Sunday, July 29, 2012

Genesis Chapter 43 ~ Judah's Substitution, Return to Egypt, & Joseph's Benevolence

Genesis Chapter 43

Go Buy More Food
The famine was still going strong, and Jacob's family had eaten all their food, so Jacob said to his sons again, "Go again, buy us a little food." (vs. 1) Judah told him that the man told them they wouldn't see his face if they did not bring their youngest brother. So he said, if you send Benjamin with us we will go buy food, but if you don't send him we won't. Israel (Jacob) responded asking why they mentioned Benjamin at all. The brothers told him that "the man" had questioned them carefully asking about Jacob and if they had another brother, so they told him (vs. 7). 

Judah's Offer of Substitution
Judah said, "Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice." (vs. 8-10) Israel (Jacob) then said that if they had to go then they should take a present, some choice fruits, a little balm and honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, almonds, double the money (i.e. the money they mistakenly returned with), and their brother, Benjamin. And he said, "May God Almighty [El Shaddai] grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." (vs. 14)

The Brothers Before Joseph
The brothers took the present, doubled their money, and took Benjamin and went to Egypt and stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin he told his steward to bring the men into the house, slaughter an animal and make a meal for them, and the steward did this. The brothers were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph's house, and thought it was because of the money they returned with, and worried that he would assault them (overpower them and seize them as slaves). When they arrived at the door they began to plead, and confessed how they found their money, and how they had brought it back again. The steward replied saying, "Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks. I received your money." (vs. 23) He then brought Simeon to them, he gave them water, and they washed their feet, and he gave their donkeys food, then they prepared their present for Joseph, for He was coming at noon to eat there.

When Joseph arrived they brought him in and gave him the present they brought, and bowed down to him on the ground. He asked about their welfare and asked about Jacob and if he was alive. They responded that he is alive and well, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. Joseph lifted up his eyes and saw Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, "Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!" (vs. 29)

Joseph's Weeping at the Sight of Benjamin
The text then says this: "Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, 'Serve the food.'" (vs. 30-31)

The servants served Joseph by himself, and the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians by themselves - because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, it's an abomination to them (vs. 32). They all seem to have been eating in the same room though, only they were apart from each other, because the Bible says that they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and they looked at each other in amazement (vs. 33).

Portions were taken to the brothers from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was 5 times as much as any of theirs. They drank and were merry [or "and became intoxicated"] with him.

Reflections on Genesis 43
First, the brothers left Simeon in Egypt to come home, and in chapter 43 they've been there for some time. Notice that Judah says that they could have returned twice in the time that has passed (vs. 8-10). It seems that quite some time has passed.

SecondIt may appear that Judah is lying to Jacob when he describes the specificity of Joseph's questioning them in verse 7, particularly asking how their father was and asking after another brother of theirs. Those details aren't outlined in chapter 42, but it doesn't seem like he's lying because Judah says this to Joseph's face in Genesis 44:18-19.

Third, what are we to do with the steward's reply: "Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks. I received your money." (vs. 23) We know it was Joseph by way of his steward that the money was put in the sacks (42:25). A few things to note about this: (1) The steward here is probably telling the brothers what Joseph told him to say. (2) The brothers paid their money for the grain, and by God's providence through Joseph's command, the steward filled their sacks, they had rightly paid what was owed. (3) The steward's statement is not false, God, through the instruments of Joseph and the steward put the money back in the sack. God works through means, and here the God of their Father, Jacob, worked through means to put money back in their sacks. Later, Joseph would recognize this explicitly as well saying, "And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life." (45:5) (4) All of this said, this is creating a false sense of security for the brothers in what Joseph will do next in chapter 44. Nahum M. Sarna wrote this about this verse, "The reassuring reply of the steward is intelligible only on the assumption that he is privy to Joseph's scheme. His purpose is to lull them into a false sense of relief, reinforced by the release of Simeon." (Sarna, 301) I think Sarna is reading more into the "priviness" and "purpose" of the steward than the text allows here. The intelligibility of the steward's words does not hang on reading "behind the text" to perceive attitudes and intentions of the steward's heart. That said, this exchange is setting up what happens in the next chapter, that's for sure. Whether or not the steward is aware of that, who knows? I think it's more intelligible to see that the steward really was acknowledging that Yahweh through the means of Joseph and himself put the money back in their sacks. Could he be trying to deceive? Yeah, but I don't think the text gives us the data to know that with 100% certainty.

