Category Archives: Genesis

A series of posts based on my Bible studies over Genesis in the Precept Upon Precept curriculum.

Genesis 50: God Works for the Good…

In this final chapter of Genesis, my study reminded me of an extremely important principle – the idea that even in the worst of circumstances, God is still at work. The He can bring good out of things even when we can’t see how He could ever do it.

At the end of chapter 49, Jacob had died after giving his blessing to each of his sons. Beginning in chapter 50, it tells of the embalming of Jacob’s body and the preparations made for his burial. Jacob had made his sons promise to take his body and bury it along side his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. It took a full 40 days for the embalming process, and the whole nation of Egypt mourned for Jacob for 70 days. Then, with Pharaoh’s permission, a large group of people headed toward Canaan in order to bury Jacob. They stopped near the Jordan river, and Joseph held another 7 day period of mourning. Then they buried him “in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field,” and headed back to Egypt.  After their father had died, Joseph’s brothers again realized that Joseph could easily take vengeance on them for the wrong they had done to him, and they feared for their lives. But Joseph reassured them that he truly believed that God had used his troubles for the good of all around him. He said to them “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (v. 19-21).  Then chapter 50 and the entire book of Genesis closes by telling of the death of Joseph. On his death bed, he reminded his brothers of the promise God had made to give them the land of Canaan, and he made them promise to take his bones back there when they returned. Then Joseph died at 110 years old.

Although there are a lot of great lessons to be learned from this – especially a huge lesson in forgiveness that my own study took me through – the thing that stood out to me was something that I had already been through several chapters before this. Back in chapter 45, when Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers, he had told them “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5). I wrote a post on that day about how Joseph had a better attitude than I would have had – I would have wanted revenge, but Joseph remembered that it was God who had caused everything to happen as it had, and he couldn’t be upset about that. Now in chapter 50, the brothers fear once again that Joseph may take revenge on them, but he reassures them, saying that he would be out of place in taking revenge on them, since “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.”

I pray for that kind of conviction and for that kind of faith. How awesome is that, that Joseph can see his difficulties as blessings from God? And not just blessings for him, but also for those around him!  It shows wisdom, patience, and a level of self-less-ness that, up to this point, I don’t believe I have seen in another character in Genesis. I praise God for Joseph’s example.

Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” I know that this verse brings up the whole mess with predestination, and I’m not even going to try and touch that topic! But when I read this verse this morning, I couldn’t help but see Joseph.  Allow me to elaborate:

  • Just as Joseph had said – God had worked what had happened to Joseph into good, into something that accomplished His purpose.
  • I posted a couple of days ago (in a discussion of Jacob’s blessing of all his sons) about how Joseph was a type of Christ – a forerunner who was like Jesus in a lot of ways.
  • In 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 it says “The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph).”

These 3 things are exactly what Romans 8:28 is saying!  So that verse, to me, is a great reminder of the story of Joseph and his legacy – that we will encounter difficult times, but that we can choose to have the right attitude, and that it’s a lot easier if we remember that God can work magic with bad situations, turning them into something good.

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Genesis 49: A closer look at Judah…

My study today did not cover anything new out of Genesis 49, but instead had me look closer at the person of Judah, and more specifically, look at his lineage to David and then to Christ. I am going to try and share a little of what I studied today, but it will be much shorter than yesterday’s post, which is probably a good thing.

Genesis 49:8-12 is a quote from Jacob as he blesses Judah before he dies. As I have written about before, often times these end-of-life blessings are as much prophecies over their son’s lives as they are anything else. We saw this in the case of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27).  Jacob proclaims in these verses:

Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

The first part of this says that Judah will be greater than his brothers. This is similar to what Isaac had told Jacob when he blessed him – “Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.” (Genesis 27:29). I think this can be taken one of two ways – either you can see it as a prophecy of what is to come, that Judah and his descendants are foretold to be “lord” over his brothers’ descendants, or you can see this as a proclamation of Jacob giving Judah a title of lordship over his brothers. Either way, it is accurate, since Judah did become a great nation and one of the 2 kingdoms. Jerusalem, the central power of the nation of Israel (and of the later nation of Judah), was located in the kingdom of Judah.  And Judah was the leader among his brothers, respected by both them and their father (even though he was not the firstborn).

