Genesis: The Beginnings

New beginnings bring an air of excitement and freshness. The book of Genesis is taken from its first words, “In the beginning.” Genesis is the beginning of everything. It is the beginning of creation, human history, life, death, and so much more.

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the beginnings: study of Genesis

The Beginning [Genesis 1:1-2:3]

Beginning Questions [intro]

Beginning Word on God [1:1-3; 2:1-3]

Beginning of Everything (except God) [1:4-25]

Beginning of Mankind [1:26-31; 2:4-25]

 

The Fall of Man: The beginning of the end [Genesis 3-4]

Believing a lie from the wrong voice [3:1-6]

How sin infects [3]

The Consequences of Sin [3:7-24]

Creations need for Reconciliation with its Creator [3:15, 21]

Raising Cain: the Call for Repentance [4]

 

Noah [Genesis 5-9]

Walking in Obedience [5:1-7:1]

God is Faithful through the Flood [7-8]

The Covenant [9]

Babel [10:1-11:9]

 

Abraham & Sarah [Genesis 11:10-23:1ff]

The Call [11:10-12:9]

Honest Abram [11:27-32]

Journey of Faith [12-22]

Melchizedek [14]

God will Provide [21-23]

A Bride for Isaac [24]

 

Jacob & Esau [Genesis 25-36]

The Tale of Two Brothers [25-27]

Jacob’s Dream [Genesis 28]

Jacob’s Journey to Reconciliation Part 1 [29-31]

Jacob’s Journey to Reconciliation Part 2 [32]

Jacob’s Journey to Reconciliation Part 3 [33]

Jacob’s Journey Home Part 1 [34]

Jacob’s Journey Home Part 2  [35-36]

 

Joseph [Genesis 37-50]

Just your Average Joe [37]

Judah & Tamar: Faithful Deception [38]

Secret of Success Part 1: Faithfulness & Favor [39]

Secret of Success Part 2: Workmanship & Wisdom [40-41]

Life Hurts but God Heals [42-45]

A Reunion to Remember [46-47]

For Dads & Granddads [48-49]

God’s Purpose from the Beginning [50]

God’s purpose from the beginning

I was struggling to keep up with my high school chemistry class. I just wasn’t getting it. I was too proud to ask the teacher for help. I was failing. When it was time to take midterms I looked at the exam and thought, “Am I in the wrong class, this looks like German?” I turned in the exam disheartened. A few days later I got my graded exam back and in big red letters the teacher wrote on it, “PLEASE SEE ME TO RETAKE!”

Wouldn’t it be nice to retake life, start over a bad relationship, remake a painful experience, or to rewrite the past? Sometimes you have to live with the pain of the past or deal with hurtful relationships. And it is common to ask, “What is the purpose of suffering in our life? Is God really in control of every situation?” You may not get a second chance or an opportunity to retake the test, but your perspective of the situation may need to change. I trust the text today will answer these questions and more.

1. You can live free of regrets and unforgiveness despite all the hurts [Genesis 50:15-21]

In an important scene that closes Genesis, Joseph’s father Jacob dies. Joseph’s brothers fear he will hold their past hurts over their head since dad is not around anymore, but Joseph calms them with words of grace and forgiveness, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20] Joseph has a unique perspective of God’s sovereignty played out amidst his brother’s actions.

If you were to step back and look at Joseph’s life, it would look more like a roller coaster ride than a cushy bed of roses. His life is a series of ups and downs mostly at the hands of others:

That’s quite the ride! Most people strapped in a seat similar to Joseph would live with loads of bitterness, unforgiveness, regrets, or a desire to get even. Is Joseph superhuman? Or does he have a thick shell? I don’t think so. He simply shows fruit of a godly perspective of man’s attempt to hurt, but God’s heroic hand. He did not hold on to the hurts. Nor do you have to. Be free.

2. God works all things together for His glory and for your good [Genesis 50:19-21]

Joseph is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament, “For God works everything together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purposes.” The story of Joseph is a lesson of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. His brothers are responsible for the actions they inflict on Joseph, but God uses it for His purposes in Joseph [cf. Ephesians 1:11]. In other words the brothers tried to put hurdles and hindrances in their brother’s path, but God used the hard road to prepare and strengthen Joseph for a position He had planned for him. The brothers had their purposes, but God also had His.

Through the way of suffering, by the hand of God, Joseph was being prepared for a position that led him to become the 2nd in command over Egypt [50:22, 26] and he served in that position with humility and integrity. Through Joseph millions of lives were saved across the region [50:20] and God’s people were preserved [45:7]. And ultimately, God gets the glory for fulfilling all of His promises [cf.15:13-14, Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15].

This is how the sovereignty of God works and how you can have hope through trials. God knows first hand how suffering and His sovereignty go hand in hand. A good, wise, and sovereign God brought about pain in the life of Jesus [Isaiah 53:10]. Jesus’ unimaginable pain and suffering lead to unimaginable joy and glory. You and I reap the rewards of His sufferings. He suffered a great evil so that you might be gifted a great good.

There is an uncanny connection between Genesis 1 and 50. The God who created the universe continues to rule over the affairs of His creation. He is not distant from His creation, nor is His creation autonomous and self-sufficient from his Creator. I can plant a healthy tree in my yard, but if God doesn’t send rain and sunshine the tree will whither and die. Likewise, I am utterly dependent upon God for life and breathe. He oversees my ups and downs. Even the droughts and floods have their purpose—they can bring me to my knees. He works all things together for His glory and your good.

3. Your life is too short to waste away [Genesis 50:22-26]

Chariots of Fire is a movie known more for its sound track than its main character. The one running in slow motion on the beach is Eric Liddell, Olympic Champion-turned-missionary to China. In a gripping scene in the movie, Liddell falls to the ground just a few strides into a 440-yard race. The crowd gasps. His hopes for any medal seem dashed. But to everyone’s amazement, he rises to his feet, leans back his head with mouth wide-open, strides with supernatural speed, and catches his opponents from twenty yards back to win the race.

The lesson learned from Liddell, “It’s not how you begin the race but how you finish that is important.” How true that is in life. As humans, we don’t begin well. We begin as sinners, desperately needing God’s grace. But even when we come to Christ, receive His grace and forgiveness, and begin running the race set before us [Hebrews 12:1] our race is often characterized by fits and starts. The way we run the race is important, but it is most important how we finish.

When you consider Joseph lived to be 110 you would think you would have a lot of time to waste. But 110 years compared to eternity is still extremely short. King Solomon lived life to the fullest, but described life as a vapor that appears for a second and is gone the next second [cf. Ecclesiastes]. James echoes, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” [4:14b]

Joseph lived long enough to bounce his great-grandsons on his knee. And before he was about to die he told his family one last story—a true story about his faith in God’s promises to Abraham [Genesis 15:13]. About four hundred years later his family would leave Egypt under God’s mighty hand and return to the Promised Land. On that day, Joseph requested his bones to be carried back and buried with his dad, granddad and great granddad [cf. Joshua 24:32]. Joseph finished well. He did not consider the ups and downs a waste.

25, 50 or 100 years from now will you be able to say, “I have trusted in God’s purposes all the way”? After this life is over there is no retaking the course or rescheduling the exam. There is no more time to improve your grade from a “D” to and “A”. There is no restarting to the race. This life ends at death. Joseph gives you and a glimpse of God’s purposes for living with purpose this side of eternity. He also gives us a glimpse of something else.

Joseph gives you an Old Testament glimpse of the redemptive qualities seen in Jesus Christ

Like Joseph, Jesus loved those who hated him and suffered unjustly at the hands of those who were jealous of His fame and glory.

Like the days of Joseph, God used what sinners meant for evil for good as He originally intended creation to be, and the saved of many lives through Jesus.

Like the end of Joseph’s life, Jesus spoke words of kindness, blessing, and forgiveness from the cross to His enemies thereby making them friends and brothers.

Like Joseph, Jesus was buried in a tomb. But, unlike Joseph who remains buried today, Jesus rose from dead victorious over sin. He became the second Adam who redeemed all that the first Adam had lost. And Jesus fulfilled the covenant promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And one day soon, Jesus will return as the King of Kings from the line of Judah with the scepter of sovereignty in His hand [cf. Genesis 49:10]. On that day, He will call His covenant people home to the Promised Land forevermore.

Since God is in control let’s live like it.

for dads and granddads

Watch your average TV sitcom and you will see dumbed down dads on display. I can think of Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, Ray Ramone, and half-dozen others who fit the role. Today expectations for men are at an all tie low. The average man—including dads and husbands—are expected to be nothing less than a remote-holding-couch-glued-family-forsaking-caveman. That might be the way of some men, but certainly not all men. Our world craves and aches for real men.

Some will say the church is too girly. Sure. Whatever that means. I suppose it is because too many men run home to the lazy boy and hide behind the TV. Or they make their wife do all the spiritual heavy lifting in the house. That’s sad. It’s sad because the Bible places great responsibility upon men. In Genesis, we’ve already seen this:

The Bible calls men today to rise up and lead their families. It calls fathers and grandfathers to pass the spiritual baton to the next generation. It is their role to pass the blessing onto their children and their children’s children. Here in the closing portions of Genesis and Jacob’s life that kind of role is rolled out before our eyes. It begins with a beautiful scene between an old man and young boys.

Speak Blessings your Grandchildren [Genesis 48:1-22]

Jacob is old. He’s now a grandpa. He’s got the gnarly white hair and weathered skin to prove it. He’s got shortness of breath from chasing the grandkids around the barn. He spends most of his time sitting with his grandkids on his lap telling them long stories about the old days on the farm and how he thought he lost a son to ravenous wild animals. The grandkids listen, even though they have heard the stories hundreds of times.

By the time we come to Genesis 48, Jacob’s life is coming to an end. He is ailing. Joseph gathers his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to visit their grandfather, possibly for the last time. Jacob musters up strength, sits up in bed, and shares with his son and grandson of how God[1] appeared to him in Luz (Bethel) and blessed him with the covenant of promise spoken to his grandfather Abraham. Grandpa Jacob gives them some real spiritual steak to chew on.

What Jacob is doing is passing the spiritual baton to his son and grandsons. He is charging them to continue the faith so that the covenant family would prevail long after his death. It’s as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Therefore Jacob brings in his two grandsons (Manasseh and Ephraim) to replace his first two sons who had fallen out of favor with him because of their sins.[2] In a final blessing, Grandpa Jacob purposefully reverses his hands in order to bless the younger (Ephraim) over the older (Manasseh).[3] Jacob then blessed his son Joseph and prayed over his grandsons, asking God to covenant with them, as He had been with him, his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

What we see and hear from Jacob is unique. He’s a manly man. He’s God’s kind of man. He’s not afraid to admit his dependence on God. He’s not too busy or tired to tend his children’s needs, particularly their spiritual needs. He’s not too proud to miss an opportunity to point his kids to God. He fears God first. Proverbs 14:26 says, “In the fear of the lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see your children’s children!  [Psalm 128:1–6]

According to this song, the blessing from God is man’s highest goal. That blessing includes fearing God, walking in His ways, working hard and honestly to provide for his family, enjoying his godly wife, eating dinner around his table surrounded by his children, and living long enough to see the fruits reproduce in his grandkids.

It is important for men to spiritually lead their families and pass on words of blessing and spiritual direction. If fathers and grandfathers expect their children to live for God they are best to speak them to their children and grandchildren, and intentionally pray over them. Do it out loud, so they can hear it and see you do it.

I will never forget the day my dad spoke at my wedding ceremony. He called me to live righteously like Christ, and blessed our marriage. Equally, I will not forget when grandfather with tears in his eyes on his deathbed spoke blessings over my family and ministry. Though both are not the most spiritual men, their words still ring clearly in my ears. I long to retell them to my children and grandchildren.

Speak Future Altering Words to Your Children [Genesis 49:1–50:14]

Last words often are lasting or life altering. As Jacob nears his last breath he gathers his sons around him and they are baited upon every word. As father and grandfather he blessed them, but now he takes the role of a prophet revealing to them their futures. As with most messages from prophets, his message has both blessings and curses. It’s an unforgettable tell-it-as-it-is ceremony of sorts for the entire family.

Jacob begins by cursing Reuben for having sex with his father’s concubine [cf. Genesis 35:22], and Simeon and Levi for being violent men [cf. Genesis 34]. He blesses Joseph. He then appoints Judah as the son of the promise. Throughout Genesis Judah has transformed from godless to godly man, much like his own father. And, his father, Jacob prophesies a coming king from the line of Judah [Genesis 49:10], which included David [2 Samuel 7] and ultimately will be fulfilled by a greater King—Jesus Christ—the King of Kings.[4]

Jacob’s last request is to be buried next to his favored wife Rachel and his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, which was the Promised Land. It’s his final act of faith trusting that one day God would allow his family to return from Egypt just as God promised. After he passed Joseph and his brothers honored their fathers requests.

