Genesis 46:2-47:12 – How to Live in the World

Joseph presents Jacob, his Father, to Pharaoh, Gen xlvii 7 and 8
Joseph presents Jacob and his brothers to Pharaoh by French artist James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

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)

Jacob Blesses Pharaoh
Jacob Blesses Pharaoh by Welsh artist Owen Jones, 1869

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.

St Augustine

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:

  1. The Church – is a divinely established institution, designed to lead people to God.
  2. The State – is a political institution, adhering to political virtues to establish the peace.
  3. The City of Heaven – is made up of those predestined for salvation.
  4. 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.

Exodus 3:1-12 – God of the Impossible

Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan
The Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (NIV)

The burning bush is one of those iconic objects and stories in Holy Scripture. The experience of Moses changed both his life and the lives of all the Israelites then and now. Having spent the first forty years of his life as a darling in the Egyptian court, then the next forty years far from that life on the backside of the desert with a bunch of sheep, it is an understatement to say Moses did not expect or ever envision encountering God in a burning bush.

The impossible has no possibility. Or, does it?

That incredible encounter engaged the senses of Moses: the paradoxical sight of seeing fire in a bush that isn’t burning up; the smells of sheep, the outdoors, and perhaps, even of fire; hearing the call of God from within the bush; spiritually and emotionally tasting the attentive justice of God; and, removing the sandals to touch and feel the grounding of sacred space.

The story comments on the senses of God, as well. Even though God is Spirit and is worshiped as such, God is alive with his own sensations: seeing the approach of Moses, and the misery of the Israelites; the smell of injustice wafting into God’s nostrils with a stench that brought a strong divine reaction; hearing the cries of suffering; anticipating the savory taste of showing mercy and justice together; touching Moses in such a profound way that he and the Israelites would never be the same.

Through it all, the close identification between God and God’s people is expressed. The Lord feels the humiliation and pain of the Israelites and vows to uproot them from the Egyptian factory farm of slavery and plant them firmly into rich Promised Land soil.

And what God promises to do, God has the authority and power to make good on.

An impossible situation, Moses thinks. How can hundreds of years of backbreaking bondage to a national force so mighty that nothing can be done about it be broken? Who am I, Moses, to face such odds? Ah, but God specializes in systems of oppression and miserable people. It is the Lord’s abilities which conquer the mightiest of foes and can extend mercy to the lowest and the least powerful. The entire situation is ripe for divine intervention and supernatural wonders to occur.

God will make a way where there seems to be no way. God works in ways which transcend our senses. Where we are blind, God gives sight. Where we are deaf, God opens our ears with the sound of justice. When our taste buds are shot with the gruel of poverty, God causes our tongues to dance with the zest of mercy. When our nerve endings are raw from cruel bondage, God touches us with freedom. Where our nostrils have become accustomed to the smell of death, God’s aroma of life awakens us to new hope.

My friend, I believe with all my heart that:

You already intuitively know deep in your spirit that the impossible is possible with God.

It is never a question of God’s ability, but of God’s timing. God is able – and the Lord works the impossible in its proper time so that justice and mercy will have their full effect.

God of the impossible: I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

God of mercy: I receive. Help me in my denial.

God of justice: I accept. Help me in my rejection.

God of all time: I endure. Help me in my impatience.

God of All: I submit. Help me in my rebellion.

God of power and of might: I trust. Help me in my distrust.

God of our Lord Jesus Christ: I follow. Help me in my wandering.

God of the nations: Yes, you know that I love you. Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you. So, yes, I will answer your call to go. Help me in my sending. Amen.

Click God Will Make a Way by Don Moen as we believe together.

Romans 4:13-25 – Christianity 101

promise to abraham

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (New International Version)

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why we are here and what we are really supposed to be doing.  There’s just so much stuff going on around us all the time that it seems like we have spiritual ADD and can’t focus on what’s most important.  Certain people irritate us, we scramble to making a decent living, there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything, and there is adversity and obstacles all along life’s way.

There’s a lot going on in the book of Romans.  At first glance, like our lives, it seems complicated.  The Apostle Paul had all kinds of words for the Christians: hope; faith; righteousness; and, justification, just to name a few.  But all those ideas funneled to and pointed toward a singular focus: the Lord Jesus.  Everything in church and life comes down to Christ.

The church was losing sight of why they existed.  Within the church at Rome were both Jews and Gentiles together as one people of God.  They didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.  The Gentiles thought the Jews were stuck in tradition and needed to move on.  The Jews had centuries of history behind them of God working through them; they thought the Gentiles needed some solid Old Testament law to bolster their primitive spirituality.  Would the church take their cues on life from the Gentiles, or the Jews?

