Our Covenant-Keeping God.

1 For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord‘s land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. – Isaiah 14:1-2 ESV

These two short verses may be short, but they are overflowing with significance. And yet, it is easy for us to read them and gloss over what they say – not so much about Israel, but about the God of Israel. They speak volumes about the character of God. In the midst of all the warnings concerning Judah’s coming judgment and the future fall of Babylon, God recommits Himself to keep the covenant promise He made to Abraham.

When God called Abraham out of Ur, He had told him:

“And 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And God led Abraham from his homeland to a new land, the land of Canaan. And when Abraham arrived in this new land, God made another promise to him:

“To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:7 ESV

God would later reiterate and expand on that promise.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

Years later, when Abraham had been living in the land for some time, God told Him:

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” – Genesis 15:1 ESV

But Abraham had responded with doubt and a bit of confusion. He knew the promises God had made to him, but he also knew that they were going to be impossible to fulfill, because he and his wife Sarah remained childless.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’”And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir. – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV

As far as Abraham could see, God’s promise remained unfulfilled and, based on their circumstances, would most likely remain so. nd Abraham’s doubt was from unfounded.

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. – Genesis 18:11 ESV

There were both very old and, on top of that, Sarah was barren. Not exactly the most conducive circumstances in which to watch God work. But God was undeterred and stood by His original commitment. In fact, He reiterated it again.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God was going to do the impossible. The advanced years of Abraham and Sarah would be no obstacle for Him. Her barrenness would prove to be anything but a problem. God would do what He had promised to do and He would do it in a great way.

But then, along with the good news, God revealed to Abraham some bad news.

“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. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God broke the news to Abraham that his many descendants would end up slaves in a foreign land for a period of 400 years. How do you think that set with Abraham’s understanding of the promise of God? How was he supposed to digest this bit of sober news and reconcile it with God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to his offspring as a possession? But notice that God told Abraham that, after 400 years, they would return to the land. And we know from the book of Exodus, that God kept that promise.

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:5-7 ESV

Yes, they ended up in Egypt. And there were only 70 of them when they arrived. But it didn’t take long before they had increased their numbers significantly. So much so, that the Pharaoh became fearful of them and devised a plan to deal with them.

“Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” – Exodus 1:9-10 ESV

Even under the oppressive actions of the Pharaoh, the people of God continued to multiply. And God, after the 400-year time period had passed, sent His servant, Moses, to set His people free. God had chosen to fulfill His promise to give Abraham as many descendants as the stars in the sky by sending them to Egypt. It was there that their numbers increased dramatically, under the provision and protection of the Pharaoh. It was only when their numbers grew to such a degree that they caught Pharaoh’s attention, that the persecution began. But God had a plan for that as well. He would set them free and return them to their land. And, long after they had escaped from their slavery in Egypt, God would remind the people of Israel:

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 NLT

This story of God’s unfailing commitment to His covenant promise to Abraham flows all throughout the Old Testament. The people of Israel eventually made it back to the land, where God gave them victories over their enemies and allowed them to possess the land He had promised to Abraham. He had increased their numbers while they were in Egypt, so that they would prove to be a formidable force when they arrived in the land. There was a method to God’s seeming madness. His ways are not our ways. He does things according to His divine will and in ways that sometimes make no sense to us. But God had told Abraham:

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

Now, years later, God was speaking through Isaiah to the people of Judah. He was addressing the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were in the midst of turmoil. They had enemies aligned against them. They were making allliances with pagan nations in the hope they would protect them. And God was warning them of His coming judgment against them. But here in chapter 14, He reminds them of His covenant faithfulness.

“For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land.” – Isaiah 14:1 ESV

In all the darkness of their circumstances, God sheds the light of His mercy and the hope of His covenant faithfulness. The people of Judah would eventually fall to the Babylonians and end up living as slaves in a foreign land. But like He had done with the people of Israel in Egypt, God would return the people of Judah to the land. Unlike the group that left Egypt, the number of those who would return to the land from Babylon would be small. They would be a remnant. But they would return. And they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, reconstruct the temple of God, and reinstitute the sacrificial system.

God paints a picture that depicts the tables as turned. Rather than being slaves, the nations will serve the people of Judah. In fact, God speaks of a restored nation of Israel, a recombined and reinvigorated nation where there will no longer be a northern and southern kingdom

…the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord‘s land as male and female slaves. – Isaiah 14:2 ESV

This is extremely important, because it reveals an as-yet-to-be-fulfilled aspect to this promise from God. While a remnant of the people did eventually return from captivity in Babylon, they never regained the former glory they had enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon. They would prove to be an insignificant player on the global stage and would find themselves constantly at the mercy of their enemies. Eventually, they would fall to the Romans and find themselves living under the heavy hand of the Caesar.

But the point in all of this is that God will keep His covenant promise to Israel. He will regather them to the land. He will reestablish them as His covenant people. He will one day restore their fortunes and redeem them from their slavery to sin. Because He is the covenant-keeping God. And the apostle Paul speaks of that coming day.

