You Are God Alone

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.” – Isaiah 37:14-20 ESV

Faced with the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Assyrians, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, had taken the situation directly to God. He had entered the temple to pray and sent his key officials to plead with Isaiah to intercede with God on behalf of the nation. And Isaiah had sent the king a reassuring message from God.

“Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” – Isaiah 37:6 ESV

God promised to save Jerusalem from the threat of Assyrian invasion. King Sennacherib would receive a divinely inspired message that forced him to return home, where he would be assassinated by his own sons. So, God has provided the king of Judah with His personal guarantee that none of the boastful threats of the Assyrian king will come to fruition. Yet, in spite of God’s assurances, King Hezekiah still has the Assyrians camped outside the walls of his city and the threats of the Assyrian emissary ringing in his ears.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? – Isaiah 37:10-11 ESV

The problem persisted. The enemy was still outside the city walls. And Hezekiah was left with two options: Believe the words of King Sennacherib or those of God Almighty. At this point in the story, that is all he has to go on. The words of a man and the words of His God. One was visible, his power manifested in the sizeable army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. His words were backed by a well-documented reputation for accomplishing what he set out to do.

“Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

Hezekiah could see the power of Sennacherib with his own eyes. It was all around him. And it was clear that the forces of Judah were outmanned and ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances facing them.

To make matters worse, Hezekiah’s God was invisible. Yes, the king believed in Him. He even spoke to Him. But he couldn’t see Him. And, unlike the gods of the pagans, there were no statues or figurines representing Yahweh that Hezekiah could turn to for assurance. His God was transcendent and hidden from human view.

But while God was invisible, He was far from unknowable or imperceptible. He had a reputation as well. Yahweh had a long track record of intervening in the affairs of mankind, especially on behalf of His chosen people. From the day He had called Abram out of Ur, God had chosen to reveal Himself in a variety of ways, to reassure His people of His imminence or nearness. He spoke to Abraham audibly and regularly. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a flame of fire and a cloud, leading them across the wilderness for 40 years. And God had repeatedly intervened on behalf of His people, accomplishing great victories on their behalf, even when they faced more formidable foes and insurmountable odds.

Hezekiah was faced with a dilemma familiar to all believers of all times. He could allow the presence of a tangible trial to influence his decision-making, or he could rely on the promises of a God he couldn’t see but who had proven Himself faithful time and time again. And the text tells us that Hezekiah made the right choice. He took his problem to God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord – Isaiah 37:14-15 ESV

He took the enemy’s message to the only one he could trust: God. And he opened his prayer to God with a series of appellations that seemed designed to remind himself of God’s power and distinctiveness.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. – Isaiah 37:16 NLT

He addresses God as the divine warrior-God. He leads the innumerable hosts of heaven, a supernatural army that far surpasses any earthly or human foe, including the Assyrians. He describes God as Israel’s God, a not-so-subtle reminder that God had chosen the nation of Israel as His own. They belonged to Him, and He was responsible for their well-being. Hezekiah goes on to describe God as sitting on a throne, but unlike any earthly throne occupied by a human king. God sits enthroned between cherubim – supernatural, angelic beings who are unlike anything of this earth. This designation of God’s glory and magnitude is borrowed from the psalms.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us! – Psalm 80:1-2 NLT

The Lord is king!
    Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim.
    Let the whole earth quake! – Psalm 99:1 NLT

And Hezekiah acknowledges that Yahweh alone is God of all the kingdoms of the earth, including the kingdom of Assyria. He is sovereign over all. In fact, Hezekiah admits that God created all that exists. He made the heavens and the earth and every living creature. While Sennacherib could brag about his creation of a mighty kingdom, only God could claim the title of Creator. Hezekiah was bringing his problem to the source and the solution of all things.

And Hezekiah begs the great, majestic, transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe to intervene on Judah’s behalf.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. – Isaiah 37:17 ESV

Hezekiah acknowledges that Assyria had successfully defeated the other nations, but only because the gods of those nations were lifeless and impotent. They were fabricated by men and, unlike Yahweh, had no power to save.

