Day 22: Exodus 17-20; Provisions for the Journey (Part 1)

The end of yesterday’s reading really fits more with today’s reading in that it shows some of the ways that God miraculously provided for His people now that they were free from Egypt.  Though freedom is a wonderful thing, wandering freely in a desolate dessert could be potentially fatal.  What strikes me as humorous throughout all of these chapters is how quickly the people turn to grumbling and complaining after what they just experienced in Egypt.  How quick they were to forget God’s amazing power and to just give up and expect to die.  I know I’ve been guilty of this in my life too… perhaps you can relate?

In any case, what God doesn’t do is let them starve and die.  What God does do, despite their complaining and grumbling, is provide for them in a variety of ways that we read about yesterday and today.  First and foremost, we see God’s provision for the people’s physical needs.  Immediately after crossing the Red Sea, the people walked into the wilderness.  In the modern world, this would still be considered Egypt, but whether then or now, this area is rough and relatively uninhabited.  There would have been very little in the way of food, and even less ways of getting it.  The people were also on the move, no time to plant some crops and stuff.  So God provides bread from heaven in the form of “mana” every morning and meat every evening in the form of quail.  Certainly not a diverse diet, but certainly better than nothing at all.  God also provides the people’s water supply by both bringing them to places in which there was water, and also through the water coming out of the rock event.

Next we see God providing for their physical safety by protecting them from the attack of Amalek.  This isn’t the first encounter with Amalek that God’s chosen people have had, and as we read it won’t be the last.  Be that as it may, God provides here as well through the hands (and arms) of Moses.  Realistically speaking, the Israelites should have been no match for army at that time.  They were slaves with no real fighting experience among them.  Yet they prevail by the power of God.  I think its important to note what they did immediately upon their victory: they worship God and write it down so as to make sure they will never forget!  Sometimes I wonder how many awesome things God has done in my life that I have forgotten because I didn’t pay attention or write them down.

Finally (for today)… God also provides for the needs of Moses, and thus all the people of Israel in their day to day life by way of their judicial system.  Though it may have been logical for Jethro to say what he did to Moses, I think that it was wholly inspired by God.  There is really no way that Moses could have handled the burdens of the people long term and I tend to think that, with Moses taking on all the burdens, it would be too much like him being a king, and could possibly lead this young nation of impressionable grumblers astray.  God works through the advice of Jethro to form a judicial system that works for them… and for us today as well.  The modern judicial system of layered court systems (local, county, state, federal) is something that has come out of this idea of Moses appointing people over “thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”  I suppose whether our system actually “works” is a matter of opinion…  we do live in a broken world after all…

P.S.  Did you notice again… the symbols of God’s presence on the mountain?  Smoke and Fire!  We also see some new ones as well with the lightning and the trumpet sounds!

Day 21: Exodus 14-16; Let My People Go: Crossing into a New Life

While the plagues are now done and Israel has left Egypt, the glory and power of God has not yet been fully shown.  There are other “powerful” gods in Egypt that the Lord had not shown His power over yet.  So God says that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart yet again, that he would come after Moses and the people of Israel in order that the Glory of the Lord may be shown and all peoples of the earth will know that there is no God by the God of Israel.

So Pharaoh sends the entire Egyptian military after Israel, which would have been the largest, most powerful, most advanced fighting force on earth at that time.  It would likely be something akin to the U.S. or Chinese military attacking a tribal group in Africa.  Humanly speaking, they had no chance.  Once again however, God displays his ultimate power… against the gods of Egypt’s military, war, the sea, water, wind, death, etc.  He does so by creating a path through the Red Sea for the Israelites to Escape.  Had Egypt had the manpower to pursue around the Red Sea, it would have taken them many days to get to the other side by going around, more than enough time for the Hebrews to disappear into the desert.  But they didn’t… they were destroyed.  Their gods couldn’t save them and the entire Egyptian military is destroyed in the Red Sea.