Paul essentially told the church that they were focused in the wrong direction.  The issues and problems of living the Christian life were to take a back seat to faith in God.  To prove his point, Paul went back to Abraham as Exhibit A of what it means to live with and for God.

It went down like this: God made a promise to Abraham of progeny in his old age; Abraham believed what God said; Abraham demonstrated his faith by having the confident expectation (hope) that God is good for his promise; and, God declared (justified) Abraham to have a right relationship with himself (righteousness).

In other words, the heart of Christian faith and practice is: God makes promises; people respond in faith, hope, and love.  Law and the willpower to keep it doesn’t even come into the equation.

Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham.  All God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ.  We respond to God by believing in Jesus. The redemptive events of Jesus make us just and right.  So, what does this mean for you and me?

We are not to get sidetracked with trying to make others like be like us.  Instead, we are to proclaim the promises of God in Christ so that others might respond by believing and embracing those promises.  Furthermore, we have no need to try and get God to like us, notice us, and/or listen to us.  God has already made and kept promises to us, demonstrating his love, mercy, and grace through his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Our lives are not to center in our abilities, or lack thereof, to live a godly life.  Rather, our lives are to revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ through faith, with the hope that God will always hold to his promise to be with us, which frees us to love others.  This is Christianity 101.  This is the faith we embrace.

Righteous God, you have made and kept promises to me.  My ultimate deliverance from sin, death, and hell isn’t through my ability to keep the law, but in your Son’s life, death, and resurrection.  Help me to live by faith in Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me; in the strength of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We Belong to God

 
 
We belong to God.  Let that statement sink in and saturate your soul with grace.  The Bible is a “covenant” document giving us the stipulations of how we can have a belonging with God.  Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus.  These truths, revealed in the Bible, are the basis of Christianity.   The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants.  The word “testament” is Latin for “covenant”.  When God makes a covenant with his people, it means that he gives them promises of what he will do, and, in turn, has moral expectations or ethical responsibilities for the people to follow. 
 
The ancient world operated on a covenant system.  A nation or empire would conquer a city or territory and set up a covenant in which the conqueror would promise protection, certain provisions, and leave a military presence among them.  In turn, the conquered people would be required to offer things like allegiance and tribute.  In the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham and promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him.  The only stipulation that God gave to Abraham was to leave his home and begin a new life in the land he would show him.  God continued to work through Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, and made them a people for his own Name who would be a kingdom of priests, testifying to the nations through a lifestyle of having God the center of all they do in embodying the Ten Commandments – being a holy people, reflecting the holiness of God.
 
The difference between earthly covenants and God’s covenant is that God steeps his covenant in love and grace.  God cares about his covenant because in his dealings with his people, he is concerned to reveal who he is to them so that they can relate to him and flourish as human beings.
 
            God never forgets nor reneges on his covenant promises.  For example, God clarified his covenant by giving King David a dynasty, a never-ending kingdom, a temple, and a father/son relationship with his progeny.  Furthermore, he promised that his love (Hebrew “chesed”) would never be taken away (2 Samuel 7:1-17).  This is my favorite word in the entire Bible.  It is translated in various ways as love, grace, kindness, and compassion.  It refers to God’s steadfast covenant loyalty to his people – that he will not fail to show continuous love to his people, even when they might go astray.  Unlike the nations of the earth, unlike the fickle nature of people, unlike the inconsistent commitment of others, God stands alone as a Being who in his very nature is love and continues to be gracious.
 
            All the good promises given to Abraham, to the Israelites through Moses, and to David are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  In the New Testament, the New Covenant, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are soaked in the language and explanation that Jesus is the Son of David.  He is the Promised One, the Savior, Lord, Teacher, and Healer that will save the people from their sins and bring them to a spacious kingdom full of the grace and love that characterizes God.  Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are brought into union with God and participate fully in all the promises of the New Covenant – a Covenant that has its main stipulation of love.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  All this talk of love is because God himself is a God that is love personified in Christ.
 
            The way the world is going to know that there is a God in heaven is through chesed,grace.  God has not called us to yell louder than the culture; he has not told that we are to work to get our way in everything within society.  Instead, he calls us to be gracious.  Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful….  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:2-6).
 

 

            The most gracious truth we can ever know and bank our lives upon is that we belong to God.  Our primary identity is not in a club, church membership, or even our biological family; our most fundamental identity is as a child of God, created in his image and belonging to him in Christ.  God’s covenant with us has become the mechanism that assures us of that belonging.  One can never be reminded too often of God’s covenant loyalty that is by sheer grace.