Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
The sun rises over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Daily Bread for Jan 18, Ex 1-3

Today's reading is Ex 1-3.

Exodus starts about 400 years after the events in Genesis. The twelve sons of Jacob have become a multitude in Egypt. The sons' descendants have grown into twelve vast tribes of thousands each. They are as rich and prosperous as they are numerous.

Exodus is a stunning testimony to the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promises. As we move through the book, we'll see Him make Israel a great nation despite the opposition of the most powerful country on earth and the faithlessness of His children. In looking at how Exodus fits into the Bible, we’ve seen God create everything, choose a people and begin to refine them in Genesis. By the end of that book, His chosen people are provided for but live in uneasy tension with each other.

What will become evident in Exodus is that His children need to be delivered—more from themselves than from anything else. They need deliverance from their pride, jealousy, deceitfulness and incredibly bad decisions. Genesis reveals the fallen nature of mankind, even God’s chosen people. Genesis also speaks of  God’s grace and faithfulness. In Exodus, we’ll see the consequence of man’s fallen nature, slavery. Then, we’ll see how God delivers His people out of slavery. Exodus begins to put God’s plan of redemption on display. It is rich with symbolic imagery and the supernatural power and presence of God among His people.

Ex 1:1-6 is a reminder of Genesis and the fact that God sent a small number of His children to Egypt. His promise is being fulfilled as they multiply into a colossal nation (Ex 1:7), so numerous that Pharaoh feels threatened. Hardship ensues. This should not be surprising. God told Abraham his descendants would struggle and He would deliver them. As the Hebrew people are enslaved, we read a phrase that will, time and again, ring true of God's people. "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied..." (Ex 1:12).

As they endure hardship, we see another truth that will remain constant, God's hand of protection and preservation rests upon them. In this case, it becomes evident when the midwives refuse to murder the Hebrew male babies for fear of God (Ex 1:15-22). The midwives are blessed for their commitment to the Hebrew babies (Ex 1:21). God blesses those who bless His people!

We meet Moses in Ex 2, a Hebrew who grows up in Pharaoh’s palace but runs in fear from everything Pharaoh and Egypt have to offer (Ex 2:11-15).

Moses, after fleeing Egypt, is living peacefully in Midian when he encounters the burning bush (Ex 3:1-3) on a soon-to-be-significant mountain (Ex 3:12). The mountain is Zion, the "mountain of God" that will dominate events in the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Exodus.

God, who has heard the cry of His people, wants Moses to go back to Egypt to lead His people out. God makes it clear that this is not going to be an easy task. Moses feels inadequate and objects several times, finally asking God what to say if he is asked who sent him. God says "Tell them I AM!" (Ex 3:13-14), effectively telling Moses, “This is not about you, Moses. You’re just the messenger. Tell them about the one true God. Tell them about My power and glory. Don’t be concerned about what they think of you. Be concerned about what they think of Me!” Moses will eventually come to understand that God’s calling is for His glory, not for the glory of the one who is called.

The burning bush story reveals something about how we relate to our Father in heaven. Many have a desire to hear a word from God. Many hear about the burning bush and think, "I wish God would speak that plainly to me." Yet, what Moses heard was (most likely) the last thing he wanted to hear, "I'm sending you back to Egypt." Ex 2:21 tells us Moses was content right where he was. God upsets Moses in his contentment and calls him to do something so entirely impossible, it can only happen if God moves supernaturally. We should all be careful what we ask for when we think we want God to speak openly to us. If He does, He may just call us to do the impossible and trust Him to get it done. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Daily Bread for Jan 17, Gen 48-50.

Today's reading is Gen 48-50.

In Gen 48, Jacob calls the sons together to bless them before he dies. He takes Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own, adopting them as his direct heirs.

Jacob proceeds to bless all his sons (Gen 49), but the blessings are a mixture of prophecy and cautions that remind them of their weaknesses.