For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. – Isaiah 37:19 ESV

False gods provide faulty help in times of trouble. They can’t deliver the necessary aid because they lack the necessary ingredient to do so: Life. But not so with Yahweh. He is alive and well. He is all-powerful and fully capable of providing the hope and help we need in life’s darkest moment. There is no challenge too great. There is no enemy too strong. There is no challenge we will face that is beyond His awareness or outside His ability to provide a solution. So, Hezekiah asks his Sovereign for salvation.

So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord. – Isaiah 37:20 ESV

Selfishly, Hezekiah wants to see Jerusalem saved. But he also wants to see God glorified. And he knows that the seriousness of the situation will require the power of God for any hope of salvation. He longs to see God work so that the nations will see that God is sovereign over all. He wants His God to receive the glory He deserves. And so, he begs God to save. When we trust God to do what only God can do, He alone gets the glory. When we turn to Him as our sole source of help and hope, we get to see Him work, and the world gets to see the one true God in action. Our reliance upon Him gives proof of His reliability. Our trust in Him demonstrates before the world the trustworthiness of God.

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

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

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

 

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Faithful to the End.

The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, said: “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, declares the Lord.

“But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
    to which I have driven you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”Jeremiah 46:25-28 ESV

Fear not. That seems to be a strange statement for God to make after all that He has said concerning the fate of Egypt and all those from Judah who had fled there. But in these closing verses of chapter 46, He says it twice.

“But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity. – Jeremiah 46:27 ESV

Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you. – Jeremiah 46:28 ESV

His words are meant for the nation of Israel, providing them with two messages of encouragement. He would save them and He was with them. This is meant to be a reassurance that God, in spite of Israel’s ongoing disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him, would one day restore them to prominence and to their position as His chosen people. The day would come when He would return them “from the land of their captivity” (vs 27) and promises them that a life filled with “quiet and ease” (vs 27). While this promise is partially fulfilled in the return of the people from captivity in Babylon under the leadership of Ezra and Zerubabbel, it is most likely a reference a the much-more future period of time after Christ has returns to the earth and reestablishes the nation of Israel in the land of Canaan. Jeremiah prophesied about this event earlier in his book.

“For the time is coming,”
    says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
    from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Israel will live in safety.” – Jeremiah 23:5-6 NLT

Christ will set up His kingdom on earth and establish His throne in the city of Jerusalem. And God will see to it that the people of Israel, spread all over the world at that time, will return to the land of promise, to sit under the rule and reign of Christ. God has a plan for the people of Israel, because He has made a covenant promise with them that He must and will fulfill. He will not break or fail to keep His covenant. In spite of their unfaithfulness, they remain His chosen people and He remains their God. And in that day, God will do for the Israelites what they could never have done for themselves. He will give them clean hearts, remove their sin, and provide them with a new capacity to serve Him faithfully.

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 NLT

But God is also going to restore the nation of Egypt. Unlike the nations of Babylon and Assyria, whom God would ultimately destroy for their treatment of Israel and Judah, God would reestablish Egypt. And this promise too, seems to be a reference to a future restoration that has yet to happen. The prophet, Isaiah, provides us with a glimpse what God is going to do at some future, as-yet-to-be-revealed date.

At that time five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord who commands armies. One will be called the City of the Sun. At that time there will be an altar for the Lord in the middle of the land of Egypt, as well as a sacred pillar dedicated to the Lord at its border. It will become a visual reminder in the land of Egypt of the Lord who commands armies. When they cry out to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a deliverer and defender who will rescue them. The Lord will reveal himself to the Egyptians, and they will acknowledge the Lord’s authority at that time. They will present sacrifices and offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and fulfill them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and then healing them. They will turn to the Lord and he will listen to their prayers and heal them. – Isaiah 19:18-22 NLT

Egypt had never been an enemy of Israel. In fact, Egypt had been a place of refuge for the people of Israel for centuries. Abraham himself had fled there to escape a famine in the land. Egypt had become the new home to Joseph after he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. It was there that he became the second-most-highest official in the land. And it was there that his father and brothers went to purchase much-needed food during yet another famine in Canaan. And at Joseph’s invitation, his father and brothers would move their families to Egypt to escape the famine. It was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary fled with the baby Jesus in order to escape the wrath of King Herod. And while the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day had fled to Egypt for safety, they had done so without God’s consent. They had blatantly violated His command to remain in the land of Judah. And they would suffer the consequences. God makes it quite clear in this passage that He is obligated, because of His justice and holiness, to punish disobedience.

