All In God’s Timing

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:10 ESV

Abram was on the move. He had built a second altar in the hill country near Bethel, but then had “journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb” (Genesis 12:9 ESV). Once again, the text provides no reason for Abram’s choice of destinations, but since the entire book showcases the sovereignty of God, it makes perfect sense to assume that these excursions were divinely ordained and directed. Abram was being led by God.

And, after having passed through Shechem in central Canaan, Abram had traveled further south to the region just east of Bethel. And while Abram had pitched his tent there, he did not stay long, choosing instead to continue his journey to the southernmost tip of Canaan, a desert region known as the Negeb. This name, in Hebrew, is נֶגֶב (neḡeḇ), which literally means “south.” For some undisclosed, but sovereignly ordained reason, Abram was moving away from the heart of Canaan, the very land that God had promised to give to his descendants. And verse 10 provides the first hint at what might be behind God’s rather strange navigational directions to Abram.

Now there was a famine in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

For some seemingly inexplicable reason, God had directed Abram to leave behind the rich and fertile heart of Canaan and travel to the most arid region in the entire land. But there was a method to God’s madness. He was sovereignly orchestrating the entire scene and putting into place all the factors that would lead to Abram’s brief but consequential “sojourn” to Egypt.

So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

The Hebrew word for “sojourn” is גּוּר (gûr), and it means “to temporarily dwell.” To be a “sojourner” was to live temporarily as a “stranger” in another land. Because of the severity of the famine, Abram was forced to seek refuge and sustenance in the land of Egypt. But, once again, this decision appears to be God-ordained and orchestrated. For the Jews who read Moses’ account, this retelling of Abram’s flight into Egypt would have helped to explain their own historical ties to the land of the Pharaohs. There had been a time when their patriarch, Jacob, had made a similar decision to seek shelter in Egypt. Genesis 42 retells the story of Jacob’s fateful decision to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain because there was a famine in the land of Canaan.

“Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. – Genesis 42:2-3 ESV

But when the brothers arrived in Egypt, they discovered far more than grain. They reconnected with their younger brother, Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery years earlier. Much to their surprise, the brother whom they had assumed to be dead, was very much alive and had risen to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. And rather than seeking revenge on his brothers, Joseph chose to bless them, inviting them to fetch their father and return to Egypt where they could live out the famine.

The brothers did as they were told. They traveled back to Canaan, broke the news to Jacob that his long-lost son was alive, and issued Joseph’s invitation to relocate the entire family to Egypt. And Genesis 46 reveals that Jacob “came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac”

Jacob did as his grandfather had done before him. He called upon the name of the Lord, worshiping the Almighty for his goodness and grace. And while at Beersheba, God visited Jacob in a dream, providing him with a powerful promise.

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 ESV

The similarities are undeniable and fully intentional. Abram’s relationship with Pharaoh and the land of Egypt was meant to foreshadow the future of his own descendants. Egypt would end up playing a significant role in the redemptive history of the people of Israel. This land of Abram’s sojourn would become the God-ordained source of Israel’s future, serving as a divine petri dish in which God would cultivate a nation and fulfill the promise He had made to Abram.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:2 ESV

Whether Abram realized it or not, his decision to seek shelter in Egypt was ordained by God. There was going to be a long and, sometimes, tumultuous relationship between Abram’s descendants and this land located to the east of Canaan. In fact, not long after Abram’s temporary foray into Egypt, Abram would receive one of those “I’ve-got-good-news-and-bad-news” announcements from God.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s ancestors, but now there was a famine in the land. This “unexpected” natural disaster forced Abram to temporarily relocate his family, and Egypt seemed to be the only logical location. Famine-stricken Canaan lay to the north and the arid and barren Nebeb to the west was out of the question. So, Abram had only one option: Seek refuge in Egypt. This “choice” by Abram foreshadows Jacob’s future flight into the Valley of the Nile, but it also points to another divinely orchestrated escape from certain death.

