Unwavering Faith In An Unfailing God

14 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.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 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. 24 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.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:14-26 ESV

Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt after having buried their father Jacob in Canaan. It must have been difficult to leave behind the land of promise yet again. But for the time being, Egypt had become their home away from home. So, having interred their father’s body in the cave of the field at Machpelah, they made the long journey back to Egypt.

It appears that, along the way, Joseph’s brothers became apprehensive about what might happen upon their return. With their father and protector dead, perhaps Joseph would take advantage of the situation and enact his revenge for their former treatment of him. Their fear of Joseph had never really subsided, despite the many ways he had shown them love and honor. It had been Joseph who had personally subsidized their food allotment all throughout the years of the famine. He had helped arrange their resettlement in Goshen. And yet, deep down inside, his brothers still did not trust him.

Upon their return to Egypt, the brothers held a discussion on the matter and reached a consensus.

“Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. – Genesis 50:15 NLT

So, they crafted a message and had it delivered to Joseph.

“Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” – Genesis 50:16-17 NLT

His brothers had never really believed that Joseph had forgiven them. And they had always feared that he would one day use his power to repay them for the crime they had committed against him. They wrongly assumed that their father’s death would provide the perfect opportunity for Joseph to seek vengeance.

At the heart of their distrust was disbelief. It wasn’t that they failed to trust Joseph, it was that they lacked trust in the promises and provision of God. Years earlier, when Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, he had clearly told them that their actions against him had been part of God’s sovereign plan to preserve their people.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – Genesis 45:4-8 NLT

And yet, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their God had been orchestrating every facet of their relationship with Joseph. By this time, they must have realized that Joseph’s dreams, which had infuriated them, had come true. They had lived to experience Joseph’s prediction that they would one day bow down to him. And despite all the ways in which God had miraculously preserved them, they couldn’t seem to believe that He would continue to do so. They saw Joseph’s power as a problem, not a God-ordained proof of divine protection.

Joseph was grieved by their message. What more could he do to prove his love for them? He longed to be restored to a right relationship with all of his brothers and he harbored no ill will toward any of them. So as he read their message, he wept bitterly. But, once again, Joseph took action, calling his brothers into his presence. He refused to allow this divisive wedge to remain between him and his brothers.

The brothers arrived at Joseph’s palace ready to throw themselves at his mercy. In fact, as soon as they entered they threw themselves at his feet, declaring, “Look, we are your slaves!” (Genesis 50:18 NLT). Preferring to face a lifetime of slavery rather than death, they begged Joseph for mercy. But what they got was another powerful reminder of the sovereignty of God.

“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” – Genesis 50:19-21 NLT

Joseph knew what they had done. Not only that, he knew he would have been fully in his rights to seek revenge against them. He not only had the motive, but he had the power to pull it off. But that is not what Joseph wanted because it was not what God had intended. Their crime against him, while untenable and contemptible, had been part of God’s providential plan for protecting and preserving the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph fully believed in the sovereignty of God and he wanted his brothers to put aside their fears and replace them with faith in the God of their father.

For 25 chapters, Moses has chronicled the life of Jacob and his family. And now, as his history of Jacob’s lineage comes to a close, Moses reminds his readers that Yahweh can and should be trusted at all times – regardless of how dire and desperate the situation may appear. And this was a message they needed to hear. The original readers of Moses’ book had been the Israelites whom he had led out of Egypt to the edge of the promised land. Moses died before the people had ever entered the land, so this historical narrative would have been intended to provide them with impetus and encouragement as they prepared to enter the land without him. Even as Moses faced death and knew he would never enter the land of Canaan, he composed a song for his people to sing. And, in that song, he mentioned the days that Jacob had spent in Egypt.

 “For the people of Israel belong to the Lord;
    Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land,
    in an empty, howling wasteland.
He surrounded them and watched over them;
    he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
    and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
    and carried them safely on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them;
    they followed no foreign gods.
He let them ride over the highlands
    and feast on the crops of the fields.
He nourished them with honey from the rock
    and olive oil from the stony ground.
He fed them yogurt from the herd
    and milk from the flock,
    together with the fat of lambs.
He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats,
    together with the choicest wheat.
You drank the finest wine,
    made from the juice of grapes.” – Deuteronomy 32:9-14 NLT

God had cared for the descendants of Jacob for more than 400 years. He had protected them and provided for all their needs. He had multiplied them in number and miraculously transformed the 12 sons of Jacob into a vast army of more than 600,000 men by the time they left Egypt.

The story of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers is intended to be a reminder of the sovereign power of the Almighty God. His plan is never thwarted. His will is never overcome. What Joseph’s brothers had done to him had been meant for ill, but God had intended it for good.

Joseph assuaged the fears and guilt of his brothers, assuring them that he had no intentions of bringing them harm. And he lived alongside them in peace until he reached the age of 110. Joseph lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather, witnessing three generations worth of descendants through his son, Ephraim. But with death closing in, Joseph took one last opportunity to encourage his brothers to maintain their faith in Yahweh.

“Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Genesis 50:24 NLT

Joseph never stopped believing in the promises of God. He had taken his father’s body back to Canaan because he knew that was their true home. Egypt had been nothing but a divinely ordained detour. The day would come when God would restore His people to the land He had promised to them. And Joseph believed his brothers or their descendants would live to see that day. His faith was so strong that he demanded his brothers swear an oath to take his mummified body with them when they returned to Canaan. He, like his father Jacob, had always harbored an intense desire to go home.

It’s interesting to note that the book of Genesis began with a couple who displayed their lack of faith in God by questioning His Word and disobeying His command. Rather than trusting God, they tried to become like him. But the book ends with a man of faith who never stopped believing in the promises of God. In fact, Joseph is mentioned in the great “Hall of Faith” found in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left. – Hebrews 11:22 NLT

Joseph died in Egypt, but his heart had always been in Canaan. And one day, his faith in God was proven worthy, because his body was returned to the land of promise, just as he had hoped.

Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:18-21 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.

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

The Test of a Lifetime

1 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.

14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.” – Genesis 44:1-17 ESV

After a wonderful evening of feasting on fine food in the governor’s palace, the 11 brothers of Joseph prepared to return home to Canaan. Their trip had gone far better than they could have ever imagined. They had rescued Simeon from captivity, settled the matter of the missing grain payment, received a large financial gift from the governor, feasted in his home, and were now returning with full sacks of grain. On top of that, Judah was able to keep his promise to their father that he would bring back Benjamin unharmed.

But as they were busy making preparations to leave, Joseph was devising a scheme that would dramatically alter their plans. He was still testing his brothers’ hearts to see if they had really changed or if they were the same self-serving siblings who had sold him into slavery all those years ago.

