Sunday, January 26, 2014

Read the Bible in a Year (Days 16-21, January 22-27)

Genesis 46-50
Exodus 1-20
Psalms 16-25

1. Genesis 46-47: Joseph brings his family to Egypt, where he functions effectively as the Pharaoh's prime minister. The wisdom of the Pharaoh's decision to make Joseph second-in-command after himself is vindicated when, "the first recorded rationing in history was a hit," saving Egypt and the Egyptian treasury was fattened as people, like Joseph's family, came from throughout the region to buy food stored in Egyptian granaries during the "fat years."

2. Genesis 47-49: Jacob dies in exile, just as generations of his people would. Before dying, he prophesies about his sons and their descendants. He also blesses his family.

3. Genesis 50: This contains one of the most poignant passages in all Scripture. Joseph's brothers obviously find it hard to understand things like forgiveness and grace. Joseph had long before forgiven his brothers. But when Jacob died, they were certain that Joseph, no longer needing to show deference to his father, would act vengefully against them. They even appear to fabricate a lie, telling Joseph that Jacob had instructed them to tell Joseph not to do anything against him after he had died.

Joseph ignores the lie and responds in an extraordinary way.

First, he weeps. It saddens Joseph to know that his brothers have so little faith in the forgiveness he offered because of his trust in God. Thousands of years later, Jesus wept when considering the utter hopelessness of those mourning for his friend Lazarus in Bethany. It saddened Jesus to know that they had so little faith in His power over death and life. ""I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said there. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

It grieves God and it grieves believers like Joseph when people are so hardened by sin, so resigned to the grim realities of life, that they can't trust in God or in His grace or in His power to help ordinary people--like Joseph--to forgive.

Second, Joseph says that it isn't his place to judge his brothers. "...Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God?'" (Genesis 50:19).

Joseph insisted that while he forgave his brothers, it wasn't his place to judge them for sins. That is God's place.

This is jarring for us. When others hurt us, we feel entitled to judge. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talks about how Jesus went around forgiving people for their sins, as though he were the one chiefly offended. The fact is, whenever we sin against another person, whenever we hurt them, it's God Who is chiefly offended. Why? Because He made us. Because He is fully invested in every human life, having lived as one of us in the person of Jesus and having died and risen so that all who throw in their lots with Him have everlasting life. In His great parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus says that whatever we do to "the least of these," we also do unto Him.

Even before God took on flesh, Joseph understood this fact: The One Who breathed His very Spirit into us to give us life, was always the one chiefly offended by sin. 

Third, Joseph saw that God's "unseen hand" had been at work even in the midst of his pain. He's unflinching in acknowledging that his brothers had been the agents of that pain. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting.

But Joseph thought that God even used his brothers' selling him into slavery for God's good purposes because had he not been sold into slavery, he never would have been in a position to save millions, including God's people. Joseph says: "
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

Finally, Joseph committed himself to caring for his brothers and their families (Genesis 50:21).

The grace and forgiveness Joseph displayed aren't virtues that come naturally to human beings. Only God can give us the power to live as he lived. Joseph's is a story of faith in the God ultimately revealed to the world in Jesus Christ.

4. Exodus 1: It doesn't take long to become "yesterday's news." God's people, Israel, once provided for in Egypt, become slaves. They live in that condition for 430 years, to the point that many had given up on God. A hard lesson for the person of faith is that just because God doesn't answer all our prayers, or even most of them, with the immediacy we want, it doesn't mean God hasn't heard or isn't answering. 

5. Exodus 1-12: In these chapters, we're introduced to Moses, a man God saved by extraordinary means, for His purposes. As Christians, we should remember that God saves us from sin and death by His grace through our God-given faith in Christ, but God never saves us just to save us. He saves us so that we become His agents in saving others. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says: " are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

6. Exodus 3-4: Moses offers one excuse after another for not taking the mission God was giving to Him. They come in 3:11, 13, 4:1, 10, 13. But 4:13 probably best conveys Moses' attitude about doing what God wanted him to do: "...Moses said, 'O Lord, please send someone else to do it.'"

Many of the reasons we Christians give for not taking on ministries we're invited to prayerfully consider is we want someone else to do it. It may be fear. But any time we take on ministries that fulfill our mission as Christian believers or fulfill the promise the lives God gives to us, need not fear. The Holy Spirit will enable us to do God's will. 1 Timothy 1:7 says: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."

7. Exodus 3:14: God gives His Name to Moses. "I AM WHO I AM," He says. In Hebrew, the Name is Yahweh. Its exact meaning is mysterious to us, though to me the name suggests that in God, we meet the foundational personality, the Is Who from Whom all existence comes.

The fact that the infinitely powerful and holy God of creation makes Himself accessible to us by revealing His Name is an incredible privilege. Reverence for God explains why many Jews refuse to speak God's entire name or shortening it to avoid presumption, as when only the first syllable of God's Name, Yah, is used. (As in Hallelujah, which means Praise to Yah.)

We post-modern Christians would do well to adopt a similar reverence for the Name of God, to recognize that it's a privilege of eternal dimensions to be able to address and know the God revealed to the world in Jesus. In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches that God's Name is to be used for three purposes: prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

Jesus identifies Himself as the God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. "Before Abraham was born, I am!" He says in John 8:58.

8. Exodus 5:1-10:29: The succession of plagues from God were designed to demonstrate to the Pharaoh, whose people were taught to regard him as a god, both what real Deity was and to "convince" Pharaoh to relent and set God's people free.

In the meantime though, we're told that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. This could be easily understood. I think that we shouldn't see this as God playing a cat and mouse game with Pharaoh. Rather, because of Pharaoh's arrogance and presumption, God allowed him to live with the consequences of his spurning of God.

9. Exodus 12: The blood of the Passover lamb was the method designated by God as the means to protect His people from the angel of death. Today, the blood and body of Christ give life to God's people.

10. Exodus 15-20: God's people begin their journey to the promised land. What took them so long? The same thing that keeps us from living the life of peace with God that God wants to give to us: Our insistence on doing things our way rather than God's.

11. Exodus 20:1-17: These verses, conveying the ten commandments are the "fine print" of God's great commandment: Love God; love neighbor.  

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