“…I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you, but with justice;
    I cannot let you go unpunished.” – Jeremiah 46:28 NLT

They would suffer because of their sin. The people of the northern kingdom of Israel were in captivity in Assyria. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah had just been taken captives to Babylon. And they would remain there for 70 years, until God miraculously arranged for their return to the land. But that return would be incomplete. Yes, they would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple, but they would never be able to restore Israel to its former glory. They would have no king. They would still be defenseless and easy prey to the stronger nations around them. Eventually, they would find themselves occupied by the Romans. And that was the state of affairs when Jesus came to earth the first time. But when He returns again, He will restore Jerusalem to its former glory once and for all. He will set up His kingdom on earth.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom
    and all the nations I have called to be mine.”
The Lord has spoken,
    and he will do these things.

“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
    than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel
    will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:11-15 NLT

We serve a faithful God. He is a promise-keeping God who never fails to do all that He has said. When He warns of judgment, it comes. When He promises restoration, it takes place. When He says that His Son will one day return, you can count on it. When He tells the people of Israel that they are His own. He means it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:29 NLT

In a world where nothing is reliable and no one is trustworthy, we have a God who is faithful, just and true. His promises never fall short. His word never fails.

 

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

But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.

 

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).

 

Food For Thought.

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. – Genesis 47:13-26 ESV

God had originally told Abraham, “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NLT). While that promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ through His message of salvation for all people, we see it partially fulfilled in the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As the seven-year famine took its toll on the surrounding lands, the people found themselves forced to come to Egypt for grain. During the preceding seven years, when the land was still fruitful, Joseph had set in place a program to store up as much grain as possible, in preparation for the coming famine.

During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests. Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities. In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

In time, the people found that they had exhausted all their money buying grain from Pharaoh’s storehouses, but the famine was far from over. So they resorted to exchanging their land and their freedom for food. Eventually, Joseph would provide seed to the people, but enforce a 20 percent tax on all food produced in the land. And when all was said and done, the people would actually thank Joseph for what he had done. “You have saved our lives! You are showing us favor, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:25 NLT).

There is no mention of Jacob and his family in these verses. They were living in the land of Goshen – “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV). And it is important to remember that, because they were shepherds, Pharaoh had put them in charge of his own flocks and herds. He had told Joseph, “Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock” (Genesis 47:6 ESV). So as the famine increased, the people were forced to trade in their livestock in exchange for grain. “So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for their horses, the livestock of their flocks and herds, and their donkeys. He got them through that year by giving them food in exchange for livestock.” (Genesis 47:17 NLT). The sons of Jacob found themselves extremely busy. They were the official shepherds of Pharaoh and he would have been paying them well to care for his growing menagerie of animals. So while it seems that Pharaoh is the one receiving all the benefits of Joseph’s famine-relief plan, his own family was being sustained and blessed at the same time. The opening lines of the book of Exodus tells us, “In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:6-7 NLT). The very famine that had forced them to flee from Canaan had resulted in the extraordinary expansion of their numbers. As the people of Egypt were exhausting all their money and possessions buying grain from Pharaoh, the Israelites “were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27 ESV). They were being blessed by God.

All of this should make us stop and consider the ways of God. If we would have been alive during that day and part of the family of Jacob, it is likely that we would have doubted God’s goodness by questioning His allowance of the famine. We might have complained about having to be upended and relocated to a foreign land. We most likely would have found reason to gripe about how much work we were having to do because of all the livestock being put under our care. And we might have even felt a tinge of jealousy as we watched Pharaoh AND Joseph get inordinately wealthy as the people of the land suffered. But in doing so, we would have have missed the point. We would have failed to see the mysterious ways of God in the seeming difficulties of life.

