Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blogging the Bible: Joyful reunions and preparations for the future

What would you do if your lost son was found? Would you rush to him? He’s hundreds of miles away. Jacob begins to move to his son. But, on the way, he stops at Beersheba, and worships. He offers sacrifices to God. Notice what happens next. On the way out of Israel, God restates the covenant one more time. IT’s easy to just blow by these covenant re-statements, but in some ways, they make up the heartbeat of the book. From Genesis 12 forward, we see continual restatements. This book is about what God is doing. He is making nation, he is providing blessing. HE will be with them. This is God’s project with weak flawed people. Here, he declares, “there I will make you into a great nation. 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." Quite a promise for a broken old man.

Notice these things from Genesis 46. 

Notice the size of the family. Three Generations of Israelites. The whole family is listed, from Rueben to Benjamin, with everyone in between. Including Joseph and his descendants, the number is 70 total people. A far cry from the millions who will leave. In Egypt, God will multiply them greatly.

Notice the reunion. It’s heartwarming, and joyful. Joseph meets Israel in Goshen, and they are reunited. Jacobs’s reaction is that of a father who got to see what he long since gave up on, his son alive. Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive."

Lastly, notice also where Joseph positions his family. In Goshen, out of the center of Egyptian affairs. He positions his family to continue to be their own people. If they went to the great cities, they would assimilate, but being separate, remaining as livestock keepers, they are in a position to remain separate, an abomination to Egyptians, but a separate nation.

Genesis 47 continues to tell of the events of the reunion. Joseph informs the Pharaoh that they are all settled, and presents 5 of them before the king, and affirms Joseph’s choice of Goshen.  Furthermore, Pharaoh says, put them in charge of my flocks. God is showing awesome provision for them here. The interaction with pharaoh ends with Jacob and Pharaoh meeting. Notice something strange here. Jacob blesses Pharaoh. The greater usually blesses the lesser. Slipped in here, God is telling us that in this room, Jacob, not Pharaoh, is the greeter’s person in the room, and it may be that even Pharaoh knows it.

Notice that through everything that comes through the years of famine, Jacob and the family are protected.

Finally the effects of the famine. First people give money, then they give livestock, and then they gave land, and by the end, the people are servants of pharaoh, no longer owning anything, not even themselves. From then on, they owed pharaoh a fifth of their earnings. How did the people respond? In gratitude, yes it reduced them to servanthood, but he saved their lives.

Finally, notice the request of Jacob. He doesn’t want to be buried in Egypt. He wants to go home o Canaan when he died, and he makes Joseph swear that he will not bury him in Egypt.
Genesis 48 recounts the blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim. It begins with Jacob recount meeting God at Bethel (Luz), and blessing. Here again, the covenant is recounted. Notice those words everlasting possession. “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.' This is pre-Sinai. All of genesis is; and there is a continual drumbeat, the land is yours. Forever. Don’t ever fail to notice this, the land, is Israel’s, to this day.

Notice the claim Jacob makes on Ephraim and Manasseh. He claims them as his own, as if they were his own sons, and gives them full rights as co-inheritors. This is why Ephraim and Manasseh, are given full allotments, and referred to as half tribes. By doing this, Jacob is placing on Joseph the double portion that would go to a firstborn.

Notice also that once again, the younger, the lesser is elevated, Jacob intentionally and clearly reverses the birth order, and declares that the “younger brother shall be greater” and “his offspring shall become a multitude of nations”.

Finally, he tells Joseph “God will be with you”, and tells him that he gets the land “one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow."

Genesis 49 recounts the prophetic words that Jacob speaks over each son. For some, it’s a blessing, for others, it’s an indictment. 

Notice how the eldest three are indicted for their sins. Rueben, Simeon, and Levi stand guilty before their father. Ruben is deprived of the right of the firstborn for his sin of incest. As we saw in 48, it went to Joseph. Simeon and Levi are to be scattered. The Levites, as priests, and Simeon will be folded into Judah.

Notice that the child of praise, Judah comes out on top. He’s not the one who gets the double portion of the inheritance; but see what he does get.  Judah is to have his brother’s praise, victory in battle, and the throne. “Your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.” Do you see the hint of what is to come? He will have the throne, the scepter, and where do we see a donkey’s colt? From Judah will come a scepter, always and forever, through his greatest son, Jesus.

From there, we see Zebulon, Jacob gives him his inheritance by the sea, and Issachar is promised hard labor in a good land. Dan is declared a menace that will cause people to wait for salvation. Gad will be raided, but he will fight back, Asher will a producer of great fruit, Naphtali will be a beauty, Joseph will be fruitful, and when attacked, he will remain unmoved because his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, furthermore, Jacob is given blessings of hills, and much, much more. Benjamin is called a wolf, devouring prey, so true it would be, as judges shows us.

Finally, at the end, Jacob restates the command to bury him in Israel, at the tomb of Sarah and Abraham, and with that, he dies, and the story of Jacob ends. It’s a strange tale of blessing, and pain, of a villain being used for God’s purposes, and being refined from a bartering thief, to man transformed by the power of God.

IN all these things, we see that the stage is getting set for the next act, the exodus, and the conquest.

There are three things left to happen in Genesis when we get to chapter 50. When Jacob dies, Joseph as him embalmed, and then, with his brothers, and many officials of Egypt, Jacob is taken to the family tomb and buried.

When this is over, the brothers are nervous. What’s coming next? Will he kill us? And so they come, and they say, forgive us. Here, we get one of the great statements on the sovereign orchestration of events in the bible. "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” They meant harm; God was up to something more. Never fail to see that if there is a God, and he is sovereign, he may no more then you, and he may know that while you think what’s going on is the worst thing to ever happen to you, it may be your best. Paul reminds us all of this so perfectly when he writes “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

The story ends with the death of Joseph, who, like his father, asks to go back to the Promised Land. He declares, prophetically, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” After his death, he is embalmed, and put in a coffin in Egypt. Waiting….waiting… waiting…and so it ends, with the ground laid for the next act, the exodus, the great picture of salvation that hints at the ultimate salvation. Everything is in place for something amazing to happen.

What a great and glorious ride Genesis is. From creation, to the story of the patriarchs, we see God at work, moving the chains forward as he fulfills his purposes. The story of Genesis is ultimately that God created, man sinned, and God went to work redeeming us, making a covenant people for himself. Not of people you want to emulate, but of people just like you and I, retches in need of salvation. Notice that all through the book, we see that he is providing salvation. Furthermore, notice that in many ways, Genesis (and all of Scripture) is clarified and summarized by Josephs great statement, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. In the Garden, Satan acted, and Man rebelled. What Satan meant for evil, what man meant for evil in saying, I will be like God, God used, for good. He meant it for the full revelation of his self in Jesus Christ our Lord. I’ve never noticed this before, but it has struck me powerfully. What was meant for evil brought the greatest good imaginable.

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