Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Exodus 5

Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh the first time (vs. 1-4)—The message was “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness'” (v. 1). Not surprisingly, Pharaoh scoffed at the idea: “Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go” (v. 2). As God had told Moses, this first request was simply for a three days’ journey into the wilderness to hold a feast (v. 3). Obviously, this was not the ultimate goal, but it demonstrated Pharaoh’s intransigence. And the battle between Jehovah and Pharaoh was on. Remember that, to the Egyptians, Pharaoh was a god, so what we have here is a battle between Jehovah, Israel’s god, and Pharaoh, the god of the most powerful kingdom on earth at the time. It’s a mighty struggle, won, of course, by Jehovah.

Pharaoh adds to the Hebrews’ burden (vs. 5-14)—Pharaoh thought that Moses had made the request because the Israelites didn’t have enough to do. So, “the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, “Let us go and sacrifice to our God”’” (vs. 6-8). Straw or stubble was a necessary ingredient for brick-making in ancient Egypt; we know this from sources other than the Bible. The children of Israel “were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw” (v. 12). They had great difficulty meeting the quota of required bricks; many of the Hebrews were beaten for the failure (v. 14).

The people complain to Pharaoh (vs. 15-19)—The Israelite officers went and complained to Pharaoh: “Why are you dealing thus with your servants?” (v. 15). The king told them it was because of Moses’ request: “You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD’” (v. 17). And he did not lighten their burden or daily quota of bricks (vs. 18-19).

The people complain to Moses (vs. 20-21)—When the leaders left their meeting with Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron, and said to them “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us" (vs. 21). They were understandably upset. The Lord had promised them deliverance, and all it had gotten them was a greater burden. It doesn’t demonstrate much faith in Jehovah, but the people hardly knew Him. There had been no communication from Him since the days of Jacob, well over 200 years previous.

Moses complains to God (vs. 22-23)—Moses didn’t have an answer for the people so he went to God: “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all” (vs. 22-23). The Lord had not revealed all of His plans to Moses, so it’s a legitimate question which is asked. Moses didn’t know Jehovah very well, either. The chapter ends here. The Lord’s response is forthcoming in chapter 6.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Exodus 4

Moses piles on the excuses (vs. 1-17)—Moses didn’t want to do what God asked him to do, i.e., go back to Egypt and lead the children of Israel out of captivity. So he made a number of excuses. In verse 1, he says, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice.” The Lord gave him threee miracles to perform. The first was turning his staff into a snake (vs. 2-5). In the second miracle, God commanded Moses to put his hand inside his cloak; when he removed it, “his hand was leprous, like snow” (v. 6). The hand was restored whole upon Moses putting his hand back to his bosom (v. 7). And if they still didn’t believe, God told him, “you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. And the water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land" (v. 9). Any or all of that should be sufficient to convince the Israelites of Moses’ divine mission.

But it didn’t convince Moses. In verse 10, he makes another excuse: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." The Lord responded, “Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say" (vs. 11-12). Moses replied that he just flat didn’t want to do it: “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send” (v. 13). Moses’ reticence here is a little hard to understand. Forty years earlier, he had been prepared to lead his people from slavery. Now he doesn’t want to. Perhaps his age (he’s 80 years old now), or the fact that he was in a rather comfortable situation living with his father-in-law and tending sheep had changed him into a meeker man. But the Lord wasn’t to be put off, indeed, He was angry with Moses (v. 14). But He acquiesced to the point that He sent Moses’ older brother Aaron to be the mouthpiece (vs. 14-17). Moses would get God’s message, but Aaron would speak. Moses objects no more.

Moses heads for Egypt (vs. 18-23)—Moses asks leave of Jethro, his father-in-law, to return to Egypt. Jethro grants the request, and the Lord comforts Moses by telling him that “all the men who sought your life are dead” (v. 19). So Moses packs his family up and “returned to the land of Egypt” (v. 20), i.e., headed in that direction. God gave Moses his initial task: go to Pharaoh, and perform the wonders the Lord “put in your hand” (v. 21). Pharaoh would not let the people go due to hardness of heart (v. 21). Moses was then to tell the king that if he refused to let Israel go, the Lord would kill his firstborn son (v. 23). This section of God talking to Moses is probably just a brief summation of what He told him. The death of the firstborn son would be the climactic act of God’s judgment upon Pharaoh and Egypt.

The Lord seeks to kill Moses (vs. 24-26)—Or, it’s possible, that the Lord intended—“threatened” would probably be a better word—to kill Gershom, Moses’ first born. It’s obvious from the context that Moses had not circumcised his son, something which the Lord had commanded of all the Hebrews since Abraham. Moses’ wife Zipporah intervened in time, circumcised the boy (he would have been a grown man by this time) and saved his, or his father's, life. This is a rather strange and obscure story, but it does indicate that God expects His people to follow His rules and they would suffer serious consequences if they did not.

Moses and Aaron meet (vs. 27-31)—As Moses was heading back to Egypt, God spoke to Aaron and told him to go meet his brother in the wilderness. From all indications, this was the first time they had seen each other in 40 years. They went to Egypt, and “gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (v. 29). Aaron “spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses. Then he [Moses] did the signs in the sight of the people” (v. 30). They believed and were encouraged (v. 31). But a long, hard road lay ahead before they would leave Egypt.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Exodus 3

Moses and the burning bush (vs. 1-10)—Moses’ life was rather ordinary until the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. He was tending his father-in-laws flocks (v. 1) when he saw “the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed” (v. 2). Moses investigated (v. 3), and Jehovah “called to him from the midst of the bush” (v. 4). It was holy ground and the Lord commanded Moses to keep his distance and take off his sandals; sinful man can only approach God when He allows and only with the most humble of demeanors. The Lord introduced Himself: “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses rightly hid his face, being afraid to even look upon God (v. 6). Where is our reverence and fear of God today? Jehovah tells Moses that He is about to deliver His people from Egypt and “to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (v. 8). Remember, this promise was first made to Abraham at least 400 years prior. Go back 400 years from today—1610. The first permanent English settlement in America, Jamestown, was established in 1607. Of course, the Lord had to wait until Israel had developed sufficient population to conquer the land of Canaan, but still God’s plans are worked out in His time, not ours. The Lord then tells Moses that he will be the one to “bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (v. 10).

