The Reveal

You can watch the message here.

Last week, we saw the brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin, the youngest brother that had remained in Canaan. Joseph is overcome with emotion and excuses himself to weep. The brothers completed the mission and purchased grain, but Joseph once again, ordered the money be returned to each man’s sack and Joseph also ordered his silver cup be placed inside Benjamin’s sack. The brothers head back to Canaan, but Joseph had a plan. He sent his steward to chase after the brothers and they are stopped on the way. The steward told them why he has chased them down and the brothers denied any wrongdoing. They told the steward that the cup was not there and went on to say that if it was found, the person in possession of the cup could be killed. Of course, they didn’t know that it was placed inside Benjamin’s sack. The cup is found and the brothers once again are beside themselves with grief. Judah speaks with Joseph and implores him to allow a trade. Instead of Benjamin remaining behind in Egypt to be a slave, Judah offered himself to remain reasoning that his father would die of grief if Benjamin did not return. This morning, Joseph reveals his true identity.

I encourage you to take a couple of minutes and read Gen. 45:1-15.

We begin with Joseph sending everyone away. Everyone of Joseph’s brothers are standing in front of him. It has been years in the making. Judah has delivered a very moving speech that seems to be a giant change of heart for him. If you remember, it was Judah that convinced his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites instead of killing him. It was also Judah that unknowingly slept with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute. That woman, Tamar became pregnant and bore the twins Perez and Zerah. The dreams that Joseph shared with his brothers so long ago have come to fruition. The story has been building and building and is nearly at its peak. Joseph can contain himself no longer and is overcome by emotion and not wanting to break down in front of everyone, he sends them all out and is left alone with his brothers. He is getting ready to tell his brothers who he is and does not want to share it with anyone. I wonder what the brothers were thinking. They have been accused of being spies, accused of stealing money – twice, and accused of stealing Joseph’s cup. Judah is anticipating becoming a slave to this man in exchange for the release of Benjamin.

If you remember back to Chapter 37 after Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers and his father, Jacob rebuked him and said, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Gen. 37:10) Remember too, that Joseph is the favorite of Jacob. I wonder what he would have said if one of the other brothers had the same dream? This was a dysfunctional family. The patriarch thought his favorite son was dead. The patriarch held on to Benjamin so tightly that it risked the safety and well-being of the rest of the family. The brothers hated their youngest brother to the point that they wanted him dead. A teenager naively told his brothers that he would rule over them one day. What was not anticipated by the people in this story is the powerful force that is our God. We have a group of brothers that hated one of their own. How much to you have to hate to want to see someone dead? There needed to be significant change in this family. Hatred needed to be replaced with love. Favoritism needed to be replaced with faith. Fear needed to be replaced with courage.

This is a lesson we need to learn in the way God works. God will use circumstances of life to bring about change. Jacob lamented over the presumed death of Joseph, the one whom he loved more than the others. Joseph was Jacob’s idol and when that idol was taken away, he replaced it with Benjamin. He held onto Benjamin so tightly that he refused to allow him to go to Egypt and save the family. Sometimes God allows tremendous hardship in our life to reveal who we really are.

This is a hard lesson. It comes down to something I have shared on many occasions in the past. Are we going to hold onto things so tightly that we don’t have room for God? Are we going to recognize the idolatry in our own lives? Jacob idolized Joseph and he was taken away. Jacob replaced that idol with another idol named Benjamin. Jacob risked the starvation of his family because he was unwilling to let go of his idol until he chose to let go and trust God. Sometimes God breaks our arms to force us to let go of our idols. I remember a pastor friend of mine from many years back. He had a very talented son that was recruited by a number of big time college football programs. He told me that his son would play football for one of those big programs for a year, then he would declare himself eligible for the NFL draft. He left his church and those under his care to pursue this NFL dream with his son. As talented as he was, the son didn’t play his first year and decided to transfer to a small school where his talents could be demonstrated and then go to the NFL. It was a great plan until he suffered a career ending injury.

Our faith grows the most in times of hardship and suffering. For some of us, it takes a downward spiral to rock bottom to realize that only God can provide what is needed. Out of options, Jacob relented and allowed Benjamin to go and it seemed like he went from favoring one child to finally acknowledging all his children in 43:14. God did a work in his heart. Not only did God work in Jacob’s heart, but consider the brothers. They have gone back and forth from Canaan to Egypt in order to purchase food for their starving family. They each could have gone their own way, but they stuck together. Judah was so concerned for the emotional well-being of his father that he begged and pleaded to remain in Egypt as a slave to Pharaoh so that Jacob would not die of heartache.

How did God accomplish this change of heart in the brothers that they would be willing to be enslaved to save their family? It seemed like the memory of what they did to Joseph kept coming back to the forefront. Remember Judah’s word to Joseph back in 44:16: “What can we say to my Lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” Their plot to kill Joseph only to sell him. Their desire to buy food only to be accused of being spies. Their journey back to Canaan only to discover their money had been returned. Their second journey back to Canaan and they found Joseph’s silver cup in their sack. They’re thinking everything they did, has been found out. They also witnessed their father stop favoring one child and instead demonstrated some type of love for all of them This emotional plea by Judah is too much for Joseph and, “He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it.” Joseph has gone back and forth with his brothers and they have done everything that he has asked. It looks like Joseph may not have believed that his brothers would actually do what was asked. The sons of Jacob are together again and this family moment must be shared in private.

The big reveal. “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.” Joseph lets the cat out of the bag and immediately inquires of his father. The brothers are too dumbfounded to be able to answer and I’m sure they’re asking themselves, “What is happening?” The focus is not on Joseph because his primary concern is the well-being of his father and it’s the third time he has asked the bothers about Jacob. Joseph has a legitimate concern because his father is getting up in years and there is a famine in the land. Just like that, the venue changes from Pharaoh’s court to a family reunion. Joseph invites his brothers to, “Please come closer to me.” In order to get a better look at the man in front of them, Joseph wants them to get closer to him. I’m sure there was some distance between them. When they got closer to Joseph, he says, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” It’s me, it’s me! Remember, you sold me all those years ago, remember?

In one of the most compassionate, heartfelt speeches in all the Old Testament, Joseph explains what really happened to him with a most holy, godly, and wonderfully overwhelming demonstration of God’s love. Look carefully at vs. 7-13. Joseph establishes the framework for his present situation. Knowing they must feel guilt over what happened, he tells them, you may have sold me, but God really sent me here to make sure that people live. The famine has been going on for two years at this point and there are still five years left. The brothers intended to destroy, but God intended to deliver. During difficult circumstances, we often lament that God is ignoring us, He is somehow disconnected from us and doesn’t care what is happening. I have been there and I understand. It is often hard to determine what God is doing, if anything, when we focus on ourselves. Remember what Joseph has gone through. His brothers hated him growing up. His brothers made fun of him calling him names. He was thrown in a pit and left for dead. He was brought out of the pit to be sold. He was sold again and then accused of rape. He was thrown into prison without due process. He correctly interpreted dreams of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker. He was forgotten about in prison for another two years before getting out to correctly interpret Pharaoh’s dreams about the famine. Joseph’s life was filled with difficult circumstances, but we don’t have any record of him complaining or crying out to God in despair. In fact, Joseph is the only human being in Scripture in which there is no recorded sin.

You might be arguing that Joseph was led by God and so it was easy for him to follow. Based on my reading of Scripture, it seems apparent to me that Joseph made the best out of every situation he was in. He didn’t depend on his circumstances to determine his happiness or what he was to do. Do you think that it is a coincidence that everywhere he went, he ended being someone who led the way? He was someone that maintained a positive, godly attitude regardless of the horrid conditions he was in. Joseph was faithful to do what was right, to do what was godly in all of the terrible circumstances he was in. He didn’t wait to see what God would do first; he acted in a godly manner regardless. It is difficult to find the Josephs in today’s church. We’re too busy trying to determine what’s in it for us before we decide to serve Christ. We’re too busy with our lives to determine if we can faithfully follow Christ. We’re too busy blaming others. We’re too busy getting distracted by people who are anti-God, anti-Gospel, and anti-church. We’re too busy lamenting our horrible circumstances, even if they’re of our own making, to acknowledge that God is the answer; He’s always been the answer. Joseph tells his brothers to go back to Canaan and tell Jacob all the wonderful things that are in Egypt and to hurry back where the entire family will be provided for. Unable to hold it together after his speech, Joseph, “fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.”

What a story of hope. What a story of sovereignty. What a story of trust. What a reminder of hope. What a reminder of sovereignty. What a reminder of trust. In the difficult circumstances of this life, do not lose sight of the One that holds it all together. God uses the circumstances of life to draw men to Himself, to point men to Christ, to show humanity that He is the way, the truth, and the life. What will become of the family? What will Jacob say when he hears Joseph is alive and well? Join us next week.

This is a Test

You can watch the video for this sermon here.

Last week, we saw Joseph ruling over the land of Egypt and his brothers came to him, but they did not recognize Joseph as their brother. Joseph remembers the dreams he had when he was younger. The brothers tell Joseph they have come to Egypt to buy grain, but Joseph accused them of being spies. They tell Joseph they are 12 brothers, the youngest is back with their father and one of them is no longer living. Joseph throws them all in prison for three days. When they are released, they stand before Joseph again. The brothers talk and argue among themselves not knowing Joseph understood them. Simeon remains behind as a down payment and the brothers leave Egypt with the grain they purchased not knowing that Joseph ordered the money be returned to them. This morning, we find the brothers stopping for the night and make an incredible discovery.

I encourage you to take the time to read our text for today found in Gen. 42:26-38.

This is a test. The mission they were sent on required them to buy grain in Egypt. Jacob heard there was grain there and sent ten of his sons on a mission to get food. Jacob kept Benjamin, the youngest, at home and Joseph was presumed dead. After making their purchase and leaving Simeon behind, the brothers depart for Canaan unaware of what Joseph had done. When they stopped for the night, one of the brothers opened his sack to get food for his donkey and discovered the money was in the sack. This unidentified brother says, “My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.” And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” There can only be a few possibilities as to why this happened. This was simply a mistake. The money was inadvertently placed in the grain bag. This would be unlikely since the money originally would have been in a different container. The workers responsible for loading the bags are probably not the ones that collected the money. This could also be a test. The brothers have been accused of being spies and have been sent back to Canaan to retrieve the youngest while Simeon remains locked up. Does the leader of Egypt want to add theft to their charges?

No matter how this happened, the brothers were undone. “Their hearts sank, and they turned to one another, saying, “What is this God has done to us?” Hearts sank literally means their hearts went out. They lost courage. The trembling represents a paralyzing fear. This is curious given what they said to each other what was probably earlier in the day when they were in front of Joseph, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother.” Now they attribute this turn of events to God. At this point, the reasons remain unknown and the brothers continue their journey back to Jacob.

