Genesis 1:1-2:3 "Charged with God's Grandeur"

Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 28:18-20; & Acts 2:39 – "Let's Talk About Baptism"

Day 16: Genesis 48-50; The Death of Jacob

As I read this passage, there are two or three things that really stand out to me.

First, as we talked about two days ago, on January 14,  when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he alludes to the point that all that had happened to him was ordained by God for the good of many people.  Neither Joseph nor his brother could have ever known what God was up to that day when they sold him to the Ishmaelite traders.  Yet God remained faithful to Joseph and to the house of Israel, watching over and blessing Joseph.  Now, through him, many people were saved in this time of famine.  Through this, God has also kept His word to Abraham, when He made the covenant with him in Genesis 15, which we read about on January 4.  God even reassures Jacob of this on their way down to Egypt.  All things are happening according to the will of God, in God’s perfect time, and though none could ever have seen it, even the move to Egypt was part of God’s plan, not simply for food during a famine, but so that they would be able to flourish, protected by the most powerful nation on earth at that time.  More on this in the coming days as we venture into Exodus.

The Second thing I think of when I read this is the power that words have.  We saw this, but maybe didn’t talk about in much, in the blessing of Jacob and Esau on January 8.  When Issac blesses Jacob he can’t just take it back and give it to Esau.  The words have been spoken and cannot return to his mouth.  Here is the same with the sons of Joseph and the sons of Israel.  Israel speaks a blessing over the sons of Joseph, claiming them for his own and blessing them as members of his own household.  He then speaks words of blessing over his sons, “blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.”  What is important about this?  Well, as we read on they will all come true!  At the end of each of our worship services we also speak words of blessing which we call the Benediction.  I think too often we just see these as nice words to end the service.  What if they were words of empowerment, words that sent us into the week and reminded us that the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us?  Though it would seem that words are a dime a dozen in this day and age of social media, advertisement, and the like, I think really the only thing that has changed is our mentality about them.  Are the Words of Scripture changing you?  Blessing you?  Empowering you?

Finally… we shall leave the book of Genesis with an extra look at some verses: Genesis 49:8-12.  There was a bit of trivia on January 11 about Judah and the town of Bethlehem.  Take a second look at these verses, the blessing of Judah.  There is some foreshadowing here again, words that are spoken that we will see again later.  What words in this blessing strike you as familiar?  What do you see foreshadowed here?

Day 15: Genesis 46-47; Home coming… or going?

So Joseph is alive, Israel is happy once again, and God has once again been faithful to His covenant promise by providing for Israel and his family during the time of intense drought.  What a beautiful picture of this family reunion that takes place too.  Israel coming down from the land of Canaan sees for the first time in what has probably been over twenty years, his beloved son.  Its like the scene from a movie:  Joseph jumps out of his chariot, running at full speed towards his old father, tears streaming down his face.  They embrace and cry on each other’s shoulder, weeping for joy!  The family is once again whole.  Glory be to God!!

The writer here, presumably Moses, makes a point here that will be important in our reading in a couple of days.  Did you notice it?  Another genealogy.  For the longest time I had always skipped over those.  To me they were just long lists of names I couldn’t pronounce that contained people that weren’t important to the whole story.  While the first two things there are true (they are long lists of names that I still can’t pronounce), these people are important to the story.  As the “nation” of Israel (aka. Jacob’s family) goes down to Egypt, they are but 70 people in all.  Yet there are important things about those 70 people.  Jacob’s son Levi has a child from a Canaanite woman, who is included in here.  Joseph’s children, born of an Egyptian woman, the daughter of a heathen priest are included in here.  These children are members of the covenant and are found to be under the promise of God despite their rather shady heritage.