Joseph’s strategy was aimed at exposing their loyalty to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. Joseph must have assumed that, in his absence, Benjamin would have become the natural heir to the coveted position of the favored son. And Joseph appears anxious to discover whether his brothers still suffered from the same jealousy and resentment that had driven them to consider taking his life.

As he had done before, Joseph instructed his steward to put money in the bag of each of the brothers. Then he took an expensive silver drinking goblet and told the steward to place it in the bag of the youngest son, Benjamin. The faithful steward did as he was instructed and the brothers loaded their donkeys and set off on their journey home. Their spirits must have been high as they set off, but the upbeat mood would quickly change when they saw a contingent of men rapidly approaching. Panic must have set in when the brothers saw that it was the governor’s steward accompanied by what was likely a group of armed men from Joseph’s private security force. This carefully designed ruse was meant to scare and intimidate the brothers, and the words spoken by the steward must have struck fear into the hearts of Reuben and his siblings. Joseph had given his steward very specific instructions.

“Chase after them and stop them. When you catch up with them, ask them, ‘Why have you repaid my kindness with such evil? Why have you stolen my master’s silver cup, which he uses to predict the future? What a wicked thing you have done!’” – Genesis 44:4-5 NLT

The brothers were indignant that the governor would accuse them of stealing. They professed their innocence and, in a moment of rashness, made an unwise vow to demonstrate their sincerity.

“If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves.” – Genesis 44:9 NLT

Moses doesn’t reveal which brother made this costly guarantee, but it was likely either Reuben or Judah. They appear to have been the two who acted as spokesmen for the group. But whoever made the statement would quickly live to regret it because when the steward ordered a search of their belongings, the silver cup was discovered in Benjamin’s grain sack. According to Joseph’s detailed instructions, the steward began the search with the oldest brother. Reuben’s stomach must have dropped when he saw the money sitting in the mouth of his sack. It was all happening again. And as the steward worked his way down the line, the same scene took place. Each brother’s sack was found to contain the money they had paid for the grain.

But it was Benjamin’s sack that held the most shocking revelation: The very silver cup the brothers had vehemently denied having taken. This was when the real test began. The brothers had been so confident of their innocence that they had pledged to put to death the one among them who had stolen the cup. In addition, they vowed to offer themselves as slaves to the governor. But the governor’s steward had wisely countered, stating, “only the one who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go free” (Genesis 44:10 NLT).

This condition put the brothers in a very awkward position. Now that the cup had been found in Benjamin’s possession, would they abandon him in order to save their own lives? The steward had clearly stated that only the guilty party would be held accountable. They would be free to leave and return to their father in Canaan, with their grain and the money that was found in their bags. That would have been quite a tempting offer.

But rather than abandon Benjamin, the brothers demonstrated their anguish over Benjamin’s fate by tearing their robes and weeping. There was no way they were going to return home without their brother. They dreaded the thought of having to tell their father, yet again, that he had lost another son. So, they packed up their donkeys and returned with the steward to the governor’s house.

When they arrived, they found the indignant governor waiting for them, and he demanded an explanation for their actions.

“What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?” – Genesis 44:15 NLT

Joseph and his steward had agreed to bestow on the silver cup a special significance by claiming it was used by the governor to divine the future. It is unlikely that Joseph practiced divination. After all, it was God who had given Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, not a silver goblet. But by deeming the cup to have supernatural qualities, they had increased its value. The brothers were guilty of having stolen something of religious significance, which made the crime all the more scandalous.

But Judah continued to declare their innocence, begging the governor to show them mercy.

“Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.” – Genesis 44:16 NLT

Not only had they returned, but they were willing to offer themselves as slaves. He and his brothers were pledging their lives as payment for Benjamin’s guilt. It had been Judah who had convinced Jacob to let Benjamin return to Egypt with them, even taking full responsibility for his well-being. He had vowed to bring him back safe and sound, and now he was indicating that he and his brothers would rather be slaves in Egypt than abandon their brother.

But the governor refused Judah’s offer, commanding the men to return to their father. Only the brother in whose sack the goblet was found would remain in Egypt as a slave. The rest were free to go. Once again, Joseph was testing the faithfulness and integrity of his brothers. Were they sincere or was their offer to join their brother as slaves a disingenuous ploy to win their brother’s freedom? Joseph was determined to find out. So, he had Benjamin arrested and gave the remaining brothers his final and rather disconcerting instructions: “as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17 ESV).

Would they do it? Could they do it? Joseph’s reference to “peace” was meant to test his brothers. The Hebrew word is שָׁלוֹם (šālôm), and while it can mean “a state of tranquility and contentment,” it can also refer to “wholeness” or “completeness.” If they left, they would be returning without one of their own. There would be one of them missing. But could they go back to Jacob in “peace” knowing that they were “incomplete?” That was what Joseph aimed to find out.

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.

 

An Awkward Family Reunion

1 When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “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. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”

12 He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” 13 And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. 15 By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days. – Genesis 42:1-17 ESV

Moses now turns the reader’s attention back to Israel (Jacob) and his family, living in the land of Canaan. It has been years since Jacob received the devastating news of his son’s death. He had mourned the loss of Joseph but then had been forced to move on with his life. He was the patriarch of a large and rapidly expanding family. Many of his 11 remaining sons had married and started families of their own, but they remained a close part of the Israelite clan. So, when the famine spread to Canaan, Israel found himself with a crisis on his hands. There was no grain for purchase in the land of Canaan, which made it difficult for Israel to feed his family and livestock.

Upon hearing that grain was for sale in Egypt, Israel assigned his sons the unenviable task of making the long trip to the land of the Pharaohs and returning with as much grain as they could purchase. But Israel and his sons had no idea what awaited them in Egypt. Their objective was to buy temporary relief from their troubles. But God had something far more significant in mind.

Years earlier, God had told Israel’s grandfather, Abraham, that his offspring would end up living in a foreign land for four centuries. But God had also promised that He would deliver them from that land and return them to Canaan.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

So, as Israel’s 10 sons made their way to Egypt, their only aspiration was to return with grain so that their clan could survive the famine back home. But they were about to play important roles in a divine drama that would preface the next chapter in the story of God’s chosen people.

Upon arrival in Egypt, the sons of Israel were ushered into the presence of the royal governor, who was responsible for the sale of all grain in Egypt. It just so happened that this dignitary was their long-lost brother, Joseph, but they failed to recognize him. He was years older and, most likely, dressed in Egyptian garments. And the last thing they expected to find in Egypt was their long-forgotten brother.

But Joseph had not forgotten them. And upon recognizing the faces of the very men who had sold him into slavery, Joseph decided to keep his identity veiled so that he could ascertain the state of affairs back home. He had no reason to trust his brothers and it must have concerned him that they had shown up in Egypt without their father and younger sibling. Had his father died while he was away? Did his jealous brothers do to young Benjamin what they had done to him? Joseph had so many unanswered questions, so he continued to portray himself as Zaphenath-paneah, the governor of Egypt until he could determine the trustworthiness of his brothers.