The family of Jacob was being blessed by God – in the midst of a famine. They were expanding in numbers as the Egyptians were selling off all they had and offering themselves as slaves to Pharaoh. This was the sovereign hand of God at work. It was the will of God being worked out in real life as He fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through all the difficulties surrounding the famine, God was setting up the perfect scenario to bring about His plan to make of Abraham a great nation and to give him the land of Canaan as his possession. God’s ways are not our ways and they never will be, and that should always be food for thought.

Divine Detours and Delays.

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.

The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.

The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.

The son of Dan: Hushim. The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. Genesis 46:5-27

Beersheba was a place of significance for Jacob and his family. Years earlier, his grandfather, Abraham had planted a tree there and worshipped Yahweh.

Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, the Eternal God. – Genesis 21:23 NLT

Jacob’s father, Issac, would also meet with God at Beersheba. It was there he dug a well and built an altar to Yahweh.

From there Isaac moved to Beersheba, where the Lord appeared to him on the night of his arrival. “I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.” Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. He set up his camp at that place, and his servants dug another well. – Genesis 26:23-25 NLT

So when Jacob begins his journey to Egypt, he does so by going first to Beersheba, which was in the southern part of the land of Canaan. “So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1 ESV). And while he was there, Jacob was visited by God.

God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there. Joseph will close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 NLT

It is likely that part of Jacob’s reticence about going to Egypt stemmed from his awareness of a part of God’s promise to Abraham that we rarely talk about. Yes, God had promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan and to make of him a great nation, but there was a second part to the promise that rarely gets discussed. But Jacob would have been aware of it and couldn’t help but fear that his move to Egypt was the beginning of this part of the promise being fulfilled.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

That is why God told Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” God was going to go with them. He was still going to make of them a great nation. And four generations later, He would bring them back to the land of Canaan. At just the right time. This was all part of God’s plan. It had always been a part of God’s plan. And it is why Abraham’s attempt to escape famine and flee to Egypt had been premature and not ordained by God. It is why God commanded Isaac not to go to Egypt when he faced yet another famine. God had a perfect timing to His plan. The land of Egypt was going to play a significant role in the salvation and establishment of the nation of Israel. It would be in this foreign land that God would bless Israel and multiply them. The book of Exodus opens with the following words:

These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there. In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land. – Exodus 1:1-7 NLT

The estimates are, that by the end of their 400-year stay in Egypt, the Israelites numbered in the millions. They had multiplied significantly. God had blessed them dramatically. But it had all begun with one young man’s betrayal and sale into slavery. It had taken the highly unlikely rise of this young man to the second-most powerful position in the land of Egypt. It had involved a seven-year long famine and the relocation of an entire family from Canaan to Egypt. But God had accomplished it all, exactly as He had planned.

Too often, we mistakenly focus on the outcome of God’s promises, while neglecting to understand that God is free to fulfill His promises in any way He sees fit. Jacob was not excited about the prospect of moving his entire family to Egypt. He was not looking forward to the prospect of 400 years of slavery for his descendants. But to receive the blessings of God sometimes requires that we endure the trials and sufferings that come along the way. Joseph had to be sold into slavery. He had to suffer a false accusation of rape and endure unjustified imprisonment. He had to go through two years in prison while waiting for God’s timing to free him. But when all was said and done, Joseph found himself in the unique and privileged position of being the God-ordained means for saving the people of Israel.

The fulfillment of God’s promises sometimes require what appear to be unnecessary detours and delays. God has promised us eternal life and a permanent place in His Kingdom. But in the meantime, we find ourselves going through our own journeys into Egypt, long periods of seeming enslavement and difficulty, and the painful experience of trials that appear to have no point to them. But God is faithful. His promises are true. His methods are always right. And His presence is guaranteed, whether we are in Canaan or Egypt. “I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there” (Genesis 46:4 NLT).

Joseph’s Dream Come True.

