.

Too many times, we tiptoe toward the line of what is sin—especially when it comes to sex. And we need to acknowledge that we are playing with something is extremely dangerous. One of the most frequent questions I was asked by students when I was a youth pastor was when it came to relationships, what can I do, how far can I go down this road with my boyfriend or girlfriend before it’s sin. We want to tiptoe the line of sin and here we have Joseph literally running away from it.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18a Flee sexual immorality! and in Philippians 3:13b-14

Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

We cannot pursue the prize if we are tiptoeing around sin because those two races are run in opposite directions.

Kent Hughes wrote The grand deterrent to Joseph’s sinning was the awareness that God sees all and that a sin that no one knows about, committed behind locked doors in a dark room, is actually done in the presence of a holy God. Joseph believed this. And I am convinced that the personal realization and conviction of this truth is the strongest deterrent to sin that there is.

And sometimes, fleeing temptation will mean that we suffer loss on this side of eternity. That’s what happens to Joseph here. He literally runs out of his tunic to get out of this situation and Potiphar’s wife accuses him of rape. Potiphar believed her, became furious with Joseph and had him imprisoned. And that leads us to the third temptation in this text:

The Temptation to Give Up

16 She put Joseph’s garment beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him the same story: “The Hebrew slave you brought to us came to make a fool of me, 18 but when I screamed for help, he left his garment beside me and ran outside.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him—“These are the things your slave did to me”—he was furious 20 and had him thrown into prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph was there in prison.

21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden. 22 The warden put all the prisoners who were in the prison under Joseph’s authority, and he was responsible for everything that was done there. 23 The warden did not bother with anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him, and the Lord made everything that he did successful.

So far, Joseph has been beaten, stripped, tossed in a pit, sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and now tossed in prison—and as best we can tell he did nothing wrong. In the beginning of chapter 37 we see that he gave what was probably a false report to his dad. Then, maybe he was a little arrogant about his dreams. . .but certainly nothing to deserve all this. Definitely, he has behaved honorably since coming to Egypt. So, why would God allow all this to happen to him? He went from pit to penthouse to prison—and in prison Scripture shows us he suffered greatly:

Psalm 105:17-19

He had sent a man ahead of them—

Joseph, who was sold as a slave.

18 They hurt his feet with shackles;

his neck was put in an iron collar.

19 Until the time his prediction came true,

the word of the Lord tested him.

But through this testing, we know Joseph didn’t give up. This is where it helps us to zoom the camera out, to really see what the Hand of the Lord is at work doing here.

There’s some repetition in this chapter that should bring us comfort. When Joseph is a slave in verse 2 we see The Lord was with Joseph. When he’s a prisoner in verse 21 we see But the Lord was with Joseph. The Lord was with Joseph in the darkest moments, just like he was with him at the brightest ones.

Over and over again, Joseph’s life illustrated what is to come generations later when the promised Messiah arrives in the person of Jesus Christ—another man who would be falsely accused, counted among the prisoners, unjustly convicted, and sentenced. In fact, we find that when Jesus’ birth is heralded to another Joseph in Matthew 1:20b-23

“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel,

which is translated “God is with us.”

God was with Joseph through the temptation to forget, to give in, and to give up. And God guided Joseph’s story as a part of a much bigger plan He had for all of humanity. Over and over again the echo in chapter 39 is “God was with Joseph.” The same is true of you and I.

I want to draw your attention again to the last eight words of chapter 39: the Lord made everything that he did successful.

Don’t you wish that were true of your life? But what is success, really? I’m afraid that by our standard, Joseph’s life wasn’t successful at all. Beaten, stripped, thrown in a hole, sold as a slave, lost his whole family, falsely accused of rape, thrown in prison—those aren’t the descriptors of success that most of us are striving for.

We need desperately to understand that success for you and I means obedience to the God who saved us. It doesn’t mean a bigger house, a bigger office, and a smaller waistline.

The scale of what God was at work doing in Joseph’s life—both in the moments he prospered Joseph and the moments Joseph’s life utterly fell apart—the scale of what God was at work doing had implications for generations and generations. We have the privilege of seeing Joseph’s whole story and knowing what God was up to. You don’t have that in your life. But success still means obedience. God never guarantees that success for you means material prosperity. Sometimes it does, and we see that in Joseph’s life. But sometimes it means prison.

John Piper said it well back in 2012. “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” God’s plan for your life is much larger than you will ever understand on this side of eternity. Don’t limit your obedience only to things you understand or you will miss out.

The key to Joseph’s success is not that he was good. It’s that God was with Him. That is why Joseph overcame the temptation to forget, the temptation to give up, and the temptation to give in. Let’s pray.

September 23, 2018 | God Redeems Our Failures to Accomplish His Purpose | Genesis 38:1-30

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I firmly believe there are people in this room today who believe a lie. Actually that’s probably true in a number of ways. Some of you may believe Batman is better than Superman. That’s a lie. You may believe cats are enjoyable as pets. Also a lie. My wife believes that pineapple is acceptable as a pizza topping. That’s just not okay.

But those aren’t the lies I’m talking about. I threw them in for the sake of levity because there isn’t much of that in our text today. But I believe Genesis 38 provides the truth that combats the lie that cripples a lot of people in this room and—truthfully—a lot of people who are sitting in churches all around us this morning.

Here’s the lie: That because of who I am or what I have done, God cannot use me. I believe that guilt is one of the primary ways Satan acts to cripple the people of God. And I’ve talked with a lot of people in this room who believe that either because of what you’ve done in your past, or because of what someone else has done to you, or because of your level or education or intelligence or your job or whatever the reason is that God can’t use you for His Kingdom’s work. And that is a lie from the lips of Satan himself.

We are about to read a story about a woman who disguises herself as a prostitute to have sex with her wicked father-in-law and God uses that sinful behavior as one of the means by which He ultimately brings about the salvation of not just Jacob’s family, but rescues for himself a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Here’s the truth I hope we all learn from Genesis 38 today: Our actions do not override God’s providence. Instead, God overcomes our failures through His holiness and grace.

God’s providence means God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. This story is such a mess that one scholar called it an awkward editorial insertion into the story of Joseph.