Moses isn’t sure about this (vs. 11-21)— Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (v. 11). A fair question. According to Stephen in Acts 7, he had tried once, but failed (Acts 7:25); why would he succeed this time? Because “I will certainly be with you,” the Lord told him (v. 12). That should have been good enough, but Moses will waver. “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" (v. 13). He gets the astonishing, and totally incomprehensible, answer “I AM WHO I AM…you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (v. 14). The idea of “I AM” is continuing existence; He was, is, and always will be. It is a statement of God’s eternal being. When Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:58, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” He was affirming, in no uncertain terms, His own deity and eternal existence. The reference to Exodus 3:14 is absolutely unmistakable. The Jews knew it and were going to kill Him, but He escaped (John 8:59). How anyone can read John 8:58 and deny Jesus’ co-eternity with the Father is beyond me; but there are groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who argue that Jesus was created and thus not full deity with the Father and thus not eternal in nature and existence.

Back in Exodus 3, beginning in verse 15, the Lord gives Moses a summary of what He wants him to do and what will happen in Egypt. Go tell the children of Israel that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has sent you (v. 15), that He has “seen what is done to you in Egypt” (v. 16), and “will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt…to a land flowing with milk and honey” (v. 17). Moses was to go to Pharaoh and ask leave for a “three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (v. 18). Of course, God had more in mind than that, but “the king of Egypt will not let you go” (v. 19). “So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst, and after than he will let you go” (v. 20). The plagues demonstrated to God’s people His awesome power; it was something they should have never forgotten. But they did. The people of Egypt will be glad to finally see the children of Israel leave (v. 21), and “you shall plunder the Egyptians” (v. 22). Egypt had used Hebrew labor for several generations; it seems only fair that Israel should have some sort of payment in return: “you shall not go empty-handed” (v. 21).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Exodus 2

The birth and rescue of Moses (vs. 1-10)—We aren’t told here the names of Moses’ parents, but that information is revealed in Exodus 6:20: "Now Amram took for himself Jochebed, his father’s sister, as wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses.” And a daughter named Miriam, as we will subsequently learn. The birth of Moses was during the time of Pharaoh’s decree to kill the male children. His mother hid him for as long as she could, then put him in an “ark of bulrushes” and “laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank” (v. 3). “And his sister”—that would be Miriam, though she in not named here—“stood afar off, to know what would be done with him” (v. 4). In the marvelous providence of God, the babe was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh when she came to the river to bathe. She had compassion on the child and, upon Miriam’s request, had the child weaned—by his mother, though whether Pharaoh’s daughter knew it was Moses’ mother who cared for the child is unknown. When finished with her work, Jochebed “brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (v. 10). So he was raised in the court of the Pharaoh, with all the splendor and wealth that would entail. But somehow he still knew he was a Hebrew, and he eventually chose that course of life. The writer of the book of Hebrews has this marvelous statement about this great man: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moses couldn’t have known about the Christ, though he may have had some knowledge of the Messianic prophecies given to his forefathers. Still, it was an amazing choice—to give up the riches of the most glorious kingdom on earth at the time in order to cast his lot with slaves. But, “he looked to the reward.” An eternity in heaven is worth sacrificing a few years of earthly pleasure. How few make that choice.

Pharaoh’s daughter named him Moses, which is an eminently Egyptian name. For example, “Rameses” could equally be spelled “Ramoses”; modern Egyptologists have to supply some of the missing vowels. We don’t really know how the name “Moses” was pronounced. I do find it interesting that whatever Jochebed named him in those first three months is lost to the historical record. The man is known by his Egyptian name and we have no idea what his Hebrew name was.

Moses flees Egypt (vs. 11-15)—He had to because he murdered an Egyptian. One day, he saw an Egyptian—probably an overseer—beating a Hebrew. Moses slew the Egyptian, “and hid him in the sand” (v. 12). The next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting, tried to stop it, and was rebuked: “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (v. 14). So obviously, Moses’ foul deed became known—even to Pharaoh, who thus “sought to kill Moses” (v. 15); the king couldn’t have Hebrews killing his guards. Whether this is Moses’ Egyptian “grandfather” or not, we don’t know, but it’s immaterial to the story. Moses fled to the land of Midian (v. 15). He was 40 years old at the time (Acts 7:23).

Moses in Midian (vs. 16-22)—Upon arriving in Midian, Moses helps the seven daughters of a Midianite priest to water their flock; they had been under some duress and Moses came to their aid. Their father invited Moses into his camp, and “Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses [as wife]” (v. 21). She bore him a son named Gershon (v. 22). Moses stayed 40 years in Midian (Acts 7:30).

The groanings of the Israelites (vs. 23-25)—The situation for the Hebrews in Egypt had not improved. “Their cry came up to God because of the bondage,” (v. 23), and the Lord heard and “remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (v. 24). And the chapter ends with God’s obvious intent to do something to aid the children of Israel (v. 25). It was time, within Jehovah’s scheme for mankind’s redemption, to fulfill the land promise He had made hundreds of years before to Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3), and subsequently to Isaac and Jacob.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Exodus 1

The children of Jacob (vs. 1-7)—Moses begins his second book by listing Jacob’s 12 sons. Over time, they all died, of course, “but the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them” (v. 7).