When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him. – Genesis 43:26-34 ESV

It had been many years since Joseph had experienced his two dreams while living in the land of Canaan with his father and brothers. He would have been 39-years old at this point in the story, but he would not have forgotten those two dreams and the reaction of his father and brothers when he shared them. He may not have fully known what they meant, but he knew jealousy and resentment when he saw it. Those two dreams were the impetus for his brothers’ betrayal of him.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. – Genesis 37:5-8 ESV

It was his dreams, at least in part, that had resulted in his sale to the Midianite traders. And that one act had set in motion a chain of events that led to Joseph’s rise to power. And now, years later, at least one of his dreams would be fulfilled right before his eyes.

And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. – Genesis 43:28b ESV

But this was not the thing that caught Joseph’s attention. He was not seeking for revenge or retribution. He did not gloat over the fact that his brothers were being forced to bow before him. At this point, they did not even know who he was. No, Joseph was overcome with emotion by seeing his younger brother, Benjamin. Jacob had 12 sons. Four of them were born to his wife, Leah. They were Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Dan and Naphtali were born to Bilhah. Gad and Asher were born to Zilpah. Issachar and Zebulun were born to Leah. But Joseph and Benjamin were born to Rachel. They shared the same mother. And there was a 16-year difference in their ages. So when Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome with emotion. So much so, that he had to excuse himself and go to another room to weep. When he had regained his composure, he rejoined his brothers for a meal.

It was at this meal that Joseph gave his brothers yet another test. While they all shared the privilege of eating in the Egyptian governor’s home as his guests, Benjamin was given five times the portions his brothers received. Joseph was showing his youngest brother favor much as his father had done to him years earlier. Would his brothers become jealous? Would they reveal a hatred for Benjamin as they had for Joseph? Joseph got his answer. “And they drank and were merry with him” (Genesis 43:34 ESV). The Hebrew word translated “merry”, actually indicates that they got drunk. This time his brothers were too busy being amazed at their incredible good fortune and too relieved that things had turned out the way they had to get jealous. But they were in for quite a surprise. Their merriment was going to turn into amazement when they discovered who their host really was. Their joy was going to turn into fear when they learned his true identity and realized their dangerous predicament. But before Joseph would reveal himself to his brothers, he had yet another test to give them.

Why all the subterfuge? Why didn’t Joseph just reveal himself to his brothers immediately? Was it really necessary for him to play this charade and keep his identity a secret? What was he trying to accomplish? The best we can gather from the events recorded in the book of Genesis is that Joseph was trying to ascertain if his brothers had changed. Did they have any remorse over what they had done to him years earlier? In the years since they had sold him into slavery, had they matured and had enough time to rethink their actions? Did they regret their earlier decision? Joseph longed to be restored to his family, but he had to know just what kind of family they were. He was in a position to bless them and provide for them, but Joseph wanted to know the condition of their hearts. We know from the record of Genesis, that Joseph was a man of integrity and honor. He had proven himself to be honest, a hard worker and loyal to his employers. In every situation he found himself, he applied himself to his work and made himself an invaluable asset to all those around him. He had the favor of God and men. But what about his brothers? Could they be trusted? Were they men of integrity and honesty? When they discovered who Joseph was, would their bowing be replaced with renewed hatred and jealousy. Joseph had been favored by God Himself. God had raised Joseph to a prominent position in the court of Pharaoh. God had clothed Joseph with beautiful garments and given him riches beyond his brothers’ wildest dreams. Would their old jealousies surface again?

Behind all of this is the hand of God preparing his people for His blessings and the fulfillment of His promises. As we have already seen, this is not really a story about Joseph, but about God and His faithfulness to His chosen people, Israel. Joseph is simply a conduit through whom God sent dreams and by whom God was going to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham. Joseph’s dream had come true. His brothers had bowed down before him. But the real point of the story is that God’s promise was coming true. He was in the process of fulfilling all that He had said He would do. And each of these events is part of His divine plan for bringing about His to make of Abraham a great nation and, through him, to bless all the families of the earth.

All This Has Come Against Me.

