The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

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.

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.

Divided Allegiance

1 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 1 Kings 3:1-4 ESV

Chapter two ended with the words, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV). He had successfully completed his purging of those who had played a part in the failed coup attempt that would have robbed him of his right to the throne. He had also kept his father’s dying wish and brought to justice a small list of individuals whom David had declared worthy of judgment.

But the opening verses of chapter 3 provide a change in tone and purpose to the historical narrative. David has died, and the reign of his son has begun. The last vestiges of David’s influence have been removed, and Solomon has the opportunity to begin his rule on his own terms. And it’s interesting to note that the author records as Solomon’s first official act as king an alliance he made with the Egyptians. The Pharaoh of Egypt sealed their agreement by giving Solomon the hand of his daughter in marriage.

The matter-of-fact manner in which this news is conveyed gives the impression that it was nothing more than an official act of business on the part of the royal administration. Making treaties and alliances were a necessary part of being a king. And marital alliances were commonplace among the nations of the world at that time. But there is something ominous and prophetic about the news of Solomon’s first official act as king. And any Jew who read this historical record would have recognized it.

Long before Israel had a king, God had provided His chosen people with a list of prohibitions concerning the behavior of any man who would rule over them. He knew that the kingly role would come with all kinds of temptations and snares. The power and prestige that accompanied the crown would prove to be addictive and dangerous. So, God provided His people with non-negotiable rules that were to govern and regulate the actions of the kings of Israel.

“You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-17 NLT

As a precautionary measure, God commanded that any man who ruled as king over Israel was to have a personal copy of the Mosaic Law, which he was to read from daily. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:21 NLT).

And notice that the king was prohibited from accumulating all the normal trappings of kingly success. All Israelite kings were to be different, refusing to model their administration on the nations around them. Stables filled with fine horses, treasuries overflowing with great wealth, and palaces full of wives and concubines were off-limits to the kings of Israel. And notice that God forbade His kings from doing any business with Egypt, even denying them the right to buy horses from their former enemies. And yet, one of the first decisions Solomon made as king was to make a deal with Pharoah that would set a dangerous precedence for his reign.

While the author provides no immediate commentary regarding Solomon’s actions, he will later reveal the sinister and infectious nature of this decision.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

There is something foreboding in the statement that Solomon “brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem” (1 Kings 3:1 ESV). One of his very first acts as king was to bring this foreign-born, pagan princess into the city of David, where her presence would have a profound impact on not only him but also on the entire kingdom. Solomon had not even taken the time to build a palace. He had not yet constructed the temple for Yahweh for which his father had provided the funding. And he had taken no action toward expanding and protecting the city of Jerusalem through the construction of defensive walls.

But the author clearly states that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1 Kings 3:3 ESV). Yet, it will become increasingly more obvious that Solomon suffered from divided allegiances. Notice the important contrast between 1 Kings 3:3 and 1 Kings 11: 1:

Solomon lived the Lord…

King Solomon loved many foreign wives…

God had warned that any king who accumulated many wives for himself would run the risk of having his heart turned away from the Lord. His love for God would be distracted and diminished. And because Solomon had put a higher priority on making an alliance with Egypt than building a house for God, he ended up having to make offerings and sacrifices on the high places (1 Kings 3:3). As will become evident, many of these high places were actually the former sites of pagan shrines to false gods. The Israelites had repurposed them for the worship of Yahweh, but God had given Solomon the responsibility and privilege of constructing a permanent temple where all worship and sacrifices were to be made. David had provided Solomon with everything he needed to build the temple, from the construction plans to the financial resources to pay for it. And David had warned Solomon to make this task a high priority.

So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary—which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the Lord’s Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the Lord. The king also gave Solomon the instructions concerning the work of the various divisions of priests and Levites in the Temple of the Lord. And he gave specifications for the items in the Temple that were to be used for worship. – 1 Chronicles 28:10-13 NLT

But Solomon had established other priorities. He had chosen to align himself with Egypt, making what he believed would be an important treaty with a powerful foe. But in doing so, Solomon was placing his hope and trust in something other than God Almighty. Rather than building a house for God, Solomon went about building his kingdom – on his own terms and according to his own agenda.

The prophet Isaiah would later warn the people of Israel about their propensity to seek alliances with and assistance from Egypt.

