Ex. 7-11, 14 Plagues, Hardness of Heart, and God

This section of Exodus is both troubling and freeing. The trouble comes with the plagues meant to convince Pharaoh to send the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses still needs convincing that he is God’s leader and speaker.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.”  (Ex. 7:1–2 NAS)

That reassurance is strong for both Moses and Aaron. But God isn’t finished. Now comes one of the troubling passages:

But I will harden [make hard קשׁה  hiphil] Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (7:3)

Some take this as the only thing mentioned about Pharaoh’s heart. But notice the pattern:

Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [made strong חזק ], and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn [made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד]; he refuses to let the people go.  (7:13-14)moses-and-pharaoh-the-final-plague

But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [made strong חזק], and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (7:22)

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened [made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד] his heart and adid not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (8:15)

Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [made strong חזק], and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (8:19)

But Pharaoh hardened [made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד hiphil] his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go. (8:32)

But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened [made strong חזק], and he did not let the people go. (9:7)

And the LORD hardened [made strong חזק Piel] Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses. (9:12)

But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened [made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד hiphil] his heart, he and his servants.  35 Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [strengthened חזק qal], and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses. (9:34-35)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened [made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד hiphil] his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, (10:1)

But the LORD hardened [made strong חזק piel] Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go. (10:20)

But the LORD hardened [made strong חזק piel] Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. (10:27)

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened [made strong חזק piel] Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land. (11:10)

[God said] “Thus I will harden [made strong חזק piel] Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and cthe Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (14:4)

The LORD hardened [made strong חזק piel] the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly. (14:8)

As for Me, behold, I will harden [made strong חזק piel] the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. (14:17)

So what?

A lot of information. But as we examine these passages, we note a couple of items.

1. Pharaoh hardens his heart first, and at various places, later the texts indicate the LORD hardens his heart. So both are at work in this: Pharaoh to maintain his kingdom and power, God to demonstrate His power of salvation through defeating Pharaoh and by doing so delivering His people.

2. Three different words are used

make hard קשׁה hiphil (used only once at the beginning)

made heavy כָּבֵ֖ד hiphil

made strong חזק Piel (used in two verb forms, but after 10:1 used only in Piel form [intensive]

Thus, while Pharaoh begins the hardening process, God is the one confirms that, (prophetically in chapter 7 and in actuality throughout the rest of these chapters).

Paul comments on the purpose of this whole episode:

For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:127 NET)

The rest of Romans 9-11 focuses on God’s mercy as the key to understanding His actions in the past, in the present, and in the future.

So much more can be written, but this is a blog post, not a book. Thus, just enough space to note the three different words, and the role of God and Pharaoh in the issue of hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

Personally any one of the plagues would have been enough to convince me—at least I think so, until I really examine my heart. I am probably like Pharaoh in too many ways (arrogant, prideful, stubborn, etc.). And I am like Moses in too many ways (slow to catch on, weak, offering excuses). There is enough for God to convict me. In repentance, my only hope is God’s mercy, in Jesus Christ.

 

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Ex. 5-6 “I will”

Have you ever been in the position where something good is forming in your life as you begin a new phase? You expend all your energy in it. The potential in the future is visible, great, and satisfying.

And then the bottom falls out. Every step you take seems in the wrong direction. What was good now becomes bad, and then worse. Trying harder just doesn’t cut it anymore. You want to step back, not one step, but all the way to the beginning.

That is the position Moses finds himself in Exodus 5-6. God had revealed Himself to Moses by his name: I AM (Yahweh). He meets all of Moses’ objections to serving and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The plan couldn’t go wrong.

But it did. BIG TIME.

The Consequences of God’s Revelation

Pharoah’s response to Moses and Aaron is ridicule (5:4–5). Worse, he orders that now the Isrealites have to collect their own straw for making bricks. The labor increases, but the demand remains the same.

And worse, now the foremen over the Israelites are beaten (5:14). After their protests to Pharoh were ignored, they turned to Moses and Aaron.

They said to them, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Ex. 5:21)

The foremen clearly blame Moses and Aaron and they want the LORD (Yahweh) Himself to act the judge of their case against Moses.

Not the way things should go

At this point Moses himself is questioning everything. But now he questions God.

Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? Why did you ever send me? From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued them!” (Ex. 5:22-23 NET)

This almost sounds like Adam in Gen. 3 when God confronts Adam about sin, and God blames God for the woman whom He gave Adam. Interestingly, Moses returns to the LORD (Yahweh), but addresses him in an odd way. Remember the discussion from Ex. 3-4, and the name and vowels added to consonants. The NET textual note has:

The designation in Moses’ address is “Lord” (אֲדֹנָי, ʾadonay) — the term for “lord” or “master” but pointed as it would be when it represents the tetragrammaton. (NET Textual Note)

But we would expect Moses to use Yahweh (LORD) but he does not. And yet Moses pours out his heart about doing everything God had commanded him, but God seemingly not responding as Moses expected. Ah, there is the rub. “Not as Moses expected God to act.”

Covenant Reiterated and Remembered:

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as6 God Almighty, but by my name ‘the LORD’ I was not known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as resident foreigners. I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. (Ex. 6:2-5 NET)

But further, God adds a statement of seven “I will” force: God will, not Moses.

Therefore, tell the Israelites,

‘I am the LORD.

I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians,
I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
I will take you to myself for a people, and
I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians.
I will bring you to the land I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob–and
I will give it to you as a possession.

I am the LORD!’”

Notice that the section begins and ends with the declaration: I am the LORD. The rescue, deliverance, defeat of the Egyptians will not be by Moses’ faithfulness, but Gods’ faithfulness to His covenant. He will rescue.

God Will

HGow easy it is for us, maybe for me alone, to forget that all this is about God’s work.

His faithfulness in the new (covenant) testament of forgiveness

[The LORD says:] “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 NAS).

His faithfulness in forgiving sins

Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion (Psalm 103:3-4 NAS)

[Jesus said:] “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23 NAS)

Jesus’ righteousness is our by His work.

…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, [Phil. 3:9 NAS)

After this encounter Moses is a different person. Now he doesn’t look to himself as the source, responsibility, the weight of all covenant promises. He looks to God, and God begins the deliverance of His people, even as He promised.

And so for you and for me. slide_23

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Ex. 3-4 My Name

Moses had fled from Egypt due to his fear of Pharoah (Ex. 2:15). And he couldn’t turn to his people (Hebrews) because of his unwanted interference in a dispute. He settled in Midian.

Now 40 years later, God appears in a buring bush to Moses. In 3:2 it says “The Angel of the LORD” appeared to him; then in 3:4 “God called to him.” Exodus-3-the-burning-bush

God had remembered his covenant going back to Gen. 12:1-3 and Gen. 15:1-6. So when God speaks he says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6 NET).  Now that God is acting in behalf of His people, and Moses will be critical in this move. God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey, (3:7-8 NET)

What Moses attempted to do on a small scale for two Hebrews, now God will do far beyond what Moses or the Israelites can imagine. In the ensuing dialog, Moses is not only reluctant to do what God has called him to do, he offers excuses that would “naturally” disqualify him (in his own eyes).

Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  (3:11 NET)

God’s response to Moses’ trepidation is one that He will use throughout the rest of the Old Testament—even into the New Testament (Matt. 28:20): “I will be with you.”

He replied, “Surely I will be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you and they will serve God on this mountain.” (3:12 NET)

Then Moses wants the name who is sending him. Without that Moses has nothing to offer the people. He needs the name to tell the Israelite leaders about who it is that commissions him to do this.

Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’–what should I say to them?” (3:13 NET)

To have the name of someone is to show the authority by which he is acting. God’s response will forever change how people will understand God in this revelation.

God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The LORD–the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ (3:14-15)

The NET Bible has a footnote at this point that explains the significance of the name that is really a verb form.

“Yahweh,” traditionally rendered “the LORD.” First the verb “I AM” was used (v. 14) in place of the name to indicate its meaning and to remind Moses of God’s promise to be with him (v. 12). Now in v. 15 the actual name is used for clear identification: “Yahweh…has sent me.” This is the name that the patriarchs invoked and proclaimed in the land of Canaan. (NET Study Note)

It is necessary to distinguish the use of God’s name (LORD = Yahweh) and the title (Lord/Master = Adonai). The use of Yahweh (LORD) appears 6807 times in the Hebrew Bible, plus the abbreviated form YAH appears 40 times. We will see the significance of this use of the name Yahweh/LORD when we get to Exodus 6.

Note: If we take the consonants (as phonetic sounds) in Yahweh or Jahveh and join them with the vowel points from Adonai, then we come up with the word “Jehovah.” The following diagram has been useful in teaching Bible classes about this issue of the name and title of God.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 11.39.37

 

Obviously this name will become important when naming individuals.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 11.45.26

 

 

God’s Promises to Moses

Now God continues with the promises:

The elders will listen to you… (3:18)

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, not even under force. So I will extend my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do among them, and after that he will release you. (3:19-20 NET)

The calling of Moses, his commission, and God’s promise of being with them…what more could be needed? For Moses—much more.

