And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. So, Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.
These are the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt:
Reuben the firstborn of Jacob. The sons of Reuben: Hanok, Pallu, Hezron and Karmi.
The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.
The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan).
The sons of Perez: Hezron and Hamul.
The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puah, Jashub and Shimron.
The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon and Jahleel.
These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.
The sons of Gad: Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli.
The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah. Their sister was Serah. The sons of Beriah: Heber and Malkiel.
These were the children born to Jacob by Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah—sixteen in all.
The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel:
Joseph and Benjamin. In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.
The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard.
These were the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob—fourteen in all.
The son of Dan: Hushim.
The sons of Naphtali: Jahziel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.
These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel—seven in all.
All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.
Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.
Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”
Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”
“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
So, Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children. (NIV)
God likes fulfilling his promises to us – even and especially when we are in Egypt – in the world. Sometimes we work too hard at avoiding the world and creating heaven on earth right now. God knew what the Israelites would face: four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Yet, God sent them anyway. Often, the people of God grow more in times of trial and hardship, than in times of plenty and peace.
The trip to Egypt included everyone in Israel. There is a genealogical list of those who made the journey because God fulfills his promises through people. These are the folks who would carry on accomplishing the will of God. Joseph and Jacob, the son, and the father, are reunited. Joseph diplomatically planned where the gang would live and work because Egyptians looked down on shepherds. Much like the ancient Israelites, we must navigate a world that is okay with us being in it yet not okay with us in the middle of things.
In the Old Testament, Egypt represents the world. It is interesting God sent his people to live there. God seeks to create a people for his Name who are distinct from Egypt, yet, live among the people of the world. There is a continual tension for God’s people to be holy and unique, not assimilating into the world’s mold; and, yet, at the same time, God wants them to have a constant engagement and interaction with the world. Therefore, two extremes are to be avoided: to focus solely on being a holy people through complete severance from the world as much as possible; and, to seek relevance in the culture through wholesale jettison of distinctiveness so that the sacred and the secular are connected.
God safeguards a distinct people so that they will be a preservative in the world. Godly people are neither to live in a vacuum, cut off from the world altogether, nor to be wed to the world so that the two are indistinguishable. We live in a fundamentally broken world in need of the peace and grace of spiritual people within it. The Church has had to struggle with how to live in the world for two-thousand years. We have the advantage of drawing from a rich Christian history. For there is nothing we face now which has not been faced by the church before.
Saint Augustine wrote his seminal work, City of God, in about 413 C.E. The Roman empire had fallen, and pagans were blaming the Church because Christianity had become wed to the state. The people of God were unsure how to proceed. So, Augustine sought to help Christians think about how to live in a post-Christian society.
Augustine’s work is lengthy and quite in-depth, so, the following is a brief distilling of his main arguments. For Augustine, there are four essential institutions: two visible institutions; and, two invisible institutions:
The Church – is a divinely established institution, designed to lead people to God.
The State – is a political institution, adhering to political virtues to establish the peace.
The City of Heaven – is made up of those predestined for salvation.
The City of the World – is made up of those destined for eternal damnation.
We must pursue the City of Heaven, which for Augustine, is the pursuit of justice and righteousness. Augustine gave a clarion call for people to choose which city they will pursue, especially because many tended to blur the distinctions between the visible institutions of church and state.
Augustine’s conclusion is that the purpose of history is to show the unfolding of God’s plan. This involves fostering the City of Heaven and filling it with worthy citizens. Therefore, the fall of Rome, a visible city so important to the people of Augustine’s day, was not near as important to the invisible God.
Maintaining an eternal perspective can help us today. The collapse of jobs, the scourge of a racialized society, the loss of life due to COVID-19, and injustice are significant events and circumstances – important enough to consider deeply how those issues will be handled. Augustine called out the people of his day for ignoring invisible spiritual solutions for the great problems among them.
Returning to the book of Genesis, a question arises: Will the Israelites become a nation through assimilation with Egypt and its institutions, or will they maintain their distinction as God’s people by relying on God’s covenant promises? There are no easy answers to living in the world. However, it is important we struggle with how to get along in it.
God is the principal actor in the created world. God chooses to use his people as instruments of blessing to it. Joseph’s wisdom and diplomacy, given by God, turned potentially catastrophic situations into times of prosperity. God, too, will use us as dispensers of wisdom – applying truth to concrete situations for the betterment of all involved.
Joseph handled the delicate situation of his brothers being shepherds while all shepherds were detestable to Egyptians. Joseph brought the two worlds together through artful negotiation between the interests of both Pharaoh and the Israelites. He created a win/win scenario by setting up his brothers to help Pharaoh with his own needs in caring for livestock. In the end, all parties were satisfied because Joseph maintained a focus on needs instead of only advocating one side.
Rather than getting bogged down in promotion of methods and means, a sage approach is to maintain a focus on needs – which requires careful listening and a stance of empathy. Then, we can work toward prosperity for all instead of hardening into reified positions. A lot of problems in the church, work, society, and family can be turned to blessing if we seek the wisdom that comes from God.