Later on in Israel’s history, God’s people wouldn’t be caught dead with a foreigner, with a gentile as they called them.  However, they forget that many of them have gentile blood (at least a bit of it) running through their veins.  God wasn’t about excluding, but about including.  Already there are several nations represented within the “people of God” and God knew this.  He didn’t put them out of the promise because of their lineage, but rather made them part of His chosen people.  Again, this is not because of anything they had done, but because of God’s love and grace.  Maybe this is a lesson for us as well?  Too often we tend to make judgment calls about who is in and who is out… I think we might be surprised.  God is not about keeping people out.  God is about bringing people in that ALL the nations of the earth will be blessed!

Day 14: Genesis 43-45; Joseph reveals himself

I wouldn’t presume to speculate on how much time passed between the first visit of Joseph’s brothers and the second, but I have to imagine that it wasn’t a matter of days.  I wonder what Joseph was thinking during that time, or what Simeon, bound and imprisoned in Egypt almost as a ransom for Benjamin, just waiting for his brothers to return.  What would the brothers being thinking during this time?  Everyone is just waiting for something to happen, unsure of what to do next.

Yesterday I spoke of Joseph having a little fun at his brother’s expense.  I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same in his position.  But today is different.  Today Joseph truly tests his brothers to see if they have changed.  Again I wonder what would have happened had the outcome been different.  We can leave that to speculation, because the fact is that it seemed to Joseph that things had changed.

Joseph’s big reveal to his brothers is one of the more famous verses in the Bible about providence.  It takes a very mature person to see things they way Joseph sees them.  He had every excuse to remain angry at his brothers, but whether it be through time or from simply growing up, Joseph is able to step back from his situation and see God at work.  In some of the first posts of this year we talked about providence, and God’s sustaining of creation, working through all situations to bring about His will.  Here is a very prime example of it.  Joseph’s brothers meant evil upon his by selling him to those traders.  They meant to never see Joseph again.  Yet even in that evil act, which God allowed to happen even if He didn’t like it or applaud it, God brings about the greater good for the Israel and his sons.  In many ways this is the essence of God’s providence in the world, the nature of His sustaining of His creation that we spoke about on Day 1.  We are human, created with free will and tainted in sin.  We do things that we mean for evil, or maybe that we simply know aren’t good.  Yet God doesn’t remove His love from us when this happens, but sustains us and upholds us in it, even if He doesn’t applaud our actions.  And He is always at work, whether we can see it or not, bringing about His will for the world.

I have experienced this in my life.  Have you?  How has God been at work in your life even in the bad things that you do or that happen to you that bring about the greater good?

Day 13: Genesis 40-42; Dreams and Interpretations

Joseph continues to be blessed by God.  Though a familiar story, as we read through it again we begin to see that there is a greater purpose to Joseph’s troubles than the bitterness of his brothers.  Behind everything that happens is this grand Meta-Narrative… the workings a faithful God providing for His people in ways they certainly hadn’t seen.  I like this story for that reason, because it gives us a unique 3rd person view of the life and troubles of another person who is being used by God in ways he couldn’t understand until it all came together.  Sometimes I wish that I was able to take a step back from my own situation and look at the bigger picture of my life as well.  Why am I going through this, or what impact is that going to have later in life?  We never know what tomorrow is going to bring, or what things God is working towards in our own lives, but we can know that God, who is always faithful, will provide for us that which we need.  And in His perfect time, all things will work together for the good of those who love God, for those that are called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28).

As a bit of an aside to this reading, I think that Joseph has a little bit of fun here at his brothers’ expense.  Siblings can be pretty cruel to each other at times, even as “mature grow-ups.”  I wonder if Joseph was testing his brothers, or being mean to them as a way of getting back at them.  If they failed, would he have given them grain or just let them starve to death?  Would Joseph has killed Simeon if they hadn’t returned?  What was Joseph trying to prove here?  Sometimes I wonder too if, after he was given all the power in Egypt, Joseph went to visit his old master Potiphar and his wife.  All interesting thoughts with really no explanations in the Bible, yet still fun to think about.

