Monday, January 31, 2011

Genesis 39 & 40 - Joseph's Trials

LINK: Genesis 39 & 40

BACKGROUND


"Let no man be sorry he has done good, 
because others have done evil!
 If a man has acted right, 
he has done well, though alone; 
if wrong, the sanction of all mankind 
will not justify him."
Henry Fielding


What a contrast we see in the lives of Judah and Joseph! Perhaps this is another reason that God placed these chapters right next to one another. In Genesis 38, we see a man responding to sexual temptation without a second thought, and in Genesis 39, we see his brother, Joseph, resisting the seduction of Potiphar's wife. Joseph's situation is a real life example of the New Testament admonition to "flee immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18).


Even among the great heroes of the faith like Noah and David, the area of sensual sin did not escape them. Joseph had a wonderful opportunity to quench his sexual passions (he was in his "prime," after all); yet he refused: and what a refusal:
. . . my master does not concern himself with anything in the house and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God? (Genesis 39:8-9)
How is that for a rejection? Joseph was not concerned with whether her husband would find out, whether someone else might see them, or whether he would invite Potiphar's wife's wrath in denying her. His only concern was that he would sin against God. How often do we not sin more because of the social consequences and what others might think rather than what God alone, who sees in secret, might think about the matter? Joseph's example so challenges me!


There is a spiritual principle here that needs to be heeded but is sadly a major stumbling block for many believers. It is a simple one: When you see temptation staring you in the face, DROP YOUR COAT AND RUN regardless of the consequences, and in this case, they were severe.

William Cosgrove once wrote, "Heaven has no rage like love turned to hatred, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." Indeed, these pages in Genesis sizzle with her scorn! So, in her humiliation, she falsely accused Joseph and he lands in another "pit." This time it was the pit of Potiphar's prison (Yes, Potiphar was the captain of the bodyguard and the prison was in his house according to 40:3), The customary punishment for Joseph's behavior would have been death. So, one wonders whether Potiphar believed his wife since he did not punish Joseph properly!

The key phrase in all of this is mentioned four times:


"The Lord was with Joseph."
(39:2, 3, 21, 23)

Joseph knew God was with him because we do not have a record of him complaining or having a "why me" pity party even after he was thrown in prison and interpreted dreams and the chief cupbearer forgot him! In all of this, we see Joseph trusting his God and God prospering him even in prison. He would know slavery and then imprisonment for a total of thirteen long years. Yet, he still trusted in His God. Amazing!


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

Joseph is a "type" of Christ. Jesus was also tempted by sin, but He withstood the pressure of the devil himself (Matthew 4). He was also arrested having committed no crime (Matthew 26:55). Beyond the life of Joseph, Jesus was crucified even though no guilt was found in Him, and the very people He had come to help wanted to see him dead. He was most definitely an unappreciated servant. Jesus knew the glory that was to be set before Him. Therefore, He was willing to endure the pain of the cross. He knew that it was necessary to fulfill God's sovereign plan of salvation for all mankind.


Fun Facts


Regarding Pharaoh: Potiphar was captain of the guard under the Pharaoh we think was Sesostris II (1897-1879 BC, click on link if you are a history buff in addition to being a Bible buff).


Regarding Dreams: The Egyptians and Babylonians both regarded dreams as important for predicting the future. There were "experts" who had training based on dream literature that contained keys to dream explanation. Their view was that the gods gave dreams but did not give interpretation, and this was left up to humans. We know that Joseph relied on God for the interpretation of the dreams (Genesis 40:8).


REFLECTION


 "The child of God is often called 
to suffer because there is nothing
 that will convince onlookers 
of the reality and power of true religion 
as suffering will do, when it is borne 
with Christian fortitude."
F.B. Meyer

Joseph was falsely accused, misunderstood, and incorrectly judged. Once again there is a spiritual challenge for our own lives in how Joseph responded.


Can we accept what is dealt to us even when it is painful and undeserved? Can we ask God, "What can I learn from this trial?" rather than, "Why are you doing this to me?" How often do we look up and cry out to God in anger and question Him saying, "What did I do to deserve this?" The simple answer from God may be that we have not done anything to deserve the unjust treatment or unexplained suffering we are sometimes called upon to endure. We need to put the matter squarely in God's hands in order that His sovereign plan might be fulfilled in our lives. (And we will see that plan continue to unfold for Joseph's life in the remainder of Genesis!)