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

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

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All Things New!

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1-8 ESV

In a way, this chapter provides a link all the way back to the opening chapter of the very first book of the Bible, where we read the words, “In the beginning…” (Genesis 1:1) . The universe and all it contains once had a beginning, a starting place, a point in history when God stepped into time and space and created ex nihilo – out of nothing. And all that He made, He deemed good. But that creation was eventually marred by sin. The good that God had made was made wicked because of man’s choice to rebel against the sovereign will of God. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the entrance of sin into God’s creation left its mark on all that God had made, including mankind and the world it inhabited.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:20-21 ESV

But with the opening of chapter 21 of Revelation, John is given the privilege of seeing what will be a brand new beginning. In a sense, it will be Genesis 1 all over again. Take a look at the amazing similarities. In Genesis 1:1, God made the heavens and the earth. In Revelation 21:1, John is shown a new heaven and a new earth. In the Genesis account, we are told that God created the sun, but in Revelation 21:23, John notes that there will be no need for the sun, because the glory of God provides all the light needed. And while God originally created night, with the new beginning, there will be no place or reason for its existence. Darkness is the absence of light and, since God is light, and His righteousness will rule the new creation, there will never be a lack of His pervading, illuminating presence. In Genesis 3:19, we have the entrance of death into the original creation account. But in verse four of this chapter, we are told “death shall be no more.” And John states quite matter-of-factly, “the former things have passed away,” which includes all mourning, crying and pain.

Back in chapter 20, in verse 11, John described seeing Jesus seated on the great white throne and he stated that, “From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.” Now, with the opening of chapter 21, we get a better idea of what he meant by that statement, because he “saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1 ESV). He does not tell us how this will happen, but just that it will. The old will be replaced with the new. Peter provides us with some insight into the nature of this radical transformation. He describes how God made the original universe and how “the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God” (2 Peter 3:5 ESV). And then he goes to describe how, at one time, God spoke again and “by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:6 ESV). Finally, Peter lets us know what will happen when God chooses to make all things new.

“…by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” – 2 Peter 3:7 ESV

But wait, there’s more.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” – 2 Peter 3:10 ESV

We don’t know exactly how God is going to accomplish all of this, but we can rest assured that it will be done. He will make all things new. He will re-create His creation. And the prophet Isaiah quotes the words of God Himself, speaking of the very day John is being given the privilege of seeing in advance.

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress. – Isaiah 65:17-19 ESV

And John states, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ESV). The information John provides us about this city is quite sparse at this point, and he doesn’t immediately give us a detailed description. He simply states its arrival. But John does hear a loud voice, emanating from heaven, and shouting, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). With the arrival of the New Jerusalem, the presence of God returns to the earth in a permanent form. The unbroken fellowship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God as they walked in the garden will be recreated as God sets us His tabernacle and His Holy City on earth. Again, one of the Old Testament prophets, this time Ezekiel, wrote down the words of God, promising to keep the covenant He had made with His people, return them to the land and return to their midst in all His glory.

26 “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” – Ezekiel 37:26-28 ESV

This is an important promise made by God, because earlier in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet was given a vision of God’s glory leaving the sanctuary. He was abandoning the place in Jerusalem where His glory had dwelt above the mercy seat for generations, but because of the sin and rebellion of the people of Israel, God would no longer tolerate living in their presence.

18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. – Ezekiel 10:18-19 ESV

But with the vision of John, the glory of God returns. And John pronounces the good news that, with His return, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). The presence of God brings joy, peace, life, contentment, fulfillment, comfort, and a sense of unbroken, undiminished love to the earth. And there will be no Satan or sin to mar this scene. Those who live under the new heaven and on the new earth, will be redeemed and glorified. Their bodies will be new and in their eternal, glorified states. Their natures will be sinless and perfectly righteous. And that is why Jesus, the one seated on the throne can boldly declare, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). Notice the interesting contrast between this statement and the one that follows. Jesus first says, “I am making…” and it is a present active verb, indicating an action that is in process. And yet, in the very next verse, Jesus says, “It is done!” It carries with it the idea of completion. He has accomplished all that He has set out to do. In a sense, throughout the entire book of Revelation, John has been seeing the work of God unfolding in all its intricate details. And when Jesus states that He is making all things new, He follows it with a command for John to “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). At this point, John is still in note-taking mode, chronicling all that is going to happen. Remember, this is a prophetic book. But John also hears Jesus say that it is done, because the final outcome of all that is going to happen is assured. It’s going to happen just as John has been shown, down to the very last detail. And Jesus adds yet one more statement and this time it appears to be a promise for the future. 

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” – Revelation 21:6 ESV

As the events of the tribulation come to a close, we can find ourselves overwhelmed by all the imagery, including the description of a city descending from heaven. But Jesus reminds us that the real miracle of all this has to do with eternal life. He is going to quench the spiritual thirst of all those whom come to Him. It recalls the promise made to the Samaritan woman who Jesus met at the well one day.