For some of them, the sins of their past have an impact on their future. Yet, none of them are disqualified from being members of Jacobs family. Nonetheless, we see that there can be earthly consequences the sins of God's people while not altering their status as the chosen ones.
  • ·       Reuben, even though he is the firstborn, is denied the double blessing that is his birthright (Gen 49:3-4) because of his impulsive sin and his disrespect for his father (Gen 35:22).
  • ·       Simeon and Levi are paired (Gen 49:5-7) because of their violence at Shechem in defending Dinah (Gen 34:30). They will not have their own portion of land in Canaan. As we will see in the Book of Joshua, Simeon will be allotted land among the tribe of Judah and Levi will be scattered throughout the land.
  • ·       Judah receives a greater blessing than his older brothers. His will be a royal tribe (Gen 49:8-12). Kings will come out of Judah!
  • ·       Zebulon receives his blessing before his older brother Issachar does (Gen 49:13). He will be a trader and importer in the region along the coastlands.
  • ·       Issachar and his descendants will be powerful but will always work for others (Gen 49:14-15).
  • ·       Dan is praised for being a judge but is also described as having behavior like a snake (Gen 49:16-18).
  • ·       Gad's tribe will occupy Gilead, an area that lies at the outer borders of the Promised Land. Out of necessity, they will become warriors and defenders of their land (Gen 49:19).
  • ·       Asher’s tribe will prosper and occupy fertile land (Gen 49:20).
  • ·       Naphtali will flourish on their land (Gen 49:21). The description of being doe-like is a compliment but sits in contrast to some of his brothers who are depicted as warriors.
  • ·       Joseph receives the greatest blessings and praises of all the brothers (Gen 49:22-26), exceeding those of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 49:26).
  • ·       Benjamin’s tribe will be a group of aggressive warriors.

In short, a time of abundance and prosperity is prophesied for all the brothers and their descendants. But, many of them will continue to have their struggles. The areas their tribes will occupy reflect the nature of the blessings Jacob proclaims over them. Here's what those areas will look like in Joshua's time, over 500 years later.

Judah dominates the southern region, Manasseh and Ephraim, the north. Simeon’s portion lies amidst Judah’s. The Levites are scattered about. Gad is subject to attack by invaders. Asher, Naphtali, Zebulon and Issachar will occupy the fertile and prosperous lands of Galilee. Reuben will have enemies along its borders. Benjamin will be a buffer between the North and the South. Ephraim will live in the hilly, forested area while Manasseh will have a large area but be divided. Dan will be allotted a prime piece of land. Instead of commandeering it, he will slink away to take land in the North not given to them.

Even more significant, though, are the harbingers of what is to come. Eventually, after Solomon's time, the kingdom will be divided with Benjamin sitting on the dividing line and Judah forming the Southern Kingdom while the rest of the tribes will comprise the Northern Kingdom. Their geographic boundaries are a foreboding sign of what will spiritually impact this family. This band of brothers who have had such a rocky relationship will splinter, fight and butt heads for many generations.

Few of the blessings have been metered out according to tradition which would dictate that the oldest received the greatest blessing. Nonetheless, the brothers remain skeptical about Joseph's motives. Rather than being thankful for their new lives, fear, doubt and perhaps some discontent seem to dominate their affairs in this new, prosperous country.

As the brothers bow before him in fear and apprehension, Joseph's dreams, those that angered them so much they wanted to murder him, the dreams that caused him to wind up in Egypt (Gen 37:5-11), have all come true and proven to be the salvation of the entire family. Apparently, no one mentions this. Plainly, following the death of Jacob, tensions in the family remain (Gen 50:15).

Joseph utters words that characterize the entire Book of Genesis “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen 50:19-20). This blessing will become a hallmark of the ongoing journey of God’s chosen people.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Daily Bread for Jan 16, Gen 46-47

Today's readings are Gen 46-47.

Jacob's family moves to Egypt in Gen 46. God has used all the hardship and struggles of Jacob and his sons to place them exactly where He wants them. He has graciously provided for them when all those around them are starving and dying. He will now use Egypt to build them into the nation He promised they would become.

Keep your eye on what God is doing here. It is not by coincidence that Egypt is a synonym for the world and its fallen nature in the Bible. Rather than His people becoming victims of Egypt, this mighty nation will become a tool in God's hands used to refine His people.
Jacob and his family travel to Egypt
God makes a promise to Jacob (Israel). God, Himself will take Jacob to Egypt and bring him back to the Canaan. Jacob's son, Joseph will "close his eyes" (Gen 46:3-4). In other words, Jacob will see Joseph again, and they will be together until Jacob dies. It sounds as though Jacob will go to Egypt, bring Joseph back to Canaan, then die. But, this is a promise within a promise and shows us that we should be careful how we interpret God's promises. As we will see, God will indeed bring Jacob to Egypt. God will also return him to Canaan (The Promised Land), but not until after he dies in Egypt. He and the nation named after him will be blessed in a mighty way. But, Jacob will die while he is in Egypt and be buried in his homeland.

As Jacob's life ends, we see that God has used his struggles to bring him closer, to change him, to bless him and those around him. Furthermore, He will do the same with Jacob's sons. Each of them, even though they may have some good points, are as flawed and troubled as Jacob was. God shows us that He is the hope and redemption of a dysfunctional, struggling family. They have been petty, jealous, manipulative, deceitful, disobedient and fearful. Yet God has chosen Jacob and his twelve sons to bless the world. Keep this in mind as the story of Israel unfolds.