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:1-2 NLT

Without even realizing it, Solomon was stepping outside the protective boundaries of God, and pursuing what he believed to be the best strategy for building his kingdom. But through it all, Solomon maintained a love and devotion for God, even offering thousands of sacrifices to Him on the high place in Gibeon. The book of 1 Chronicles provides us with the reason why Solomon chose Gibeon as the place to offer his sacrifices to God.

For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. – 1 Chronicles 21:29 ESV

This location had been designated by God. Formerly the site of a threshing floor, David had purchased it and transformed it into the primary worship center for the nation of Israel. And it would be at this important location that Solomon would receive a gracious and undeserved gift from God. Despite his impulsiveness and blatant disobedience to God’s commands, he would be given the one thing that would set his reign apart from all those who would come after him. And it would become the defining characteristic of his life. Solomon didn’t need more horses, wives, wealth, or treaties with his enemies. What he really needed was something only God could provide: Wisdom.

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

Two Daughters. Two Destinies.

17 Our eyes failed, ever watching
    vainly for help;
in our watching we watched
    for a nation which could not save.

18 They dogged our steps
    so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered,
    for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
    than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains;
    they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

20 The breath of our nostrils, the Lord’s anointed,
    was captured in their pits,
of whom we said, “Under his shadow
    we shall live among the nations.”

21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

22 The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
   he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:17-22 ESV

During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the people of Judah had fully expected their allies, the Egyptians, to step up and rescue them. After the death of King Josiah, his son Jehoahaz had ascended to the throne, but his reign lasted a scant three months. He was imprisoned by Pharaoh and replaced on the throne by his younger brother, who agreed to pay the exorbitant tribute levied against them by the Egyptians.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah, from Libnah. He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done. Pharaoh Necho imprisoned him in Riblah in the land of Hamath and prevented him from ruling in Jerusalem. He imposed on the land a special tax of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. Pharaoh Necho made Josiah’s son Eliakim king in Josiah’s place, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. He took Jehoahaz to Egypt, where he died. Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh the required amount of silver and gold, but to meet Pharaoh’s demands Jehoiakim had to tax the land. He collected an assessed amount from each man among the people of the land in order to pay Pharaoh Necho. – 2 Kings 23:31-35 NLT

But this costly alliance with the Egyptians never produced the rescue they longed for. Pharaoh Necho was content to leave the people of Judah high and dry, having gladly taken their tribute money but never providing them the protection due to a vassal state. The Babylonians were the new bad boy on the block and the Egyptians chose to stay out of the fray altogether.

The king of Egypt did not march out from his land again, for the king of Babylon conquered all the territory that the king of Egypt had formerly controlled between the Stream of Egypt and the Euphrates River. – 2 Kings 24:7 NLT

Even back during the days when the Assyrians were making their way through the land of Canaan capturing city after city, Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, warned Judah’s King Hezekiah not to put his trust in Egypt.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-22 NLT

And King Sennacherib proved to be right about Egypt. His assessment of Pharaoh’s reliability had been spot-on. But this was something God had known for some time. He had warned His people not to put their faith in military might – their own or that of their allies.

Those who go down to Egypt for help are as good as dead;
those who rely on war horses,
and trust in Egypt’s many chariots
and in their many, many horsemen.
But they do not rely on the Holy One of Israel
and do not seek help from the Lord.
Yet he too is wise and he will bring disaster;
he does not retract his decree.
He will attack the wicked nation,
and the nation that helps those who commit sin.
The Egyptians are mere humans, not God;
their horses are made of flesh, not spirit.
The Lord will strike with his hand;
the one who helps will stumble
and the one being helped will fall.
Together they will perish. – Isaiah 31:1-3 NLT

God’s people were never to have placed their hope and trust in other nations. King David himself wrote:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

God was to have been their champion. He had promised to be their defender and their help against any and all adversaries. But their serial unfaithfulness to Him had left Him with no other choice but to bring judgment upon them. They had somehow decided that God was not enough. So, they put their hope in human saviors. They turned to kings and their armies when they had the King of kings on their side.

And because they chose to place their hope and trust in something other than God Almighty, they suffered the consequences. They had wrongly assumed that their king, the Lord’s anointed, would save them.

Our king—the Lord’s anointed, the very life of our nation—
    was caught in their snares.
We had thought that his shadow
    would protect us against any nation on earth! – Lamentations 4:20 NLT

But a king who fails to honor God with his life will offer no hope in times of despair. A man who neglects the wisdom of God and turns His back on the ways of God will prove to be a lousy deliverer when times get tough.