Joseph's attitude is beautifully reflected in James 1:2-3, and I love it in the Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament:
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. but let the process go on until that endurance has been fully developed and you will find you have become men [or women] of mature character with the right sort of independence.
Imagine yourself in Joseph's position: You dream you are supreme above your brothers and the sun, moon, and stars. One minute you are walking around in a stylish coat; and the next minute, you are in a dark pit--coatless. Then, you are sold as a slave. So you decide, "All right, I am going to make the best of this situation." God is with you. As a result, you rise above your circumstances, and you prosper. Then, in an effort to live righteously before God and be a responsible steward of your master's property, your coat gets ripped off (again) by a sex-craved Egyptian woman, and you end up in a dark pit--coatless (again). 


How would you respond?


Once again, Joseph was still willing to find peace in his situation, and this was the second injustice! Many good-natured people might have found it in their hearts to turn the other cheek when it happened the first time, but twice might just be the things that breaks even a good-natured person's patience!


APPLICATION


Do you know that God is with you all the time and has your best interest at heart? How do you respond in adversity?


Memorize the Phillips version of the James 1:2-3 passage! Hide it in your heart so it is settled deep when trials come.

PRAYER



Lord, we know that You are trying to grow us and mature us and trials and adversity are often Your means of accomplishing this in our lives. Help us to respond to trials and temptations by welcoming them as friends. It is so counterintuitive to us! Please help us to know that You are with us every step of the way in this journey of life. Thank You for the ultimate example of responding to suffering in the life of Jesus. It is in His name that we pray. Amen

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Genesis 38 - Judah and Tamar

LINK: Genesis 38

BACKGROUND

Many people wonder why this chapter is stuck in the middle of the story of Joseph. In a nutshell, it has to do with the scarlet thread of redemption! Tamar's first-born, Perez (means "breach"), was in the lineage of King David and Jesus. If you go to Matthew 1, you will see in verse three that "Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of . . . until we get to verse sixteen of the genealogy and "Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah." Don't be confused that Zerah had a scarlet thread tied around him. That is not the scarlet thread I have been talking about!

In 38:8, Judah asked Onan to go into Tamar since she was his brother's widow. This was a custom known as "Levirite marriage" (levir means "husband's brother" in Latin). It is more thoroughly explained in the Mosaic Law (the law God gave to Moses) in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. If one brother died without a male heir, one of his brothers was to marry the dead brother's widow. The first son of that union would take the name and privileges of the deceased brother. Even though the Mosaic Law came later, it appeared to be a part of the patriarchal customs. We see this law fleshed out in the book of Ruth.

Basically, what Onan did by wasting his seed on the ground was not pleasing to the Lord, and the Lord took him. This form of birth control is now called "onanism" after Onan.

In Tamar's mind, if she did not do anything, the future of her family would be in jeopardy. So, she took matters in her own hands by posing as a prostitute. It is not justified, but this is what happened.

The Canaanites practiced cult prostitution as a way to promote fertility for the land and the animals. The goddess, Ishtar, was represented by young women who would dress in a veil to symbolize being the bride of Baal or El (both Canaanite gods). In God's economy, this is sinful behavior, but in Canaanite culture, it was seen to be a more "acceptable" practice because it was a reenactment of divine marriage and was believed to help the crops and livestock. Ritual prostitution had a higher social "status" than just ordinary prostitution because of this. 

Judah, because of his Canaanite wives, was obviously caught up in Canaanite culture too. "When in Canaan, do as the Canaanites do." No wonder God had a plan to get them all to Egypt and away from this influence!

REFLECTION

I always struggle with this story because it involves evil, deception, and sexual sin outside of marriage. Judah had sex with a woman he thought was a prostitute. There was no condemnation for Tamar acting as a prostitute, but God killed Onan for not fulfilling his obligation to continue his brother's family line. After Judah discovered Tamar's motive in posing as a prostitute, Judah proclaimed her more righteous! It is a most perplexing chapter, but I have to keep the larger picture in mind: that God had a plan, and that plan was ultimately to have Jesus be born through the line of Judah. It is also a story that illustrates the habits of Canaanite culture, and how God had a plan to pluck them out of the midst of this to preserve His chosen people. Stay tuned.

Laura, a member of the Bible Book Club in the first cycle, and I talked about this (that is why I love reading the Bible in community so we can discuss what we are learning).  Judah certainly did not DESERVE to be the ancestor of David, who would eventually lead to Jesus, because he had not shown himself very worthy of that honor by suggesting they sell Joseph to traders (although some commentators argue that, by doing this, he was protecting Joseph from being killed), marrying Canaanite wives, denying his daughter-in-law his other son, and sleeping with her as a prostitute; but I have to say that I do not deserve God's favor either! Yet He gives it to me through His Son who died for all my sin. That is why it is called undeserved grace.