When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’”

As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” – Genesis 42:29-38 ESV

Perspective is powerful. It can dramatically alter the way we look at things. It can result in hope or leave us in despair. It can produce fear or create a sense of strength and security. And as human beings we are always tempted to see things from our limited, earthly perspective. We are bound by time and space. We can’t see into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. So we tend to limit our view by what we can see. We draw conclusions based on our immediate circumstances and extrapolate them into what we believe to be obvious outcomes for the future. And yet, as those who claim to believe in God, we have been given a means by which we can view life from a higher, more accurate perspective. We can look at life through the eyes of God. He is not limited by time and space. The future is as clear to Him as the past. There is nothing He does not know, including all that has yet to happen. There is nothing that takes place in our lives that He is not fully aware of and that He cannot use for our good and His own glory.

Perspective is what allows us to understand the “whys” of life. It is more than mere knowledge of God and what He does, it is an understanding of why He does what He does. Spiritual perspective is a mark of spiritual maturity. The more our faith in God grows, the more we learn to trust Him. We begin to truly believe the words of Paul: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).

The problem with Jacob is that he lacked perspective. His faith in God was limited by his earth-bound point of view. In spite of all that God had done for him over the years, he still looked at life through lenses that were covered in doubt and fear. He had long forgotten the promise that God had made to him years earlier when he fled the wrath of his brother Esau:

The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 1What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

That one little line, “I will protect you wherever you go” held no weight with Jacob. The fact that God had said, “I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” did not hold any weight with Jacob. He took the latest news from his sons and concluded that all was lost. “All this has come against me!”, he sadly claimed. He was unable to see any good in his circumstances. He could not see the hand of God or find peace in the promises of God. All he could see was doom and gloom. He had already lost Joseph. Now he wrongly assumed he had lost Simeon as well. And now his sons were asking him to hand over his youngest son, Benjamin. So he chose to cut his losses and refused to allow them to take Benjamin back with them to Egypt.

Years earlier, at Bethel, God had reiterated His promise to Jacob, saying:

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

God had promised to make of Jacob a great nation. He had promised to give him the land of Canaan. He had told him that kings would be among his descendants. But none of that had taken place yet. There were aspects of God’s promise that remained unfulfilled. The problem was whether Jacob would continue to believe or settle for less. Would he be content with what he already had or continue to trust God for what was yet to come? Circumstances can limit our view of God. But godly perspective can enlighten our view of our circumstances.

Is anything too hard for the LORD? – Genesis 18:14 NLT

“O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” – Jeremiah 32:17 NLT

“I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:27 NLT

“The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” – Luke 18:27 AMP

Jacob was going to learn to see the circumstances of life from God’s point of view. Nothing was too difficult for Him. No situation was too desperate, no circumstance too demanding for God to handle. What appeared to be a blight would turn out to be a blessing. What looked like nothing but darkness would turn out to be light and result in life. At this point, all Jacob could say was, “all this has come against me!” But he would soon learn to believe  that “all this God has done for me!”

He Is God, And Not A Man.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. – Hosea 11:5-12 ESV

God’s judgment was coming. It was unavoidable and would be highly deserved. The people of Israel had earned His wrath because they had spurned His love and responded to His many blessings with unfaithfulness. Rather than obeying God and taking seriously the calls of His many prophets to repent, they had chosen to follow their own counsel. They had listened to false prophets and immoral priests. They had sought false gods and pursued the protection of pagan allies. God accused them, saying, “My people are bent on turning away from me” (Hosea 11:7 ESV). And generations earlier, God had warned them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful.

After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. – Deuteronomy 4:25-28 NLT

What God had so clearly warned would happen was about to take place just as He had said. The Assyrians were going to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and take its inhabitants captive. There they would get their fill of man-made gods and discover the sad reality of life without the one true God.

