Father Knows Best

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of a life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity.

He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, and the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a wordplay, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to highly fragrant anointing oil.

Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed can douse himself with cologne, but he will only cover up the fact that he stinks. He isn’t fixing his problem; he’s simply masking it. His life is a sham and marked by hypocrisy.

Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows the ultimate outcome of that child’s life. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice on the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease celebrating a new birth, but that we recognize the end of one’s life is what truly matters. Why? Because we all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they’re all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we can’t be certain that our expectations will come to fruition. Yet, at the time of death, there will be irrefutable evidence that proves the true nature of a person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our hearts and put a smile on our faces, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is a place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is only there that his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment.

But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of one’s life that their true character will be revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life that was little more than a facade. All was not as it appeared to be. The sweet-smelling oil of success and outer happiness merely masked the reality that there was nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, they will prove of little value or significance. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination to discover all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure over pain, happiness rather than heartache, and a good time instead a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brings true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely results in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. This is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life over the short term, but only wisdom can protect and prolong your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and the application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-sounding lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom-producing words to consider.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God.

Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? – Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the most valuable lessons. And as before, Solomon boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion:

Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience; the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything and find Him. The fool will set his sights on experiencing joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance, and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

For those who believe in God, the future is always bright because they know that He has a plan for them. They refuse to live in the past and they refrain from allowing the present to dominate their lives. Instead, they consider the words that God spoke to the people of Israel when they were living as exiles in the land of Babylon.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The wise realize that God is always at work. He never sleeps. He never stops implementing His sovereign plan for those He loves. And while life may sometimes take a turn for the worse, a believer understands that God is far from done. That’s why Solomon warns that living in the past is a waste of time. When things don’t turn out quite the way we expected, it doesn’t pay to reminisce and wax nostalgic.

Don’t long for “the good old days.”
    This is not wise. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 NLT

Keep trusting God. Focus your eyes on the future and trust that His sovereign plan will bring about the best outcome. He will not disappoint. Rather than judging God’s faithfulness by the quality of the circumstances surrounding your life, try resting in the fact that He knows what is best and has a purpose for everything that happens in life.

Accept the way God does things,
    for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 NLT

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

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

God’s Mysterious and Magnificent Plan

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:1-13 ESV

Chapter three is a continuation of Paul’s thoughts regarding how Christ created “in himself one new man in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus provided a means by which both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God and to one another.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

It was “for this reason” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV), that Paul was writing his letter to them while under house arrest in Rome. His faithful efforts to fulfill the commission given to him by Christ, to take the gospel to the Gentile world, had resulted in his imprisonment. Paul informs his Gentile readers that his call by Jesus to take imprisonment in Rome was the direct result of his ministry to It was Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles that had resulted in his imprisonment in Rome.

It had all begun with a trip to Jerusalem, where Paul informed James and the other apostles of his work among the Gentiles.

…he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:19-21 NLT

Jewish converts to Christianity had been spreading vicious rumors about Paul, accusing him of belittling the Mosaic Law and banning the practice of circumcision. They presented Paul as a threat to Judaism and later accused him of violating the Mosaic Law by bringing a Gentile into the temple.

They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. – Acts 21:30-31 ESV

The Jews drew up plans to assassinate Paul, but he was removed to the city of Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for two years. Eventually he was summoned to appear before Festus, the Roman-appointed governor. Festus reviewed the charges against Paul and gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. But Paul, who was a Roman citizen, requested a hearing before the emperor.

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” – Acts 25:9-12 ESV

And Paul was eventually transported to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest while awaiting a trial before the emperor. It was from Rome that he wrote his letter to the Ephesians, and he informs them that he was a prisoner “on behalf of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV). Had he not faithfully fulfilled his commission and taken the gospel to the Gentiles, he would never have ended up in chains. The whole affair in Jerusalem would have never taken place.

But his entire mission had been to proclaim the mystery that had been revealed to him by Christ. It had been Jesus Himself who had ordered Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This inclusion of non-Jews into the family of God had been hidden from the prophets. They had never realized that it had always been God’s intention to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue in the household of faith. This “mystery of Christ” … “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations” (Ephesians 3:4, 5 ESV). Even Jesus’ disciples had been blind to the fact that Jesus was destined to be the Messiah of all nations, not just the Jewish people. And Paul clearly articulates the nature of this mystery.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6 ESV

And Paul declares that it had been his duty, as a minister of God, “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). He had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). And he had fulfilled that role faithfully. Even while under house arrest in Rome, he continued to carry out the mandate given to him by Christ.