I do like this chapter for one reason: it contrasts the immoral character of Judah with the moral character of his brother, Joseph, who handled sexual temptation quite differently than his brother. Stay tuned!

APPLICATION

I am continuing to write what I learn about God from this chapter and journaling about it. What is your "I will" statement in response to this chapter?

PRAYER

Lord, I can only sing praise to You right now. None of us deserve the grace that You have shown us in Jesus Christ. Help us to remember this. In His name we pray, AMEN.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genesis 37 - Joseph's Dreams and Journey

LINK: Genesis 37


BACKGROUND/REFLECTION

Life Through Joseph's Eyes
He wasn't sure what was causing all the commotion. The boy was young and often would be the last to know in his large family of twelve children. His brothers weren't very nice. They always called him a 'daddy's boy.' It was no use trying to find out what was really going on from them. His father was rounding up the camels and shouting orders right and left. He noticed his father was limping. It must be because of what happened last night. There was so much noise that the little boy could hardly sleep. After the family had crossed the Jabbok, his father wrestled with a man till dawn. He worried about his father's limp. It just seemed to be one hard thing after another for his father. He had just seen his grandfather pursue his father in anger, and now his father was limping. On top of all of this, there was a large band of Bedouin warriors approaching them with their spears and lances glittering in the sunlight. Strangely enough, although the boy saw fear in his father's face, he saw his father as he had never seen him before; as if his father had seen God face to face. He wondered what really happened last night with that man by the river.
They mounted the camels and father instructed him and his mother to go to the back behind his older siblings. "I wonder what is happening?" thought the little boy. His mother held him tightly. Up ahead, he could see the men coming closer to his father. He prayed God would keep his father safe. Then, he heard weeping and celebrating. The next thing he knew he was bowing down before a man they called his Uncle Esau. He had heard of him, but he knew that his father had feared him. There was happiness and good will wished to this enemy who was now a beloved brother. Something profound had happened that day. His father would never be the same again. The little boy was tired. Today had been far more exhausting then any six year old could handle. So, he slept in the place of booths that night, happy that his father was safe from all harm.
I wrote this narrative to meditate on what that experience must have been like for Joseph and how it might have shaped him and the man he would later become. It was the introduction to a paper I wrote about Joseph in Bible school.

In the next two weeks, we will be reading and doing a character study on Joseph. 

Character is defined as "the aggregate of moral qualities, ethical standards, and principles that form the individual nature of some person" (Random House Dictionary). Joseph was a man of Christlike character, even though he was born more than 1800 years before the time of Christ. Because of the similarities between Joseph and Jesus, we will also be looking at the strange and mysterious parallels between the life and character of Joseph and Jesus Christ. 


Type is defined as:
 A pre-ordained representative relationship which certain persons, events, and institutions of the Old Testament bear to corresponding persons, events, and institutions in the New.

(Bernard Ramm, Protestant Interpretation, p. 208-209, quoting Terry quoting Joseph Muenscher, “On Types and the Typical Interpretation of Scripture, ”American Biblical Repository, (Jan 1841): 108)

Joseph is an Old Testament personage who has many characteristics and life parallels to Jesus. Although there is no mention of this parallel in the Word of God, these parallels are noteworthy.

We can learn so many lessons from Joseph's life. He incarnated the truth and Chuck Swindoll sums it up well:
Abstract truth seems sterile and difficult to grasp if it stands alone--but when we see it illustrated in a life, it's amazing how clearly it emerges and how attainable it becomes. This, of course, is the genius behind any biography.
Joseph is a classic example. He embodies some of the most significant truth in all of Scripture. Although a man just like us, Joseph blazes a new trail through a jungle of mistreatment, false accusations, undeserved punishment, and gross misunderstanding. He exemplifies forgiveness, freedom from bitterness, and an unbelievably positive attitude toward those who had done him harm. From one episode to the next, you will literally shake your head in amazement. 
   That's the way it is when mere humanity incarnates divine truth. My prayer is that this principle will not stop with Joseph. 
(Joseph: From Pit to Pinnacle, Introduction)
It is my prayer too!!!! May we learn and apply what we learn from his Godward focused life.

Genesis 37

We know very little from the early events of Joseph's life except where he was placed in the "line up" of the children when going to meet Esau. We might conclude that Jacob placed a high priority on protecting Joseph's life when Esau approached (33:2) because Jacob put Joseph and Rachel in the very back of the pack.