The next part of this blessing in Genesis 49 talks about how “the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his…” I believe this points directly to 2 of Judah’s descendants – David and Jesus. We know through the genealogical records that David was a descendant of Judah. In 1 Chronicles 5:2, it mentions that “…Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him…”.  In Matthew 1, we see the human genealogy of Jesus, and we that both David and Judah are his ancestors. So it can be said that this line from Judah’s blessing is an accurate prophecy – that Judah’s descendants would be rulers. David, of course, was the king appointed over Israel after Saul. Jesus’ reign is a heavenly kingdom, and his rule over the earth is yet to come. In Isaiah 9:6 it prophecies Christ’s birth and rule – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  In verse 7 it says that “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…” In Jeremiah 33:15 it also prophecies of Jesus’ coming – “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line…”

This “scepter” that is talked about could be either a symbol of leadership, or it could be a symbol of a person who is the lawgiver. My study pointed out that either way, this points directly at Christ. In Revelation 19:15 it says of Jesus – “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” This actually is a quote from the words of David in Psalm 2, when speaking of “the LORD” and “his Anointed One” (v. 2, speaking of Christ), he says “You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (v. 9). This lines up perfectly with the idea of Jesus as the lawgiver – as the one who puts the law in place, he is the one with the right to judge all people and all nations – to “dash them to pieces,” if you will.

One final thought that my study didn’t bring up, but that I did mention in yesterday’s post, is about the final line of the blessing. It says “He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch…” I automatically assumed that this meant that at some point, Judah’s power would be transferred to Joseph.  My reasoning behind this is that, just a few lines later, when Jacob is blessing Joseph, he calls Joseph “a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring…” (Genesis 49:22). It also says in Judah’s blessing that he will rule “until he comes to whom it belongs…” My study pointed out that this refers to Joseph – in 1 Chronicles 5:2, it blatantly says “though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph…” This, to me, also points to Christ – Joseph is seen by many as a “type” of Christ, or a figure, example, or pattern. See this page for a list of verses that compare Joseph to Christ. So perhaps Jacob is saying that at some point, Judah will submit to Christ’s authority.  It is interesting to note that Jesus also calls himself a vine in John 15:1.

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Genesis 49: The Blessing of Jacob’s Sons…

In Genesis 49, Jacob calls together his 12 sons and blesses them before his death. He calls each son by name and speaks of their pasts as well as their futures. I thought it would be an interesting study to take each of these sons of Jacob and analyze their blessings, attempting to apply what is said of them by their father to our own lives.

Reuben

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, born to his wife Leah. Leah had been forced on Jacob, and in Genesis 29:31, it specifically states that she was not loved by him.  Because of this, God showed mercy to her by giving her a son, whom she named Reuben and said “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32). My online Bible comments that “Reuben sounds like the Hebrew for he has seen my misery ; the name means see, a son.” Later in the text, it mentions that Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah, and Israel (Jacob) heard about it (Genesis 35). This extremely short verse appears as almost an afterthought in Genesis 35, but it ends up playing a huge role in the story as a whole. In chapter 49, when Jacob blesses Reuben he says “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”  This was Reuben’s blessing in its entirety – so basically, one act of indiscretion (however large it may be) lost Reuben all of his inheritance. Later, in 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, it states that even though Reuben was the firstborn, because of his sin the firstborn rights were given to Joseph. Reuben could no longer even be listed first in the genealogical order. The lesson I take from this is the seriousness with which God sees sin. It’s not just some simple act of indiscretion that can be overlooked whenever we sin – because of His righteousness and holiness, justice must be served when we sin. Unfortunately for Reuben, the concept of grace was still foreign, and he had to live with the consequence.