The brothers report to Jacob. The brothers made their way back from Egypt and tell Jacob all that happened . . . almost. Look at vs. 29-34. Remember the last time the brothers gave a report to Jacob in 37:32, it was to tell him of the loss of Joseph. They begin to tell Jacob about, “The lord of the land” not knowing they were telling Jacob about Joseph. The brothers share the danger they were in by saying, “the man . . . spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country.” Harshly here means badly, painfully, severely, roughly, and rigorously. I can’t help but think of the things we’ve seen in the news about words hurting and people needing safe places against words. They say they were accused of being spies. They told Jacob that they shared about being 12 brothers, one brother was dead and one brother remained at home. This is backwards from what they actually told Joseph.

When they were in front of Joseph, they said, “The youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.”  Why even bother with this? Remember the accusation, “You are spies.” The brothers are trying to convince the lord of the land that they are honest men simply seeking food for their family in this very severe famine. The brothers have to convince Jacob to let them bring Benjamin back to Egypt to prove to the lord of the land that they are honest men. They tell Jacob that in order to prove their honesty, they had to leave one brother behind and then they have to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. They don’t mention that Simeon was actually in prison. And we aren’t told if Jacob asks about him or figured it out on his own since the other nine are standing in front of him. If all goes according to plan, they would bring Benjamin back to the lord of the land in Egypt, he would be convinced of their honesty and they could, “trade in the land.” This is a very simple requirement to the brothers. Trading in the land was not something that Joseph mentioned when they were in his presence. Perhaps they assume this to be true. Perhaps they make it up. This family is starving and all that stands between satisfying their hunger and starvation is Jacob.

Let me remind you of the brother’s character. These are the same brothers that conspired to make a deal with Hamor and Shechem to be able to intermarry and trade in the land if Dinah was allowed to marry Shechem. Two of the these are the same brothers, Simeon and Levi, that murdered all of the Hivite men. These are the same brothers that looted the city. These are the same brothers that were jealous of Joseph. These are the same brothers that wanted to kill Joseph, but ended up putting him in a pit. These are the same brothers that sold Joseph to Midianite traders. These are the same brothers that lied to Jacob showing him the tunic covered in blood that convinced him that Joseph was killed by a wild beast. I think it’s safe to conclude what their character is and honesty is not one of the qualities I would use. The brothers have presented the options to Jacob and they believe this is the only solution to the famine in Canaan. Jacob is left to carefully consider the options presented by his sons.

And now the plot thickens. After presenting the requirements to prove their honesty, the brothers unpack from their long journey. Remember when they stopped for the night on their way back from Egypt, an unnamed brother found the money in his sack. This freaked out the brothers leaving them to wonder what God was doing. If that wasn’t bad enough, “every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.” I am sure they frantically looked from one brother to the next and wondered what was happening. How could this be explained? Were they being set up by the lord of the land? Jacob was apparently watching this unfold and they were all dismayed. Dismayed means dumbfounded, confounded, overwhelmed, shocked, and thunderstruck. They were totally confused as to what was occurring right before their eyes. I wonder why they all didn’t check their sacks the night before. They stare in disbelief at the money that was in their sacks. They went to Egypt to buy food and they returned with food and all the money too. What is shocking to me, given the character of the brothers, is that they don’t jump for joy over this turn of events. Was Jacob suspicious given the fact that when all the brothers were together last, Joseph ended up dead? Did he think that perhaps the same fate came to Simeon? Were the boys being honest with their father?

How honest are you? Do you return the change that was mistakenly given to you or do you thank the Lord for His provision and supply? Do you pad the numbers on your taxes to get a bigger refund or to owe less in taxes? Do you develop sudden sickness that prevents you from going to work or church, but miraculously recover in order to go to the beach, a movie, a concert, or whatever? If you’re asked a question by your boss, your spouse, your friend, your co-worker, how easy is it to drop a white lie to cover yourself? It’s very difficult to be dishonest in some instances and honest in others. Honesty is the best policy, but it does come with consequences. When you are honest, there are people that may take offense. When you are honest, there are people that may be hurt. Yes, honesty is the best policy, but don’t use it as a weapon. It’s the truth some may say. Of course, but truth spoke apart from love comes across as judgmental and intolerant. The brothers have quite the conundrum and Jacob is beside himself. “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” Whatever hopes the brothers had of going back to Egypt with Benjamin are stripped away at this turn of events. Jacob is bereaved. This means he has been deprived of his children. Joseph is gone. Simeon is as good as gone. Add Benjamin to the mix and Jacob is undone. All these things are working against Jacob and he concludes that all this is the fault of the brothers. He sent them to Egypt to get grain that would sustain them during the famine. Jacob trusted them to get the job done and now the reality of what is happening is settling in on him.

In a dramatic proposal, “Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” Reuben is the oldest and perhaps would be considered most responsible for these events. Is Reuben really offering up his two sons if they didn’t return? He’s trying to persuade Jacob to let Benjamin return to Egypt to convince the lord of the land that they are honest men. I think Reuben is offering up something he knows would not happen. What are the chances that Jacob would kill his own grandchildren? Why would Jacob inflict additional heartache on himself? The chances seem good that none of the sons would return from this ordeal. Afterall, should they go back to Egypt with Benjamin and stand, once again, in front of the lord of the land, surely the previous mistake of the returned money would be brought up. How would this be explained? Reuben offers up his own sons should he not return with Benjamin and Simeon. Jacob’s response to this proposal is spoken with finality, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”

Jacob leaves no doubt in Reuben’s mind as to his answer. “My son shall not go down with you.” This is some of the strongest language used in Hebrew leaving absolutely no doubt as to what Jacob says. There is something very troubling in Jacob’s words. Listen again to what he tells Reuben, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left.” Let’s review. Joseph is in Egypt, but Jacob doesn’t know that. Simeon is in Egypt. Benjamin is at home with Jacob. Jacob has 12 sons so there are nine standing in front of him with Reuben making the pitch to take Benjamin and Jacob tells Reuben that he alone is left referring to Benjamin. This is no contradiction. Jacob’s 12 sons were born to four different women. Let’s remember how he got here. He wanted Rachel, but got Leah. Rachel had two sons: Joseph and Benjamin. Jacob believes Joseph is dead and so all that remains is Benjamin. Put yourself in Reuben’s shoes as all becomes clear. Reuben is told what he and his brothers knew all along. Jacob didn’t really consider the other boys as his sons. In his mind, Jacob had two sons: Joseph and Benjamin that were born from his true love. Jacob’s reasoning for his decision to keep Benjamin at home is also spoken with finality, “If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.” Harm here means deliberately inflicted physical injury. It’s only used five times in the Old Testament and three of those times are in reference to Joseph. It seems that what the brothers did to Joseph continues to bring painful reminders to them. Jacob cannot allow Benjamin to be used in this manner because if he gets harmed, Jacob would literally die from a broken heart. Benjamin is the last son in his old age.

Genesis is filled with twists and turns and intrigue. The brothers have returned from their mission to purchase food in Egypt because of the famine in Canaan. They unknowingly meet with their brother Joseph face to face who they call the lord of the land. They’re accused of being spies and to prove their honesty, the lord of the land puts Simeon in prison and orders the brothers to return with the remaining brother. The brothers are sent on their way only to discover the money used to purchased grain has been returned. They try to convince Jacob to allow them to return to Egypt with Benjamin, but learn the painful truth that Jacob really only considers himself to have two sons, one who he believes is dead. That leads to his forceful decision that Benjamin would not be allowed to return with the brothers to Egypt. What will happen next? Will the brothers return? Will Simeon be released? With Joseph’s true identity be revealed? Join us next week when we answer these and many others questions.

I have a Dream

You can watch the video for this message here.

Last week, Joseph was serving time in jail for the false accusations from Potiphar’s wife. In jail, he meets the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker who were confined for offending the king. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream and Joseph asks him to remember him when he is restored to his position. Joseph also interprets the baker’s dream, but that dream foretold a nightmare that ended with the hanging of the baker and birds eating the flesh off his body. Chapter 40 ended with some very sad words, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” This morning, the narrative picks up two years later and Pharaoh has a dream.

I hope you’ll grab your Bible and look at Gen. 41:1-45.

It has been two years since Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker. The cupbearer was restored to his position. The baker was hanged from a tree and the birds ate his flesh. Even though Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams, the chief cupbearer failed to mention this to Pharaoh and Joseph remains in jail. Pharaoh has a dream and, in this dream, we find him standing by the Nile. The Nile River flows from Lake Victoria in southern Egypt north to the Mediterranean Sea, some 5600 km or about 3500 miles away. This river was extraordinarily important providing water for irrigation in the very dry climate. It also provided a water highway with boats traveling north with the current and south aided by the favorable north winds coming off the Mediterranean Sea. There were annual flood stages in early spring or summer that provided relief from the otherwise dry and dusty conditions. The flooding resulted from the heavy rain in southern Egypt, what is modern day Sudan and South Sudan. The rain washed red mud into the Nile which was brought downstream to Egypt depositing that mud onto the banks. The bigger the flood stage, the farther inland the mud would be deposited. This new, rich mud was very fertile providing good soil to grow all manner of crops.

In his dream, Pharaoh is standing on the bank of the Nile and out of the Nile come seven cows that were sleek and fat. These seven cows grazed on the marsh grass that was common on the bank of the Nile. Remember, the bank was particularly fertile and would be a common feeding ground for birds, livestock, and other animals. These cows were sleek – they were smooth and healthy looking; well fed. These are the kind of cows you see at the fair – gorgeous animals. As those gorgeous cows grazed, seven other cows came up out of the Nile. These cows were ugly and gaunt. These two sets of cows set up a very stark contrast. Pretty and healthy cows next to ugly and malnourished cows. In a shocking turn of events, the ugly cows eat the pretty cows. This image was so disturbing to Pharaoh that he woke up. As often happens with us following a bad dream, Pharaoh falls back to sleep and he dreams again. This second dream involves something vital to Egypt’s economy. In Pharaoh’s second dream, he saw a corn stalk that produced seven plump ears of corn. Then seven ears of corn sprouted after the good ones, but these were thin and scorched by the wind. Those thin ears swallowed up the plump ears and then Pharaoh awoke.

Not surprisingly, he was troubled in the morning so, “He called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Dream interpretation was very common in Egypt in those times. Magicians were commonplace in the courts of foreign kings and a better term for them would be chief lector priest. These were wise men, well educated, and smart that were able to provide guidance to the king. They also practiced secret arts and were believed to be gifted by the gods. These secret arts or magic were forbidden in Israel. Not a single one of these smart guys was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.

Enter Joseph. Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer is witnessing this play out and it reminds him of his time in jail. He speaks up in an apologetic tone and tells Pharaoh a story. Take a quick look at vs. 9-13. The chief cupbearer recounts the story of his incarceration when he met a Hebrew youth. That Hebrew youth correctly interpreted the dreams of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. This news likely encouraged Pharaoh. They call Joseph up from jail, but he had to get presentable first. After a haircut, shave, and a change of clothes, he enters into the presence of Pharaoh. Think of the change of position. Joseph goes from being in jail, even though he is a servant of the captain of the guard, to being in the same room with the most powerful man in Egypt.