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provided us with this reassuring promise from God:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price. – Isaiah 55:1 ESV

Jesus lets us know that all those who conquer, which is simply a reference to all those who will be standing in the presence of God the Father and God the Son, because of  Christ’s victory over sin and death, will inherit all that has been promised to them. And they will enjoy their permanent position as children of God – for all eternity.

But there is devastating news for all those who refused to accept the grace of God in the form of His free offer of unblemished righteousness, made possible through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. With His death, Jesus offered up His righteousness in exchange for our sin. He took on our debt and paid our penalty with His own life. But for all who refused His offer, their eternity is secure, but in a very different way.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 ESV

The book of Revelation provides us with a stern warning and a comforting reminder. There is a judgment to come. And God’s offer of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone is not just a nice gesture on God’s part. It is the determining factor to every man’s eternal state.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

What Has God Done?

On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.

Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” – Genesis 42:18-28 ESV

Joseph determined to keep up his charade a bit longer. After three days of confinement, had his brothers brought into his presence once again. Using an interpreter, Joseph informs his brothers that he will allow them to go, but only under certain conditions. One of them must stay behind as a guarantee, and the rest must return with their youngest brother. They will be allowed to purchase grain and take it with them for their families, but each of them will be required to return in order to save the life of the one brother who will be left behind. Joseph is testing his brothers by placing a huge temptation right in front of them. He remembers full well how easy they had found it to get rid of him. So he provides them with another opportunity to reveal their true character. He is not going to dictate which brother will stay behind, but will leave that decision up to them. Would they take advantage of the situation to get rid of yet another less-than-favorite brother, choosing to never return and leaving him to deal with the governor’s anger?

The brothers, shocked and dismayed by the situation in which they find themselves, begin to talk among themselves. They assume that Joseph, who in their eyes is obviously an Egyptian, cannot understand them because he has been utilizing an interpreter. But he overhears their conversation as they begin to discuss and debate their dire circumstance. They immediately assume this is God’s payback for the sin they had committed against their brother, Joseph, more than 20 years ago. Reuben, utilizing a bit of revisionist history, reminds them that he was the one who told them “not to sin against the boy” (Genesis 42:22 ESV). Then he smugly adds, “But you did not listen.” The truth is, that is not exactly how it went down. What Reuben had actually said was, “Let’s not kill him. Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him” (Genesis 37:21-22 NLT). Now, in his defense, Reuben had planned to sneak back later that night and rescue Joseph from the cistern and return him to his father. But that part of the plan had never been revealed to the brothers. As far as they were concerned, he was also willing to let Joseph die. It was actually Judah who saved Joseph’s life by recommending that they sell him as a slave rather than kill him. But as the brothers bickered and debated, Joseph overheard their conversation and saw their fear and regret for what they had done. And he wept. He could sense their remorse. He could feel their pain as they struggled with what they had done and wrestled with the apparent divine justice that God was finally bringing on them.

So Joseph made their task a bit easier by choosing Simeon, the second oldest, as the one to stay behind. Then he had their sacks filled with grain. Not only that, he secretly instructed that the money each of the brothers had paid for their grain be put back in their sacks. And he provided them with provisions for the long journey home. This is a significant feature of the story. The brothers had come to Egypt to buy grain. The goal given to them by Jacob, their father, was to purchase what was necessary to save the lives of their families. He had sent them with the instructions, “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” (Genesis 42:2 ESV). They were to purchase their own salvation. The brothers, each guilty of selling their brother into slavery, were going to use their personal resources to try and escape the devastating and ultimately, deadly, effects of the famine. But when they had purchased their grain, Joseph saw to it that their money was returned to them. Their salvation would be based on his mercy, not their merit or resources. Joseph had every right to enact revenge, but instead he chose to show grace – undeserved favor. He gave them what they did not deserve. He provided them with salvation, when what they really deserved was justice.

On the way home, the mood must have somber. They would have had plenty of time to think about what they had done and regret their actions. When they stopped along the way to feed their donkeys, things took an even worse turn, as they made the shocking discovery that their money was still in their sacks. It is interesting to note that their conclusion was negative, not positive. They exclaimed, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28 ESV). They saw this as another example of God’s divine payback for their previous sin. What they didn’t realize was that this was actually the merciful hand of God, providing them with salvation rather than condemnation. Joseph had given them the grain they needed as a gift. It was free. Their money was not necessary. They would simply have to accept it willingly and joyously. But their reaction was one of fear. They immediately saw the presence of their money as proof of God’s unabsolved anger with them. Little did they know that the salvation God had in mind was going to be far greater than sacks full of grain and temporary relief from a famine. He had bigger things in store for them. He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham. He was going to give them a land. He was going to make them a great nation. He was going to bless the nations through them. What is this thing that God has done to us? A great thing. A divinely ordained thing. A good, gracious, merciful, kind and undeserved thing.

 

Surprised By God.