If Genesis 48-49 were a TV sitcom or modern day movie it would stand out. It might be ridiculed because modern media has castrated the manliness right out of men. But these last words from Jacob are heroic. They are words that pack a punch, much like William Wallace commanding his Scotsmen or Maximus proclaiming to the spectators in the Roman arena. Jacob calls fathers and grandfathers everywhere to stand with him and pass the spiritual baton to the younger generations. And if you wont who will?

What kind of grandfather do you want to become? What will you be remembered by as a father? Proverbs 17:6 points you to the future, saying, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” In order to be a godly man, good father, and unforgettable grandfather, you have to be a good Christ follower. It takes grace and guts to mimic the God-Man. True manhood will only be found inside the Body of that One New Man—Jesus Christ—the Son who joyfully obeyed the words of His Father. I charge you, men, follow Him.

Must Read Resources for Men who are or hope to be Fathers and Grandfathers:


[1] The name for God used here is El Shaddai. It is also used five times previously in Genesis.

[2] Reuben in Genesis 35:22 and Simeon in Genesis 34:25, 49:5-6.Therefore the rights of firstborn were passed onto Judah and Joseph (Genesis 49:8-12, 22-26), and Joseph’s two sons replaced them as the heads in the twelve tribes of Israel.

[3] This happened throughout Genesis. It happened to Jacob himself when his father Isaac blessed him over his brother Esau.

[4] The remainder of the Bible following Genesis points us to and gives more understanding towards who this promised coming king will be. According to Matthew 1:1-3, 2:6; Luke 3:30-33; Hebrews 7:14; and Revelation 5:5 Jesus is the promised descendant of Judah. And, according to Numbers 24:17; Hebrews 1:8; and Revelation 19:15-16 Jesus Christ is the King of Kings who is coming again to rule all nations of the earth in fulfillment of Genesis 49:10.

a reunion to remember

Have you ever been to a reunion for family or school? I have been to a few. There is usually some anxiety at first, since you have not seen these faces for eons and time hasn’t made you younger, flashier, or skinnier. Usually within minutes the awkwardness fades through the laughs and retelling of old memories.

The reunion of Joseph and his father is one of the most memorable of Scripture. However, at a quick glance what we do not catch is that this story is more about Jacob remembering His God and reunited with His promises.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO CARES [Genesis 46]

Jacob is now an old man. He probably has some wrinkles and walks with a bowed leg. He has a few less hairs and it is clear from his eyes that he’s weathered life. He’s been asked to do something rather challenging even for someone half his age or tenth his age. In faith he is leaving his home, farm of his youth, and comforts. Like his great grandfather Abraham before him, in faith he’s trusting God to bless him in a new land.

Along the way Jacob stops to worship God in Beersheba. It’s a landmark site for his family. This was the same place where his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, also worshiped God [21:33, 26:23-25]. There, God speaks to Jacob and gives him a command and promise. The command is the most common command in the Bible, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you in a great nation there.” [Genesis 46:3] Hear this sampling of other occasions throughout the Bible when God says the same 4-words:

  • Abraham. “The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” [Genesis 15:1]
  • Isaac. “That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” [Genesis 26:24]
  • Moses.Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land.” [Numbers 21:34]
  • Elijah. “Go down with him. Do not be afraid of him.” [2 Kings 1:15]
  • Jehoshaphat. “Listen King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” [2 Chronicles 20:15]
  • Isaiah. “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.” [Isaiah 7:4] “Do not be afraid, O worm of Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” [Isaiah 41:14; 44:8; 54:4]
  • Jeremiah.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” [Jeremiah 1:8]
  • Daniel.Do not be afraid Daniel. From the first day that you set your mind to fain understanding and to humble yourself before you God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” [Daniel 10:12]
  • Jesus to followers.Do not be afraid, I am with you.” [Matthew 28:10, 19-20; 10:28; 14:27; John 14:27]

When God says, do not be afraid. It is nothing like if I were to say the same thing. When I say, “Do not fear,” it sounds generic, even uncaring. God never says anything He doesn’t mean. He doesn’t say anything to get you off His back. Fears are not trivial to God. The sheer number of times He speaks to your fears is proof enough that He cares much more than you know.

Many wonder if God really cares. Past hurts still have a hold on you. You feel like you’ve been fooled once and you won’t be fooled again, so you trust no one but yourself. Or you believe that what God says is too good to be true. You feel unworthy of His care. In the midst of doubt God reveals more of Himself to you.

God is repetitive. He is happy to do so. Repetitive is supposed to aid learning. Ask the oral speaking Hebrews and they’d agree. Think of God repeating Himself like a parent daily telling His children, “Take your vitamins,” or “I love you.” God follows His command, “Do not be afraid” with one of the most precious promises of the Bible, I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

When God ask you to do something He’s not going to leave you hanging. He has given you good reason to not be afraid. He will be with you no matter how difficult. I am certain Jacob remembers the stories from his childhood of God’s presence with Adam in the Garden [Genesis 2], with Noah in the Ark [Genesis 6-9], with Abraham [12:1-3], and with his father Isaac [26:24]. The ruler of the universe will accompany Jacob to a strange land. He promises his son Joseph will be there when he breathes his last breath. And God will see to it that he is buried back in the Promised Land.

When God says He will be with you He means it. You have all proof in the span of Scripture. Just look at the stories of Moses [Exodus 33:12-17; Deuteronomy 31:6], David [Psalm 23:4; 118:6-7], Isaiah [49:14-15], Haggai [2:4-5], Paul the apostle [Philippians 4:5-6], and Jesus and the Spirit [John 17:20-24; Matthew 29:19-20]. Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” [John 14:16-18]

Despite fears, Jacob obeys God in faith and moves to Egypt with his family. And, in one of the most touching occasions in the entire Bible, Joseph reunites with his father Jacob. The two men embrace and weep for a long time. It’s a reunion to remember.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO REIGNS [Genesis 47:1-12]

Up to this point, Joseph has not asked for any sympathy, apologizes, or favors from his brothers. Even from a high position of authority in Egypt, he has the power to snap his finger or whisper a quick word and his brothers would instantly be lynched, enslaved, or tried for their dodgy past. But Joseph did none of it. Instead he demonstrates divine grace and unforgettable forgiveness.

Joseph takes five of his brothers before the Pharaoh to ask a favor on their behalf. As anticipated Pharaoh inquires about the kind of work his brothers did back home. They reply, “Shepherds.” To be a shepherd was like being a garbage man or burger flipper. It was a lower class job, especially to an Egyptians. Remarkably Pharaoh blesses them as Joseph’s brothers, and gives them the best grazing land amidst the famine. God uses the ruler of the known world to be a blessing. God holds the heart of the king in His hand.

Then, Joseph brings his 130-year old gray-haired father to meet the mighty Pharaoh. Jacob opens his mouth before the king. You never know what an old guy might say. But He doesn’t say anything brash or embarrassing. He gives Pharaoh two patriarchal blessings (47:7,10). In other words, he stands before the king and gives glory to the King of kings.

God ultimately sits on the throne and rules. He places those who reign over peoples and nation. God even uses unregenerate Pharaoh to carry out His purposes in preserving His people. Proverbs 8:15, God’s wisdom declares, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice.” This gives me a lot of comfort around election time. No matter who is in office or soon to be God is still on the throne. He is in control.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last. You see this without a doubt in Joseph’s story, which seems more like a rollercoaster ride than smooth sailing in a convertible Cadillac. Through it all, Joseph maintains an attitude of servanthood. He goes from favored son to slave to favored house servant to jail chains to second in command of the most powerful nation on earth. That just doesn’t happen. God makes it happen with his humble servant. God orchestrates these events because he reigns over humans, nations, and history.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO KEEPS HIS WORD [Genesis 47:13-31]

Why Egypt? Aren’t Jacob’s people supposed to live in the Promised Land? Why would God take them from the land and bring them to a place where they would soon be slaves? Does God not remember His word to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 to bless him with a nation and land?

Earlier in Genesis God clearly gave Isaac the command to not leave the land. Here God clearly gives Jacob the command to leave the land. Is God playing games? Does he like to move his people around for fun? God is not a jester or monster. He has a loving purpose behind everything He does.

What we fail to see is that God is blessing Jacob and is keeping his word. The blessing comes from his obedience to God’s commands. It is not uncommon for people to reduce their faith to a series of rules and steps by which they live. Therefore, the Bible often confuses such people. They are prone to not recognize the difference between universal and particular commands.

The universal commands are applicable to everyone everywhere at all times, such as the command for us to love people and love God.  However, the particular commands are applicable to a particular person or group of people in a particular place at a particular time in history, such as God’s command for Noah to enter the Ark with his family.

In Genesis 47:13-31, we see the results of both God’s blessing upon Pharaoh and Egypt because of Joseph. Joseph’s wise business dealings made the Pharaoh really rich during the seven years of famine. In this we see that God blesses His covenant people and blesses those who bless them.

Also during the time Joseph is in Egypt, Jacob’s family is growing to seventy people. This too is God’s covenant blessing of many children. The stage is now set by God’s providential hand to fulfill the prophecy God had given to Abraham. In Genesis 15:12-14, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would spend four hundred years enslaved in Egypt before God liberated them as a great nation. All of the prophecies given by God to Abraham are in the process of being fulfilled. In His unique ways, God is protecting and preserving His people. His providence in the matter will be clearer in the days of Moses [cf. Exodus 12:40].

God got the family to Egypt through Joseph and the famine. And, this small family will become a nation of a few million people some four hundred years when God crushes the Pharaoh in that day for mistreating His covenant people in accordance with His promise to Abraham to not only bless those who blessed His people but also curse those who cursed them.

Jacob remembered what God said to his grandfather Abraham. Therefore he calls his son Joseph to his side. And he makes Joseph promise not to leave his bones in Egypt, but carry them back to the land God had promised and bury him there together with Abraham and Isaac [47:29-31]. What we see is an amazing transformation in the life of Jacob. He was once the young trickster, but now he is an old God-fearer. As he looks back on his life he has seen and heard how the word of the Lord has come to pass. Keep has first hand proof that God keeps His word.

What a wonderful reunion this is for Jacob. Do not wait until you are old before you realize that God cares, reigns and keeps His word. Treasure these promises from our youth and may they spare you from many messes and uneasy days ahead. If you are having a hard time believing God look at His Son. All roads in Scripture lead to Jesus. And all of God’s promises and guarantees are fulfilled in Jesus [Hebrews 7:22; 2 Corinthians 1:20].

Jesus cares. He has compassion for all including the sick and sinner [Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 7:13]. “Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you” [1 Peter 5:7; cf. Matthew 6:25]. The greatest proof of Jesus care is shown on the cross, which paved the way toward the forgiveness of your sin [Hebrews 8:12].

Jesus reigns. He sits at the right hand of His Father. It is a seat of authority. What is He doing from the throne? He is interceding on behalf of His brothers [Mark 14:62; 16:19; Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2].

Jesus keeps His word. He is the Word that became flesh [John 1:1-17; Revelation 22:6-21]. His words are trustworthy and true. He is the Word. He is the truth.

life hurts. God heals.

When I was in the fourth grade I came down with a strange case of osteomyelitis—a bone marrow disease that can kill if not treated quickly. I ended up in the hospital with a 106-degree fever. I missed about 3-weeks of summer vacation, which for a 9-year old is pure-torture. Not to mention, I missed a B-52’s concert. Yeah, I know. But Love Shack was the hit song in 1989! I still remember the pain from surgeries I had on my knee and chest. I have the scars to prove it.

Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least 1 in 3 women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused within her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. 55-95% of those abused do not speak up or get help. Do you know people that are hurting from an abusive relationship, a violent marriage, or rebellious child? They are in your church, office, and family. Life hurts, but God heals.

I have seen firsthand how pains inflicted by those you love leave deep scars.  Maybe you have experienced a hurtful conversation with a friend, an abusive relationship, or a violent episode. The healing of these deep wounds can take you down a rocky road of bitterness, hatred, sorrow, depression, or brokenness. Such wounds do not go away easily with time. Sometimes signs of a painful past linger for a lifetime.

Hurts can make you better rather than bitter (a summary of Joseph’s past; Genesis 37-41)

Joseph’s the guy who got thrown under the bus by his brothers. They are ticked because he is the favored son and rubs it in wearing his colorful coat and gloats about dreams of his entire family bowing down to him. Their anger leads them devise a plan to sell him as slave in Egypt. Joseph is bought by Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, and soon is put in charge of his entire household. The only thing he could not control is Potiphar’s wife. She continuous lures him sexually, but he remained pure. She gets tick, so she sets him up with false assault charges and he’s thrown into prison. In the can, God uses him to interpret two of his cellmate’s dreams, which eventually gets him into King Pharaoh’s palace to interpret his dream.

Joseph faced an intense season of suffering [totaling 20-years], which all snowballed from his brother’s sinful plan. God was with him. Even though all the pain and hurt. And Joseph responds with meekness not bitterness.