Slavery (vs. 8-14)—But “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (v. 8). The expansion of the Israelites was of significant concern to the Egyptians. Egyptian historians estimate that the population of the country, not counting the Jews, was maybe 1 million. Given the figures cited in the book of Numbers, by the time of Moses, Israel may have numbered more than 2 million, Frankly, that number is a bit of a problem and the Hebrew language in the text might indicate something else. But I’ll discuss that when we get to Numbers. But, at the moment, we’ll accept that figure. If it’s accurate, then one can certainly understand why there would be consternation among the Egyptians. So, Jacob’s descendents were enslaved, “and they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses” (v. 11). But the affliction didn’t stop the growth of Israel. “The more they [Egypt] afflicted them, the more they [Israel] multiplied and grew” (v. 12). So Pharaoh worked them harder (v. 13), and “made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field” (v. 14). Slavery is never fun; it was very common in the ancient world and can actually be a rather efficient form of labor in agricultural societies. Or at least a cheap form of labor. Slavery, of course, has only been abolished within the last 200 years, but actually still exists in some of the more primitive areas of the world. But it’s mostly sex slavery now, and not agricultural, or building of cities as Egypt forced upon the Jews.

Pharaoh’s population control measure (vs. 15-23)—In order to cut down on the growth of Hebrew numbers, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all male-born babies. “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (v. 17). Pharaoh called their hand on it (v. 18), but the women responded that “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them” (v. 19). This is disingenuous at best, but “God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty” (v. 20). God probably wasn’t pleased with the midwives’ less than honest explanation, but keep in mind that no word of the Bible had yet been written so Jehovah tolerated actions and sins that He would not accept today. And again, God was able to use this to further accomplish His purposes. The Lord never approves of sin, but in His infinite wisdom, can take whatever man does and direct it as He wills. Sometimes, as we shall see a few chapters later in Exodus, men directly try to thwart God’s plans, but that will not, and cannot, happen. God will accomplish what He sets out to do, regardless of any opposition He might encounter. Men simply cannot defeat Jehovah.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Genesis 50

Jacob embalmed and mourned (vs. 1-3)—Chapter 49 ended with the death of Jacob; chapter 50 opens with him being embalmed according to Egyptian practices. “Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days” (v. 2). We know, from Egyptian sources, that 40 days for embalming and 70 days of mourning were the norm, so extra-Biblical texts confirm Moses’ record.

Jacob taken to Canaan for burial (vs. 4-14)—Joseph respectfully asks Pharaoh if he could take his father home for burial. Pharaoh graciously acquiesced. Now that the famine is over, we don’t know exactly what Joseph did in the Egyptian government, but he was obviously still very powerful because he had direct access to the king. On top of that “all the elders of the land of Egypt” went with Joseph and his family to bury their father (v. 7). “And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering” (v. 9). They stopped at the Jordan River and mourned some more (v. 10), so much so that the people of the land “saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, [and] said, ‘This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.’ Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan” (v. 11). Such visible, emotional, and lengthy periods of mourning were not unusual in ancient Middle Eastern cultures.

“So his sons did for him [Jacob] just as he had commanded them,” (v. 12), that is, “buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place” (v. 13). After the burial, they returned to Egypt.

Joseph reassures his brothers (vs. 15-22)—Joseph’s brothers had a concern: “When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him’" (v. 15). That doesn’t show a lot of faith in their brother, in fact, probably says more about them than Joseph. In other words, that might have been the way they would have responded. It is highly doubtful the thought ever went through Joseph’s mind. Nonetheless, the brothers were worried about it, “So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, "Before your father died he commanded, saying, 'Thus you shall say to Joseph: "I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you." ' Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father" (vs. 16-17). If Jacob really said that—which I whole-heartedly doubt—then it isn’t recorded anywhere. In fact, I would claim it as almost an absolute that he never said this. Why would he tell it to the brothers? If he wanted Joseph to forgive them, why not to talk to Joseph himself about it? So, this appears to be just a scheme of the brothers to save their hides—which weren’t in danger in the first place. Joseph apparently believed them: “And Joseph wept when they spoke to him” (v. 17). His wisdom is manifest: “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones’" (vs. 19-21). Joseph saw the providence of God working in the whole situation, and he held no animosity against his brothers for what they had done.

The death of Joseph (vs. 22-26)—Joseph died before his brothers did, or at least some of them. In verse 24, he makes a request of them, which is a marvelous statement of faith: “And Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’" He was absolutely sure that, at some point in the future, after his death, God would keep the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and return their people to the land of Canaan. And when He does fulfill that promise, Joseph said, “carry up my bones from here" (v. 25). He didn’t want to be buried in Egypt; he wanted to return to the land of his fathers. And, indeed, when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, “The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph” (Joshua 24:32). That was almost 300 years later.

Joseph died at the age of 110 (v. 26). And so ends the book of Beginnings.

Genesis 49

The future of Jacob’s sons (vs. 1-28)—As I’ve mentioned a few times before in this study, a “blessing” from a patriarch was prophetic. In this chapter, Jacob “blesses” all his sons, although some of them aren’t so positive. Here’s what he says about each son:

Reuben (vs. 3-4)—“Unstable as water, you shall not excel” (v. 4), and that’s because “you went up to your father’s bed" (remember Gen. 35:22).  We read very little about the tribe of Reuben once the children of Israel get settled in the land of Canaan.

