Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Friday, January 13, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Jan 14, Gen 41-42

Today's readings are Gen 41-42.

In Gen 41 and 42, 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 pit where Joseph was unkempt and in need of a serious cleaning up before seeing Pharaoh. He clearly 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.” “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 see 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 even greater influence. He is married to an Egyptian woman, living in close proximity to Pharaoh and integrated into the culture. Yet, he has maintained his faith (Gen 42:18). This 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, having not only survived the ordeal they put him through but to have been elevated to the role of the man standing before them, is so unlikely that they are blinded to their common 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 unflattering parts and emphasizing the parts that make them look good. Israel refuses to send Benjamin, 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!

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