This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. – Genesis 41:37-49 ESV

The events recorded in these verses, while serendipitous in appearance, are anything but that. They are the evidence of God’s sovereign work in the life of Joseph and in the affairs of God’s people, the children of Abraham. God had sovereignly ordained the circumstances of Joseph’s life to culminate in this very moment and with this specific outcome. Of all people, Joseph was probably the most surprised by the sequence of events that took place and the rapidity with which it all happened. One day Joseph is a prisoner, the next he is being handed the signet ring of Pharaoh and awarded the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. His was truly a rags-to-riches story. He was given an Egyptian name, fine clothes to wear, expensive jewelry, unprecedented power, and a wife from one of the most prestigious families in Egypt.

There is an interesting phrase in these verses that probably struck a chord with Joseph and brought back a wave of memories. As Joseph was paraded around the city in a chariot, he was preceded by servants who called out to all those along the way, “Bow the knee!” This was not an invitation, but a command. It was directed at anyone and everyone, regardless of their social standing or net worth. Everyone had to bow before Joseph. As these words rang out over and over again, Joseph could not have helped thinking about the dreams he had had all those years ago.

Listen to this dream I had: There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it! – Genesis 37:6-7 ESV

“I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me. – Genesis 37:9 ESV

Was this his dreams coming true? What did all this mean? Joseph’s head had to have been swimming with questions of all kinds. Everything was moving so fast. Before he could catch his breath, he found himself overseeing the well-being of the entire kingdom of Egypt, answering directly to Pharaoh himself. He had gone from his father’s favorite son wearing a coat of many colors to Pharoah’s right-hand man, wearing fine linens and gold chains around his neck. His new position came with heavy responsibilities. He was tasked with putting into action the very advice he had given to Pharaoh after having interpreted his dream.

Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land. – Genesis 41:33-36 NLT

And Joseph did just as he had advised. The first seven years were agriculturally abundant, producing a record yield and allowing him to store away plenty of produce in an emergency reserve. The seven years of plenty were a literal God-send, providing more than was needed and creating a surplus that would meet needs when the seven years of drought and famine came. This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. Like Noah building an ark before the floods came, God was providing Joseph with a plan to preserve life and prepare the way for His redemptive plan for mankind. This was about more than Joseph getting rewarded a cushy job and well-deserved reward for his endurance and patience with God. God was using Joseph to accomplish His greater will and to bring about a much grander outcome than his personal promotion.

It is doubtful that Joseph knew the full import of what was going on. He was not yet privy to God’s greater plan. He had no way of knowing what God was intending to do and how it would involve the very brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery all those years ago. Joseph had been estranged from his father and brothers for years. He was, in effect, an Egyptian. He had an Egyptian name, an Egyptian wife, and a job serving in the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh. And yet, he never let go of his Hebrew heritage. He never forgot that he was a descendant of Abraham and one of God’s chosen people. He may not have known exactly what God was doing, but he knew God was up to something.

Joseph had been surprised by God. But he shouldn’t have been. As those who claim to believe in God and who profess to have a saving relationship with His Son, we should never be surprised by what God does. We should live with a confidant awareness that He is at work and an eager anticipation that His providential power is going to be revealed at any minute. He may be out-of-sight for the moment, but His presence will soon be revealed and His plan unfolded right before our eyes. The words of Paul to Timothy should give us comfort and provide us with conviction regarding God’s faithfulness.

“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” – 2 Timothy 2:13 NLT

A High View of God.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” – Genesis 40:1-8 ESV

It is important to look back on an important detail from the previous part of the story. In chapter 39 we read, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). A little later on, in chapter 40, we are told it is “the house of the captain of the guard” (Genesis 40:3 ESV). This was most likely a building attached or adjacent to  Potiphar’s house so that he could keep his eye on these royal prisoners. Because Joseph had been a slave of Potiphar, captain of the king’s guard, he had been transferred from Potiphar’s house to the royal prison. Joseph had committed no crime against the king, but yet he was placed in this prison, even though he was a common slave. This is an important detail, because it is while Joseph is in this prison that he will “just happen” to meet two other individuals who will play a significant role in his future.

Before long, Joseph is joined by the king’s cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom had done something to make the king angry enough to throw them both in prison. We are not told their crimes, but they had both experienced the same meteoric fall in their fortunes that Joseph had. They were placed under Joseph’s care, because as we saw in the last chapter:

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:22-23 ESV

Two men with close ties to Pharaoh are imprisoned alongside Joseph. Because of the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life, he is placed in charge of them. And then the fun begins. Both of these men end up having dreams. Vivid dreams. Disturbing dreams. On the very same night. And we’re told that each dream had its own interpretation. But remember where they are: In prison. They have no access to wise men or magicians, astronomers or seers. How will they ever discover the meaning to their dreams. And why had they both had dreams on the very same night in the very same place?

The next morning, Joseph notices that something is wrong. The two men are visibly upset and, true to his role as their caretaker, Joseph asks them what is disturbing them. They both reply, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8a ESV). They seem to know that these dreams are not your garden-variety dreams. There is something significant about them and they are anxious to know what they portend. The response Joseph gives provides us with a glimpse into his theology – his view of God. He simply states, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Genesis 40:8b ESV).