Moses answered again, “And if they do not believe me or pay attention to me, but say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you’?” (4:1 NET)

So God shows Moses signs that will demonstrate to the Israelites that Yahweh has indeed sent him. But Moses still is not convinced.

Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 4:10 NET)

God responds—in patience!

The LORD said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? So now go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you must say.” (4:11-12 NET)

And yet, Moses persists in his evaluation of himself and his abilities and tries to wiggle out of this commission.

But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send anyone else whom you wish to send!” (4:13 NET)

Patience by God is replaced by anger:

Then the LORD became angry with Moses, and he said, “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak very well. Moreover, he is coming to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart.

“So you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And as for me, I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you both what you must do. He will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were his God. You will also take in your hand this staff, with which you will do the signs.” (4:14-17 NET)

Finally Moses responds to the call of God on his life and leadership for God’s deliverance of His people. One interesting, seemingly insignificant detail remains. That is, Zipporah, Moses’ wife, has to confront Moses.

Now on the way, at a place where they stopped for the night, the LORD met Moses and sought to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.) (4:24-26 NET)

I think the NET textual note is helpful here.

Moses had apparently not circumcised Eliezer. Since Moses was taking his family with him, God had to make sure the sign of the covenant was kept. It may be that here Moses sent them all back to Jethro (18:2) because of the difficulties that lay ahead. (NET Textual Note)

It is important, though, because God is acting in accord with the covenant with Abram (Gen. 12; 15) which also includes the covenant sign of circumcision in Gen. 17. Moses as the God-chosen leader of the covenant promise to deliver had not even extended that covenant promise to his own child. Now that is rectified, and Moses, as leader of his family, now becomes leader of the covenant people, Israel.

At that point, Aaron is coming to meet Moses, and Moses relates to him all that Yahweh (the LORD) said.

Reflections

As I work through this text, I notice some things about serving the Lord. As I read Moses’ responses, the reluctance, the attempt to deflect to someone else, I put myself in that category. Many times, away from the public, I question whether I am the right person for this specific position, office, duty, responsbility. In fact, I am not as optimistic as Moses about my abilities.

I recognize many of my limitations, weaknesses, failures. And I wonder: How could I be used of God in this situation? This happens more than people realize.

But this section also demonstrates that God is calling, God is equipping, God is opening, God is… with Moses. He is with me. Far different scale! Far different reach! Yet God is with me, too.

This means that when we read Exodus through Deuteronomy, the encouragement is not to be a great leader like Moses. The encouragement is that God can still work through someone like Moses, faults, hesitations, weaknesses, etc. In other words, this is first and foremost an account of God, the God who reveals himself as I AM WHO I AM, the God who is present to deliver, the God who is using broken humans to achieve his purposes.

This is not a reason to be indifferent toward God’s work. Rather it is a reminder that this is what God is doing, even if the world cannot fathom, even if I can’t always make sense of it.

And so, that God, those promises, His presence is comforting. And I need that reassurance often. His Word is a daily companion. His Sacrament is a weekly encounter with this God who says, “take eat, take drink… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” His absolution is continually before me: “I forgive you your sins, for the sake of my Son, Jesus.”

That is the I AM WHO I AM God of Exodus 3-4, of the entire Old Testament, and the New Testament.

Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:56-58 NET)

And that is enough!wpid-i-am-with-you-always

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Ex. 1-2 Not Forgotten

Genesis ends on a very positive note. With Jacob now deceased, his sons continue in their restored relationship. They have grown as a people, and have the favor of the Pharoah and the people.

But then…

In Exodus 1 and 2 we see a significant shift. This illustrated in two verses.

1:7 But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.

1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

In 1:7, we see the transition from the first generation (Joseph and his brothers) to a new generation. It might be puzzling to see a contrast with “but” at the beginning of the verse. That indicates the change in focus and the development of chapters 1 and 2. The growth of Israel will continue, but instead of favor from the government of Egypt, it will be in spite of the government. The concluding epitaph for the older generation was the (partial) fulfilling of the promise in Gen. 12:2 (“make you a great nations”) and reaffirmed in Gen. 15:5-6.