Whatever the answers you come up with for those questions, the important thing is that God is at work here and had spend the last ten-ish years working towards a means to sustain Israel and his sons through a time of incredible famine, when they might very well have died without a food source like what was found in Egypt.  God continues to be faithful to the Covenant, even through trouble and hardships.

Day 12: Genesis 37-39; Joseph and the technicolor dream-coat?

The story of Joseph has been popularized in the last 50 years with its entrance into the secular arts arena.  Movies and musicals have told and retold this story in a variety of ways, yet I think they don’t quite get to the base of what this story is trying to convey.  While we really only get the first third of the story of Joseph here in this reading, already again we can see the providence of God in Joseph’s life.  Joseph’s life is spared multiple times in these few chapters, from his brothers and, what really isn’t mentioned, from his master in Egypt who really had every right to kill Joseph for the violation of his wife.  Yet we see that God continues to watch over him, blessing him at every turn and blessing those that are with him in much the same manner for the sake of Joseph.  God is clearly at work in this, even though, like with the dreams, Joseph doesn’t really know how this is all going to turn out in the end.

The other story that we read today, the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 is a rather unique one.  As I was reading it, I was thinking to myself “what can we glean from this story?”  I do have to think that this is yet another example of how God continues to work through a family full of dysfunction.  While it would not necessarily have been known at the time, the father of the clan of Judah, from whom eventually Jesus would come, gives in to the lusts of his flesh and does what has been forbidden from the sons of Israel (Jacob) by taking Shua to be his wife.  He has three sons, all but one of which survive… and then winds up having a child with his daughter-in-law, who really is quite innocent in the whole scheme of things until she deceives Judah by dressing like a prostitute (as if he should even be considering such things anyway).  One could say that tricks and manipulation have been played on the family of tricksters and manipulators (what goes around comes around?).  In any case, God saw fit to include this in the Bible.  This can be added to the list that we shall make of Jesus’ dysfunctional (or maybe less desirable) ancestors; a list that will include the likes of Rahab the Prostitute, Ruth the outcast, and Bathsheba the wife Uriah (who isn’t named in Jesus’ genealogy but is there nonetheless).  It is important to note that, those the sons of Jacob by Tamar are conceived in sin and deception, they are included into the blessing of Israel and the line of David and Jesus.  Is there something you have done that you think makes you unusable to God?  I believe that God is telling us here that He is much bigger than any of our sins and can use us despite of our imperfections.

Day 11: Genesis 34-36; family dysfunction…

Every family has their dysfunction…

We talked about it before with Abraham and Issac, and it appears once again with Jacob.  When we read a story like that of Genesis 34, we can see very clearly that this family of Jacob, or Israel, really wasn’t the perfect group of God followers that we sometimes make them out to be.  I sometimes even wonder if God was looking down on them thinking “really guys?  You’re going to act like that?”  I’d be willing to bet that sometimes God looks at us the same way.

However, I think also this that this, as well as the somewhat crazy things that Abraham and Issac did, illustrate a really major point about God:  Unconditional Love… and perhaps even Unconditional Election.  You see, God chose Abraham (and thus Issac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel).  There was nothing that any of these people did that made them more worthy than any other people.  God chose them to be the vehicle through which the whole world would be blessed.  His covenant with them did  not say that the whole thing was off if they didn’t act perfectly, or serve Him in a way other than what He prescribed.  His choosing them was unconditional… His Love for them, also Unconditional.  No matter how many times they screwed up… and there was and will be a lot of them, God still loved them, even to the point of punishing them with exile.  Like the covenant, and the vision of Abraham where it is God alone who passes between the animal pieces signifying that really only God will truly be able to hold up His end of the covenant, God is true to His word, His choice, and His Love for His chosen people.

This is true with us as well.  As people of the Reformed Church, one of our tenants is “Unconditional Election.”  This is often a major sticking point for people because of the word “election” and the associated (and confusing) topic of predestination.  While we aren’t going to get into that right now, the point of Unconditional Election is truly that God chooses us through no merit of our own.  It isn’t anything that we’ve done, it is all God.  Ephesians 2:4-6 speaks directly to this: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  We too are members of this Covenant relationship; a people chosen by God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:8-10.