Without preamble or fanfare, it’s straight down to business, “Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” This conclusion is based on Joseph correctly interpreting just two dreams: the chief cupbearer and the baker. If you recall from Chapter 37, Joseph had two dreams about himself and in his youthful inexperience, told the dream to his brothers who then nicknamed him the dreamer. This situation is different. Pharaoh’s advisors are grasping at straws to help him and they’re going to put it all on Joseph’s shoulders. Joseph responds to Pharaoh’s statement by saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Joseph rightly gives God the credit for his ability to interpret dreams. The favorable answer does not come in the form of what Pharaoh wants to hear, but in the fact that a correct interpretation will be provided. That is the confidence Joseph has in God. I don’t know if Joseph had butterflies in his stomach, I don’t know if he felt anxious, but he was in the presence of Pharaoh to perform one function: interpret dreams that no one else in Pharaoh’s court could do: no pressure.

Pharaoh provides Joseph an account of the dreams in vs. 17-24. Seemingly without hesitation, Joseph has an answer to the dreams: “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do.” Joseph sets up two important aspects of the interpretation by saying the two dreams are the same. And he tells Pharaoh that God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do. Wouldn’t it be nice for God to reveal to us what He is going to do in various aspects of our lives? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a list of promises made by God that we could remind ourselves about His faithfulness? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could converse with God and remind Him about what He said He’d do? So, what is God about to do in Egypt? Look at vs. 26-31. Joseph explains what the two dreams mean. The seven fat and healthy cows represent seven years. The seven plump ears of corn represent seven years of plenty. Seven lean cows mean seven years. Seven thin ears of corn mean seven years and these are seven years of famine. This has got to cause Pharaoh’s heart to skip a beat. Joseph concludes the interpretation by saying, “God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.” Joseph has confidence, not in himself, but in God to correctly provide him with the truth of the dream.

After providing the quick interpretation into the dream, Joseph elaborates in the next few verses about what is coming. Joseph goes on to say, “Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.” This is going to happen. It is a certainty and it’s going to happen quickly. Joseph is not panicking and he’s not freaking out even though he is a prisoner in the jail released for a quick dream interpretation, and don’t think he’s not aware that the result of the dreams will affect him too. In my mind, he is a picture of calmness. When things go sideways, you want someone that is calm, cool, and collected. You want someone that has been in the fire, someone that has experienced troubled times and has demonstrated an ability to assess the situation and take action.

After sharing the problem that Egypt will face, Joseph provides the solution. Look at vs. 33-36. Good leadership does not identify a problem and leave it at that. Joseph suggested finding a man that was discerning and wise. These two qualifications would be necessary for the plan to succeed. If you have been in an organization, it won’t take long for you to see things from a different perspective. You want to frustrate someone with God given leadership ability? Complain about a situation and offer no solution. Identify a problem, and leave sorting it out to others. Say things like, “You should do . . . .” Say things like, “At my last _________, we did it like this.” “Back home, we did it this way.” Or you have someone in leadership that makes a decision without getting input from those that are leaders below him. Decisions made without considering the effect of those decisions on the organization. I always found it interesting when I attended a conference or workshop for ministry that told me how I could increase giving, how I could increase attendance, or how I could reach more people. Proven principles that could be mine if I bought the book or attended another workshop. Joseph tells Pharaoh the problem and then gives him the plan to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. Joseph provides a plan for Pharaoh to follow, and it is Pharaoh’s decision on whether or not to follow it. No matter who you are or how high up in an organization you are, you’re accountable to someone. Even in countries with dictators, the people can revolt.

In a nutshell, Joseph’s plan includes stockpiling resources during the seven years of plenty. Every year, Pharaoh will exact a 20% tax of everything that is produced in Egypt. That’s outrageous! To help you understand what this means, let’s compare that to the United States. In the US, we have seven tax brackets: 10, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35, and 37% which is further adjusted depending on your filing status. It’s a progressive scale: the more money you make, the more you will pay in taxes, but there’s a catch. Regardless of how much you make, everyone pays the same percentage in taxes on the money they make. Confused? I’ll use married filing jointly. Everyone pays 10% in taxes for income earned up to $19,750 which is $1975.00. This tax rate is based on the adjusted gross income meaning after deductions. If you make more than $19,750, you’ll pay 12% in taxes for income up to $80,250. 10% on the first $19,750 then 12% on the rest up to $80,250. Some of your eyes are glazing over so let me make it real for you. Let’s say you make $50,000 per year. You pay 10% in taxes on the first $19,750 and 12% on the remaining $30,250 so your tax burden is $1975 plus $3630 which equals $6605. You have an effective tax rate of 13.21% provided to the government in the form of income tax. That comes out to a median tax rate of about 14.2% for Americans. There are other variables and also ways to lower your tax burden. So, Joseph proposed a 20% tax. By comparison, Americans pay 22% for income earned over $80,251. After seven years, there would be a stockpile of resources equivalent to 140% of all that was produced.

Keep in mind, the famine would be so severe, that people would forget about the years of abundance. A simple and thoughtful response from Pharaoh: “The proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants.” Pharaoh recognizes a good plan when he hears it. It’s not a big deal when you’re in charge, to recognize and approve a plan you did not come up with. No one leader has all the answers, all the wisdom, all the ability, or all the variables to not need anyone providing input. Pharaoh understands that someone will need to oversee this plan and asks the very loaded question, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” Pharaoh answers his own question by saying, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”      The conclusion is a valid one that Pharaoh recognizes. Only someone that possessed the Spirit of God could come up with a correct interpretation of the dream and only a person with the Spirit of God could come up with a plan so farsighted that success was guaranteed. This meeting concludes with the formalities that accompany elevation to the second highest post in all of Egypt. We end it in vs. 42-44.

Even though the chief cupbearer forgot about Joseph for two years, Joseph did not give up hope. Think of Joseph’s life to this point. From brother to dreamer to slave to being falsely accused to prisoner to prison leader to dream interpreter to being forgotten to being in the presence of Pharaoh to dream interpreter to strategist and finally being second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt. Good things come to those who wait, right? Not really, but it’s a catchy phrase that believers throw out as empty encouragement. Joseph’s story is one of betrayal, pain, and suffering, but also one of endurance, and perseverance and faithfulness. There is one other thing that was given to Joseph: “Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt.” All this and as we’ll see next week, Joseph is 30 years old.

Trouble in the Family

TroubleYou can watch the video for this message here.

Last week we were introduced to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. When parents play favorites, it’s never good for the family and we saw that in Chapter 37. Joseph’s brothers hated him just because Jacob loved him more. It really had nothing to do with Joseph himself although he could interpret dreams. We left with Joseph being pulled out of the pit and sold to some Midianite traders who went to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar who served as the captain of the bodyguard for Pharaoh. This morning, we’ll interrupt the Joseph narrative and focus on Judah.

Read Gen. 38:1-30.

We start with Judah leaving his brothers in favor of moving out on his own. We don’t know why Judah decided to venture out of the bonds of family. There is speculation that he wanted to leave the guilt he felt over what happened to Joseph. Judah visited the Canaanite town of Adullam where he meets up with a man named Hirah. While in Adullam, Judah sees a woman who is the daughter of Shua. Judah takes this woman as his wife and she produces offspring named Er, Onan, and Shelah. It seems Er and Onan were born in Adullam and Shelah was born in Chezib located just west of Adullam. Judah has three sons so it’s looking good. Er means watchful. Onan means strength or vigorous. Shelah means drawn out from the womb. We’ll see each of these again in Chapter 46 and then they’re mentioned in Num. 26:19 and 1 Chr. 7:32. Adam, Noah, and Terah all had three sons so Judah is in good company.

We now get into some disturbing detail about Judah’s sons. Judah finds a wife for Er named Tamar. What is significant about Tamar is that her heritage is not mentioned. Many assume she is Canaanite since that’s where Judah was geographically. The down side of this is that she is not an Israelite and Judah has lined up a foreign wife for his son. Remember Abraham sending his servant on a mission to find a girl for Isaac. The servant was made to swear not to find one from the Canaanites. And remember Rebekah pleaded with Isaac to send Jacob away to because she didn’t want him marrying someone from Canaan. At this point, I want to remind you that Jacob served Laban to get Rachel who he loved, but got Leah and had to work even longer to get Rachel.

Verse 7 says, “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life.” There’s more in this verse not said than said. Er is mentioned as the first born for the second time in back to back verses. At this point in Genesis, we should understand the importance of being the first born. With it came honor and blessing and inheritance. There would be none of that for Er. He was, “evil in the sight of the Lord.” We don’t know what evil he committed, but the key is that he was evil in the sight of God. There is a standard for humanity that God expects and it doesn’t matter if you’re a follower of Christ or not.

Now vs. 8-10. Onan is the second born and had the responsibility to produce off spring for the now dead Er. Some of the Sadducees asked Jesus about this in Lu. 20:27-28. We need to look at Deut. 25:5-10 to find out what the requirements were. To us, this practice is very strange, but this is the way it was back then. It was important to carry on the family name. Before you try and tell me how dumb this is, we see this same idea today. A family has a pile of girls and they keep trying to produce that man child. Instead of following the procedure of Deuteronomy that we read, Onan, “wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother.” This is troubling for a number of reasons. Onan was told by Judah to fulfill his duty as the brother-in-law. If he didn’t want to do it, there was a procedure for that. But he still went in to his sister-in-law. When Er died, Onan took his place as the first born and would be entitled to all the honor and blessing of the first born. If off spring were produced, then Onan remains second. “What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.” Two thirds of Judah’s sons are dead and only Shelah remains and Judah works to protect him.

“Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”; for he thought, “I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.” Judah sends Tamar back to her father’s house to be a widow. There are certain protections afforded a widow mentioned in several places in Scripture. Judah attributes the misfortune of Er and Onan to Tamar. Tamar is bad luck, but Judah does say that when Shelah gets older, he’ll send him to her. Judah is oblivious as to is why his sons actually died.

Be wary of a woman scorned. A considerable time has passed and Judah’s wife died. This story takes a very dramatic and dastardly turn and we dive deeper into the character of Judah and Tamar. Look at vs. 12-14. Tamar takes things into her own hands and sets up a sting for Judah. Judah mourned appropriately for his dead wife and returns to the daily grind. Sheep shearing was a big deal in that culture and it’s time to shear the flocks. Judah gets his friend Hirah and goes to Timnah to meet up with the sheep shearers. The grapevine was in full action and Tamar hears about Judah’s trip. Remember, she’s taken on the role of a widow until Shelah grows up. How long this has been is not known exactly, but it has been a considerable time. Tamar knows that Shelah has grown up and she knows she’s not married to him. Tamar changes out of her widow’s clothes. This clothing was somehow distinctive and anyone seeing a woman dressed in these clothes would know the woman was a widow. Tamar puts on a veil and wraps herself up and goes to the place where Judah must pass in order to get to Timnah.