In 1:8, the change in king is not unusual. But notice that the new king did not know Joseph. How can that be? In our present world that is like saying that we don’t know who Martin Luther King, Jr. was. But this simple statement signals not just a change of kings but a change of dynasties. Thus, the new dynasty would “rewrite” the history books or court documents so that no mention is made of any previous rule, and especially one as successful as Joseph.

In 1:9-11, the Egyptians try to stymie the growth of the Israelites— “afflict them with hard labor” (1:11). Despite their attempts, God still blesses the Israelites (1:12).

That leads to further attempts at defeating/discouraging them. The piled up descriptors of the Egyptians imposing their will on the Israelites continue:

1:13-14 The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.

The king finally determines that the only way to stop the Israelites from growing more is to kill the babies, and especially the male babies. But God spared the midwives to refused to follow the king’s edict. Note that the people now are referred to as Hebrews (see Gen. 14:13 as the first use in describing Abram).

Moses

In chapter 2 we find the introduction of the next major figure in salvation history. In fact, he will loom over the rest of the Old Testament, even casting a shadow into the New Testament.

Moses is born to an Israelite woman, Jochebed. She is not named in this Exodus account, but in Numbers 26:59 we read:

The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.

She is the first person in the Bible that includes the name Yahweh as part of the name (“Yahweh is her glory”). This brings tantalizing possibilities considering how God reveals his name in Exodus 3:14.

Moses rescued

Moses rescued

Interestingly, Miriam is the one who is featured in this story of saving the baby Moses. She puts the baby into a basket and then watches as the daughter of the king has the baby rescued. Quickly she volunteers to find a woman among the Israelites who can nurse the child. Of course, her mother (and Moses’ mother), Jochebed, is the one who cares for him. Moses is then raised in the house of the king’s daugher.

The story moves fast forward as Moses is now a man. He sees the injustice being done to the Hebrews and steps in to stop an Egyptian from beating “a Hebrew, one of his own people.” He eventually kills the Egyptian, thinking he has brought justice.

Little does Moses know that it became known among the Hebrews. The very next day, when Moses intervenes between two Hebrews, one challenges him: “Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (2:14). On top of that, Pharoah (2:15) tries to kill Moses.

Moses flees from Egypt to Midian and stays with a priest in Midian. He marries one of his daughters and they have two children.

The Cry of the People

And this is what he leaves in Egypt:

After a long time, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned because of their difficult labor, and they cried out; and their cry for help ascended to God because of the difficult labor. (Ex. 2:23 HCSB)

In other words the change in dynasty continued the assault on God’s people. Even as Moses is born to be the eventual deliverer of the Israelites, the conditions continue for another 40 years.

Just think of it, generations of labor and difficult labor, slave labor, and it seems as if it not only continues but gets worse with time. The cry of desperation is loud, agonizing, and yet seemingly lost to a distant God.

Not Forgotten but Remembered

For us, it easy to jump to vv. 24-25. But the Israelites who were groaning suffered for the first 40 years of Moses life, then 40 years while he is in exile in Midian. 80 years and no change, no response from God.

So God heard their groaning, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and He took notice. (2:24-25 HCSB)

Despite what seems to be inaction, God heard their groaning. Even more God remembered His covenant. When we read about “God remembering” it is not like, “I forgot where they were, oh, wait, that is where I put them.” Rather, when God remembers he does so as the basis for taking action (Gen. 9:15-16; Lev 26:42, 45; etc.). That begins in chapter 3 with the call of Moses.

How easy it is for us to overlook this point. In our agony over an extended time, and repeated pleas for God to answer, rescue, etc. we think that God has forgotten us.

God works at His pace in His ways. Always better than we could imagine, but taking much longer than we demand!

We are not forgotten but remembered. That is what makes God’s means of reassuring us that He has not forgotten so special. In Baptism, yes we remember it, but not because it was something we did, but something that God did, and is still doing. Paul wrote about this way:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, (Romans 6:3-5)

Notice who is the active one: God. We receive through faith what He does.

When Jeremiah prophesies about the new covenant (testament), he includes this issue of remembering, but also not remembering.

“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

So also in the Lord’s Supper (the new testament), a meal of remembrance, but far beyond a vague recollection, rather Jesus acting in forgiving us. Thus, Jesus Christ speaks His words to us in the present:

Jesus said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor. 11:24-25)

So we remember, but more importantly Jesus has remembered us and acts to forgive our sins at the present time. We are not forgotten but remembered and forgiven.

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Blog delay

I am traveling for a few days, so the blog has been delayed for a few days.