But we need to remember that this isn’t just the story of Joseph. He’s the character in this real-life drama that has the most lines but his life isn’t the most important thing happening in these pages. Genesis 37:2 tells us from the beginning of this section of the narrative that we are looking at the family records of Jacob—Joseph’s father. But to fully understand what’s going on here we looked all the way back to the Garden of Eden to see that God’s redemptive purpose for all of humanity began with the first Gospel promise of Scripture in Genesis 3:15.

God revealed a little bit more about how that promise would take place in Genesis 12 when He told Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through you. Now, that’s a pretty big promise and it means that through Abraham’s family, God would bring about the Messiah that He promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Therefore, this family—and this inheritance God has promised them—is extremely important. So the idea of being the firstborn, or the child of the blessing, will be very important for this family.

We looked at the family tree a couple of weeks ago but here it is again: Jacob had seven children with his first wife, Leah—Reuben (the oldest and original heir to the family blessing), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Jacob had another wife, Rachel. She couldn’t conceive initially, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her and it worked. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Later on Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

You’ll see there that Judah wasn’t the firstborn, and wasn’t originally the heir to the blessing. But we’ll see by the end Genesis that the inheritance of Jacob came—by God’s sovereign choice—through Judah. It could be because of the sin of his three older brothers—Reuben had sex with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, and Simeon and Levi committed a massacre against the Shechemites after one of them sexually assaulted his sister Dinah. I told you this was a messed up family. We’re not talking about the Waltons here, we’re not even talking about the Simpsons.

Judah had his faults as well. This chapter breaks down into three sections: Judah’s family criss, Tamar’s plan, and the fallout.

Judah’s Family Crisis

At that time Judah left his brothers and settled near an Adullamite named Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua; he took her as a wife and slept with her. 3 She conceived and gave birth to a son, and he named him Er. 4 She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and named him Onan. 5 She gave birth to another son and named him Shelah. It was at Chezib that she gave birth to him.

6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife. Perform your duty as her brother-in-law and produce offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he released his semen on the ground so that he would not produce offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death also.

11 Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He might die too, like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.

That Judah’s family is about to be in a troubling spot is evident from the very beginning. At the close of chapter 37 Joseph had been sold as a slave in Egypt after he was forced out of the family by his brothers. In contrast, chapter 38 opens with Judah willingly leaving his family and seeking a wife among the Canaanites, who were Pagans—they didn’t follow Judah’s God.

Judah’s wife bore him three sons Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah married off Er to another Canaanite woman, Tamar, in verse 6. However, Er was evil and God decided to take his life.

The common practice in this days seems to have been what we now call levirate marriage. Levirate comes from a latin word that means brother-in-law. There’s no concept of this in the Bible up until this point but we know that it was practice by the peoples surrounding Jacob’s family at this time. It’s mentioned three times in the Bible—here, Deuteronomy 25, and in the book of Ruth.

Simply put, it meant that if a husband died without a male heir, his brother would be responsible to enable the widowed wife to bear a son who would become the deceased brother’s heir, so that the family line would go on.

Now, this poses a conflict of interest. Because if your brother dies with no heir, your chunk of the family inheritance grows. Unsurprisingly, every time levirate marriage shows up in Scripture there is conflict.

The conflict here is that if Onan fulfills his duty, then his share of the inheritance will shrink. So, selfishly, he refuses to give Tamar a child. Tamar would remain childless, which in the culture would mean both shame and a lack of financial provision. So Onan’s treatment of Tamar was judged as evil in the sight of the Lord and he takes Onan’s life as well.

Now, the family line of Judah is in crisis. He had three sons, three chances to carry on this family line. But now, two of his sons were dead. So he hatches a plan. He gets Tamar out of sight and out of mind. He tells her to return to her father’s house and when his youngest son came of age he would give her to him—even though it appears he had no plan to do so because we find out in the next section that Selah grows up and Judah never sends for her. Er, Onan, and now Judah have victimized Tamar so far. She’s about to take matters into her own hands. Let’s read on;

Tamar’s Plot

12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had finished mourning, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers. 13 Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she took off her widow’s clothes, veiled her face, covered herself, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had grown up, she had not been given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.

16 He went over to her and said, “Come, let me sleep with you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

She said, “What will you give me for sleeping with me?”

17 “I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied.

But she said, “Only if you leave something with me until you send it.”

18 “What should I give you?” he asked.

She answered, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 She got up and left, then removed her veil and put her widow’s clothes back on.

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get back the items he had left with the woman, he could not find her. 21 He asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There has been no cult prostitute here,” they answered.

22 So the Adullamite returned to Judah, saying, “I couldn’t find her, and besides, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’”

23 Judah replied, “Let her keep the items for herself; otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law, Tamar, has been acting like a prostitute, and now she is pregnant.”

“Bring her out,” Judah said, “and let her be burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent her father-in-law this message: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these items belong.” And she added, “Examine them. Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these?”

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her intimately again.

Tamar is a victim of three different men who were at least neglectful if not outright abusive in the first 11 verses of this chapter. In this middle section she decides to take matters into her own hands.

It speaks to Judah’s morality that Tamar thought up this particular plan and was able to accomplish it in what seems to be a simple and straightforward manner. Judah and is friend Hirah probably went through this same process on a yearly basis. When it was time for a major agricultural event like this, there would have been a celebration. Many of the pagan religions in Judah’s day would have had temple prostitutes who men would hire as a sort of good luck charm to win the favor of the fertility gods. Tamar disguised herself as a one of these prostitutes and sought out Judah. The way the original language spells it out, he essentially begs her to have sex with him. She turns it into a business negotiation. And two utterly ridiculous things happen. Judah asks to pay on credit and Tamar asks for his social security card and driver’s license.

Not literally, but but’s the equivalent of what takes place in verses 17-18. Judah offers to send a valuable young goat from his flock. Tamar says she needs something so that he will keep his word and he offers her his signet, cord, and staff. His signet would have probably been a long wooden cylinder on a cord worn around the neck that would be used to affix his seal to business and legal documents. His staff was likely unique to himself as well. These were some of the most personal items that Judah owned and he gave them up almost without a second thought.