I think it is a very powerful image that is displayed here, the symbols of God’s glory and power, the cloud and the fire, forming a separation between the Egyptians and the people of Israel.  There has to be some sort of symbolism to go along with that.  Maybe I’m reading into it a bit, but is seems as though God is separating His people from the world right here.

There is another really powerful symbol/foreshadowing that is going on in this passage that has to do with the walking/moving through water as a sort of life changing experience.  We’ll see this happen again with Israel at the Jordan in the book of Joshua, with Elijah and Elisha, and later once again with Jesus.  What does this foreshadow?  Baptism.  In the early Christian Church, baptism happened in a sort of pool thing in which the person to be baptized took off their clothes, walked down steps into this poor of water, were dunked under three times, and then walked up steps out of the water where they were met with new clothing that was pure white.  This symbolized the stripping off of the old self, the going down into the water and being dunked as part of the dying with Christ, and then the walking up as part of the rising with Him.  It is at this time that the person was given new clothing, pure white clothing, and ushered into the church community where they took communion for the first time.  Seeing Israel move down into the sea, walk through it, and then come out on the other side is quite reminiscent of the idea of baptism in the Church!  They had been saved by God and were putting off their former selves, that of bondage to the Egyptians, and coming up on the other side as a new people, free because of the saving grace of God!  What a wonderful picture!!

What is their response then?  THEY SING!!  THEY PRAISE THE LORD!  How awesome!

We who have excepted Christ as our personal savior can also Sing and Praise God.  We too have been freed from the bonds of slavery.  Not to a human master, but we are told that we were slaves to sin and to the law.  But God, through Jesus Christ, has set us free from the law, from sin, and from death!  Do we remember that in our day to day life?  WE ARE FREE FROM SIN!!  WE ARE REDEEMED!!  “I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously…”

Day 20: Exodus 11-13; Let My People Go: The Passover and The Exodus

Goodness… I don’t even know where to start with this post after reading this section.  There is so much that is going on here!

Well, to continue our discussion from yesterday, this is the final plague, God’s final attack on the Egyptian deities.  He has dismantled many of the other gods that the Egyptians had, but now He has taken on and defeated (as if there was ever a fight to be had) the gods of life and death.  God has shown to Pharaoh his absolute power of all things, and proven to the Egyptians that their gods are nothing in comparison to the God of Israel.  So Pharaoh drives them out of the land just has God had said.  And, like God told Moses, the people of Egypt gave them whatever they wanted and the people of Israel became quite wealthy an account of their former masters.

Also mentioned here is the vast number of people that left.  Roughly 600,000 men plus women and children.  As we talked about a couple days ago, the people had grown from a group of 70 people into this large number, easily over 1 million.  They were able to do this living in a fertile land area, protected by the world power of the time.  What marvelous providence from God.

Here in this reading too we see the image of the smoke (or cloud) and fire again.  While this time it doesn’t happen in a vision, the Lord leads the people of Israel out of Egypt through a pillar of cloud (smoke) and fire.  These are, like the smoking fire pot, and even the burning bush experience, symbols of God’s power and holiness.

Finally, there is one big thing in this section that will forever impact the coming stories, foreshadowing the coming feasts that we celebrate and will celebrate some day: The Passover.  We’ve talked a little bit about feasts.  If you don’t remember, it was on January 4 with the feast that Melchizedek gave when Abraham rescued Lot.  That was a foreshadowing of the Passover and the many other feasts that would become a part of the Hebrew religious tradition.  All of these feasts, but especially the Passover feast are themselves a foreshadowing of the feast which we now know as the Lord’s Supper!  And, really, the Lord’s Supper (communion and/or Eucharist) is actually itself a foreshadowing of the feast of the Lord in Heaven in which we shall participate when Christ comes again and all things are restored.

There is a great deal of other symbolism in the Passover as well!  The Lamb, the blood of the lamb, the bitter herbs, the lack of yeast, and even the part where they aren’t supposed to leave anything behind.  I’m interested to know your thoughts on what these symbols all mean!