Moses indicates that Joseph kept up a convincing charade, speaking to his brothers in stern tones and displaying a suspicious attitude toward them.

…he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. – Genesis 42:7 ESV

A wave of emotions must have swept over Joseph as he stood staring into the faces of the men who had treated him with such disdain. Driven by nothing more than jealousy, these so-called brothers had conspired to kill him. And if it had not been for his brother Judah’s intervention, they would have left Joseph to rot in an abandoned cistern. But Judah had come up with the idea of selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. That way, they could be rid of him without being guilty of spilling innocent blood. And each of his brothers had been complicit in their betrayal of Joseph. Even Reuben, who had hoped to extricate him from the pit and return him to their father, had eventually caved into his brothers’ demands.

Now they stood before Joseph, like groveling slaves before their master. And the scene brought to Joseph’s mind the vivid images he had seen in his long-forgotten dreams. It was his sharing of these dreams that had turned his brothers against him.

One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!” – Genesis 37:5-7 NLT

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

And, while these dreams infuriated his brothers, “his father wondered what the dreams meant” (Genesis 37:11 NLT). Now, years later, they were all about to find out. As Reuben, Judah, and their eight other brothers kneeled before the powerful governor of Egypt, they feared for their lives because he was accusing them of being spies. They vehemently denied the accusation and swore that their sole intention was to purchase grain for their families back in Canaan.

“Your servants have simply come to buy food. We are all brothers—members of the same family. We are honest men, sir! We are not spies!” – Genesis 42:10-11 NLT

Their claim to be honest men must have struck a nerve with Joseph. How could these deceivers and betrayers dare to consider themselves to be honest and trustworthy? Nothing from Joseph’s memory could support such a claim. So, he continued to question the veracity of their story.

Desperate to convince the governor of their innocence, they reveal that they have a young brother who has remained at home with their father. But because Joseph knew his brothers to be liars, he was reticent to trust them. How was he to know if Israel or Benjamin were alive or dead? He knew his brothers were capable of just about anything, so he came up with a test to determine whether they deserved his favor or anger.

“This is how I will test your story. I swear by the life of Pharaoh that you will never leave Egypt unless your youngest brother comes here! One of you must go and get your brother. I’ll keep the rest of you here in prison. Then we’ll find out whether or not your story is true. By the life of Pharaoh, if it turns out that you don’t have a younger brother, then I’ll know you are spies.” – Genesis 42:15-16 NLT

Joseph was anxious to know that Benjamin was alive and well. After all, he and Benjamin shared the same birth mother, Rachel. And since Rachel’s death, Benjamin had become near and dear to Joseph’s heart. Yet, because of his brothers’ actions, Joseph had been denied the joy of watching his younger sibling grow up. So much time had passed and he longed to be reunited with his father and brother. And God was using Joseph’s desires to instigate a plan that would eventually fulfill the very words that God had spoken to Abraham.

“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. – Genesis 15:13 ESV

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

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

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

 

When Dreams Come True

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. – Genesis 40:16-41:8 ESV

Joseph had provided Pharaoh’s cupbearer with a favorable interpretation of his dream, and this caught the ear of the second royal official who had been imprisoned by Pharaoh. The chief baker had also experienced a vivid and rather disturbing dream and desired to know its meaning. Hopeful that he too would receive a positive interpretation, he shared its contents with Joseph.

“I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.” – Genesis 40:16-17 NLT

Whereas the cupbearer’s dream had featured three branches that bore grapes, the baker dreamed of three baskets full of pastries. Each envisioned something having to do with their particular occupation in the royal court. But while Joseph had informed the cupbearer that Pharaoh would restore him to his former position, the baker received much more disturbing news. Without a moment’s hesitation, Joseph told the anxious baker that his dream was a dark omen foreshadowing his death.

“This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.” – Genesis 40:18-19 NLT

Joseph made no attempt to soften the blow and there’s no expression of sorrow or regret in his delivery of the fateful news. He simply blurts out the details of the dream’s meaning in a rather blunt and matter-of-fact manner. And Moses provides no details regarding the baker’s response to this shocking news. He simply indicates that, three days later, Pharaoh invited the cupbearer and baker to join all the other royal officials at a birthday banquet in his honor. It’s likely that they were allowed to bath and provided with clean garments to wear in the Pharaoh’s presence. And this invitation from Pharaoh must have left both men in a state of high anxiety. How were they to know that Joseph’s interpretations had been accurate? The cupbearer had been told he would be restored to his original position, but there was no way to know if Joseph was right. And the baker must have been beside himself with fear as he considered Joseph’s prediction of his pending death.

As they stepped into the royal court, both men quickly discovered that Joseph’s interpretations had been spot on. In the midst of the royal birthday party, Pharaoh restored the cupbearer to his former position and then had the baker impaled. And the one person in the room who would have recognized the significance of Pharaoh’s actions was the cupbearer. He had heard both of Joseph’s interpretations and had just witnessed the proof of their accuracy. Everything had all turned out just as Joseph had predicted. In a sense, Pharaoh, whom the Egyptians considered to be a god, had done exactly what the God of Joseph had said he would do.

But in the heat of the moment, and having just witnessed the execution of his associate, the cupbearer was glad to be alive. And Moses indicates that he forgot all about Joseph. Restored to his former position and resplendent in his royal robes, the cupbearer put the prison and his former cellmate in the back of his mind.

the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. – Genesis 40:23 ESV

It’s important to recall that Joseph had explicitly begged the cupbearer to remember him and put in a good word to Pharaoh on his behalf.

“…please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.” – Genesis 40:14-15 NLT

But for the greatly relieved cupbearer, Joseph was soon out of sight and out of mind. With a new lease on life, he simply moved on and allowed Joseph to become a distant and fading memory.

Meanwhile, back in the prison, life went on as usual for Joseph. When neither the cupbearer nor baker returned to their cells, Joseph must have been convinced that his interpretations had been accurate. But as the days passed, he must have grown increasingly more concerned that he had not been summoned before Pharaoh. Had the cupbearer forgotten him? Or did the story of his unjust imprisonment fail to sway the mind of Pharaoh? Perhaps Potiphar had intervened and demanded that Joseph remain imprisoned for his purported attack on his wife.

For two long years, Joseph remained in prison, suffering for a crime he hadn’t committed. And we’re provided with no details concerning his life during that long delay. But it’s safe to assume that Joseph continued to enjoy a remarkable measure of success even in those less-than-ideal circumstances, because “The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed” (Genesis 39:23 NLT).