After their infidelity, they go their separate ways. Judah tries to send the agreed upon payment—actually the noblest thing he’s done so far—by way of his friend Hirah. But when he goes to make the transaction he can’t find the prostitute he’s looking for. Now Judah has a dilemma. He could make a concerted effort to go looking for the girl—but then everyone would know that Judah is searching for a prostitute so that he can get his ID back. So he decides to let the matter go and he reassures himself that he did the right thing. Look at verse 23—‘After all, I did try send this young goat.’

Now, there have been some shocking things in this passage. But what happens next is the most shocking thing of all. Three months pass and it becomes clear that Tamar is pregnant. Now, she is not living in Judah’s house at this time and she’s not even married. But during the betrothal period, improper sexual activity was treated just as it would’ve been treated if you were married.

So Judah, perhaps thinking he can finally dispose of this problem for good, says in verse 24 “Bring her out,” Judah said, “and let her be burned to death!” How cold. How callous can you be?

Judah, though, quickly realizes what has happened. She send him back his identification. Verse 25 As she was being brought out, she sent her father-in-law this message: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these items belong.” And she added, “Examine them. Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these?”

Judah, who participated in the deception of his father in the last chapter, had been deceived in a very similar way. Listen to the similarity in the last part of Genesis 37:32 “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?”

Judah was deceived by Tamar just as he had deceived his father in the previous chapter. To his credit, Judah recognizes his failure here and seems to repent. In fact, this seems to be a pivotal moment in Judah’s life because later in Joseph’s story we will see him assume a leadership role within the 11 brothers.

So we’ve seen Judah’s sin and we’ve seen Tamar’s sin. The final section helps us see how—in this man-made mess—God’s attributes of holiness and his grace will work to see that his providential plan to redeem a people for his glory will continue, and it will continue through this branch of this family despite their actions.

The Aftermath

27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife took it and tied a scarlet thread around it, announcing, “This one came out first.” 29 But then he pulled his hand back, out came his brother, and she said, “What a breakout you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread tied to his hand, came out, and was named Zerah.

The struggle between these twins is reminiscent of the struggle between Judah’s father Jacob and his brother Esau. But there is an important theme at work here that helps us start to see some order worked from this chaos. God, contrary to cultural norms and what would have seemed like conventional wisdom, constantly chose the younger over the older in Genesis. That was part of what made Jospeh’s brothers hate him so much in the last chapter.

Tamar gives birth to twins Perez, who would technically have been considered the younger, and Zerah. Perez is going to become extremely important in the grand scheme of things. We’ll see that in a minute, but now that we’ve walked through the passage let’s take a step back and look at the canvas God has painted for us in Genesis 38.

Here’s the mess: We have Judah’s sin. He chose an unbelieving wife and that led to raising children who were evil in the sight of the Lord. He lied to Tamar, failed to protect this woman who would have—by cultural tradition and moral obligation—become a member of his family. His greed and desire to further his family name led him to lie to Tamar. Then he committed sexual immorality.

Since we’re here, and we haven’t really been on this topic specifically in my time here yet, let’s address sexual immorality for a minute. Adultery is sexual activity between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. Sexual immorality is any sexual contact that occurs outside of a relationship between a husband and a wife. Both of those things are sins. We’ll dive a little deeper next week, but we need to acknowledge that today because we live in a culture of blurred lines. There are no blurred lines in Scripture when it comes to sex. If you’re dating, engaged, divorced, single, any designation that isn’t a marriage between one woman and one man, then any sexual activity is sin. If you’re married and you engage in any sexual activity with anyone who is not your spouse, that is sin.

Judah and Tamar’s relations were sinful. So we have a laundry list of sins committed by Judah just in this chapter. Tamar was not only sexually immoral but also deceptive and manipulative here as she tricks Judah and earns status for herself as mother, which was a significant thing in her day.

We see all those human shortcomings on display in this text. Now, let’s see how two specific attributes of God work in this passage to secure his providence.

God’s Holiness

God’s holiness is the catalyst for this whole situation. Err and Onan act so sinfully in this passage that God kills them. We’re less comfortable with the holiness and justice of God than we are his grace, but we need to acknowledge that because He is holy, God always punishes sin.

This is also a reminder that our actions matter. Even though we fully believe in God’s sovereignty over every situation, and the Bible teaches that man is 100% responsible for the actions he commits. Err and Onan’s actions led to God striking them dead.

God’s Grace

At the same time, His grace is evident in this chapter. Tamar, though not innocent, was victimized by at least two men in Judah’s family. Onan refused to give her an heir and Judah refused to care for her by providing his son to her has a husband. Therefore, she would have had no means to earn a living, no social status, and no family unit to which she would properly belong. Judah’s actions made Tamar socially, economically, and probably psychologically an isolated outcast.

Even though the actions of every human named in this passage were sinful, God acted in his grace to care for Tamar. At the end of the story, her place is secured as a member of Judah’s household, which is what should have happened in the beginning. She’s treated poorly, she makes mistakes, but ultimately God shows her incredible grace.

God’s Providence

And finally, and this is the big picture idea here and the most important thing we can take from this chapter, God’s providence—His action in creation to advance His purpose—redeems this story as a part of his plan to redeem humanity.

Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, who was born out of this sinful union shows up a few other times in Scripture. He even makes it into the New Testament. If you look at Matthew 1 there’s this list of people you might be tempted to skip over. But you shouldn’t, because Matthew 1:3 tells us that

3 Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,

Perez fathered Hezron,

and if you were to read all the way to verse 16 you’d see that

16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,

who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.

Perez, Tamar, and Judah show up in the lineage of Jesus Christ—the offspring that God promised in Genesis 3:15 and told Abraham would come through his family back in Genesis 12. The very means of salvation for all people came directly from the mess of Genesis 38.