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Gen. 48-50 Promise Renewed-Protected

The Promise to Abraham and…

The conclusion to the Genesis story brings together many strands. First and foremost is the reiteration and passing on the covenant promises to Abraham. In Gen. 12:1-3, 7 we find the fourfold promises to Abram/Abraham

Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great (12:2 NET)

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” (12:7 NET)

But that promise is also for Abraham’s seed. Many times “seed” is used to refer to many, i.e. “seeds” (or “descendants”). But Paul notes the singular use:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.  (Gal. 3:16 NAS)

That fourfold promise is repeated throughout Genesis, but not always all four points. A good review of Genesis would be to identify every passage in which those promises are given/repeated. In our present reading, Gen. 48:4 once again has the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jacob now blesses Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh (older) and Ephraim (younger). Interestingly, Jacob as the younger twin of Esau received both the birthright and the blessing from Isaac. Now, Jacob blesses the two sons, with his right hand on Ephraim, the younger (Gen. 48:14, 17). Joseph objects, trying to “correct” his father by moving the hands to the “correct sons.” But Jacob is adamant.

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 48:19 NET)

Interestingly, there now begins a shift of the naming of the tribes of Israel (Jacob). That might be another post down the line.

Sons and Tribes of Israel

Sons and Tribes of Israel

Jacob Blesses His Sons

In Gen. 49, Jacob now blesses His twelve sons (Gen. 49:1-27). I won’t go into detail, except to note a couple major points. Jacob’s blessings emphasizes two people: Judah and Joseph.

The son who carries on the promises of Abraham and Isaac, is not the first son (Reuben), nor the second (Simeon), nor the third son (Levi). (See Gen. 49:3-7 for reasons) Rather, the fourth son, Judah, will carry on the promises. Again, not dependent on the plotting of people, the “natural” order, etc., but dependent on God’s choices.

So Judah receives the longest blessing, with several significant phrases that point ahead to Judah’s descendant and the Messianic/Christological connections.

Judah

The lion of Judah (49:9)

Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered; thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Rev. 5:5 NET)

Scepter shall not depart (49:10)

Your throne, O God, is permanent. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice. You love justice and hate evil. For this reason God, your God has anointed you with the oil of joy, elevating you above your companions. (Ps. 45:6-7 NET)

Washes garments in wine (49:11)

“It is I, the one who announces vindication, and who is able to deliver!”

Why are your clothes red? Why do you look like someone who has stomped on grapes in a vat? (Isaiah 63:1-2 NET)

Joseph

The other son who receives more attention is Joseph.

But his bow will remain steady, and his hands will be skillful; because of the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of the God of your father, who will help you (49:24-25 NET)

Thus, Joseph is the defender of the line of promise. As a side note, that is the same role that Joseph plays in Matthew 1-2. This leads into Gen. 50.

As soon as Jacob dies, the brothers give in to fears, doubts, and concerns, namely that Joseph had not taken revenge on them, but only as long as Jacob was alive.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge and wants to repay us in full for all the harm we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave these instructions before he died: ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” (50:15-17 NET)

Isn’t that how we think? There is always the shadow of sin and retribution waiting to catch up with us. Notice what Joseph’s response is: “When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept” (50:17).

The Release: “But God…”

Then we read the wonderful response of Joseph:

But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” (50:19-21 NET)

There is that phrase from yesterdat’s post: “But God…” The brothers had to hear again the promise in that phrase, “But God…”

Earlier in the story, the brothers couldn’t speak to Joseph “in peace.” But now, we read: “Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them” (50:21 NET).

The Gospel forgiveness from God brings with it the ability to speak Gospel to others, forgiveness, reconciliation. And that is what comforts others who have sinned. We can speak kindly to one another because of that phrase, “But God…”

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Gen. 45-47 But God…

Gen. 44 ends with the distress of Joseph’s brothers, and the confession of sin by Judah. We had to wait a day for the resolution. But the text is a continuous read. Thus, it is not a delay in the story of resolution, only in our reading of the text. That is why occasionally I will read Gen. 37-50 in one sitting. First, that practice avoids the disjunction of daily readings. Second, the story is that engaging. I don’t want to stop after I come to critical juncture.Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 15.19.59

Brothers’ Fear

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. They thought he had died, and they were responsible. They hated him, now they are terrified by him. Joseph is rejoicing at seeing his brothers. They were not ready for him yet.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. (Gen. 45:3 NAS)

But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence. (HCBS)

His brothers could not answer him because they were afraid of him. (GW)

Restoration

But Joseph comforts and reassures them.

Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Gen. 45:5 NAS)

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; (Gen. 45:7-8 NAS)

And they will have to hear this more. Like us today. Sometimes the pain of our sin against some continues to nip at our consciences. We need to hear God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, restoration repeatedly. How wonderful Joseph’s declaration to Hsi brothers: “But God…” After more greetings and weeping by everyone, they we read this change:

He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him. (Gen. 45:15 NAS)01045003 RLW - Genesis 45 3 - Joseph reveals himself to his brothers

Before that they were hateful, angry, terrified, silent, but now they talk with Joseph. What a transformation! Prior to this they had to face their father with their confession. But now… Joseph sends them back to their father with good news: Joseph is alive. And more, they urge Jacob to bring his entire family and workers to Egypt to survive the famine. God’s provision is greater than they could have imagined.

The Promise to Abraham

Gen. 46 moves forward, but with a look back. It presents another genealogy, but different in form than others. This family history (account) tells all who moved with Joseph to Epgyt.

The look back is the fourfold promise given to Abraham in Gen. 12 (blessing, great name, great nation, land). This segment looks at who came to Egypt, 66 people, an insignificant number by anyone’s measure. By the time their descendants leave Egypt they are a great nation, that will cause fear in their sight of their enemies.

The story unfolding in Genesis is not about great heroes of faith, but failures, weaknesses, sins, anger, hatred, jealousy, deceit. “But God…” God remains committed to His promises to Abraham regardless of how many sinners interact and form the history of the promise. God is guides, leads, directs, rebukes, forgives, restores, and renews.

The God of the Old Testament is no different in the New Testament. Jesus live and walked among sinners: those who misunderstood, betrayed (Judas), denied (Peter), challenged (Pharisees), hated (Herod), rejected Him.

“But God…” Namely “But Jesus…” came to save sinners like them, like me. What a wondrous story of love!

Refresh Yourself

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:8 NAS)

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NAS)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 NAS)

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 NAS)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 NAS)

Those verses from the New Testament all sound like an excellent summary of this account as God deals with Joseph and his brothers.

“But God…”

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Gen. 42-44

Sin Will Find You Out

The Sting of Being Caught

This section provides detailed conversation between Joseph, his brothers and his brothers and Jacob. The tragedy of the brothers’ treatment of Joseph now catches up with them. Little did they realize how difficult it would be for them. Isn’t that the way it is with us when sins’ consequences catch up with us?

Joseph was raised up to #2 in the land of Egypt. Because of his correct interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was designated to prepare all of Egypt for the famine to come. The extent was such that not only Egypt but Canaan and the surrounding regions were affected as well.

Thus when Jacob sends his sons (except Benjamin) to Egypt, little did they know that their journey to Egypt would fulfill the dreams of Joseph that he shared with his brothers. Nevertheless the “reunion” would be drawn out for them. Anguish would best describe their experiences as they have to make mulitple trips to Egypt, each one more miserable than the previous one.200px-Tissot_The_Cup_Found

Joseph knows who they are. His broken heart at seeing them is masked by his hard treatment of them. He desires to see his full brother, Benjamin. And he wants his other brothers to face what they did. His words begin the work on his brothers:

Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.”

Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.” (Gen. 42:21-22)

Simeon was kept in Egypt as a guarantee that they would bring Bejamin back with them. If they thought that was the worst, they soon discovered the money that Joseph had his men put back into their bags, meaning they would look like thieves. And the agony of Jacob increases their own burden.

Their father Jacob said to them, “You have abereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” (42:36)

And note how Jacob dismisses the other sons:

But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left.”

Almost as if Joseph and Benjamin are the only “real sons” (the two sons of his beloved Rachel). So the anguish multiplies for the brothers. They also have lost Joseph, Simeon, and now may lose Benjamin.

Finally Jacob sends Benjamin with the brothers to Egypt, for they need to buy more grain because of the famine. Even that does not solve the dilemma. For once Bejamin comes, then he is held so that Jacob may also come to Egypt.

The Confession

At this point Judah steps forward as the spokesman for the brothers when Joseph confronts them.

So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” (Gen. 44:16)

Joseph still holds out on them. So Judah continues with the complete confession of what they had done (44:18-31). But even more Judah steps into the place of Benjamin.

Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father.” (Gen. 44:32-34 NET)

Later Moses addresses what these brothers had to endure.

But if you do not do this, then look, you will have sinned against the LORD. And know that your sin will find you out. (Num. 32:23 NET)

In some ways this is an uncomfortable text to read. While we might wish to be Joseph, in reality we are much more like his brothers. Or at least I am, if I am honest. Let me slip and slid and avoid the guilt of my sin.