Simeon & Levi

Simeon and Levi are Reuben’s younger brothers, born to Leah. When Simeon was born, Leah said “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too,” and my commentary says that “Simeon probably means one who hears.” When Levi was born Leah said “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons,” and my commentary states that “Levi sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for attached.” Unfortunately for Leah, none of these 3 sons brought Jacob any closer to becoming attached to her, and Jacob didn’t particularly become attached to any of these sons either. Reuben, of course, was because he defiled his father’s marriage bed, but for Simeon and Levi, it was because of the revenge they enacted on the Shechemites when their ruler raped Dinah, Jacob’s daughter.  Simeon and Levi, with the help of the rest of their brothers, attacked the Shechemites and killed every last male (Genesis 34).  Because of this, Jacob said “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” (v. 30). Later, during the blessing, Jacob says of them “Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” This is an interesting statement, because Jacob does not curse the sons for their actions, but he curses their anger. Let’s face it – at least part of us thinks that it’s awesome that Simeon and Levi were passionate enough to serve justice to the Shechemites, regardless of how ruthless they were. I think Jacob may have felt this way too – so, as Matthew Henry puts it, “Jacob does not curse their persons, but their lusts.” An interesting side note – Jacob states in their blessing/curse that he will scatter/disperse them. In Henry’s commentary, he mentions that this sounds like a curse, but that it in fact becomes a blessing for Levi, who’s descendants were spread throughout the tribes of Israel to serve as priests.

Judah

When Judah was born to Leah she said “This time I will praise the LORD,” and the name Judah sounds like the Hebrew word for praise (Genesis 29:35). Judah’s blessing is one of the longest, but Judah’s descendants also play the largest role in the history of the nation of Israel. It is Judah’s descendants who become the rulers of all the tribes of Israel, foretold in the blessing  – “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you…the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:8,10). Jacob also foretells of the coming of one of Jacob’s descendants who will be greater than all others – “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (v. 10, emphasis added). My commentary says that this part – “to whom it belongs” – means “Or until Shiloh comes ; or until he comes to whom tribute belongs” meaning when one comes who is greater than all others. Jacob also says that Judah will “tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch” – Christ calls himself “the true vine” in John 15:1, and later Jacob calls Joseph “a fruitful vine,” (Genesis 49:22) and Joseph is seen by many as a figure who foreshadows the being of Christ.

Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, & Naphtali

Each of these sons of Jacob receives a foretelling of what their descendants will be like or live through.

  • Zebulun is told he will leave by the sea and become a haven for ships. An interesting side note – one commentary I read said that when Joshua assigned the allotments of land to the tribes of Israel, Zebulun received the region of Galilee along the shore of Lake Tiberias, reaching to the Mediterranean Sea. Zebulun was also an important “haven” in another respect (other than just for ships) – after fleeing King Herod, upon returning from Egypt, Joseph and Mary, with their child Jesus, took refuge in Galilee, the land allotted to Zebulun.
  • Issachar is told that he will enjoy his new land, perhaps to the point that he would live their as a slave rather in order to stay there, rather than fight for it.
  • Dan is told that his tribe will provide justice for the people of Israel. The name Dan means “judge” or “he who vindicates,” but there is no history linking the person of Dan to this prophecy. Samson, the future judge of Israel, does come from this tribe, though (Judges 13).
  • Gad is told that he “will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” (Genesis 49:19). It’s interesting to note that “Gad was one of the tribes who chose to stay on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead (along with the Reubenites, see Numbers 32), rather than cross the Jordan and be with the other tribes within the promised land. Because of this, they were isolated from the other tribes, and thus, were subject to attacks by border raiders” (see Judges 10:8, Judges 11:4, 1 Chronicles 5:18, and Jeremiah 49:1).
  • Asher is told that his “food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.” (Genesis 49:20). The tribe of Asher is later allotted an area that was prosperous and known for its wheat, olive oil, milk, and butter (all delicacies at that time).
  • Naphtali is called “a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” Some believe that this is a prophecy of the fact that a later prophetess and judge – Deborah – came from the tribe of Naphtali (see Judges 4). The latter portion of Jacob’s blessing – “…that bears beautiful fawns” – is translated “he giveth goodly words,” which some  believe to be a prophecy of the song of Deborah in Judges 5.