God had not forgotten Joseph. And while the days passed by with painstaking regularity, God was actively orchestrating his divine plan for Joseph’s release. From a human perspective, two years is a long time, but for an infinite and eternal God who operates outside the confines of time and space, Joseph’s two-year delay was little more than the time it takes to blink. As the psalmist wrote:

For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night. – Psalm 90:4 ESV

God operates on an eternal calendar that spans well beyond the days of a man’s life or the centuries of a nation’s existence. Joseph’s extended incarceration was a necessary part of God’s plan because His timing is impeccable and “his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30 ESV).

The Lord is righteous in all his ways – Psalm 145:17 ESV

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord. – Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV

Joseph continued to work and wait. And as he did, his God was working behind the scenes, preparing for just the right moment to unveil the next phase of His redemptive plan for Joseph, the people of Israel, and the nations of the world. And it’s not surprising that the next chapter of Joseph’s amazing life began would include yet another dream. But this time, it wasn’t Joseph, a cupbearer, or a baker who were awakened from their sleep by a God-ordained dream, it was Pharaoh.

One of the most powerful men in the world was shaken from his slumber by a disturbing vision. This so-called deity was being robbed of rest by Yahweh, the one true God. And Pharaoh would receive two different, yet similar visions that left him disturbed and disconcerted. Yet, none of his court magicians or royal conjurers could explain the meaning behind his dreams. And this vacuum within Pharaoh’s royal court would prove to be a God-ordained opportunity for Joseph to utilize his interpretive skills one more time. Pharaoh had a dream. Joseph had a gift. And God had a plan.

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.

 

The Lord Was With Him

1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” – Genesis 39:1-18 ESV

While Judah was busy dealing with his own set of problems, his younger brother was hundreds of miles away, attempting to acclimate to his new role as a slave.  The Ishmaelite traders to whom Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph, had eventually cashed in by selling him to an Egyptian named Potiphar, the captain Pharaoh’s guard. The once-favored son of Jacob was now a household slave to one of the most powerful men in the land of Egypt. His circumstances had taken a dramatic turn for the worst and, yet, Moses indicates that God was with him.

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. – Genesis 39:2 ESV

This statement almost sounds self-contradictory. How in the world could Joseph be described as a slave and a success at the same time? Those two conditions seem to be mutually exclusive. And how could Moses declare that God was with Joseph when all the conditions surrounding his life seem to indicate that God had actually abandoned Joseph? From a purely human perspective it would appear that Joseph’s life was in a downward spiral. He had traded in his expensive robe for the garments of a common slave. No longer would he enjoy the perks that came with being the apple of his father’s eye. This rather spoiled young man would no longer have servants to meet his every need, but instead, he would find himself relegated to the lowly status of a household slave to an Egyptian master.

But despite his seeming fall from grace, God was with him. Not only that, God favored him. Even in the midst of Joseph’s less-than-ideal conditions, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was watching over him. In fact, Moses accentuates this point three additional times in the chapter.

…the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands… – Genesis 39:3 ESV

the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. – Genesis 39:21 ESV

the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:23 ESV

Joseph had only been 17-years-old when his brothers sold him as a slave. So, by the time this story took place, he may have been in his early 20s. He was far from home and living in a strange land where he was unfamiliar with the customs and unable to speak their language. But over time, Joseph became increasingly more acculturated to his new environment, eventually learning to speak their native tongue and perform his duties with both confidence and excellence. And his acclimation didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded by Potiphar.

…he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. – Genesis 39:4-5 NLT

Potiphar could sense that Joseph enjoyed the blessings of his God. Purchasing this young Hebrew slave had turned out to be a windfall for Potiphar. It seems that everything Joseph touched turned to gold. And, eventually, Potiphar made Joseph his personal attendant, giving him responsibility over his entire household and land holdings. To Potiphar, Joseph turned out to be a great investment. He was like some kind of lucky charm or talisman that brought him good fortune and great reward. And it was all the work of God.

Eventually, Potiphar put all his fiscal and household affairs under the direct supervision of this young Hebrew slave and, because Joseph was blessed by God, Pharaoh enjoyed a great return on his investment. According to Moses, Joseph was so effective and reliable, that the most difficult decision Potiphar faced each day was deciding what to eat.

But this is where the story takes a decidedly dark turn. Though having been betrayed by his own brothers, this handsome and highly gifted young man was enjoying great success. The trajectory of his life had begun to trend upward, which must have provided much-needed encouragement to Joseph at this dark and lonely period of his life. Once again, he was enjoying the favor of God as expressed through the actions of a father-like figure in his life. Potiphar had bestowed on this young Hebrew slave great responsibilities that were evidence of his great respect for Joseph’s integrity and ingenuity.

But Potiphar wasn’t the only one who had taken an interest in Joseph. The Egyptian captain’s wife was also attracted to Joseph, but not for his management skills. Moses points out that Joseph was “a very handsome and well-built young man” (Genesis 39:6 NLT). And this fact had not escaped Potiphar’s wife. For as long as Joseph had been in their home, she had begun to see him as far more than a servant. In her eyes, Joseph had become an object of lust and desire. And it wasn’t long until her lust became so intense and insatiable that she propositioned the unsuspecting Joseph. But out of respect for his master and reverence for God, Joseph refused her advances.

“…my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” – Genesis 39:8-9 NLT

As the old saying goes, Joseph was between a rock and a hard place. By denying his master’s wife, he was risking her wrath. But if he gave in, he would be violating his master’s trust and, worse yet, he would be guilty of offending the righteous will of a holy God. And Joseph knew that his recent stretch of good fortune had actually been the work of his good and gracious God.

But Potiphar’s wife proved to be persistent because her lust was exigent. She was not going to give up easily.

She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. – Genesis 39:10 NLT

Poor Joseph was left with no other alternative but to avoid all contact with the woman. But that proved to be difficult, if not impossible. Unfortunately, the day came when Joseph found himself all alone in the house with her. It seems likely that this unlikely state of affairs had been arranged in advance by Potiphar’s wife. No longer able to control her lustful thoughts, she orchestrated the perfect scenario to see them fulfilled.

She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. – Genesis 39:12 NLT

Joseph ran for his life. In doing so, he illustrated the point made by the apostle Paul centuries later.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

But while Joseph had escaped the grasp of Potiphar’s wife, he had not escaped the anger fueled by her damaged ego. She was livid that this common slave had dared to spurn her sexual advances, and she decided to make him pay for it. This vindictive woman crafted a sordid tale of attempted rape and painted herself as the innocent victim of Joseph’s unwanted advances.