We can learn a little bit more about God’s sovereignty in redeeming human mess in Matthew 1. There are four women listed before Mary in Jesus’ genealogy. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (identified as Uriah’s wife in 1:6). All these women were non-Israelite outsiders with pasts that would make us cringe. Victor Hamilton explained it this way:

Each of these four women had a highly irregular and potentially scandalous marital union. Nevertheless, these unions were, by God’s providence, links in the chain to the Messiah. Accordingly, each of them prepares the way for Mary, whose marital situation is also peculiar, given the fact that she is pregnant but has not yet had sexual relations with her betrothed husband Joseph. Thus the inclusion of the likes of Tamar in this family tree on one hand foreshadows the circumstances of the birth of Christ, and on the other hand blunts any attack on Mary. God had worked his will in the midst of whispers of scandal.

God was sovereign over this whole situation and, what man meant for evil, God turned for not just the good of Tamar, but the good of everyone who would one day call on the name of Jesus Christ.

Some of you believe the lie that because of who you are or what you have done, God cannot use you. This chapter teaches us that our actions do not override God’s providence. Instead, God overcomes our failures through His holiness and grace.

Based on the two chapters we’ve read, you’d think Joseph is the son of the promise. He’s not. The blessing passes from Jacob to Judah and eventually all the way down to Jesus.

That’s why Revelation 5:5 can say

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered . . .”

Your failures are not too big for God’s providence. I don’t care how big a mess you have created for yourself or how big a mess others have created in your life. God can work through it.

There’s a song popularized by Michael and Lisa Gungor a few years ago entitled Beautiful Things. Here are its opening lines:

All this pain

I wonder if I'll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change, at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found?

Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

Yes, your life can really change. Yes, all that is lost can be found. And yes, God can spring up something beautiful from the ashes of your life. Let’s pray.

September 16, 2018 | From Brother to Slave | Genesis 37:12-16

Manuscript (pdf)


If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Genesis 37. If you don’t have a Bible there are some black ones in the pew back in front of you and the passage we are studying can be found on page 33.

We are in the second week of a study of the life of Joseph from Genesis 37-50. While Joseph is the central human character of the narrative, we saw last week that God is the main character of this story. We went all the way back to Genesis 3 and saw God’s first restorative promise after the fall of man in Genesis 3:15.

God declares that He is going to set right the wrong that occurred in the Garden of Eden and he’s going to do it through the offspring of Adam and Eve. He reveals later on to Abraham that it’s through his family he will bless all the nations of the earth—bringing to fruition the promise he made in Genesis 3.

God further reveals to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14 “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

Those are the words that set in motion the events we are going to read about in a moment. We see the first mention of that land that doesn’t belong to Abraham’s family at the end of Genesis 37.

We had this on the screen last week but I want us to see it again as a reminder of what these 14 chapters are really about: In Joseph’s story we learn how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

To put it more briefly, God’s providence secures his promises. God’s providence, his actions in creation to advance His purpose, secures the promises He has made to humanity.

And because God is at work in Joseph’s life—and in yours and mine—in bigger ways than you and I could ever comprehend we know that we can press on. We know that because He has promised in Romans 8 . . . all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

That doesn’t mean we will understand all things. But just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Hot dogs are good. I don’t understand what they are and I don’t want to . . . but they’re good.

We need to state that at the outset because on its surface what is about to happen to Joseph is very bad. Extremely bad, as a matter of fact. We saw last week how God—in His sovereign way—created circumstances in which Joseph would be hated by his brothers. Because God granted Joseph a vision of his future position of authority in a dream, because of his father’s favoritism, and because of Joseph’s own attitude—his brothers hated him. But that was necessary for God to to work His purpose in this family and—ultimately—to bless all the nations of the earth.

That plan begins to come into view as we read text today. The events of Genesis 37:12-36 really unfold in four movements. We’re going to label them devotion, depravity, deception, and deliverance so that they’re easy for us to remember as we go through. Devotion, depravity, deception, and deliverance.

Devotion (Genesis 37:12-17)

First we see the devotion of Joseph as he takes an assignment from his father. Let’s read the first three verses together:

12 His brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers, you know, are pasturing the flocks at Shechem. Get ready. I’m sending you to them.”

“I’m ready,” Joseph replied.

14 Then Israel said to him, “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing, and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the Hebron Valley, and he went to Shechem.

Joseph demonstrates not just devotion to his father here, but also to his brothers. Jacob telling Joseph to go check on his brothers in Shechem is a dangerous proposition if ever there as one. At the end of our text last week, we learned that Joseph’s brothers were unable to speak peaceably to him. Here Jacob literally tells Joseph to go and check on their peace—in the original text those are almost identical phrases. This would have been extremely uncomfortable for Joseph no matter where the brothers were but we learned in verse 14 that they had taken Jacob’s flocks to Shechem.

Shechem was not a safe place for members of this family. Back in Genesis 34 Simeon and Levi, Joseph’s older brothers, led a massacre there as an act of revenge because a Shechemite had disgraced their sister. This would not have been forgotten, so Jacob is asking Joseph to go to a dangerous place looking for dangerous men who had already committed a massacre once and who we know hated him.

Yet, Joseph doesn’t protest. He’s presented as a son devoted to carrying out the will and wishes of his father—even though the task is unpleasant and even though its more difficult than he imagined. Look at verse 15:

15 A man found him there, wandering in the field, and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph said. “Can you tell me where they are pasturing their flocks?”

17 “They’ve moved on from here,” the man said. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph set out after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Joseph not only made the journey to Shechem—which was approximately 50 miles from where Jacob and his family were currently living. That was somewhere around a 5-day journey. But he searched for them so diligently in Shechem that a man notices him searching and asks what he’s looking for. By the way, this is one of the ways we see God’s hand of providence guiding the events of this story. Nothing happens by accident. Ever. Some have even thought of this scene as a theophany—a visible manifestation of God like we see in Genesis 32—or an angel. This stranger appears in the text and directs Joseph to find his brothers and, essentially, seals his fate. God’s hand is all over this story, directing Joseph to just the right place to bring to fruition the promises he made to Abraham three generations ago.

We’ve seen Joseph’s devotion. Now let’s contrast it with the depravity of the brothers in the next section. Depravity is moral corruption, or wickedness. It’s the opposite of holiness—which is what the Bible describes God to be and His people to be seeking. Joseph, while imperfect, will be held up during most of the rest of his life as an example of what holiness applied to everyday life looks like. The brothers are just the opposite. Their depravity is on full display in the next verses. Let’s see it:

Depravity (Genesis 37:18-29)

18 They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Oh, look, here comes that dream expert! 20 So now, come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits. We can say that a vicious animal ate him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben also said to them, “Don’t shed blood. Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him”—intending to rescue him from them and return him to his father.

