Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

Just a Reminder…

Gen 35.

Jacob’s life was a mess. Four wives, thirteen children, strained relations with family, a daughter who was raped, two sons who slaughtered an entire town…some of it inflicted upon him, but most the result of his own selfish, sinful choices. But there is one constant in Jacob’s life. God has been faithful to provide and take care of him and has even promised great things to come about through him and his progeny. He has brought Jacob back into the land and given him a new name: Israel, a reminder that God is the One who fights for him. Clearly God has blessed him…not for anything that Jacob has done, but because of who He is and His choice to bless. And although Jacob is back in the land and has built an altar and called God his God, he seems to forget his promise to return to Bethel, and instead buys a plot of land to settle in Shechem.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Jacob had promised on oath to return to Bethel. In narrative literature, the lesson is learned through the characters…by what happens to them and by the consequences of their actions. In the case of the trip to Shechem, Jacob’s daughter is raped and two of his sons commit mass murder. We find out also that Jacob’s clan has picked up foreign gods as a result of their excursion. Probably not a good decision to go to Shechem. Fleeing from there, the terror of God is on the inhabitants of the land (God fighting for Jacob). And God reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to fulfill his oath.

Seeing Jacob’s life displayed in all it’s tragic glory is…encouraging. You see, I’m a lot like Jacob in many ways. I too tend to want to take matters into my own hands, to “grab the heel” and gain the upper hand. I too have a hard time trusting that God will fight for me and remembering that He has done so in the past. I too face the consequences of selfish, sinful choices that I have made. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to use broken vessels to accomplish His purposes. And I too am thankful for that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Mission Impossible

Have you ever been asked to do something so seemingly outrageous and beyond your ability that you’re only option was to pray? Abraham’s servant (Let’s call him Eliezer.) can relate. In Genesis 24, Abraham requests that his most trusted servant, Eliezer, take an oath to find a wife for his son Isaac among Abraham’s relatives back in Paddan Aram. In an age before google maps and on-board navigation, finding the area where Abraham’s relatives lived would be difficult enough, but add to that the likelihood that once said maiden is found that she would be willing to leave her family and travel to a distant country to marry a man she’s never met, and you really do have an impossible mission.

But Eliezer heads out anyway. As the journey begins, he prays that the LORD would be merciful to his master Abraham and grant him (Eliezer) success on his quest. He asks for an unusual sign to designate the chosen mate, (not unlike what Gideon asked for hundreds of years later with the fleece) which was that the woman to whom he asked a drink of water would in turn offer to water his camels as well. To us that may not sound like a remarkable request, but given the fact that watering the camels could have been a very arduous task requiring several hours worth of work, the willingness of a young maiden to undertake it would indeed be noteworthy.

Lo and behold Rebekah shows up. She offers not only to get Eliezer a drink, but also to water his camels as well! He dares to hope. Then he finds out that she is a relative of Abraham’s! Looks like success. But now comes the tricky part where he needs to ask Rebekah (and permission from her brother Laban and mother Bethuel) to return with him. Will she do it? Without hesitation, Rebekah says, “I will go with him.” Much like Abraham’s willingness to leave his family and go, now Rebekah will do the same thing. Eliezer is so blown away by the LORD’s hand at work, that he repeats the story several times in the narrative, and the faithfulness of God is on display.

My wife questioned whether asking for a sign is evidence of a lack of faith…good question. But I believe that the willingness to follow God and do what He wanted motivated Eliezer to request a sign. The same is true for us. The next time we are given an impossible mission, and our our desire is to follow where God is leading, but it doesn’t seem clear, may we ask for a sign, for clear direction for the path ahead. And then let’s celebrate God’s faithfulness in directing our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.