And it is at this point that the reader must wrestle with the question: But where was God in all this? It is difficult to read this story and not question why God did not step in and protect Joseph. It is clear that, by running away, Joseph did the right thing. He took the proper path and honored his master and his God. But why did God allow this woman to put Joseph in this compromising and potentially catastrophic situation? Could He not have prevented it? Why did faithful Joseph have to endure yet another case of undeserved and premeditated vengeance? He had done nothing to deserve being sold into slavery. And now, he had done nothing to deserve being falsely accused of rape. But it is important to remember what Moses point out four different times in this chapter.

The Lord was with Joseph… – Genesis 39:2 ESV

While Joseph’s circumstances were about to dramatically change, his relationship with God remained the same. The Lord had not abandoned him. The Almighty was still with him. And God’s plans, while taking a slightly unexpected path, remained unchanged.

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.

 

The Unlikely Purpose of Perez

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.  Genesis 38:20-30 ESV

Reading through the book of Genesis reminds us that God’s are incomparable and, at times, inconceivable. There are times when He accomplishes His divine will in the most extraordinary ways and through the most unlikely of people. Consider His choice of Abram and Sarah. Why would God set apart a man from the land of Chaldea, who had done nothing to deserve the right to be the father of a great nation? And why would God choose to make that great nation using a man who had a barren wife? Why did God choose Jacob over Esau, knowing that Esau was a natural-born con man who would go out of his way to defraud his own brother and deceive his elderly father?

In this chapter, we see additional evidence of God’s sometimes strange and difficult-to-understand ways. And as we read this story, we must remember the words of the apostle Paul: “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). And God Himself reminds us, “…my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT).

Judah had refused to honor his commitment to allow his third-born son, Shelah, to father a son through Tamar, the widowed wife of his two older brothers. Er and Onan had both been wicked men whom God had punished by death. This had left Tamar not only a widow but childless. And Judah had agreed to honor the practice of levirate marriage by requiring his third son to marry Tamar and father a son who would carry on the family name. But when the time came, Judah changed his mind. But Tamar never forgot the vow he had made, and when the time was right, she took matters into her own hands and attempted to right the wrong that had been done to her.

Through a rather remarkable set of circumstances, Judah had sexual relations with Tamar, believing her to be a cult prostitute. And he had agreed to compensate her for her services by giving her a goat. Since he didn’t have the goat with him when the salacious act took place, he offered three items as collateral. Later on, he sent a friend to pay the “prostitute” and retrieve his personal effects, but the woman was nowhere to be found. Anxious to put this indiscretion behind him, Judah calls off the search for the woman and writes off his personal items as a loss.

But little did Judah know that his one-night fling would come back to haunt him. Three months later, he received word that Tamar had become pregnant, and he was furious. He saw this as an unacceptable act of immorality on her part and demanded that she be put to death. But in the heat of his righteous indignation, Jacob received a shocking message from his daughter-in-law that turned his anger into anxiety.

“The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?” – Genesis 38:25 NLT

There in his hands, Jacob held the proof of his own sin. He had impregnated his own daughter-in-law. This news must have been a shock to his system, tempting him to come up with some way to cover up his sin and save face among his people. But it appears that Judah owned up to his role in the affair and declared Tamar as the undeserving victim.

“She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 NLT

Tamar went on to give birth to twin sons: Perez and Zerah. And the nature of their births was similar to that of Jacob and Esau. When Zerah attempted to exit the womb first, a midwife tied a scarlet thread to his wrist. But when the babies were finally born, it was Perez who came out first, much to the surprise of the midwife. To all those watching, Zerah should have been the firstborn. Since his hand had come out first, he must have been closest to the birth canal. But inside the womb, the two babies switched positions at the last second, and Perez came out first. He became the unexpected and unlikely firstborn. And it would be through this son that God would fulfill His commitment to Abraham.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, the apostle Paul unpacks this divine promise and clarifies the nature of its meaning.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV

According to Paul, when God made that promise to Abraham, He was predicting the coming of the Messiah. It would be through the offspring of Abraham that “the blessing” of the nations would come. And Paul reveals that this blessing would come in the form of Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

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

This amazing fact is in keeping with the way God continued to reiterate the promise to Abraham and his descendants.

“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. – Genesis 17:4-7 ESV

Not only would Abraham father a great nation, but from his offspring would come great kings, including King David. And the book of Ruth reveals that God would use an unlikely candidate named Perez as the conduit through whom the great King David would come.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:18-22 ESV

And if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we see that Jesus would come through the line of Perez as well. That is why He is referred to as the Son of David. Matthew opens up his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

And the very next line of the genealogy provides another reminder of God’s unfathomable ways.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah – Matthew 1:7 ESV

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then ordered the death of her husband so that he could take her as his wife. The child born to them as a result of their immoral act was taken by the Lord. But God replaced that child with Solomon, who would become the heir to David’s throne. And it would be through the line of Solomon that Jesus came. Matthew ends the lineage with the words, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV). From Abraham to Judah to Perez to David to Joseph to Jesus.

And while Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, the throne of David rightfully belonged to Jesus as the king’s legally-justified descendant and heir. God had chosen to bring salvation to the world through the most unlikely of circumstances and by using the least likely people. Despite the immorality of Judah, the trickery of Jacob, the deceit of Tamar, and the other egregious acts of countless other individuals, God’s divine will was being accomplished according to His perfect and righteous plan.

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.

What’s In A Name?

1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.

And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 13 Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. 14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. Genesis 35:1-15 ESV

Ten years earlier, when Jacob had been fleeing from Canaan to escape the anger of his older brother, he had stopped at Bethel. While there, he had been received a vision from God in which he was given a divine promise that he would be the inheritor of the Abrahamic Covenant. The promise given to his grandfather of land, a seed, and a blessing would be his.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Despite all that Jacob had done to deceive his brother, God had assured Jacob of His continued provision and protection. And on that occasion, Jacob had made a vow, stating that, if God kept His end of the bargain and returned him safely to Canaan, he would make his way back to Bethel and worship the one true God.

“If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”– Genesis 28:20-22 ESV

But ten years had passed since Jacob had left Paddan-aram. For an entire decade, he had failed to return to Bethel (the house of God) and worship. Instead, he had chosen to settle outside the city of Shechem, and that decision had resulted in the rape of his daughter, Dinah, by the son of the king of Shechem. And while Jacob had been prepared to make a peace alliance with Hamor and his clan, permitting the intermarriage of their people, his sons had chosen a different path. To avenge the dishonoring of their sister, they slaughtered all the men of Shechem and enslaved all the women and children of the city. And just as Jacob had feared, the rumors of this gruesome act spread to the surrounding nations, creating a permanent stain on Jacob’s reputation.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 ESV

But Jacob’s assessment of the situation was not quite right. Rather than painting a target on their backs, the actions of his sons had struck fear into the Canaanites.

a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. – Genesis 35:5 ESV

God used the slaughter of the Shechemites to instill a fear of Jacob and his people. The surrounding nations refused to take up arms against the much small and relatively defenseless Israelites, leaving Jacob free to travel from Shechem to Bethel unmolested.