Give yourself reminders of God’s character (Genesis 41:50-52)

I like to think I have a good memory, but I still forget. I have memory aids like a small UPS truck to remind me to pray for my dad or 2-dollar bill in my wallet that frequently reminds me of my great grandfather Roman. I also keep important dates like my wife’s birthday and our wedding anniversary on my computer. If it ever crashed I would be doomed!

Joseph was blessed with a wife and two sons. It’s the only family he’s got, since his brothers ditch him for some dough. In honor of his God, Joseph gives beautiful and worshipful names to his two new sons. Every time he sees them he is reminded of God’s character despite a horrendous past,

“Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]

When my daughter was born, Sarah and I named her, Justus. It was inspired from a character from Acts 18:7, but her name is also tribute to God’s justice. Since we are moving our family to serve people who have not seen or heard our God of generous justice, it is our prayer that her name would reminds us of God’s character. Reminders are important, especially when you’re hurting. Do not forget the character of your God. How will you remember Him?

Forgetting the past is difficult when it unexpected comes back  (Genesis 42:1-9a)

In a dramatic plot twist, Joseph is now 2nd in command of Egypt and in charge of the food reserves in a severe famine. Joseph’s brothers come bow and ask for food. Is it déjà-vu? Or is this just like Joseph’s dream years before? Joseph’s brothers do not recognize him because of his new Egyptian hairdo, but Joseph did not forget. When he saw his brothers he knew exactly who they were. Their faces were imprinted in his head as they sold him into slavery.

Cleverly, Joseph spoke to his brothers through an interpreter though he could speak both Egyptian and Hebrew. Not thinking that the Egyptians could understand them the brothers publicly spoke in Hebrew about the past. Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion. He’s in a position where he could lynch them or enslave them. Instead, he desired to see them again. So he devises a plan to keep one brother, Simeon, in custody until they returned with their youngest brother, Benjamin, who was Joseph’s only full-blooded brother born by both Jacob and Rachel.

Upon returning home, the brothers informed their father of the situation, “We got some food. Oh, by the way, your son is held captive in Egypt. He won’t be let go until we bring Ben. Another thing, not sure how it happened, but we still have the food money in our sacks.” This troubled Jacob. He remembered what happened to Joseph, thus he held Benjamin back. Judah stepped forward and took responsibility for his brother Benjamin. Here Judah begins to own his faith and show why he is a key character in the line that paves the way to the Messiah.

Jacob did a hard thing as a dad. He prayed for God’s protection, and sent all his sons to Egypt not knowing their fate. They needed food to live and the risk was worth it. Through it all, God is at work. When the brothers returned to Egypt Joseph invited them into his home, and they came to the conclusion they were going to become slaves. It’s interesting how the brothers jump to the worst-case scenario. Instead, Joseph wanted to feed them dinner.

During table talk, Joseph learns his father is still alive. He immediately steps into another room and weeps with joy. At this point, Joseph’s has not revealed himself to his brothers, has not sought to see his father, and has not indicated whether he intends to punish or forgive his brothers. The tensions are high.[1] And we now wait to see if Joseph will show his brothers his true identity and if he intends to forgive them or seek revenge for what happened in the past.

The past is not everything, nor is the past is nothing. Your past can affect your present and future [Galatians 6:7]. How should I handle the past, especially as a follower of Christ? I have heard many respond to the past by saying, “I know ____ will do it again. I’ve been down this road many times before. As soon as I see _____ [BAM!] the old ugly emotions are back.” Dealing with the past is usually not a one-time event, but a process. Here are some truths about your past that you’re good to remember:

Your past doesn’t change, but you might need to change. The change could be changing the way you look at the past. Some say, “I would be much better off without my past. How could God allow this to happen?” God gets blamed for the bad and ugly, but God uses hardships for good. Think of characters in the Bible who went through hardship at the hands of others [i.e. Job, Jeremiah, Joseph, Jesus]. How did they handle painful situation? How did God’s glory shine through their situation? Joseph is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament.

Your past reminds you of present grace and future hope. Hardship often precedes glory. Just look at the cross. Pain and hurts of this world remind you that you are not yet home. God promises you a place where hardships will be no more. Dealing with the past is a process.

Forgiveness is the process of healing to get past your past (Genesis 45:1-11)

After Joseph learns that his father is still alive. He sends his brothers back home to get him. He demands Benjamin to stay and his brothers to go back and get their father, but Judah knows his father would be crushed if Benjamin did not return with them, so he offers himself as a substitute. He willingly sacrifices himself for his brother. It is a scene that moves Joseph to tears.

The time has come. Joseph cannot keep his identity hidden any longer.  In a matter of a moment he is transformed from some powerful Egyptian to their long forgotten Hebrew brother. It is a beautiful moment of reconciliation and restoration. I am sure it is a moment filled with amazement, surprise, sorrow, and many other emotions.

Joseph tenderly helps his brothers understand he is not mad at them (nor should they be mad at each other) for selling him into slavery, “God has sent me hear to preserve life.” [5,7-8]. God planned for the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave in Egypt to ultimately send him ahead of his family to preserve a remnant of his people from the famine.[2]

Healing begins with radical biblical forgiveness. What is radical biblical forgiveness? It’s choosing to treat someone as if the hurt that happened never happened.” It is like taking a chalkboard of offenses and wiping the slate clean, or throwing out the trash bag full of transgressions never to retrieve them again. Forgiveness is a willful decision to release a person from the hurt, injury or abuse.

It’s radical because it’s not customarily practiced. You can willful choose not to forgive. It is your choice, but it’s a choice that will certainly cause more hurt over a long period of time and eventual invade other areas of your life. Unforgiveness is contagious. It is like a virus that moves through your system infecting your entire body. Unforgiveness is torturous. It is also foolish. Have you heard of some of the irrational reasons for not forgiving?

“The hurt is just too big. You should have seen what they did/said to me. I can’t possibly forgive something that big.” That is foolish. You’d think that the bigger the hurt is the more you’d want to get rid of it.

“I cannot forgive until I forget.” Can you forget? Sometimes no. But you will not forget until you forgive. Forgiveness is the process of forgetting. Forgiveness says, “I’m forgiving that, I’m going to release that person. And when I remember, I will forgive it again!” Joe Coffey in his book Red Like Blood says, “Forgiveness is like garbage day in that no matter what I bring to God it is completely taken away. No matter how much or how nasty, forgiveness is absolutely complete. The cans turned upside down. Garbage day makes me feel clean.”[3]

“I’m going to let time heal the hurt.” This is a lie. Time does not heal it only prolongs the hurt. Over time the hurt just gets bigger and worse. If you had a cancerous tumor that is curable but if not removed it the tumor will grow and grow until it consumes you to death. You can bury hurt or ignore it, but when you dig it up it’s still as ugly as it ever was before. The larger you see you past, the smaller you see your future. The smaller you see you past, the larger you see your future. Let go of yesterday – hold loosely today – embrace tomorrow.

Do you see the fruits of forgiveness in Joseph’s story? His anger disappears, he accepts his brothers, he blesses them, and he welcomes them back into his life. He could have responded by saying, “You owe me! I’m going to make you pay by hating you, by slandering you, by returning the hurt, by recruiting other people to my bitterness. I’m holding this over you!” Instead it’s as if he chose the process of healing through the way of forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness demands your forgiveness. When I forgive I am most like God. Joseph’s life is a picture of Christ.  If you want to get a glimpse of God’s forgiveness look at the life of His Son Jesus. Was He despised, rejected, beaten, mocked, slandered, spit upon, abused, hated? How did He treat His enemies? He has a radical response: forgiveness.

How are you like Joe’s bro’s?  Like his 10 brothers, you have severed off your relationship with your Brother-Savior choosing sin instead of Him. If the 10 brothers were in the crowd—and you—we would have yelled, “Crucify Him!” But Jesus, like Joseph, will save you from spiritual famine. In John 8, Jesus forgives a woman who is condemned by everyone. The law required stoning for her sin, but Jesus forgives her and in essence decides to take upon Himself her stoning. Jesus’ desire is to give and forgive. He will save you not just from famine, but also from hell [Matthew 12:41-42]. He offers you a land where you will hunger no more [Revelation 7:14-17].

Second, Judah’s life is a picture of Jesus too. Judah is the first person in the Bible to willingly offer his life for another. Although he never gave his life or freedom, his self-sacrificing love for his brother for the sake of his father is picture of the atonement of Christ.[4] Jesus is the reason a remnant would remain. Through his lineage the Messiah would come as the Good Shepherd and lay down His life for the sheep [John 10:11].

Finally, like Joseph, Jesus is servant king. Sooner or later all will know He is greater. Just like Joseph’s dream and its fulfillment, so it will be with Jesus, at His name every knee will bow [Philippians 2:10]. Better to do it sooner than later.

I have seen how pain of the past has handicapped and numbed people, ravaged relationships, crumbled friendships, wrecked families, split marriages, even divided churches. Life hurts. But God heals. I have also seen how the Great Physician has healed marriages scarred by sexual abuse, and relationships reconciled from verbal and physical abuse. Its radical, biblical, and beautiful. The key to get past the past is forgiveness by the way of the cross. The past does not have to define you. Be free. Chose forgiveness rather than the path of bitterness.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)


[1] The story of Joseph and his brothers and father culminates in a way similar to the account of Joseph’s father Jacob. Jacob was likewise separated from his father Isaac for many years and upon moving toward the moment of reconciliation there was a great tension as it was uncertain whether Esau would forgive his brother Jacob or seek revenge against him.

[2]  Here the theme of a remnant resurges. It’s a theme that is promised to Israel forever [cf. 12:2,10; Jeremiah 23:3-4].

[3] Red Like Blood. Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2011. 132.

[4] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 2007. 418-419.

secrets of success [part 2]

We are people who collect. Some collect memorabilia. As a kid I collected thousands of sports cards and now I have boxes in storage gaining dust and I hope values. Some people collect knick-knacks. I’ve seen curio cabinets chalked full of tiny elephants, Boyd’s Bears, teacups, old books, even spoons or thimbles. Others collect compliments, cash, or cachet. While others collect power, prestige, or popularity. In all our collecting we feel like have accumulated success, status, or blessings.

So is there a secret to success? Success or blessing is not simply measured by money or stuff. Much of what you think is blessings can actually be curses. Too much a good thing left unchecked can be a really bad thing. Mass amounts of money can lead to greed. The fight for fame and fortune can leave you bruised and battered by the never-ending saga of pleasing people. Piles of possessions can lead to obsessions. Just watch an episode of Hoarders and you will see how controlling stuff can be. According to the Bible success’ source is in the immeasurable riches of God’s presence and wisdom.

KEY TO SUCCESS #1: GOD’S PRESENCE [Genesis 39]

What seemed like a series of unfortunate events for Joseph actually is a series of divine events preparing him for the next level of spiritual success. Joseph is not wasting away the best years of his life imprisoned in Egypt. God is at work. The unseen hand of God’s providence is always at work. Even when Joseph is far away from his home, betrayed by his brothers, a slave in a strange land, convicted of a crime he never committed, and ended up in prison: still the Lord was with him. “His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” Psalm 105:18-19

There is no question that one of the main themes of Joseph’s life is the presence of God. In fact, God’s presence is repeated eight times in chapter 39 alone:

  • “the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (39:2)
  • “the Lord was with him” (39:3)
  • “the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (39:3)
  • “the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph” (39:5)
  • “the Lord’s blessing was upon all that he owned” (39:5)
  • “the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him” (39:21)
  • “the Lord was with him” (39:23)
  • “whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (39:23).

It should be noted, all of Joseph’s prosperity is funneled into the hands of other people. Joseph’s success made Potiphar wealthy [39:5], saved Pharaoh’s kingdom [Ch.41], and rescued Joseph’s family through famine [Ch.42ff]. God blessed Joseph so that he could be a blessing to others. Furthermore, God prospered Joseph so that he might have a testimony for the Lord in high places. Because of his success as a manager, Joseph was able to influence Potiphar, the chief jailer, and eventually Pharaoh himself for the Lord!

Joseph is a preincarnate picture of Jesus who was also unfairly convicted of a crime He did not commit [cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12]. Like Joseph, He did not protest or complain, but lovingly sacrificed His life for all taking upon Himself the wrath of God and the penalty for your sin. And through it all, God was with Him.

You might think, “I’m certainly no Joseph.” He served in high places, worked among the social elite, impacted nations and governments. For many, the blessings of God do not come in this world. You might feel like God is distant or has forgotten you. I hope you see from the life of Joseph that even in the meekest of situations God is present.

KEY TO SUCCESS #2: GOD’S WORKMANSHIP [Genesis 40]

God is at work. God is at with in and through Joseph. In prison he meets two interesting inmates—a cupbearer and chief baker. The cupbearer must have mixed a bad drink and the chief baker must have made some low-carb sawdust flavored bran muffins to end up in the can. Both work for Pharaoh—the most powerful man on the face of the earth.[1] He used his authority to throw two men in prison that so happen to be in the same prison as Joseph and now placed under his authority. This is not random chance, luck or happenstance. The man with a god-complex seen as a mediator to the gods is a pawn in the hands of the One True God who is at work in the subtle details.