FourthIt is affecting to see Joseph's response of weeping. By God's grace Joseph is the temporal, small "s", "savior" of both Egypt, the surrounding regions, and even of his own family. He's certainly not perfect in all regards, but there are a number of things about his character that are good for our consideration. First, regarding what biblical manhood is. Joseph's character of "biblical manhood" outlines courage, perseverance, dependence upon God, and a full expression of emotions. Not uncontrolled emotion willing to weep at every little thing, and yet he feels deeply. It's important to take note of these qualities lest we confuse "biblical manhood" with a lack of emotion, and an inability to love fully, suffer genuinely, and feel deeply.

Pointing to Jesus Christ
Second, Joseph's being an instrument for "temporal" salvation, being saved from famine, definitely points to the Messiah that God would provide in Jesus Christ. Many Christians around the world suffer starvation, but Jesus teaches us that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God, the Scriptures. Christians feed on Christ by faith, and we know that if we lose our life because of physical starvation, we have an eternal feast being prepared for us, where one day the spiritual reality of that feast will merge with the physical, as our bodies our raised on that last day. That said, a number of Christians, especially in the West, don't suffer for lack of food. Joseph's physical provision points to our spiritual need. All of us suffer the famine of sin, and because of our sin we deserve God's eternal wrath, where there will be no eating to satisfaction. We need Christ above all things, and we need to feed upon Him by faith. We are all invited to come and feast at Christ's banqueting table, and if we would only repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we can be assured of this glorious event.

Judah's substitution here is also a typological arrow pointing directly at Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus is a descendant of Judah. In the previous chapter Reuben offered his children as a substitute (which would also be terribly difficult), but that wasn't quite as strong as Judah's offer here of himself. Unlike Reuben in Genesis 42, Judah offers himself as a substitute if Benjamin should be lost, "I will be a pledge for his safety," and, "let me bear the blame forever." (vs. 8-10) Judah is the firstborn, and here he is taking responsibility fully upon himself. Judah, in a twisted way, saved Joseph in Genesis 37:27, he learned the difficulty of loss in chapter 38, and now here he's offering himself as a surety and a substitute for Benjamin. His offer of substitution for Benjamin is how the Lord will save His chosen family, we need only to watch how it plays out. This points to Jesus Christ who would come from Judah's family line. Through His substitutionary atonement, Jesus Christ, became a pledge for our safety. He is the firstborn of many who would be brought to salvation through His blood (Rev. 1:5). By going to the cross to die for our sins in order to bring us to God, it's as if he owned Judah's words here, "Let me bear their blame forever." Jesus was tortured and beaten then hung on a cross with nails driven through His hands and feet only to suffocate to death, but that wasn't the worst of it. He bore the sin of His people in His body, and He suffered the eternal wrath of God on that tree in our placed condemned He stood. He became our sin, and through the power of His person and His work on the  cross He infused us with His righteousness, so that we have become His righteousness if we are repenting and believing. This substitutionary attitude of Judah would come all the way to the Messiah who took our place on the cross.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is not done yet though. Is all well with this family now? We'll see in Genesis chapter 44.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Genesis Chapter 42 ~ Joseph's Encounter & Test of His Brothers

Genesis Chapter 42

Seeking Relief from Famine
Jacob, Joseph's father, learned that Egypt was selling grain and he said to his sons, "Why do you look at one another?" (vs. 1) So, he told them to go buy grain so they could live, the famine had reached Canaan. 10 of Joseph's brothers then went down to Egypt to buy grain; Jacob didn't send Benjamin because he feared harm would come upon him (vs. 4).

Joseph & His Brothers
Joseph was the governor, and his brothers came and bowed with their faces to the ground before him (vs. 6). He recognized them, but treated them like strangers speaking roughly asking where they were from (vs. 7). They didn't recognize him. At this point he remembered the dreams he dreamed of them, and accused them of being spies (vs.9), but they claimed to be honest men, and not spies (vs. 10). They then described where they were from, and how they had left their youngest brother with their father, and that their other brother is no more (vs. 13).

Joseph Tests His Brothers
Joseph accused them again of being spies, and tested them, he swears on Pharaoh's life that they cannot leave his presence unless their youngest brother comes (vs. 14-15). He said to send one to bring their brother while they are all confined, and he put them in custody for 3 days (vs. 17).