The heads of the twelve tribes have been identified. These are the patriarchs of ancient Israel. Many regard them as pillars of virtue and godliness. But, far from possessing Charlton-Heston-Cecil-B.-DeMille nobility and morality, they are amazingly ordinary people.

Meanwhile, in Gen 47 we see Joseph, the one who was sold into slavery to the Egyptians, now selling the entire nation of Egypt into slavery. As a people, they were unknowingly dependent upon God for the wisdom that saved them, the wisdom God gave Joseph. God provided the food they are eating through Joseph's gift of administration. Now the people of Egypt, who continue to follow Pharaoh, have no possessions and no land. Pharaoh has everything. He appears to be a somewhat benevolent leader. Pharaoh sees something in Joseph that causes him to trust him. Yet, Pharaoh does not follow God and leads the nation in godlessness. Meanwhile, as the world starves, Egypt is blessed.

Egypt has become a picture of God's common grace. As a country, she benefits from God's goodness without calling upon Him as the one, true God. She remains a pagan nation led by a pagan ruler even though Pharaoh has seen God's blessing in Joseph. Pharaoh continues to deny God and follows other gods. God allows this because He is using Egypt for His own purposes in providing for His chosen people. Pharaoh and Egypt will prove to be pivotal in God's promise to bring His people back to Canaan.

It would be easy to look at Egypt and feel offended that God is caring for them. "They haven't earned God's grace and favor!" our sensibilities scream. But, neither has Jacob and his family. In another few generations, God will say to Moses, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Ex 33:19). It is not ours to question God’s motives or intentions, only to accept them (Rom 9:19-25).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Daily Bread for Jan 15, Gen 43-45

Today's readings are Gen 43-45.

Judah and Reuben were the ones who tried to defend Joseph against the brothers' plans to do him harm (Gen 37:21, 26). Now they are the two who attempt to save the family and preserve Benjamin. Reuben makes his plea in Gen 42:37, Judah in Gen 43:3-5.

Even as they make wise decisions, the brothers are careful to paint themselves as innocent victims in the way they present the facts to Jacob. Their version of the narrative has subtle changes from the way it was related the first time. They present themselves as blameless. In truth, they offered up the fact that they had a younger brother - without any pressure from Joseph at all (Gen 42:12-13). They exaggerate the harshness of Joseph while portraying themselves as having no choice but to reveal the existence of Benjamin (Gen 43:6-7). The brothers are not necessarily wicked. They are typical in that they find it easy, at times, to portray themselves as far more innocent than what is true.

Regardless of their petty squabbles and efforts to appear blameless when they’re not, we see glimmers of godliness and maturity in the brothers. Judah offers to take the blame if anything happens to Benjamin (Gen 43:9).

With Benjamin in tow and with great trepidation, the brothers return to Egypt. They are unsure of how Joseph is going to respond. Their fears are unfounded. When they unsuccessfully try to return the money to the steward, he unwittingly utters a truth that should open their eyes, saying, "Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you." (Gen 43:23).

How easy it is to miss or minimize God's blessing when we are consumed with our circumstances and fear the outcome more than we trust our God!

As they prepare to face Joseph, the brothers are acutely aware that they are culpable in their circumstances. Regardless of how innocent they have portrayed themselves to be, they still bear the guilt of what they did to their brother, Joseph. They have misrepresented their dilemma to their father and placed their younger brother in jeopardy as well.

Now, the entire clan finds themselves at the mercy of this somewhat capricious and powerful ruler. Nothing seems to go the way they thought it might go. They and their families will die without the food. So, they continue to move forward. But, each encounter with this “Egyptian” seems to worsen the situation. They need grace and protection. They don’t know if they’re going to receive either. It seems they trust God but may be fearful of what He is going to do in their situation. So they, like many of us, try to hedge their bets by repeatedly proclaiming their innocence when the truth reveals otherwise.

Their arrival goes well. But Joseph tests his brothers, this time setting up Benjamin as a thief. When they are apprehended, and Benjamin is threatened, Judah, although innocent, offers to take the punishment in his place (Gen 44:33). In Judah's willingness to stand as a substitute for his brother there is the faint echo of another innocent that rises from the Tribe of Judah, One who will one day stand in place of sinners and receive their punishment on the cross.

Even when Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers, their reaction is dismay, not rejoicing (Gen 45:3). They fear what they have rightfully earned from their brother, reprisal. Instead, they receive grace along with Joseph's testimony that God was directly involved in everything that happened (Gen 45:5-8).

God’s sovereignty has been the underlying theme of the entire story arc. Joseph has repeatedly been delivered and blessed. He has remained faithful to his God in challenging situations and in his successes.  As God has been blessing Joseph, He has also been paving the way for the rest of the brothers and their families to receive blessings in Egypt.