In Matthew 2, the apostle records the story of the birth of Jesus, whom he describes as “the son of Abraham” in the opening verse of his book (Matthew 1:1). According to the genealogy recorded in chapter 1, Jesus was a direct descendant of Abram. And, not long after Jesus’ birth, Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, received a vision from God, warning him of King Herod’s plans to kill the boy.

…the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:13-15 ESV

It was not safe for Joseph and his young family to remain in the land. Death loomed over them but God had already planned a way of escape. For a time, they “sojourned” in Egypt, while Herod enacted his pogrom of infanticide, aimed at eliminating “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV).

But Herod’s attempts to kill Jesus would fail. And in time, this human “famine” would come to his own ignominious end, paving the way for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to return to the land of promise.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. – Matthew 2:19-21 ESV

For the people of Israel, the land of Egypt would always be a place marked by refuge and heartache. At times, it would prove to be a haven of hope and safety, while at other times it would be a place associated with great pain and sorrow. In the case of Abram, Egypt was a logical alternative to remaining in famine-plagued Canaan. Egypt also provided a source of sustenance from certain starvation to Jacob and his family. But it was also the place where Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, was restored to him. He who was once thought dead was “resurrected” and restored to life. And Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, would find Egypt to be a safe haven from the deadly plans of Herod. His young son would live to see another day because God had provided refuge in the land of Egypt.

God had promised to bless Abram, and He was going to do so by sending him to the unlikely land of the Pharaohs and the pyramids. This trip into Egypt had not been a mistake by Abram. His actions do not reflect a lack of faith any more than Jacob’s or Joseph’s did. He was simply following the directions of God. But that does not mean that his time in Egypt would be without problems. The fact that God led him into Egypt is no guarantee that Abram would find himself well-fed and completely free from pain or suffering. His days as a stranger in a strange land would be a time of testing. But it would also be a time of great blessing, as God sovereignly orchestrated His plan to make of Abram a great nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Our Sinless, Suffering Savior

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 ESV

One of the truly fascinating things about studying Scripture is how the Spirit of God constantly reveals new insights that had previously been hidden from view. So often, we can find ourselves reading through a passage and focusing on a portion that seems particularly relevant to our current circumstances. Then, at a later date, we read the same passage and discover something we had overlooked. For instance, I had never noticed the statement made by Luke in chapter 21, verse 37.

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. – Luke 21:37 NLT

I had assumed that Jesus returned each evening to the nearby village of Bethany where Lazarus and his two sisters resided. I had never noticed that Jesus and His disciples had actually been camping out on the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern walls of Jerusalem.

But on this night, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was located on the Mount of Olives. Once there, He instructed His disciples to pray, then He took Peter, James, and John and found a more isolated spot where He informed them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NLT). According to Matthew, Jesus was “anguished and distressed” (Matthew 26:37 NLT). As the moment of His suffering and death drew nearer, Jesus could feel the intensity and immensity of the burden He was about to bear. The scene as described by the gospel writers paints an image of increasing isolation as Jesus moves from the company of the 11 to the more intimate companions of Peter, James, and John. And then, it ends with Jesus in completely isolated and alone, except for the presence of His Heavenly Father.

…he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed… – Luke 22:41 ESV

From 11 to three to one. Jesus was entering a period marked by extreme sorrow and pain, and none of His disciples could fathom its weight or empathize with His suffering. Matthew describes Jesus as bowing down “with his face to the ground” (Matthew 26:39 NLT). Mark provides an added detail that describes the intensity of Jesus’ actions.

he fell on the ground – Mark 14:35 ESV

Jesus was emotionally vested in the moment. His entire being was experiencing the full brunt of the responsibility given to Him by His Father. In this seminal moment of Jesus’ life, we are given a vivid portrait of both His divinity and humanity. He was fully God and fully human, and nowhere does this unique union of two essences become more evident than in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Son of God, Jesus declares His intention to faithfully fulfill the will of His Father. But as the Son of Man, Jesus displays His humanity and a natural aversion to the intense suffering He is about to undergo. He openly and honestly shares His heart with the Father.