But sadly, Jacob’s return to Bethel had not been his idea. His first response after the debacle at Shechem had not been to seek God but to escape the scene of the crime. But Moses indicates that received divine directions, ordering him to “Get ready and move to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau” (Genesis 35:1 NLT).

What Jacob did next is quite revealing. In preparation for their return to Bethel, he commanded his people to purify themselves, and this was to include the removal of all their pagan idols. Evidently, the household idols that Rachel had stolen from her father were not the only ones in the possession of Jacob’s people. And it appears that Jacob had tolerated their presence for ten years. Perhaps he had turned a blind eye to these pagan gods in the hopes that they might provide an additional source of security and blessing. But now that he was returning to Bethel, he knew it was time to clean house.

“We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.” – Genesis 35:3 NLT

God had been faithful. Now, it was Jacob’s turn. So, with all his family and possessions in tow, Jacob slowly made his way from Shechem to Bethel, a distance of about 30 miles. Upon his arrival, Jacob obeyed God’s command and constructed an altar. Then he “named the place El-bethel (which means ‘God of Bethel’), because God had appeared to him there when he was fleeing from his brother, Esau” (Genesis 35:7 NLT).

It is important to note that, prior to building the altar and worshiping Yahweh, Jacob had taken the effort to purge his household of false gods and to purify themselves from the bloodguilt incurred by the slaughter of the Shechemites. It could be that God provided these instructions to Jacob so that the Israelites would not enter into His presence defiled and guilty of idolatry. There was a cleansing and a purging necessary before they could expect to enter into the presence of God Almighty.

On an interesting side note, Moses relates the death of Deborah, the handmaid of Jacob’s mother, Rebekah. She had accompanied Rebekah from Haran in Mesopotamia when Abraham’s servant had come seeking a wife for Isaac. Moses doesn’t reveal how she came to live with Jacob, but it could be that she joined him upon his return to Canaan and after the death of Rebekah. But this faithful servant of Jacob’s family died and Jacob honored her by burying her beneath an oak tree in a valley near Bethel.

For the second time since returning to the land of Canaan, Jacob received a divine message regarding his new identity. Upon his arrival back in the land, Jacob had camped beside the Jabbok River, where he had a physical and life-changing encounter with God. He literally wrestled with the Almighty, eventually receiving a debilitating injury and a blessing for his efforts. And God changed Jacob’s name in the process.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

Now, as he stood before the altar in Bethel, Jacob received a second reminder that his name had been irreversibly changed by God.

God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:9-10 NLT

It would appear that Jacob had failed to use his new God-given name, choosing instead to retain his old one. And, in a sense, Jacob had retained many of the habits associated with his old name. To a great extent, he remained a trickster and a deceiver. But by reminding Jacob of his new name, God was reinforcing His intention to not only rename His servant but to renew and remake him. God had great things in store for Israel.

Then God said, “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

The Abrahamic Covenant was officially passed down to the newly named Israel. As the grandson of Abraham, Israel was the rightful heir to the promise of a land, a seed, and a blessing. God was going to fulfill His covenant promise through Israel and his descendants. And it is essential to remember that one of those descendants would be Joseph, the only son born to Israel through Rachel. He will come to play a major role in the future of God’s chosen people. The other descendant of Israel who will factor into the fate of God’s people will be Judah, from whom the Messiah will come.

The stage is set and the future of Israel is secure. God has been working behind the scenes to prepare the way for the unfolding of His divine redemptive plan for mankind. And while the newly named Israel remains oblivious to God’s plans, he and his family will play a vital role in its fulfillment.

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.

The God of Israel

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:1-20 ESV

The fateful moment Jacob had been dreading for 20 years had finally arrived. His return to the land of Canaan would have to begin with an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous reunion between him and the brother he had wrongfully deceived so many years earlier. It was payback time and Jacob had no idea what to expect when Esau arrived on the scene. So, when he looked up and saw Esau headed his way with a large force of 400 men, Jacob assumed the worst. All his attempts to win Esau’s favor with gifts of livestock appeared to have failed. The horde headed his way did not appear to be a welcoming party. So, he prepared for the worst.

Revealing the order of importance that Jacob placed on his wives and their children,  organized his family into three separate groups. Bilhah and Zilpah, the two slave women through whom he had fathered four sons, were placed in the first group along with their children. Leah came next, accompanied by her seven children. Then, forming the final group was Rachel and her only son, Joseph.

It seems that Jacob harbored hopes that, by placing Rachel and Joseph in the back of the line, they might be spared if Esau was out for revenge. Perhaps his anger would be assuaged long before he made it to them. Jacob was not expecting a happy reunion with Esau. The best he could hope for was some form of leniency and mercy. And he still had the option of placating his brother’s anger with additional payments in livestock.

Having taken his place at the front of the line, Jacob nervously waited to see what was going to happen. When his brother rode and dismounted, Jacob held his breath.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. – Genesis 33:4 ESV

Jacob must have been shocked and relieved by this unexpected display of affection from Esau. And an audible sigh of relief must have come from the lips of the nervous retinue standing behind Jacob. They would be spared. And when Esau looked at the long line of four women and 12 children, he asked his brother for introductions. And Jacob replied, “These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant” (Genesis 33:5 NLT).

Jacob was a clever man and even his words reveal his penchant for cleverness and resourcefulness. Notice how he includes the name of God in his introduction of his children. By referring to them as gifts from God, Jacob was letting Esau know that they were under divine protection. It seems he was still a tad suspicious of his brother’s true intentions. And then, in another subtle, but equally adroit move, Jacob refers to himself as Esau’s servant. The Hebrew term he used is עֶבֶד (ʿeḇeḏ) and it literally means “slave.” Jacob was verbally submitting himself as a bondservant to his older brother. What makes this particularly interesting is that Jacob had worked very hard to cheat Esau out of his birthright and blessing so that he could be the head of the family and the inheritor of all their father’s possessions. But, at this point, Jacob was willing to sacrifice it all to restore his relationship with Esau.

After meeting all of Jacob’s wives and children, Esau revealed his curiosity about all the livestock that Jacob had sent his way.

“And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?” – Genesis 33:8 NLT

Jacob explained that they had been intended as gifts for Esau, but his brother politely refused to accept them.

“My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” – Genesis 33:9 NLT

There appears to be a bit of bartering going on in this exchange. Esau is playing the generous host who refuses any thought of reciprocity for his hospitality. And Jacob is the guest who insists on rewarding Esau for his kindness. So, the two brothers continued to barter over the gifts, with Jacob finally winning the day. He wanted Esau to know how grateful he was for the gracious greeting he received and told his brother, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10 ESV). 