Joseph

Jacob has already blessed Joseph and his 2 sons at an earlier time (see Genesis 48), so in this blessing Jacob refers mainly to Joseph’s past of perseverance and staying strong through adversity. Joseph was a blessing to all those around him – to the Egyptians and to all those around Egypt – “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.” Joseph was imprisoned and persecuted, but he stayed strong – “with bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.  But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber.”  It was because of God that Joseph was able to succeed – “…because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,  because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you…”

Benjamin

Benjamin is told that he “is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” It is thought that this prophetically refers to the tribe of Benjamin’s fierceness and courage. Historically, this is very accurate. For fierceness, note that Ehud, a judge of Israel mentioned in Judges 3, was a Benjamite. Under the guise of paying tribute, he got close to the king of Moab and plunged a sword into his fat belly. “Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.” (v. 22). Great story!!!  Also, the apostle Paul was a Benjamite, and he is remembered for how he fiercely persecuted the church before his conversion (see Acts 9).  For courage, note that Mordecai and Esther were Benjamites, and few stories in the Bible tell of more courage than that of these two characters (see the book of Esther)

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Genesis 48: Walking With God…

In continuing with my study on Genesis 48, I want to spend some time looking at a concept that my study had me look into fairly in depth.  That is the concept of walking with God.

In Genesis 48, Joseph is summoned to Jacob’s bed because he is ill and is presumably dying. Joseph brings his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim with him. When they arrive at Jacob’s bedside, Jacob gets up and proceeds to bless them. This blessing appears to be a common thing when a family patriarch is on his deathbed, as I looked at earlier in the blessing of Jacob and Esau by their father Isaac. During his blessing of Joseph and his sons, Jacob says “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth.” (v. 15-16, emphasis added). What did Jacob mean when he claimed that his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked before God?  What does it mean to walk before God or to walk with God? After looking up many verses as outlined by my study, I believe the following points can be drawn about walking before the Lord.

  1. Walking before/with God is a way of life. The term walking as used here means “to conduct oneself in a particular manner” or  to “pursue a particular course of life” (Dictionary.com: walk). In other words, instead of physically walking with God by their side, those who are said to have walked with God lived in such a way as if God really was walking by their side – they lived openly and transparently to God, trying to please him with how lived. Many are said to have walked with God throughout the Bible. The first was Enoch – in Genesis 5:21-24, it briefly mentions Enoch and that he “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” I’m not sure if this means Enoch didn’t die but was just taken off to heaven without tasting death, but the wording is definitely an anomaly compared to that around it.  Later, in Genesis 6:9, it mentions Noah and says that he walked with God, and in Genesis 17:1, God tells Abraham to “walk before him and be blameless…” In Deuteronomy 30:16, God commands that we walk in His ways, and in Micah 6:8 it says that the Lord requires us to walk humbly with Him. Looking at these examples and the commands laid out by God, I think we can conclude that to walk with Him, it requires that we make it a lifestyle, as opposed to perhaps a once-a-week visit to our local church.
  2. Walking with God requires certain things of us. To be considered to have “walked with God” in your life, you must display certain characteristics.  In the account of Noah mentioned above, before it says that he walked with God, it said that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time…” When God commanded Abraham to walk before Him in Genesis 17, he didn’t just say walk before Him, but to “walk before [Him] and be blameless…” So the first trait we can assume is necessary is to be righteous and blameless – which for those in Christ means that we place our belief and trust in Him. Other traits that are mentioned in relation to walking with God include
    • obedience (Deuteronomy 30:16 – “For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess”).
    • Act justly, mercifully, humbly (Micah 6:8 – “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”).
    • Be humble, gentle, patient, and a peacemaker (Ephesians 4:2-3 – “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”).

    These are only a fraction of what is listed in the Bible as commands for living before our God. I was sure to list the verses with humility in them twice for emphasis – the man who probably walked the closest to God in all of scripture was Moses, and the Bible says that “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3).

