Genesis 39-40

Out Of Sight, But Not Out Of Mind

“…the Lord was with him and whatever he was doing the Lord was making successful. Genesis 39:23 NET

In the previous three chapters, God seemed no where to be found. He was mentioned only once in the entire text, yet He was there – behind the scenes orchestrating and controlling events that to us looked completely out of His control. And now, as we pick up the rest of the story of Joseph, God seems to be everywhere. And there is a phrase that is repeated over and over again in this passage that should be a real source of comfort and encouragement to those of who are children of God and Christ-followers: “the Lord was with Him.” This story is full of the ups and downs of a young man’s life. It all started with Joseph being sold into slavery by his own brothers – all out of jealousy and the desire for revenge. He did nothing to deserve their actions – other than share with them a dream that they didn’t particularly like the meaning of. Yet they sold him to a band of Ishmaelite slave traders. They take him to Egypt, bound in chains, and sell him to Potiphar, the caption of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. But what does the text tell us? “The Lord was with Joseph.” Not just at this point, but He had been with Joseph all along the way. It is no coincidence that Joseph ended up in Egypt and was sold to this particular man. God was with Him. God was in complete control of the circumstances. And He made Joseph “successful.” We are told that “the Lord made everything he was doing successful” (Genesis 39:3 NET). Now keep in mind, Joseph was still a slave. He was still a long way from home. He was still suffering the injustice forced upon him by his own brothers. But the Lord was with him.

Everything was going great for Joseph. His presence in Potiphar’s house was even having a positive impact on his master. Things were looking up. Then the bottom falls out again. This time he is falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife – all because he turned down her sexual advances. But wait a minute! Wasn’t the Lord with him? Had the Lord left him? No. The Lord was with him and knew exactly what was going on. He had other plans for this young man and it was going to include imprisonment. The next thing we know, Joseph is in prison under false charges. He is innocent, but incarcerated none-the-less. His stock had dipped, but His God had not abandoned him. “But the LORD was with Joseph there, too, and he granted Joseph favor with the chief jailer” (Genesis 39:21 NLT). Now be honest. If you had been Joseph, wouldn’t your natural reaction to these circumstances have been to conclude that God had somehow left you or abandoned you? How could this be in God’s will? Why would a good and loving God allow this to happen to you? But the Lord was with Joseph there – even in the middle of prison. And the Lord made everything he did successful – even in prison!

But God was not done. Because in chapter 40 we are introduced to two characters who would have a profound impact on Joseph’s life. They would used by God to help introduce another new chapter into the story of Joseph and the story of God’s redemptive plan for His people. Chapter 40 ends on a negative note. It simply says, “Pharaoh’s cup–bearer, however, promptly forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought” (Genesis 40:23 NLT). Joseph had done this man a favor, and asked him to extend a favor in return. But he forgot all about Joseph. We are left with a picture of Joseph sitting in prison – forgotten and alone. But was he? No, the Lord was with him. The Lord had always been with him. The Lord was directing his path and determining his destiny. God was not done with Joseph yet. But if we stop here in the story, we will wrongly conclude that all is lost. We will falsely determine that Joseph has been abandoned by God. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Now think about this. Is God with you? Is He part of your life story? Is He behind the scenes orchestrating events and determining outcomes? It might be easy to conclude that He is not because of how things have turned out. But what if Joseph had done that? What if Joseph had decided that God was nowhere in his life story just because he had been wrongly imprisoned and unjustly forgotten? We can’t judge the presence of God based on our circumstances. He is there, regardless of how things may appear to be going for us – and He can prosper us even in the midst of difficulty. He has a bigger and better plan for you than what your current circumstances seem to indicate. In fact, difficulty can be a lousy determiner of God’s proximity. Things may not look like they’re going too well, but that does not mean God is uninvolved or out of control. The loss of a job does not indicate the loss of God’s favor. It may just be the opportunity to learn to trust Him. It could be your opportunity to see Him work in ways you never would have expected. Would Joseph have chosen to be sold into slavery? Did he enjoy being falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit? Was he happy at the prospect of being left to die in prison? NO! But he was learning a valuable lesson. He was learning to see the hand of God in his life. Did he fully recognize it at this point? Probably not. But there would come a day when he would look back over the span of his life and see the unmistakable hand of God over every event and circumstance he had ever encountered. God had been with Him. And God is with you!

Father, You are with me. I can’t always see you, but You are there. Thank You for reminding me that my circumstances cannot be the tool by which I determine your presence. Things are not always as they appear when You are involved. Because You are behind he scenes working Your plan to perfection. Prison could be a step towards promotion. Slavery could be a precursor to salvation. Help me rest in the reality that You are intimately involved in every circumstance of my life – whether I can see You or not. You are with me! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 36-38

When the One Who Sees Is Hard to See

“Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into a deep pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we’ll see what becomes of all his dreams! Genesis 37:20 NLT

These three chapters are filled with genealogies, stories of jealousy, hatred, and family disfunctionality. It would be so easy to read these chapters and conclude that God is nowhere to be found. His name is just mentioned once, and only in reference to the evil life that one of Judah’s sons lived before Him. There is no renewal of the covenant like we have seen so often before. There are no visions of God or visits from angels. No, there are only seemingly pointless lists of the generations of Esau, the shockingly sinister behavior of the sons of Jacob toward their younger brother Joseph, and the sad story of Judah and his treatment of Tamar. Where is God in all of this?