P.S. a bit of Trivia for you:  One of the more famous Advent/Christmas verses finds its name first in Genesis 35:19… calling the area of the town of Bethlehem “Ephrath.”  This is echoed in one of the prophesies of the coming Messiah, the fulfillment of the covenant in Micah 5:2  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days….”

Day 10: Genesis 31-33; Family Reunion

I guess I’m kind of at a loss as to what to write about this story of Jacob’s return home.  I can’t imagine what must have been going through Jacob’s mind as he was on his way back to his family.  Seeing my brother after almost 20 years would be nerve racking… knowing that I stole everything from our father including his blessing and I had to face up to that… total anxiety meltdown.

Yet God reassures Jacob many times.  God is the one who tells Jacob to go home.  Angels are also sent to Jacob, likely to comfort him.  Laban is cautioned by God to have care in how he speaks to Jacob.  Finally, Jacob meets God “face to face” and wrestles with Him.  God blesses Jacob and gives him a new name, Israel.

We don’t necessarily understand the reasoning for the name change in our culture.  We’ve seen this already with Abraham, and again we see it with Jacob.  In the Hebrew culture, knowing someone’s name meant many significant things from a relational and cultural aspect.  Culturally, when someone knows the name of another, it meant that on some level you have power over them… or in their lives.  Yes, I know it sounds weird  but this isn’t entirely far fetched.  Think about some of your working relationships or your relationships with other people.  For a long time in Western culture there has been a high emphasis on proper manners when it comes to addressing other people, especially when it comes to kids and adults.  For me, the adults in my life were always  Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so.  I was to always address adults in this way unless they told me otherwise.  And when I was given permission to address them by their first name, it signified a fundamental change in our relationship.  I was now a peer, a friend, not someone lower than them.  I was more of an equal and even thought that I could talk with them on an equal playing field, offering advice and they would actually listen to me.

It is that change in relationship that is also significant.  Knowing the name of someone in Hebrew culture also meant, in a very significant way, that you knew them in a more intimate way.  This is why Jacob wants to know the name of the person that he is wrestling with.  So when God changes Jacob’s name, or Abram’s for that matter, it is God’s way of saying “I truly know you, this is who you are,” which makes sense considering God knows all of us way better than we could ever know ourselves.

Jacob, now Israel, is home now.  God has once again kept His promise to Israel providing for him abundantly in his exile, and being faithful to him throughout the years.  God’s continues to be faithful also to the covenant He has made with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.  And it seems as though Jacob is honoring his vow to God to honor Him with the setting up of an alter in his new dwelling place, naming it “El-Elohe-Israel” or “God is the God of Israel.”

Day 9: Genesis 29-30; Jacob in exile

At the end of our reading yesterday, Jacob had a vision.  In this vision God speaks to Jacob reassuring him of the covenant made with Abraham and Issac and promising to him that one day Jacob would return to the land.  I think his response to this dream is interesting…

“So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”  -Genesis 28:18-22

An icon depicting Jacob's dream.

An icon depicting Jacob’s dream.

In our reading today we find Jacob in exile, and God still very much with him.  Exile is really one of the worst punishments in my opinion.  Being forced to live without anything or anyone that you once found familiar would be awful.  Yet God promises to be with Jacob and Jacob vows to honor God if God keeps His side of the covenant.

So what do we see?  God keeping His promise… and Jacob becoming abundantly wealthy.  If there were a good version of being exiled from your family… this is it.  We see that God’s presence isn’t limited to a specific time or place, but rather that God is present with Jacob, and us as well, anywhere that we go!  This theme, God’s omnipresence, is one that is played out time and again in Israel’s history, from Jacob and Joseph to Isaiah and Ezekiel, Egypt to Babylon, in good times and in bad, in the promised land or in exile… God is always present, always working, always there for His people.