Look at vs. 15-19. Judah sees her and thinks she’s a prostitute. He begins talking with her and says, “Here now, let me come in to you.” As a side note, it’s important to point out that just because this event is in Scripture, it gives no endorsement or approval to prostitution. It was a fact of life that this did and still occurs. It does not make it right then and it does not make it right now. He does not know it’s his daughter-in-law and she says, “What will you give me?” He says, “I will send a young goat from the flock.” She knows he doesn’t have a goat with him so she says, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?” Here’s where it gets very calculated. Tamar wants something of Judah’s that would identify him as the one. Judah foolishly agrees to give her his seal, his cord, and his staff. These items were unique to the owner. This was his identification. The deal is settled and they engage in the illicit activity and low and behold, Tamar conceives. Judah goes on his way leaving Tamar with the seal, cord, and staff and we leave Tamar changing back into her widow’s clothes. The trap has been set and Judah walked right into it.

It’s time to settle up. Judah is good to his word and sends Hirah back with the young goat to get his personal items. Look at vs. 20-23. Hirah tried to complete the mission and even inquired from the townsfolk, but they didn’t know anything about a temple prostitute. There has been some discussion about the use of the word temple prostitute here instead of harlot in v. 15. Temple prostitutes were common in cults and false religions. The reality was that the lady Hirah was looking for was not to be found. His mission a failure, Hirah returns to Judah. Fearing that his reputation will be sullied, Judah considers the matter closed and concludes that the harlot can just keep his stuff.

It’s time for a plot twist. Read vs. 24-26. For a society that had no electronic communication, they sure kept abreast of current events. Three months have passed and Judah is told that Tamar “has played the harlot” meaning that it was obvious she was with child. People in the area knew she was a widow to Er and since Onan was also dead, the responsibility fell to Shelah. Since Shelah was not in the picture, the people correctly concluded that she became pregnant by harlotry. If she had been violated, surely that would have caused angst with her father which would have brought retribution. Judah’s reaction is a bit over the top because he says, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” He apparently forgot that he engaged with a prostitute just three months earlier and makes no connection with the coincidental timing of the pregnancy. Judah wants her killed because she was supposed to take on the role of a widow which does not include bearing children. Remember the rules of Deut. 25 were not followed and you can’t dismiss it because Deuteronomy hadn’t been written at the time of this event. Judah was the one who told Onan to fulfil the responsibility of a brother-in-law so the family knew the rules. Judah displays a complete lack of compassion and empathy and doesn’t even consider that he reneged on his pledge to send Shelah to Tamar.

At the most critical time of the narrative as Tamar is brought to her father-in-law, she drops the bomb. In my mind, she innocently says, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” Judah looks at the items and I am sure he felt like vomiting. He has been found out; he has been duped; he has become a willing participant in a game he had no idea he was playing. I  make no justification for Tamar’s actions. She was wronged by Onan and she was wronged by Judah and she took matters into her own hand. Judah humbles himself and says, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again.” We fast forward six months and Tamar goes into labor. We learn that there is not one child, but two. This is not the first time twins are born in Genesis. Remember Jacob and Esau. This is the same verbiage used in Gen. 25:24. The birth of these twins is very interesting and someone comical. “While giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on is hand, saying, “This one came out first.” Keep in mind that birth order was critically important in the Hebrew culture. The first little guys reaches out with his hand and the midwife tied a scarlet thread indicating that he is the first one. Anyone who has been around multiples knows it’s hard to tell them apart when they are the same sex. They’re equally wrinkly and red. This first born is a trickster and just wants to test the air. After he gets the string tied to his wrist, he says, forget it and goes back inside. So the next guy says, I’m outta here and he makes his entrance to the world. The midwife says, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez.” That word breach has nothing to do with the actual delivery. Breach here means an act of breaking the law. He is named Perez which literally means breach or break through. After Perez is born, out comes the one with the scarlet thread and he is named Zerah which means dawning or brightness.

Judah has left the safety and security of his brothers and ventures out on his own. It’s difficult to find anything redeeming in the sordid tale of Judah and Tamar. We see death and unfulfilled promises. We see trickery and deceit. This despicable and disgusting story does have redeeming value. Don’t take tings into your own hands. Trust God and He will fight for you. What happens to Judah? What about Tamar? What about Perez and Zerah? Meanwhile, over in Egypt, Joseph is in the house of Potiphar and next week, the story shifts back to him.

Do You want to Know the Answer?

I grew up in Des Plaines, IL and we didn’t have a lot of folks of color there. I moved to Rock Hill, SC in 1978. There was a lot of color. I could see they were different than I was. It didn’t matter. I talked with them and they talked with me. It didn’t matter. I went to Winthrop College (now University). There were people of color there. It didn’t matter. We played sports together, went to class together, and lived together. It didn’t matter. I joined the Navy in 1983. I went to boot camp with people of all kinds of color. It didn’t matter. I served on submarines with people of all colors. It didn’t matter. They watched out for me and I watched out for them. Their life was in my hands and my life was in their’s. We were together. One crew, one submarine, one nation. It didn’t matter.

Somewhere along the way in my 57 years, it started to matter, and I asked myself why? What changed over the years? I know I have changed. I have become more aware of the learned biases that people have. I have learned that it’s easier to generalize and compartmentalize. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have a married or dating couple where one is white and one is Asian, but it’s not okay when one is white and one is black. That is illogical to me. I’ve learned that it’s easier to avoid direct conversation to understand the plight of people different than me than it is to recognize I could be an unknowing contributor to the problem.

I serve as a patrol supervisor in my police department. I am always on scene in difficult circumstances. I see the behavior of people that sickens me to the core. They are sometimes white, sometimes black, brown, or yellow. Police see humanity at it’s lowest and we must always be at our best. Truthfully, most people we deal with, black, white, brown, red, yellow, and everything in between are decent even if they have been accused of a crime. Our officers are trained well, but I don’t mind offering constructive criticism especially given that I am nearly three decades older than many of our officers and have a lot more law enforcement experience. It’s who I am that is ingrained in me by over 30 years of leadership experience.

I serve in church ministry as a pastor. I serve with people of color in our church as well as parachurch ministries I partner with. I love them dearly. I have fun with them and I ask them questions. It breaks my heart to hear the answers they give me. It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand how people can be treated in a certain way because of the color of their skin. As a side note, why do white people lay out in the sun to make their skin more brown and then judge people for the color of their skin? I wish we were more diversified in our church, but we can’t seem to break through the barriers either real or perceived.

So, how has all this happened? I’ve learned countless policies, procedures, and skills while serving as a nuclear operator on submarines in the Navy that have influenced my thinking even after nearly 14 years since retiring from active duty. Keep in mind, everything on a submarine is self contained. We made our own oxygen, water, electricity, and all the main and auxiliary systems that support safe, underwater operation. When a problem came up, we critiqued the problem and determined the root cause. Then we developed the corrective action. You must identify the underlying cause for the problem or it will be repeated. Many of the safety procedures developed on submarines came about because equipment was damaged, or people got hurt, and in some horrific circumstances, someone was killed. Don’t be the guy that does the same wrong thing. We ought not fail in the same way over and over again and yet in our culture, we continue to do so because we have failed to identify the root cause.

Racism is a symptom of the root cause. Intolerance is a symptom of the root cause. Hatred is a symptom of the root cause. Bad policing is a symptom of the root cause. Looting is a symptom of the root cause. Rioting is a symptom of the root cause. Failure to respond to authority is a symptom of the root cause. Bigotry is a symptom of the root cause.

If you’ve continued reading to this point, you probably know where I am going. Only after we identify and acknowledge the root cause can we work on the symptoms. The root problem for all of these symptoms is sin. We cannot hope to change our behavior apart from the redeeming blood of Christ. With Christ, when we allow His redemptive power to work in us and through us, we can begin to change. The ungodly qualities we have are chiseled away through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’ve had enough of the problems of this world, there is still time to place your trust in God through Jesus who is the Redeemer. Then and only then, will He reveal to you those wicked ways that seem so prevalent in people’s lives today. It’s not too late. Let’s get to the corrective action. Jesus is the greatest cycle breaker of all time.

Do you have a friend that is a different color than you are? Talk with them. Engage in a meaningful dialogue that addresses these issues. If you are a follower of Christ, this is your privilege, this your responsibility, this is your mandate. Just do it. If you don’t have a friend of color, why not?

Vengeance

You can watch this message here.

Last week we saw the emotional reunion of Jacob and Esau. Jacob gave Esau gifts that he had to be convinced to take. Jacob requested leisurely passage through Esau’s land and Esau not only allowed it, but wanted to leave people with Jacob to protect him on his journey. We left with Jacob buying land in Canaan settling at Shechem where he built an altar and called the place El-Elohe-Israel which means God, the God of Israel. This morning, we’ll see the some very terrible things occur within Jacob’s family.

Read Gen. 34:1-31 to understand the context of this message.

We are introduced to Dinah. Dinah is the daughter of Leah, one of the wives of Jacob. Only here and in 36:39 is someone in the Bible introduced by saying who the mother is. Dinah is daughter of Leah and she is also the daughter of Jacob. This is important because Simeon and Levi are Dinah’s full brothers. Jacob and Leah are their parents too and this is important when we get to the end of the story.

Dinah, “Went out to visit the daughters of the land.” Dinah and her family are foreigners in this land, but the intrigue of their way of life proved too much for Dinah. Visit in this verse does not mean she went to hang out with the other girls. By all accounts, Dinah is somewhere between 12 and 17 and wants to see how the other teenagers of the land are living. Josephus writes that there was some type of festival occurring in Succoth and Dinah wanted to see the other girls all dressed up. Dinah leaves the safety and security of Leah’s tent and goes for an adventure. What happens next is an unspeakable tragedy that no father who has a daughter wants to hear. Fathers are the protectors of their daughters. Fathers want what is best for their daughters and no man is good enough. As Dinah is out in town, “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force.” There is some dispute over what, “lay with her by force” means, but most commentators agree that Dinah was raped. He didn’t kidnap her. He violated her, he raped her. He took something that was not permitted. This is absolutely reprehensible. This is the barbaric nature of man. This is the barbaric nature of a people. She was not a willing participant in this encounter with Shechem.

The reasoning for Shechem’s actions are incomprehensible. “He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her.” This is not the way it is done. Normally there is some type of attraction that draws the attention of a man to a woman and then the negotiation or courting begins. “Deeply attracted” literally means his soul clung to her and it conveys the idea of unbridled lust. Lust is never a redeeming quality. Lust is an unlawful desire for something. Shechem, “loved the girl.” Think of a time when your child came to you as a teenager and said, “But I love him (her).” Your response probably was, “You don’t know what love is.” And on the surface of it, that’s true, but remember you got married because you were in love. Love is a choice, and it is a learned quality.