But if you know much about the Bible at all, you know “the rest of the story.” You know that what happens to Joseph has the hand print of God all over it. This extremely sad story would have a very happy ending. Even the story of Judah and Tamar, as dark and depressing as it appears to be, has a glimmer of light within it. Because one of the sons born to Tamar from her incestuous relationship with her own father-in-law, would end up being listed in the genealogy of the Messiah (Matthew 1:3).

I am reminded that while it is sometimes difficult to see God in the midst of the circumstances of life, He is there. God is ALWAYS there and He is always orchestrating and overseeing the affairs of men. At no time are we out of His sight or operating outside of His sovereign authority. We may violate His plans and disobey His law, we may act in unrighteous ways and do unconscionable things, but God is still there and He is still in control. We may not see Him, but He sees us. We may feel like things are completely out of His control, but time will always prove us wrong. While we may have a hard time seeing God in these three chapters, He is there. The story of Joseph may sound like a twisted tale of sibling rivalry gone bad, but we will learn that it is really the story of the sovereign hand of God over the affairs of men. God is behind the scenes putting in place His plan of salvation for the people of Israel, and setting the stage for His miraculous deliverance of them from slavery and bondage. Little did the brothers of Joseph know that they were setting in motion an incredible series of circumstances that would result in the Exodus, the great Old Testament foreshadowing of the coming Messiah and His deliverance of mankind from slavery to sin.

As you read through the Old Testament, always look for God. He is there. You may not see Him immediately, but rest assured that He is there, hidden behind all the scenes and shadows of deception, hatred, moral failure, and human sinfulness. He is there. And He is the God who sees. Do you see Him in your life today? Look for Him. He is not always obvious. But rest assured that He is there behind those circumstances that appear so bleak and foreboding. He is there behind that relationship that looks hopeless. He is there behind your feelings of helplessness. He is there behind all your doubts, fears, and feelings of weakness. He is there. But we must look for Him. And sometimes we will not see Him clearly until time has passed and we are able to look back and see His fingerprints all over that portrait of our lives.

Father, You are there. You are here. You have not gone anywhere and You are not busy somewhere else. You are intimately and powerfully involved in my life and, while I may not see You clearly right now, the day will come when I will. Open my eyes today so that I might see You in the midst of my day. And when I can’t, give me the faith to believe that You are there. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 34-35

A Faithful God Among Unfaithful People

“So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Genesis 35:2 NLT

These two chapters continue to document the sad saga of mankind’s downward spiral into sin and and depravity. As we follow the lives of God’s covenant people, we are exposed to the flaws and failures in their lives as well as the lives of the others inhabitants of the planet. And the picture is not a pretty one. Chapter 34 begins with the rape of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, by Shechem, one of the “princes of the land.” Dinah is probably 14-15 years old when this tragedy occurs. Having defiled this young girl, Shechem begs his father to get her for his bride. No shame. No remorse or regret. Just unbridled  lust. His actions lead the sons of Jacob to seek revenge. And like their father, they do so by deceit. They trick their enemies, convincing them to agree to have all the males in their community circumcised. Three days after going through this ritual the men of Shechem’s family are slaughtered by Simeon and Levi. Then the rest of the sons of Jacob loot the city and take everything in it. Revenge, greed, murder, deception. Sin breeds sin – both inside and outside of the family of God.

Then right in the middle of all this wickedness, God enters in. He calls Jacob to return to Bethel, where God first confirmed His covenant with him (Genesis 28:10-19). But before Jacob can obey, he has to instruct his household to do a little housekeeping. “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes” (Genesis 35:2 NIV). I find it fascinating that Jacob has to instruct his own family to purge their tents of any and all foreign gods. This would have included the household idols that Rachel had stolen from her father (Genesis 31:19). Jacob collects all the idols, rings, amulets, and other cultic tokens and then hides them under a tree which was near the city of Shechem. Notice that he doesn’t destroy them, he just conveniently hides them until they return from worshiping God. In the face of God’s faithfulness we see the constant faithlessness of men. The passage seems to infer that Jacob had every intention of returning to that tree and digging up the idols and pagan trinkets and returning them to their rightful owners. He was working both sides of the street, keeping his relationship with Yahweh intact, but also hedging his bets by allowing the worship of other gods as well.