But Jeremiah wraps up this dirge with a reminder to the daughters of Edom and the daughters of Zion.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
    he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:21-22 ESV

These two daughters represent two different lands: The land of Judah and the land of Babylon. The daughters of Edom living in the land of Ur or Babylon have every reason to rejoice over their great victory. Their men have returned home victorious, with great spoil, tens of thousands of captives in two, and stories of their conquest of the nation of Judah.

But Jeremiah warns them to consider tapping the brake a bit. Their enthusiasm is going to be shortlived. Yes, they were the new bully on the block and their success was undeniable. But what they didn’t realize was that their victory had been the handiwork of God. And God has a habit of putting kings on thrones and removing them at His discretion. Their 15-minutes of fame was going to be over before they knew it and, as Jeremiah points out, they will be forced to “drink from the cup of the Lord’s anger” (Lamentations 4:21 NLT). 

In contrast, Jerusalem would see an end to its exile. After 70 years in captivity, God would return a remnant of His people from the land of Babylon and allow them to rebuild and reoccupy the city of Jerusalem. The gates and walls would be restored. The temple would be refurbished. The sacrificial system would be reinstituted. And the faithful God of Judah would shower His rebellious people with His undeserved grace and mercy.

While the story looked like it had a very unhappy ending, there was more to come that the people of Judah could not see. The Babylonians looked victorious. They had been on the winning end of the equation. But God was not done. His plan was not yet complete. And the circumstances of life do not always provide an accurate assessment of reality. God was still on His throne. He was still the covenant-keeping God of Judah. He was faithful and He was far from done with His chosen people.

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

Where Do You Turn?

1 “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
    and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.
For though his officials are at Zoan
    and his envoys reach Hanes,
everyone comes to shame
    through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
    but shame and disgrace.”

An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.

Through a land of trouble and anguish,
    from where come the lioness and the lion,
    the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
    and their treasures on the humps of camels,
    to a people that cannot profit them.
Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
    therefore I have called her
    “Rahab who sits still.” – Isaiah 30:1-7 ESV

As God’s chosen people, the nation of Judah was to have one source of protection and provision: God. He had promised to meet all their needs and to protect them from all their enemies. Long before they ever arrived in the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.

“The Lord will conquer your enemies when they attack you. They will attack you from one direction, but they will scatter from you in seven!

“The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-8 NLT

But this promise was conditional. It required that the people of God obey His commands and worship Him alone. And years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, God had reminded them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him.

But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. – 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT

And God made it perfectly clear to Solomon and the people of Israel that the fall of Jerusalem would be their own fault – for having abandoned Yahweh as their God, and their sole source of provision and protection.

“And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT

So, at this point in the book of Isaiah, we are looking at a time, long after Solomon had dedicated the temple when the nation of Israel had been divided in two because of Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God. The southern kingdom of Judah was under intense pressure from foreign enemies and was turning its gaze to Egypt as a potential source of help and hope. They were making peace overtures to the very nation from which God had freed them from slavery generations earlier.

But God calls them exactly what they were: Stubborn children, and He used a word typically referring to dumb, untrainable oxen. It carries with it the idea of rebellion. Like an ox that refused to get into the yoke and plow, the people of Judah were refusing to do what God had called them to do. They consistently resisted His efforts to teach and train them. So, God warns them:

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins. – Isaiah 30:1 NLT

God had not told them to turn to Egypt. He had not given them permission to make an alliance with Pharaoh. And their efforts to do so would prove to be more fuel on the fire of His judgment against them.

“For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:2 NLT

This is the crux of the matter. They were refusing to seek God’s counsel, and they were rejecting God’s promise of provision and protection. Rather than trust God, they were putting all their hope in Pharaoh. But they were going to find him to be a lousy replacement for God.

“But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” – Isaiah 30:3 NLT

Their plans were not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. Rather than help, they would experience humiliation. In the place of deliverance, they would find disgrace. The nation of Egypt was powerful, and its borders stretched from Zoan in the north to Hanes in the south. But Pharaoh and his mighty army would prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. And God destroys any lingering hopes the people of Judah might have that their plans will succeed.