  3. The best way to walk with God is to imitate Him. What better way to get closer to someone than to be like them or share similar interests? The same applies to our relationship with God. Ephesians 5:1-2 says “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” To me, this is saying that we should be like God, specifically in how Christ was willing to love us sacrificially. 1 John 2:5-6 says “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” So here, we have the same metaphor of walking as a way of living, but in this case it should be a way of living that imitates Jesus.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am no expert when it comes to walking with God. For me, it is only by His grace that I am even allowed to be called His child. But as His child, I do want to please Him, and living in such a way that pleases Him is on my priority list. This study was a great reminder of what those priorities should be.

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Genesis 48: Mixed-Up Blessings…

My study today took me through Genesis 48. In this chapter Joseph is summoned to see his father Jacob, because he is ill and presumably on his deathbed. Joseph takes his sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him, and when they arrive Jacob sits up and speaks to them. Jacob tells Joseph of the promise God had made to him a long time ago – God had said “I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (v. 4). Jacob tells Joseph that his 2 sons will share in the inheritance and in this blessing from God just as Joseph’s other brothers will.  Then, Jacob proceeded to bless Joseph’s sons, but not as in the manner Joseph would have expected. Joseph placed his sons before Jacob so that his firstborn, Manasseh, was on Jacob’s right, and Ephraim was on his left. But Jacob crossed his arms while he blessed them, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and his left on Manasseh’s. This displeased Joseph, but Jacob tells him “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (v. 19). Then Jacob tells Joseph that he is about to die, but that God will take care of him and allow him to return to the land of Canaan.

My study (Precept Upon Precept) had me read this chapter, then took me on a Biblical field trip on walking with God (as Jacob mentions his forefathers did in verse 15). I will return to this topic of walking with God tomorrow, but for today I want to look at the blessing that Jacob bestows on Joseph’s sons.

My first observation from this chapter is that, when Joseph is summoned to Jacob’s bed when he is ill, Joseph must know that he is going to bless him and his sons. The reason I say this is because, from what I can tell, Jacob has not met Joseph’s sons before this point. Jacob acts like this is the first time he has seen them – “When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, ‘Who are these?’ ” (v. 8). This seems odd to me, because the text tells us that Jacob spent 17 years in Egypt before he died (see Genesis 47:28), and that seems like a long time for him to live there without meeting his grandsons, who were born before he moved to Egypt (see Genesis 41:50-52). Of course, Jacob’s vision was failing him, so it is possible that he just didn’t recognize them, but I really don’t think this is the case.  So why would Joseph take his sons to meet their grandfather now, but not before? First, Joseph obviously knows that there are some social divisions in Egypt that might cause problems if he were to have too close of a relationship with his family. In chapter 46, Joseph explains to them that shepherds are detestable to Egyptians, and in chapter 47, he tells Pharaoh that his family will be living in Goshen, which is a ways away from the center of Egyptian leadership and a majority of the population. Joseph, having a highly public and respected position, perhaps could not risk getting too close to his family, or having his sons get too close them. Another reason Joseph may have known that his sons would be blessed by Jacob in this meeting was that it was possibly a deathbed tradition. Jacob’s father, Isaac, had blessed his sons while on his deathbed (see Genesis 27), so perhaps this was just something that Joseph expected.

My next observation is that, when Jacob went to bless Manasseh and Ephraim, he crossed his arms and placed his right hand on the younger grandson.  Joseph had attempted to put his sons in their right place, placing the firstborn on the right side of Jacob where his right hand could touch him during the blessing, and placing the younger son on Jacob’s left. Jacob saw where they were, and crossed his arms so that his right hand would touch Ephraim during the blessing. This obviously disturbed Joseph – the right hand must have held more blessing power or something. But Jacob reassures Joseph that he knows what he is doing. This story reminds me that God makes choices based on his own holiness and righteousness, and his own knowledge that supersedes time and human understanding. As Matthew Henry put it in his commentary over this chapter

Jacob acted neither by mistake, nor from a partial affection to one more than the other; but from a spirit of prophecy, and by the Divine counsel. God, in bestowing blessings upon his people, gives more to some than to others, more gifts, graces, and comforts, and more of the good things of this life. He often gives most to those that are least likely. He chooses the weak things of the world; he raises the poor out of the dust. Grace observes not the order of nature, nor does God prefer those whom we think fittest to be preferred, but as it pleases him.