Yet in spite of the unfaithfulness of men, God once again confirms His covenant promise to Jacob, reminding him of his recent name change and confirming the promise made to Jacob’s grandfather years earlier. “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you” (Genesis 35:11-12 NIV). God is faithful. God is a covenant-keeping God who never fails to keep His word, regardless of the fickleness and failings of fallen men. He tells Jacob that He is God Almighty, El Shaddai, the mighty or overpowering One. He is great, powerful, strong, and in complete control of any and all circumstances. Yet He is gracious, merciful, and faithful. It should be a comfort to us that in the midst of all the sin and corruption surrounding us, there is a God who loves us faithfully and fully. He will do what He has promised to do. He will never fail us or let us down.

Father, You are faithful in spite of my unfaithfulness. You stay true to Your word, even when I tend to break mine. I can count on You to be there for me, even in the middle of all the sin that surrounds me. Thank You for reminding me that You are the almighty God, powerful and true. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 31-33

A Mighty God

“Then he built an altar there and named it El-Elohe-Israel (Mighty Is the God of Israel). Genesis 33:20 MSG

Here at the end of chapter 33 we have a different Jacob than the one we saw leave under less-than-perfect circumstances 24 years earlier. On that day, he left a deceiver and a runaway, attempting to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, for having cheated him out of his birthright. He had left alone and in fear for his life. But now, 24 years later, he returns home, a very wealthy man with a very large family. But he still has lingering fears and doubts about how he will be received. He still has the heart of a deceiver. He struggles with deception and dishonesty. He wrestles with fear and doubt. He even wrestled with God. And that seems to be the main difference between the old Jacob and the new Israel. His awareness of God in his life. All throughout these three chapters we are given a glimpse into his growing awareness of and experience with God. God had been with him from day one. Back in chapter 28, we saw God make a promise to Jacob long before he got to the land of his uncle Laban: “What’s more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised” (Genesis 28:15 NLT). And God had kept His promise. He had prospered and protected Jacob for 24 years, and Jacob recognized it. He saw the hand of God in his life. “…the God of my father has been with me…” (Genesis 31:5 NASB). “Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7 NASB). “Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me” (Genesis 31:9 NASB).

Jacob had a growing awareness that the Lord God had been with him during these “wilderness days.” God had been watching over him. In fact, God confirms that fact when He tells Jacob in a dream, “I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you” (Genesis 31:13 NASB). God had been watching Jacob the entire time. And He had been working behind the scenes to direct Jacob’s paths. So when God appeared to Jacob and commanded him to return home, Jacob obeyed. Sure, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He allowed his old deceptive self to take over, refusing to tell his uncle he was leaving and clandestinely departing without saying a word. The old Jacob was alive and well, but he was growing in his awareness of and trust in God. He even went to the mat with God – literally. He got to go hand-to-hand with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, refusing to let Him go until He blessed him. Which reveals the Jacob we all know and love. In spite of God’s verbal promise to watch over and keep him, and Jacob’s personal testimony that God had done just that, he still was not satisfied until he got a verbal blessing from the mouth of God. So he wrestled with God and got his blessing, along with a name change and a limp. From that point forward he was to be called Israel – “he fights with God.” What a perfect name for this guy. Jacob knew he had seen God and said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared” (Genesis 32:30 NASB). Jacob had seen the face of and felt the hand of God in his life. And he would never be quite the same.

Fear and doubt would still be his constant companions. He would still struggle with deception and deceit. He would tend to take matters into his own hands. But he knew that God was there. When returning to confront his brother Esau, we see Jacob relying on his own scheming, but he also couples it with prayer. He recognizes his unworthiness and asks God to keep His promise to protect him (Genesis 32:9-12). Jacob bounced between faith in the promises of God and his fear of men. But don’t we all? Don’t we all see the hand of God in our life, but still doubt and fear? Don’t we all wrestle and contend with God, and then take matters into our own hands, doubting that He can really do what He has promised to do?

But when Jacob finally arrived safely home, having been restored to a right relationship with his long-estranged brother, he put up an altar and worshiped the One who had made it all possible. Jacob knew he had little or nothing to do with his success those 24 years or with his brother’s warm reception. It was all the work of God. So he called the place where he built his altar, El-Elohe-Israel – “a mighty God is the God of Israel.” It had taken 24 years, but Jacob had learned a valuable lesson about his God. Because this name was a personal statement. He is Israel and the God of whom he speaks is HIS God. He, Israel, served a mighty, powerful, personal God. His God was involved in his life. His God saw everything going on in his life. His God was a promise-keeping God. His God was a God who was willing to wrestle with him and not destroy him. His God was involved in every area of his life, behind the scenes, orchestrating every event and every circumstance. So what about your God? What about my God? Can I say, “a mighty God is the God of Ken?” Do I see Him? Am I wrestling with Him? Is my awareness of Him growing with each passing day? Do I trust Him to keep His promises to me?