On the 3rd day Joseph said if they did what he said, they'd live because he fears God (vs. 18). He then let them all take grain to their household, but kept only one brother in custody, but they still must bring their youngest brother back to Joseph, otherwise they would die. So they agreed. They then said to each other that they were guilty regarding their brother Joseph, and that because of what they did to him is why this current distress has come upon them (vs. 21).

His brother, Reuben spoke up and said, "Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." (vs. 22) They didn't realize that Joseph understood them while they were talking, for there was an interpreter between them. Joseph then turned away from them and wept (vs. 24), then returned and spoke to them. He took Simeon from them and bound him before them, and he gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every mans money in his sack, and give them provisions for the trip. 

The brothers then loaded their donkeys with grain and left, and one brother opened his sack to give his donkey food where they were staying on the way, and saw money in the mouth of the sack. He told his brothers, and their "hearts failed them," and they were trembling, and they said, "What is this that God has done to us?" (vs. 28) 

Arriving in Canaan to Jacob
When they arrived back in Canaan they told Jacob what had happened with Joseph, the test, and everything. Then as they emptied their sacks every man's money was there, and they were all afraid (vs. 35). Jacob then told them how they had bereaved him of his children: Joseph and now Simeon, and that they would now take Benjamin.

Reuben's Guarantee
Reuben then said, "Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you." (vs. 37) Jacob responded, "My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol." (vs. 38)

Reflections on Genesis 42
God is at work among the nations, and here we see that God is using Egypt, and particularly a Hebrew in Egypt - Joseph, to save His covenant people in fulfillment of promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

First, we see Jacob say to his sons, something to the effect, "Don't just stand there and stare at each other, go get food from Egypt so we don't die." I don't want to read more into that then what the text allows, but you get the sense that Jacob's sons are lazy and clueless when it comes to having knowledge and a drive to provide for their family. So, at the direction of Jacob they go to Egypt.

Second, we see something of the affect and use of a guilty conscience. Joseph's brothers immediately attribute their difficulties to their sin against Joseph (it may be triggered because Joseph said he fears God). 13 years have passed, and their guilty consciences seem to be continually dogging them. They know they have sinned, and not only against Joseph, but their sin was primarily against God, "What is this that God has done to us?" (vs. 28) The text doesn't let us know if they are saying this in an accusative fashion or if it's just a recognition of the truth of their situation. The only way we can take this is that they are acknowledging God's sovereign control over all things. God has done this. They were responsible for their actions. After all, they chose to betray their brother, they chose to sell him before Reuben could save him, they chose to lie, smearing blood on and ripping up Joseph's coat. They chose to lie to their Father. They know though that God saw all of that, and they seem to be admitting that they are accountable to none other than Yahweh. What a terrible thought in the face of sin. If we're honest we have to admit that we've done wrong before God too. If we should be identifying with anyone in this passage it probably should be Joseph's brothers. Praise God that through faith in Jesus Christ we can be cleansed of our shame and guilt. We can be infused with the righteousness of Christ by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. 

Third, should we test people when they sin against us like Joseph does here? Probably not. This is a specific salvation historic event. That said, it's not such a bad thing for people to feel the gravity of their sin. If we think but lightly of our sin we will likely think lightly of our Savior. God used Joseph's hiding of his identity to work reconciliation in the covenant family here. Whether or not they thought of their sin against Joseph, and primarily against God, every day for the last 13 years, they certainly were thinking of it this day. And in God's graciousness through Joseph, He let's them contemplate this for a while. The bondage of their brother reminds them of what they deserve, the reliance they have on another - namely, Joseph's mercy - reminds them that they must be humble because they are not the sovereign judge of men. After all is said and done, they are humbled to realize that they are not the great men that their pride and egos would deceive them to be. I'm not saying we should test people like this when they sin against us, but it is not wrong to let people consider their guilt and shame. That said, don't forget to show them how they can be saved. Not salvation from a famine, slavery, etc., but salvation from sin - salvation from the wrath of God. God's perfect justice and mercy meet at the cross, help people to be rid of their shame and guilt there, at the cross. Joseph's encounter with his brothers points us to Jesus. Joseph's particular test was specific to this event in salvation history, but it's helpful and useful for us to know something of the wretchedness and evil that we must be redeemed from too.