Shechem says he loves Dinah, and he, “spoke tenderly to her.” This reads like some whacked out romance novel, and it really is a whacked out situation. He tried to win her affection with kind words. In my mind, I think of the abuser who abuses his wife and then apologizes and says he loves her and gets her flowers. It’s too late for that. Shechem just raped Dinah and now he’s trying to woo her. This is all so backwards. “So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young girl for a wife.” This is the normal part of Shechem’s actions. It was not unusual for the father to arrange a marriage for his son. Remember Abraham sending his servant on a mission to find a girl for Isaac in Chapter 24.

The story takes a dramatic turn. Genesis is filled with drama. “Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in.” How Jacob heard about it is not mentioned, but his response is troubling. He heard that Dinah, his daughter, had been raped and he kept silent until his sons returned from the fields. “Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.” This part is normal. The father of the potential groom negotiates for the hand of the potential bride. It seems that Hamor is not aware of what occurred between Shechem and Dinah. All he knows is Shechem wants Dinah to be his wife. “Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.” This is the first time the land is called Israel in Scripture. Dinah’s brothers hear of the defilement of their sister and they return from the field. They were heartbroken and angry. This type of behavior ought not be done. It is disgraceful and despicable and there are consequences.

Hamor negotiates what he believes to be a reasonable offer. It’s found in vs. 8-12. What Hamor offers is quite generous. The land will be open to them. They can live in it, trade in it, and get property in the land. Whatever they want, they can pursue it. Jacob’s clan and Hamor’s clan would live in the land together. Hebrews and Hivites together. At this point in history, there is no prohibition against intermarriage, that would come later with Moses, but there was a desire to maintain the religious purity, if you will, of keeping marriage within one’s family lineage. Again, back to Abraham’s desire that Isaac’s wife not come from Canaan. Perhaps this became a more traditional practice with the patriarchs of Israel that would be incorporated into law later. Shechem tries to sweeten the deal by offering up whatever the brothers desire in exchange for the hand of Dinah.

Take a look at vs. 13-17. The brothers are part of the negotiation similar to what we saw with Laban negotiating for the hand of Rebekah in Chapter 24. But this scenario is quite different. The brothers are aware of what happened to Dinah and they are prepared to ask a price of Shechem and his people. They used deception to formulate a plan before they entered the negotiation with Hamor. They feign religious preference by saying Dinah could not be married to an uncircumcised man and in fact, Jacob’s clan could not intermarry and intermingle with the uncircumcised Hivites so they established just one condition. In order for this marriage to occur that would unite the Hivites and Israelites to one tribe and one people, every man would have to be circumcised. If they weren’t willing to submit themselves to this requirement, then the brothers would take Dinah and go. Keep in mind, the brothers have no right to offer circumcision to these people: it is a sign of the covenant between God and His people.

Remember that Hamor and Shechem are negotiating for Dinah’s hand in marriage. “Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son.” Reasonable means good, sensible, and fair. The terms of the deal were acceptable to Hamor and Shechem and each had their own reasons why the deal was good. Excited over the deal and the likelihood of making a life with Dinah, “The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father.” In the eyes of the people, Shechem was more honored than his father. The text does not specifically say why, but Shechem used his position to convince the people that the deal was a good one. People can be convinced to do dumb things when it is being presented by someone they love, perhaps someone they feel indebted to.

Shechem and Hamor go to the city gate where the leaders of the city hang out. The terms of the deal are presented in a very convincing manner in vs. 20-24. The Israelites are friendly and peaceful. Since they’re friendly, they can live in the land and trade in it because there’s plenty of room for everyone. They can intermarry: there will be more girls to go around. There is only the condition of circumcision to make it all happen. If this thing is done, then the wealth of Jacob and his family will be shared: Jacob’s livestock and his property will become one with Shechem’s people. It is a win – win for everyone. The leaders agree and all the men and boys were circumcised. There seems to be a measure of haste in this decision. There is no recorded discussion among the leaders. There is no time set aside to consider the terms of the agreement. It looks like they simply agree to the terms of the deal.

Once again, the story takes a dramatic and this time, deadly turn. Every man and boy submitted themselves to circumcision and they are in pain. Knowing this would happen, two of Dinah’s brothers leap into action in vs. 25-29. Simeon and Levi went on a rampage. This is the first time in the story that two of the brothers are called out. Dinah had four other brothers: Reuben, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon. These seven children were all born to Leah. Why they didn’t join with Simeon and Levi is curious. According to Jewish tradition, the pain associated with circumcision would be at its peak on the third day. Simeon and Levi would know this and they took advantage that the Hivite men would be basically defenseless. Get this picture in your mind. The men are recovering, resting, and relaxing following their painful ordeal: it’s not like it is today. Simeon and Levi get their swords and get into the city unnoticed. As they worked their way through the city, they killed every man and boy they came to likely without making a sound so no one could raise an alarm. When they arrived at the royal dwelling, they killed Hamor and Shechem. They took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left and some think the word “took” indicates that Dinah was held against her will. They also looted the city and the sole reason for all this bloodshed was that Shechem had defiled Dinah.

I will not pretend to know the level of anger Simeon and Levi felt toward this people group, but I would be more understanding if their anger was targeted only on Shechem. With every male killed, the entire Hivite clan would die out. They were left with nothing. It looks like the other four brothers may have joined in the looting based on the pronouns in vs. 27, 28, and 29. For sure we know that everything was taken from them and brought to Jacob.

“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” This response is quite perplexing. His daughter has been raped and essentially stolen from his family. Yet his greatest concern is over his own preservation. Sometimes our kids can cause trouble for us. The trouble Jacob was concerned about is indicated by the word odious. Your translation may say stink or stench. The idea of this word is the odor that emanates from rotting fish. Jacob’s concern is not for his daughter Dinah, but from the fear that the Perrizites and Canaanites would join together to attack him and destroy him and his family like what just happened to the Hivites. That’s a very real concern that we’ll see in the next chapter and is also seen in the book of Joshua. All of Jacob’s concerns are silenced by the brothers when they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”

Like many other stories in Genesis, this has all the makings of a blockbuster action movie. There is a love story, albeit, dreadfully executed. There is kidnapping, deception, trickery, revenge, killing, and pillaging. But this is a horrible story of misplaced sexual passion and the deviant behavior that can result. There is little redeeming value in this story except the protection of a sibling. Simeon and Levi actually rebuke Jacob implying that their father failed to defend the honor of their sister. They did what Jacob would not. What happens next to Jacob and his family? Will the Canaanites and Perrizites unite to attack him and his family? Join us next week to find out.

Confrontation

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Last week we saw that Laban’s attitude toward Jacob had changed. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream and told him to return to the land of his birth. Jacob leaves Paddan-Aram with his wives and children and all that he gathered while there. Laban finds out three days later and chased after him finally catching up to Jacob in the hill country of Gilead. Laban told Jacob that he understood wanting to go back to his homeland, but he didn’t understand why he would take his gods or idols. Fear motivated Jacob to leave Laban because he thought Laban would try and take his wives, Laban’s daughters, by force. But Jacob denied taking the idols and went so far as to say death would come to anyone holding the idols not knowing that Rachel had those idols in her possession. This morning, we’ll see the confrontation between Laban and Jacob.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Gen. 31:33-55 with us.

The search begins. Keep in mind the character of Laban in the narrative. He is a known cheat. He is a known deceiver. He seems a bit over the top at the loss of his idols and that is why he chased down Jacob. Laban begins the search for his missing idols. When something is missing, you look everywhere for that item, not just where you think it might be. Laban goes into Jacob’s tent. That’s a logical place for that stolen treasure to be found since he is the prime suspect. Then Leah’s tent. I imagine Laban believes he is getting closer and closer to finding the culprit following the search of each tent.  Then Leah’s maids’ tent. The search ends in Rachel’s tent which tells us that Laban even suspected his daughters were in on the theft. What Jacob doesn’t know is that Rachel has stolen the household idols and has conveniently stored them in the saddlebags of the camel she is sitting on.

“Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them.” Felt around literally means grope around as if blind. Remember Isaac when his sight had failed, feeling his son who he thought was Esau to properly identify him. In what seems to me to be a snarky comment, Rachel says, “Let my lord not be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” Rachel tells her father that she can’t get up because she is experiencing her monthly period. This information justified her not rising as would be appropriate for the culture of the day to show respect to her father. The fact that she was experiencing her period would also make her unclean and anything she sat on would also be unclean according to Lev. 15:19. Add all that to the fact she was sitting on a camel which was considered unclean. It’s all made up because Rachel is sitting on the little idols she stole from her father. “So he searched but did not find the household idols.”

Now it’s Jacob’s turn to get angry over this situation. Look at vs. 36-42. Jacob recounts all the wrong he has suffered at the hands of Laban. Laban searched all through Jacob’s possessions and found nothing.          Jacob gets aggressive and tells Laban, “Set it here before my kinsman and your kinsman, that they may decide between us.” In other words, put everything you’ve found in front of all of us and let them decide my fate. Jacob then goes into a monologue that you’d think would put Laban in his place; that Laban would be able to see how poorly he treated Jacob. In the short term, the things that Jacob endured may have seemed pretty small. But when you put it together, you see the character of Laban come out. For 20 years, Jacob was the consummate shepherd that took exceptional care of Laban’s flocks. None of the female lambs or goats miscarried because of Jacob’s care for them. If one of the lambs or goats were killed by another animal, Jacob was required to suffer the financial loss himself even though we see in Exodus and Amos this is not required. This was what Laban required of Jacob. Jacob lived under brutal conditions on a daily basis. He suffered under the heat of the day and the cold of the night. He endured sleepless nights all to take care of Laban’s flock. As a shepherd, you can see how awful it must have been for Jacob. Laban was not just Jacob’s boss; Laban was his father-in-law.

For 20 years, he’s been in the house of Laban. He worked seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel, but Laban substituted Leah instead. Jacob had to work another seven years to get the hand of Rachel. On top of that, he had to work an additional six years taking care of the flock. Jacob has mounted a very good defense against the accusations of Laban. Jacob served Laban for 20 years and changed his wages ten times. Jacob said that earlier when he was speaking to Leah and Rachel in 31:7. Jacob has two main problems with Laban as a boss: the length of time he was required to serve and the frequent change in his wages and we can only assume the wages went down. This is a pretty condemning portrayal of Laban’s character as a boss and a father-in-law. Jacob gets in one last piece of evidence against Laban. Jacob says, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.” Laban acknowledged God’s hand in this in v. 29 when God spoke to him the previous night saying, “Be careful not to speak good or bad to Jacob.” We’ll see later in Scripture that God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the patriarchs of Israel. Fear in this verse refers to God. God has seen Jacob’s affliction. He knows what Jacob has been enduring. He knows how Jacob has worked honorably, how he has gone the extra mile for Laban; God knows all the injustices Jacob has suffered because of Laban. And in His timing, God has rendered judgment. On a good day, Laban was a terrible boss.