For Paul, the church was the divine manifestation of God’s glory and grace. It was like a beautiful tapestry, woven from a variety of multicolored threads, all according to a pattern established by God Himself.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 3:10 ESV

“The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique.” – Cornelius R. Stam, Acts Dispensationally Considered

The church is not a man-made institution. It was not the result of human ingenuity or insight. It was the mysterious plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world and was revealed in the atoning death of His Son on the cross. Jesus had come to save the world, not just the Jewish people. He had been born a Jew, a son of Abraham so that He might fulfill the promise made to Abraham. It would be through the seed of Abraham that God would bless all the nations of the earth. And the Gentile believers in Ephesus were proof that God had kept that promise.

And Paul reminds his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ that, together, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12 ESV). The world was no longer divided between Jews and Gentiles. Because of the finished work of Christ, the believers in Ephesus were no longer “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV).

The mystery was no longer hidden. The manifold, multi-variegated wisdom of God was on full display in the church, the body of Christ. And in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he was given of this multi-ethnic, cross-cultural assembly standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

This was how Paul viewed the church, even in his day. And he was honored to be suffering on its behalf. So, he begged the Ephesian believers to view his imprisonment as a blessing, not a curse. They had no reason to be ashamed and he had no cause for regret. It was all part of the mysterious and magnificent plan of God.

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

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

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

 

Why Is This Happening?

19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Genesis 25:19-28 ESV

Ultimately, the book of Genesis traces the history of a single man, Abraham, and his subsequent descendants. But along the way, the author has provided an essential background story to Abraham’s life by chronicling God’s creation of mankind and the entrance of sin into the plotline. It was the ubiquitous and all-pervasive presence of sin that led God to destroy the world with a flood. But in His grace and mercy, God spared one man, Noah, and his family, charging them with the divine mandate to multiply and fill the earth. The following chapters of Genesis reveal that from that one man and his family came a multitude of nations that spread over the face of the earth. But sadly, as they spread, so did sin. So, God chose a man named Abram, who lived in the land of Mesopotamia and promised to make of him a great nation. God called Abram out of his homeland and led him to the land of Canaan, which He promised to give to him as an inheritance.

But by this time in the story, Abraham has died and his son, Isaac, is married but childless. The “great nation” that was to have come through Abraham’s line consists of one man. Yet, Ishmael, Isaac’s disinherited stepbrother has fathered 12 sons. Even Abraham fathered six more sons after the birth of Isaac, but they would not share in the inheritance with their step-brother. It seems that the non-elect nations of the earth were continuing to grow and spread, while the elect line of Abraham remained stalled and facing yet another case of barrenness that would result in more fruitlessness.

Everything about this story screams futility and failure. Yet, behind the scenes, God is working His sovereign plan. While, at first glance, it may appear like that plan has hit another roadblock, these verses reveal that God is in full control. Yes, the patriarch of the family is dead, and Isaac, the sole heir of the family inheritance remains childless. To make matters worse, his wife Rebekah is barren. And this sad state of affairs will remain unchanged for 20 long years. For two decades Isaac and Rebekah would long for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham.

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

“Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:19 ESV

God had kept His word and Isaac had been born. But 60 years later, Isaac and his wife were still waiting to have a child of their own. Where was the offspring that God had promised? How was Isaac to share the inheritance of the land if he and his wife could have no children?

It is essential to understand the futility of Isaac’s circumstances. He was living in the land of Canaan, the land God had promised as an inheritance to Abraham’s descendants. But Isaac was still living a nomadic lifestyle, just as his father had. He owned no land, occupied no cities, and remained an insignificant minority surrounded by much larger clans, tribes, and nations. And, year after year, the seasons would come and go and Isaac’s flocks would bear new lambs, but he remained childless.

And how did Isaac handle the repeated disappointment of childlessness? The text indicates that he prayed. And it seems unlikely that this was a one-time occurrence. Isaac repeatedly and passionately pleaded with God.

Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. – Genesis 25:21 ESV

He knew what the problem was, and he took it straight to Yahweh. Moses doesn’t divulge the content of Isaac’s intercessions, but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what this man prayed year after year. With each new spring, he must have called out to God, asking for Him to open Rebekah’s womb. Isaac would have known the miraculous nature of his own birth. His father and mother had waited years before God stepped in and caused Sarah to conceive.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. – Genesis 21:1-3 ESV

But while Isaac was familiar with the story, he still longed to see his own wife’s battle with barrenness broken. He desperately desired to have a son. And for 20 years Isaac prayed and waited. And God heard those prayers. He was not ignoring Isaac or punishing him for some sin he had committed. He was simply following His preordained timeline. And, one day, at just the right time, God answered Isaac’s prayer.