God gave Joseph a gift to interpret dreams. His brothers called Joseph the “master of the dreams” [37:18].  In Genesis 40, God gave a dream to his two cellmates that they could not interpret. So they asked Joseph. God helped Joseph to interpret their dreams. There was good news and bad news. Good news—for the cupbearer—meant he would live and return to his previous post in honor. Bad news—for the baker—meant his head would hang in a noose from a tree. Three days later on Pharaoh’s birthday Joseph’s interpretation of the dream came to pass just as God had revealed.

Joseph could have buried his gift in the ground and kept the meaning of the dreams to himself. He could have thought, “I’m not going to going to help these two numbskulls. Nobody appreciates me around here, anyway. Potiphar wouldn’t listen to me. His wife set me up. These Egyptians are all cut from the same cloth. Why should I go out of my way to help these two criminals?”

Perhaps this is precisely where you are in your church, small group, career or family—disillusioned, discouraged, or annoyed. You have decided that you will no longer serve on the committee, no longer speak up on that issue, no longer be a member of the team, or no longer teach the class. If that describes you, take a long look at Joseph. Lying in that jailhouse he had every excuse in the world just to roll over and play spiritually dead. He had every excuse to hoard his gift. But he didn’t. Instead, he stayed committed to the Lord; he used his gift; and eventually God used that gift to get him into the royal palace of Pharaoh! God works through people—like you. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10].

What could God do through you if you would only serve him without losing heart? What would you have done if you were in Joseph’s chains? Unfortunately, the immediate result of Joseph’s interpretation got the chief cupbearer restored, but left Joseph in the joint. The cupbearer went back to his work forgot about Joseph even though he had specifically requested that he not be forgotten. But, God did not forget about Joseph nor leave him abandoned in prison. God is at work in and through Joseph to accomplish His purposes. With each “random” incident and the forgetfulness of humans, it is wise to remember with God nothing is accidental or purposeless.

KEY TO SUCCESS #3: GOD’S WISDOM [Genesis 41]

Two years pass and Joseph is still in chains forgotten by his freed inmate. That was until God gave Pharaoh troubling dreams. He was frustrated and tired because he could not understand their meaning. So he called all his pagan magicians and interpreters, but they could not understand the dream. Only God knew the meaning. It was then that God enabled the chief cupbearer to remember how Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream and the dream of the now deceased baker in prison.

Joseph was immediately summoned from his cell. He was bathed, shaved, and clothed in a matter fit to meet the king. Standing before the Pharaoh, Joseph in astounding humility gave all credit to God for his gift, “It is not in me; God.” [41:16]. Joseph told the king that he could not interpret the dream, but that God could and would through him. He then interpreted the dream according to God’s wisdom. In the dream the king would soon have seven years of fruitfulness in the fields, but would be followed by seven years of severe famine.[2] Indeed, God was showing mercy to Pharaoh through Joseph. It was a divine dream with a divine plan to save a region in the years of severe famine.

What an amazing plan. Where did Joseph get his agricultural wisdom? How did he acquire his engineering genius? Did he learn from his father? Or take classes at the local technical college? Did he pick it up in the midst of all his work as a slave? The Bible does not say. What we are sure of is that Joseph relies heavily upon God. He realized that true wisdom comes from above, “With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding.” [Job 12:13] God blessed Joseph with farming and engineering wisdom to the rescue of many people [41:54].

God is wise. He knows all things. He shares that wisdom with His people to help them and show them His mercy and grace. But this begs a question. How do I apply the wisdom of God to my life like Joseph?

First it is good for you to excel in all kinds of wisdom—agriculture, medicine, science, history, arts—and use that wisdom to bless other, but give glory to God who has given you the wisdom. Joseph’s life teaches you to use your career, role, skills, and gifts to serve the God by serving others.

Second, there is another kind of wisdom that may be used to rescue the perishing, eternally. Paul calls it “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” It is a wisdom found only in “the sacred writings” of Scripture [2 Timothy 3:15]. Thus, learning the message of the Scripture—the gospel—and expressing the ability and willingness to share the good news of Jesus clearly, fully, and accurately through your words and actions. Speaking and living out the gospel is sharing the wisdom of God with others. Who knows what position God may put you in, even this week, to rescue someone from spiritual famine! Will you have acquired the wisdom from God to do so?

Who’s the Main Character in this Story?

It is clear the main character in Genesis 39-41—though not explicitly seen—is God. Joseph’s God was in fact supreme because He alone could give dreams, He alone could interpret those dreams, and He alone held the future that He promised could not be altered by anyone, including the powerful Pharaoh. God sent Joseph to Egypt as a sort of missionary to bless that nation according to His covenant promise to bless the nations of the earth through His people whom He blessed [cf. Genesis 12:1-3].  Also setting the stage for God to use another man [Moses] to lead God’s children from Egypt to the Promised Land.

God blessed God with a wife and two sons. In honor of his God and a fitting conclusion to this narrative Joseph give beautiful and thoughtful names to his two sons, “Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]

It is good to acknowledge sooner than later that success in this life and eternity is found in the presence, workmanship, and wisdom of God. He rules. He is supreme. He is sovereign over all nations and the events of your daily life. He uses events big and small, miraculous and ordinary, easy and hard to accomplish His purposes in the earth in you and through you.

God is a collector too. He has a collection of stars, angels, and created things. He desires to collect the praises of all people and all nations. One day you will all stand before the throne of God with a collection of people from ever tongue, tribe and people group, who will all be bowing their knees and singing praises to the God who is all in all and over all. Success that last has roots in God. All other success is fleeting.


[1] Politically, the Egyptian empire was the most powerful on earth for an amazing 1300 years, twice as long as the famed Greek and Roman empires. Geographically, Egypt was a long and narrow country of about 13,000 square miles isolated by the surrounding deserts, mountains, sea, and valley. Theologically, Egypt was ruled by a succession of mighty Pharaohs who were worshiped as a sort of mediator god who connected life on the earth to life in the spirit realm and alone walked between the two worlds. As deity, the Pharaohs had their pyramids built to ensure their safe passage from this world to the next, and viewed the pyramid as a sort of ladder transporting their soul into the next world. Simply, there was no nation on earth more powerful than Egypt, and there was no man in Egypt more powerful than the Pharaoh whose will was supreme.

[2] According to the dream, the famine would affect both the farm fields [grains] and ranches [livestock] in Egypt. A seven year famine would be devastating for Egypt and surrounding countries that relied upon them as the breadbasket of the world.

secrets of success

I have only been married two-and-a-half years, but whenever Sarah and I have to spend a night apart it is a hard nights rest. I want to be with her. I do not like being alone. God has made people to need other people. People are designed for community, fellowship, and relationship with one another. I also have a God who desires to have communion, fellowship and relationship with His creation.

Joseph was the 11th of 12 brothers. He was his daddy’s favorite. A colorful coat was his award. He was hate by his brothers. They threw him into the pit until they could think of the cleaver idea of selling him into slavery like a cheap trinket. Jacob thought his son died by mauling. Instead, he was on his way to Egypt—a foreign country where he did not know the language, did not have any more clothes than the ones on his back, and at only 17 years old he had no idea how long he would be away from the family that disowned him. He was a stranger in a strange land with a strange new master that gave him commands and he has no choice but to obey. Joseph is alone. Have you ever felt alone?

YOU ARE NEVER ALONE [Genesis 39:1-6]

Joseph began working for Potiphar who was the right-hand man to Pharaoh of Egypt.[1] Once a country bumpkin is now has moved onto the block of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Joseph’s job is a servant. Not the greatest job, but he’s a faithful guy. He doesn’t complain to the other employees, he doesn’t waste time playing computer games, he doesn’t call in sick when he’s feeling fine, and he doesn’t steal from his boss. It doesn’t take long for him to get promoted as manager of Potiphar’s entire household. As the new executive assistant he has access to Potiphar’s keys and credit cards. The only item he was not delegated was deciding what’s for dinner. Potiphar kept that one! What is the secret to Joseph’s success? Good looks? No. Brilliance? No. Good work ethic? Nope. God? You got it!

Although God is silent and never speaks to Joseph like He did to his ancestors, He is making it clear that He rules over every event of Joseph’s life even the tough parts by being “with him” [vs.2].[2] It goes back to the covenant promises given to Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:1-3]. Those in Christ God also benefit from these covenantal promises.

First, God is always with you [vs.2-3a]. The promise of God’s presence is a precious promise from God. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” [James 4:8] “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Hebrews 13:5b] Joseph may never get married, be a father, make a good living, but God is still with him. Joseph realized it and Potiphar realized it. God’s presence is the key to his success and the theme to his life. Do you realize God is with you? Do others see that God is with you?

Second, God prospers all those who follow Him [vs.3b-6a]. What does it mean that Joseph prospered (or become successful)? How can a slave prosper? Joseph did not choose became a servant in Potiphar’s house, God choose it for Joseph. Whatever Joseph touch turned to gold. Potiphar’s bank account, business, and family flourished. The success was not Joseph, but it was Joseph’s God. In God’s eyes the greatest success story in not making millions of dollars, curing cancer, or being the most popular philanthropist. Success in God’s eyes is a man who faithfully follows Him and doesn’t worry about what others think.

Third, God is always using you. Even when you think know one is watching. Integrity leads to opportunity. Especially, when you “stand out’ rather than “fit in.” Joseph was a rose among thorns. When other servants might have been fighting for attention or the praise of man, Joseph was patiently plodding along and faithfully serving his master and Master. God was using him. Potiphar recognized it was God that was causing Joseph to succeed.

You will experience times of difficulty. Like Joseph, have you ever felt as though you’re living in a foreign country? That you don’t quite “fit in”? The question is not “Why the difficult is happening?” or “Why I don’t fit in?” but “How am I to respond to this divinely ordained difficulty?” Those who prosper in life don’t do so because they have it all together. They prosper because the Lord is with them and He who gives them strength to endure. God is preparing Joseph through difficulty because he is going to need strength to endure, which leads us his big test.

STAND STRONG THROUGH THE TESTS [Genesis 39:7-9]

Joseph was handsome hunk. Like his mother Rachel [cf. 29:17], he was easy on the eyes. Potiphar’s wife was infatuated with him. So much so that she sought to seduce him. She was an Egyptian desperate housewife who was hot for the lawn boy [cf. Proverbs 7]. But, unlike his brother Judah, father Jacob, or great grandfather Abraham, Joseph remained a pure one-woman-man like his grandfather Isaac. With no one around, no accountability, no friends, no parents, Joseph rejected the woman’s relentless advances. He was so bold as to say to her that he would never sin against his master or his God with such an evil and dirty act. He rebuked her, as to say, “How dare you?”

How would you respond if you were in similar situation? What if know one found out? Imagine for a moment. What would be the consequences of Joseph’s future if he gave into the onslaught of sexual temptation? She could have become pregnant that would have been hard to hide. To cover-up he might have been as wickedly creative as David when he had an affair with Bathsheba. They could have been caught in the act and lose his life. Joseph is in a pickle. He cannot call his boss and claim sexual harassment on the owner’s wife. He cannot quit his job, as slave. He has no choice but to stay and stand strong.

How do I stand strong under pressures, in the heat of the moment? First, determine to trust God. God does not tempt, but He does allow you to be tempted. Know that you do not face temptations alone. God is with you always. Second, determine to remain pure [v.8a “…he refused”]. He didn’t negotiate or flirt with the edge. Joseph decided what to do in the heat of the moment. He realized that to give in would not only be sin against his boss, but an offense to God. Joseph protects his boss’s wife [“You are his wife”] and protects his purity and loyalty to God [“How could I do this great evil and sin against God?”]. May the story of Joseph come to our mind and be heeded it in the heat of the moment.

I remember being in high school art class with a beautiful girl. There were times when she sat at my table over a class period. She would ask me tempting questions about my faith and sexuality. I stood strong through the tests. It became so much an issue that I asked to have my class switched so that I would not have to face the temptation.

You see, the pressure to compromise never occurs quickly; it takes its jolly time to sway you to lower your standard. It is wise to have a proactive plan before the opportunity to compromise arises or you are bound to fail and fall into sin sooner than later.

PROACTIVELY GUARD YOUR HEART [Genesis 39:10-12]

Keeping guard of your heart is especially difficult when you see more than 3000 images each day. Our society glamorizes sex, but the consequences are often ignored. We are over exposure to sexual and immoral content. Most of us have a virtual Potiphar’s wife in our living rooms, laptops, and smart phones hounding our attentions and affects each day.

How much do you pay attention to the Viewer Discretion is Advised blurb before TV shows? Today’s teenager’s watch over 28 hours of TV per week (4hrs/day), and the main TV set in the home is turned on over 50 hours per week (7 hrs/day). The TV gets more focus than the family pet. By the time you are 70 years old you will have watched 10 uninterrupted years of TV. AND THAT’S JUST TV, it does not include your movies, iPod, Internet, phone, magazines, and other forms of communication you pour yourself into each day.