Here’s how Laban responds. I want to remind you that we have the complete Word of God. We have the benefit of looking back at this event with the conclusion before us. We have the benefit of knowing what Laban was thinking, what Jacob was thinking, and also what Leah and Rachel were thinking. The people that we are reading about did not have that luxury. After Jacob lays out his argument, Laban responds in vs. 43-44. Laban concludes that his daughters and their children really belong to him. The flocks of animals all belong to him. All that is in front of them belongs to Laban. In Laban’s way of thinking, he believes Jacob has come out on top because Jacob has his daughters and their children. Laban believes Jacob owes him. Laban believes that Jacob has forcefully taken Leah and Rachel and their children. In v. 26, Laban said, “What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives by the sword?” Laban doesn’t know that Rachel and Leah had a conversation with Jacob back in vs. 14-16: “Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and now consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children.” They knew their father’s character and they wanted out. The girls should have been allowed to go before, but like Jacob, they also had to stay around. Laban spent the portion that should have been given to Jacob as was customary for the day.

Laban offers a compromise and wants to cut a covenant with Jacob. The covenant would be between Laban and Jacob. We’ll see the importance of this covenant later. Jacob responds by establishing a pillar of stones. He tells his kinsman, “Gather stones. So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.” These are two different names for the same place. Jegar-sahadutha is Aramaic and Galeed is Hebrew. Laban is Aramean and Jacob is Hebrew and this covenant has important implications that we’ll see shortly. Both names mean witness heap and Laban says, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore it was named Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other.” Mizpah means watchtower. What’s interesting is Laban calls on God to take the role of watching over Jacob. Laban gives Jacob a warning and a condition of the treaty, “If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.” Over the course of the last 20 years, Jacob has proven his faithfulness to Laban over and over. Laban stresses to Jacob that although Laban may not see or know what is happening with his daughters, God is watching.

Now in vs. 51-52. The heap and the pillar would serve as witnesses of the treaty as well as a boundary marker. Anytime that the pile of stones or the pillar were passed or looked at would remind all those descended from Laban and Jacob of the covenant that was cut there. No harm would come to either as long as the covenant was not broken because God was watching. As is customary with covenants, Laban says, “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” There is some confusion over this verse because Laban has not demonstrated any behavior that would indicate he is a follower of the God of Abraham. Don’t’ forget what contributed to this whole chase and confrontation. Remember Rachel stole his household idols. It seems likely that the God of Abraham and Nahor are not the same. One thing is certain; Laban considers this covenant a permanent separation between he and Jacob. Jacob agreed with the conditions set forth by Laban, “So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac.” An agreement acknowledged by the One and only true God. This is the God of Isaac. It is the same thing that Jacob commanded Esau to swear by in Gen. 25:33 when Esau sold his birthright. “Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain.” In customary fashion, they celebrate the covenant with a sacrifice and a meal. The kinsman were included in the celebratory meal and also served as witnesses to the agreement between Laban and Jacob. Once the meal is concluded, everyone retires for the night.

Our story concludes by saying, “Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.” What Laban had complained about before now took place. Remember he said that Jacob’s sudden departure with his daughters prevented him from sending them away with joy and giving everyone a kiss goodbye. Now he does just that and went home.

Jacob has finally got out from under the oppressive employment of Laban. Our story doesn’t say that Laban was oppressive, but Jacob certainly dealt with some very difficult circumstances. Laban’s bait and switch of Leah for Rachel. Additional time spent to get the girl he really wanted. Time spent caring for Laban’s herd and flocks that saw Laban’s wealth increase significantly. Having successfully completed the time allotted to get his wives, Jacob departs even if it’s under the cover of night. I make no excuses for Jacob, but it seems unlikely given what we know about Laban’s character, that Jacob would have been able to leave him under agreeable terms. What about us? How do we respond when we have unfavorable bosses or employment conditions?

Rebekah’s Deception

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Last week we learned the apple does not fall far from the tree as Isaac did to Abimelech exactly what Abraham did to Abimelech. Isaac lies about Rebekah’s identity and Abimelech finds out and perhaps he was told of the previous encounter with Abraham and Sarah. Wells were dug and argued about before Isaac settled in Beersheba. A covenant was made between Isaac and Abimelech and last week ended with the ominous and foreboding verse, “And they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” This morning, we see a deceptive side to the very beautiful Rebekah and her favorite son Jacob.

Take the time to read Gen. 27:1-29 so you know what’s happening in our story for today.

There is a simple lesson here, don’t play favorites. Isaac is getting on in years and his eyes are failing him. He calls Esau and shares that he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll live, and it would be wonderful if Esau would take his bow and hunt him up some of the wild game he is so fond of. He has always enjoyed the food that Esau provided and Isaac requests a last meal. With this potential last meal, Isaac promises to bless Esau before he takes his last breath. Esau is the first born to Isaac and would be entitled to the blessing of the first born over the second born Jacob. Rebekah is listening while this conversation takes place between Isaac and Esau. What Isaac asks is a simple request that turns into an opportunity for deception. Rebekah knows that Esau would be blessed, but she likes Jacob more than she likes Esau and the wheels start spinning on how she could get Jacob to be blessed. This is completely backwards of how she was earlier. Remember she was barren and Isaac interceded for her, “and the Lord answered him and his wife Rebekah conceived.” (Gen. 25:21) The children struggled in her womb and she wondered why it was happening and Gen. 25:22-23 says, “She went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” Remember that last line.

After Esau left to hunt, Rebekah fills Jacob in on the conversation his dad had with his brother. Without skipping a beat, Rebekah seems to have all this planned out. She tells Jacob to get two goats from the flock and she’d prepare the kind of savory meal that Isaac loves. Keep in mind, this is Isaac her husband she is planning to deceive in order to rob Esau the blessing of her son in favor of Jacob her other son. Jacob points out what is obvious to everyone. Esau is hairy and Jacob is smooth. Given the failing eyesight of age, Isaac probably got into the habit of feeling the arm or face of whoever is speaking to him. Jacob does not want to get caught and be accused as a deceiver. And then not only would he not get a blessing, but he’d end up with a curse. Rebekah assures Jacob that she will take responsibility for anything that goes wrong even if it is a curse. Jacob is only to do as she says – no arguing.

So, Jacob grabbed two goats from the flock and brought them to Rebekah who cooked up a savory meal. Knowing that Isaac would likely touch Jacob, Rebekah gets some of Esau’s clothes and gives them to Jacob to put on. She goes a step further and gets the hides from the goats just slaughtered and puts them on Jacob. Those skins will help the ruse that Jacob is Esau in order to steal the blessing away. Jacob is dressed in Esau’s best clothes; he’s got the animal skins covering his smooth skin and he takes the savory food, some bread, and walks into where Isaac is apparently waiting to die. The stage is set for the epic deception. Keep in mind, Jacob is merely a pawn in this game in order for Rebekah to get the patriarch’s blessing for her favored son even though he was born second. He raised an objection to Rebekah about the difference in the skin and did not want to risk receiving a curse, but he succumbed to the command of his mother.

The meal is brought to Isaac. Look at vs. 18-20. Isaac immediately recognizes something is not quite right. Isaac asks the boy, “Who are you, my son? I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me.” Those are two lies. It’s really Jacob and Isaac hadn’t told him to do anything. Too little time has elapsed for Esau to hunt, kill, butcher the wild game and then prepare him the kind of meal that the loves. Jacob declares that it all happened so quickly because God helped him – lie #3. What Isaac says next must have caused Jacob’s heart to beat faster and his stomach to do a flip flop. “Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” Isaac had to know that something was up. Maybe it was the voice that said he was Esau, but sounded like Jacob. Jacob gets closer to Isaac who touches him. You can hear the confusion in Isaac’s voice as he says, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Perhaps in his old age, Rebekah was counting on Isaac’s mind to not be as sharp as it once was to complete the deception. The next verse is very troubling, “He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother’s Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. And he said, “Are you really my son Esau? And he said, “I am.”  Lie #4 if you’re keeping count. Isaac did not recognize the son that was in front of him and counted on the boy’s honesty to be sure who was there. “So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed.” Two final tests remain to determine the identity of the boy in front of him. Isaac wanted to eat the food that had been prepared and then he wanted the boy to kiss him. Isaac knew the type of food Esau normally prepared and he would know how he smelled. He eats and smells and concludes that the boy is Esau and pronounces a blessing over who he thinks is his first born.         The deception is complete. In the beginning, Jacob was merely a pawn in the game, but then became a willing participant by lying to his father four times. Rebekah never gave him instructions on how to speak or what to say. Remember that she was only going to take the fall if Isaac discovered that is was Jacob. Look at the blessing in vs. 28-29. The blessing from Isaac is for the land to produce bountifully for his son. That peoples would serve him and nations bow down to him. That he would be master of his brothers and his mother’s sons would bow down to him. Finally, those that bless the son would be blessed and those that curse the son would be cursed. Isaac blesses his son and it appears that the course of history is altered forever.

And then the deception is discovered. Read vs. 30-40. The timing of this is very interesting. “Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” Jacob had barely left the room when Esau comes in with a plate of steaming hot, savory food that Isaac loved so much. Did they pass by in the hall and Jacob gave Esau a smug grin that said, “I know something you don’t.” Did Esau suspect any wrong doing? Did Jacob’s demeanor betray him? Esau brings his father the savory food as requested and expects a blessing, but is shocked when Isaac says, “Who are you?” Maybe Esau has grown accustomed to his elderly father asking who he was because of his poor eyesight. Maybe Esau didn’t think anything about it because he says, “I am your son, your firstborn Esau.” I am certain the response from Isaac was not was Esau was expecting, “Then Isaac trembled violently.” The reality of what just happened became clear to Isaac. Trembled violently literally means trembled a great trembling exceedingly. It conveys a physical shaking and gives us a clue to the severity and ramification of what had just occurred. Isaac said to Esau, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.”           Isaac understood the long-lasting consequences of this action. Esau also understood the long-lasting consequences of this action. Esau’s reaction says it all: “When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry,” The reality of what just occurred has come crashing down on Esau. He bursts into bitter and wild sobbing. Esau understands the implications, but not fully. Esau says, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” This is a reasonable demand, I think, but Isaac says, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” The reality of this deception is out in the open. The blessing intended for Esau has been stolen by Jacob under the guidance of the scheming Rebekah. Esau lashes out at his father and says, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Names used to mean a lot and Jacob is no exception. From the twin’s birth story, the first born came out all red and hairy and was named Esau. The second baby came out grabbing the heel of the first and was named Jacob which means heel grabber and supplant which means to take the place of, as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like. According to The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible, Jacob is an opportunist, seizing the advantage by fair means and foul. We certainly saw that in the birthright selling story. As a point of clarification, Esau seems to be forgetting the part he played when he sold his birthright for some stew. There was some drama on the part of Esau. Remember he acted like he was going to die if he didn’t get something to eat and he figured his birthright was of no use if he were dead. Was that right or good? No, but there was no trickery involved. In this case, his blessing was stolen by trickery and he implores Isaac, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me? But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” This is pitiful. Isaac wanted to bless Esau, but he had given it away to Jacob. “Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.” Esau would take whatever blessing he could get no matter how small, whatever was left, anything that Isaac had to offer. Instead of receiving the blessing, Esau could only weep. The blessing of the firstborn would not come and in fact, Isaac tells Esau what will happen.