23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s robe, the robe of many colors that he had on. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty, without water.

25 They sat down to eat a meal, and when they looked up, there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying aromatic gum, balsam, and resin, going down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh,” and his brothers agreed. 28 When Midianite traders passed by, his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt.

Can you imagine a hatred so consuming that upon seeing your own brother in the distance you decide you’re going to kill him? As Jospeh journeyed to Dothan and drew close to his brothers, the distinctive coat given to him by his father probably allows the brothers to identify him at a distance.

The deep depravity of the human condition is on display here. I don’t want us to miss this because we don’t acknowledge this enough—the example of depravity here is not a warning for someone else. It’s a warning for you and for me. Because of our fallen nature—because you are a sinner—you have the capacity within you to commit every sin imaginable. We see out in the world and on the news the litany of heinous acts that people commit against one another and there’s a danger in thinking we are above that. We are only different because we have been rescued from our sinful actions and from the sinful heart that married us to those sinful actions. Ephesians 2:1— and you were dead in your trespasses and sins. You were dead to holiness—you were in your trespasses and sins so you were alive to depravity. You had no power to live in holiness, because what can dead people do? Nothing.

What changed? Ephesians 2:8-9 answers that—8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

So when we look at these 11 brothers we need to understand that we are not far removed from their behavior and we are only removed from it at all based on the work of Christ and now our own doing. There’s a phrase credited to John Bradford, an English preacher who lived in the mid-1500’s. There’s no way to verify if he actually said it or not, but he’s the one who is quoted. The story says that from his study every so often he would see criminals being led to the gallows to be executed. His statement takes a few forms but the most popular one is this. Upon seeing those condemned men Bradford said: “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

Hearts just like ours led one of the brothers to say in verse 19—look, here comes that dream expert.

Depravity directly contradicts the Word of God. Remember, it was God’s providence that led to Joseph having the two dreams we talked about last week. We even jumped ahead in the story and saw how those dreams would be fulfilled. And here we have the brothers mocking not Joseph’s plan—but God’s.

So they come up with a simple plan—let’s kill him and throw him in a pit. We’ll be done with him for good. But then we have Reuben, the oldest brother, stepping in. His motivation could have come from a good place or it could have been self-preservation. He was already in hot water with his father over his role in the Shechem massacre we mentioned earlier. He knew who would bear the most responsibility for this if dad found out. So he hatches a plot to save Joseph later on.

Instead of killing him the language in the text leads us to believe that they severely beat him, stripped him naked, and tossed him in an empty cistern and left him for dead. And then it gets worse!

They sit down and have a meal—likely a meal that Joseph brought for them from their father. And they did it within earshot of the pit. If we fast forward to Genesis 42:21 we see the brothers say: “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”

It’s likely that they could hear his pleas for rescue while they were eating this meal. . . but they offered no help. In fact, they only changed course when they thought there was something in it for them. Judah pipes up and says, “Hey, we can sell him to that caravan of slave traders and get some money out of this whole situation.” So they sell him for 20 pieces of silver and go on about their business. Now, they’ve created a sin that needs to be covered up. So we move from seeing their depravity to seeing their deception. Let’s read verse 29

Deception (Genesis 37:29-35)

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone! What am I going to do?” 31 So they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. 32 They sent the robe of many colors to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?”

33 His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe,” he said. “A vicious animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth around his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” And his father wept for him.

I think Reuben’s motivation is revealed to us in verse 29. Notice that he’s not worried about Joseph. “The boy is gone, what am I going to do.” That doesn’t sound all that sincere.

The brothers depravity and deception devastate the entire family. Jacob, in verse 33 uses the same word—vicious animal—that the brothers used back in verse 20. It’s appropriate because the literal translation there is an evil animal. It’s the brothers’ evil that has now torn this family apart.

Mourning was a much more formal process in those days and would last for a determined amount of time. Despite the attempts at comfort from his whole family, Jacob remained despondent over the loss of his favorite child. He tells the family he’ll mourn for the rest of his life. I think when the brothers deceived him they hoped, in Joseph’s absence, that his affection for his remaining sons would grow but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He essentially rejects the comfort of the remaining sons and daughters over Joseph’s loss.

There’s a caution here for parents. Notice how Jacob was deceived—they took and killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood to deceive their father. Back in Genesis 27, Jacob had taken the skins of dead goats and used them to deceive his father into thinking he was Esau so that he could steal the blessing. The very same sinful deception present in Jacob’s life was present in the lives of his children. That should be sobering to those of us God has entrusted with the discipling of the next generation.

When we see this family—and we’ll get a little deeper into them next week—we see that sin has very real consequences. The hurts run deep here and they keep running for generations. You see how dangerous unchecked sin can be and you see the deep contrast between the devotion of Joseph and the depravity and deception of the brothers and within all that there is one crucial thing that we can’t walk away from this text without acknowledging today:

When we read a story like this it’s natural that we inject ourselves into it. Our natural bent is to want to look at Joseph’s life and emulate his character, especially in some of these later stories that we’ll study. And that’s not a bad thing. But here, in Genesis 37, we need to understand that we are not Joseph. We are not the hero of this story. We’re the brothers. You and I, if we are anywhere in this story, are the villains. When we read the Bible, Jesus is always the hero. We aren’t Joseph. We aren’t David flinging rocks at a giant. Jesus slays the giants, we stand behind him shaking in the armor. In this text, here we are throwing the hero in the pit and covering up our own sin.

Covering up our own sin is a serious problem. David wrote in Psalm 32:5

Then I acknowledged my sin to you

and did not conceal my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

When we try to cover our sin we are functioning as atheists. Think about that. When we know we sin and we try to hide it, we are acting as though we don’t believe that God exists. How? Because rationally, we all understand that we can’t hide anything from God. We can hide things from one another, but not from Him. The Holy Spirit within is unsettling when we sin. David knew that, too:

Psalm 32:3-4

When I kept silent, my bones became brittle

from my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was drained

as in the summer’s heat.