Joseph’s temptations wouldn’t leave; Potiphar’s wife hunted him down “day after day.” One particular day when Joseph was alone in the house Potiphar’s wife again tried to seduce him. Joseph made a profound decision that would have implication on the rest of his life, he RAN LIKE CRAZY out of there. However, the woman had is tunic in her hands while he ran off butt-naked. Obviously offended he turned her down, out of revenge she set him up for ruin.

She crafts a detailed story, has the evidence in her hands, and convicts Joseph of a crime he did not commit. I can only imagine Potiphar’s blood pressure rising, looking for the gun to kill the man he entrusted everything. It doesn’t matter if he’s only heard one side of the story and coming from his wife it is enough. Proverbs says, “The first to present his case seems right until the other evidence is weighed.” That’s why some who are guilty talk first trying to get their story out first to define the case before the truth can be made known. Potiphar should have questioned his wife more diligently. Potiphar plan is reactive, but Joseph plan was proactive.

What does a proactive plan look life for Joseph? First, never be alone [v.11 “none of the men of the house was there inside”] Why is it never good to be alone with someone of the opposite sex? No one knows what’s really happening, and even if nothing is happening the appearance of evil is evident. When you are with someone with the opposite sex whether married or single it is wise to be visible to other people. Go out in groups. Be accountable to someone of the same sex like a parent, pastor, or friend. No matter how old, how strong, or how committed you are to your spouse it is wise to never be alone with another person of the opposite sex unless you have a good plan to protect yourself.

Second, run like hell [v.12 “he left his garments…FLED…and went outside”]. Maintaining integrity may require you to “run away naked”. Run like hell, means you boogie so fast out of there because you know the devil has his trap set and you don’t dare take the bait. It is a good battle plan to rehearse Scripture, pray, look away, seek accountability, think about glorifying God, and buy computer software. However, these can often happen in the moment and be reactive. Plan on being proactive.

WAIT ON THE LORD [Genesis 39:13-23]

Joseph is put into jail on false rape charges. This is the second time he is thrown into the pit unfairly. Where’s the justice? Where’s the idea that if I love God everything will go my way? At times, to be a Christian is to get treated like Christ—injustice, false accusation, betrayal, and hardship. Joseph’s faith doesn’t skip a beat. He remains pure, full of integrity, and waits upon God to prove his innocence. God is still with him.

As a follower of Christ, others will try to bring you down [vs.13-14]. Joseph’s brother hated him, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him but didn’t succeed. When you live unapologetically for God others will try to take revenge out on you, try to falsely accuse, try to get you to compromise your faith.

Also, what may seem like a curse can actually turn outs to be a blessing [vs.15-20]. God is merciful. Joseph could have been killed by Potiphar, but was spared. Although everyone had abused and abandoned Joseph, God remained with him, blessed him, and caused him to prosper according to His covenant promises. Joseph served the prison warden with humble godliness and was promoted to key-keeper. Don’t be weakened by your situation. Don’t be deceived by the false accusations. Don’t be persuaded by your fears. Believe that the God who is with you will use this for your good and His glory.

Wait for God to move, but keep active [vs.21-23]. Are you willing to endure the accusation to wait for Gods guidance in your life?  You’ll always have occasions for waiting.[3] Your attitude matters while waiting.[4] And your activities matter while waiting.[5] Waiting is confident expectation on God’s promises. It is not twiddling thumbs for time to pass and hope things will work out themselves.

This episode in the life of Joseph is an interesting turn of perspective in the book of Genesis. Until this point in the book each generation from Adam to the flood, from Noah to Babel, and from Abraham to Judah has seemingly become increasingly more godless. The faithfulness of God has triumphed, but man’s faithfulness has depleted. In Joseph we see the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob finally passed on to the fourth generation. God says, “You’re mine. I’m with you. I’m not ignoring or rejecting you. You will be better because of this accusation against you. I am at work within you. I am not through preparing you yet.” [Is.55:8-9] If God is with us, even when we lose, we win.

Joseph is a great pre-incarnate picture of Jesus Christ.

Like Joseph, Jesus was sold out by His brothers and unjustly afflicted for the sake of His people.

Like Joseph, Jesus was successful in His mission because God was with Him.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ good deeds called attention to God.

Like Joseph, Jesus was given authority over everything because of His character.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ mere presence brings blessing wherever He goes.

Like Joseph, Jesus was tempted repeatedly to sin, but passed the test every time.

Like Joseph, Jesus was falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned but because of the steadfast love of the Lord, He was ultimately vindicated.

And Just like God was with Joseph, Jesus promises to be with His followers until the end of time.[6] The whole paradox of your faith is that no one is really alive until you’ve mastered the art of dying. Die to all your ambitions. Die to all your selfish perversions. Die to all your provisions of the flesh. And just ask the question: What would honor Christ? Faithfulness. Faithfulness is rewarded with God’s favor. Jesus himself illustrated this in the parable of the talents [Matthew 25]. Those who are faithful in little things are blessed with greater responsibilities.

On this side of earth, He does not promise riches, happiness, success, but if you treasure God more than anything or anyone else, you will be satisfied because you have the one thing that you could not get on your own. And He will never leave you. And He will never forsake you. He is with you always.


[1] Pharaoh is ruler of Egypt. He is the most powerful man in the world at his time. He is a guy who thinks he is god. Ever worked for a boss like that?

[2] The news that God was with Joseph is repeated eight times in chapter 39 [2, 3, 21, 23].

[3] Cf. Psalm 25:5, 21; 33:20; 145:14-16

[4] Cf. Psalm 25:3; 37:7; 39:7; 52:9

[5] Cf. Psalm 37:34; 69:3; 130:5; Lamentations 3:25

[6] Matthew 28:20, cf. Numbers 6:24-26; Genesis 28:13-15; 26:3

faithful deception: Judah & Tamar

It is easy to be confused by the events in this world. You can wonder until you are dizzy-in-the-head if there really is a God who controls this mixed-up world where natural disasters, broken and battered families, rape and child molestation, and murder are common chaos’ that make the news. It can be difficult to see how God is still in control. If only God would spell out the meaning to the mixed-up events of our lives and add clarity to the confusion when He seems absent. Can you fully trust God among the chaos? Has He forgotten His plan and purpose to save? Can you prove to me that He is really at work in this wicked world?

Just as the story of Joseph gets under way [cf. Genesis 37] it is stopped by a short story of his brother Judah. At first it appears to be an unnecessary and untactful interruption. However when you take into account the remaining chapters of Genesis are about the sons of Jacob [mostly Joseph] it fits. The redneck soap opera of Jacob’s family takes a Jerry Springer Show twist in Genesis 38 with the sinfulness of Judah following in his father’s footsteps. In God’s grace He will transform Judah as He did his father Jacob from a godless goober to a godly man fit to be a patriarch carrying the covenant promises of God to future generations.

You would think Jacob would learn from his father and grandfather, Abraham and Isaac, who dreaded the thought of their sons intermarrying with Canaanite women because they knew it would cause them to wander from God [24:3, 28:1; cf. Proverbs 1:10-19, 5:1-23]. Judah did not heed the advice. He fathered three sons [Er, Onan, and Shelah] with a Canaanite woman and then he arranged his eldest son Er to marry Tamar, who was also a Canaanite woman. We do not know much about Er other than he was a wicked man that God simply killed. This left Tamar a widow.

According to the customs of the day a widow would normally marry her husbands brother. He would care for her, protect her, and give her sons to keep the family inheritance alive. Since the ancients did not have elderly living facilities their children would naturally care for their aging parents [Deuteronomy 25:5-6]. Onan happened to be the lucky guy to get Tamar as a wife. He was happy to have sex with her, but misused her and refused to care for her much less see that she bore children. He disobeyed God by not fulfilling his obligation to care or provide for Tamar. Like his brother Er, God killed Onan too. Again Tamar was left a widow.

So Tamar moved into her father-in-law, Judah’s house [cf. Exodus 21:7-11]. He promised to take care of her and give her his youngest son, Shelah. He was too young to marry and he asked her to wait until he grew up. He was afraid to lose yet another son. However, years later when Shelah had grown up, Judah did not keep his promise to give Tamar to him as a wife. So, like Eve who ruled over Adam [3:16], Sarah who gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar to sleep with [16:1-16], and Rachel who gave Jacob her maidservant Bilhah to sleep with [30:1-8], Tamar also took matters into her own hands rather than trusting God by faith.

Timid Tamar transitioned into bold Tamar. While Judah was weak after the death of his wife, Tamar dressed up like a prostitute [cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24] and stood on the street corner where she knew Judah would pass by and see her winking eyes. Judah took the bait not knowing it was his daughter-in-law because she veiled her face. Judah had sex with her, but did not have the cash on hand to pay for the trick so as collateral he gave her the equivalent of his credit card and drivers’ license. She accepted. After the deal was done Tamar snuck into her widow clothes as if nothing ever happened, but she couldn’t hide for long. God was growing a baby in her belly and conviction in her soul.

As soon as Judah round up some cash to pay for his one-night-stand he sent a servant to find her but she could not be found. In fact, when he asked the other men in town they did not know of any prostitutes in the area. Judah seemed to think he’d been swindled. As time passed, it was revealed that Tamar was being immoral. So Judah [mister morality himself]] following customs of the day sent for her to be burned. To save her life she confessed to being pregnant and had the proof that the daddy was Judah. No DNA results were needed, she had his property in her hands.

Judah was caught red handed. While blushing he also confessed, “ She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” [38:26] And he stayed pure from her the rest of his life. Tamar later gave birth to twin boys [cf.25:19-28, Psalm 127:3] naming them Perez and Zerah. The two boys possibly replace the two sons Judah lost. Ironically Jacob—the trickster—had been tricked into believing his son Joseph was dead [instead sold into slavery] by his son Judah who was also trickster like his father who was then tricked by Tamar into becoming the father of his daughter-in-law’s children.

What is the point of Judah and Tamar’s immoral interruption included within the story of Joseph? Like a chaotic commercial break at the beginning of Joseph’s story, it is there to teach you many things about God and man [as is the point of all Scripture]. What do you learn about man and God from the story of Judah and Tamar?

First, you cannot escape the sight of God. God sees everything. He even sees what you think you can keep secret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.” [Proverbs 15:3] You might be able to keep your life tucked away and tidy from those around you, but there is nothing you can keep covered from the eyes of God.

Second, what you cover God uncovers, but what you uncover God covers in His mercy [Proverbs 28:13]. God has His ways of uncovering your dirt and exposing your sin—as He did with Judah and Tamar. This can lead to serious embarrassment, shame, and guilt. There are no secret sins. God sees them all and He will bring them out into the open, if necessary, to call you to repent. “Be sure your sin will find you out” [Numbers 32:23].It is better to shed light on your sin before He does. If you do, He will cover you with His mammoth mercy. In the midst of misery God’s mercy is marvelous.

Third, God can even use your sinful messes for your good and His glory. Like father like son, both Jacob and Judah are sinners. And Tamar who takes matters into her own hands like other leading ladies before her is a sinner. God has to intervene for this story to be straightened out and make sense. And God in His grace and glory will prepare Judah to become a covenant patriarch as He did with his father, Jacob. Sin does have consequences—sometimes immediate, other times eternal—but God works them out for His good and yours too [Romans 8:28-29].

In God’s providence, faithfully uses the deception of Judah and Tamar to keep Jacob’s family line alive through their scarlet threaded twin Perez. And Perez paves the way to the lineage of king David [Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:5, 9-15] and ultimately the King of King—Jesus Christ [Matthew 1:1-6]. The Messiah was to be “the Lion…from the tribe of Judah” [Revelation 5:5]. It was God’s plan that the Savior of the world would come through the family line of sinful Judah and his Canaanite daughter-in-law. And as part of God’s plan He would also be deceived before His death by a close companion [Matthew 26:4, 57-66; 27:24-26]. As Kurt Strassner says in his commentary on Genesis 38,

“Do you see? God is in control; and Jesus is the goal of all human history! God was determined that his Son should be glorified as king! And God was determined that we should have a Savior. Nothing and no one was going to thwart his plan! Not Judah’s sin; not anyone’s sin against us; not even our own sin. God will work all things for the good of his people and the glory of his Son!”[1]


[1] Kurt Strassner, Opening Up Genesis (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 146.

just your average Joe

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family—wealthier or better known—than your own? Do you daydream about the day you break free and become noticed or distinguished? Do you feel like an average Joe or ordinary Jane? You are not alone. The majority of people and families you meet are just like you.

I grew up in what many would call a dysfunctional family. My teenage parents divorced before I could remember them together. I did not like my lot in life for the better part of my childhood. I would daydream about the day my mom and dad would get back together and our family would be normal, which did not happen. I wondered whether or not I was the cause of my parent’s divorce, which was unfair. And I wondered what it would be like to live in a normal family, but defining normal is impossible. Since those early days, I have learned to love my God-given family for reasons I will describe later.