Day 19: Exodus 8-10; Let My People Go: The Plagues

As we talked about yesterday, the story of Moses and the 10 plagues is quite familiar to us.  It, like the story of Joseph has been made into movies and dramas many times over.  One of the most popular would be that of “The TEN Commandments” starring Charleston Heston.  This movie follows, fairly accurately, the story of Moses from beginning to end (which is also why it is one of the longer films in cinema history).

The Ten Commandments

Despite this popularization of the story of Moses in Egypt, even these fail to truly capture all that is going on in this time between God and Pharaoh.

As we spoke about yesterday, the true battle taking place here is between God almighty and the “god-man” Pharaoh, and what we see here today is not an arbitrary display of power by God attacking this or that.  These plagues, all ten of them, are a systematic dismantling of the entire Egyptian religious system in which God proves His power of the gods of the Egyptian people one by one, decimating Egypt and showing the world the true power, what we would call omnipotence, of the God of the Israelites.

What do I mean by this?  Well there are several main categories of gods that were worshiped by the Egyptians of that time.  Yesterday we talked about Ra, the god of their gods, god of the sun and thus the giver of life.  Along with this came the gods of the Nile, fertility, crops, animals, weather, death, life, and many more.  In fact, there were many gods for each of these categories.  The gods for crops would be for planting, growth, harvest, etc.  If you are interested in this, you can check out “Tour” for a list of the gods and their associations.  It really is quite fascinating.

Anyways… God is systematically dismantling the entire Egyptian pantheon.  Pantheon means “many gods.”  It is a word we often associate with Greek and Roman mythologies but is just as applicable here.  The Egyptians worshiped the Nile and its god Hapi as one of the givers and sustainers of life.  God turns the Nile to blood and then makes the Nile produce frogs which both interrupt life and also end up dying and making the land stink.  Egyptians worshiped the earth and its associated god.  God makes the earth produce gnats which get on and in everything (likely causing bites and disease).  After this God sends flies which we read “ruin the land of Egypt.”  God kills all the livestock of Egypt thus rendering the Egyptian god of livestock moot.  God displays His power over the Egyptian god of health in the plague of boils and over the god of weather by sending hail which decimates the crops.  Then, to prove His power over the gods of the crops, harvest, and all growing things, locusts are sent by god and eat everything, and the land is completely ruined.  At this point, Egypt could be considered mostly desolate with the exception of the large cities and vast amounts of people that still live there.

God then goes after the sun god Ra, who is basically their highest deity.  The sun is blotted out and it is completely dark.  I think we can assume from this that God is also showing his power over the god of the night, god of the sunrise, and god of the sunset.

As we talked about yesterday as well, this isn’t a small showing of power just to the nation of Egypt, or just to Israel, or even to both.  These are done that the entire world would know that there is none like God in all of the earth.  We will see the culmination of this tomorrow when God shows His power over death and life itself, the final blow of the plagues, but not the final display of God’s power in this story.

Day 18: Exodus 5-7; Let My People Go: The Lines are Drawn

So Moses goes before Pharaoh  delivering God’s message to let the people of Israel go.  Pharaoh says no.  The People get more oppressed.  Moses asks again.  Pharaoh says no.  Begin 10 plagues.  Yes… this is the summary of what happens in today’s Scripture readings, and it is what is happening on the surface.

Yet there is a great deal of deeper meaning that is taking place here as well.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of a battle.  God is drawing the line against the Egyptian god, or rather son of god… Pharaoh.  For the Egyptians Pharaoh, their king, was considered to be the son of their main god Ra, the sun god.  So Pharaoh was a deity to them (hence the pyramid tombs and extensive burial rituals).  Pharaoh, to the Egyptian people, was the ultimate source of everything… life, growth, power, existence, because he was in direct contact with Ra, who they thought to be the sun.  So for the God of the Hebrew slaves, who were detestable to Egyptians anyways if you remember our reading from a couple days ago, to command something to Pharaoh, the “god-man,” was not only laughable, but would have been abundantly offensive to him as well.