Father, You are a mighty God. And You are trying to show me just how mighty You really are. Not just in history, but in my life every day. Give me a growing awareness of Your presence and power in my life. You are there and You care. You are working behind the scenes in ways I can’t even see. You wrestle with me virtually every day. Sometimes You leave me limping. But never let me miss Your presence in my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 29-30

God’s Way Vs. Man’s Way

“Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by giving her a child. Genesis 29:22 NLT

These two chapters are like watching a television soap opera. There is so much scheming, drama, deception, revenge, hatred, and gratuitous sex, it’s almost unbelievable. And the amazing thing is that you are seeing the twelve tribes of Israel come about right before your eyes. In chapter 29 you have the deceiver getting deceived. Jacob, the guy who had tricked his own brother out of his birthright, then deceived his father into giving the blessing intended for his brother to him, gets hoodwinked by his uncle Laban. He agrees to work seven years for his uncle in order to gain the hand of his daughter, Rachel. But after seven years of faithful service, on the night he is to consummate his marriage to Rachel, he is given her older sister Leah instead. The deceiver got deceived. A week later he is given Rachel as well, but he must work another seven years for his uncle.

Then the fun begins. Rachel is barren. But Leah is prolific. She bears him a number of sons. But Rachel bears him none. Jealousy ensues. And Rachel comes up with a plan much like her grand-mother-in-law did. She gives her handmaiden to Jacob so she might bear him children. And like his grandfather, he agrees. Rather than seek God’s help regarding his wife’s barrenness like his father Isaac had done for Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Jacob just gives in to Rachel’s wishes. And so Jacob has another set of sons through his wife’s handmaiden. Not to be outdone, Leah gives her handmaiden to Jacob and she bears him sons. Do you see the competition, jealousy, pride, and lack of leadership displayed in these two chapters. It is almost painful to watch. Rachel and Leah even bargain over their husband and their right to have sex with him (Genesis 30:15-16). Jacob is a pathetic figure in this story. He is a pawn in the hands of his wives and displays no spiritual leadership at all. And the entire story is another display of men and women attempting to do God’s will their own way. But they are all out for number one. Everyone is concerned for themselves. They could really care less for what God is interested in. But in verse 22 we see that in the midst of all this deception and intrigue, Rachel had been praying to God. She had yet to conceive. She had yet to give her husband a son. She had come up with her own plan, but it had not satisfied. She was still discontent. So she prayed. And God heard. And He answered. In spite of all the unfaithfulness, scheming, jealousy, revenge, and deception, God showed grace and intervened. He opened Rachel’s womb and she bore Jacob a son. And what an important son he would prove to be. This child would prove to be the savior of the descendants of Abraham. He would be God’s chosen one who would become the second-in-command to Pharaoh and who would one day provide Abraham’s descendants a safe haven in the land of Egypt. Little did Jacob, Rachel, and Leah know the significance of this one birth. But the same is true for us. In the midst of all our scheming and attempts to live life our way and on our own terms, God is at work behind the scenes. He is the God who sees. He is the God who knows what is best. He knew Rachel’s problem and He had a solution. He heard her prayers and He had an answer prepared. Oh, that we would learn to wait on God and call out to God in the midst of our problems. But like Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, we are always trying to solve things on our own. God is in control. He has a plan and His plan is perfect. He really doesn’t need our help. He wants to show us His power, but we are too busy trying to show Him our power. We are too busy working our plans to stop and ask Him what His might be. But when Rachel prayed, God heard. When Rachel called out, God responded. And He gave her a son. A son who would prove to be a literal god-send in the years ahead. God’s way is always the best way.

Father, Your way is always best. Your will is always right. You have a plan and You are working that plan out in perfection Forgive me when I try to help you out by implementing my own plan. I am just as guilty of scheming as Jacob, Rachel or Leah. Too often, my plans end up being in direct conflict with Yours. But I am thankful that Your plans are unstoppable. And that even when I have messed things up, you hear me cry out and You answer. You are faithful Father. And I am grateful. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 26-28

Like Father, Like Son

“And when the men there asked him about Rebekah, he said, “She is my sister.” He was afraid to admit that she was his wife. He thought they would kill him to get her, because she was very beautiful. Genesis 16:7 NLT

Have you ever noticed how it is that our kids seem to pick up all our worst habits? In fact, the things I get most frustrated about with my kids are usually habits they picked up from me. Like sponges, they seem to absorb character traits they see in us. And sometimes they take them to a whole new level. My wife has a saying she likes to use whenever she sees one of our kids emulating a habit or attitude of mine that is not exactly flattering – it’s “what parents do in moderation, children do to excess.”