I love the Bible because it is filled with examples of imperfect families just like mine that He uses for His purposes. From the beginning of the story of Joseph—which will carry us through the remainder of Genesis—we learn four truths that are common to human including you and me.

1. I do not choose my family [Genesis 37:1-4]

From the outside looking into Joseph’s home life you would think they were quite redneck. His father, Jacob, had thirteen children with four women, two were maidservants and two were wives. He loved his wife Rachel and hated her older sister Leah. Jacob also played favorites with his children loving his first son with Rachel, Joseph [cf. Gen 30:24-25], more than his other sons. Jacob did not hide his favoritism for Joseph. He adorned him like a king in an expensive coat of many colors. All who met Joseph knew he was his daddy’s favorite dressed up in his Hebrew bling from Burlington Coat Factory.

Jacob also favored hardworking Joseph by giving him authority over his older brothers and sent him out to the fields while his brothers worked to supervise and report back to their father.[1] The brothers view Joseph as a spoiled rotten tattletale, “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” [37:4] The brother’s anger sounds a lot like Cain’s boiling anger towards Abel’s sacrifice that God had favored [cf. Genesis 4].

Joseph is only seventeen. Most teenagers his age have issues with their parents and siblings. It is easy for us to wonder, “Why did God give me this family?” Maybe you’re a child of divorce, abuse, or neglect. Maybe conflict is all too common in your home and you can relate to the sibling rivalry, favoritism or ungodly habits of Joseph’s home. Remember you did not choose your family, but God chose your family for you. This can be a hard truth to swallow depending on the degree of difficulty you have with your family. As difficult as your family may be they are still and always will be your family.

It is interesting how important the family unit is to God. God uses the family analogy to describe Christ’s relationship with the church [Ephesians 5:22ff], the relationship of the Trinity with one another [i.e. Father and Son], and uses family to describe His relationship with those He adopted into His eternal family through faith [Romans 8:14-17]. God promises to create a people for Himself to use for His purposes. Joseph’s dysfunctional family was surviving only by the mercy of God, but He will use them for His divine purposes to shape the character of the youngest son, Joseph.

2. I am mostly responsible for my messes [Genesis 37:5-17]

Compounding matters for Joseph and his already ragged relationship with his brothers, God had given Joseph dreams in which his whole family was bowing down to him in homage. When the dreams should have been kept private he made them quite public. This did not help Joseph build a bridge of bonding with his perturbed older brothers. ”His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” [37:11] Jacob rebukes what he thinks is a ridiculous dream and didn’t do anything more than keeps the matters to himself. Then he sent Joseph out into the field to supervise his brother’s work [37:12-17].[2] The one quality character we see in Joseph that will come into play later in his life is his willingness to obey authority.

How should Joseph have responded to these dreams? Perhaps he should have taken them as a subtle warning about the place of pride in his life and began cultivating humility. Or maybe he should have taken the details about the future as an opportunity to wisely prepare for the leadership role that God was going to give him. Instead, he used the dreams as hot air to further inflate his already puffed-up opinion of himself. It’s a recipe for a messy situation.

As people we are also prone to take the good gifts of God—our positions, our possessions, our intelligence, our education, our sexuality, our ability to pray—and use them, not for the benefit of others and the glory of God, but only to make ourselves feel better. Think about it. What good gifts has God given you that you are tempted to use solely for yourself?[3]

3. Life is not always fair [Genesis 37:18-35]

The brothers grew jealous of Joseph and stripped him of his regal robe and tossed him into a waterless well. There they conspired whether or not they should kill him [cf. Genesis 4] or sell him into slavery. Rueben tries to reason with his brothers, when he should have stood up and said, “Listen, I know Joseph has been a pain in the keester, but we’re not going to do anything to harm him” Instead, Rueben along with Judah who led the brothers to spare Joseph’s life, but make some money selling him into slavery. ”So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels” [37:28].[4] Joseph was taken to Egypt.

The brothers mean-spirited prank was well planned, but they were missing one detail, how would they inform their dad what happened to his darling son? To cover up their sin the brothers slaughtered a goat and sprinkled its blood on Josephs coat. They took the blood soaked coat back to their father and they tricked the trickster [cf. 25:26ff] into believing their lie. Jacob mourned bitterly believing that his most beloved and irreplaceable son had been ripped apart by animals. The guilt of this prank would haunt the brothers the rest of their lives.

Last summer I took a hiking trip with my wife through Rocky Mountain national park. She was 5 months pregnant and thought that climbing a 6 mile hike up a mountain to over 14,000 feet elevation would be a good idea. Halfway through the climb I ended up carrying most of the backpack weight and coaching Sarah up the mountain. Needless to say we made up the mountain, but I wasn’t a happy camper. Life is like a hiking trip through the mountains. In life you have a number of peaks to climb. Some steep and some slick. Some reasonable and others seem ridiculous. Some fun and others seem unfair.

Joseph is experiencing a rocky road hiking through mountains [grand dream] and valleys [sold as slave], which seems to be out of his control.[5] I wonder what he is thinking as he’s being sold into slavery? Is he taking it in stride? Does he doubt God’s fairness? Is God even on his radar? Young Joseph’s may have been dealt an unfair set of cards. He’s been snookered and shackled. Life at times is unfair to our eyes, but God is not distant He is at work.

4. Sometimes I am blind to what God sees [Genesis 37:36]

Can you imagine what is going through Jacob’s mind as he is being carted of to Egypt as a slave? What would you be thinking? “Why me God? This is so unfair. Why did I have to be born into my family? I am only a runt. What about that dream you gave me? Like that will ever happen. Now nobody will ever notice me.”

God seems to be completely absent from the brains of the brothers. However this by no means indicates that God is absent or not actively involved in what is happening. God, in fact, is superintending everything that is happening in Joseph’s life as He does with you too.

In the last verse we have an amazing setup to Joseph’s future, ”Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” [37:36] What this verse hinting at after an unfair handling of Joseph is that his dream does have some significance. In spite of the persecution and the deception, God’s program will continue. God is sovereign! When your life seems out of control God is still in control. You might be blind to the next step, but God sees the course of your path.

God truly does cause “all things”—including those seemingly random things like sins against you and even your own sins—“to work together for good” [Romans 8:28]. If you really believe that, then you won’t feel the need to throw others into the pit when they hurt you—and you will also have hope in the midst of guilt and regret over your own personal sins.

Maybe you weren’t the faithful parents you should have been. Maybe you wasted your youth in self-centered living not content to be just an average Joe. Maybe you didn’t speak up for Jesus when you should have. If you are God’s child, you need to know: God works all things—even your failures—for the good of His people. He will work something beautiful out of the mess that you have made.God is big enough to forgive your sins through Jesus Christ [1 John1:8-10]. He is big enough to help you overcome your sins [1 Corinthians 10:13]. And He is even big enough to use your sins as part of His bigger plan. Even though you may have meant it for evil, God will work it for good! That is God’s sovereignty at work!

All these facts combine to make the account of this unusual family not a story of godly heritage so much as a story of mercy! Thank God that, in His Son, He is just as merciful to irresponsible, stumbling sinners today! God uses imperfect nobodies as examples to everybody that reflect the character of the Perfect Somebody He has chosen.

It was my normal dysfunctional American family that I thought was unfair as a child that drew me to Christ as a teenager, that taught me about my unreasonable expectations for my parents, that led to reconcile with my mother as a college student, and that has given me motivation to lead my own family to follow Jesus as an adult. I am so grateful for the family that God has chosen for me. God has given me many opportunities to minister to countless others who are struggling with understanding God’s purposes and goodness. I’ve encouraged them to look to Jesus who takes average Joe’s and invites them to a lifelong relationship as children of God.


[1] Note: this will not be the first time Joseph is elevated to a position of authority. A theme this narrative is how God empowers people despite the circumstances. The lesson is timeless: God will choose a faithful, righteous person for a position of leadership in spite of the jealousy of others.

[2] The fields are about 64 miles away. This is an early indicator that famine was coming since they were going so far away to find ground for gazing. The ground is also surprisingly in Schechem where two brothers shed blood [cf. 34:25-31].

[3] Now difficulty in our life can happen even when we are living in humility and integrity. Jesus does promise that living for Christ can be followed by intense hardship and suffering [2 Corinthians 1:3-7].

[4] An amazing archeological fact that corresponds to the reliability of the Bible is that 20 shekels [est. $2000] was the going rate for slaves during this time period.

[5] The choices Joseph makes at this period of his life are critical and life altering. Joseph is only seventeen, but in the next 10 years he will make the biggest decisions of his life. What are some decisions you make between the ages of 15-30 years old? You solidify personal habits, moral habits, and spiritual habits. You turn the pages to monumental chapters in your life such as: graduation from high school and college, make career choices, may enter marriage and have children. Joseph is entering the period of his life where he will make some of the most important decisions of his life.

Jacob: coming home [part 2]

Jacob left home a 40-year old virgin and now he returns with two wives, twelve children, and countless wealth. Jacob is content settle in Schechem, but God speaks to Jacob and says, “Get up, go to Bethel and live there.” And like Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:4], he obeyed. God not only wants Jacob to leave his place of comfort, but also to cleanse his home of impurities. God point out that their home was filled with spiritual lethargy and idolatry. Jacob surprisingly responds with obedience.

This is the first time we see Jacob rise up and become the spiritual leader of his home. After cleansing his household Jacob worships God.[1] In response to his faithfulness God protects Jacob’s family as they pass through the land. When Jacob enters his homeland God blesses him and reminds him of his new name [Israel, cf. 32:28], His creation mandate [35:11; cf. 1:28], and the covenant promises of land and lineage given through his father and grandfather.

Why does God repeatedly ask Abraham [12:1-3], Isaac [17:4-6], and Jacob to “be fruitful and multiply”? Does God simply love babies and enjoy the families? Yes, but there is more to it than that. God begins with a promise, “I am God Almighty” [El Shaddai, 17:1] and ends with the command to fill the earth. He is not God Almighty merely in general, but Almighty in relation to Israel. His Almightiness is there for Him and His children. The promise enables the command, “You can be fruitful and multiply because I am God Almighty. I am the covenant God of Abraham and Isaac. My Godness and my Almightiness are covenant Godness and covenant Almightiness. And if you will trust me as God Almighty, you can and you will be fruitful and multiply. And companies of nations and kings will come from you.”

The promise God mentions here, Paul the Apostle later extends to the Gentiles. Through Jesus Christ the Gentile Christ followers inherit the blessings of their father Abraham [cf. Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:6-8,16,29]. This is the very same logic that Jesus uses in Matthew 28:18–19 when He says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” In other words, “I am Christ Almighty; go and be fruitful and multiply my disciples.” Our confidence to share the message of Christ comes from the authority and the Almightiness of Christ.

As Jacob’s life comes to his final refrain we are now seeing a rhythm of regular worship and intimacy with God that was lacking in his life. This new foundation of faith would be tested as his beloved wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to his son Benjamin, and as his youngest son Reuben has an affair with his stepmother [Bilhah]. This great sin against his father cost him his position as the firstborn son [Genesis 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1]. In God’s sovereignty He uses this sin of Rueben to open His promised line through the line of Judah.

Finally, after at least twenty long years away from home Jacob alas returns to see his father Isaac. Jacob’s sons got to meet their grandfather just before he dies at the age of 180 years old [35:28-29]. His two reconciled sons Esau and Jacob bury him. And the genealogy listed at the end of Genesis 35 through chapter 36 illustrates that God will keep what He promised to Jacob. The names of Jacob’s 12 sons roll off our lips with ease [Ch.35], but the sons of Esau are unfamiliar to our ears [Ch.36]. God is faithful to follow though and bless those He calls. Bank on it, if He is your God He will do all that He says He will do.

Jacob Comes Home and God Comes through Just as He Had Said.


[1] Note: Jacob builds an altar in Schechem to honor the God who appeared to him, he builds an altar after God cleanses his home, and he builds an altar and pillar at Bethel because God has provided, protected, and fulfilled all His promises. Jacob once a wanderer is now a worshiper.

Jacob: coming home [part 1]

Have you ever been away from home for more than a few months? Or long enough that you miss home sweet home? I have. I remember going to college in West Virginia and being a long way from my family in Wisconsin. I did not get home other than Christmas or summer breaks. After final exams, I would hop into my car and sometimes drive through the night to get home. The last hour always seemed the longest. I was so close, but not there yet.

Jacob must have felt the same way. He had just met his brother on his way home. He reconciled their relationship, which was mangled by lies and deceit. Now after 20 years away from home he can almost see it. He can taste in his mind his mothers home cooked meals. He can smell the farm. He can hear the breeze that carries his father’s voice. Jacob was so close, but not home yet. He decided to settle in Schechem. However, his decision to stay there was as devastating as Lots decision to stay in Sodom rather than traveling on to Bethel [cf. Genesis 13-14].