“all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:5 NLT

Israel's route.jpg

With their failure well established, Isaiah now provides the people of Judah with a visual description of the Judean emissaries’ trip to Egypt to deliver payment for their assistance. The route described is remarkably similar to the one that the people of Israel took when they left Egypt under Moses’ leadership centuries earlier. In order to escape detection by the Assyrians, the caravan would wind its way south, through the Negeb, “a land of trouble and anguish” (Isaiah 30:6 ESV).

But this time, they would not be accompanied by God or enjoy His protection. They would encounter an unforgiving desert, occupied by lions and venomous snakes. Their donkeys and camels would be weighed down with riches and treasures intended as payment for Pharaoh’s help. They would be paying dearly for their stubborn refusal to obey God. Their rebellion against Him would end up costing them. And the worst part was the cost to benefit ratio was going to be minimal.

“All this, and Egypt will give you nothing in return.
   Egypt’s promises are worthless!” – Isaiah 30:6-7 NLT

The imagery here is powerful. The people of Judah were going backwards. They are pictured as returning to the very place from which God had delivered them. They were regressing rather than progressing. Their former deliverance from Egypt was not taking the form of a vain hope of deliverance by Egypt.

And God sarcastically refers to Egypt, using a fairly cryptic monicker: “Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7 ESV). There is much debate as to what this phrase actually means and how it should be translated. The name “Rahab” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to Egypt (Psalm 87:4). But the Hebrew word rahav is also used in the Old Testament to refer to a mythical sea monster, the symbol of chaos. That’s why the New Living Translation reads “the Harmless Dragon.” Egypt is described as being shebeth, idle or inactive. Rather than stepping into the situation and providing Judah with assistance, the nation of Egypt is shown to be completely still, providing no help whatsoever. This entire transaction between Judah and Egypt will prove to be an expensive boondoggle that produces none of their hoped-for results.

What a sad and sobering lesson. And yet, as 21st-Century Christians, we can fail to learn anything from this dark moment in the life of the nation of Judah. It is so easy to miss the similarities between our lives and theirs. While we may not face invasion from a foreign power, we are under spiritual attack each and every day of our lives. The apostle Paul would have us remember:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

Notice what Paul says. We are to use God’s weapons, not worldly ones. And our battle is against human reasoning and false arguments. Because we are under the constant temptation to use human wisdom to solve spiritual problems. We too easily find ourselves listening to false arguments that prompt us to turn to something or someone other than God. But we are to take those thoughts captive and teach them to obey what Christ would have us do. Turning to Egypt rather than God will never produce the desired results. Placing our faith in something other than God will always prove empty and futile. But God is always faithful. He is there when we call. He responds when we cry out. He not only wants to rescue us, He has the power to do so.

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

The Discipline of God.

An oracle concerning Egypt.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians,
    and they will fight, each against another
    and each against his neighbor,
    city against city, kingdom against kingdom;
and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out,
    and I will confound their counsel;
and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers,
    and the mediums and the necromancers;
and I will give over the Egyptians
    into the hand of a hard master,
and a fierce king will rule over them,
    declares the Lord God of hosts.

And the waters of the sea will be dried up,
    and the river will be dry and parched,
and its canals will become foul,
    and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up,
    reeds and rushes will rot away.
There will be bare places by the Nile,
    on the brink of the Nile,
and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched,
    will be driven away, and will be no more.
The fishermen will mourn and lament,
    all who cast a hook in the Nile;
and they will languish
    who spread nets on the water.
The workers in combed flax will be in despair,
    and the weavers of white cotton.
10 Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed,
    and all who work for pay will be grieved.

11 The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish;
    the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.
How can you say to Pharaoh,
    “I am a son of the wise,
    a son of ancient kings”?
12 Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt.
13 The princes of Zoan have become fools,
    and the princes of Memphis are deluded;
those who are the cornerstones of her tribes
    have made Egypt stagger.
14 The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
15 And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:1-15 ESV

Cush.pngNow, God turns His attention to the land of Egypt. Located in close proximity to the land of Cush, Egypt was another potential ally for Judah in their efforts to forestall God’s judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. But, as before, God makes it quite clear that neither Cush or Egypt could prevent what God had planned for Judah. The only thing that could prevent their destruction was repentance, and they showed no interest in changing their ways.

So, God lets the people of Judah know just how helpful Egypt will prove to be as an ally. This powerful nation will find itself experiencing devastating destruction on all fronts. Their economy will suffer. Their ancient way of life will be radically altered. And their once-powerful political structure will collapse.