You see this statement lived out in these three chapters of the book of Genesis. Abraham passed down to his son, Isaac, a certain predisposition to deception. All the way back in chapters 12 and 20, Abraham had convinced his wife Sarah to lie about being married to him, in order to protect himself. Because of her beauty, he was afraid that they would kill him in order to get to her. So he had her lie and say that she was his sister. Neither time was this sanctioned by God. And both times it nearly ended in disaster. Now here we are years later, long after Abraham has dies, and we find his son, Isaac, following in his footsteps. He repeats the sin of his father Abraham by commanding his wife Rebekah to lie and say that she is his sister. This was deja vu all over again. Similar situation. Same results. There was a famine in the land and Isaac is forced to move to a new place in order to keep his flocks alive. He is even directed by God where to go. But in spite of the fact that God was directing his path, he panics and allows fear to get the best of him. Instead of trusting God for his safety, he comes up with his own plan, involving deception and lying. But his deceit is quickly exposed and he is confronted about it by the citizens of the land in which he has settled. He only confessed it when confronted about it. Otherwise he would have continued living the lie – leaving his wife exposed to potential harm the entire time.

Yet in spite of all this, Isaac, like his father before him, is blessed beyond belief. We are told that “That year Isaac’s crops were tremendous! He harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the LORD blessed him. He became a rich man, and his wealth only continued to grow” (Genesis 26:12-12 NLT). But the blessing of God was not a reward for his behavior, but a reflection of God’s faithfulness. He was going to keep the covenant promise He had made to Abraham.

And while he was blessed and prosperous, Isaac would find that his deception would have long-term consequences. First of all, his deception caused the people of the land to distrust him. He was an unwelcome guest in their land. And his increasing affluence caused them to be jealous of him. They resented him. So much so that they tried to ruin him by filling in all his wells so that his herds would have no water. This conflict finally resulted in Isaac leaving their land and settling elsewhere. But in spite of Isaac’s mistakes, God was still in charge and ordering his future. God even reconfirmed His covenant with Isaac and restated His intent to give he and his descendants a land, a seed, and a blessing (Genesis 26:24).

But the gene of deception was going to get passed down yet again. This time to Jacob, Isaac’s son. We see this sad story in chapters 27-28. Jacob had already deceived his brother Esau once, having convinced him to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. Now Jacob and his mother conspire to deceive his father Isaac. They come up with a plan to deceive him into giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau. The interesting thing is that God had already told Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob. The younger son would rule over the elder son. But she decided God needed help in making this happen. And she chose to use deception to make it happen. Jacob was completely complicit in this whole affair. He played his part to the tee. He deceived his father and received the blessing. But once again, it was to result in less-than-perfect circumstances. Jacob would be forced to leave his father’s home and journey to his mother’s homeland, where he would live with her family. She intended this to be a brief stay, while Esau got over his anger for having been deceived. But it would actually be many years before Jacob returned, and she would never live long enough to see her son again. Their deception would prove incredibly costly. And Jacob the deceiver would find that a life of deception breeds deception. But that is a story for another day.

I guess the main message is the power that a life of deceit has over all those with whom it comes in contact. It is like a cancer, having a negative influence on the deceiver as well as the deceived. It produces discord, anger, resentment, jealousy, and results in disunity and further deception. Our intentions may be noble and our desires pure, but any time we choose deceit as our primary means of accomplishing our objectives, the results will always be negative. Deceit is antithetical to trust. We tend to deceive when we refuse to believe. We lie when we find it hard to rely on God. The Proverbs warn us, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12 NLT). Our deceptions may look good in the planning stages, but the results are always disappointing. Trusting is always better than deceiving. Just ask Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.

Father, how easy it is to try and deceive those around us. We don’t intend to deceive. We don’t even see it as deception. We just think we are coming up with a good plan to get us through the circumstances we are in. But instead of trusting You, we rely on our own faulty reasoning to deliver us. Show me how to trust You more. A lie of deception is deadly. Not only to me, but to all those around me. Especially my children. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 24-25

The Esau Syndrome

“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” Genesis 25:32 NLT

The spiritual versus the physical. These two areas of our lives are always in constant battle. The flesh against the Spirit. Over in Romans 8:5 we are told, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (NASB). In Galatians 6:8 we read, “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (NLT). This is the Esau Syndrome. Whenever we allow our flesh, our natural desires or appetites to control our lives, we are suffering from the Esau syndrome. In the story of Esau and Jacob, you have two men who, in spite of the fact they are twins, are polar opposites in respect to their personalities and lifestyles. They may have been born at the same time and from the same womb, but that is where the similarities end.

Esau was a man’s man, a hunter-gatherer, who loved the outdoors. Jacob was a “mama’s boy” who “was a peaceful man, living in tents” (Genesis 25:27). The New Living Translation describes him as “the kind of person who liked to stay at home.” But the real difference between these two men lie in their outlook or approach to life. It seems that Esau was a man who was controlled by his passions and his appetites. He was a man who lived in the moment, not particularly interested in future blessings or spiritual inheritances. He was driven by sight, what he could see and touch. This is made painfully clear in the story of chapter 25. He came in from the field and found his brother Jacob cooking up a pot of stew. Hungry and driven by his appetite, he asks his brother for a taste of the stew. He doesn’t even know what it is, referring to it simply as “red stuff.” Jacob takes advantage of this opportunity to make a deal with his brother. He would give him the stew in exchange for his inheritance. To any of us reading this story, we can’t help be struck by the inequality of this “bargain.” A bowl of lentil soup for an inheritance that was worth a fortune. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would Esau even agree to such an offer? It seems he is so driven by his physical appetites that he can’t help himself. He is willing to give up his rightful inheritance in exchange for a meal. But it also reveals his apparent disdain for his inheritance. It seems to have no value to him. It is not his at that moment. It is little more than a promise of future blessing. He can’t enjoy it now. It won’t even be his until his father is gone. So what good is it to him?