To take that a bit further, the mere fact that Moses could even enter into the presence of Pharaoh was only because he would have been recognized as someone who had grown up there, being that he would have likely been some sort of half/step relation to Pharaoh (because he had been raised by “Pharaoh’s daughter,” which was likely the current Pharaoh’s mother.  This, in and of itself, is God’s providence at work, perhaps one of the reasons that Moses was placed in the basket on the Nile river when he was a baby.

And so the stage is set and the battle lines are drawn.  God’s promises, the Covenant made to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob are renewed, and the promise of freedom is made.  God will show His power to the Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  God says it will take time, and that Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened, but in this, God’s glory and power will be revealed.  Not just to the Hebrews and not just to the Egyptians, but through this the power and glory of God will be known throughout the entire world.


Day 17: Exodus 1-4; Enter Moses

Welcome to the book of Exodus and the beginning of the story of Moses and the “nation of Israel” which we now refer to as the Hebrews or Israelites.  There is much to talk about in these first four chapters that sets up the whole rest of the book, and in many ways lays the groundwork for future stories and people in the Bible.  This post is longer than the others to date because of the abundant amount of background in these first chapters.

Before we get to Moses, we read a little recap of the Hebrews post-Jacob and post-Joseph.  Remember that yesterday we went through the genealogy of Jacob and his sons, totaling 70 people in all.  This is important because it shows now how much they have grown and prospered in the land of Egypt.  We don’t know the full extent of it until the numbers are given to us when the Hebrews leave Egypt, but suffice to say, it is a lot more than 70.  So what was the point of being in Egypt?  Couldn’t this have happened in Canaan?  Well, the answer is… likely no.  As this people group grew, it is likely that the indigineous people of Canaan would have started imposing on them, the Hebrews would have inter-married with them, and/or there would have been an all-out war against the Israelites due to their size.  In Egypt, the people lived in a specific area, protected by the Egyptians (who were the world power of the time), and yet not intermingled with them because the Hebrews were mostly shepherds (which we read yesterday were detestable to Egyptians).   Therefore, the people of Israel grew, unfettered, uninterrupted, and unmixed from the people around them.

Enter slavery and Moses.

God is clearly blessing the people despite the ruthless treatment of the Egyptians, so much so that Pharaoh orders the killing of all the males of the Israelite babies.  This is the situation that Moses is born into, and it is in this situation that God rescues Moses.  The man Moses is very much a “messianic figure” in the Old Testament.  In a way, he is a type of foreshadowing of things to come.  Though not the Messiah (aka. Jesus Christ), we do see marked similarities in their lives, the way that act, and the events that take place.  I would encourage you, especially in the next few days (Exodus 1-20ish) to think about how Moses and Jesus are similar in nature, in action, and in leading.  Leave a comment on some of the things that you find!!

There are two other things that are important in this particular passage that I feel just need to be pointed out.

First I would like to talk about the parts of Exodus 1 and 2 that talk about Israel being oppressed and the point at which “God hears their groaning and remembers the covenant.”  I think that first and foremost it is important to note that, though the Hebrews couldn’t see it at the time, God was blessing them through this in many ways, one of which is the drastic increase in their physical numbers.  They are no longer a small family, they are quite literally a small nation; several hundred thousand people.  The other part in here is the point at which is seems that it has taken a while for the groans to reach God but then all of the sudden He hears them and remembers them.  It isn’t as if God couldn’t hear them before… we know that God is ever present and always listening.  Why the author uses this particular type of wording is somewhat unknown.  I don’t think that it translates well into English.  What we do know is that it does have something to do with the mystery of God’s perfect plan and timing for all things.  Like in Genesis 15:16 when God says that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  We ask, what does this mean?  Isn’t one sin as bad as many sins?  We would say that a sin is a sin… but apparently in this time, for whatever reason, there was perhaps more sinning to be done before God decides to punish them?  Or later when the Israelites go into Exile, it takes a long time before that actually happens.  Why?  There is something to God’s timing that we don’t always understand, but we trust that He knows what He is doing and that He is working everything out according to His will.  So, did God not hear Israel?  No… God heard them… but it didn’t seem to be time yet.  Other things had to happen before it could be time to come out of Egypt.