And the first 15 verses of this oracle are bracketed by statements describing the source of their fall.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. – Isaiah 19:1 ESV

The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. – Isaiah 19:14 ESV

All that Isaiah describes in this oracle will be the direct result of God’s actions. This is a not-so-subtle reminder to Judah that they need not fear the Assyrians. They needed to fear God. He was calling them to repentance. He was demanding that they return to Him and honor Him as the one and only God. What the people of Judah needed to realize was that the Assyrians were nothing more than instruments in God’s hands. He was using them as His rod of discipline against His wayward children. But rather than accept the loving discipline of God, the people of Judah were looking for a way of escape. They were attempting to find a savior to rescue them from all that God had planned for them.

God knew their hearts, and He was well aware that they would seek a way of escape. They would turn to one of the surrounding nations to rescue them from the very discipline of God. But God wanted them to know that their efforts would prove futile and pointless. Judah’s real adversary was the Lord. And there was nothing they could do to stop His coming judgment, short of repentance. There was no nation strong enough to stay His hand.

What the people of Judah needed to know was that their seeking of salvation in someone or something other than God would prove pointless. Their only source of help and hope was God Himself. Their plans to turn to other nations for assistance was nothing less than turning away from God. They would be refusing His will as manifested in the form of His loving discipline. And yet, that is exactly what they were planning to do. And when the Assyrians eventually arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, even King Sennacherib knew their intentions.

Then the Assyrian king’s chief of staff told them to give this message to Hezekiah:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

Even this pagan king knew that Egypt would be no match for the forces of Assyria. But what King Sennacherib didn’t know was that he would prove no match for God. All of these prideful, powerful and self-inflated nations were nothing more than tools in the hands of God. He could and would do with them as He wished.

And God describes the Egyptians as devolving into a nation marred by civil war and inner turmoil. Their circumstances will leave them confused and in search of answers. So, they will “inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers” (Isaiah 19:3 ESV). They will seek help from their litany of false gods, but find themselves short on answers and void of solutions. Instead, they will fall to a stronger, more powerful nation. The economy of Egypt will suffer greatly.

And in the midst of it all, the Pharaoh and his counselors will be at a loss as to why any of this is happening. God even mocks Pharaoh, telling him to ask his wise men as to the source of their misery.

Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt. – Isaiah 19:12 ESV

All that is described in these verses is the handiwork of God. And He wants His people to understand that their propensity to turn to a nation like Egypt for help and hope will prove futile. God is going to do what He has planned to do, and there is nothing anyone can do about it, including Egypt. Judah can make all the alliances it wants, but there is no nation strong enough to thwart the will of God. And He makes that point painfully clear.

And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:15 ESV

Whenever the people of God reject Him and place their hope and trust in the things of this world, they will find themselves highly disappointed with the outcome of their strategy. In the case of Judah, they were considering Egypt as a source of rescue. But what they were failing to understand was that the very thing they were trying to escape was the sovereign will of God for them. God’s coming judgment was not intended to be merely punitive, but restorative in nature. He was going to break them so that He might heal them. He was going to chastise them, but only because He loved them.

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

Long before the author of Hebrews penned those words, Moses shared a similar sentiment with the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land.

Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good. – Deuteronomy 8:5 NLT

No one likes discipline, even when done in love. In fact, we do everything we can to avoid or escape it. But, as followers of God, we must understand that His discipline is always intended for our good and fully backed by His love. The people of Judah needed to open their eyes and see that their rejection of God was the source of all their problems. Their failure to honor God had brought upon them the loving discipline of God. And, while not enjoyable in the moment, God’s discipline always proves profitable, resulting in our holiness. And the author of Hebrews puts the benefits of God’s loving discipline in terms we can understand and must wholeheartedly believe.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at allSince we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:5-11 NLT

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

The Rejected Rescuer.