We should be a people compelled to confess our sin. First, to God. And then, to those we have sinned against. That psalm begins wit these words: How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!

If you struggle with joy, you could have a sin problem. If you confess your sin, Jesus will cover it. If you hide your sin, Jesus will expose it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes, “You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you.  He wants you as you are; he does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; he wants you alone. . . . You can hide nothing from God.  The mask you wear before men will do you no good before him.  He wants to see you as you are, he wants to be gracious to you.” (source)

We should read the story of Joseph and sense our deep need for the gospel and not our accomplishment in being devoted to the Father. It starts to come into focus with the last verse of chapter 37:

Deliverance (Genesis 37:36)

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.

This is the deliverance of not just Joseph from death but remember, this whole story is about how God will rescue His people. This is the first step in God securing Joseph’s place in Egypt as the one who can rescue His family. When we see this story we have to acknowledge that deliverance doesn’t come through us, it comes through Jesus. And Joseph is held up time and time again in this story as a picture of who Jesus will be when he finally arrives.

Often in the Old Testament we see examples of what the Messiah will be like, or to use the language of Genesis 3:15—how the offspring will come to crush the head of sin and death. I like to think of these as billboards. For 6 1/2 years we lived in a place where we were 90 minutes from the nearest Cracker Barrel. And every time we’d go visit family in Tennessee we’d start seeing these billboards for Cracker Barrel—and it’d get that craving. They’d show pictures of the food, directions to the restaurant, and when they are open, etc. That’s what God has given us in the life of Joseph. He shows us what Christ will look like.

Just think about the similarities in this very chapter—he’s sent from the father to be with the brothers, they reject him, mock and humiliate him, and throw him in the ground. But God’s providence rescues him from what looked like a certain death (a real death in Jesus’ case) and took him to a place that would become the refuge for even those who rejected him.

W.A. Criswell called Joseph the story of our holy Messiah Redeemer in miniature. Throughout this story we’ll see Joseph falsely accused, persevere through temptation, thrown into prison, stand before ruling authorities, rise to a position of exaltation, feed the hungry, and save God’s people from what would be certain death. As we go through the story we’ll try to point out these pictures of Christ in the life of Joseph.

But for today what is most important for us to see is that God is the hero of the story and we are the ones desperately in need of his rescue.

That rescue comes despite our own depravity and despite our own deception. We have God who is fully devoted to his commitment to rescuing His people and we can rest in that today. Let me give you one final encouragement as we close.

Dothan, the place where Joseph was sold into slavery is an interesting site in the Old Testament. Not only did these events take place there, but something very comforting happened there in 2 Kings 6.

The king of Aram had set out to kill the prophet Elisha, who was living in Dothan. We see in 2 Kings 6:13-17:

13 So the king said, “Go and see where he is, so I can send men to capture him.”

When he was told, “Elisha is in Dothan,” 14 he sent horses, chariots, and a massive army there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up early and went out, he discovered an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. So he asked Elisha, “Oh, my master, what are we to do?”

16 Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them.”

17 Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, please open his eyes and let him see.” So the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw that the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

It would be easy to think, “Gee, that would have been nice for Joseph.” You know what, I think those very same horses and chariots were guiding Joseph that day. He probably felt abandoned, as some of you may today.

But, despite our depravity and deception, God’s devotion to delivering us to Himself remains true. We won’t always see the plan, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Let’s pray.

Discussion Questions

(Use the questions in this section to further your study of this text with your spouse, Bible study group, or in your own personal devotional time)

Have you ever resented someone that you should treat lovingly?

Resentment is a passive, weak emotion that has no place in the Christian life. If there is injustice, we should deal with it through prayer and godly action. If there is insult, we should concentrate on who we are in Christ and not place too much value on the cruel words of others. If we face injustice in the course of our work for God, we should accept it as to be expected. And if God allows us to be dishonored for the sake of sanctification, the best, least painful response is to repent and allow Him to work in us. (source)

Should we expect this life to treat us fairly? (Read John 15:18)

How should believers respond when we feel resentment toward another person?

Read the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Remember that we have been forgiven much, so we must not only forgive but also change our attitude toward those who we feel have wronged us.

What do you think led Joseph’s brothers to want to kill him?

Why did they decide instead to sell him as a slave?

What does the greed and hatred expressed by Joseph’s brothers tell you about human nature?

How can you see God working behind the scenes in these verses to accomplish his purpose?

What initially caused the hatred between Joseph and his brothers?

Read Matthew 5:21-26

What do these verses tell us about harboring anger toward another person?

Why is it so important as disciples for us to forgive one another?

How could forgiveness have changed the outcome of this situation?

September 9, 2018 | God’s Providence Secures His Promises | Genesis 37:1-11



Over 500 years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus looked up at the night sky and made some calculations. Over the course of what was likely a number of years Copernicus developed a dangerous theory. His theory was that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Around 100 years later, Galileo Galilei came along and argued the same thing but both men were met with opposition. It took over 200 years from the time Copernicus published his first statement until this now foundational scientific truth was accepted by the mainstream.

There are a number of reasons both Copernicus and Galileo were met with such pushback, even excommunication from the church and arrest. Some of the reasons were scientific and some of the reasons were religious . . .but I have a theory of my own. I think that humanity really doesn’t like to be told that we aren’t the center of the universe.

On an individual level we might not be that arrogant, right? But most of us at least view ourselves as the main character of our own story. One secular psychologist put it this way:

It’s far from uncommon to imagine that you are the main character in your own life. Indeed, it seems fairly widespread for people to act as if they are the main character in all of human history, the crowning achievement of evolution and the culmination of God’s inscrutable plan.

I think that might be a little strong. I doubt that you think of yourself as the crowning achievement of evolution. But most of us—I think—do view ourselves as the center of the story. When you watch a movie it’s the main character who is the focus and we tend to think of ourselves as the main character. You’re the one who appears in every scene, the voiceover doing the narration is your own, and the movie doesn’t end until you die, right? A lot of us are hoping to get to that happily ever after one of these days and that’s a frustrating pursuit. We find ourselves staring into the camera doing a frustrated monologue like Zack Morris or Jim Halpert depending on what generation of TV you grew up watching.