There is no doubt that God was angry with the people of Israel. But like a father who grieves to see his child rebel against him and suffer the consequences, God did not enjoy the prospect of bringing judgment on His chosen people. He lovingly asks, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim?” (Hosea 11:8 NLT). Punishing His children was not easy for Him to do. And sometimes we neglect to realize that even God’s discipline is always done in love. Yes, He was being true to His nature as a holy and righteous God. He was obligated to punish sin and deal justly with their rebellion. But He did not do so with joy. He didn’t relish the thought of bringing judgment against His people. Because He loved them. And Moses had told the people long before they had entered the land of promise:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31 NLT

God is merciful. He is faithful. He would not abandon His people completely. He would not forget the covenant He had made with Abraham. He would remain faithful in spite of their unfaithfulness. Yes, He would punish them and fulfill His promise to bring judgment on them for their unfaithfulness, but He would also one day restore them. And He made an important and often overlooked distinction, saying, “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:9 ESV). Even the misguided prophet, Balaam, understood the incomparable nature of God. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). It was the prophet Samuel who said, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29 NLT).

God would keep His word to bring punishment on the people of Israel. But He would also keep the covenants He had made with Abraham and David. God would not completely abandon His people. They would one day be restored to the land. A descendant of David would one day sit on the throne in Jerusalem and reign over a restored and reunified nation of Israel. God assured His people, “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again” (Hosea 11:10-11 NLT).

The day is coming when God will redeem and restore His chosen people, the nation of Israel. When Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth, God will fulfill His promises to His people. The prophet Isaiah tells us about that day:

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. – Isaiah 11:12-13 NLT

Our God is faithful, loving, merciful and gracious. He is trustworthy and always reliable. He is not a man. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to keep His promises. And while circumstances may seem to indicate that He has abandoned us, His character assures us that He is always there and that He cares. He is in control. He has a plan.

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

In This You Rejoice.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV

Where do you find your joy in this life? To what do you turn to for hope as you make your way on this topsy-turvy journey of faith? Peter would say that your joy and hope should be based in nothing less than your “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). It is the promise of eternal life and our final glorification that should bring us joy and give us hope. The promise of life to come should strongly influence the life we live. So much so, Peter says, that rejoicing is the norm even “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Our circumstances in this life do not derail us because we have our hope firmly planted on the life to come.

For the believer, trials and testings are nothing more than opportunities to prove his or her faith. The issue has less to do with the quality or quantity of our faith, than with the object of our faith. God has promised us eternal life. His Son has pledged to return for us and to take us to be with Him. Heaven is our ultimate destination, so we are able to endure all that this life throws at us, knowing that these temporary testings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). The trials of this life provide us with proof that our faith is well-placed. Our hope and joy are not dependent upon the circumstances of this life. When bad things happen, rather than panic, we remind ourselves that any “light momentary affliction” we suffer in this life is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).

Peter assures us that our faith will not fail us, not because of the quality of our faith, but because of the faithfulness of our God. Because our faith is placed in Him, it will survive the fires of adversity. It will prove to be more precious, more valuable, than gold. But we must remember that the final proof of our faith will be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It will be on that day we fully realize that our faith in God was safe and secure all along. We will have survived. We will have endured and come through the testings of this life unscathed. In fact, we will be purified, without sin, spotless in our moral character.

Peter reminds us that the outcome of our faith is “the salvation of our souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ESV). Our faith should have a focus. It should long for what God longs for. It should seek that which God has promised us: our adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Paul boldly claimed, “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NLT). On this earth, we are stuck in these fallen, earthly bodies. They are prone to sin and saddled with the baggage we inherited from Adam. They are decaying and dying. They are lust-filled and earth-bound. But the day is coming when we will receive new, redeemed bodies. We will be as Paul longed to be, delivered from “this body of death” (Romans 7:24 ESV).

Where our faith comes in is simple. We have never seen Jesus, but we believe in Him. And Peter says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him”  and “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). Why? Because we trust Him. Our hope is based on that which we do not yet have. Paul put it this way: “hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Romans 8:24 NET). We have forgiveness of sins. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have a right standing with God. But we do not yet have heaven. We hope for that which we do not yet possess and cannot yet see. And we rejoice in it because we are fully confident that it is ours. Jesus promised it. “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:3-4 NLT). And when Thomas asked Jesus to explain what he meant by “the way,” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Faith in Jesus is the way. Hope in the promise of eternal life made possible by His death and resurrection is the means by which we rejoice now in what is yet to come.