Sunday, June 25, 2017

170625 God Meant It for Good

Genesis 50:15-21 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
We come to the end of the message of Genesis. Perhaps we will come back later to fill in some of the gaps. Here we find an explanation of how God used a particularly difficult time in a young man’s life. We see the misunderstanding on the part of Joseph’s brothers. Too often God’s actions are misinterpreted because of our humanity. Here, the brothers of Joseph came to ask him for what he had already given. Let’s look at the unfolding drama.
Joseph was the son of Jacob’s wife, Rachel. He had worked for the right to marry her for a total of 14 years. Jacob loved her so much and without any doubt Joseph was his favorite son. His father, Jacob, even provided him with a coat of many colors that made his brothers very jealous.
Joseph certainly got special treatment and, as if that wasn’t enough, he had two dreams each of them portraying Joseph being in authority over his brothers and also over his father. That was unheard of in his day. In normal society the older generation would never bow down to the younger.
So we can understand why,,,
Joseph’s brothers meant him harm. Let’s look at Genesis 37:18-20. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
Jacob sent Joseph to look for his brothers who were moving his sheep around to get the best grass. The brothers were not were Joseph expected them to be and he asked directions from a man he met.
After asking for directions Joseph set out for Dothan. When the brothers saw him coming they immediately began to scheme against him. The first decision was to kill him and throw him into a pit nearby. They could easily take his fancy coat dip it in blood and tell their father that some animal had killed him.
When Reuben heard their discussion he turned the situation around. Since Reuben was the oldest. He had some authority over the others. He had to think of a way to stop them and get them out of trouble. When Joseph went back to his father all of the other brothers were going to be in big trouble!
While Reuben was away from camp…
God rescued him. Let’s read on Genesis 37:26-28. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.
The conspirators saw a camel train coming down out of the hill country on their way to Egypt to sell all kinds of goods. Normally when we think of God rescuing someone we don’t think of him doing that by selling the person into slavery! When the brothers saw the opportunity to get rid of Joseph without having to kill him. They also saw the opportunity to make a little money. When Reuben came back he discovered the teenaged Joseph was gone. He believed he had no choice now he must agree with the actions of his brothers.
Some of the brothers, led by Judah, certainly had meant to bring harm to Joseph. God allowed this because it provided transportation to Egypt! Now I admit this is not the kind of transportation we would have expected. Not only did Joseph need to be in Egypt he also needed to be in a certain position when the time came to act on God’s behalf. There is no way we can imagine that Joseph would have left his father's home and traveled to Egypt to become the Prime Minister. Joseph needed a lot of preparation. Some people talk about their having been in the “school of hard knocks”. Joseph certainly was enrolled in such a school. God rescued Joseph from the hands of his brothers and gave him transportation to Egypt. Then…
God gave Joseph a place to stay. Let’s read Genesis 39:1-2. Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.
Slaves could not choose where they would live nor could they choose the conditions under which they would live. Joseph could have easily been sold into hard labor. That is probably what his brothers assumed would happen and probably even hoped would happen. Instead Joseph was brought into the house of one of the wealthiest and powerful men in Egypt. Very soon this godly young man was raised up into the position of head housekeeper! In that position he was in a much higher position than in his own father’s house. When Joseph had learned as much as God wanted him to. He was confronted by a problem that he could not solve. His master’s wife began to try to seduce him. Being a godly man he would not commit such a great sin against God. One day she moved on him when they were alone in the house and Joseph ran leaving behind his coat. Immediately she called in the other servants and charged Joseph with attempted rape.
I’m convinced that Potiphar did not believe her. However he couldn’t keep Joseph in his service any longer. So he placed him in prison. Actually since Joseph was his property he could’ve sold him into hard labor or even have taken his life. God had a plan that included Joseph telling his brothers about his dreams, being sold by his brothers into slavery, and being brought to Egypt and parked in Potiphar’s house. Now…
God moved him at the right time. Let’s read on Genesis 39:21-22. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.