Jacob’s journey of faith has not ended. The last hours before coming home are still yielding lessons of faith. It is a reminder to all that God is not done with you until He is done with you.

Jacob’s faith has dramatically changed [cf. Genesis 32–33], but his son’s faith would remain nonexistent [Genesis 34]. They were deceitful [34:8–24], murderous [34:25–26], greedy [34:27–29], and proud [34:31]. There were probably characteristics passed down from their parents. However, despite Jacob’s new faith, new name, and found distress over his son’s bad behavior [34:30], Israel could not change his boys. God would have to bring them to a crisis of their own, as we will see later.

Jacob had eleven sons and only one daughter named Dinah. One day Dinah went out to visit other women in the region her parents lived. While out and about the son of the man who ruled that area saw her. He wanted her, but could not have her legitimately. Therefore he raped or seduced her. His act defiled and took her virginity dishonorably. To make matters more complicated he was pagan and he desired to marry her. Intermarriage between believers and unbelievers is condemned throughout Scripture.[1]

Jacob kept the situation a secret until Dinah’s brothers came home. Like protective brothers, they were grieved, disgusted, and furious over the vile action done by an idolatrous man. Dinah’s brothers devised a plan to seek revenge by creatively using the covenant of circumcision [cf. Genesis 17]. Like father like sons these boys learned to be tricksters. They told the men of Schechem a strategic lie, “You can happily intermarry our women and share our great wealth, but you will need to be circumcised.” The men were determined to get beautiful foreign women as brides that after three days all were circumcised.

Two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, were perturbed by men’s swift response. They were certain they would not buy into their plan. So out or rage and intensified revenge they strapped their swords to their sides and entered Schechem to slaughter every man and deliver their sister home safely all the while they looted the entire city, taking all the women and animals. Seeing what his sons had done, Jacob rebuked them for putting his family in danger of attack from the surrounding Schechemite allies. However, the brothers replied praising their heroics and took sides with their sister saying, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Why didn’t Jacob do anything? Is he a passive father? First, it is clear that Jacob hated his wife Leah, and Dinah was the daughter of Leah [30:19-21]. Jacob’s silence and indifference during her defilement indicates that he was not much of a loving father. Second, Jacob’s leadership was filled by the devious plans of his sons. Third, Jacob’s response to his son’s question has a selfish overtone that states on only “me” and he makes no mention of his poor daughter. Like his forefathers we see his imperfection after transformation—we see yet another mini-fall not unlike Adam, Noah, and Abraham. However, in God’s gracious sovereignty He uses Jacob’s sin for His purposes and preserves the line of the covenant family from intermarriage with the Schechemites through the murderous actions of Simeon and Levi.

Faith is not inherited paternally, but only through a decision personally.

Also, this is a reminder that faith—unlike the temporary blessings that passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons—is not passed down genetically. You cannot be born a Christian. Even though you may have godly parents, be part of a great church, and have good Christian friends you still have to encounter Jesus yourself. God encounters people individually, and people must place their faith in Him individually. Like their father, Jacob’s sons committed their own sins and like Jacob they would have to make God their own God. You cannot inherit faith; you must get it from God. There is no other way.

This journey home for Jacob is a rough road that paves the way for a future of faith in God’s promises. He is not there yet. Likewise God is not finish with you either. The pressures of life and family struggles are opportunities for you to trust in the promises of God. Next week we will see more about how God keeps His word and journey with Jacob to his home sweet home.


[1] Abraham was worried that Isaac would marry outside of the covenant as Ishmael had (Genesis 21:21, 24:3-4), and Esau’s intermarriage with the unbelieving Hittites which was a source of great trouble (Genesis 26:34-35, 27:46, 28:8).

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 3]

What does it mean to reconcile a relationship? What are some of the greatest stories of reconciliation you have ever seen or heard? Elizabeth Barrett was involved in a childhood accident that caused her to be an invalid. She also had a tyrannical father that treated her with disrespect. When she became older she met Robert Browning. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of the relationship and request for marriage. So in 1846 they married in secret and sailed to Italy where they lived for the rest of their lives. Her parents disowned her, but she did not give up on trying to communicate and reconcile with her parents. Almost weekly she wrote her parents letters. Not once did they reply.

After 10 years of writing her parents Elizabeth received a large box in the mail. Inside the box she found all her letter; not one had been opened. Today Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s letters are among the most beautiful in classic literature. Had her parents only read a few of the forgiveness packed poems their relationship with Elizabeth might have been reconciled.

Jacob Steps Up Like a Man [Genesis 33:1-3]

Jacob is now a new man with a new name and new future of God’s blessings and faith. After wrestling with God he is now empowered to meet his brother. While he sees his brother coming with a posy of 400 men, Jacob puts his people in ranks. He put his servants on the frontline, Leah and her children in the middle, and Rachel and her children in the back of the pack. Rachel gets the safe spot because he loved her and Joseph.

Jacob does hide out in the rear to take cover; rather he steps up to the front line. He doesn’t know if he will be killed, but it is a rick he’s willing to take believing in the promises of God. He has faith in God’s protection enough to put himself in harm’s way for the first time in his life. As a sign of humility and apology he bows his body before his brother. What we see is a complete change in character for Jacob.

Jacob Reunites with his Brother Face-to-Face [33:4-11]

In one of the most forgiving moments in Scripture the prodigal brother comes home. Esau responds like a mature older brother, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” [Genesis 33:4] The reunion between Jacob and Esau comes after twenty long years of separation. It is a beautiful portrait of forgiveness. Esau runs to Jacob and lovingly embraces him in forgiveness and welcomes him home.

Jacob blessed his brother with generous gifts that he attributed to God’s provision. Esau did not need them because he too had become a wealthy man. Also, he releases any and all claims on his birthright. Jacob compares seeing Esau like seeing God [cf. Genesis 32:30] because both now and when he wrestled God Jacob is graciously spared. It is obvious that God had been working on the hearts of both men.

Esau offers his Protection [33:12-20]

Because of his many animals and young children Jacob was not able to go jump fast in making the journey all the way home. Esau offered to leave some men to protect Jacob’s household, but by faith he declined stating that God would indeed protect him. Jacob then worshiped God by building an altar at Shechem, which was the first place where his grandfather Abraham had been visited by God and built his own altar [cf. Genesis 12:6-7; 28:20-22; 31:5]. What a wonderful portrait of a transformed man now worshiping the God of Abraham and Isaac, but also now the God of Jacob.

Put yourself in Esau’s shoes for a moment. It is not often that we think about the situation from his perspective. What would you have done? Would you have been hesitant to reconcile your relationship with your brother? What should you do if you are hesitant to reconcile? Look to the example of Jesus Christ. He reconciles man to God and is our means and motivation to reconcile with one another [2 Corinthians 5:11-21]. Jesus is the Reconciler. And you might also consider:

1. Be honest about your motives. Make sure your desire is to please God and not get revenge [cf. Joseph and his brothers].

2. Be prayerful about the situation. Jesus said that you must pray for those who mistreat you [Luke 6:28; cf. Hebrews 4:16].

3. Be willing to admit how you have added to the problem [cf. Matthew 7:1-6].

4. Be mindful that God is sovereign over the situation [1 Corinthians 10:13].

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 2]

Jacob’s journey is a lot like watching WWE [Royal Rumble]. Jacob’s life is a total man soap opera. We have already learned that Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into working 20 years for his uncle [Laban] and tricked into marrying his two daughters. The elder sister [Lazy-eye Leah] is named cow and looks the part, while the younger sister [Red hot Rachel] is cute as a lamb. Sibling rivalry between the sisters lands Jacob with 12 children. Jacob’s home looks a quite redneck, but in the sin-spiraling drama God sovereignly keeps His promise to Jacob and calls him back to the Promised Land.

Jacob heads home and gives his brother a heads-up [Genesis 32:1-8]

After being away from mommy [Rebekah] and his ticked-off brother [Esau] for two decades Jacob decides it is time to pack up his family and journey home. On his way angels meet him at the border of the Promised Land. They are a sure sign of God’s protection and presence upon Jacob [cf. 28:15].

Jacob then realizes at his homecoming he will have to face his brother Esau whom twenty years early he had ripped of his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. So Jacob sends messengers to Esau giving him a happy, “Hello, I’m coming home bro!” The message is simple: I am coming soon and I got gifts. Jacob was seeking peace and desired to bless Esau with gifts hoping make up for the blessings he stole from Esau. The messengers did their duty and returned to tell Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men who were either an entourage to welcome Jacob or an army to thump him. Thinking the worst, Jacob splits his people and animals into two groups hoping that at least one could flee and survive if attacked.

Jacob comes to God in faith [Genesis 32:9-21]

Jacob faith seems to be growing slowly since he first encountered God in a dream [28:10ff]. In a short prayer we learn a lot about his faith and his view of God.[1] First, he remembers God’s promises to his dad and grandpa. Second, he confesses his sin to God. Third, he thanks God for His faithfulness and steadfast love. Fourth, he acknowledges his fear and admits his utter dependence upon God for deliverance.

Jacob’s prayer teaches us a lot about prayer. If I were Jacob I would be pleading God for mercy with a mountain of requests, “God can’t you see I am about to die? Won’t you do something? You promised! Help!“ However, Jacob doesn’t freak out, rather he comes to God with prayers of worship and thanksgiving. How often do you come to God with praise and “thank you” for what you do have before you ask for what you do not have?

Before Jacob met his brother he packaged a very large gift for Esau, wrapped each with a shiny bow, and had them delivered one by one. It was like a parade minus the clowns and candy. He did all this with the hope of winning over his brother’s affection to wipe the slate of offense clean. There is a sense that the motive of Jacob’s heart is fear of what his brother will say and do. It is no less appropriate to pacify an offended brother than to appease an offended God.[2]

Jacob gets thrown down and in the ring with God [Genesis 32:22-32]

The same night, Jacob and his family cross over the border into the Promised Land. Once they crossed over safely Jacob was left alone without bodyguards or protection. A man comes to Jacob and whacks him. The man initiates a physical struggle, but Jacob’s strength is regarded and he would not give up until the man gave him a blessing.

At dawn [cf. Exodus 33:20; Numbers 12:8], the two men stopped wrestling and the man changed Jacob’s [meaning trickster] name to Israel [meaning wrestles with God and perseveres]. He transitions from a one who tricked to get ahead to a man of faith who trusted God to bless and protect him according to His covenant promises.

For a one hundred year old man it is fitting that the other man would strike Jacob on the hip and throw it out of joint. This wound would mark Jacob for the rest of his life with a limp. Everyone who saw Jacob limping around would know it was God that fought him and blessed him. Jacob’s journey with God climax that night, but he came out a God-worshiper. I would rather limp with my dignity than walk without it. And I would rather limp with a blessing than skip without one.

This could be one of the strangest stories in the Bible because it leaves us puzzled and asking, who is this unnamed man who wrestles with Jacob? The struggle is not elaborate, but it is certainly deliberate. The man’s identity is reveal—He is God [or pre-incarnate Christ, 32:28; cf. 16:7; Hosea 12:2-6]. Through the wrestling match Jacob grows in faith to the level that he becomes a servant of God and is ready to reenter the Promised Land as a new man with a new name. The point of Jacob’s journey is not that he was wrestling with Laban or Esau, but rather he was wrestling with God. A lot like you and me, don’t you think? There is a lot from Jacob’s journey that we can learn about God and how He interacts with you and me.

First, just like Jacob, we wrestle with God [vs. 24-26]. There are a lot of ways we can wrestle with God other than a physical fistfight. Like Jacob you have been warring and striving against God from birth. You might be wrestling with God’s calling upon your life (i.e. which school, what job, who to date/marry), with difficult truths and doctrines (i.e. God’s Sovereignty, human responsibility), with the difficulties or tragedies of life (i.e. death, health, family struggles), with personal struggles with sin (i.e. repentance, confession, freedom), and with your salvation. Jacob’s struggle began when he stepped into the border of the Promised Land. When you push the boundaries with God get ready for a wrestling match.

Second, just like Jacob, when God touches you, you are never the same again [vs. 25, 31]. Third, just like Jacob, God is still in the name changing business [v.28]. In the Old Testament, one’s name and one’s nature were synonymous. Jesus name was given to Him because he saved people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Jesus changed Peters name, which changed the course of his life from fish to people [John 1:42]. Jesus promises all who follow Him a new name [Revelation 2:17; 3:12]. You need to have your ‘name changed’ and live out of the right one, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” [2 Corinthians 5:17] “Clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” [Ephesians 4:24] Which name are you living out of today?

Fourth, just like Jacob, God does not let self-serving, self-sufficient, independent people into the Promised Land [v.30]. Only they who depend on God in faith get to go and rest in Him. You can strive to get there by your own goodness or good deeds, but as Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able” [Luke 13:24] and “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:23-24]


[1] This is the first recorded prayer and only extended prayer in Genesis.