Confession and Forgiveness

To be under the pressure of their guilt, the brothers suffered greatly. Keep in mind that each trip to Egypt is not a 3-4 hour car drive. They had days, and nights, multiplied as they reflected regretted, struggled, and tried to wiggle out with much damage.

That describes me more than I want to admit. “If only…” becomes not just a front or excuse, but a last ditch effort to avoid confronting my sin. Thankfully, the brothers are finally brought to the breaking point, and their confession (through Judah’s words). Words of reconciliation are coming for them, comforting words.

The Apostle John wrote about that in the life of the church.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 NAS)forgive-our-sins-300x353

I am so glad that each worship service we hear these words (or equivalent words). It reminds us that as we gather “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (our Baptizing God), we do so by confessing our sins. We may be like the brothers and hide, run away from, or downplay our sin. But thankfully, God does not let us get by with that.

And God’s word to us when we confess? “I forgive your sins.” Then we can worship in truth and purity through faith in Jesus Christ.

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Gen. 36-38

[Note: I had this written several days ago, but life and ministry took priority. Sorry for the delay]

Following the pattern earlier in Genesis, when a decendant of the promise is not in the line of promise, the genealogy is given for that person. And then the person is dismissed. So here in Gen. 36, Esau is mentioned, then a listing of his descendants. Some of the names will come back into the Biblical story as antagonists against the promised line.

Chapter 37 begins the section called the “Joseph Story” (Gen. 37-50). Interestingly, nothing negative is directly mentioned about Joseph. Yet, Joseph sets the stage for bad blood between his brothers and himself.

And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him in peace. (Gen. 37:2-4 emphasis added)

But in Gen. 37 Joseph’s recounting of the dreams and his responses to his brothers leaves somewhat a bad taste in their mouths. It’s not just that he has the dreams about his centrality with the brothers. It is almost as if Joseph is rubbing it into his brothers’ faces. Shamefully I find myself (my sinful self) identifying more with the brothers than with Joseph. 793px-Book_of_Genesis_Chapter_37-3_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Consider this, too.

Of course, the dreams are given to Joseph as a prophecy of what would happen in the future (see Gen. 44-50). We can’t know for sure, but Joseph probably saw the dreams as something to share, and that his brothers should be happy with him about them. That eventually happens, but here it is the cause of not only anger, but hate (37:8).

Ultimately that hatred leads to the brothers plotting against Joseph. One wants to kill him (37:20). Reuben “rescues” Joseph from that fate. He is eventually sold to the Midian traders who take him to Egypt to be sold there.

Notice, though, that some of the brothers’ hatred is directed to Jacob, their father (note Jacob’s rebuke of Joseph, 37:10). See the responses in 37:4, 11

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him in peace. (37:4)

His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (37:11)

In this latter passage, the brothers are following the pattern of Rachel, who was “jealous” of Leah, because Leah had children with Jacob, but Rachel did not (Gen. 30:1).

Judah, less than shining star

Judah enters the picture in chapter 37, as the one who advises the brothers to save Joseph’s life. But Judah’s solution is that Joseph be sold into slavery to the Midianites (37:25-28). Reuben is distraught when he discovers that Joseph is no longer in the pit. Reuben as the oldest carries the responsibility. The solution? Dip Joseph’s tunic (from Jacob) in animal blood and claim that Joseph had died.

When Jacob sees the tunic, his grief is so great that none of the brothers sisters were able to comfort him (Gen. 37:35).

In chapter 38, Judah takes center stage, but for less than honorable recognition. He sleeps with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Her husband was Er, Judah’s first-born; but God took Er’s life because he was evil (38:7). Judah apparently thought that sleeping with a temple prostitute was okay.

Tamar becomes pregnant by Judah. When Judah learns that Tamar is pregnant, “as a harlot,” he initially wants her killed (“burned”) But then Judah learns the truth that he, Judah, is the culprit. And Tamar gives birth to twins.

Human failure, God’s work

It might be easy to sit in judgment of each person in the narrative of chapters 36-38. Who is “righteous”? Jacob, Reuben, the other brothers, Judah, Tamar? “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-12).

And yet… This is God’s plan, not any sinful individual. God uses Joseph’s journey into Egypt for His plan of delivering Jacob’s entire family. God uses Judah’s and Tamar’s sins to continue the line of promise through their son, Perez, through whom David is born, and eventually Jesus.