Jacob expresses his sincere desire to bless his brother. He assures Esau that God has greatly blessed him and he desires to share divide up his blessing with him. Once again, it is important to consider how much time and energy Jacob had spent attempting to steal away his brother’s birthright and blessing. But now, he is ready to share all that he has with the very one he had defrauded. The last 20 years have produced a dramatic change in Jacob.

Having successfully reunited with his brother, Jacob was determined to continue his journey to Canaan. But Esau was excited to host Jacob in his home in Seir, which was located in the land of Edom. But God had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan, the land he had promised to give him as his possession. So, when Esau offered to escort Jacob and his family to Seir, Jacob politely declined. He suggested that Esau and his men go on ahead because his flocks would need to travel at a much slower and time-consuming pace. Esau agreed to this plan and left Jacob and his retinue to continue the journey on their own.

But Jacob had no intentions of traveling to the land of Edom. He knew his destiny lie on the western side of the Jordan River in Canaan. His first stop was in Succoth, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Once there, he built a temporary dwelling place and shelters for his flocks. But his stay would not be permanent. He knew that his real home was in Canaan so, after some undisclosed time, he set out for the city of Shechem. But like his grandfather before him, Jacob didn’t take up residence in the city. Instead “he camped before the city” (Genesis 33:18 ESV). In time, he purchased the land on which he had pitched his tent, securing for himself and his family a permanent home in Canaan. And there he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel, which means “God, the God of Israel.”

In purchasing the land and erecting an altar to God, Jacob was staking his claim to Canaan and declaring his commitment to Yahweh. This was a watershed moment in Jacob’s life. And to commemorate it, he proudly used the new name given to him by God.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

The fortunes and the future of Jacob were about to undergo a remarkable change. Along with a new name and a new home, Jacob was about to experience a brand new way of relating to and relying upon God. He had managed to escape a potential landmine with his brother, but that did not mean his stay in Canaan was going to be a cakewalk. And, as chapter 34 will reveal, things are about to heat up for Jacob.

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.

Leaving the Past Behind

17 So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

22 When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23 he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead. 24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. 29 It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. Genesis 31:17-32 ESV

Having convinced his two wives that it was in their best interest to leave their father’s household and return with him to Canaan, Jacob loaded his family on camels and surreptitiously snuck out of Haran. Due to the large size of his herds and flocks, and the number of servants he possessed, it would have been quite a challenge for Jacob to leave without being noticed. Yet Moses indicates that it took Laban three days before he realized that Jacob had departed.

It appears that Laban had been busy sheering sheep, but when he returned home he discovered that he was missing far more than just his daughters and grandsons. Someone had stolen one of his household gods. This would seem to indicate that Laban was not a Yahweh worshiper.

Moses uses a clever play on words when he describes Rachel’s crime and Jacob’s actions. He writes that Rachel “stole” Laban’s household god. The Hebrew word is גָּנַב (gānaḇ) and it can mean “to steal” or “to steal away, as by stealth.” That is why he uses the same word to describe Jacob’s deception of Laban. It could be translated, “Jacob stole the heart from Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing” (Genesis 31:20 TLV).

Jacob took what was near and dear to Laban, his daughters, and grandsons. But it seems that Laban was more upset about his missing idol. Angered by this injustice, Laban formed a posse and set out to rescue his stolen god.

…he gathered a group of his relatives and set out in hot pursuit. He caught up with Jacob seven days later in the hill country of Gilead. – Genesis 31:23 NLT

But before he could begin his journey, Laban had a surprise visit from the one true God, Yahweh. While Laban’s idol was mute and had proven to be incapable of protecting himself from Rachel’s greedy hands, the God of Jacob was quite vocal and very clear in his warning to Laban.

“Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” – Genesis 31:24 ESV

God knew Laban’s heart and was fully aware that he intended to do Jacob harm. But essentially, God warned Laban not to touch Jacob. More importantly, Laban was not to threaten Jacob or pronounce a curse on him. But this didn’t keep Laban from speaking his mind when he finally caught up to Jacob. He confronted his son-in-law, demanding to know why he had chosen to slip away in secret.

“You’ve deceived me and carried away my daughters as if they were captives of war!  Why did you run away secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me so I could send you off with a celebration complete with singing, tambourines, and harps?  You didn’t even allow me to kiss my daughters and my grandchildren goodbye. You have acted foolishly!” – Genesis 31:26-28 NET

Laban used the same word, גָּנַב (gānaḇ), to describe Jacob’s actions. By stealing away in the dead of night with his father-in-law’s daughter and grandchildren, Jacob had effectively “stolen” Laban’s heart. According to Laban, Jacob had deliberately and maliciously deceived him and, in so doing, had broken his heart.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for Laban because he has proven himself to be just as untrustworthy and manipulative. This is a man who had deliberately taken advantage of Jacob on multiple occasions. But now that he was on the receiving end of the deception, he didn’t like it. And he let Jacob know that the only thing preventing him from getting even was the warning he had received from Yahweh. If Jacob’s God had not stepped in, Laban would be meting out vigilante justice.

But the real motivation behind Laban’s anger was not his heart for his family, but his passion for his false god. The confiscation of his household idol had been the deal-breaker. And Laban clearly believed that Jacob was the guilty party.

“I can understand your feeling that you must go, and your intense longing for your father’s home. But why have you stolen my gods?” – Genesis 31:30 NLT

But Jacob declared his innocence. He admitted that his secretive departure had been because he had feared what would happen if Laban discovered his plans to return to Canaan. Jacob knew his father-in-law well and assumed that he would do anything to prevent his daughters and grandchildren from leaving. But as far as the missing idol was concerned, Jacob knew nothing about it. And he challenged Laban to instigate a search to see if anyone had the idol in their possession. If the missing idol was found, Jacob agreed to have the guilty party executed. But little did he know that he was sentencing his own wife to death.

This entire scene provides a fitting summary of this portion of Jacob’s life. For nearly 20 years, he has lived with his uncle, Laban. During that time he had found the wife he had set out to find and had also ended up with an unexpected second wife and two concubines. The two decades had been filled with deceit and trickery as the various parties manipulated and defrauded one another in an effort to get their own ways. No one in this story comes out as squeaky clean and free from blame. They each bear responsibility for their particular sins and stand before God as guilty and deserving of His judgment.

But despite all the subterfuge and selfish scheming, God has been at work. And as Jacob faces off with Laban in the hill country of Gilead, God is preparing to end this phase of Jacob’s life of exile. He is on his way back to Canaan, the land that God had promised to give to his grandfather, Abraham. It is his divinely ordained inheritance. The days of exile are over. It is time to go home, but God wants Jacob to leave behind everything associated with his stay in Haran. From this point forward, Jacob will be expected to separate himself from his father-in-law and his false gods. He will be required to leave behind his dependence upon trickery and deceit to get ahead. From this point forward, God will be leading Jacob back to Canaan and into a deeper and fully sold-out relationship with Him. This current crisis will come to an end. But the days ahead will not be easy. Leaving behind his old ways will prove to be far more difficult for Jacob than leaving Haran. But God is preparing Jacob for another exile that will last far longer than his stay in Mesopotamia. And it will be in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham.