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus was not an automaton, preprogrammed to mechanically adhere to a predetermined set of instructions. He was not simply going through the motions. And we tend to forget that, as a man, Jesus would endure all the intense pain, heartache, physical and emotional trauma that any other man would feel who was forced to endure scourging and crucifixion. And yet, He was prepared to do it on His own initiative and not because He was being forced to do so.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

At one time, Jesus had described Himself as “the good shepherd” and added that “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT). And He made it perfectly clear that His sacrifice was voluntary and not coerced.

“I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:15 NLT

Jesus did not have a death wish. As a human, He knew that the pain ahead would be excruciating. Yet, as God, He knew it was also inescapable. His human nature was revolted at the prospect of death by crucifixion. He knew it would be like nothing He had ever experienced before or ever again. And, in allowing Himself to endure such a devastatingly cruel form of execution, Jesus was making Himself one with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

One of the things we fail to recognize is that the mental, emotional, and psychological suffering Jesus endured prior to the cross is what makes Him an empathetic and understanding Savior. He understands our pain because He has endured it. He knows the reality of the fear and apprehension that so often grips our lives because He experienced it. He is intimately familiar with those moments when our will stands in direct opposition to God’s. But what He models for us is a complete reliance upon and submission to His Father’s sovereign will for His life.

“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus’ death on the cross was not performance art. He was not pretending to bleed. He wasn’t putting on a well-rehearsed show that appeared real but was really all an act. No, the pain was intense. The beatings took their toll. The nails pierced through real flesh, severing real veins, and spilling real human blood. His muscles were cramped. His breath grew labored. His sight became blurred from the sweat, the blood, and the unrelenting pain. And yet, knowing all of this long before it happened, Jesus was willing to endure it – all for us.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

Luke provides us with insight into the intensity of Jesus’ prayer time. This was not a “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” kind of prayer. It was so emotionally exhausting and draining that “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43 NLT). But even this divinely ordained respite failed to make the rest of Jesus’ prayer time any less difficult. If anything, it seems to have renewed and re-energized Jesus’ efforts.

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. – Luke 22:44 NLT

It is impossible to know the exact meaning behind this reference to sweat falling like drops of blood. Suffice it to say, this was an intensely emotional experience for Jesus. Every aspect of His being was engaged and impacted by this moment. Yet, both Mark and Matthew record that while Jesus was pouring out His heart and exhausting every last vestige of emotional energy, the disciples were fast asleep (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37). Luke seems to cut them some slack by indicating that they were “exhausted from grief” (Luke 22:45 NLT).

It’s interesting to consider that Jesus was grieved, yet He faced it by asking that His Heavenly Father’s will be done. He knew that His sorrow was real, but that it took a backseat to the divine plan for mankind’s redemption. But the disciples faced their sorrow through escape. They sought relief from their grief by sleep rather than prayer. In a sense, they sought their own will. Instead of facing the unappealing prospect of suffering by submitting to God’s will, they chose the temporary prospect of sleep.

So, Jesus woke them and warned, “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (Luke 22:46 NLT). What Luke chooses to leave out of his narrative is that Jesus directed this statement to Peter, one of the three whom He had chosen to accompany Him further into the garden. And Jesus made this statement the first time He found Peter, James, and John asleep. 

He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

This was the same man who had boldly declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33 ESV). And yet, Jesus knew that it would only be a matter of time before Peter would deny even knowing Him. What Peter needed was divine help, not sleep. What Peter should have been doing was praying. But he was about to learn the truth behind Jesus’ words: The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Numbers 35-36, John 9

City of Refuge.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV

God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God’s holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.

The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn’t long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God’s word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve’s own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God’s choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God’s abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin’s destructive power and God’s righteous judgment.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man’s proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin’s devastating consequences.

In the gospels we read of Jesus’ constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man’s malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God’s creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin’s presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God’s gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin’s condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God’s acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.

Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org