Read vs. 39-40. This sounds an awful lot like a curse. If you notice, this is nearly opposite of what Isaac said to Jacob. No fruit of the land. No dew from heaven. He will live by the sword. He’ll serve Jacob like an ox serves his master, but there will come a time when he will break the yoke around his neck.

And not for the rest of the rest of the story. As you might expect, this pronouncement by Isaac into Esau’s future does not sit well with Esau. Read 41-44. As a consequence of Jacob’s trickery, Esau immediately plots to kill Jacob. Out of respect for his father, Esau will wait to kill Jacob until Isaac dies. As Esau comforted himself with the thought of killing Jacob, he must have vented his anger within earshot of others because word got back to Rebekah. As soon as she hears of the plot, she once again leaps into action. She lets Jacob know about Esau’s plan to kill him and sends him away to her brother Laban in Haran. Remember from Chapter 25, Esau was a skillful hunter and a man of the field and in contrast, Jacob was a peaceful man that lived in tents. The likelihood of Esau making good on his plan to kill Jacob was a very real possibility. Esau held a grudge against Jacob. Jacob did Esau wrong, there is no doubt about that. Grudges are a terrible thing to have. Grudges will dominate your thought life and consume you with bitterness and anger. You can have a grudge against someone and it can drive wedges between you and others as you try to persuade others to see how you have been wronged. It’s unhealthy, it’s damaging, it’s ungodly, and it’s unholy.

Rebekah is not done with her trickery because the story ends with her saying to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” She fabricates a reason for Jacob to leave Heth in favor of her hometown that we’ll see next week. The story of Esau and Jacob has all the makings of a great movie. There is deception, lies, betrayal, hidden motives, revenge, and a potential murder. All things that draw people to the movies except this movie would be based on a true story. There are few redeeming qualities in the actions of the people in the story, but the principles are groundbreaking. Trust God. Remember His promises. Allow Him to work in His time.

Don’t try to take control of situations that are in God’s hands. Don’t try and manipulate circumstances to control the outcome. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal. Don’t murder. Are these things really things we need to be reminded of? Absolutely.

Isaac gets a Girl

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Last week we learned of Sarah’s death. Abraham was well respected in Canaan and we saw the generosity from the sons of Heth when Abraham negotiated to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. Abraham wanted a cave in Machpelah and was willing to pay for it, but Ephron wanted to give him the cave and the field the cave was in. They went back and forth before Abraham convinced Ephron to take 400 pieces of silver for it and Sarah was laid to rest, “in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in Canaan.” This morning, Abraham sends his oldest servant on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

We’ll look at all of Chapter 24 in this post, but we’ll break it down into several sections. First, take a look at Gen. 24:1-9.

Cue the mission impossible theme song. Abraham is getting up in years and it seems that he is growing concerned that Isaac does not have a wife. He calls for the oldest servant in the house, probably the most trusted, loyal servant he has. Abraham tells him to place his hand under his thigh. I know at first glance, this seems like a very strange thing to do. Think about Abraham observing the solemn promise of the pinky swear. This was a symbol a very solemn oath. We’ll see it again later in Genesis. Abraham asks his servant to take a two-part oath, that is sworn, “By the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth.” First, the wife that is chosen for Isaac was not to be a Canaanite. The God of Abraham is not the same as the gods that are worshipped in Canaan. Abraham does not want any problems arising from a Canaanite woman that does not worship the one and only true God. This is the same reason why you don’t date and definitely don’t marry someone that does not hold the same fundamental beliefs as you do. There is no such thing as missional dating. You don’t marry a fixer upper. I’m not suggesting that you must be at the same level of spiritual maturity, but if you’re a believer, the other has to at least be spiritually reborn. In 2 Cor. 6:14-16a Paul said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

Abraham wants someone for Isaac that will be compatible with him spiritually. Second, the woman should be taken from Abraham’s relatives. This is no small task and the servant is being asked to swear to do it by the God of heaven and the God of earth. Before accepting the assignment, the servant wants some clarification. If I find a girl and she’s not willing to come here, should I grab Isaac and go there? The servant did not rise to be Abraham’s #1 servant because he was dumb. The servant anticipates a potential problem and pushes it back to Abraham. It would be normal in that day for a potential suitor to be interviewed by the father of the potential bride. There were details to be haggled out. Perhaps there were possessions to be exchanged. You don’t just go into a new place as a stranger and say, “I want that one, come with me.” Abraham gives the servant an out by saying, “If the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there. So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.” Mission accepted.

The story shifts to the servant’s journey. Look at vs. 10-21. The servant packs up 10 camels and takes the best Abraham has to offer and heads to Aram of the two rivers and to the city of Nahor. Nahor is not the name of the city, but who resides there. Nahor is the name of Abraham’s grandfather and also Abraham’s brother. The city is most likely Harran. The servant has traveled back to the land that Abraham left all those years ago. Like most people after a journey, the servant stops at the well outside of town to water the camels. The picture of a train of ten camels loaded with all the best Abraham has to offer shows a picture of the blessings of God. The servant stops at the watering hole and it’s not just to get water. It is evening time, the time when women go to the well to get water and the best opportunity to spot a woman that would serve well as Isaac’s wife. Not wanting to leave the success of this important mission to himself or to chance, the servant calls on the God of Abraham and prays for success. This is a good principle to follow. Prayer should always be a first choice, not a last resort. All too often, we get the call when someone is on the brink of disaster. A marriage is one step from total breakdown. A believer is one step from walking away from church. Use the privilege of being in the presence of God to allow Him to guide your path to achieve success in His eyes.

The servant prays a very specific prayer that could only be answered by God. It was an impossible prayer in man’s eyes. It was a very specific prayer that could only be answered by an all knowing, all seeing God. This prayer represents an unmistakable method to ensure that the servant selects the right girl. Before the servant even finishes, up walks Rebekah. Rebekah was the daughter of Bethuel who was the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. What are the odds? The odds are excellent because the Father knows what you need before you even ask. (Matt. 6:8) This was no ordinary girl. She was not just beautiful; she was very beautiful. She was a virgin. Those two qualities are great, but there was another quality the prospective wife of Isaac had to meet. Remember in Chapter 18 when Abraham beseeched the three visitors to allow him to entertain them. This idea of hospitality was very important in that culture. The servant knows this and not only is Rebekah very beautiful, a virgin, and a relative of Abraham, she demonstrated the hospitality that set her apart as the one for Isaac. Some say Rebekah was a female Abraham who was as virtuous as Abraham in this area.

“Then the servant ran to meet her, and said. “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” The next series of verses are very important as we see the Lord working. Immediately Rebekah responds by saying, “Drink my lord,” and she lowered the jar down. When the servant finishes, she says, let me get some water for your camels too. A thirsty camel can drink over two gallons of water a minute. Remember there are ten camels; that’s a lot of water. Rebekah quickly lowered her jar to let the servant drink, she quickly emptied her jar in the trough, and ran to the well to get more water. Rebekah is a picture of hospitality and the servant is carefully watching her to see if she is the one which would make his journey a success.

A decision is made in the matter. Look at vs. 22-27. Without a word, the servant gives Rebekah a nose ring and bracelets and asks, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?” This is not the kind of question we would ask a complete stranger, but remember back then, it was customary to expect and provide hospitality. Keep in mind, we know her lineage, but up to now, the servant does not. Rebekah provides the answer he prayerfully hoped for and he falls to the ground in worship. God has answered his specific prayers and he knows that Rebekah is the one for Isaac. What’s Rebekah do? Read vs. 28-33. She runs home and tells everyone what just happened. Laban, Rebekah’s brother, sees the golden jewelry, hears what happened, and runs outside to the spring. Laban says to the servant, “Come in, blessed of the Lord! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?” So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. But when food was set before him to eat, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my business.” The hospitality showed by Rebekah is mirrored in the hospitality demonstrated by Laban and the entire household. Laban takes care of the camels, gets water so the men can wash their feet, and sets food before them. The servant says, hold on just a minute. I can’t eat until I tell you about the mission I am on. Laban says, “Speak on.” In my mind, Rebekah’s family is seated around the room all looking at the servant expectantly.

And now vs. 34-48. The servant tells the family what we already know and comes to the ultimate question: “So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.” If this is going to work, let me know. If not, I’ll be on my way. Look at Laban’s and Bethuel’s response: “The matter comes from the Lord; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” You cannot stand in the way of what God is going to accomplish. This entire series of events was put in motion by the prayers of Abraham and the prayer of the servant. Rebekah and her household had to be in tune with the Lord because they followed His direction. Can people choose to ignore God’s will and go their own way? Of course. We can choose disobedience, but that’s never part of God’s plan. This will be the last time we hear Bethuel weigh in on the discussion. “When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord.” Once again, we see the acknowledgment from the servant that God is the God that made it happen. He worships again. We saw the generosity of the servant to Rebekah in the form of gold jewelry, and now he lavishes additional gifts on Rebekah and also Rebekah’s mother and brother. This wonderful time culminates in a meal for everyone gathered before they retire for the night.

When they woke up the next morning, the servant says, “Send me away to my master.” Laban and his mother say, “Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.” The Lord had prepared the way so carefully. Everything fell into place so beautifully and now we seem to have hit a snag. Laban and his mom want Rebekah to stay ten days. It was customary in those times for the eldest brother to negotiate marriage arrangements for a sister. Rebekah’s brother and mother want her to stay another ten days. Now this might be a problem. The servant has just made a huge request to give Rebekah to Isaac, someone she has never even laid eyes on. You’d think that this simple request made by Rebekah’s loved ones would be something that was doable. But Abraham’s servant says, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” The servant is ready to begin the journey back to Abraham and does not even want to spend another day there. There is a sense of urgency in the servant’s request. I don’t know if Laban and his mother knew what Rebekah might be thinking, but they say, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” After hearing from the servant about his journey and his mission, after all the decision making by Laban and his mother, they decide to ask Rebekah what she wants to do. “Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” The decision is quickly made.