“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.” – Genesis 14:13-14 NLT

Jacob was returning to Canaan with 11 sons. And one of those sons, Joseph, would play an integral part in the fulfillment of God’s promise. What Jacob did not realize was that his entire life was to be a foreshadowing of the nation of Israel. Just as Jacob had fled to a foreign land to escape certain death, so too the people of Israel would flee to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And like Jacob, their forefather, the people of Israel would find themselves living as little more than captives in their new homeland. But God would eventually redeem them, just as He was doing for Jacob. He would faithfully fulfill His covenant commitment and return His exiled sons and daughters to the land of promise.

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.

The God of the Speckled, Spotted, and Flawed

25 As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” 27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you. 28 Name your wages, and I will give it.” 29 Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. 30 For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” 31 He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: 32 let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. 33 So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” 34 Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” 35 But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. 36 And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.

37 Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 38 He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39 the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. 40 And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, 42 but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.  Genesis 30:25-43 ESV

Years earlier, when Jacob had left Beersheba in search of a wife, God had made promised to remain with him. In a vision, God had declared to him, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” And the story that Moses records clearly reveals how God had been keeping that promise. Jacob had left home as an unmarried man and now he had two wives, an equal number of concubines, and 11 sons. But even Jacob knew that it was time for him to come out from under his father-in-law’s control and return home. He had spent the last 14 years earning the right to marry Rachel and now, after a long delay, she had delivered him a son.

But leaving his father-in-law’s employment would prove to be more difficult than he thought. Laban was resistant to letting go of his two daughters, 11 grandsons, and hard-working son-in-law. He even admitted to Jacob, “I have become wealthy, for the Lord has blessed me because of you” (Genesis 30:27 NLT). It’s difficult to decipher whether Laban was sincere or simply trying to persuade Jacob that his stay in Haran had been a “God thing.” There is no indication that Laban was a religious man or that he worshiped Yahweh. But he knew that Jacob, like his grandfather, Abraham, was committed to God. So, he tried to persuade Jacob that God had ordained his time in Haran. This was true, but it is not clear that Laban had received that message directly from God.

God’s involvement in the entire affair is without question. He had promised to remain with Jacob and bring him back safely to Canaan. In the meantime, God had been protecting Jacob, turning Laban’s deception into a blessing. While Laban had deceived Jacob into marrying Leah, it had resulted in eight of his 11 sons, including Joseph, who would later play an instrumental role in the preservation of Jacob’s family. God had been at work, providing for Jacob’s needs and protecting his life.

The day came when Jacob knew it was time to go. There is no indication that he received a message from God, but it seems that he had finally grown tired of living under another man’s roof and control. So, he approached Laban and said, “Please release me so I can go home to my own country. Let me take my wives and children, for I have earned them by serving you, and let me be on my way. You certainly know how hard I have worked for you” (Genesis 30:25-26 NLT).

It seems that Laban believed Jacob was upset about the way he had been treated and was looking for some kind of compensation for all his labor. For more than 14 years, he had been little more than a slave to Laban and helped make him a wealthy man. And Laban was not ready to give up this valuable resource, so he told Jacob to name his price. What would it take to get him to stay? And Jacob acknowledged that he felt slighted by Laban.

“You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?” – Genesis 30:29-30 NLT

But Jacob wasn’t interested in staying. He was ready to leaven Haran and Laban behind. Yet, he decided to take Laban up on his offer and proposed a suitable form of compensation.

“Don’t give me anything. Just do this one thing, and I’ll continue to tend and watch over your flocks. Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages. – Genesis 30:31-32 NLT

Jacob asked to be paid in sheep. He proposed that he be allowed to take all the non-white sheep from among Laban’s flocks. The spotted and dark-colored sheep would have been in the minority, leaving Laban with a greater number of pure white sheep which were of greater value. In a sense, Jacob was asking to receive the dregs of Laban’s flocks.

The always wily Laban agreed to Jacob’s offer, but immediately took measures to protect his assets. Before Jacob could have a chance to make his selection, Laban ordered his sons to remove all the spotted and speckled sheep from among his flocks and take them 3-days journey away. He cheated Jacob again. And it seems obvious that Jacob would have seen through this charade. But rather than complain, he took decided to give Laban a taste of his own medicine. What happens next is difficult to explain. Jacob’s actions seem to be based more on superstition and folklore than anything else.

He came up with a rather strange plan that involved the use of “fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees” (Genesis 30:37 ESV). He then peeled off strips of the bark, revealing the lighter-colored interior. “Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated” (Genesis 30:38 NLT). What happens next is inexplicable. It seems that when the sheep mated “in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted” (Genesis 30:39 NLT).

There is no scientific explanation for what occurred. It’s likely that Jacob was utilizing what was nothing more than an old wive’s tale. But for some unknown reason, it worked. As the sheep mated, they produced spotted and speckled lambs. When mating season came around again, Jacob reintroduced these spotted sheep into the flock and the result was more of the same. Over time, he used Laban’s non-spotted sheep to produce a flock that was predominantly spotted, speckled and black. And, as if to add insult to injury, Jacob removed all the weak and feeble sheep when it came time to mate, ensuring that all the lambs that were born were healthy and disease-free. And Moses states that Jacob’s rather strange process produced outstanding results.

As a result, Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 NLT

This entire process and the results it produced would have required multiple seasons. So, it extended Jacob’s stay but helped transform him into a wealthy and influential man. He was able to parley his sheep-mating venture into a lucrative business that allowed him to buy servants, camels, and donkeys. He would be returning to Canaan as a very rich man.

But, as always, this story is meant to highlight the sovereign power of God. The only explanation for Jacob’s success is Yahweh. Throwing black and white tree branches into the watering troughs at mating time had nothing to do with anything. Jacob may have been convinced that his efforts had produced the outcome he enjoyed, but it was all the handiwork of God. Jacob could attempt to take credit for his own success, but Moses would have his readers understand that God was the actual hero of the story. What had taken place was a miracle. It was no different than when Moses used a staff to part the water of the Red Sea. God used something common and ordinary to do the uncommon and extraordinary. And in a way, the imagery of the speckled and spotted sheep is a fitting metaphor for the people of Israel. God was going to set apart the small, insignificant, and flawed family of Jacob in order to produce a mighty nation. He would take what others considered to be the rejects and transform them into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV). But that is a story for another day.

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.