Driven by desire

What exactly is the Esau syndrome? We are given the answer in the book of Hebrews: “Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite” (Hebrews 12:16 MSG). The Esau Syndrome is to allow our physical appetites to overpower or control our spiritual appetites. It is any time we give in to the flesh instead of listening to the Spirit. I love the way Matthew Henry describes it in his commentary:

The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls: surely, if Esau was hungry and faint, he might have got a meal’s meat cheaper than at the expense of his birthright; but he was unaccountably fond of the colour of this pottage, and could not deny himself the satisfaction of a mess of it, whatever it cost him. Never better can come of it, when men’s hearts walk after their eyes (Job 31:7), and when they serve their own bellies: therefore look not thou upon the wine, or, as Esau, upon the pottage, when it is red, when it gives that colour in the cup, in the dish, which is most inviting, Proverbs 23:31. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the forces of most temptations.

Esau devalued the very thing that could bring value to his life: His inheritance. It meant little or nothing to him. “He is called profane Esau for it (Hebrews 12:16), because for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright, as dear a morsel as ever was eaten since the forbidden fruit; and he lived to regret it when it was too late. Never was there such a foolish bargain as this which Esau now made” (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible). Yet, we make similar bargain every day when we sell our “birthright” – our spiritual inheritance as saints – for the passing pleasures of this world. We give in to our appetites and sell ourselves short. We go for the immediate satisfaction of a sinful thought, a worldly pleasure, a physical enjoyment – rather than keeping our focus of the future. We tend to live for the immediate and are unwilling to wait for what God has in store for us. It is interesting to note that God had already told Rebekah that Jacob was going to get the inheritance. “The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other; the descendants of your older son will serve the descendants of your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT). But Esau would play a part in the forfeiture of the inheritance by selling it. It wouldn’t have to be taken from him because he would willingly sell it in exchange for something more immediate and physically gratifying.

As believers we have been promised a rich and valuable inheritance. It is ours and awaits us in the future. But because we live in the NOW, we sometimes struggle with waiting for it. So we “sell” it in exchange for more immediate gratification. We trade future blessing for immediate satisfaction. And like Esau, we live to regret it. The stew may taste great going down, but it will not last. It will not satisfy for long. We will always regret giving in to our physical appetites and live only to satisfy our sinful desires.

Father, I don’t want to live like Esau, driven by my physical appetites. I want to be a man who lives for You and who keeps my eyes on the prize. Forgive me though when I allow my flesh to dictate my decisions. Give me the strength to listen to the Spirit so that I might listen to His direction and enjoy the benefits of Your promises over the false promises of this world. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 23

A Promise, But No Land

“Here I am, a stranger in a foreign land, with no place to bury my wife. Please let me have a piece of land for a burial plot.” – Genesis 23:4 NLT

Have you ever had someone make a promise to you and not keep it? Or have you ever made a promise to someone else and fail to follow through on that promise? It happens all the time. And when it does, it usually causes us to lose trust in the one who made the promise. We begin to doubt their word. We question the believability of any and all promises they have made us. It’s only natural. So when we come to chapter 23 of Genesis, we find a story, that at first glance, doesn’t seem to have a lot of meat to it. It records the death of Sarah and Abraham’s bartering with the Hittites in order to buy a plot of land on which to bury her remains. It’s easy to just blow through this passage and miss out on what could be a very important point that Moses, the author, is trying to make.

When Sarah dies, Abraham makes plans to bury her. But he has a problem. He owns no land. Now this is significant. He is living in the very land that God had promised to give to he and his descendants, but at this point not one acre of it belongs to him. Yet over and over again God had reiterated His promise to give this land to Abraham and his descendants. Back in chapter 13, God had reaffirmed His promise to Abraham regarding the land: “Look as far as you can see in every direction. I am going to give all this land to you and your offspring as a permanent possession And I am going to give you so many descendants that, like dust, they cannot be counted! Take a walk in every direction and explore the new possessions I am giving you” (Genesis 13:14-17 NLT).

Seems pretty clear. God was going to give Abraham all the land he could see as his possession. Yet on the day Sarah died, he didn’t even own enough land to bury his wife. All he had was a future promise. According to God, this land would all be his someday. But at this moment, it belonged to Ephron the son of Zohar. According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham was a foreigner living in the very land that God had promised to give him. “And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith––for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent” (Hebrews 11:9 NLT).