There is a great deal of similarity between this story and the one concerning Daniel and his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Over the book of Daniel we read:

Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” – Daniel 2:2-3 ESV

The king’s counselors and wise men respond, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation” (Daniel 2:4 ESV). But the king is adamant. He not only wants them to tell them what the dream means, he demands that they be able to tell him what he dreamed. If not, he will have them torn limb from limb. These men are dumbstruck. They find themselves in a life or death predicament and plead with the king.

“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 1The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” – Daniel 2:10-11 ESV

Enter Daniel. He tells the king:

“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” – Daniel 2:27-28 ESV

Long before Daniel lived and his story was written down in a scroll, Joseph held a similar view of God. His God was all-knowing and ever-present. His God was able to reveal mysteries and make known the unknowable. Joseph knew a thing or two about dreams. He had had a few of his own. Perhaps Joseph had been given the interpretation of his own dreams by God. By this time in the story, Joseph could have had a much more clear idea of his future and the role his two dreams were going to play. But whatever the case, Joseph is nonplussed by what the two men say and simply asks them to share their dreams so he can provide them with an interpretation – with the help of God.

Joseph held a high view of God – even in the lowest moments of his life. He refused to let his physical location or the state of his circumstances alter his view of God. His expectations of God were greater than any complications life might bring. Even in prison, his God was with him. And if his God was with him all the time and in all places, He was big enough to handle the interpretation of a few dreams.

“We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will,whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.”  – Brother Lawrence

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:5-11 ESV

In Act 4 of his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare penned the phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” In the play, Prospero, the prince of Naples, has staged a short entertainment, which he is forced to cut short. He attempts to comfort his guests by telling them that it was, like life, all just an illusion that would have to end at some point. Even the reality of life is illusory and short-lived. People, it seems, are the “stuff” that dreams are made on, whether in a fictional play or in real life.

Early on in the story of Joseph, dreams and real life interweave themselves in a remarkable way. The young Joseph has two vivid dreams that he eagerly and, perhaps, rather boastfully recounts to his family. They are visions that seem to reveal his coming prominence and their subservience to him. The cast of characters in his dreams – the “stuff” – are inanimate objects: sheaves, the sun, the moon and eleven stars. But his brothers are not stupid. They see what is going on immediately and understand full well that his dreams involve them. They are such stuff as Joseph’s dreams are made on. And they are not happy. They find his dreams offensive and cause for their jealousy and hatred for him to intensify. Little do they realize that they will become key players in the affairs surrounding Joseph’s life and unwittingly turn his dreams into reality.

There is no indication that Joseph understood the meaning behind his dreams. Whether he recounted them to his brothers in a prideful manner, bragging about his superiority, is not clear. It would seem that he is simply sharing exactly what he saw. There was no real benefit to Joseph in sharing his dreams with his brothers. After he told them the first dream, the text tells us, “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5 ESV). So what good could come out of telling them his second dream? Joseph seems to be intrigued, even confused, by his dreams. He is looking for explanations. He is anxious to know what they mean. But the only thing he gets from his brothers is their animosity. Even his father rebukes him.

But at the same time, Jacob seems to know that there is something going on behind the scenes that is inexplicable and supernatural in nature. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, “his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11 ESV). The hand of God was at work. The dreams were His doing and they were prophetic foreshadows of things to come. The meaning behind the dreams, the bowing sheaths, sun, moon and stars, would soon become clear. And each of the individuals in the story would play a significant role in the fulfillment of the dreams. The hatred of the brothers would reach a boiling point. The blind favoritism of Jacob would prevent him from seeing the growing resentment and rancor in his own home. Joseph would remain blissfully ignorant of the danger his favored position was creating. The line between dream and reality would become increasingly blurred as time passed. God’s will, as revealed in the dream, would come face to face with the collective will of the brothers. Their growing hatred would soon boil over in an attempt to rid themselves of their annoying sibling once and for all. But their actions would accomplish far more than their liberation from his pestering presence. They would become such stuff as dreams are made of. They would become the very instruments God would use to accomplish His divine will, not only for Joseph, but the people of Israel. Their prerogatives would give way to God’s providence. Their human wills would become tools in the hands of God as He accomplished His divine will. Their self-determined actions would end up bringing about the very outcomes God had already ordained to happen. The mystery between man’s free will and God’s providence was about to be displayed in surprising fashion.

God’s Promise and His Providence.