Simeon and Levi (vs. 5-7)—They are considered together because of what they did to the men of Shechem, as recorded in Genesis 34. They don’t come off very well, either: “Let not my soul enter their council; let not my honor be united to their assembly” (v. 6). “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (v. 7). Levi will become the priestly tribe and thus got no parcel of land, and Simeon’s plot will actually be within the confines of Judah, and Simeon’s people will eventually be absorbed by Judah’s.

Judah (vs. 8-12)—He will be strong as a lion (v. 9), but the key thought here is in verse 10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.” The “scepter” means “king”; David and the kings of Judah—and thus Christ—were from the tribe of Judah. And that will remain so “until Shiloh comes”—the Prince of Peace (“Shiloh” means “peace” or “peaceable), which is, of course, a reference to Christ. So we have here a continuation of the Messianic line. Can you name them? And who was Judah’s son? (cf. chapter 38). End of the article for the answer.

Zebulun (v. 13)—“Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall adjoin Sidon.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Issachar (vs. 14-15)—These verses are a little obscure, but perhaps reference the good agricultural land that the tribe of Issachar will possess.

Dan (vs. 16-17)—“Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel” (v. 16). Some have understood this as a reference to Samson, who was from Dan. Otherwise, the meaning is vague. The statement that “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path” (v. 17), indicates a certain level of guile and cunning, and not necessarily of a good variety.

Gad (v. 19)—“Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, But he shall triumph at last.” This is all that is said about Gad, and it’s not easy of interpretation. The best understanding seems to be that the tribe of Gad was a crossroads for frequent warfare, but that they usually came out on top.

Asher (v. 20)--"Bread from Asher shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.” From its fertile position on the sea coast, the tribe of Asher was able to produce some of the finest corn and oil in all of Israel.

Naphtali (v. 21)—“Naphtali is a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words.” Your guess is as good as mine. One commentator suggests that Naphtali’s allotment was in rich pastureland where deer would graze. As good a surmise as any. And perhaps some fine authors or orators (“beautiful words”) came from Naphtali. Very obscure.

Joseph (vs. 22-26)—This is the longest blessing, and keep in mind there is no true “tribe of Joseph”; his allotment was divided among his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Some of their land will be very fruitful (v. 22). They will be hated (Ephraim, especially, because, again, it will be the most powerful tribe in the northern kingdom), but they will give as good as they get (vs. 23-24). “By the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above” (v. 25). That will happen as long as they are faithful. “The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors”—i.e., Ephraim will be the strongest tribe in Israel.

Benjamin (v. 27)—“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he shall devour the prey, And at night he shall divide the spoil.” A very warlike, violent, independent tribe. The story in Judges 19 is a perfect example of this tribe’s character—and it’s one of the m ost shameful stories in the Bible.

These were the blessings Jacob gave to each of his sons.

The death of Jacob (vs. 29-33)—He made one last request of his sons before he died—the request he’d already made to Joseph: take him back to Canaan and “bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place” (vs. 29-30). And when he finished speaking those words, “he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people” (v. 33). The story of Jacob: Isaac, Easu, the dream, Laban, wrestling with the angel of God and having his name changed to “Israel,” 12 sons (and a daughter) by four women, Joseph and the trip to Egypt…Quite an eventful life.

The Messianic line: Adam—Seth—Noah—Shem—Arphaxad—Abraham—Isaac—Jacob—Judah—Perez…all from the book of Genesis, the foundation of the Bible.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Genesis 48

Jacob blesses Manasseh and Ephraim (vs. 1-22)—Before he died, Jacob blessed all of his sons; most of that is in chapter 49, as we shall see. But here he calls Joseph to him because there will be a special place for his two sons. Jacob goes into a little history here, recounting what God had done for him and told him (vs. 3-4), especially the national and land promise (v. 4). He then claims Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own: “And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine” (v. 5). This is a very significant point. Once the children of Israel enter the Promised Land—over 200 years later—they will divide the land up among the “tribes,” who were named after Jacob’s sons. There will be no “tribe of Joseph,” however; his lot will be divided among his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. That’s the meaning of Jacob claiming them as his. There will thus be twelve tribes partitioning the land; Levi will not get a portion because they will be the priestly tribe.

Jacob then blesses Manasseh and Ephraim and an interesting circumstance happens here. “And he [Jacob] said, ‘Please bring them to me, and I will bless them’” (v. 9). “And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him” (v. 13). We are told, in verse 10, that Jacob’s eyes were so bad that he could not distinguish the two boys. Joseph, following the well-accepted law of primogeniture—that the eldest should get the greatest blessing—is careful to guide Manasseh, the oldest, to Jacob’s right hand, from which the superior blessing would come. That was simply understood practice of that time. But Jacob “stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, guiding his hands knowingly” (v. 14); if left like that, Ephraim would get the higher honor. That didn’t please Joseph, “so he took hold of his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head’" (vs. 17-18). But the old man knew what he was doing, and it was prophetic, of course: “his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations’" (v. 19). Ephraim will become the most powerful tribe once the monarchy is divided after Solomon’s death. Quite often, that northern kingdom, officially known as “Israel,” was referred to as “Ephraim” because of the dominance of that particular tribe (cf., for example, Hosea 4:17). So, as we have seen before, the “blessings” of a patriarch are prophetic. It happened to Jacob himself when he stole Esau’s blessing from his father Isaac (Genesis 27). God doesn’t do things the way man does, or in accordance with the way we think things ought to be. In verse 22, Jacob further explains to Joseph what he is doing: “I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow." Joseph, in effect, will get two divisions of land whereas the other brothers will only get one. This is not just favoritism on Jacob’s part; in fact, it probably isn’t at all. As noted, since the tribe of Levi will get no land inheritance, for there to be 12 divisions of land as God intended, an extra tribe must be found. And that is done through Joseph’s two sons.