Abraham was living by faith. He had been promised everything, but owned nothing. Yet, rather than complain to God about his lot in life, Abraham went about buying a plot of land – a plot of land that rightfully belonged to him. Why? The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us: “Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11:10 NLT). He had a future focus. He wasn’t going to limit the promises of God by putting a time limit on Him. He had learned this lesson while waiting on God’s promise of an heir. He had tried to put a time table on God’s promise and that had caused nothing but pain and sorrow. It had even caused him to take matters into his own hands. Which proved disastrous and disappointing. Abraham was learning to trust God. He was learning to believe that God’s timing was perfect and impeccable. Sarah had died never seeing the promise regarding the land fulfilled. But the same thing would happen to Abraham. He would live out his life never seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise. Yet he believed. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says this about Abraham and the others listed in the “Hall of Faith.” “All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). These people had a future focus. They welcomed or embraced the future fulfillment of God’s promises as if they were already here. They didn’t have to see the results to believe that they would happen.

A Heavenly Home

Was God going to give this land to Abraham and his descendants? You bet. Would Abraham ever see that happen? No. But he knew it would. And he also knew that God had something even better in store for him. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them” (Hebrews 11:16 NLT). Abraham wasn’t obsessed with owning land and extending his little kingdom on earth. He was content to let God work all that out on His own timeline.

What about us? Are we willing to trust God with the future? Are we willing to believe the promises of God even when they look as if they will never happen in our lifetime? That requires faith. “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Faith is what kept Abraham going. Faith is what kept him strong even when the promise was delayed. Chapter 11 of Hebrews, that great “Hall of Faith,” tells us of the great exploits of those who lived their lives by faith and not by sight. As a result, “Their weakness was turned to strength” (Hebrews 11:34 NLT). Oh for a generation of individuals who will “faith up” to the fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises.

Father, You are faithful all the time! You never fail to keep Your promises. Yet I still doubt and question whether You will. Give me the faith of Abraham. Let my weakness be turned to strength as I learn to trust You, confident that what You have promised is going to happen, even when I can’t see it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 21-22

The Lord Will Provide

Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Genesis 22:8 NASB

This statement by Abraham was not just lip service. He believed it. In spite of the fact that he was on his way to sacrifice his own son at the Lord’s command. He believed that God would see to it that everything turned out all right – even if he was forced to go through with the command to take his own son’s life. Over in the book of Hebrews we learn that Abraham even believed that if he had to go through with the plan to kill his own son, which he was more than willing to do, God would raise Isaac from the dead. “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.‘ Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT).

The Lord will provide. That is the theme of these two chapters. In fact, that is the name Abraham gave to the place where he was about to sacrifice his own son. In the Hebrew it is Yahweh Yireh and it literally means, “The Lord will see to it.” God had this situation well in hand and knew exactly what to do. Abraham could trust God for the outcome because God sees and knows. His plan is best. Abraham had been learning to trust God. This was not the first time Abraham had been asked to sacrifice a son by God. Back in chapter 21 God had told Abraham to send his firstborn by Hagar away into the wilderness. Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of Ishmael because of his mocking behavior towards Isaac. Her demand greatly distressed Abraham, but God confirmed that he was to listen to Sarah and send Ishmael away. “So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food for the journey, and strapped a container of water to Hagar’s shoulders. He sent her away with their son, and she walked out into the wilderness of Beersheba, wandering aimlessly” (Genesis 21:14 NLT). This had to have been hard for Abraham. But God had promised to take care of his son and to bless him. “But God told Abraham, ‘Do not be upset over the boy and your servant wife. Do just as Sarah says, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he also is your son'” (Genesis 21:12-13 NLT). Just a few verses later, after wandering around in the wilderness in despair, God visits Hagar and confirms His promise to her and the text says, “God was with the lad” (Genesis 21:20).

The Fear of the Lord

Just about the time Abraham was going to plunge the knife into his son’s body, God intervened. He stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice. And He immediately said to Abraham, “for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me” (Genesis 22:12 NLT). Abraham’s devotion to God was exhibited in his willingness to sacrifice that which was most dear to him – his own son. The son he had been waiting for all his life. The son who was the fulfillment of the promise of God and the hope of his future. But God meant more to him than even Isaac. God meant more to him than even Ishmael. God meant more to him than anything else. And he proved it with his actions.

Devotion in action

It’s easy to say we’re devoted to God. It’s another thing to live it out. But devotion is the key to godly character. If we are not truly devoted to God, we will not live for Him. We will not make Him first in our lives. Instead, we will allow all kinds of things to take precedence and priority over Him – even good things like our kids, marriage, career, or ministry. We will say we are devoted to God, but live with a host of other things that hold a higher place in our hearts and minds. God will ask us to sacrifice them, to let go of them, in order to prove our devotion to Him, but we will tend to hold on to them like a dog with a rag. Abraham could have attempted to hold on to Ishmael and Isaac, but instead, he was willing to let them go, because God meant more to him than anything or anyone else. Every day, God is asking you and me to let go of our pride, our self-sufficiency, our reputation, our plans, our finances, our careers, our stuff – all in order to prove that He means more to us than anything else. And when we do He proves Himself to us, by seeing to it that we find all that we ever needed or desired in Him. We discover that God really does provide.