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.” – Acts 7:17-29 ESV

Stephen is subtle. He recounts the history of Israel, but he does so in such a way that he purposefully leaves out certain facts while highlighting others. At this point in his speech, he has transitioned to the point in Israel’s history where they are living in the land of Egypt. Having arrived 400 years earlier as Jacob’s small family unit of no more than 75, their numbers had exploded, And the situation in Egypt had dramatically changed. Joseph and the Pharaoh who had so graciously welcomed Jacob four centuries earlier are both dead. There was a new Pharaoh in charge and we know from the Exodus account that he feared the sheer numbers of the Israelites. So, he instituted a program of intense oppression and extermination, commanding that all the male babies born to the Israelites be killed. Yet God had other plans. But before we go there, let’s take a look at an interesting statement that Stephen made. In verses 17, it says, “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham…” What is Stephen referring to? What promise does he have in mind? If we go back to God’s original call of Abraham, recorded in the book of Genesis, God said to Abraham:

1 “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

Is this the promise to which Stephen is referring? Or is it tied to what God said some time later, recorded in chapter 17 of the book of Genesis?

4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 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 17:4-8 ESV

Was this the promise Stephen had in mind? Or was it this lesser emphasized, but just as significant promise God had made to Abraham regarding the 400-years of affliction his descendants would have to endure in Egypt?

13 “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. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation…” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

The truth is, Stephen most likely had all these promises in mind. But he was emphasizing this particular promise because it was essential to the overall plan of God. They would have to be afflicted before they could be rescued. And it is interesting to note that, in the book of Exodus, Moses points out that their affliction by the Egyptians had a positive impact on their numbers. He states, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12 ESV). Even Pharaoh’s decree that the male babies be killed was met with resistance, as the Hebrew midwives refused to obey his command. And one of those babies to be spared was Moses. He would be rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh himself, being raised in his home like a son. And Stephen points out that the day came for Moses, when “it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel” (Acts 7:23 ESV). This is a detail not found in the book of Exodus. Stephen seems to be saying that Moses, after 40 years of living as an Egyptian, was directed by God to visit his Hebrew brothers. And what he saw appalled him. He saw the suffering and the abuse. And his anger resulted in him taking the life of an Egyptian whom he had seen beating a Hebrew slave. And Stephen points out Moses’ motivation for doing what he did: “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25 ESV). Even at that point in his life, Moses seemed to sense a divine call on his life. He had put two and two together and began to realize that he was in the same position Joseph had been in 400 years earlier, when he had been the second-most powerful man in the land of Egypt and had been used by God to spare the Israelites from the famine in the land. Moses wanted to rescue his people. He wanted to use his power and influence to make a difference. But his efforts failed. Rather than viewing Moses as their rescuer and redeemer, the people of Israel sarcastically responded: “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” (Acts 7:27 ESV). They questioned his authority. They refused to accept his validity as a rescuer. So, Moses was forced to run for his life, escaping to the land of Midian, where he would remain for 40 years.

Remember, the audience to whom Stephen was speaking was entirely Jewish in makeup. It included the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council. These men were Sadducees and Pharisees, powerful religious leaders who would have known well the story of Moses. But Stephen is pointing out something they knew, but in a way to make a point they had failed to see. Moses was the God-ordained redeemer of the people of Israel. And yet, when he showed up on the scene, he was rejected. They failed to see him for who he was. In the midst of their captivity and suffering, they had chosen to reject the very one God had sent to be their rescuer. And the other thing Stephen is subtly pointing out is that the 400-years of captivity in Egypt had been part of God’s promise to Abraham. Their captivity had to precede their redemption. And yet, through it all, God had been fulfilling the promises He had made to Abraham. He was making of them a great nation. He was blessing them by abundantly multiplying their numbers. But He had chosen to do it in the land of Egypt, not within the land of Canaan. And He was doing it apart from the law, which had not yet been given. He was doing it without a Temple or a sacrificial system. All the things the Israelites held near and dear, and which they had accused Stephen of demeaning or speaking ill of, were non-existent when God was blessing the people of Israel in Egypt. The land of Canaan, the Temple, the Law and the sacrificial system had all become sources of inordinate pride for the people of Israel. They saw themselves as God’s chosen people because of those things. They saw no need for this Savior of whom Peter, John, Stephen and the rest of the disciples spoke. They didn’t need rescue. They didn’t need a redeemer. And like their ancestors, who had rejected Moses, the Jews listening to Stephen had been guilty of rejecting Jesus. In the opening chapter of his gospel, the apostle John recorded the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

Like Moses, Jesus had been rejected. And as in the case of Moses, God was not done with Jesus or the people of Israel. There would be a period of delay. Moses would spend 40 years in the wilderness of Midian, before he received God’s official call and commissioning. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, suffering hunger and thirst, and enduring the temptations of Satan, before, in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), He was sent by God to act as the Savior and Redeemer of His people.