Finally, there is the burning bush narrative.  moses burning bush icon

This is an extra-ordinary experience for Moses, as he is called directly by God.  The first thing, and maybe the most obvious if you are looking for it, is that God basically tells Moses everything that is about to happen right down to the letter.  Lots of wonders, killing of the first born, Israel leaving and plundering the Egyptians… its all right there in Exodus 3:13-22.  The other thing, significantly more important, and perhaps a bit more perplexing, is God giving Moses His name.  I AM WHO I AM.  or in some translations: I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.  They Hebrew word is YHWH.  A name so reverent to the Hebrew people that they never speak it and have come up with an abundance of names to be used for God in place of it.  Like the re-naming of Jacob in Genesis 35, which we talked about on January 11, the name of God is significant because of the power and intimacy that is attached to it.  God is no longer just the God of their ancestors, God is THEIR God.  The name itself is significant.  While a person is always something (I am Jon, you are hungry, that tree is tall), God is I AM… God in a continual state of being… which really says something to the fact that He is the eternal one, the creator and sustainer of all things… with no beginning and no end.  Later in the year, when we get to the book of John, we’ll see Jesus using this name for himself as well.

There is very important meaning in the name of God… and yet it is so abundantly reverent as well.  Sometimes I wonder about our use of the word God, or the taking of the name of God… we float it around like its nothing, just another word.  What do you think about this?  Should we be so careless with the name of God?

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.

Day 8: Genesis 26-28; The adventures of Issac and Rebekah

You know the saying “It runs in the family?”  Well God’s promise to Abraham definitely runs in the family.  God says right away that Issac is included in the blessing of Abraham, though the words “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”  It almost seems as if God isn’t really all into blessing Issac, but is going to do it anyway because his father is Abraham.  This is more or less a comment on things that perplex me when I read the Bible.  Later we see God fulfilling His promise to Abraham through Issac and on to Jacob, the son of Issac as well.  Whether or not God liked Abraham more than Issac is a moot point really, but when things like that crop up in the Bible, or maybe just in my mind, I tend to wonder aloud… or I guess in writing.

Apparently deception is one of those things that runs in the family of Abraham as well.  Or perhaps it is lack of trust.  Either way… I think we can all relate a little bit to the desire to take things into our own hands.  Issac does the same thing his father does, to the same person even.  By the grace of God, Abimelech is gracious to Issac and his family, no sin is committed, and they live in relative peace together with the exception of those few wells that the herdsmen fight over.

We move in the Genesis story from Issac on to Jacob (and his brother Esau) in this passage.  I think that sometimes Jacob gets a bad rap for being deceitful and conniving  stealing the birthright and the blessing from his brother Esau.  While I don’t necessarily think that God would applaud the way that this happens, the prophecy given to Rebekah when she was pregnant is coming true in these instances.  Jacob is the blessed one, and he will rule over his older brother.  This much is a fact, even if it doesn’t come to fruition until many hundreds of years later.

I think one interesting thing to note here is the trouble the Esau’s wives cause the family.  He takes wives from the people of Canaan  something that God did not want Abraham to do for Issac, and neither for Jacob.  But Esau goes ahead and does it anyway “and they they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”  It seems as though following God is always the better route, even if it isn’t the easiest.

In any case here, it is important to note as we continue to look at the family of Abraham that, though they don’t always trust God, take things into their own hands, steal, lie, and manipulate circumstances (which is not only true of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, but is entirely true of the whole nation of Israel), God still uses them, blesses them, and maintains His covenant with them.  It really is the ultimate example of how God is continually at work int he lives of people, constantly working through bad circumstances to bring about His will and ultimately the blessing of the entire world through Jesus.