Incidentally, when I wrote that the children of Israel would enter the Promised Land over 200 years later, that's not a misprint.  Paul tells us in Galations 3:17 that the Law of Moses was given 430 years after the promise to Abraham.  That whole period is viewed, in one sense, as the "Egyptian" period.  Thus, Israel did not spend 400 years in Egyptian bondage, they spent a little over 200.  That's a little confusing given some other statements the Bible makes, such as Genesis 15:13.  It is generally argued--and Paul seems to concur in Galatians 4:29--that the 400 years of "affliction" began when Ishmael "mocked," or "persecuted" Isaac, when the latter had been weaned (Genesis 21:9).  Since we don't have exact dates given in the Bible, the chronology can be a little perplexing at times.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Genesis 47

Jacob and his sons settle in the land of Goshen (vs. 1-12)—As I mentioned in the last chapter, Jacob counseled his brothers to lie to Pharaoh when the king asked them what their occupation was (46:34). Well, in this case, the brothers one-upped Joseph and told Pharaoh the truth (v. 3). Their being shepherds didn’t seem to bother the Egyptian monarch at all, indeed, he said to Joseph “if you know any competent men among them, then make them chief herdsmen over my livestock" (v. 6). Joseph then presented his father to Pharaoh, who asked Jacob how old he was (v. 8). It took Jacob 49 words to tell the Egyptian he was 130 years old: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (v. 9). That’s probably more than Pharaoh wanted to know. Anyway, Jacob blessed Pharaoh (v. 10), and went with his sons to dwell in the land of Goshen (v. 11). Joseph made sure they were provided for (v. 12).

Joseph collects from the Egyptians (vs. 13-26)—The Egyptian government wasn’t running a welfare state. When the people ran out of grain, Joseph made them pay for the grain (vs. 13-14). When they ran out of money (v. 15), Joseph said, “Give your livestock, and I will give you bread for your livestock” (v. 16). When they ran out of bread the next year, “Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for every man of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. So the land became Pharaoh's" (v. 20). Joseph then moved the people into the cities (v. 21), probably because, since the land wasn’t producing, they would be easier to feed there. Once the famine was over, they would be allowed to return to their agricultural occupations.

Just a quick note here about the famine: the Nile River overflowed its banks each year from the melting snows in the highlands south of Egypt; once the water receded, it left a very rich soil in which the Egyptians could plant their crops. But no snow, no overflow. Not water, no food. So the seven years of famine were caused by excessively dry conditions in the regions south of the country. Interestingly, that isn’t a concern any more for Egypt because of the Aswan Dam, which was completed in 1970 and controls the flow of the water now.

Moses mentions in verse 22 that Joseph didn’t buy the land of the priests. They were too important. Pharaoh was a god to the Egyptians, but their priesthood was of such significance that even he didn’t tread on their rights. Joseph, after he bought the people and their land, gave them seed (v. 23) for when the famine was over. And then he told them, “It shall come to pass in the harvest that you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh. Four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and for your food, for those of your households and as food for your little ones" (v. 24). They would be taxed at a 20% rate. The average American today pays between 35-40% of his/her income in taxes (federal, state, local). And we’re “free,” and the Egyptians lived under a “tyranny.” The people of Egypt agreed whole-heartedly to live under this “despotism” (vs. 25-26). Well, I guess we agree to live under ours, too. Where’s Thomas Jefferson when you need him?

Jacob nears death (vs. 27-31)—Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt, and when he knew he was near death, he called Joseph to him and made him swear that he would take his father back and bury him in the land of Canaan (v. 30). Joseph agreed to this, of course (v. 31). It’s interesting that Israel called Joseph to him and not any of the other sons, but the father no doubt felt more comfortable trusting Joseph than the other boys, who had deceived him for so long in the matter of selling Joseph into slavery.

Genesis 46

God assures Jacob (vs. 1-4)—Jacob, of course, had already determined to move down to Egypt and be with Joseph. God came to him in a nighttime vision, however, just to reassure him: “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes" (v. 4). The “bring you up again” was after his death.  God also repeats to Jacob that He will make him a great nation (v. 3).

Jacob’s family in Egypt (vs. 5-27)—This section is largely given to listing his sons and their families. Moses says there were 66 who went, 70 total in Egypt—that would include Joseph, his wife, and two sons. Stephen in Acts 7:14 says there were 75 who went. Of the ones leaving Canaan, Moses only mentions those directly from Jacob’s loins—sons and grandchildren. Stephen obviously includes the wives—there would have been 9 of them. Judah’s wife was dead (Genesis 38:12), and apparently Simeon’s was as well, since his last son was by a Canaanite woman (46:10). Add the 9 to the 66 and you get the 75 that Stephen mentions.

The reunion of Jacob and Joseph (vs. 28-34)—Not knowing where the land of Goshen was, Jacob sent Judah on ahead to Joseph to show them where to go (v. 28). They arrived safely, and father and son (Joseph) meet: “he [Joseph] presented himself to him [Jacob], and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (v. 29). That must have been some reunion. After a while, Joseph prepared to leave and tell Pharaoh that his family had arrived. He advised his brothers that “when Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' that you shall say, 'Your servants' occupation has been with livestock (cattle, KJV, ASV) from our youth even till now, both we and also our fathers’” (vs. 33-34). This wasn’t true, they were shepherds, but Joseph didn’t want them to inform Pharaoh of that “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians" (v. 34). So, he advised them to lie. As we’ve seen, these great men of the Bible weren’t perfect.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Genesis 45

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers (vs. 1-15)—After Judah’s tear-jerking speech, “Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers” (v. 1). In verse 3, the matter is revealed: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph; does my father still live?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence.” The word “dismayed” has been variously translated; the Hebrew word can be used in a variety of ways—terrified, dismayed, bewildered, be in agony—and it’s possible that a little bit of all of that was in Jacob’s other sons. But Joseph explains, as he himself finally understands: “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (v. 6); “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (v. 8).

