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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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:
 “I will not think about this incident.”
 “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
 “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
 “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.
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.
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.”