No matter where we are, if we are godly people, God will always show steadfast love for us. The king’s prison was probably a step down from being the head housekeeper for Potiphar. No matter where Joseph was he did all things to the glory of God. The Lord was with Joseph! For those who think that serving God is always going to be a piece of cake. Isaac Watts put it this way in the hymn, Am I a Soldier Of the Cross? Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease? While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas? Sure I must fight, if I would reign, increase my courage, Lord! I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy word.
The keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge. And soon he found himself being joined by Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker. These two men had strange dreams one night. The cupbearer dreamed of three branches on a vine covered with clusters of grapes. He gathered some of the grapes and squeezed them into the cup that he gave to the king. Joseph told him that in three days he would be put back into his position.
Since the cupbearer got a good interpretation the baker told his dream. He had seen three baskets on his head and the top was filled with all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh. And while he was dreaming birds came and ate the baked food. Joseph gave him the interpretation of the dream. In three days he will be taken from the prison and the king would have him executed.
Joseph then asked the cupbearer to remember him when he came into the king’s court again. The cupbearer promised but promptly forgot about Joseph. Now we might think that was a bad thing but it certainly was not. Not only had God rescued Joseph from his brothers, and gave him free transportation to Egypt. God had placed him in the household of Potiphar and then moved him to being the chief trustee of the prison. All of these moves were necessary they were from God, two years passed, and now at the right time…
Joseph was in the right place. Now let’s read Genesis 41:15-16. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Joseph was moved from the prison to the throne room. He listened to Pharaoh’s dreams and gave him the interpretation. Both dreams represent the same thing. In the first dream seven attractive, plump cows came up out of the Nile River and began to graze. Behind them came seven skinny cows who promptly ate up the fat cows. In the second dream there were seven ears of grain plump and good growing on one stalk. After they were formed seven thin blighted ears appeared and swallowed up the seven plump ears.
The interpretation was that there would be seven prosperous years coming up followed immediately by seven years of drought and famine. Then Joseph said that Pharaoh should appoint someone who would supervise the gathering of all the excess food during the fat years in order to feed the people during the lean years. For this purpose…
God brought Joseph to the throne. Let’s read on Genesis 41:38-40. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”
Immediately, Pharaoh knew how to deal with the situation. Pharaoh appointed the Hebrew slave to be the prime minister of Egypt. During the seven fat years Joseph bought up all the excess produce of the land. Joseph was no longer a teenager. He was 30 years old when he entered into the King’s service. As the years of famine came on them Jacob sent his sons to Egypt because he had heard there was grain to be had there. Time will not permit all of the story I would encourage you to read it for yourself. Joseph put his brothers through a series of tests and then sent them to Canaan to get his father and the rest of the family.
God brought about all of these things…
In order to bring Israel to Egypt. Let’s read ahead to Genesis 45:27-28. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
Many years before, God had told Abram that his offspring would own the land of Canaan but first they would be taken to a land they did not own and they would live there for 400 years. Joseph settled them in the best of Egypt! A land so rich it would have been hard to convince them that should return to the Canaan that their ancestors had left 400 years before. In order to make the people of Israel willing to leave Egypt it was necessary for them to be unhappy there. Many years before this time God told Abram that they would be afflicted in that place…
So he could prepare them to return to Canaan. Now let’s move to Exodus 1:8-10. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
This new king placed the people of Israel into slavery. We don’t know how long this lasted. It was a short enough period of time that they remembered the good times in Egypt. It was a long enough period of time that they no longer wanted to be in Egypt. When we find ourselves confronting difficulties we need to remember that God has a plan that involves those difficulties in our lives. Our difficulties will lead us in paths we would then choose for ourselves. They are designed by God to lead us where he wants us to be in order to do in us what we really want done.