In the face of a worldwide famine God is preserving the line through whom He will bring Christ into the world. I think Bruce Waltke's paragraph on this chapter is helpful. So, I'll end this post with it:

"God, through the famine, initiates the saving process by forcing the family to confront their past and each other. Joseph's harshness also helps to heal the fracture and to restore the family to God. Simeon's detention in Egypt reminds the ten brothers of how they treated Joseph, and for the first time they recognize the Moral Governor of the universe at work in their lives. Their consciences are awakened to confess their guilt (42:21-24) and to fear God (42:28). They take responsibility to retrieve Simeon from prison (42:19, 24) and to protect Benjamin from harm (42:37; See 43:1-45:28). Upon their return they show sensitivity to their father's emotions, and loyalty that unite a family are now being fashioned. Through the famine Joseph comes to rule over Egypt and the sons of Israel become worhty to becalled the people of God. Both God's famine and Joseph's harsh speech confront the brothers with life and death (42:2, 18, 20). Through these severe mercies the fractured family is being healed."
Waltke, Bruce Genesis a Commentary With Cathi J. Fredricks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 550.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Genesis Chapter 41 ~ Pharaoh's Dreams & Joseph's Redemption

Genesis Chapter 41 

2 years after the cupbearer forgot about Joseph interpreting his dream in prison, Pharaoh dreamed a dream.

Pharaoh's Dream Part 1 ~ 14 Cows By the Nile River (vs. 1-4)

(1) He dreamed that there were 7 cows healthy and plump eating reed grass.  
(2) He, later in the same dream, then saw 7 cows, ugly and thin which he had never seen in all Egypt (vs. 19), coming after the healthy cows. 
(3) The 7 ugly/thin cows ate the 7 attractive/healthy/plump cows, and they remained thin and ugly afterward (vs. 21). 
(4) After this dream he woke up.
Pharaoh's Dream Part 2 ~ 14 Ears of Grain (vs. 5-7)
Pharaoh then had a 2nd dream.

(1) He dreamed that there were 7 ears of grain, plump and good, on one stalk. 
(2) He, later in the same dream, then saw 7 ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 
(3) The 7 thin ears swallowed up the 7 plump/full ears. 
(4) After this dream he woke up.
Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams
In the morning his spirit was troubled, and he called for Egyptian magicians and wise men to interpret his dreams, but none could. At this, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about how Joseph interpreted his and the former chief baker's dreams correctly. Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they cleaned Joseph up before he came before Pharaoh. So Pharaoh said, "I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." (vs. 15)

Joseph answered, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer," or “Without God it is not possible to give Pharaoh an answer about his welfare.” (vs. 16) Pharaoh then told him his dreams (which are outlined above). After recounting the dreams he said he told the Egyptian magicians, but that they couldn’t interpret the dreams (vs. 24).

Joseph then described what the dreams meant. They are one and the same dream, and, “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (vs. 25) The 7 good cows and good ears of grain are 7 years, and the 7 ugly cows and blighted ears of grain by the east wind are 7 years of famine. Then again Joseph said, “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (vs. 28) 7 years of plenty in Egypt are coming, but then 7 years of famine will come in Egypt, “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” (vs. 32)

Joseph’s Counsel
Joseph then gave counsel to Pharaoh to select a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt, and to appoint overseers over the land and take 1/5th of the produce of the land during the plentiful years, let the overseers gather all the food in the good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it as a reserve during the 7 years of famine that are to come.
Joseph is Chosen to Be Over the Land of Egypt
Joseph’s proposal pleased Pharaoh, and Pharaoh said, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? [or ‘of the god’s’]” (vs. 38) Pharaoh then said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command [or ‘and according to your command all my people shall kiss the ground’]. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” (vs. 37-40) So Pharaoh took his signet ring and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain on his neck, and made him ride in his second chariot, and they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” (vs. 41-43)

Pharaoh then said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all Egypt,” (vs. 44) and he named him Zaphenath-paneah, and he gave him in marriage to Asenath the daughter of Potiphera priest of On (vs. 45).

7 Years of Abundance
All of this happened when Joseph was 30 years old. During the 7 plentiful years he gathered up the food and put the food in every city from the fields around it. He gathered it up in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, because it could not be measured (vs. 49). Before the famine came Joseph had two sons:
(1) Manasseh, “For...God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (vs. 51) [Manasseh sounds like the Hebrew word meaning “making to forget”] 
(2) Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (vs. 52) [Ephraim sounds like the Hebrew word meaning “making fruitful”]
7 Years of Famine Begins
The 7 years of abundance ended, and 7 years of famine began, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When Egypt was famished [starving hungry and thirsty], the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh told them to go to Joseph, and do what he says. (vs. 55) So as the famine spread, Joseph opened the storehouses [“all that was in them”], and sold it to the Egyptians. Then all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe all over the earth.