And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. – Genesis 25:21 ESV

God opened Rebekah’s womb. To Isaac, this would have appeared to be a 20-year delay. But to God, it was all according to His providentially prepared timeline.

The news of Rebekah’s pregnancy must have thrilled Isaac. He would have been beside himself with joy and eager anticipation as he waited for the nine months to pass and the baby to be born. But things took a turn for the worse. Rebekah ended up having a difficult pregnancy. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was carrying twins, and the two babies “struggled together within her” (Genesis 25:22 ESV). The pain must have been unbearable, leaving Rebekah concerned about the viability of the baby and worried about her own health. She took the matter to God, asking, “why is this happening to me?” (Genesis 25:22 ESV). She couldn’t understand what was going on. Her joy had turned to fear and apprehension. Thoughts of losing the baby must have crossed her mind. But God reassured her.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

God informed Rebekah that she was carrying two sons. This news must have thrilled her and helped to calm her fears. And God went on to explain that the “struggle” taking place within her womb was a sign of the future struggle that would take place between her two sons. In a sense, Rebekah was bearing two future nations that would end up in a perpetual state of conflict and acrimony.

This announcement from God must have left Rebekah as perplexed and confused as ever. While she was comforted to know that her difficult pregnancy was the result of twins and not a serious medical problem, she would have been displeased to hear that the relationship between her two sons was destined to be adversarial.

God was informing Rebekah and Isaac that they would be used to produce two nations through whom He would accomplish His divine plan of redemption. God could have blessed this couple with a single child but He had other plans. At this point, His purpose for placing two sons in Rebekah’s womb remains obscure and difficult to ascertain. And His plan for those two sons to result in two nations that stand diametrically opposed to one another remains a mystery.

Rebekah and Isaac are given little in the way of explanation. So, they simply had to wait and see what God was going to do. It’s not clear from the text just how much of God’s message Rebekah shared with Isaac. Other than the news that she was carrying twins, she might have withheld the details concerning the prophecy concerning sibling rivalry.

But the day finally came when Rebekah gave birth, and just as God had said, she delivered two healthy boys. But there was something unique about this delivery. The two babies, while twins, appeared to be nothing alike.

The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. – Genesis 25:25 NLT

Not exactly a flattering description. And it doesn’t appear that Moses was using hyperbole in describing the baby’s appearance, because Isaac and Rebekah named him Esau, which means “hairy one.”

And when the second baby appeared, hanging on to one of Esau’s hairy heels, they named him, Jacob, which means “God will protect.” But in Hebrew, Jacob sounds similar to the word for “heel.” So Jacob would earn the nickname of “heel-grabber.”

With the births of these two boys, the scene is set for the next phase of the story. And Moses fast-forwards past the early days of their lives and straight to their adulthood. And the differences between the two young men become increasingly more pronounced with time. Esau became an outdoorsman and a hunter, while Jacob was more of a homebody. They displayed different temperaments and dispositions. Over time, they looked and acted less and less like siblings. No one would have ever guessed that they were twins. And even their relationships with their parents reveal a growing familial conflict brewing.

Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob. – Genesis 25:28 NLT

The stage is set. God has established the next set of players in His grand drama and the story is about to take yet another dramatic and decisive turn. And as the events unfold, the readers of this story will echo the words of Rebekah: “Why is this happening?”

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.

Fear Not, For God Has Heard

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. Genesis 21:8-21 ESV

The birth of Isaac brought great joy to Sarah and Abraham. But his long-awaited arrival also rekindled some bitter animosities that lay hidden in Sarah’s heart. For the last 14 years, she had been forced to put up with the presence of Ishmael, the son that Hagar, her handmaiden, had born to Abraham. Every time she saw him, she was reminded of her ill-fated plan to have Hagar serve as her surrogate, providing Abraham with the son she was incapable of providing. But his presence soon became a constant irritant to her. In fact, not long after his birth she had forced Abraham to send he and his mother away, hoping to rid herself of this unfortunate reminder of her own insufficiency. But God had other plans. He demanded that Hagar and her newborn son return to Abraham’s household. And while that prospect probably didn’t sit well with Hagar, God provided her with a powerful promise that served as ample motivation for her to obey.

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 16:10 ESV

Hagar did return, and for the next 14 years she raised her son in Abraham’s household. But with the birth of Isaac, things would take a dramatic turn for the worse. Moses mentions Isaac’s weaning, which would have taken place some two to three years after his birth. So, when Ishmael had reached the age of 16 or 17, he suddenly found himself facing Sarah’s full wrath. It all took place at a celebratory feast in honor of Isaac’s weaning.