Throughout this whole story we can see the unseen hand of God guiding in unusual ways. That should not seem strange to us because our “unusual” is often really God’s “usual”! When we’re going through difficult times we need to remember that God is still there overseeing our situation. We need to know that even when men around us mean to do us harm our God is there to do us good. The story of Joseph tells us that God can use the worst possible conditions to accomplish his purpose for his people. Never assume that God is taken by surprise when things do not go well for us. Not only does he know what’s happening he controls what’s happening. Cast your cares on God because he cares for you.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

170618 God Will Provide

Genesis 22:1-3 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
This is one of the most difficult passages in Scripture. It’s difficult because we look only at the surface and don’t discover what’s going on inside the story. When Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah was 90 they were blessed with the birth of child. God had instructed them to call his name Isaac because they had laughed when God told them they would have a child. So here we find God commanding a very difficult thing. Many Bible scholars will tell you that Abraham was mistaken -- that God could not have commanded such a thing. Not only could he but he did!
Please take note that God never intended that Isaac should be killed. Also, this was not a test to find out what Abraham would do. All of Scripture tells us that God knows the end from the beginning and nothing ever comes into play that God does not already know about. Abraham was the man who needed to know what he would do. Isaac also benefited from the time on the mountain with his father. There was a definite plan when…
God tested Abraham. Let’s look at James 1:2-4. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We learn from this that faith is not a feeling it is a response to testing that we confront. If there is any area of our life that we have not brought under Christ’s control he will bring it up again and again. We will be confronted by the same test until we pass!
Let’s look further to James 1:12-14. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Anytime we are tempted it is because of our weakness. God is not trying to find out what we will do he is pointing out where we are at spiritually. God’s testing in our life is a blessing from God. He will bring that test back again and again until we have a handle on how to live it out. I believe it is God’s intention that everything that we have should belong to him.
I remember a time in my own family when my father had to decide a fairly tough question. The church we attended had two Sunday services. One in the morning that was fairly well attended and one in the evening that was less well attended. My younger sister was handicapped. Her condition placed a strain on our family. It was easy to allow her condition to shape our decisions. There was never any question of our attending the morning service. We had to make a decision about the evening service and the Wednesday night prayer meeting.
I remember my dad saying to us, “If we use (my sister) Joy’s condition to keep us out of church it would be a simple matter for God to take her away.” From that moment on there was never any question as to where we would be when the church doors were open. From time to time Joyce was not up to coming to service and one of my parents would stay with her while the rest of us went to church. I would never have considered the possibility of not being there. My sister was like Isaac whom God described to Abraham as…
Your son, your laughter, the one you love. God pointed out to Abraham how close he was to Isaac. So far as God was concerned Isaac was the son who would carry on the promised blessing. Isaac was now old enough to carry the wood to be used in his own sacrifice. He was at least a teenager!
Isaac was a source of happiness to his parents. And now God was calling on these parents to offer him up as a sacrifice to God. Let’s look at the scene and see what it involved. There was…
The mountain in Moriah. Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 3:1. Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
The place that they came to would have been very close to the early town that would later be called Jerusalem. In fact, it would be included in the city of Jerusalem under David the king. There would have been a smooth stone floor because it would be used later to thresh out the grain for Ornan the Jebusite. Since Abraham fully intended to carry out God’s command…
They brought the necessary material. Let’s look at Genesis 22:7-8. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
Isaac was an obedient son but that did not prevent him from questioning his father. He could see that they had wood necessary for a burnt offering and they would’ve also had a fairly large incense pot full of smoldering embers that a fire could quickly be made.
I think it’s interesting to observe that, in later years, Isaac himself would have a strong faith. One thing for sure, from that day on, Isaac never doubted his father’s faith! He had seen with his own eyes that his father was perfectly willing, apparently without complaint, to put him to death. He could not have understood the event in the same way as his father did. He had not had the many experiences that Abraham had to strengthen his faith.