He informs them that there will be yet five more years of famine, and tells them to hurry back to Canaan, get their father and all their families and belongings, and return to Egypt. He would put them in the land of Goshen, a marvelously rich land in the Nile delta. At the end of the section, “he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him” (v. 15). It must have been a wonderful reunion.

Pharaoh hears about Joseph’s brothers (vs. 16-20)—The matter was reported to the king, and “it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well” (v. 16). Pharaoh told Joseph to tell his brothers what he had already told them: “Bring your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land” (v. 18). Joseph obviously knew Pharaoh well enough that he had presumed upon that course of action.

Joseph sends his brothers on their way (vs. 21-24)—Joseph provided all the necessities and provisions his brothers would need for the trip to Canaan and back. I can’t help but feel a little bit of irritation at Joseph: “He gave to all of them, to each man, changes of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments” (v. 22). Doesn’t he realize that such favoritism was the very reason his brothers sold him into slavery in the first? Now, they’ve shown much growth and maturity but he has to rub it in their faces again. But if the brothers were angered, there is no mention of it. “He sent his brothers away, and they departed” (v. 24).

They report to Jacob (vs. 25-28)—I’m sure they couldn’t wait to get home. They told their father, “Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt" (v. 26). Jacob’s reaction is unsurprising: “And Jacob's heart stood still, because he did not believe them” (v. 26). But they convinced him, and “the spirit of Jacob their father revived” (v. 27). “ Then Israel said, ‘It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die’" (v. 28). One cannot help but feel extreme joy for Jacob at the discovery that his favorite son, whom he thought for 22 years was dead, was actually alive and that he would see him again.  But I also wonder what he thought when his sons told him that they had sold Joseph into slavery and allowed their father, for those 22 years, to think he was dead.  Something to ask Jacob some day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Genesis 44

Joseph sets his trap (vs. 1-4)—After the meal, Joseph told his steward, “'Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the mouth of his sack. Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money'" (vs. 1-2). The steward obeyed, of course. Once the brothers had left, “Joseph said to his steward, "Get up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, 'Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and with which he indeed practices divination? You have done evil in so doing'" (vs. 4-5).

What in the world is he doing? It’s brilliant. Follow closely.

The brothers caught (vs. 6-13)—The steward overtakes the 11 sons of Jacob, and accuses them of the treachery Joseph had instigated. But especially the stolen cup. The brothers protest: “Look, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord's house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's slaves” (vs. 8-9). Uh oh. Of course, unbeknownst to the brothers, the cup was in Benjamin’s sack. It was found (v. 12). That put Benjamin under the curse of death and the brothers in slavery—by their own word. Not surprisingly, “they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city” (v. 13). Jacob might lose ALL of his sons, and not just Benjamin and Joseph.

Joseph confronts his brothers (vs. 14-17)—In effect, “how did you think you could get away with this?” The brothers, resigned to their fate—there is no way they could have withstood “the governor” of Egypt--respond, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord's slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found" (v. 16). But Joseph then puts forth the final bait in the trap: “Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father" (v. 17).

In other words, will they sell out Benjamin, Jacob's favorite, the same way they did Joseph?

Judah’s response (vs. 18-34)—This is the same Judah who had two sons so wicked that the Lord killed them and who, thinking his daughter-in-law was a harlot (she led him to believe that), impregnated her (see chapter 38). But that was probably at least two decades before. His response here in chapter 44 to Joseph is touching, to say the least. He recounts the events of the previous year, when they had come to Joseph for food. They had told him about their aged father and younger brother, who “cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die” (v. 22). But, Joseph demanded that the younger brother come the next time (v. 23). So, when their father told them to go to Egypt and get more food, they responded that they could not do it unless Benjamin go with them—“the governor’s” orders (v. 26). “Then your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, ‘Surely he is torn to pieces’; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (vs. 27-29). So Judah told Joseph that he had become surety for Benjamin and that he could not go back to Jacob without him. “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?" (vs. 33-34).

That closes this chapter, but even if the reader is totally unfamiliar with what happens next, Joseph’s reaction will probably not be a surprise.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Genesis 43

The brothers go back to Egypt (vs. 1-14)—The next year, the food that Jacob’s 10 sons had brought from Egypt was almost gone, so he wants to send them back. Judah, acting as spokesman, balks: “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down” (vs. 3-5). Jacob, miserable about that fact, asks why they told “the man” they had another brother, which was a dumb question, frankly, and the brothers rightly responded that “the man” had asked about their family; “could we possibly have known that he would say, 'Bring your brother down'?" (v. 7). Judah tells Jacob that he will act as surety for Benjamin: “If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (v. 9); at least he doesn’t volunteer the life of his two sons as Reuben had done the previous year. Jacob doesn’t like it, but acquiesces, “and may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin” (v. 14).