Yes, the people of Israel were living in the land of Canaan. They had their glorious Temple and the sacrificial system that went with it. They had the law provided to them by Moses. But for hundreds of years they had lived under the oppression of nations like Rome. Ever since they had returned to the land during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, they had lived without a king, and under the subjection of some foreign power. They were no better off than their ancestors who lived in Egypt. They needed salvation. They were in desperate need of rescue. But in response to God’s gracious offer of salvation, made possible through the death and resurrection of His own Son, the people of Israel were still sarcastically asking, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 200z

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

The One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes:Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god. – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there.

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An End and a Beginning.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. – Genesis 49:28-50:14 ESV

Even though Jacob and his family find themselves living in the land of Egypt and Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had been told by God that they would remain there for 400 years (Genesis 15:13-14), the land of Canaan looms large in this narrative. Canaan is the land that God had promised to give Abraham and his descendants. He had told Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT). Isaac, the son of Abraham, and Jacob, his grandson, had both received personal assurances from God that they would receive the land of Canaan as part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. This inheritance from God, which had yet to be realized, had been passed down from generation to generation. The promise of the land was an ever-present reality in their lives. The promise made to Abraham was constantly on their minds.

“This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

So when it came time for Jacob to die, he made his sons promise to bury him in the land of Canaan, alongside the remains of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah. In essence, this was the family burial plot. It had been purchased by Abraham from the Hittites many years earlier in order that he might bury Sarah, his wife. Moses records the transaction for us:

Then Abraham bowed low before the Hittites and said, “Since you are willing to help me in this way, be so kind as to ask Ephron son of Zohar to let me buy his cave at Machpelah, down at the end of his field. I will pay the full price in the presence of witnesses, so I will have a permanent burial place for my family.” – Genesis 23:7-9 NLT

Abraham would pay 400 pieces of silver for the cave and the surrounding land.

So Abraham bought the plot of land belonging to Ephron at Machpelah, near Mamre. This included the field itself, the cave that was in it, and all the surrounding trees.  It was transferred to Abraham as his permanent possession in the presence of the Hittite elders at the city gate. Then Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, there in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre (also called Hebron). So the field and the cave were transferred from the Hittites to Abraham for use as a permanent burial place. – Genesis 15:17-20 NLT

Notice the number of times that the reference is made to a permanent burial place. The land, while still occupied by the Hittites, was part of the territory God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. While God had not yet fulfilled that part of His promise, Abraham went ahead and bought land because he believed that one day God’s promise would be fulfilled. He knew that it would be a long time before that happened, so in the meantime, he wanted a place where his family could bury their dead. And he wanted that place to be within the land of promise.

So upon Jacob’s request, Joseph and his brothers took the body of their father and headed to “the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 49:30 ESV). And they were accompanied by a large number of Egyptian dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. – Genesis 50:7-8 NLT

There were even Egyptian chariots and horses. It was quite a funeral procession. And there were so many Egyptians in the caravan, that the Hittites just assumed that it was the funeral for an high-ranking Egyptian official.

So Jacob was buried, with much pomp and circumstance. He was placed in the cave, alongside his father and grandfather. But his sons returned to the land of Egypt where they were destined to remain for more than 400 years. And yet Jacob’s death and burial are meant to act as a hopeful reminder of what is to come. His demise was not the end of the story. That trip to Canaan to bury Jacob was a dress rehearsal for another journey that would be taken by his descendants, four generations later – a huge collection of individuals numbering in the millions. When that day finally arrived, Moses tells us:

God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” – Exodus 13:18-19 ESV

Even Joseph would demand that his remains be returned to the land of Canaan, and centuries after his death, that is exactly what would happen. The promise of God would be fulfilled and the people of Israel would be freed from captivity and led by God Himself to the land of Canaan. Abraham’s death had not been the end. Isaac’s death had not derailed God’s intentions. The deaths of Jacob and Joseph had not brought God’s plans to a screeching halt. They were just the beginning. God was far from done. His promises were bigger than one man or a single generation. His blessings were intended span the generations and to impact the nations. What appeared to be the end was simply the beginning of greater things to come. As God would tell the Israelites while they suffered in captivity in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). God has plans based on His promises and there is nothing that will stop His plans from taking place and His promises from being fulfilled. And Jesus Himself has promised us, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).