Chapter 3 is the account of Moses' encounter with God and being called to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. I love that God's Spirit lit up the bush, but the bush wasn't consumed. What a beautiful illustration of how His Spirit works in us, lighting our lives, drawing people to Him through His work in us, yet we are not destroyed..
Moses reacted to God's call as many of us do. He focused on his own weakness Instead of God's power.
But God's call on us Is not about our ability or skill, because God Is able to provide any ability or skill needed. It's not about us having the resources, because God can provide those, too.
What God calls us to do, He provides everything needed for us to accomplish. I've heard it put this way: "Those God calls, He also equips."
So when we feel God drawing us to a dream that seems outrageous, we must pull our eyes away from all the weaknesses and shortcomings that seem so evident, and cast them instead upon the God who has no weaknesses or shortcomings. It's not about us, it's always about Him!
The account of Moses' early life reminds us that even when everything seems to be going against us, God is aligning circumstances in our life to accomplish a greater purpose that is beyond our vision. From protecting him as an infant, allowing him to be discovered and raised by Pharaoh's sister, to sending him fleeing into the desert, God used various circumstances to prepare Moses for his eventual mission.
We walk through life not knowing which circumstances God may use, which friendships will provide opportunities to grow in our faith, or which jobs will provide training that later is invaluable. I know at times I labor in prayer over decisions, seeking God's will as if it is something He has hidden away and I must complete some Indiana-Jones-style quest to find.
But His will is close at hand; it's in His Word. And accomplishing His purpose for our lives is (thankfully) not dependent on us deciphering perfectly what choice to make. Instead, as we do the best we can and seek God through His Word, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, God uses both our good choices and our bad ones.
Clearly, Moses taking a life, even in defense of a brother, isn't intended as an example for us to follow, yet God still used the consequences (his flight to the desert) to develop Moses' character and faith. I've heard the example that our life is like a tapestry, the one side filled with knots and threads, a mess to look at, but the other side - the side God sees - a beautiful work of art.
We're the ones tying the knots and making the mess, yet God is able to use the messes we make regardless. This week let's step boldly, knowing that as we seek to follow God, read His Word, and pray for guidance, He will be leading our steps.
Can you picture Joseph’s brothers coming home from the funeral for their father?
I bet that was an interesting conversation:
“Now that dad is gone, Little Joe is sure to pay us back for all the grief we gave him.”
“Yeah. But he said he had forgiven us.”
“Hmph. Right. That was when Dad was still around. Now he can do whatever he wants.”
“Maybe the whole 'selling him into slavery' thing was a bad idea.”
But instead of giving his brothers what they deserved, Joseph reminded them that what they intended for evil, God used for good. Had his brothers not sold him to Egyptian slave traders, the entire family might have died in the famine.
So it’s all good that they beat him, threw him in a well, and then sold him and told their father he was dead?
Of course not!
One of the greatest demonstrations of God’s sovereignty is His ability to allow us to operate with freedom, yet to work through even our worst choices to accomplish His purposes. If we could thwart the plans of God with our sinful choices, we would essentially be more powerful than God — and we know that isn’t the case.
Joseph not only forgave his brothers, but committed to care for them and for their families. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to put ourselves in jeopardy, but it does require us to show abundant grace and kindness even as we maintain healthy boundaries.
Israel (Jacob) pronounces blessings over each of his sons before he dies. Some of these "blessings" sound a little like "bless your heart"!
I wonder if this will be what it is like for believers as God blesses us in eternity. All the brothers get a blessing — just as all believers spend eternity with God. But the Bible refers to a crown of righteousness, a crown of life, and a crown of glory. Will we stand before God and discover that because of an ungodly act like Reuben or a violent temper like Simeon and Levi we have forfeited a reward that might have been ours? That is not to be confused with judgment — as believers, our sins are forgiven because of the finished work of Christ and we are no longer under condemnation. But that doesn't negate all the consequences of sin.
This chapter illustrates that even where there is reconciliation, some consequences of sin may remain. What about Judah? He sinned and yet is blessed to be the father of kings, even of the King of Kings. Why didn't his sin cause him to forfeit his role? Clearly, God's ways are beyond our understanding in many cases, but perhaps his efforts to remedy his wrongs played a part. After all, he could have let Tamar be stoned and no one would have known that he was the father of her sons. He could have let his brother Benjamin be imprisoned for the "stolen" cup.
I've always wondered in reading about the life of Joseph why the kingly lineage didn't come through him. Of all the brothers, his life seemed the least marred by sin. He was the one given a double portion of the inheritance. What a beautiful reminder that no matter what we've done, we are not only able to have forgiveness through Jesus, but God is able to use even our worst failures for purposes we can't comprehend at the time. That's not a license to sin or an excuse to fail, but blessed reassurance that we can't mess things up beyond God's ability to fix them.
Israel blesses Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and through adopting them, gives Joseph the birthright of firstborn, a double portion of his inheritance. What captured my attention as I read this was how frequently it is not the firstborn who receives the blessing or inheritance. God chooses who He chooses.
It is also not the "best" or even the "most righteous."
This passage teaches that God is no respecter of birth order or of tradition when it comes to blessing His people. He chooses for His purposes those who have fallen, those who are outsiders, even those who are unbelievers, and brings about His purposes through them. How humbling to know that when God works through us, it is not because of anything in us, but more often it is despite all our weaknesses and failures. Or maybe it is because of our weakness and failure. Our failures force us to recognize "you are God and I am not."
Our brokenness forces us to depend on God in desperation. A sweet friend who is in the midst of trial puts it this way, "We spend time with God and in His Word like people on a plane that's going down reach for their oxygen mask. We have to have it to survive."