In addition, we learn that "Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age" (37:3). Because Joseph was the son of Jacob's old age, he probably saw a very different man in his formative years than his siblings had seen. His brothers saw more of Jacob, the "cunning self-helpful supplanter," than Israel, the "prince of God" (The Bible History Old Testament by Alfred Edersheim, p. 135). Joseph saw more of the man who was consecrated to God by his experiences with Laban, his physical and spiritual breaking with the "man" at Peniel, and his final reconciliation with Esau.

Also, he probably saw a more stable and loving relationship between his mother, Rachel, and father even though she did die when he was young. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and Leah was unloved (Genesis 29:30-31). One cannot help but think what kind of negative influence Leah and Jacob's marriage had on their children. Proverbs 30:21-23 says that one of the four things that the earth quakes under is an "unloved woman when she gets a husband."

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

One parallel between Joseph and Jesus is that both births were miraculous (obviously Jesus' birth was much more miraculous than Joseph's though). In Genesis 30:22, we read that "God opened her womb." In both cases, God moved by bringing a child into the world that would change the course of history in a miraculous way.

Another parallel is that they were both beloved sons. Jesus is referred to as the "beloved Son" in Luke 3:22. Similarly, we know that "Israel loved Joseph more than all his brothers" (37:3). (The difference, in this case, was that Jesus was God's only son and Joseph had other brothers. Favoritism breeds jealousy and bitter feelings in families and should be avoided at all cost!)


Another parallel between Joseph and Jesus is that both were mistreated by their brethren. We will get more into this as our reading of the life of Joseph continues.

FUN FACTS

Shechem


Distance from Hebron to Shechem = 60 miles

Remember that Shechem is where Dinah was raped and Simeon and Levi slaughtered the male inhabitants.

Dothan

Distance from Shechem to Dothan = 15 miles
Distance from Hebron to Dothan = 75 miles
It is 60 miles north of Jerusalem
It is 13 miles north of Samaria

It was on one of the north-south trade routes that ran from Damascus to Egypt

APPLICATION

You might want to continue with your "Journal of God" as you study Joseph's life.

It also might help to start a list of things in Joseph's character worth emulating.

One more thing: do you show favoritism toward any of your children? Talk to God about that one!

PRAYER

Lord, help us to really learn what You want us to learn as we study Joseph's life. We know that the Scriptures were not given to increase our knowledge but to change our life. Lord, please change us and mold our character as we meditate in Your Word. We pray this in Jesus' name. AMEN.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Genesis 35 & 36 - Leaving Idols and Back to The House of God

LINK: Genesis 35 & 36


BACKGROUND

Jacob finally returned to Bethel. This was the same place where God had originally appeared to him in 28:13. Remember that Bethel means "house of God." Before they returned, Jacob (Israel) encouraged his family to get rid of the foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their clothes. Obviously, they had picked up the idol worship of the people in Paddan Aram, where they were influenced by the religious practices of Rachel's family. Their rings were probably religious amulets or charms (Hosea 2:13). They needed to make changes and separate from the world in which they grew up in order to enter into the "house of God."


The first thing that Jacob did was build an altar. God is finally "his" God and not just the God of his father Isaac. God responded with a reiteration of his new name and the covenant made to Abraham, a promise for a great nation and company of nations that will come from him. It is also a repeat of the promise of the land. Jacob responded with a pillar and drink offering and oil. This drink offering is new in Genesis.


This was followed by a "birth in Bethlehem" as it happened on the way to Ephrath which is the ancient name for Bethlehem. Benjamin was born but, sadly, Rachel died in the process. The name Benjamin can mean "son of the right hand" or "son of the south." Some commentators believe that she was calling him this because all of the rest of the children were born in the north.


After further journey to the tower of Eder, another one of Jacob's sons bites the dust! Last chapter, it was Simeon and Levi. Now, his oldest son Reuben sleeps with Bilhah. Think about it, this is the mother of two of his half brothers, Dan and Naphtali. EWWWWW! There is no record of Israel reacting to this until we hear of Israel's final benediction toward Reuben in 49:4: "Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel."


At the end of Genesis 35, Jacob finally makes it home to his father, Isaac, in Hebron. Isaac dies and the reconciled brothers, Esau and Israel, are there to bury him at the same cave Abraham purchased at Machpelah (49:30-31).


Genesis 36 gives us the "generations of" Esau. Esau is the father of the Edomites. Edom is in what is now the southern part of Jordan which is southeast and southwest of the Dead Sea, on the opposite side of the Arabah (see map from Genesis 32-33). Edom means "red" and this area is known for its red sandstone. It is a wilderness, semidesert that is not conducive to agricultural.