So what looks like sin, failure, dead-end lives, really opens the way for God to work continuously to achieve his perfect plan of salvation.

How often do we judge God’s work by what we see, hear, and do, not really understanding what God is doing? If we are honest, we like to be in the judgment seat, even of God Himself. But as these stories indicate, we fail even more when we take that judgment seat of God. And then through His Word we see something far greater than we can imagine.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob has not forgotten His promises. He has not failed to achieve His purposes. He remains constant, never changing. And for that we give God thanks, today and every day.

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Genesis 32-35

Jacob had fled from his father and mother and Esau, spending 20 years with Laban. The aninosty between Jacob and Esau was great when Jacob left. So much so that Esau wanted to kill Jacob because he had gotten the birthright and the blessing from Isaac.

Jacob had 20 years of blessings while away. And yet, he probably reflected much on the separation between himself and his brother. It’s amazing when families are apart, the concern, the fear, the hurts can grow in the mind and heart of a person. Accordingly when Jacob returns to his home land, he has to face the reality of Esau, his anger, and his desire to kill Jacob.Book_of_Genesis_Chapter_32-3_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

As Jacob draws close he offers gifts through his servants. Not just a tidy little gift-wrapped box, but animals and wealth. Somehow Jacob wanted to be right with his brother, and he was truly humbled in having to face the one he deceived. Surprisingly (from Jaocob’s perspective), Esau welcomes Jacob, receives him as a long lost brother.

God can restore the most strained and broken of relationships.

As we see families disinterate in our own time, we realize how great the gulf can be. Sometimes they never are restored. I had two great uncles who lived that. Something happened in the 1930s and they never spoke to one another. They lived three miles apart, drove tractors on the same road, had sons in the same schools, and not once would they even look at one another. Their sons never talked to each other. The great uncles died in early 1980s; they never did speak the entire 50 years.

But the extent of that separation was even greater. When we visited in the 1950s and 1960s the great uncles would watch the other’s farm to see how much time we spent with the other great uncle. Then they would complain that my father was favoring one uncle over the other. We went to a wedding of my father’s cousin, and the brothers couldn’t even look at one another.

Finally in the 1990s, the sons (now in their 60s) met and began to get to know one another after a lifetime of never speaking. They discovered they had many similar interests, and they developed a bond that grew until they both died about 8-10 years ago. They both commented how much they missed growing up and not knowing each other.

Living in a sinful world, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we are. We see the affects of broken relationships. We know how difficult it is to bridge the gap of years of hurts, sadness, misunderstanding, and maybe even aching for broken relationships. I’m sure Jacob and Esau both regretted the distance, and now that is restored. It is wonderful when brothers are reconnected and the bond established. We have seen that in the last few months with the restoration of our older son, and just last week the restoration of sons to one another.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!  (Psalm 133:1)

Jacob and God

While Jacob rightly worried about his brother Esau, he was even more surprised by his encounter with God (Gen. 32:24-32). God reveals himself in a rather unusual way. In the process, it appears as if Jacob might prevail. In reality it is like father who wrestles with his young son on the kitchen floor. They playfully tumble around and the father lets the little son finally jump on top as if he is the victor. But everyone knows the father let him win.

We catch some of that when Jacob wants to know the name of this “stranger.” Knowing the name of someone was a form of ownership, or lordship over someone. But the stranger never tells him. Instead, the stranger blesses Jacob, indicating who is really in charge. And Jacob recognizes that the stranger was God and what really happened, evidenced by his naming the place.

So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Gen. 32:30)

Jacob’s Sons

But Jacob’s troubles, past sinful actions, and words now spread to his sons. While Shechem had violated their sister, Dinah, the sons of Jacob exacted revenge on his entire family and city. They used deception (where did they learn that??) and Simeon and Levi (2nd and 3rd oldest sons) slaughtered them all. Jacob chastises them,

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” (Gen. 34:30)

Even Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, sins:

 It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it. (Gen. 35:22)

What Hope Is There?

Left to Jacob and his sons, the problems escalate, and we are left with thinking that nothing good can come of this. Through it all, however, God continues to reaffirm his promises, specifically in 35:16-22. God uses sinful humans to carry out his plans, even in their imperfection. But His desire and plan is never left entirely in the hands of sinful humans to satisfy and fulfill.

Ultimately God will fulfill His plan through His own Son, who lived in a sin-stained world, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 5:17) and overcame the weaknesses, failures, and wretched sins of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all human. And he did so for them… and for us!

Restoration of relationships is part of that perfect work.

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