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

These are the generations of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. – Genesis 37:1-4 ESV

The story of Joseph is one that has intrigued people of faith for generations. It contains the recounting of the life of a man who experienced more ups and downs, peaks and valleys, in his life than any one individual should have to face. It is a story that deftly blends what appears to be fate with the invisible providence of the all-knowing, all-seeing God of Israel. The central figure in the story is Joseph, a son of Jacob, and a great-grandson to Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. Joseph’s life stands in stark contrast to that of his father, Jacob. The preceding chapters reveal the story of Jacob’s life. He and his twin brother, Esau, were born to Isaac. But as the meaning of his name “heel-grabber” reveals, Jacob was the second born, but he came out literally holding on to his brothers heel. And he would spend the early years of his life attempting to supplant his brother as the first-born. His was a life marked by deceit and artful scheming. He was a trickster, a conniving conman, who was always looking out for his own best interests. After having manipulated his brother into selling him his birthright, and then deceiving his father into  giving him the blessing intended for the firstborn, Jacob was forced to flee for his life. He ended up spending much of his young adult life in exile, only to return years later under the prompting of God Himself. Jacob was shown mercy by God and extended forgiveness by his brother, Esau. He was welcomed back into his family. And he given the privilege of having a number of sons to carry on his legacy and to care for him in old life. Joseph was one of those sons.

When the story of Joseph opens up, he and his family are living in the land of Canaan, just as Abraham had done. They are essentially nomads, not yet having experienced the comfort or convenience of living in their own city within the land promised to them by God. They are shepherds. Theirs is a simple life. And Jacob is enjoying his role as father over a growing family, living once again in the land of his fathers. But there is a problem brewing. All is not well in the house of Jacob. The text reveals to us that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3 ESV). He was playing favorites. He even had a beautiful robe made for Joseph. But his favoritism was going to result in sibling rivalry. It would also create in Joseph a certain sense of privilege and superiority. The text seems to paint Joseph as somewhat of a tattle tale, a snitch who enjoyed sharing less-than-flattering news about his brothers to their father. This, along with Jacob’s blatant acts of preferential treatment, would not endear Joseph to his brothers. In fact, it produced in them a hatred for their brother that would escalate over time.

But there is far more going on in this story than the blind nepotism of a father toward his son. This is the story of the people of Israel and God’s promises concerning them. It is part of the larger narrative about God’s sovereign selection of Abraham and His descendants to be the chosen recipients of His grace and mercy. The story of Joseph is a window into the providential work of God in the lives of men. From beginning to end, Joseph’s life will intertwine the seeming independent actions of men with the all-powerful intentions of God.

The theme of the Joseph narrative concerns God’s hidden and decisive power which works in and through but also against human forms of power. A “soft” word for that reality is providence. A harder word for the same reality is predestination. Either way God is working out his purpose through and in spite of Egypt, through and in spite of Joseph and his brothers. – Brueggemann, Genesis, p. 293. Richard D. Patterson, “Joseph in Pharaoh’s Court,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164:654 (April-June 2007)

Undergirding and heavily influencing the narrative of this story are the promises of God made to Abraham.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you. – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! – Genesis 17:4-6 NLT

God would reaffirm that same promise to Jacob.

I am El-Shaddai — “God Almighty.” Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you. – Genesis 35:11-12 NLT

Up until this moment in time, the promise of God had remained just that – a promise. They were not yet a great nation. They did not possess the land of Canaan. They were a nomadic, insignificant tribe of shepherds living in a land occupied by much more numerous and powerful people groups. But God was not done. His promise was still unfolding. The story of Joseph is actually the story of God as He unveils His sovereign plan in time and space, through the seemingly autonomous lives of mortal men. There are few other places in Scripture where you see the free will of man and the providence God so intricately entwined. Decisions will be made. Human emotions will be displayed. Circumstances will be altered based on nothing more than the whims or wishes of men. But throughout the story, God will remain in control and His divine plan to fulfill His promise will remain unaltered.

To read the story of the life of Joseph is to reminded of the unwavering, unstoppable providence of God over the lives of men.

…for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” – Daniel 4:34-35 ESV

Say What?!

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. – 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 ESV

What in the world is Paul talking about in this passage? There is little debate that this is one of the most hotly debated sections in the Bible. There are those who write it off as just another example of Paul’s male chauvinism. Others believe that we are obligated to adhere to Paul’s teaching regarding hair length and head coverings in the church today. Some simply state that what Paul is dealing with in these verses is a cultural issue unique to Corinth, and that it has no bearing on the modern church today. But if all Scripture “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), then it would seem that we need to discover just exactly what Paul is trying to tell us in these verses. There is little doubt that some of what Paul is addressing is cultural and contextual. It has to do with believers living in the Greek city of Corinth who were having to operate within an environment that was markedly different than the one in which we live. But there are timeless truths taught within these verses that apply to us as well. The key for us is to discover the non-negotiable principles intended for the church in every age, and to not allow ourselves to become distracted or deterred by the seemingly incongruous and archaic arguments of Paul.