[2] The pericope of Proverbs 16:1-15 joins together pacifying God (16:6) and pacifying the king (16:14). Bruce Waltke, Genesis. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2001. P. 444.

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 1]

Jacob is not the poster child for godly examples to emulate. He is 70 years old, single, jobless, a total momma’s boy, and is now homeless on the run from his brother because he ripped off his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. Jacob is literally between a rock and a hard place, but mostly from his own trickster tactics. The only glimmer of hope is a dream he is given from God on his first night alone away from the comforts of home. In the dream, God passes the torch of covenant promises given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob and also promises to be with him until he comes back to the Promised Land.

Today we are going to walk in Jacob’s sandals and see how he moves from being a recluse to reconciling with his brother. Jacob’s journey is Hollywood script or screenplay material. His story is full of adventure, romance, drama, and with twists and turns has sort of a happy ending. We begin immediately following Jacob’s dream as he enters the land of Laban, his uncle [Rebekah’s brother].

Sowing and Reaping: Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into marrying two sisters [Genesis 29:1-20]

As Jacob arrives at Laban’s sheep farm, he gets a glimpse of the beautiful bombshell, named Rachel [which just so happens to be Jacob’s first cousin]. Immediate Jacob gets to work to impress this gal. Since, Jacob comes to Laban empty handed he is asked to work. In exchange, Jacob bargains for a bride—the beautiful Rachel [meaning lamb/ewe].

Now Rachel had an older sister, named Leah [meaning wild-cow]. She had a crazy lazy eye. Both girls were unmarried probably because Leah was not much of a looker. And Jacob, like all the other guys in town, wanted to marry red-hot Rachel. Laban made Jacob work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And in one of the most romantic verses of Scripture, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that so sweet and sappy?

Ironically, Jacob reaps what he sows [cf. Galatians 6:7-8]. After tricking his brother Esau he seems to think his life is prospering: he has escaped the hand of his brother, God promises to bless him, and he is about to marry the woman of his dreams. The big day arrives and Laban throws a wedding feast. Obviously, Jacob has a few too many glasses of wine at the wedding to notice that Laban pulled a switcheroo and gives away Leah rather than Rachel. The next morning when Jacob rolls over in bed he stares into the wandering eyes of his new wife Leah. I can only imagine Leah smiling at Jacob with a crooked buck-toothed grin.

Jacob confronts Laban deceptive plan, but Laban gives a lame yet legitimate reason, “It is customary for the oldest child to be provided for before the younger.” Though true, it is still a low blow. Jacob, the persevering romantic, loved Rachel so much that he was will to work seven more years for Laban. God is using Laban to chisel at Jacob’s character. When Jacob finally works fourteen years to marry Rachel he expresses his love for her over Leah. This begins another sad story of favoritism that will rip apart this family.

A Family Fiasco: 12-Tribes of Israel are Born [Genesis 29:31-30:24]

Jacob gets what he wants—Rachel, but as soon as he marries her God closes her womb. Like Jacob’s mother and grandmother, Rachel is barren. Since, Rachel is barren, Leah sees this as her gateway to Jacob heart. Leah gets pregnant, all the while hoping, Jacob would finally love her because she would make her hubby a daddy. It did not quite work out as she planned. Three baby boys later she was sure Jacob would fall for her. Yet Jacob had no love for Leah. She has four-and-no-more until she gives praise to God. It took four pregnancies for God to finally get a hold of Leah’s heart.

Rachel, like any sibling wants babies too. She sees her sister and becomes jealous. So in an overdramatic outburst she demands Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die.”[1] Jacob responds in anger that it is God whom controls her womb. Could Jacob be growing in his faith? I think not! For immediately, like Sarah giving her servant Hagar to bear child, Rachel gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob. It does not look like Jacob is trusting God as his father Isaac did by turning to God in prayer. Rachel also takes matters into her own hands and Jacob did nothing about it. In fact, he went along with the adulterous sin. Rachel’s servant Bilhah gives birth to two boys, Dan [meaning judge] and Naphtali [meaning wrestle]. Their names are fit to Rachel’s sibling jealousy and lack of trust in God.

Not to be outwitted, outplayed or outsinned Leah in turn gives Jacob her servant Zilpah to sleep with. Leah brags about it when Zilbah who gives birth two boys and names them Gad [meaning luck] and Asher [meaning happy]. Leah, like Rachel, forgets to see that the blessing of children is from God. Doesn’t this family seem a little redneck? They would more accurately be dubbed, rebellious. The story gets stranger as Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben finds some mandrakes [an herbal aphrodisiac]. He gives them to his mother Leah. Rachel is a freak for mandrakes and she trades bedtime with Jacob to Leah—paying her as like a prostitute. Jacob-the-pimp doesn’t question the ethics of his wives and sleeps with Leah. She gives birth to two more sons, Issachar [meaning hire/wages] and Zebulun [meaning honor].

Somehow Leah resorts back to having babies out of jealousy—always a bad idea. And somewhere Rachel prays to God, He graciously answers, opens her dead womb, and gives her a son. They name him Joseph [meaning may he add]. Joseph was the youngest boy until Rachel later had Benjamin [cf. 35:18]. Add up all the boys from four momma’s and Jacob is the proud papa to a bakers dozen—12 boys + 1 girl, Dinah.

Through this dysfunctional, jealousy-ridden, polygamist family, God would safeguard His covenant in Jacob’s sons. This family would become the initial branches of the twelve tribes of Israel through whom Jesus would be born and heal the human sin problem, which was so evident in Jacob’s family. By God’s grace alone He saves this family from themselves. Revelation 21:1-14 reveals how these twelve sons who came from the four conniving women in Genesis will mark the gates of heaven where Jesus is awaiting those He has also saved by His grace.

It Never Fails: God keeps His promises [Genesis 30:25-31:55]

According to Jacob, it was about time to move out on his own. He is 90 years old, has two wives, and twelve children from four different women. What his mother thought might be a few day flee from Esau ended up being twenty years working for free for Laban [his father-in-law]. He built for Laban a sizeable ranch that pulled in some fat-cash.

Through demonic divination Laban learns that he has been blessed with wealth and power because Jacob has the covenant blessing of God upon him. Jacob desires to return home to the Promised Land to his father Isaac, however, Laban like a crooked used car salesman seeks to keep Jacob around the ranch by offering to finally pay him a reasonable salary. Jacob, like his father [Isaac] and grandfather [Abraham] rejects the gift and entrusts himself to God in faith. God honors Jacob’s faith and makes him a very wealthy man. Though it may seem like Jacob is taking advantage of Laban the truth is God is making right a wrong by giving Jacob what he earned during twenty years of faithful and fruitful labor for Laban.

God is big on keeping His promises. He has promised to be with Jacob and get him back to the Promised Land. God calls, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” [31:3; cf. 12:1] Jacob responds immediately in faith. His wives also respond in faith [note: Rachel steals the household idol]. Jacob loads up the kids in the camel caravan and leave Laban’s home in secret while he is out giving the sheep a haircut. They leave undercover possibly out of fear that Laban would come up with a sly way to keep Jacob working around the ranch.

When Laban finally found out that his daughters and grandchildren were gone he and his relatives pursued Jacob for seven days until they caught up with him. Ironically, the same Laban who tricked Jacob into marrying both of his daughters became rich because of God’s blessing upon Jacob. He cheated Jacob by changing his wages ten times and complained that Jacob had been deceptive with him. However, God protected Jacob by appearing to Laban in a dream and commanding him not to harm Jacob in any way. Laban only accuses Jacob of stealing his household idol, but he was unaware that his wife Rachel stole them and was sitting on them.

Jacob honors God by praising Him for all blessing he and Laban have received [31:42]. Then Jacob and Laban shake hands and agree Jacob will take no more wives. They built a monument to remember the covenant. Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and the men part—Laban went back home and Jacob to his old home in the Promised Land. This set the stage for a story for Jacob to meet his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years [come back next week to find out what happens].


[1] These words would later proved to be prophetic and tragic; Genesis 35:16-19.

Jacob’s Dream

The story of Jacob’s ladder is well known by many who do not know the Bible. Jacob is depicted in song lyrics from Led Zeppelin to U2 to Rush to Huey Lewis and the News. Jacob is also a topic for motivational speakers communicating ones ability to climb the ladder of personal success because “the skies the limit”. The story of Jacob’s ladder has taken on varying shades of meaning and interpretation, which are a stretch from its original biblical context.

The story of Jacob’s ladder dream appears at the beginning of Jacob’s narrative. Jacob had just deceived his twin brother Esau by ripping off his birthright and lying to get his father’s deathbed blessing. Therefore Esau is out to get Jacob’s head and see him dead. So Jacob flees the Promised Land and the momma’s boy who once loved staying home was now driven from his home. He becomes a fugitive from his family fearing his brother’s ferocious rage.

The tension in the story rises as Jacob comes to a certain place at the sunsets. He spends the night out in the elements alone. Without protection in an unknown place Jacob finds a sandy spot to sleep with a rock for his pillow. The tension continues to rises as he nods off to sleep and dreams a strange dream about a ladder that the angels of God ascend and descend upon. God comes to Jacob in a dramatic dream in the middle of the night. For the first time in his life, Jacob encounters God.

How in the world is God going work with this guy?

At this point in Genesis, the covenant promises of God have been applied to the less than perfect people—from Abraham to Isaac to sinfully deceptive Jacob who stole both the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau. Jacob possesses the covenant blessing, but lacks faith-driven relationship with God like that of Isaac and Abraham. Jacob is not a God-pursuer [worshiper, believer]; he is a man-pleaser and self-gratifier. For the first time, Jacob is not living under the faith of his parents, but begins his own relationship with God.

So how does he go from Jacob to Israel? From trickster and deceiver to a worshiper of God? From a total goober to a godly guy? Jacob is probably in his 70s, still living with his parents, mom still washes his whitie-tighties, and has her pack his lunch box with PB & J. He’s totally a late bloomer with no wife, no job, allowed to underachieve, enjoys being spoiled, and has inconstant God-following parents.

The story climaxes as Jacob sees God in his dream. And no, it wasn’t a dose of spicy chili the night before. God speaks to him and promises to be everything that He was to Jacob’s dad [26:3-4] and grand-dad [12:2-3; 15:1-6]. The God of Abraham and Isaac will also be known as the God of Jacob. The Lord not only extends patriarchal promises [i.e. land, descendants, and blessing] but also adds a special promise—His presence—that the Lord will always be with him [and Israel] wherever he goes. The symbol of His presence is the ladder in his dream, which connects heaven with earth.

If I were Jacob, I would have wet my pants seeing God, especially after his sinful escapade. Jacob should have been cursed for all his sin, however God has grace on him and blesses him. In holy fear, Jacob awakes from his dream awed by the Lord. The change in Jacob’s heart turning toward God arises in his commitment to tithe to God as an act of worship to God [cf. 26:25]. Above all it is God who seeks out a covenant relationship with Jacob, which is the pattern continued for all believers throughout human history.

How do we get from Jacob to Jesus?

As Jacob leaves the Promised Land, God promise to be with Jacob wherever he goes. This is an important redemptive theme that progresses throughout the history of Israel to those who follow Jesus.

As Moses is called out of Egypt—leading the Hebrew people to the Promised Land—God promises His presence [Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:6]. He proves His presence with a pillar of clouds by day, a pillar of fire by night, and His glory in the tabernacle. As Joshua carries the torch of Moses and enters the Promised Land, God assures His presence [Joshua 1:5]. God promises His presence with Israelites kings [1 Kings 8:57]. And when Israel is cast int0 exile God promises His presence with His people [Isaiah 43:2; 41:10].

The culmination of the promise of God’s presence came when He was born as a babe with human skin and walked among His people. His name is Jesus. He is also known by the name, “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” [Matthew 1:23; John 14:9-10; Colossians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 7:14]. After Jesus rises from the dead He promises His presence with His followers [Matthew 28:20; Hebrew 13:5] and His Spirit dwells in His people [Acts 2:33; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19]. On the last day, when Jesus comes again, He promises to dwell with His people forever in the divine Promised Land of His eternal presence [Revelation 21:3].

The promise give to Jacob by God was fulfilled when God brings him back to Canaan, when God returns the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and when God returns the remnant from exile in Babylon, but promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ the Son of God. The ladder Jacob sees in his dream is a picture of God promise “to be with you.” God is not absent from His creation or His covenant people. He is intimately connected with His creation. The ladder represents His mediation between heaven and earth. Jesus even makes this correlation between the ladder and Himself [John 1:49-51]. Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth—God and man [1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6]. Jesus is the ladder; He is the connection between heaven and earth.

The purpose of Jacob’s strange ladder dream was to get his attention. Once God got his attention, He promised to be with Him always wherever he would go. That promise would ripple to His holy people [Israel] and also in the Scripture later to His church. The promise of God’s presence is one of the most precious and assuring promises of the Scripture. This promise is meant to be a source of comfort for all His followers. God knows that His people sometimes feel forsaken. However, remember as Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]