During this festive occasion, Sarah saw Ishmael “laughing.” While the Hebrew word can refer to mocking or coarse jesting, it was most commonly used to refer to laughter. There is nothing in the text that would suggest that Ishmael was making fun of Isaac. Since the overall atmosphere was that of a festival, it seems much more likely that Ishmael was simply enjoying himself. But the embittered Sarah took exception to his presence and found his behavior irritating and unacceptable. So, once again, she demanded that Abraham get rid of this thorn in her flesh.

“Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” – Genesis 21:10 NLT

Sarah’s strongly worded statement speaks volumes about the state of her heart. She was a jealous and angry woman. She was vengeful and vindictive. Despite God’s incredible blessings and the miraculous gift of a son, she displayed a remarkable level of animosity and ungratefulness. While it seems quite obvious that she despised Hagar and Ishmael, her real motivation was an unwillingness to give Ishmael any hope of sharing in Isaac’s inheritance. She could care less that Ishmael was a son of Abraham and a rightful heir to the family inheritance. She was demanding that Abraham disinherit Ishmael and kick he and his mother to the curb.

Abraham’s joyful feast had suddenly turned into a disturbing family feud, and it left him troubled and torn. After all, Ishmael was his son and he had been a part of the family ever since his birth. Yet now, Abraham was facing the prospect of having to case aside one of his own children or refuse, and face the wrath of his highly volatile wife.

There had been a time when Abraham thought Ishmael would be the son through whom God would fulfill all His promises. But God had made it clear that His plan would not include Ishmael. And yet, God promised to bless Abraham’s first-born son.

“No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” – Genesis 17:19-20 NLT

And, in an effort to comfort Abraham, God reiterated this promise concerning Ishmael.

“Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” – Genesis 21:12-13 NLT

Basically, God was informing Abraham that Sarah’s jealousy-motivated demand was all part of His grand plan. In order for God to fulfill His plans concerning Isaac, there needed to be a physical separation of the two sons. And now, some 16-17 years after his first exile from Abraham’s home, Ishmael was old enough to survive life in the outside world. And God assured Abraham that Ishmael would not only survive, but he would thrive, eventually fathering a great nation of his own.

In a disheartening case of déjà vu, Hagar suddenly found she and her son wandering in the wilderness yet again. Abraham had graciously provided them with food and water but it was not longer before those provisions ran out.

When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears. – Genesis 21:15-16 NLT

Moses’ description of this heart-wrenching scene almost portrays Ishmael as a small child, but he was likely a strapping young teenager. Yet, regardless of his age, Hagar, like any loving mother, viewed her son as innocent and helpless. She knew that it was just a matter of time before she and Ishmael succumbed to the harsh conditions of the wilderness. So, she removed herself some distance and waited for the inevitable to happen. But God had other plans.

It’s interesting to note that Moses describes Hagar as lifting up her voice and weeping. Yet, in the very next verse, he states that “God heard the voice of the boy” (Genesis 21:17 ESV). Perhaps Ishmael, like his father,  had learned to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 13:4). But rather than speaking to Ishmael, God addressed Himself to Hagar.

“What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” – Genesis 21:17-18 ESV

God was letting Hagar know that He was watching over her son. He knew what was happening and He had a plan in place. She had no reason to worry or fear. God assured this loving mother that she could hold fast to her son because he was in the highly capable hands of his loving heavenly Father. Abraham may have disinherited Ishmael but God had not.

In the midst of her heartache and despair, just when she thought all was lost, God showed up. And the gracious and all-merciful God gave this Egyptian handmaiden a powerful promise of future blessings on her son. He would make of Ishmael a great nation. And, as God opened Hagar’s ears to hear His promise, He opened her eyes to see the miraculous presence of a well in the middle of the wilderness.

God protected and provided for Hagar and her son. They both lived to see another day. He grew to become a mighty warrior and eventually found a wife who was an Egyptian just like his mother. Ishmael would go on to father 12 sons, just like Isaac (Genesis 25:13-16). And his descendants would eventually become the Arab nations that would prove to be a constant source of conflict for the people of Israel. This was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham sometime earlier.

He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. – Genesis 17:20 ESV

And Ishmael would fulfill the promise that God had made to Hagar some 16-17 years earlier.

“This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” – Genesis 16:12 NLT

God was working His plan to perfection. And little did Sarah understand that her hatred for Hagar and Ishmael would produce a centuries-long feud between their two nations.

But all throughout this passage, we see the sovereign will of God being displayed as He accomplishes His plan and distributes His blessings as He sees fit. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. He knows exactly what He is doing and is not caught off guard or forced to change plans based on the actions of His fallen creatures. God sees. He hears. He acts. He orchestrates. And He methodically and systematically accomplishes His righteous purposes.