As we enter a brand new series where our focus is on Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons whose life is chronicled in Genesis 37-50, I want you to notice something right off the bat. Look with me at Genesis 37:1-2a:

37 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2 These are the family records of Jacob. At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers.

Did you notice anything there? These are the family records of Jacob. Though this series will be focused on the events of Joseph’s life he’s not the main character. Moses, who wrote Genesis, devotes more space in this narrative to Joseph than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. But Joseph isn’t the main character.

The Bible doesn’t even set him up to be. Verse two tell us this is the story of Jacob’s family. And that is important for us to know on the front end. Joseph isn’t the main character of the story and neither is Jacob. God is.

The Purpose of Joseph’s Life

Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of Joseph’s life but what it’s really about is how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

God’s providence secures His promises. What do I mean by God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. There are three things that are true about God’s providence that I want us to see here that will help us understand Joseph’s story.

God is Sovereign

First, God is sovereign. That’s a church word, and important word, and one you should know but one you probably haven’t used this week outside of this room. It means that God is King. There is nothing—no situation, no relationship, no circumstance over which God is not in control.

God’s providence requires God to be sovereign and He is. God created everything and everything is subject to His authority. Me, you, Joseph, his brothers and Satan himself are all subject to God’s divine authority.

God is Active

The second truth about God’s providence is that He is active. God didn’t just create the universe, spin it, and sit back and say ‘Let’s see what happens!’ He is actively governing the world and has an eternal plan for it. And that is true even when—and especially when—we can’t see it. God is the main character in Joseph’s story, but He works primarily in the background. We’ll see that as we go along. Nothing in Joseph’s life is a surprise to God and nothing in your life is a surprise to God. A pastor friend of mine always asks this question: “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?”

God’s Actions Point Us to Jesus Christ

God’s providence over creation means that He is sovereign, that He is active, and that all His actions point us to Jesus Christ. Authors Tony Payne and Colin Marshall stated it this way “. . . God’s goal for the whole world and the whole of human history is to glorify his beloved Son in the midst of the people he has rescued and transformed.”

Everything that God has worked to do in human history since the fall—and I’d really argue even before—is to gather a people to the praise of His glory through His Son. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that the will of the Father who sent Him was that he would lose none of those the Father has given Him. Colossians 1:13 shows us how God has worked this rescue for us: He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col. 1:13)

Why have we been transferred into this kingdom? We find the answer to that in 1 Peter 2. 4 As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God— 5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

All God’s actions in human history point us to Jesus Christ—and they’ll continue to do so for eternity.

God’s providence has delivered us to salvation in Jesus Christ so that we can glorify Him. Joseph’s story points us to Jesus in ways that absolutely cannot be accidents and I’m excited to dig into it with you.

To study his life and understand it we need some background. We are jumping into the middle of a story here and I don’t like to do that. I’d love for us to camp out in Genesis sometime but I think that would take us at least a year-and-a-half and I don’t feel like that is where God is leading us right now. We’ll be in these 14 chapters from now until Christmas and that is moving quickly. We’re going to have to be really focused in to not miss some things on the way. But all along the way over the next four months we’ll be reminded that God truly is the main character of this story. He is working in His providence to fulfill promises He has already made in the book of Genesis and He does it mostly invisibly. There are no miracles in these 14 chapters. No flood, no burning bush, no raising of the dead. Just a sovereign God acting in the everyday live of fallen people to accomplish His redemptive purpose.

And that redemptive purpose has been at work since the very beginning of Genesis when Moses introduced us to a sovereign, yet personal God who created a perfect universe and ruled over it while remaining distinct from it. We meet humanity in chapter two—when God creates man and woman in His very own image. We see evil creep into the world as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in chapter 3. . .but we also get a promise. The very first promise of the gospel, in fact.

God looks at the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and says in 3:15

I will put hostility between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.

That’s the very first promise of the Gospel in all the Bible. God is promising that one day He would repair what had been broken in the Garden of Eden. When God sent His son hundreds of years later, Satan bruised His heel—but Jesus crushed the head of sin and death on the cross of Calvary. And here’s God dropping the first Gospel breadcrumb in just the third chapter of Scripture.

The rest of Scripture is the story of God preserving for Himself that offspring. It starts with a family—first in Seth who replaced his fallen brother Abel. Then in Noah in Genesis 6-9 as God reveals both His justice in punishing sin at the flood and His grace in preserving a family through which he would one day bring that offspring.

God enters into a covenant with Noah after the flood and later with a man named Abraham—Joseph’s great grandfather. God promises Abraham some things in Genesis 12:

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.

God chose Abraham’s family as the family through which the offspring—Jesus—would one day be born. The last part of that promise is my favorite—all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. More specifically in His great commission—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). The promise of blessing to all the peoples of the earth is still being fulfilled today but that fulfillment is only possible through Christ.

We see that picture more fully today, but in Genesis it is revealed piece-by-piece as God works at first through family and begins to build them into a nation. He goes on to tell Abraham in Genesis 15 13 . . . “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

This promise to Abraham meets its fulfillment in the life of Joseph. Generations before He was even born God was sovereignly at work to work in Joseph’s life to make him the lynchpin in his plan to take Abraham’s descendants from a family to a nation. The land referenced in Genesis 15 is Egypt, where the Israelites would be enslaved but at the same time they would grow vastly in numbers. And it’s through Joseph that God leads them there.

That’s just a little bit of the family’s back story. We’ll get into more of it in the coming weeks. But we needed to see that Genesis 15 verse because it plays a hugely important role in Joseph’s life. Remember, Joseph isn’t main character here. God is. And Because God’s providence secures His promises here is what going to see that in the first 11 verses of this chapter: God created a situation where Joseph would be hated.

I recognize that’s probably not the most encouraging sermon point that we’ve ever had on the screen here at First Baptist. But it’s the truth of this text and—if God is the main character of the story—it’s not only okay but it’s ultimately good. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue saying it as long as I’m here—we need to understand that God’s primary purpose for our lives is not our own comfort. That was true in Joseph’s life, we saw in our last study how it was very much true in Paul’s life and it’s often true in your life and in mine.