Edom continually intersects with the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. It might be beneficial to do a study of Edom throughout Scripture using these verses: Numbers 2:14-21; 34:1-3; Joshua 24:3-4; Obadiah 1:1-21; Malachi 1:1-5, Daniel 11:40-21, Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Isaiah 34:1-17; 63:1-6; Amos 1:6-8, 11-12; Joel 3:18-21. Another interesting note in relation to 36:28 and 34, Job's friend is named Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 2:11). Job was from the land of Uz. So, Job probably lived in Edom.


REFLECTION (from 2008)

Genesis 35:1-3 are the key verses on my heart tonight:
Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel [means "house of God"] and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.'' So, Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments"; . . . So they gave Jacob all their foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.


The Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis by Gangel and Bramer gives such a great word picture of what I have been trying to articulate for the last hour:
On December 4, 2000 forestry officials in Germany carried out a necessary task. They cut down trees that had been planted in the form of a swastika some sixty years before. When viewed from the air the trees were lighter in color than the forest around them, showing clearly the symbol of Nazi Germany more than half a century after the Third Reich had attempted to take over the world.
The continuing effects of evil represent one of the great realities of sin in the world. We have noted how the habit of deceit ran through Jacob's family. We have seen Isaac's weakness as a father reflected in Jacob as treachery, murder, and adultery ran rampant in the patriarchal family. We have noted that the sins of Simeon, Levi, Reuben, unpunished at the time of their commission, came back to haunt them in Jacob's final blessing of the tribes.
We find it hard to believe that it took sixty years for people to notice those Nazi trees; perhaps officials refused to deal with the problem. but just as Jacob's family had to rid themselves of foreign gods and trinkets of evil, so we need to cut down the Nazi tress in our lives so sins of the past do not carry over into the present. (p.299)
Oh how I want to lay an axe to the roots of my sin so that all that is left is a healthy, growing, vibrant tree!


I was able to "review" my life when I shared my testimony (along with my husband) at a college retreat this past weekend. On one hand, I can rejoice that many of my past sins have had an axe cut at the very root, but I still know there are deep-rooted things that are a result of growing up in a culture/family that did not honor God in day to day life. They are not the big and obvious things, but they are the more subtle and just as sinful things. They are like little weeds that keep on popping back out of the ground. When I think that they are gone, they keep popping back up when given the right environment for growth! I want to spray "Redemption Round Up" spray to kill that sin at the very root!


Just tonight, something was really bothering me; and as much as I would have liked to convince myself that my being bothered was because of outside "irritations," I knew the real issue was sin inside of me. It was my recurring sinful patterns reacting to the external circumstance. I had some quiet time all by myself in my room, and God told me that I needed to get rid of my idol! So, I did. Thankfully, it made for a much more pleasant evening. I want to lay an axe to it and other sins in the future!

(2013 Update: What a difference five years can make! God continues to allow me to grow in His grace. He really is in the business of transforming our lives.)


APPLICATION

What are the idols in your life? Here is an excellent article from Peacemaker Ministries called, "Progression of an Idol", that would be a fabulous application of the reading for today!


PRAYER

Lord, show us where the idols are in our life. Help us come into Your presence with the idols left under the oaks of Shechem so that we can come into Your Bethel with nothing hindering us from wholehearted devotion to you. Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Genesis 34 - Dinah and the Slewing of the Shechemites

LINK: Genesis 34 

BACKGROUND

Shechem was the prince of this city in the middle of Canaan, and he could take any girl that he wanted, but remember that Abraham and Rebekah sent their sons away to find a wife, and Isaac and Rebekah were grieved by Esau's choices for wives.  In general, the descendants of Abraham avoided the Canaanites because they worshiped many gods. Later there will be specific commands about this in the Mosaic Law. Even though Jacob had a commercial connection with the Shechemites (33:19), intermarriage was not part of the bargain. The rape of Jacob's only daughter was not acceptable!


The sons of Jacob that replied by killing the men after the circumcision are Dinah's full brothers through Leah: Simon and Levi. Here are the sons of Jacob according to birth order and mother:


Children of Leah
1) Reuben
2) Simeon
3) Levi
4) Judah
9) Issachar
10) Zebulun
Daughter Dinah


Sons of Zilpah (Leah's maid)
7) Gad
8) Asher

Sons of Rachel
11) Joseph
12) Benjamin (not yet born)


Sons of Bilhah (Rachel's maid)
5) Dan
6) Naphtali

Notice that Jacob's sons replied deceitfully. Should this be surprising? Like father, like sons. Even though Jacob had transformed through trial, his sons still learned deceit from their father.