I believe verse 3 is essential to understanding what Paul is trying to say in the passage: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The real point of this passage is authority – God-ordained authority. As you can imagine, in the cultural context of Corinth in which Paul was trying to preach and teach, there were some strong objections to much of what he had to say. And the topic of authority or headship was one of the more controversial. So he lays out the God-ordained order of things:

The head (or authority over) of Christ is God

The head (or authority over) of man is Christ

The head (or authority over) of the wife is her husband

Paul states that man, who was created by God, is “the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7a ESV). Then he says that “woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7b) because she was made from man. The creation account tells us that Eve was created by God from one of Adam’s ribs. So, Paul concludes, “man was not made from woman, but woman from man” (1 Corinthians 11:8 ESV). And while Paul does not directly state it, he infers that Jesus came from God. Not in the sense that He was created by God, because Jesus is eternal. But His birth and incarnation were the work of God. Mary conceived because of the Spirit of God. All of this is to say that God has ordained an irrevocable order to things. And ever since the fall, mankind has been trying to turn that order on its head. It is interesting to note that one of the curses God pronounced on Eve and all women was “you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16 NLT). One of the things that caused the fall to happen in the first place was Adam foregoing his God-ordained headship and allowing Eve to disobey the expressed will of God. It was to Adam that God had given His command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam gave Eve the lead. He allowed her to make the decision and “she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too” (Genesis 3:6 NLT).

The issue of head coverings and hair length seems to be cultural in context. The real point is headship and the proper expression of it. A woman wearing a veil or head covering as a sign of submission to her husband’s authority, while culturally acceptable, did not necessarily mean that she was truly submissive. A man wearing his hair short as a sign of submission to the authority of God did not necessarily mean he actually lived under that authority. The outward evidences of submission are nothing if the inward expression of submission is missing. The bottom line about authority, headship and submission is that each of us ultimately submits to God. Paul states, “But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NLT). There is a God-ordained inter-dependency at work here. Eve was made from Adam, but every male since Adam has come from a woman. It is not that men are more important than women or of more value to God. It is about divinely orchestrated authority and responsibility. 

If we are not careful, we will spend all our time arguing and debating about head coverings and hair length and miss out on Paul’s primary point of headship. There comes a point at which we have to be okay with God’s will, even when it seems to contradict the world’s patterns and our own preferences. Jesus submitted to the will of God, even though it meant His death. Paul submitted to the will of Christ, taking the gospel to the Gentiles, even though it meant he would face rejection and persecution for his efforts. Men were to submit to Christ, acknowledging Him as their head, even though it would mean they had to give up their rights and learn to love sacrificially and selflessly. Wives were to submit to their husbands and daughters to their fathers, as to the Lord, even though they might be wiser and know better. As Paul told the Ephesians, each of us is to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). And Peter would remind us, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). We may not understand all that Paul is saying here. We may not even like what we do understand. But we must trust that God’s will regarding headship and submission is best. We must submit to His will and trust His wisdom.

The Promise of God vs the Pleasures of Life.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. – Hebrews 11:24-26 ESV

When Moses’ mother, Jochebed, in an attempt to preserve his life, placed him in that basket and set him afloat on the Nile, she had no idea what was going to happen next. Her son was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh, the very man who had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys were to be thrown in the Nile. One of the truly miraculous outcomes of Jochebed’s act of faith, was that she would be paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse her own child. Moses would grow up at home until the day he was weaned, then he would become a part of Pharaoh’s household. In the book of Exodus, Moses records his own life story: “When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10 ESV). Moses would receive an Egyptian education. He would be raised to know all about Egyptian culture and would become familiar with their pantheon of gods. He would grow up in the palace and wear fine clothes. But evidently, Moses never forgot his Hebrew heritage. The book of Exodus records, “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens…” (Exodus 2:11 ESV). His people, the Jews, were slaves and their lot in life was drastically different than that of Moses. While he lived in luxury, they suffered. While he dressed like an Egyptian prince, they wore the tattered clothes of a slave. He enjoyed fine food, while they managed by on a subsistence diet.

Moses was appalled at what he saw, and something within him led him to do something about it. The book of Exodus tells us what happened: “he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11-12 ESV). Moses, enraged by the injustice he witnessed, decided to take matters into his own hands. He sided with the oppressed Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. At that very moment, Moses had made a conscious and somewhat rash decision. The author of Hebrews says Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:24-25 ESV). It would appear that his action was the result of a premeditated decision to reject his title as “son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and associate himself with his own people. He was a Hebrew and he knew it. His people were being oppressed and he was not okay with it. He felt the need to do something about it. But his initial action would get him in trouble. Even though he buried the body, he would be found out. Perhaps the man whose life he spared was afraid that he would be blamed for the death of the Egyptian and so he pointed the finger at Moses. The very next day, Moses found two Hebrews fighting with one another and when he attempted to intervene, they responded, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14 ESV). They did not see Moses as their savior. They didn’t even seem to acknowledge him as one of their own. Not only that, but “When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Moses had to flee for his life.