God created a situation where Joseph would be hated and He did it in three ways we’ll see in these first 11 verses.

Because of his behavior, because of father’s favoritism, and because of God’s direct influence Joseph was hated by his brothers to such a degree that in verse 18 they’re going to decide to kill him. And God’s providence is all over this plot. We’ll see that next week but let’s look first at the three reasons Joseph was hated.


At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father.

Now, father’s wives is a strange thing to say. Jacob, who God called Israel in Genesis 32, is Joseph’s father and he had children with four different women—two wives and two servants. This is a weird family tree and there’s some things we can learn from it. I know you have questions—as you should. We’ll dive deeper into this messed up family in two weeks. You have to come back for it. If you think your family is messed up, be here September 23.

We know from verse 2 that Joseph was tending sheep with his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Those were his half-brothers and the sons of his father’s servants Bilhah and Zilpah. The brothers play a major role in this story so I wanted to introduce us to them today

Jacob had seven children with his first wife, Leah—Reuben (the oldest and original heir to the family blessing), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Dinah won’t matter much in this story but the other brothers will. Jacob had another wife, Rachel. She couldn’t conceive initially, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her and it worked. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Later on Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

That’s the family. Again, more on them in a couple of weeks. We see in verse 2 that Joseph brought a bad report about Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher to Jacob. The word that is used for ‘bad report’ in verse two is always used in the rest of the Old Testament in the negative sense of an untrue report. It could actually be translated as an evil report. Most likely it was a report of something that was embellished, but partially true. Joseph essentially was a tattler.

Joseph’s own actions planted the seed of hatred in the minds of his brothers. And on top of that, Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph didn’t help matters any. Let’s read on:

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him.

Favoritism had been a problem in Jacob’s childhood. The Bible tells us Jacobs father favored his brother Esau, while his mother favored him. That caused confusion and family strife for Jacob’s entire life and you’d think he would have learned from it but he didn’t. Jacob openly favored Joseph—the oldest son of his favorite wife—more than all his other children.

He favored him so much so that he gave him a garment that bore great significance. Now, I know what it says in our text here and I’ve seen the coloring pages we give out in kid’s ministry . . .but it’s highly unlikely that this garment was a coat of many colors. That was first derived from the Latin translations but there’s nothing in the original Hebrew that says anything about colors here. The text describes a sleeved outer garment that reached to the wrists and knees and it set Joseph apart as the son who would received the blessing—the double portion of the inheritance.

By custom the inheritance should have gone to Reuben, the true firstborn. But Jacob chose Joseph and it angered the brothers so much that they couldn’t even speak to him.

So Joseph’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. Jacob’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. And if we read on we’ll see how God gets even more directly involved in creating this family strife:

5 Then Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the field. Suddenly my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”

8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.

Not every dream is a vision from God. Sometimes it’s a vision from Taco Bell or the TV show you watched right before bed. But we know this dream is a work of God because it comes true. A number of years later, after the brothers likely think Joseph to be dead and gone we find him as essentially the prime minister of the most powerful nation on the planet. There’s a famine in the land and Jacob and his family are at risk of starving. Joseph’s skillful leadership has left Egypt as one of the only remaining nations with food in reserve and we see in Genesis 42:5-6 5 

The sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was in charge of the country; he sold grain to all its people. His brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground.

God reveals things in Joseph through dreams elsewhere and I have no doubt this dream was an act of God’s providence in Joseph’s life. But look what it does, back in 37:8: 8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.

God’s providence directly causes Joseph’s brothers to hate him even more. Does this mean God is bad? Is he mean to Joseph in these verses? I don’t think so. And neither did Joseph.

At the end of the story, in Genesis 50:20 Joseph addresses his brothers this way: 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

God’s providence led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery—we’ll look at that next week. But it was all to secure the promises God had made to Abraham and ultimately to all the nations of the earth way back in Genesis 15 and Genesis 12 and all the way back to the garden of Eden.

This truth is echoed in the New Testament—in Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

In these 11 verses we have a family in turmoil. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. But God’s got this. There’s one more dream in Genesis 37 I want to read as we close:

9 Then he had another dream and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

10 He told his father and brothers, and his father rebuked him. “What kind of dream is this that you have had?” he said. “Am I and your mother and your brothers really going to come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Literally, here, Joseph dreams he’s the center of the universe. The story is all about him. I suspect he shares this dream with at least a hint of arrogance and that’s part of what leads the brothers to hate him so.

God’s providence secures His promises. It was true in Joseph’s life and it’s true in yours. Even when it doesn’t make sense and certainly doesn’t look like it. God has promised that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He doesn’t promise that we’ll understand it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy—and He doesn’t even promise it will get any better on this side of eternity. But if we will understand God is the main character in our story, we’ll be able to see how His providence is at work in your day-to-day life to secure His promises to you much more clearly than you will if you think that you’re at the center of it all.

We sang the a song titled Sovereign Over Us this morning. It was written by Aaron Keyes and starts like this:

There is strength within the sorrow

There is beauty in our tears

And You meet us in our mourning

With a love that casts out fear

You are working in our waiting

You're sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding

You're teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper

You have not forgotten us

You're with us in the fire and the flood

You're faithful forever

Perfect in love

You are sovereign over us

Some of you are in the middle of the fire and the flood. I hope from Joseph’s life you can see God is sovereign over your circumstances this morning. Let’s pray.

Discussion/Study Questions

Lookup Genesis 25:28. What does this verse have in common with Genesis 37:3?

Should Isaac and Jacob have favored any of their children over the others? How can this be hurtful for their families?

Verse 4 tells us Joseph’s brothers hated him. Right or wrong, this feels like the natural human response. Have you ever been angry at someone due to favoritism? How did you handle it?

What were Joseph’s dreams in vv. 4-11?

How did Joseph make his brothers’ hatred of him worse? How could he have handled himself differently?

Why would Joseph’s dreams have been offensive to his brothers?

Do you think his brothers would have reacted differently to hearing about his dreams if they didn’t hate him? How so?