Jacob responded in devastation to the actions of his sons in 34:30. We will see in the future that Jacob never forgave the actions of Simeon and Levi when he handed out his blessings in Genesis 49:5-7.


REFLECTION


Even though Jacob began to call God "his" God in Genesis 33, he still had a lifetime of deceitfulness "baggage" that he had obviously passed on to his children. Also, he really did not seem to be the spiritual leader of his family. He may have been heartbroken over what Simeon and Levi had done, but he was not proactive in attempting to stop their deception and eventual rampage of murder and pillage of the people and city of Shechem. 


I have to evaluate negative aspects of my character and pray about what I may be passing on to my children. You know the old saying, "More is 'caught' than 'taught.'" What have they caught from me?


Recently, I met with a young woman who grew up in a church-going home, but her parents did not display Godly character, and she has to work through many things on her journey to wholeness. Since her character examples were very poor, she also responds quite poorly in situations. Please pray for her as she works through the baggage and breaks the cycle. 


APPLICATION


You might want to evaluate aspects of your character that are not reflecting the LORD and pray for God to reveal them to you and root them out. For those of you with children, you may have passed on these negative character aspects to your children unknowingly. Observe them and pray for their character growth as well.


PRAYER


"Instruct those who are wise, and they will be wiser still; teach those who are righteous, and they will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:9).

"If I heed instruction I am on the path of life, but those who refuse correction go astray" (Proverbs 10:17). 

Lord, instruct us in areas of our character that are not pleasing to You and root them out. Please forgive us for passing those on to our children and help them to grow in character that is pleasing to You. Also, help us to help others who grew up in ungodly homes. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Genesis 32 & 33 - River Wrestling and Desert Reconciliation


READING: Genesis 32-33 

BACKGROUND

Jacob had an encounter with angels at a place he named Mahanaim which means "two camps" or "two companies" This spot later became a Levitical city in Gad (Joshua 13:26). It is the capital of Ish-Bosheth's kingdom in 2 Samuel 2:8-9. David also sought refuge there during Absalom's rebellion in 2 Samuel 17:24.

He was only one hundred miles north of Edom when he sent a message to his estranged brother. Notice how he sent a messenger to Esau saying "your servant Jacob" in 32:4, 18, and 20. He was taking a risk and humbly moving toward Esau with the white flag of peace. Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed when he heard of four hundred men coming with his brother so he gave the only extensive prayer in the entire book of Genesis. It was also his first recorded prayer. He approached God humbly and reverentially and reminded God of His promises and covenant. He came in prayerful dependence.

Griffith Thomas says of this prayer:
Like a stream that emerges into day after running for a long distance underground, Jacob's spiritual life comes out now after those years at Haran; and though there is much to seek, we can see the clear marks of the work of God directing, deepening, and purifying his soul. (Genesis, p. 296)
In 32:20, the word, "pacify" (NIV) or "appease" (NASB) in Hebrew literally means "cover his face" and symbolically mean "wiping the anger from his face." Jacob wanted to "wipe the anger off of Esau's face" with the present that went before him. Jacob says, "Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." The word "accept" in the Hebrew literally means "he will lift up my face." So, essentially it means, "I will see his face and maybe he will lift up my face." Isn't that beautiful?


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Rembrandt
One last event completed the process of refinement that God had for Jacob. That night there was a wrestling match at the ford of the Jabbok where it enters the Jordan River midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Hebrews words for Jacob, Jabbok, and wrestle all sound very much alike. Through this wrestling match with God's angel. Jacob was transformed from "Jacob the Deceiver" to "Israel who strives with God"! He was blessed and always had a limp from then on to remind him of his encounter with God.


In Genesis 33, Jacob continued on his way to Esau in the land of Seir which is a 100 mile strip of land on both sides of the Arabah. It connects the southern part of the Dead Sea with the Gulf of Akabah.


The reunion proved not to be contentious but a reconciliation between two estranged brothers. We have seen that God had not only worked on Jacob's heart but on Esau's as well. Note the five verbs when Esau gave away his birthright for lentils and bread to Esau in Genesis 25: 


ate, drank, rose, went, despised 


and compare them to the five verbs when he reconciled with his brother in 33:4: 


ran, embraced, fell, kissed, and wept.


You can see the transformation in the verbs!