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 Perilous Plans of Man

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Genesis 16:1-4 ESV

To understand this chapter, one must remember the promise that God reiterated to Abram at the beginning of chapter 15.

“This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 ESV

Abram had become convinced that, due to his wife’s barrenness, the only way God could fulfill His promise to give Abram more descendants than there are grains of sand on the seashore, was if Abram adopted his servant, Eliezer as his heir. But God deemed that option as unacceptable. The divine plan would not be based on a household servant or even a blood-relative such as Lot. God was emphatic that the heir He had in mind would be a child born to Abram and Sarai.

Abram had expressed his strong doubts about God’s plan by stating, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3 ESV). In other words, he had reached the conclusion that, for God’s plan to be fulfilled, there would need to be a work-around. Yet, that’s when God had informed Abram that his very own son would be his heir. And that’s when God confirmed His statement by commanding Abram: “number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he assured Abram, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).

With this as a backdrop, chapter 16 begins to make more sense. Moses opens the chapter begins with a statement that is, excuse the pun, pregnant with meaning.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. – Genesis 16:1 ESV

Despite all the assurances from God, Abram still found himself fatherless and struggling with doubt concerning the promise of abundant offspring. At this point in his life’s journey, he had no children and, therefore, no tangible evidence that God was going to do what He had promised to do. If anything, from Abram’s point of view, he continued to face a hopeless situation that appeared to have no chance of fulfillment. At this point in the story, Abram had been living in Canaan for an extended period of time. Yet, he still owned no property and his wife had born him no heir. In other words, not much had changed since the day he had arrived in the land of Canaan from his home in Haran.

This where it gets interesting. Sarai, the one whose infertility seemed to be throwing a wrench into God’s plan, decided to come up with her own solution to the problem. There is a palpable sense of guilt in this passage. Sarai felt personally responsible for the predicament in which her husband found himself. As his wife, she had, quite literally, failed to deliver. She had given him no son. In a sense, she was burdened by her inability to produce an heir and felt compelled to come up with an alternative plan. And Moses reveals the logic behind her thinking.

She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. – Genesis 16:2 ESV

Since God had refused to consider Eliezer because he was not a blood-born son of Abram, she reasoned that there was another way to fulfill God’s requirement with a little ingenuity. If Abram was to impregnate Hagar, any son she delivered would be a true son of Abram and not an adopted servant or nephew like Lot. Since she viewed herself as the problem, she decided to remove herself from the equation.

But up to this point, Sarai had been a major player in the story of Abram’s call and commission to move his family to Canaan. Chapter 12 reveals that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife… ” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). Sarai had always been part of the plan. And God knew all about her inability to bear children. In fact, Moses made it clear in chapter 11 that, even before Abram left Haran, Sarai’s problem was readily apparent.

Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children. – Genesis 11:30 NLT

None of this was a surprise to God. He knew and had planned for Sarai’s infertility. As the sovereign God of the universe, her physical disability was a preordained circumstance through which God was going to reveal His power and presence. He was going to prove to Abram and Sarai that He was the God of the impossible.

But in a sincere attempt to help God out, Sarai shared her ingenious idea with Abram.

“The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

And according to Moses’ account, “Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal” (Genesis 16:2 NLT).  One can almost get the impression that Abram quickly and, rather eagerly, bought into his wife’s plan. He doesn’t question her suggestion or argue with the potential efficacy of the arrangement. He simply decides to play along.

So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan). – Genesis 16:3 NLT

In an attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise, Sarai decided to share her husband with another woman.

“It was a serious matter for a man to be childless in the ancient world, for it left him without an heir. But it was even more calamitous for a woman: to have a great brood of children was the mark of success as a wife; to have none was ignominious failure. So throughout the ancient East polygamy was resorted to as a means of obviating childlessness. But wealthier wives preferred the practice of surrogate motherhood, whereby they allowed their husbands to ‘go in to’ . . . their maids, a euphemism for sexual intercourse (cf. 6:4; 30:3; 38:8, 9; 39:14). The mistress could then feel that her maid’s child was her own and exert some control over it in a way that she could not if her husband simply took a second wife.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pg. 7

But unbeknownst to Sarai, her decision would have long-term ramifications, not only for she and Abram, but for their future descendants as well, and for generations to come. As Eve convinced Adam to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit of the true of the knowledge of good and evil, so Sarai convinced Abram to question God’s word and fulfill the promise through purely human and fleshly means. Hagar was never intended to be the vessel through whom God would work. She was a surrogate or substitute, chosen by a barren woman who was so desperate to have a child that she would do anything.