So Henry suggests that God, and not just Jacob, chose Ephraim to be the greater of the 2 brothers. To Joseph and Manasseh this may have seemed unfair, but I try to remember that we, as humans, usually aren’t wise enough or powerful enough to understand why He makes the choices He makes.  Romans 11:33 says “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” God is way bigger, wiser, and more powerful than we can understand – if He were small enough for us to understand, He wouldn’t be big enough to worship. I hope to remember this when I consider questioning God during the times that I don’t understand what is going on.

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Genesis 46-47: Moving to Egypt…

My study today covered Genesis 46 and 47. The story of Joseph and his family continues with Jacob (Israel) and his entire family moving to Egypt in order to see Joseph and in order to be saved from the famine. They begin to head toward Egypt, stopping in Beersheba to offer sacrifices to God. God speaks to Jacob in a dream that night and promises to be with him and to bring him back out again.  The chapter continues with a detailed genealogy of Jacob’s sons and grandsons, commenting that all of Jacob’s direct descendants numbered 70 people (Genesis 46:27). Joseph meets his family in Goshen and is reunited with his father Jacob. Chapter 47 describes the meeting between some of Joseph’s brothers, as well as Jacob, and Pharaoh. Then, in the second half of this chapter, it elaborates on the effects of the famine in the land. The people continued to come to Joseph to get their food, but after a while they ran out of money and had to start using their livestock as payment. After their livestock was all given to Pharaoh, the people began to use their land and their own bodies (selling themselves into slavery) as payment for food. The chapter ends with the account of Jacob making Joseph promise that he will take Jacob back to Canaan to be buried with his forefathers when he dies.

Several things stand out from these two chapters. Since everything is not necessarily closely related, I have tried to outline it as best I could below.

God’s slow fulfillment of His promise

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis 46 states that “though the fulfilling of promises is always sure, yet it is often slow.” God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, yet as Henry reminds us “it was now 215 years since God had promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, ch. 12:2; yet that branch of his seed, to which the promise was made sure, had only increased to seventy…”  So why was this genealogical account included, do you think? Henry says that it is to show the great power of God. These 70 grow into a much larger number quickly – in Exodus 1:7, after Jacob, Joseph, and all his brothers have died, it says that “…the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land (Egypt) was filled with them.”  And it is also good to remember that God’s timing is not always our timing. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

Being content with your calling and circumstances

Henry mentions something that I never considered as I read through this account – although shepherds are “detestable” to Egyptians, Joseph made no effort to hide what it was that his family did. He planned from the start to approach Pharaoh and to explain that they tend livestock, and that he would have them settle in Goshen as a way to separate them from most other Egyptians. Henry states that “whatever employment and condition God in his providence has allotted for us, let us suit ourselves to it, satisfy ourselves with it, and not mind high things. It is better to be the credit of a mean post, than the shame of a high one.” This reminded me of a story I heard a while back of how to make a difference in our jobs. The article said:

Take for example, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was once asked if he could explain how a black kid, from New York City, with average grades, could become a four-star general. Powell simply smiled and said, “It’s a great country.” When he was asked about the first time that he experienced discrimination, Powell said that when he was 18 years old he worked a summer job in a factory as a floor sweeper. He noticed that only white employees were machine operators and all the floor sweepers were black. Instead of reacting angrily to this, he made the decision to be the best floor sweeper in the factory. The next year, when he returned to the same factory for a summer job, the manager promoted him to be the first black machine operator. It’s amazing how many doors of opportunity you can open for yourself with good performance and the right attitude.

This life is just a pilgrimage

When Jacob is brought before Pharaoh, Pharaoh asks him his age. Jacob answers him by saying “the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” (Genesis 47:9). This sounds very much like a complaint that he has not lived as long as his forefathers, and that his life has been one difficulty after another. I’m almost certain that it is such a complaint, but Jacob also includes a very interesting word in his response – that his life has been nothing more than a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, of course, is a journey through a foreign land in order to get to special place. We are told in Hebrews 11:13-16 that those who had great faith in the stories of the Old Testament “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” We should remember that this earth is nothing more than a foreign land for us, and that Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.