Jacob came back to the land that he had prayed he would return to in Genesis 28:21. He had vowed that if God would be with him and keep him on the journey and give him food and garments; and if he returned in safety, the LORD would be his God. So, we conclude this chapter with Jacob building an altar and calling it El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel). the LORD had become Jacob's personal God! YIPPEE!!!!!!!


In a nutshell, from these two chapters we see that, Jacob had matured spiritually and emotionally and learned to depend more on God and less on his own schemes (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis, p. 274).


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption


According to Waltke:
Only in giving up his rights does Jacob fully become the family leader. Israel's role prefigures the role of Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). So, also God gives up His Son who humbly gives up his rights to be equal with God, to reconcile the world to himself (see 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Phil. 2:6-8). Their model of servitude is an example to the church (Matt. 5:24; Phil. 2:5). (Genesis, p. 457)
REFLECTION (from 2008)

These two chapters touched me this morning and throughout today more than any in Genesis. I marvel at God's ability to mold and transform us through life to make us what He wants us to be. He is a God of transformation, and I know that He can and does transform me!


I also rejoiced when I read of the reconciliation between two brothers who had been estranged for twenty years! Reconciliation takes time and humility and a moving toward others with the white flag of peace. I am encouraged that two brothers met and embraced and made peace. I am grateful that I have brothers and sisters-in-law in which I have peace. Sometimes, it has required moving toward them through what seemed like an expansive desert because of our differences in culture and values, but we have moved toward one another, and I live in peace on all sides in my family relationships, and this is a wonderful thing. There is one non-family relationship though that although forgiveness has been extended, I still do not think the long walk across the desert toward true reconciliation has been made, and this is what I have reflected and prayed about all day. (2011 update: many strides have been made forward in the above relationship! 2015: Total peace.)


Here are the words to Michael Card's song about Jacob's journey from Bethel to Peniel:


Asleep on Holy Ground


A stone for a pillow as hard as his head
He slept on holy ground
The dreaming deceiver, he dreamt of a ladder
With angels up and down


And the ladder was a way
The stairway was a sign
The gates of heaven opened wide
Revealing the divine


Asleep on holy ground he lay
Oblivious to the night
Inside his head and heart were full of inexpressible light
Soon he would be confronted by the friend that we most fear
Asleep on holy ground he lay
Deceitful blessed seer


The dream that he dreamt now transformed to a nightmare
As he wrestled with a man
The unearthly power of his beloved opponent made Jacob understand


That the wrestling was the way
The struggle was the sign
He limped away his lesson learned
Now Israel was defined


Chorus:


He limped away on holy ground awakened from the dream
Having learned his costly lesson from the way of the Nazarene
That pain's the path to blessing love will fight us to be found
And God remains a dream to those who sleep on holy ground


Chorus


APPLICATION


What lessons for life are there in Jacob's life for you?


Where are you in "fear or distress" in your life?


What can you add to your journal of God?


If any conflict exists between you and a relative, how might you approach him or her with God's blessing to bring about a restoration of relationship? (From Holman Commentary, p. 284)

When my husband heard me listening to Jacob coming to Esau, he said, "It sounds like they need a Crucial Conversation!" He said this because we are reading this book for our Kingdom Community. It is excellent for helping to gain value communication skills:

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High


PRAYER

Lord, I praise You as a God of transformation and reconciliation. Wrestle us to the ground and transform us into men and women of humility and peace. I thank You for first reconciling us to Yourself! I pray that You would bring about true reconciliation in all our relationships through the power of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Genesis 30b & 31 - The Flight from Laban

READING: Genesis 30:25-31:55


BACKGROUND


In Genesis 30:25-43, Jacob wanted to return to Canaan, but Laban did not want him to leave because he "divined" that he prospered while Jacob worked for him (30:27-30). Divination is "the attempt to discover hidden knowledge through incantation or other supernatural means" (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis, p. 251). Divination is forbidden by the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10,14). 

Laban was an Aramean (25:20) and they worshiped:
Sumero-Akkadian and Canaanite gods, such as Hadda (Adad), the storm-god, El, the supreme deity of Canaan, Sin, Ishtar (whom they called 'Attar), the Phoenician goddess Anat ('Atta) and others. 
[Aramaeans. (2011, January 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:07, January 25, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Aramaeans&oldid=409156092]. 

Laban was not interested in Jacob's God but only His blessings. Jacob devised a plan of selective breeding, but Laban thought he would be at the advantage. We will discover in the next chapter that God had intervened and blessed Jacob. This fulfilled the promise given to Jacob at Bethel. 


For the most part, Jacob had acted on his own and not depended very much on the LORD unless it was an emergency or God spoke to him directly. In Genesis 31, there is a change as he called on Him eight times! Jacob was growing.