The best remedy for our pride is failure. Like Joseph, we want to tell God, "Bless this one. This is the one you should choose." God has His own agenda. This week I will remember and praise the God who works powerfully even in my failures.
Joseph's family settled in Goshen, a region in Egypt that was especially fertile and, because of Joseph's planning for the famine, Pharaoh ended up trading the saved grain for the livestock, land, and eventually the people of Egypt.
When Joseph’s father is presented to Pharaoh, it says that Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And again before he leaves, it says he blessed Pharaoh. Wasn't Pharaoh a pagan who demanded worship as if he were himself a god? Why would one of the patriarchs bless him? Shouldn't he have been whacking him on the head with a Bible, or at least with a Torah? (Just kidding, the Torah was written by Moses about 400 years later.)
Several explanations for his kindness and respect come to mind. First, Pharaoh had taken care of Joseph, his beloved son. He'd taken him from the prison to second-in-command and provided for him all these years, so Jacob must have felt tremendous gratitude. Pharaoh also had given them the land of Goshen to settle in, another act of generosity, and they had few other options due to the famine, so it made sense politically to establish a strong relationship with their benefactor.
But I think perhaps the most important reason is one that might be pretty applicable to us today: Just because someone doesn't believe in our God does not mean we shouldn't be kind to them.
In fact, just the opposite.
We should be especially kind and generous. We should be loving and forgiving, as we should also be to other believers, even when they think differently or act in ways that break our hearts. God set the example in Christ that even when we were His enemies, He gave His life for us.
Being kind doesn't mean we have to agree with or join in sinful choices. It doesn't say that Jacob offered sacrifices to the false gods of Pharaoh, but he also didn't start his conversation with, "You’re headed for hell if you don't get rid of that idol!"
If our heart's goal is for unbelievers to know Jesus, our most effective tactic is to show them the love that Jesus showed us. I love what Pastor JD Greear said when he preached from Hosea, "God's love is power, not reward. God's love is the power that liberates us from captivity, not the reward for having liberated ourselves."
We help others discover that power by being a living picture of it, allowing God to transform our lives before their eyes, all the while pointing toward Him rather than accepting credit.
Imagine being very, very old (130) and packing up everything you own to move a great distance in the hope that the son you thought had died was still alive. Trusting your sons' crazy story, but still wondering, could this really be true? Along the way, Israel worships God at the same place both his father and grandfather has worshipped. God confirms His promise to make his descendants a great nation and reassures him that he will see his son Joseph. The rest of the chapter lists the children and grandchildren that Israel brought with him to Egypt.
God's promises are sure. But his timetable is often very different than ours. We live in a fast food world and want everything our way right now. But God's purposes are eternal. He isn't limited by time and doesn't feel pressured to keep our schedule.
In traveling to other countries, it's often an adjustment to realize that they don't have the same concept of timeliness that we have in our rush-rush-rush society. In America, ten minutes early is on time, on-time is late, and late is completely unacceptable. I finally stopped wearing a watch a few years ago because I found I was constantly looking at it, stressing over whether I was running late, driving my family nuts (only to arrive 15-30 minutes early). It was essentially an idol. Without a watch, I've found that I can still easily find the time if needed. It’s on my phone, on my car dash, on the sign at the bank, on the wall at work.
The point is — God is more concerned with the work He is doing in us than with completing that work on our timetable.
What does this passage tell me about people? Just like Israel, we need reassurance. We need to worship God when we’re doubting or fearful and trust Him that despite the circumstances, He is accomplishing all that He has promised. This week I will trust Him, even as I continue to work as diligently as I can in all the areas He's called me to serve. I need to trust that it is not about me, and that He will bring about the results He desires in His time — not mine.
Joseph couldn't contain himself any longer. Wouldn't you love to have seen the look on his brothers' faces when it sank in that not only was he alive, but he was the one who had rescued them? And then when it hit them that they had bowed down before him, just as he had dreamed so many years ago? I love that Joseph tells them not to quarrel on the way home — the Amplified Bible adds "over how to explain this to their father."
Picture them practicing on the long trek home: “About your beloved son, remember when we told you he was mauled to death by wild animals? Well, the good news is, he’s still alive. The bad news is we actually sold him to slave traders….”
Joseph’s story is a beautiful picture of the gospel. The very one who saves is the one who they sinned against. In his generosity and mercy, he not only provides for their needs, but lavishes the best of everything upon them.
God does the same for us through Christ. We are the brothers — jealous of others' blessings, acting in anger and spite, covering our mistakes with deception, living a life of spiritual famine that results in greater and greater sin. Remember the story of Judah and Tamar that is inserted in the midst of Joseph's account? It seemed randomly stuck in there, didn't it? But it illustrates how one lie, one sin unconfessed and covered up, grows into something that can easily destroy our reputation.
Kudos to VeggieTales(TM) for the visual of The Fib from Outer Space and the accurate depiction of how lies grow exponentially in their destructive power — but fibs don't come from outer space, they come from our own wayward hearts.
So what do we do with this knowledge? Ask God to show us what is in our hearts even before it shows up as action. Recognize sin for what it is — pride, envy, covetousness, hate, greed, selfishness, lust, arrogance — these are at the root of most sin. Confess them to God and ask Him to give you the strength to turn away from them. Confess them to brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray for you and to hold you accountable when they see sin in your life (and then don't get angry and defensive when they do it).
Turn away; that's what repent means. Replace these with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. What will I do differently today as a result of what I've learned? Spend more of my prayer time in reflection and confession than in supplication.