May the Lord bless you and keep you; and, make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (NIV)
Today’s New Testament lesson has some densely packed verses concerning spiritual warfare. There are three major imperatives or commands for every believer and every church:
Be strong in the Lord because we are in an invisible war.
Put on the whole armor of God and prepare for spiritual battle.
Take up your spiritual weapons and fight.
We are to be vigilant since Satan and his wicked spirits are highly organized for evil with devious schemes and stratagems designed to blunt our spiritual growth. We are to put on the necessary armor of truth, righteousness, and peace to defend ourselves against the inevitable attacks. We are to use our spiritual weapons of faith, salvation, and the word of God to advance against the darkness.
To do just that, the following is a focused and thoroughly Christian prayer I have used for many years both for myself and with others. I suggest praying it out loud in its entirety each day for the next two weeks to push back the dark forces:
Heavenly Father, I bow in worship and praise before You. I cover myself with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ as my protection. I surrender myself completely in every area of my life to You. I take a stand against all the work of Satan that would hinder me in my prayer life. I address myself only to the True and Living God and refuse any involvement of Satan in my prayer.
Satan, I command you, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to leave my presence with all your demons. I bring the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ between us.
Heavenly Father, I worship You and give You praise. I recognize that You are worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise. I renew my allegiance to You and pray that the Holy Spirit would enable me in this time of prayer. I am thankful, Heavenly Father, that You have loved me from eternity past and that You sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to die as my substitute. I am thankful that the Lord Jesus Christ came as my representative and that through Him You have completely forgiven me; You have adopted me into Your family; You have assumed all responsibility for me; You have given me eternal life; You have given me the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ so that I am now justified. I am thankful that in Christ You have made me complete, and that You have offered Yourself to me to be my daily help and strength.
Heavenly Father open my eyes that I might see how great You are and how complete Your provision is for this day. I am thankful that the victory the Lord Jesus Christ won for me on the cross and in His resurrection has been given to me and that I am seated with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. I take my place with Him and recognize by faith that all wicked spirits and Satan himself are under my feet. I declare that Satan and his demons are subject to me in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am thankful for the armor You have provided. I now put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of peace and the helmet of salvation. I lift the shield of faith against all the fiery arrows of the enemy; and I take in my hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. I choose to use Your Word against all the forces of evil in my life. I put on this armor and live and pray in complete dependence upon You, Holy Spirit.
I am grateful, Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ disarmed all power and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross. I claim all victory for my life today. I reject all the insinuations, accusations, and temptations of Satan. I affirm that the Word of God is true, and I choose to live today in the light of God’s Word. Heavenly Father, I choose to live in obedience to You and in fellowship with You. Open my eyes and show me the areas of my life that do not please You. Work in me to cleanse me from all ground that would give Satan a foothold against me. I do in every way stand into all that it means to be Your adopted child and I welcome all the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life today.
By faith and in dependence upon You I put off the old person and stand into all the victory of the crucifixion where the Lord Jesus Christ provided cleansing from the sinful nature. I put on the new person and stand into all the victory of the resurrection and the provision He has made for me to live above sin.
Today I put off the old nature with its selfishness and I put on the new nature with its love. I put off the old nature with its fear and I put on the new nature with its courage. I put off the old nature with all its deceitful lusts and I put on the new nature with its righteousness, purity, and honesty.
In every way I stand into the victory of Christ’s ascension and glorification, in which everything was made subject to Him. I claim my place in Christ as victorious with Him over all the enemies of my soul. Holy Spirit, I pray that you would fill me. Come into my life, break down every idol and cast out every enemy of my soul.
I am thankful, Heavenly Father, for the expression of Your will for my daily life as You have shown me in Your Word. I, therefore, claim all the will of God for my life today. I am thankful that You have blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ. I am thankful that You have given me new life into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I am thankful that You have made provision for me so that today I can live filled in the Holy Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. I recognize and affirm that this is Your will for me and so I reject and resist all the attempts of Satan and his demons to rob me of the will of God. I refuse today to believe my feelings of worthlessness and I hold up the shield of faith against all the accusations, distortions, and insinuations that Satan would put into my mind. I claim the will of God for my life today.
In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I completely surrender myself to You, Heavenly Father, as a living sacrifice. I choose not to be conformed to this world. I choose to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I pray that You would show me Your will and help me to walk in Your ways today.
I am thankful, Heavenly Father, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world, but have divine power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. I take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Therefore, in my own life today I tear down the strongholds of Satan and smash the plans of Satan that have been formed against me. I demolish the strongholds of Satan against my mind, and I surrender my mind to You, Holy Spirit. I affirm, Heavenly Father, that You have not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. I break and smash the strongholds of Satan formed against my emotions today. I give my will to You. I choose to make right decisions of faith. I smash the strongholds of Satan formed against my body today. I give my body to You and recognize that I am Your temple. I rejoice in Your mercy and grace.