The brothers are redeemed, the family is restored, and prospers with the promise of new homes in Egypt. But, keep in mind that they remain human beings in need of refinement. Ominously, before they leave on their long journey back to gather their families and father, Joseph admonishes them with, “Do not quarrel along the way.”

At this point, Egypt looks amazingly attractive to people who have been living in a land with no food. The riches with which they are being showered can seem like the answer to all their problems. Furthermore, they still carry the promise of God that they will become a "great nation." All of this will come into play as the narrative develops.

As we will see, God is bringing them into Egypt, not as a reward for being good and godly people, but to show them that there is still much work to be done in their hearts and lives. They will enter Egypt with all the earthly things they could ever want or need. God wants them to have heavenly things. Those are not nearly so easy to come by. While the brothers may find it easy to believe they are about to arrive at their ultimate dream destination, their journey is far from over. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Daily Bread for Jan 14, Gen 41-42

Today's readings are Gen 41-42.

In these two chapters, we see the familiar story of the worldwide famine that leads to Joseph's brothers coming to Egypt in search of food.

Notice that Joseph was unjustly thrown in prison (Gen 39:19-20). While he was in there, for at least two years, God blessed him (Gen 39:21) but did not remove him from the prison. As good as things sounded for Joseph in Gen 39, we find in Gen 41:14 that the prison was a filthy pit and he needed a serious cleaning up before seeing Pharaoh.

He apparently had special privileges, but ancient Egyptian prisons were primitive, barbaric places meant for punishment and suffering. Joseph seems to bear this out in Gen 41:50-52 when he names his sons. “Manasseh” means “causing to forget.” Perhaps Joseph wanted to put the memories of his imprisonment behind him and look forward. “Ephraim” means “corn land” a symbol of faithfulness and plenty.

God does not promise to deliver us from our circumstances. But He does promise to use us and bless us while we are in them. Joseph stayed in prison until God's perfect time to bring him out.

Joseph makes it clear to Pharaoh that God is not only the author of his dream but the sovereign ruler over the weather and the food supply, even in Egypt. Pharaoh acknowledges God's power and elevates Joseph (Gen 41:38). This points more to Pharaoh's practical wisdom than it does to his commitment and surrender to the one true God.  Ironically, Pharaoh sees something godly in Joseph, something his own brothers have failed to understand all along.

When Joseph's brothers arrive (Gen 42:1-5), Joseph has been in Egypt for about twenty years. He was a young man of seventeen when we heard about the coat of many colors (Gen 37:2). He is thirty when the famine strikes (Gen 41:46). The famine lasts seven years. He has been influential, lost his influence, thrown in prison and restored to a role of even greater importance.

He is married to an Egyptian woman, trusted and valued by Pharaoh and integrated into the culture. Yet, he has maintained his faith (Gen 42:18). This faith in God should have been a hint to his brothers, but they have no clue that he is related to them. It seems the prospect of their brother, not only surviving the ordeal they put him through but being elevated to the role of the man standing before them is so unlikely that they are blinded to their shared faith and family. The fact that Joseph is clearly not Egyptian may actually resemble them, shares their faith and seems to be asking informed questions escapes their notice.

Isn't that typical? Everyone around Joseph sees God's hand moving in his life but his family. Many of us can relate to this. Those closest to us can sometimes be quick to see our faults and slow to see God moving in our lives? Jesus's words ring true, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown or in his own household" (Mt 13:57).

Joseph is not perfect. He has his own struggles. He plays with his brothers sending them home for proof he doesn't really need. He keeps Simeon, implying he will be executed as a spy if they don't return with Benjamin (Gen 42:6-28. Ironically, the brothers claim to be “honest men” to their brother whom they wanted to kill but sold to pagan traders instead then lied to their father about his death. The brothers unwittingly attribute their predicament to God moving sovereignly among them when they say, “What has God done to us?” (Gen 42:28).

When the brothers return home, they misrepresent how the exchange between them and Joseph played out (Gen 42:29-34), minimizing the critical parts and emphasizing those that make them look good. Israel refuses to send Benjamin back to Egypt with them, knowing he will lose Simeon, perhaps concerned that Simeon's case is hopeless, perhaps favoring Benjamin over Simeon. Through it all, there is the constant reminder of Joseph's disappearance and presumed death.

What can be easy to miss in this narrative is God's gracious treatment of all involved. He spares Egypt, a pagan nation. In sparing Egypt, He blesses Joseph, then his brothers, delivering them from the famine and providing food for them when the whole world is starving. All this occurs as they continue to stumble over their own bad decisions, fears and faults. God uses the common grace shown to the pagans to bless and prosper His chosen people, not because they are a great people but because He is a great God!