He heard God's call to go back in 31:3 and gave glory to God for his prosperity in 31:5. He responded to the angel of the LORD with a "Here I am" in 31:11. He obeyed by going back in 31:17. He has come a long way! God had told Jacob at Bethel that he would return to the Promised Land in 28:15, and now was the time.


We observe that he still deceived Laban by not telling him he was going. He was still a deceiver and so was Rachel when she stole the household god!


At the conclusion of this chapter, there is a covenant made between Laban and Jacob. A covenant is: 

A solemn binding agreement made by passing through pieces of flesh. The arbitrator of the covenant was God - men involved God to call the other person into account should they break the covenant. (Wrestling with God by Kay Arthur). 

We will see another example of this kind of covenant when we get to 1 Samuel 20:16 and the covenant between David and Jonathan.


In Genesis 31:53, Laban says, "May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor (Abraham's brother), the God of their father (Terah) judge between us." The word "judge" is in the plural indicating that Abraham, Nahor, and Terah worshiped different gods. When Isaac responded taking an oath in the "fear of his father Isaac" like he had referred to "the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac" in 31:42, Waltke believes he was saying the "awesome one of Isaac" and making a statement to Laban that his God is separate from the god of Nahor (Genesis, p. 434).


No REFLECTION and APPLICATION today. I hope you are enjoying your reading!


PRAYER

Lord, thank You that we can see Jacob growing through these chapters. I praise You as a God of process and transformation, and I thank You that You are doing just that in each one of us as we study Your Word! Lord, thank You that Your Word will not return to You empty without accomplishing what You desire and without succeeding in the matter for which You have sent it (Isaiah 55:11). Please accomplish Your will in us today! Amen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Genesis 29 & 30a - Jacob and the Childbearing Wars

LINK: Genesis 29-30a
(Just read to 30:24 today)


BACKGROUND


Jacob was promised a "seed" in the last chapter. Now, he looked for a bride to fulfill that part of the promise. He got way more than he bargained for. 


Jacob arrived at a well near Haran in Paddan-aram. See a map of the location HERE. A well signifies blessing throughout Scripture (16:13-14; 21:19; 26:19-25, 33). He was blessed by immediately falling in love with Rachel and loved her enough to work seven years for her. At the end of that time, Jacob, the deceiver, was himself deceived by his Uncle Laban into marrying Rachel's older sister, Leah. Now, Jacob was getting a taste of his own medicine. 

Is this a case of reaping what he had sown (Galatians 6:7)? Leah, the firstborn, was presented deceptively as the younger as a turnaround of Jacob having presented himself as the firstborn to his father, Isaac!


Laban gave Rachel to him if he would work for seven more years. Rachel was worth it, and he loved her best. Leah was unloved but able to have Jacob's children while Rachel remained barren.


Then it all got really dysfunctional when the maids, Zilpah and Bilhah, were given to Jacob.  The family got bigger, but Leah still felt unloved and Rachel still felt jealous and competitive with her sister. Then Leah found mandrakes that helped her conceive again until, finally, Rachel had Joseph. WHEW! The score was:


Leah - 6
Zilpah - 2
Bilhah - 2
Rachel - 1 (and another to come soon)


Leah won numerically, but she still felt lonely and unloved!


Here is a chart from The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament): 
These children will form the twelve tribes of Israel we will hear so much about in the future.  Dinah, the only daughter of Leah and Jacob, will also figure prominently in a future story. Stay tuned. 
REFLECTION


This is a story of women trying to take matters into their own hands. How often have we done that because we wanted to somehow manipulate the situation in our favor so that we might feel better about ourselves?


APPLICATION


Where have you tried to take matters into your own hands lately? Do you do rash things in an effort to gain love from others? 


Talk to God and ask Him, "What do you want me to know about why I do that?"  Then, dwell in His presence and listen to what He says. Perhaps you believe a lie about yourself. Then let Him speak truth to you. Be sure to RECEIVE that truth once He speaks it to you too! It might take some time to really "sit and soak" with Him, but I guarantee that He will show up!  Don't take matters into your own hands. It is not a good plan. :)


Praying God's Word by Beth Moore has an excellent chapter entitled "Overcoming the Insecurity of Feeling Unloved." If you are local, I have two copies to loan out to anyone who wants to come and pick a copy up! 

PRAYER

Lord, we release all the ways we try to manipulate things to help us feel better about ourselves. Bind the enemy as he tries to convince us that we are unloved. Thank You for loving us. Help us to receive that love right now. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.