Reflections on Genesis 41
First, notice that Joseph is 30 years old (vs. 46). When his trials started he was 17 (Gen. 37:2). He was stripped naked and left in a pit, then sold into slavery, then falsely accused, then imprisoned in Egypt, then forgotten by the cupbearer - 13 years of misery. Was Joseph's dream that he would rule over his family just a farce? Was God playing some kind of demented trick on Joseph just to get kicks out of watching him writhe in pain and depression? No!!! God was working His purposes for His own glory, but also for Joseph's good. As we see here, in Genesis 41, God was not only for Joseph's good, but for Pharaoh's good, for all the people of Egypt's good, and even for the whole earth's good. Joseph surely desired for God's timing to be to get him out of his nightmarish circumstances as soon as possible, but God's timing is perfect, and we see a small glimpse of that in this chapter. If we knew God's purposes for His glory and for our good we would surely choose God's timing, but often we don't know His purposes, so we toy with depression and throw temper-tantrums along the way. We should trust Him, because His timing is perfect, even though we often wouldn't have chosen it. He is for our good if we are His. That said, when the Lord begins to reveal the purposes for which He delayed, we can look back over the specific contours we walked and trace the line of His bountiful grace, and say, "I get it now, it all makes so much more sense than it used to." We may not be able to say that in this life, but if we are His people we will one day when we are with our Lord and He wipes away every tear from our eyes. I'm reminded of the popular quote, "God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart."*

Second, notice that God, in contrast to the "magicians" "philosophers" and "wise" people in the world, alone is wise, knowledgeable, and in meticulous control. No one else could give interpretations of Pharaoh's dreams, not even Joseph, and look at what the text describes about God:
Vs. 16 - God will give an answer, or without God it is impossible to give an answer.
Vs. 25 - God has revealed what He [God] is about to do.
Vs. 28 - God has shown what He [God] is about to do.
Vs. 32 - God fixed what will happen, and God will shortly bring it about. 
Vs. 39 - God has shown. [Pharaoh is speaking here]
What does all this mean? Only God can interpret dreams, and it's impossible to do it without Him. In these specific dreams of Pharaoh, God is working to bring to pass what He revealed in Joseph's dreams 13 years earlier. But God's doing something else here too. Let's not miss the forest of Israel and God's grand redemptive plan for the individual tree that Joseph is. God made a promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-14, remember? "13 Then the LORD said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.'" What is that land? Well, here we're beginning to see that it will be Egypt. How would Israel end up in this land of slavery? Certainly not by choice, right? Well, it appears not, but we need to let the rest of the story play out over the rest of Genesis.

God is merciful and gracious here to show what He is about to do. God has fixed what Pharaoh's dreams reveal will come to pass, and He will make it happen. Man is responsible too though. God is in control over time, events, and people, but the people make decisions and are active agents in doing the things that God brings about. He has fixed these things, and He not only fixes events and then passively lets someone or something else enact them to come to pass. No, He does it and brings it to pass Himself. (41:25, 28, 32) He's actively doing this while the people are active too. The world is the stage for this display of God's grace and mercy to the point that even an unbeliever, Pharaoh, is crediting God to have shown the interpretation to Joseph.

God is continuing to preserve His people in order to bring about the promised Messiah from Eve's lineage as it is further seen in His sovereign choosing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 3:15; 15). Now, here in Joseph's temporal redemption from the literal pit, we see a little more of a glimpse about the circumstances that surround His steadfast love expressed in His preservation of the people of His covenant, and in how ultimately in Jesus Christ He will redeem a people from their sin.

Pointing to Jesus Christ
Joseph clearly prefigures Moses here, who will lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt, another picture of redemption. But both both Joseph and Moses' redemption accounts prefigure Jesus Christ's. That Jesus Christ suffered the greatest misery of all, taking upon Himself the sin of His people. Being tortured and then raised upon the cross to bear the eternal wrath of God in His own body on the tree for His people. Then, 3 days after His death, He was raised from the dead defeating, sin and death. If we would repent and believe, we can know with certainty that it was our sin that He defeated, and we can be assured of our redemption through Him.

* Many attribute this quote to C. H. Spurgeon, but I don't know of a reference.