Father, You are the great provider. But so often I place my hopes on other things or other people to provide what only You can. Abraham could have decided not to obey You because he had put all his hope for the future in Isaac. But he knew that You alone could fulfill Your promises to him. He was going to have to trust You. And I want to do the same. I want to grow in my devotion to You and my trust in You. You are the one who sees and provides. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 19-20

The Foul Fruit of Sin

“Then Abimelech called for Abraham. “What have you done to us?” he demanded. “What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done! Whatever possessed you to do such a thing? Genesis 20:9-10 NLT

In these two chapters we see the continued ramifications of sin in the lives of men. Lot, who had greedily chosen the land near Sodom (Genesis 13:10-11) when given the opportunity by Abraham, had ended up settling right in the city itself. He had become a regular fixture in the community, even sitting at the gate as one of the city leaders. But he had chosen to live and raise his two daughters in an environment that was anything but righteous. All indications are that Lot had retained his belief in Yahweh. He had not taken part in the unrighteous behavior of Sodom. Surprisingly, Peter refers to Lot as a good and righteous man. “But at the same time, God rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a good man who was sick of all the immorality and wickedness around him. Yes, he was a righteous man who was distressed by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day” (2 Peter 2:7-8 NLT). Lot had made a bad decision and found himself living in the midst of extreme sexual perversion. It was so bad, that it even got God’s attention so that He sent angels to bring judgment on the city. But rather than move, Lot chose to stay. He had become comfortable living where he was, even though the lifestyles of his fellow Sodomites “distressed” him. He probably thought he could survive unharmed and untainted by all that went on around him. But he had already allowed his daughters to become engaged to two men from Sodom, who both laughed in his face when he tried to warn them to flee the judgment to come. Lot’s own wife had fallen in love with Sodom and gazed longingly back at the city when given the chance to escape. The result was her own destruction.

All throughout these chapters you see the sad consequences of disobedience to God. Lot’s seemingly innocent decision to live in Sodom was now having dramatic effects on his family. His wife was dead, his daughters’ fiances had been destroyed, and he found himself living in a cave. It is there that we see the influence living in Sodom had had on his own daughters. They come up with a plan to keep their family’s legacy alive by having sex with their own father. That these two girls should come up with such a plan is shocking, but not surprising when considering the environment in which they were raised. They had seen it all. They had been exposed to some of the most degrading sexual perversions known to man. And it had had an influence on them. The result of their perverted sexual encounter with their own father were two children. One was Moab and the other was Ammon. The descendants of these two boys would be the Moabites and the Ammonites, two nations that would become enemies of the nation of Israel.

Deja Vu All Over Again!

Lot’s sins had ramifications. But so did the sin of Abraham. Once again, he resorts to protecting his own hide by putting his wife at risk. He exposes the mother of his future heir-to-be to the sexual advances of the king of Gerar by convincing her to lie and say she is his sister. The king takes her into his harem with the intent of treating her as one of his sex slaves. That Abraham would do this again, after being chastised by God the first time, is amazing. This man of faith still struggled with a lack of faith at times. And had it not been for the protective hand of God, this whole story could have turned out for the worse. But God intervened and warned the king in a dream not to touch Sarah. When the king finds out the truth he confronts Abraham. He is angry and confused. Why would Abraham do this to him? What had he done to Abraham to deserve this kind of treatment? He was innocent and blameless compared to Abraham. And yet, all Abraham could do was give three lame excuses for his actions. But those actions almost had disastrous effects. God was about to bring destruction on an entire nation because of the sin of Abraham.

Sin Is A Cancer

Sin is anything but harmless. How many time have we heard someone say when confronted about their sin, “I’m not hurting anybody else!” We somehow believe that our sin is isolated and has no impact on anyone but ourselves. But these two chapters and the whole of the Bible prove otherwise. Our sin spreads. Like a cancer, it grows and influences those around us. Our decisions have consequences. Our sin produces fruit. Sure, we can be forgiven if we confess. That is a promise of God. But that does not mean our sin will not have an impact on us and those around us. God rescued Lot, but his own daughters had already been soiled by the sinfulness of Sodom. God spared Abraham, but not before an entire nation found that all their women had become barren and unable to conceive because of the judgment of God (Genesis 20:18). Our sins produce fruit. Which should cause us to think long and hard before we commit them. The Scriptures give us a clear picture of what our sins can produce. Our subtle sins can produce serious ramifications.

Father, help me to see the seriousness of my own sin and the negative fruit it produces. I want to learn to stop rationalizing it and justifying it like Abraham did. I want to be able to claim integrity of heart and innocence of hands like Abimelech did. But I know that to do that I have to lean more and more on You and less on myself. I have to grow in my aware of and dependence on You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men