Joseph orders the brothers be taken to his house (v. 14-34)—When they arrive before Joseph, he commands that they be taken to his house. He tells his steward to “slaughter an animal and make ready; for these men will dine with me at noon" (v. 16). He spoke in Egyptian, of course, so Jacob’s sons didn’t understand. “Now the men were afraid because they were brought into Joseph's house; and they said, ‘It is because of the money, which was returned in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may make a case against us and fall upon us, to take us as slaves with our donkeys’” (v. 19). They explain matters to Joseph’s steward, who reassures them and provides water for them and sustenance for their donkeys (vs. 23-24). Simeon was restored to them as well (v. 23). When Joseph comes in, he asks about Jacob: "Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?" (v. 27). Recall that it’s been a year since he last saw his brothers.  After informing Joseph that their father is well, ”they bowed their heads down and prostrated themselves” (v. 28)—Joseph’s early dream re-enacting itself again. Upon discovering for sure that the new brother with them was indeed Benjamin, “his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there” (v. 30). Keep in mind it had been over 20 years since Joseph had seen his only true blood brother, and Benjamin was probably just a child when Joseph was sold into slavery. So there’s no way Joseph could have recognized him. After composing himself, Joseph orders the meal served; verse 32 records an interesting historical note: “So they set him [Joseph] a place by himself, and them [Jacob’s sons] by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians” (v. 32). Very haughty people, these Egyptians, but then they had been a great power for well over 1,000 years by this time. It would be like the United States having been around as the world’s policeman since about 800 A.D. That’s the age of Charlemagne, to tell you far back that is. Joseph had a little bit of the nepotistic nature of his father: “Benjamin's serving was five times as much as any of theirs” (v. 34). But the brothers didn’t seem to mind: “they drank and were merry with him [Joseph]” (v. 34). No doubt there was some relief over their non-threatening situation--and "astonishment" that they were being treated with such honor and deference (v. 33). The chapter ends on that happy note.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Genesis 42

Jacob sends his sons to Egypt (vs. 1-5)—As noted in the last chapter summary, the famine extended beyond the borders of Egypt and at least into Canaan. When Jacob and his household were low on food, he sent 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy some. 10 only—he kept Benjamin with him, “’Lest some calamity befall him’" (v. 4). The old man was still playing favorites with his sons. Benjamin, of course, was the other son of Rachel.

Joseph face to face with his brothers (vs. 6-17)—To get grain in Egypt, one had to go to Joseph, so his brothers appear before him. However, “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him” (v. 8); no doubt, the last place they expected to see their younger brother was as second in power in Egypt! And it had been over 20 years since they had seen him, too. Interestingly, “Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth,” (v. 6), and “Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them” (v. 9)—dreams that had happened over 20 years before. Joseph no doubt noticed that Benjamin wasn’t with him, and probably wondered why. So he concocted a brilliant plan to see what kind of men his brothers had become. He accused them of being spies, which they humbly, yet vehemently, denied. Joseph refused to accept their denial, and said to them “’It is as I spoke to you, saying, 'You are spies!' In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!’ So he put them all together in prison three days” (vs. 14-17). The brothers’ sins had found them out.

Joseph sends his brothers home (vs. 18-28)—After the three days, he changed the arrangements a little and had only one brother stay in Egypt; the other nine he sent home. But “bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die" (v. 20). There appeared to be some remorse already in the brothers: “They said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us’" (v. 21). Joseph, even though he had spoken through an interpreter, understood them, of course, and was so touched by their attitude that he had to go aside and weep (vs. 23-24). Nonetheless, he bound Simeon and imprisoned him and sent the others on their way. He didn’t take their money, though (v. 25), which caused some consternation among the brothers when they discovered that fact later (vs. 28, 35).

The brothers report to Jacob (vs. 29-38)—They told their father, as expected, all that happened on their trip, including the demand of Joseph that they bring Benjamin with them next time they came. Jacob was grieved at that latter bit of information: “'You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me'" (v. 36). Reuben, the oldest, manfully stood forth and said, “'Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you'" (v. 37); one only hopes his two sons were not within hearing distance of that pronouncement. But Jacob was adamant: "’My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave’" (v. 38). And on that bit of familial gridlock, the chapter ends.

What is Joseph doing? Why this ploy? It’s an amazing bit of chicanery he had devised to test his brothers. We shall see how it plays out in subsequent chapters.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Genesis 41

Pharaoh’s dreams (vs. 1-8)—Two years passed. And then Pharaoh had two dreams the same night, and they disturbed him greatly. In the first dream, seven fat cows came up out of the river and were feeding in the meadow (v. 2). But then, seven more cows, “ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke” (vs. 3-4). But then he fell asleep again and dreamed a second time. He saw seven heads of grain come up on one stalk, “plump and good” (v. 5). But then seven thin heads, “blighted by the east wind” (v. 6), sprang up and “devoured the plump and full heads” (v. 7). The next morning, greatly distressed—remember, as I pointed out in chapter 40, the Egyptians believed that such vivid dreams had meaning—he called for the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but “there was no one who could interpret [the dreams] for Pharaoh” (v. 8).

The chief butler remembers Joseph (vs. 9-13)—He recalls the events of that fateful night and day, and the two dreams “came to pass, just as he interpreted for us” (v. 13).

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams (vs. 14-36)—So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who cleaned up and appeared before the king. “I have heard it said of you,” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “that you can understand a dream, to interpret it" (v. 15). Being the godly man he was, Joseph gives credit where credit is due: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace" (v. 16). Pharaoh told Joseph the two dreams and indeed, the Lord gave Joseph the interpretation. The two dreams meant the same thing; “God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do” (v. 25). There would be seven years of abundant harvest, followed by seven years of severe famine. “The dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (v. 32). A dire warning, indeed. Joseph then (gratuitously?) advised Pharaoh upon a course of action: store up grain the first seven years (“one-fifth of the produce of the land,” v. 34). “Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine” (v. 36).

Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of the grain collecting (vs. 37-57)—The king thought the advice of Joseph was splendid and “said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?’" (v. 38). So Joseph was given oversight of the collection process. Indeed, he was made the second most powerful man in the land (v. 40). Pharaoh rewarded him with jewelry and clothing (v. 42), had him ride in “the second chariot” (v. 43), and made all the people bow down to him (v. 43). And Pharaoh presented Joseph a wife, Asenath, “the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On” (v. 45). A priest’s daughter was no small thing, for priests were second only to Pharaoh in importance to ancient Egyptians. Joseph had quite a comeuppance from being in jail.

Joseph was thirty years old now (v. 46), so 13 years had passed since he had been sold into slavery. God works in His own time. But he did a fine job for Pharaoh and the people of Egypt: “Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable” (v. 49). Egypt was ready for the seven years of famine.

The chapter ends with a few personal notes. To Joseph and Asenath were born two sons during the seven years of plenty—Mannasseh and Ephraim. The two names meant something. Mannaseh means “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house" (v. 51), and Ephraim signifies “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (v. 52). So, faithful to Jehovah as he was, Joseph was human and well remembered the 13 years of sorrow and hardship.

The seven years of plenty ended (v. 53), and the seven years of famine began. When the people needed food, Pharaoh told them “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do” (v. 55). Pharaoh had other things to do, such as being a god, so Joseph was put in charge of grain distribution as well. This will lead to a nice twist in chapter 42, because the famine hit not only Egypt, but also “was over all the face of the earth” (v. 56), that is, it struck all the surrounding countries as well.

Genesis 40

Two additions to the hoosegow (vs. 1-4)—The Pharaoh of Egypt became mad at his butler and baker, for some unexplained reason, and had them both thrown in jail (v.1), where Joseph “served them” (v. 4). These two men will be important in Joseph’s life, as the rest of the chapter indicates.

The two dreams (vs. 5-19)—One morning, Joseph finds both the butler and baker in melancholy moods. He asks them about it and is informed that they each had had a dream the previous night. The ancient Egyptians put great stock in dreams and portents, and the Lord used that to accomplish his purposes here. Joseph inquires about each dream, and giving the glory to God (v. 8), is able to interpret them. It was a good dream for the butler—in three days Pharaoh would return him to his position (v. 13). It was a bad dream for the baker—in three days “Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you" (v. 19). Joseph probably lost a friend on that one.

The interpretations prove true (vs. 20-23)—Poor Joseph. So far, if he hadn’t had bad luck, he wouldn’t have had any luck at all. Of course, this is all part of God’s providential plan. He had asked the butler, upon recounting the positive interpretation of his dream, to “remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house” (v. 14). A fair request. Three days after the dreams was Pharaoh’s birthday; the butler was restored to his post, the baker was hanged (v. 22). “Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (v. 23). It’s not time for Joseph’s appearance before Pharaoh.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Genesis 39

Joseph prospers in Potiphar’s house (vs. 1-6)—This chapter, and the rest of Genesis, cover the story of Joseph and how the children of Israel ended up in Egypt. It’s one of the most fascinating narratives in the Bible. Joseph was bought in Egypt by a man name Potiphar, who was a captain in Pharaoh’s guard (v. 1). “The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man” (v. 2), and because of that “Joseph found favor in his [Potiphar’s] sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority” (v. 4). So, in spite of being enslaved, things start out well for the young man. But the twists and turns in God’s providence are a wonder to behold and we shall see a deluge of them in Joseph’s tale.

Joseph cast into prison (vs. 7-20)—Verse 6 closes with, in effect, an introduction to the next section of the chapter: “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” And Potiphar’s wife noticed. Interestingly, the word for “officer” describing Potiphar also means “eunuch,” and Clarke suggests that Potiphar was one, and that it wasn’t unusual in the east for eunuchs to have wives or even large harems. Well, if he was a eunuch, that might explain part of what happens next, but verse 6, Joseph’s appearance, is the reason the Bible gives. Potiphar’s wife kept trying to get Joseph to go to bed with her. He wouldn’t do it: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (v. 9).  Joseph was an honorable young man, not just to God, but to his master as well.

One day, however, Potiphar's wife caught him alone in the house and further pressed her case. Joseph ran, but she had caught hold of his outer garment and ended up with it (v. 13). Well, a woman scorned, and all that…She explains to her husband what happened: “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside" (vs. 17-18). That’s not what occurred, of course, but she certainly wasn’t going to tell the truth. Potiphar then cast Joseph into prison. One commentator makes an interesting suggestion that may be true. Potiphar probably suspected the truth, i.e., that his wife had tried to seduce Joseph rather than visa-versa, and the officer's anger was not directed at his servant but at his wife. And he was further angry because he lost a good slave. He had to do something with Joseph, of course, to appease his wife, but he could have had him put to death. Whether that is the correct explanation or not, Joseph ends up in the hoosegow (v. 20).

Joseph’s success in prison (vs. 21-23)—Joseph is totally innocent of all of this, of course, and it’s nice to read that “the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (v. 21). Being in that prison was part of God’s providential plan. Naturally, Joseph did not know that, and won’t learn it for years; but the ways of God are far above ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). I refer the reader to my Bible blog article “Who Can Say to Him, ‘What Are You Doing?’ No. 7” for a full overview of the Joseph story and God’s workings in it. Bottom line in this section, though, is that, just like Potiphar, “the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners who were in the prison” (v. 22), and “whatever he [Joseph] did, the Lord made it prosper” (v. 23). The young man apparently never let his faith in Jehovah waver, or at least not to the extent of abandoning his God.