Sarai truly believed this was a good idea. But when her husband “had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant” (Genesis 15:4 NLT), Sarai quickly discovered just how flawed her plan really was. Abram’s encounter with Hagar produced immediate results, which must have enhanced Sarai’s feelings of inadequacy. And, to make matters worse, Hagar flaunted her pregnancy in  Sarai’s face. 

…when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. – Genesis 16:4 NLT

Hagar sensed that, with her pregnancy, she had been elevated to a position of primacy in Abram’s household. No longer a mere maidservant, Hagar relished her new role as the seed-bearer to Abram. She believed she would be the one to fulfill the promise of God and bring Abram the offspring for whom he long been waiting. Jealousy and an unhealthy atmosphere of competition crept into Abram’s household, and it was not long before his wife’s clever plan produced some disheartening and difficult decisions for God’s servant.

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.

I Will Hope In Him

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men. – Lamentations 3:19-33 ESV

Jeremiah was not afraid to tell God how he was feeling. And one of the reasons he felt comfortable sharing his heart with God is because he knew how much God cared for him. He could dare to bare his soul because he believed that his Heavenly Father was already aware of his plight and was the only source of hope he had left. There was no king in Israel he could turn to for help. The army had been destroyed. The capital lay in ruins. Even the temple of God was nothing but a smoldering pile of rubble. And as Jeremiah surveyed his surroundings and evaluated his circumstances, the only thing he had left was his relationship with God.

Jeremiah’s mood was dark and he was having a difficult time accepting all that had happened. When he looked around him he saw nothing that could put a positive spin on his circumstances. Happy thoughts were hard to come by. Perseverance was in short supply. And his hope was dwindling fast.

I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”  – Lamentations 3:17-18 ESV

He was beginning to doubt God. The pressing problems of life were taking a toll on his faith. This prophet of God was allowing the circumstances of life to determine his perspective about God. But he caught himself. He realigned his thoughts and refocused his attention on what he knew to be true about God, and his hope was restored.

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope… – Lamentations 3:21 ESV

And what was it that Jeremiah called to mind? The unwavering, never-ceasing love of the Lord.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

In the midst of all the uncertainty surrounding him, Jeremiah found hope in the certainty of God’s love. With all the change that had happened in Judah, Jeremiah forced himself to focus on the one thing that would consistently remain the same: The faithful love of the Lord.

All that had happened in Judah was not to be taken as a sign that God no longer loved them. The judgment they had experienced had been an expression of God’s love for them. He had been lovingly correcting them.

“My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:6-7 NLT

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

But when you’re on the receiving end of God’s judgment, it is difficult to see it as loving and good. It is painful and unpleasant. It appears to be unkind and unnecessary. But the author of Hebrews would have us remember that even human fathers lovingly discipline their children. So, how much more so must our Heavenly Father discipline those whom He calls His own?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

For Jeremiah, his hope was based on the unchanging nature of God. The love of God never ceases. His capacity to show mercy is endless. His mercies show up every day just like the morning sun. His faithfulness is great – which means it is beyond measure, limitless, totally sufficient and will never run out. The presence of problems was not to be seen as proof of the absence of God’s faithfulness. He was the covenant-keeping God who always fulfills His promises. And while things looked bleak in Judah, God had not abandoned His people or His prophet.

And Jeremiah, as much to himself as to the people around him, points out the key to thriving under the loving discipline of God.

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age
    to the yoke of his discipline… – Lamentations 3:25-27 NLT

Yes, the days were dark. The conditions in Judah were bleak and unpleasant. But God was loving, gracious, kind, and compassionate. He had a purpose behind all the pain. Their suffering was intended to act as a divine wakeup call, alerting the people of Judah to the seriousness of their sin and their need for God’s salvation.

God had removed every prop upon which they had built their lives. Their human king and his earthly kingdom had been destroyed. Their prophets and priests, intended to be the spokesmen for God, had been silenced. The sacrificial system, meant to provide atonement for sin, had been eliminated. Their economy was shot. Their homes had been demolished. Their neighbors had been taken captive. And their prospects for the future were bleak. But God was still there. And that’s why Jeremiah said, “there may yet be hope” (Lamentations 3:29 ESV).

But before they could hope to be rescued by God, they were going to have to accept the discipline of God. They were going to have to willingly submit to His loving instruction. To stubbornly resist His discipline would do little more than prolong the pain. They had a lesson to learn and God would patiently persist until they were as willing to accept His instruction as they were His salvation.

And Jeremiah reminds his people that God’s steadfast love and unwavering faithfulness will one day result in their restoration to a right relationship with Him.