I recall a missionary story. There was a missionary in the South Pacific who had begun to tell the story of God to a pagan people. Beginning in the Garden of Eden the missionary pointed out how God had dealt with people throughout history. The pattern the missionary followed was to teach a couple of hours each morning, take a noontime break, and then teach a couple hours more in the afternoon. As he came to the story of Abraham and Isaac he told his listeners the story up until Abraham took Isaac onto the Mountain. Then he broke for lunch! He promised to continue the story in the afternoon.
The missionary went to his hut and prayed. For some time he listened to the people as they discussed what they had heard that morning. When the discussion came to an end some of the elders of the people came to his hut. They told the missionary they did not want to wait instead they wanted to tell him what they expected would happen. They had heard so much about God that they understood his character. So they knew that a substitute would be provided because God would not violate his own character by allowing Isaac to die.
Let’s move to the book of Hebrews to see…
The basis of Abraham’s faith. Hebrews 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
He had received the promises all of which included his having descendants. There was no question of God’s ability to solve the situation. He believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. In fact, in a manner of speaking, Isaac was brought back from the dead. In order to carry out the command Abraham had to accept the possibility that he may have to go through with the sacrifice. But even if he did he knew that Isaac would come back with him from the mountain. We see that faith being maintained in…
Genesis 22:5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
Abraham said to his young men “stay with the donkey ”. He pointed out that he and the boy were going ahead to the spot God had chosen where they would worship. Then he spoke his faith. Let me paraphrase it, “We will both go over there and worship and then we will come again to you.” Abraham knew that the promises of God required that Isaac continue to live until he had a son to carry on the family line. Therefore, if he had to really sacrifice Isaac God had to bring him back to life. Abraham’s faith was now complete! There could be no greater challenge than to take the child he loved and offer him in sacrifice to God.
I can imagine the scene as they left the servants. As Isaac gathers the wood from the donkey’s back he began to consider what might be happening. So he questioned his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham’s response might have sounded to the ears of Isaac like, “God has provided himself the lamb.” Rather than, “God will provide himself a Lamb.” God had provided Isaac to Abraham and Sarah when they were many years past the time of child bearing.
Abraham gathered the large stones in the area and shaped them into an altar. Then he arrange the wood on the altar while Isaac watched. We are not given any indication as to Isaac’s thoughts. He had learned to trust his father to the point that he would obey him in this situation. After the altar was built and the wood was put in place Abraham tied up Isaac so he could not resist if he chose. Then he placed him on top of the wood and raised his knife to take his son’s life. Then the angel of the Lord called to him and stopped the sacrifice from happening.
Then the unseen hand of God placed a year old male goat in the bushes behind Abraham. This goat would’ve had no blemishes because it represented the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). There must have been a great rush of relief for both Isaac and Abraham!
Genesis 22:19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
Immediately all the stress was off the situation and the servants who had been watching from a distance now saw Abraham and Isaac coming back to them. We do not know how much they saw of the previous proceedings. They certainly now understood that their master, Abraham, would obey God no matter what the challenge. And that God would fulfill his promises with regard to their master.
If there had ever been any doubt in Abraham’s mind he now understood that…
God’s promise would be fulfilled. Let’s look at Genesis 22:16-18. “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
The promise was not just to Abraham it was to us as well. In Abraham’s offspring we would be blessed. The apostle Paul in writing to the Galatians pointed out that “the offspring” that would bless all nations did not mean many — only one and that one is the Christ who would take our sins into his own body and give us the hope of salvation (Galatians 3:16).
When Adam and Eve sinned God provided skins for their clothing. From that time forward God provided animals as sacrifices until the offspring/Jesus should come to whom the promise had been made.
We have seen Abraham’s faith grow over the years. First, he heard God’s voice with instruction to leave his family and obey God. Again and again, as he grew in grace, Abraham believed God against all worldly opposition. In this account, Abraham did not hesitate because he had learned what he needed to know about God. He knew that God always kept his word and that God would provide a way. We need to have that same kind of faith. No matter what we face, God will keep his word in his time and in his way. Our responsibility is to obey him when he speaks to us in our hearts and/or in his word. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Today can be your day of salvation.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.