Heavenly Father, I pray now and through this day that You would strengthen and enlighten me. Show me the ways Satan is hindering, tempting, lying, and distorting the truth in my life. Help me to be the kind of person who pleases You. Help me to be aggressive in prayer and faith. Help me to think rightly, and actively practice Your Word. Help me to give You Your rightful place in my life.
I cover myself with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and pray that You, Holy Spirit, would bring all the work of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and all Your work of Pentecost into my life today. I deliberately surrender myself to You, God. I refuse to be discouraged. You are the God of all hope. You have proven Your power by resurrecting Jesus from the dead, so I claim this victory over all satanic forces in my life. I pray in the Name and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ with thanksgiving. Amen.
“The tent of testimony was with our ancestors in the wilderness. Moses built it just as he had been instructed by the one who spoke to him and according to the pattern he had seen. In time, when they had received the tent, our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua’s leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled. This tent remained in the land until the time of David. God approved of David, who asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for God. However, the Most High does not live in houses built by human hands. As the prophet says,
Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
‘What kind of house will you build for me,’ says the Lord,
‘or where is my resting place?
Didn’t I make all these things with my own hand?’
“You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. Was there a single prophet your ancestors did not harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you have betrayed and murdered him! You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.” (CEB)
In the doldrums of summer’s heat and humidity and the uncertainties of what is to come in the autumn season, it is a good time to remind ourselves of where we are in the Christian Year. When a long and difficult season comes upon us, whether in secular or sacred time, it may be far too easy to lose sight of what is important. We have come through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, as well as Pentecost. With the giving of the Spirit, we have entered Ordinary Time. A healthy way of remembering this period in time is that, in this longest season of the Church Calendar, it is the ordinary vocation of each Christian and every Church to grow in Christ and share the good news of Jesus with the world.
Yet, we forget. The vicissitudes of this life and a penchant for hand wringing can easily take our eyes off our calling from the sovereign God. Like the ancient Israelites for whom Stephen railed against in our New Testament lesson for today, we might become stubborn, hard-headed, and inflexible. We get lost in doing things our own way to the neglect of what God wants. When that happens, there is damage to God’s people, God’s name, and God’s law. Rather than tongues being used for praising the Lord and encouraging others, God’s prophets who are calling us to holiness are verbally decapitated. Ironically, those who speak and act in the name of the Lord are resisting him.
Every time individuals and groups of people believe they have piously figured everything out, they will soon find themselves fighting against God. The Lord of All has not called us to figure out every mystery and nail down each uncertainty. Those who claim to have done it are living in a delusional world. Perhaps they will eventually discover how large and immense God really is – much bigger than our puny thoughts and misguided practices.
How then shall we live? What are we to do? Let go of our illusions of power and privilege. Submit afresh to the Lord for whom we must bow in all things. If we can do that, then we are well on our way to seeing the only true God in all his immensity. Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and set aside self-righteous pride so that he may exalt and honor us at the appropriate time of his choosing, not ours (1 Peter 5:6). Take up our holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors, having become new people and knowing the reconciling power of the cross, through the proper spiritual tools of faith, hope, and love (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 Corinthians 13).
The following practices can help us become more spiritually flexible and open to the Spirit’s work:
Stretch your faith muscle. Physical muscles which get little to no use will atrophy – which is why people who are confined to bed or with limitations need physical therapists to help work the muscles. Spiritually, if we are rarely or never in positions which work our faith muscle, then that faith will diminish and eventually atrophy. Faith is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be worked.
Breathe deeply. Proper breathing is essential in using our bodies. The same is true spiritually. Fear, worry, and anxiety cause us to have shallow breathing and unable to think straight. When we are amped-up about something, focus on doing some breath prayers, i.e. breathing in saying, “More of you,” and breathing out saying, “Less of me.”
Avoid extreme positions. A hyper-extended muscle will tear and cause a lot of damage. An acceptance of limitations and an awareness of our body’s true capacity prevents us from trying to do something our body simply cannot do. Our faith will not support extreme positions which alienate people and put God to the test.
Move more. Getting in bodily shape does not have to be dramatic and involve triathlons (but, hey, if you can work your way up to it, more power to you!). Most of us simply need to get out of our chairs and move a bit more and we would be a lot healthier. Faith is mostly lived in the mundane daily decisions of life. Consistently taking small steps of faith each day will go a long way toward our spiritual health and vitality – not to mention helping us see a big God at work.
Listen, do not ignore. It is always best to listen to your body— only push it as far as it can handle, even if it is little by little. Many people would be better served if they would just listen to their gut and the spirit God put within them – rather than pushing themselves and others beyond what they can handle. Behind the attempt at doing too much is typically an issue of wanting the kind of control God possesses.
To do the will of God, we must have a growing awareness and knowledge of a huge unlimited God and a small limited self. This will take loosening up on the stubbornness and opening to greater flexibility. In doing so, we bless both God and the world, while discovering our true calling. And, we might just discover the largeness of grace operating in our lives.
Holy God, heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool. You cannot be kept within any one church or any single place. You are much too big for that! Forgive me for my small thoughts of you and my weak faith. I humble myself before you so that you can live in and through me for the sake of Jesus. Amen.