God is always in control

Sometimes I like to think that if I work hard enough and want something bad enough, I can get it. We are told from when we are young that, if we work hard, there is nothing we cannot do. But I am starting to think this is completely false. In the latter part of Genesis 47, it tells of how the people of Egypt relied on Joseph and the food he had stored up during the years of plenty to survive. At first they gave their money to buy food from him, but later they had to sell their livestock, their land, and even their own bodies into slavery just to buy food to survive. Why did they have to do this? Because there was a famine! No food was growing in the ground, probably because there was no rain. For 7 years!  Who has control over the rain? God!  These people probably believed just a few years before that they were in great shape – they had money, livestock, land, and freedom. But in less than 7 years they lost it all, just so that they could survive.  This tells me that we should remember that no matter what we think we have, it is God who is really in control.

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Genesis 45: Difficulties and attitudes…

My study continued today with the reading and analyzing of Genesis 45. After interacting with his brothers in Egypt for some time now without making himself known to them, in this chapter he cannot stand it any longer, and he just gets up and says “I am Joseph!” His brothers are obviously terrified, because as I have written about already, they know what they did to Joseph was wrong and have experienced a good amount of guilt over it. Joseph explains to them that they have no reason to fear him, because he knows that he was meant to come to Egypt for a greater purpose – he tells them “…God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:7-8). Then after spending some time hugging and weeping with is brothers (hey, there’s nothing wrong with men crying…), and he tells them to go back to Canaan and to bring their father, Jacob, to Egypt so that Joseph can watch over them.  They do this – they go back and get Jacob, telling him that Joseph is truly alive and that he holds a place of great honor in Egypt. Jacob celebrates and agrees to go.

My study prompted me to look at Joseph’s attitude in this situation as compared to what my attitude would have probably been.  I can’t help but think that if it had been me, I would have had to get a little revenge.  My pride wouldn’t allow me to just let things go – I would have definitely wanted a little justice to be served to my brothers. But Joseph didn’t do this. As you saw from his statements in verses 7-8, he saw this whole thing from God’s perspective. God hadn’t abandoned him – He had put Joseph in this position to bring good out of it. And Joseph’s brothers may have sold him as a slave with poor intentions, but it was the will of God and therefore Joseph didn’t feel it necessary to get revenge.

I’m not sure I could do this. I believe (perhaps more head knowledge, and not much heart knowledge) that God can use the difficulties in our lives for many different purposes. As I wrote about in an earlier post when talking about famines, sometimes God uses disasters and difficulties to get our attention, and to show us where we are in the order of things.  They serve as a sort of corrective measure that God allows to occur in order to put us in our place. And at other times, such as in the case of Joseph, we may have done absolutely nothing wrong, yet we live through extreme difficulties anyway. Why would God allow these bad things to happen to good people?  Well, there’s entire bible studies and books written over that topic, and I’m probably not worthy to tie the laces of the people who wrote those. But I think that Joseph hit the nail on the head when he said that sometimes, God has bigger plans than just what we see in the present. And over time, if we persevere, we will see that God can bring spectacular things to fruition out of what we think are the worst circumstances. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and neither are His was our ways (Isaiah 55:8) – and we would do well to remember that and to adjust our attitudes accordingly.

Something I find even more interesting is how God can use a situation for both judgment and for bringing good upon us.  In the case of the famines, one could argue that they were happening because of Joseph’s brothers’ sin and for how they had treated him.  The Bible never actually says this, so it is fully speculative, but it is a valid argument all the same. And through this very same situation, God allowed Joseph to arise as an honored man in all of Egypt, which put his family in a position to survive the famine.  And on top of this, it takes the Israelites to Egypt, which God has already planned (He told Abraham many years before that his descendants would “be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.” (Genesis 15)).  I just think it’s amazing how God can use one situation, or a series of events, for so many different purposes.  Only an all-knowing God could do something like that.  I stand amazed…

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