For no one is abandoned
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
    because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people
    or causing them sorrow. – Lamentations 3:31-33 NLT

Despite the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the nation of Judah, God was not done with them. He had plans in place that would result in their future blessing. His love had not run out. His mercies had not been tapped out. This whole state of affairs was all part of God’s divine plan and He had already told them how it was going to work out.

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” – Jeremiah 29:10-13 NLT

And this is what led Jeremiah to say, “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”

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

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

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

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B.

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 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 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

According to Plan.

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Acts 2:22-28 ESV

Peter flatly denies the accusation that they are drunk with wine. They are under the influence of the Holy Spirit and what the crowd had just witnessed was in partial fulfillment of the prophecies of Joel. With the resurrection of Jesus, something new was happening that was the beginning of the last days and would eventually usher in the final judgment of mankind. And all of, Peter insists, was part of God’s divine plan. Even the death of Jesus had been “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 ESV). His crucifixion had not been an unexpected setback, but the central part of God’s foreordained plan of redemption. Peter would later write about this in his first letter.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT
And yet, Peter lays the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of the Jews to whom he is talking. It was their shouts of “Crucify Him!” and their refusal to accept Pilate’s offer of clemency for Jesus that had resulted in His death sentence. Peter makes it emphatically clear, “With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him” (Acts 2:23 NLT). Not exactly the kind of rhetoric that wins friends and influences enemies. Speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter was not interested in political correctness. He was out to present the gospel in all of its glory. The fact was, the Jews had willingly participated in the death of Jesus, the Messiah. And Peter states that they were without excuse. Jesus had been attested or proven to them through the many signs and wonders He had performed. These miracles had been ample proof that He had been sent by God. And yet, they had refused to accept Him as their Savior and Messiah. He had not come as they had expected. He had failed to appear as a king or mighty warrior. Sure, He had performed miracles, healed the sick, turned water into wine, fed the multitudes and even raised the dead, but they had been looking for another David, not an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth.
But, in spite of their role in the death of Jesus, Peter informs them that God had another plan in mind. His Son was destined to die for the sins of mankind, but He would live to come another day. Peter declares, “God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip” (Acts 2:24 NLT). Yes, they had killed Jesus, but God had raised Him back to life. And, some time later, after his conversion, Paul would write to the Corinthian believers, “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 NLT). It was Jesus’ resurrection that made possible mankind’s forgiveness from sin. His death paid the debt, but His resurrection proved that His life had been sinless and a worthy offering. Death is the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23). But Jesus had died for our sins, not His own. So His death was temporary in nature. God released Him from the horrors of death. On the cross, just moments before He died, Jesus had cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 NLT). As Jesus took on Himself the sins of mankind, His heavenly Father was forced to turn away from Him. The sins of mankind separated Him from His Father for the first time in all eternity. That is what sin does. And death is not just the absence of life, but eternal separation from God. The Father didn’t turn away from Jesus, but from the sins He bore on behalf of you and me. Jesus died so that we might not have to. And He was raised to new life as proof that we too will one day follow His example. Paul went on to explain the significance of Jesus’ resurrection to the believers in Corinth.

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT

The next thing Peter weave into his address to the crowds is a quote from King David. He uses Psalm 16:8-11 to prove that Jesus was the fulfillment of the words of David himself. In the psalm, David had written of God’s close proximity to him through all the trials of life. God was at his right hand, nearby and always available. But Peter turns this statement into a prophetic utterance concerning Jesus, the Messiah. One of the reasons he does so, is that David states, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption”, and yet, David would eventually die and his body would most certainly decay in the tomb. But Jesus, the Son of David, would not undergo decay. He would not be abandoned by God to death and the tomb. He was raised back to life after three days.

Using David’s own words, Peter applies them to Jesus. “You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence” (Acts 2:28 NLT). Just days before His death, Jesus had reassured His disciples with these words:

1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

And just a few verses later, we hear Jesus state those wonderfully reassuring words:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 NLT

Jesus is the way of life. And He has returned to the Father, as proof that His way works. He has taken His rightful place at His Father’s side and will one day return for all those who believe in His name and who have placed their trust in Him as their Savior. And the amazing thing is that, those in Peter’s audience, who had vicariously played a part in Jesus’ death, could also take part in His resurrection by recognizing Him for who He was: The Son of God and the Savior of the world. And, as we shall see, many in the crowd that day would do just that. Their sins were not too great. Their role in Jesus’ death was not too much that it could not be overcome by the love of God and the sacrificial death of His Son. As Paul so aptly put it: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Their sin had led to His death. But His death could lead to their salvation. And all according to plan – the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

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

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

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

Curses, Foiled Again!

Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord‘s battles.” For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.” And Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king’s son-in-law.’” And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” And the servants of Saul told him, “Thus and so did David speak.” Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.

Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed. – 1 Samuel 18:17-30 ESV

In attempting to rid himself of David, Saul had tried the direct approach. On multiple occasions, in one of his fits of rage, he had unsuccessfully attempted to kill David with a spear. But his failures only fueled his desire to get rid of this threat to his reign as king. So he became more clandestine and creative in his efforts. He would develop plans by which he could expose David to life-threatening circumstances, while making it look like he was innocent and non-complicit.

For whatever reason, Saul had not yet kept his promise to reward the one who killed the Philistine champion, Goliath. He had promised to “enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25 ESV). And yet, David, the very one who had met the conditions to receive the reward, had not been given Saul’s daughter to marry. And when Saul finally decides to give David his eldest daughter, Merab, to marry, he adds conditions and exposes his expectations. David could marry Merab as long as he agreed to fight Israel’s enemies. And it was this added condition that revealed Saul’s true motivation. He cleverly disguised his intent by telling David, “Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles” (1 Samuel 18:17 ESV). He appealed to David’s sense of valor and his dedication to God. He was going to use David’s faithfulness to God and country as a means to have him eliminated.

For Saul thought,Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:17 ESV

But David, ignorant of Saul’s devices, simply turned down the king’s generous offer, because he did not see himself as worthy of the honor.

Because of David’s polite refusal to accept Merab’s hand in marriage, she was eventually given to another. But Saul would soon learn that his other daughter, Michal, loved David very much. It has already been revealed that David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, had developed a very close friendship. No doubt, David spent a great deal of time in Jonathan’s company and, as a result, had been able to get to know Michal well. Upon discovering his daughter’s affection for David, Saul saw another opportunity to rid himself of David once and for all.

Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:21 ESV

He already had a plan. He would give Michal to David but on the condition that he pay a dowry that consisted of one hundred Philistine foreskins. Once again, Saul would appeal to David’s sense of duty. He knew full well that David came from a less-than-affluent family and would be unable to pay the customary dowry and one fit for the daughter of a king. So he would allow David to use his military skills and his hatred for the enemies of God, the Philistines, to come up with a somewhat unorthodox dowry payment. And in all of this, we are given a glimpse into David’s character. Saul sent his servants to prime the pump and to convince David to strongly consider Saul’s offer of Michal. But David simply responded, “How can a poor man from a humble family afford the bride price for the daughter of a king?” (1 Samuel 18:23 NLT). He knew he was out of his league. He was unworthy to be the son-in-law to the king. He didn’t have the financial means or the family heritage to warrant such a thing. But that was not going to deter Saul. He would actually use David’s financial condition to his advantage, replacing the customary dowry price with that of the 100 Philistine foreskins. He knew that David, being a man of integrity, would take him up on his offer. But he also knew that the risk involved in David accomplishing such a feat was going to be great, and the likelihood of David dying in the process was even greater.

Verse 27 matter-of-factly states: “David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife” (1 Samuel 18:27 ESV). Much to Saul’s chagrine, David took the king up on his offer and fulfilled the requirement to have Michal as his wife. He even doubled the number of foreskins, just to make sure that he didn’t underpay for the privilege of becoming the king’s son-in-law.

Saul’s plan had failed. His strategy to eliminate David had actually elevated him. Now David was a permanent member of his family. He was married to his daughter and would more than likely give him grandchildren and potential heirs to the throne. And not only that, Saul became increasingly aware that God was with David. Everything he did was successful. And with each successive blessing of God on David, Saul’s fear of him grew exponentially. “So Saul was David’s enemy continually” (1 Samuel 18:30 ESV). This last line is significant, because it reveals that the animosity between Saul and David was one-way. David had done nothing but honor Saul, serving him as his personal armor bearer, court musician, and military commander. While David’s reputation had grown, it never appears that David was out for fame and glory. He was not prideful or arrogant. There is never an indication that he had aspirations for the crown. It is still unclear whether David even knew that his earlier anointing by Samuel had been to make him the next king of Israel. No, David simply served, faithfully and unselfishly. At no time does he seem to see Saul as his enemy, even though the king had tried to kill him with his own hands. He never utters a bad word about the king. Saul’s hatred for David was one-directional. And his attempts to kill David would continue to prove unsuccessful, because God had a greater plan in place. David would be the next king, whether Saul like it or not, and regardless of whether Saul loved David or not. David’s fame would continue to grow. So would Saul’s hatred for David. But God was not yet done. His preparation of David for the throne was not yet complete. Things would get worse before they got better. The tension between David and Saul was about to reach a boiling point and the next phase of God’s king-creating curriculum was about to begin.

Surprised By God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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