A Backward Glance

Twenty years. Joseph had been separated from his family for twenty years. And after a masterfully played round of psychological terrorism (see prior post), he was now ready to reveal himself to his brothers. What would their reaction be? Clearly they had evidenced remorse over their prior treatment of him, but would they rejoice with him now that they were reunited? Or would they be driven to make excuses and pass the blame?

Genesis 45-46. Understandably, the brothers first response on hearing Joseph’s surprise unveiling was stunned silence, followed quickly by visible dismay. Having succumbed to Joseph’s mental attack, they were surely ready to face his retribution for their crime; but surprisingly it didn’t come. Instead Joseph received them warmly, falling on them and weeping on their necks. Joseph was truly glad to see them…but how? After all that they had put him through – murderous threats, throwing him into a pit, selling him to slave traders, which resulted in slavery, false accusations, prison, forgotten assistance…and then, ascendancy to the top spot in Pharaoh’s cabinet, marriage and two sons, deliverance for not only the Egyptians but also for the surrounding lands through the famine. Joseph’s declaration to his brothers gives us the “how”. He said, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”

Joseph was able to look back on the events of his life and interpret them in light of the dreams that God had revealed to him twenty years earlier as a teenage boy. At any point along the path, it would have been difficult if not impossible for Joseph to predict exactly how the story would end. No doubt he trusted God to work out the details, but there would have been questions along the way… It’s only in the rearview mirror, the backward glance, that Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work so clearly. The same is true for us. It is hard at times to believe that God has a plan for us…the details of everyday life and tough circumstances have a way of clouding our vision. But when we take time to look back over the landscape of our lives, the path seems less arbitrary and more defined as God has been working to get us to this point and will continue to lead us to the destiny He has for us. He only asks that we remain faithful with what he’s laid in our path today and follow where He leads.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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 More the Merrier?!?

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? My son Luke would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Luke loves sweets, and on more than one occasion when we’ve let our guard down, he’s eaten himself sick. Afterwards, it’s with the same resolve that he says, “I’ll never do that again!” only to stuff himself with ooey goodness once more. Ah well. Another guy who can testify to the demerits of overindulgence is Jacob. However his “sweet tooth” has nothing to do with candy.

Genesis 29-30. After conspiring with his mother, Rebekah, to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing, Jacob has to run for his life as a hot-tempered Esau plots to kill him. He spends a night in the field where the LORD appears to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder with its top reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending – access between the physical and spiritual planes (Jesus will use the same imagery with Nicodemus in John 1 to describe Himself as the bridge between heaven and earth – the only way to the Father). God officially pronounces the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, making him the undisputed heir of the Covenant. The next morning Jacob departs for Haran.

Upon arrival in Haran, Jacob meets Rachel and falls…hard. His love for her is the stuff of legend, a romance writer’s dream. Laban, Jacob’s uncle and Rachel’s father, offers Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage for seven years of service, a very steep price for a bride (more than double what would have been customary), but Jacob doesn’t seem put off at all. In fact, Moses tells us that the seven years seemed but a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. And just when we thought that they would live happily ever after…there’s a wicked twist in the plot.

Jacob soon learns that he and his mother are not the only ones in the family skilled in the art of deception. He meets his match in Laban. Not only is Laban able to extract twice the bride price for Rachel, he switches out her sister Leah at the wedding feast. Jacob, who deceived his dad by pretending to be his brother, is deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister at the direction of her father. And then before Jacob can protest too profusely, Laban again offers Rachel…for another seven years.

So Jacob finds himself with two wives and a vicious rivalry ensues between them. Leah, the more fertile of the two, jumps out of the gate with four sons. The sad thing is that the names of the first three (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) all indicate her unrequited love for Jacob. It’s not until Judah is born that she is able to put her focus on the LORD. Meanwhile, Rachel, realizing that she is barren (barren and beautiful just like Sarah and Rebekah), resorts to the same remedy that Sarah did – she gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate bride. And she has two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah also gives her maid to Jacob; and two more sons are born. Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter of her own. And finally Rachel has a son of her own and names him Joseph, saying “May God give me another son.”

The competition in this section would be comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. For in the midst of all the “good” – wives that seem to love him and many, many sons – Jacob’s family is a mess. Seeking to accomplish God’s purposes using their own wiles has resulted in an absolute mess. Although the consequences would make for a riotous reality TV show, the lesson is not unique for Jacob and clan. It’s been a repeated pattern in the lives of the patriarchs. Operating according to their own understanding results in pain and confusion and frustration for themselves and those around them, but operating according to God’s direction results in the uncomplicated realization of His promises (I find a similar truth at work in my life.). But God will bless them in spite of themselves, and through their line all the families of the earth will be blessed.  May God give us the grace to trust Him more and more with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging Him so that He may direct our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.