Moses had turned his back on the pleasures of life as an Egyptian prince. He chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). But the author of Hebrews adds another interesting point of clarification concerning Moses’ decision. “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV). How did Moses consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt when Christ had not yet come? What was the reward for which he was looking? It seems clear that Moses knew of the promises of God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew about the land of promise. He was fully aware of what God had told his forefather Abraham:

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Jochebed, his mother, must have shared with him the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He must have known about the story of Joseph and how God had sent him to be a sort of savior for the people of Israel. He had heard the stories of Joseph’s miraculous rise to power. And he must have seen himself as some sort of savior as well, having been placed in his position by God for a purpose. All during his days growing up in Pharaoh’s court, Moses must have remembered the promise that God had given to Abraham:

I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

He believed the promises of God. He knew about the land. He knew about the “offspring” to come, who Paul says was to be the Christ.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Moses believed. And he was willing to forego the pleasures of life in Pharaoh’s court in order to be faithful to the promises of God, even if it meant suffering. It is interesting to note that Joseph remained a part of Pharaoh’s court until the day he died. Daniel remained a part of the Babylonian court until the day he died. But Moses was being called by God to reject the fleeting pleasure of sin and the treasures of Egypt. This was part of God’s plan for his life. And he would spend the next 40 years of his life in Midian as a common shepherd, until the day God appeared to him in the burning bush. Moses left his former life behind. He turned his back on his old identity as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter in order that he might be who God had called to be, a son of Abraham and the future representative of God as He redeemed His people from their slavery.

Moses had a future-focused faith. His attention was on the hoped for and the unseen. What was promised by God meant more to him than the present pleasures of life. His faith in God would lead to his exile, but also to the exodus. He would find himself a shepherd of sheep and, eventually, the shepherd of God’s people.

 

God-Focused Faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

There will be times when the life of faith seems illogical. By definition, it involves “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith has a future orientation. It looks ahead. It maintains an eternal perspective. And because of those things, on this earth, it will be tested. Abraham had been promised a son by God. There would be no plan B, not adoption of an heir, no acceptance of another son born through a slave girt. God had promised a son born by Sarah, in spite of Abraham’s old age and her barrenness. But God had also promised a multitude of descendants and a land in which they would live. And God kept His word.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7 ESV

God came through. When Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday, God provided him with a son. He and Sarah had to have been beside themselves with joy and a deep sense of relief. They had waited so long. They had hoped for a son and now God had delivered on His promise. And they would enjoy every moment of every day with their young son, Isaac. Every time they looked at him, they would remember the faithfulness of God and realize that this young boy was the hope they had been waiting for for so long. Or was he? The day came when God gave Abraham the hardest choice he would ever make.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-2 ESV

Can you imagine the shock? Can you begin to feel the sense of incredulity Abraham must have felt? As God acknowledged in His statement to Abraham, this was his only son, the son he loved. And now God was asking, no He was commanding Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice. He was telling Abraham to take the life of his own son, his only son, the one who was the key to Abraham becoming the father of a multitude of nations. Or was he? You see, as much as we may be appalled at the idea of God commanding Abraham to make a human sacrifice, we must keep in mind that, as the Scriptures say, this was a test. It was God’s way of determining if Abraham had transferred his hope in God to his son. Had the gift he had been given become more important than the Giver of the gift? It is interesting to note the response of Abraham to this shocking news from God. The Scriptures somewhat matter-of-factly record: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3 ESV). He didn’t argue. He didn’t remind God of His promise. He didn’t accuse God of unfairness or injustice. He simply obeyed. While he probably did not understand all that was going on, he kept trusting God. When his young son asked him, “My father, behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV), Abraham calmly replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). Whether Abraham was simply hiding the grim reality from his son in order to protect him or if he truly believed that God would provide a substitute lamb, we are not told. The very fact that Abraham ended up binding his son, placing him on the altar and raising the knife to take his life, gives us ample evidence that he was willing to go through with God’s command. In his heart of hearts, Abraham trusted God and believed that He could still keep all His promises even if Isaac had to die. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).

Abraham passed the test. God sent an angel to stay his hand and prevent the death of Isaac. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12 ESV). And then God miraculously provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, to act as substitute sacrifice. Isaac was spared. Abraham had shown that his faith was in God, not his son. He had proven that he trusted the Giver more than he did the gift. His hope was in God and he had full assurance and a strong conviction that God was going to do all that He had promised, and nothing, even the death of his own son was going to prevent it from happening. He had faith in God.

God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. He had commanded Abraham to take the life of his only son, his most precious possession. Isaac had not been simply the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream, but he was the hope of God’s promise of multitude of descendants taking place. Or was he? You see, the problem we all face is the tendency to take our eyes off of God and place them on things other than Him. Isaac was not to be Abraham’s hope. He was just a boy, who would grow up to be a man. But Isaac would not bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. Only God could do that. No man or woman will ever be able to bring to fruition the promises of God. For the divine will of God to happen, it must be accomplished by God Himself. We must never take our hope off of God and place it on anyone or anything else. Abraham’s test was one of allegiance. It was a test of his hope and, ultimately, a test of his faith. Now that he had a son, was he going to transfer his hope to Isaac and off of God? He passed the test. His faith was in God. His assurance of things hoped for was in God. His conviction of things not seen was in God. He had an eternal perspective that would not allow the illogical and seemingly unthinkable to deter his faith in his faithful God.