Look now at vs. 59-61. Rebekah leaves her household blessed by Laban. The hope is for thousands upon thousands of offspring. This blessing is similar to God’s blessing of Sarah in Gen. 17:16 where God tells Abraham that she will be the mother of nations and kings. It is also similar to the blessing in 22:17 when the angel tells Abraham that his descendants will number like the sand on the seashore. Rebekah plays a significant part in the future of Israel.

Isaac sees Rebekah for the first time. Read vs. 62-67. As their journey comes to an end, Isaac is in the Negev meditating in a field as evening approached. He looks up and sees the entourage coming. At the same moment, Rebekah looks up and sees Isaac looking toward her and she asks the servant, “Who is the man walking in the field to meet us?” The timing of this is very important and points to God’s perfect timing. Isaac looks up and Rebekah looks up. Earlier in the story, as the servant was finishing his prayer, Rebekah walked up. As Abraham was about to sacrifice his one and only son, he spots a ram caught in the thickets. As Ishmael was about to die of thirst, Hagar’s eyes are opened and she sees a well. God’s timing is important. Rebekah gets off her camel and covers her face. “The servant told Isaac all the things he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

We have come to the end of the longest chapter in Genesis. The mission Abraham sent his servant on has ended in complete success. This wasn’t just an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience. The perfect wife has been found for Isaac and he loved her. The stage now shifts from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebekah. Will Isaac and Rebekah find happiness in their new marriage? Will there be children? Will they live happily ever after? What will happen next? You’ll have to wait until next week.

Hagar gets Deported

You can watch this message here.

Last week we saw Abraham do the same dumb thing he did in Egypt back in Gen. 12. Once again, God intervenes and Abraham and Sarah leave with sheep, oxen, male and female servants, plus 1000 pieces of silver. We left with Abraham praying and God healing Abimelech and his wife and maids so that they could have children. This morning, we find the promise of God fulfilled when Sarah gets pregnant.

Our passage today comes from Gen. 21:1-21. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

The long-awaited time has come for Abraham and Sarah. It has been 25 years since God promised to make Abraham a great nation in 12:3. It has been a long journey, but I am sure it has been worth the wait. Sarah conceives and in the same breath, Isaac is born. Just a year earlier, the Lord visited Abraham and Sarah. In 17:21, God said, “But My covenant will be established with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” In 18:14 the Lord tells Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” The prophecy has been fulfilled at the exact time that the Lord said. “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.” The baby’s name is not shocking. That’s what God said to name him. Isaac means laugh or joy. That makes sense given the extreme joy over the birth of the long-awaited son.

Abraham, 100 years old, follows the covenant and circumcises his eight-day old son. Sarah rejoices and says, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” I wonder if Sarah is thinking in particular of Hagar. Their relationship became quite contentious after her scheme to, “obtain children through her.” (Gen. 16:2) The inner laughing of doubt in 18:12 that she denied in 18:15 is now open laughter of joy that others will share with her. I wonder if Sarah recognizes the irony of her laughter. How many times has God revealed something to us that we doubt? How many times have we expressed our amazement when He does what He says? These first seven verses share the excitement and happiness of Sarah as she finally gives birth after so many years. Isaac, “grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned.” A celebration of weaning was not uncommon in those days. It would occur when the child was somewhere around two to three years old.

And now the joy of the weaning turns to animosity. What should have been a celebration turns ugly when Ishmael shows up. “Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.” The Hebrew word for mocking has been translated as laughing, playing, making fun of, and scoffing. In Gal. 4:29, Paul referred to this incident as Ishmael persecuting Isaac. What the word really means cannot be determined exactly. But we can see from Sarah’s reaction that she didn’t like it one bit. She sees her little toddler Isaac together with Abraham’s teenage son Ishmael. “Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” Is Sarah overreacting? We don’t know exactly what transpired between Ishmael and Isaac, but if it were simply normal kids being kids behavior, does that warrant deporting Hagar and her son? Sarah is talking permanent expulsion from her presence. She wants no joint heir arrangement. Ishmael is Abraham’s first born and Isaac the second. Typically, we see the first born blessed and Ishmael and Isaac represent a very interesting dynamic. It’s not unusual for the second born to be blessed over the first. Cain was rejected and Abel was accepted. Jacob was blessed over Esau. Ephraim over Manasseh. All the first born in Egypt were rejected. Ishmael caused problems between Abraham and Sarah from the moment Sarah came up with her ill conceived plan to help God. As soon as Hagar got pregnant, Sarah despised her. Sarah treated her harshly causing Hagar to flee to the wilderness. The angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar in the wilderness promising that her son’s descendants would be too many to count, but also provided the warning that Ishmael would be a, “wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.” (Gen. 16:12) We don’t read anywhere in Scripture that speaks of the joy brought to the family because of Ishmael.

This is really an interesting allegory about law and grace that Paul shares in his letter to the Galatians. Paul goes to great lengths to explain this. He says Ishmael was born of a bond woman and Isaac of a free woman. The two women represent two covenants. Hagar represents the one from Mount Sinai: the law – bondage and corresponds to Jerusalem. Sarah represents the new covenant, new Jerusalem, the one above: grace. Paul refers to Ishmael as the one born to the flesh and Isaac as the one born to the Spirit. Ishmael is born first which represents the natural; the natural always precedes the spiritual. Ishmael represents the old covenant which could not save: the law. Isaac represents the new covenant of grace that is freely offered to all that respond. Hagar was Abraham’s second wife: she was added alongside Sarah. Gal. 3:19 says, “Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” The law was temporary: “until the seed would come.” Back in the garden, the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was based on grace not law. The redemption of Israel from Egypt was based on grace, not law. Israel was already in a covenant relationship with God when the law was given. Hagar was a servant. “Why the law then?” Paul asks. Gal. 3:24 says, “The law became our tutor to lead us to Christ so that we may be justified by faith.” The law was given to reveal our sin. Rom. 3:20 says, “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” But the law cannot redeem us from that sin. The law was given to show our need for grace. This may come as a surprise to you, but Hagar was not supposed to be a part of this. It’s hard for us to get a hold of that because we’ve read and heard about this story for a long time. Gal. 3:21 says, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based  on law.” The law cannot impart life. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:20-21) Then in Gal. 3:2 Paul asks, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Gal. 3:18 says our inheritance is not based on the law, but on the promise. Life comes from Christ. Righteousness comes from Christ. Inheritance comes from Christ.

To sum it up, Paul declared, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Some argue that faith is a gift of God so no one could boast in his own salvation. You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. The word that or this (depending on your translation) in this verse is in the neuter gender. Faith is in the feminine. If “this” referred to faith, the genders should agree, but they do not. The Amplified Bible actually has salvation in parentheses after the word “this”. So, what is Paul saying? Salvation as a whole is a gift from God. In his own commentary on this verse, John Calvin said, “And here we must advert to a very common error in the interpretation of this passage. Many persons restrict the word gift to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God.”

Hagar gave birth to a slave. Remember, Paul is still fleshing out the two covenants: law and grace. Hagar was a bondwoman so she gives birth to a child that is a slave or allegorically speaking, under the law. Christ set us free from sin through His grace. Galatians was written because there were people who decided that in addition to the grace of God, you needed to keep the law too. Paul emphatically called this a different Gospel in Gal. 1:6 and a distortion in Gal. 1:7 and said anyone preaching it is to be accursed Gal. 1:8 and 9. I know that was somewhat of a lengthy discourse outside of Genesis, but we need to understand why Hagar and Ishmael were cast out.

Sarah has demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be driven out and not surprisingly, “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.” Isaac was to receive the blessing not Ishmael. Regardless of how Ishmael came to be, he is Abraham’s son. Ishmael was to be from here on out, absent from his father. Knowing Abraham’s distress, “God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” It’s not clear if God spoke to Abraham in a dream or vision, but the message is clear: do not be distressed. God reminds Abraham of His promise to make him a great nation and the greatness will come through Isaac. But don’t despair Abraham, Ishmael will not be forgotten because he is Abraham’s descendant. Look at vs. 14-16. In this very sad passage, we learn that Abraham did what Sarah demanded and sent out his son and his mother with some meager provisions to sustain them. We don’t know how long the water lasted, but we find out once it’s gone, Hagar resigns herself to the fact that death is imminent. She tells Ishmael to sit under a bush and she walks some distance away, a bowshot, presumably so she cannot hear or see Ishmael’s suffering as he dies. Hagar cries out in agony of what is to come. God hears Ishmael crying and initiates contact in vs. 17-19. No matter where you are, God can hear you and He can rescue you. According to the conclusion of this section in vs. 20-21, Ishmael lives in the wilderness of Paran and grows to adulthood, becomes an archer, and gets married enabling him to become the great nation that God told Abraham he would be in 17:20 and what God just told to Hagar in v. 18. The bow would serve him a s source for food in the wilderness and also as a weapon from his enemies which will be many.

If you’ll take a look at Gen. 21:22-34, we learn of Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech. King Abimelech and the commander of his army, a guy named Phicol, have a meeting with Abraham and offer up a treaty. They recognize that God is with Abraham. Abimelech wants Abraham to swear that he won’t deal falsely with Abimelech or Abimelech’s off spring. If you’re wondering why Abimelech would approach Abraham like this, don’t forget the previous encounter between Abraham and Abimelech in Gerar back Gen. 20. Sarah, just tell everyone you’re my sister, not my wife. Abimelech wants some assurance that everything will be on the up and up in the future as he thinks about his future. Abimelech knows of God’s blessing on Abraham. He knows of the amazing defeat following the war of the kings. He knows just how big Abraham has become in this region and wants to minimize the chance of any potential destruction to Abimelech’s legacy. Abimelech reminds Abraham of the kindness he previously showed when God revealed to him that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, not sister. Since Abimelech approaches Abraham, it’s a good time for Abraham to confront Abimelech about the well that was seized. Water was an extremely important resource in that area. We just saw Hagar and Ishmael nearly die due to lack of water. Abimelech says he didn’t know anything about a well until just then and even says that Abraham should have told him about it. Abraham seals the deal by providing the sheep and oxen that will be slain to cut the covenant that we have seen before. Abraham goes even farther by giving Abimelech seven ewe lambs which Abimelech questions. This was a very generous gift that served as a witness that Abraham dug the well. “Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines.” Beersheba means well of oath, or well of seven. Later in Chapter 26, Isaac will mention this very well. We close with Abraham planting a tamarisk tree. Also known as a salt cedar, this type of tree can grow to 30 feet. It provides excellent shade and is a fitting memorial to the Lord and to the covenant with Abimelech. Abraham worships the Everlasting God: El-Olam and, “sojourned in the land of the Philistines many days.”

We started this morning with the birth of Isaac and saw the deportation of Hagar and Ishmael. God provided for Hagar and Ishmael in the dry, harsh wilderness and we learned that Ishmael settled in Paran, took up the bow and got married to an Egyptian.  Abimelech and Abraham meet to form a covenant. All’s well that tends well or is this the calm before the storm? Join us next week to find out.