The Danger With Discontentment

1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”

12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” Numbers 16:1-14 ESV

The story of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness is a fascinating one, filled with plenty of twists and turns, plot changes and story lines. It is easy to read this chronicle of the lives of the people of God and wonder how they could be so slow to learn. How could they refuse to obey God after all He had done for them? Why would they continue to whine, complain, and moan about their lot in life when the God of the universe was leading them, providing for them, and revealing Himself to them day after day? But the truth is, as believers, we have the Spirit of God living within us and the Word of God made available to us and yet we still struggle with obedience and belief. So, we probably shouldn’t be too quick to harshly judge the Israelites.

Yet in today’s story from chapter 16 we have another occurrence of jealousy and rebellion. It seems that Korah, a grandson of Kohath, and a member of the tribe of Levi, decided that he wanted to be free to take part in the priestly responsibilities. As a Kohathite, he was part of the clan responsible for the transportation and care of all the vessels and utensils of the Tabernacle. They had been assigned that role by God.

“The duties of the Kohathites at the Tabernacle will relate to the most sacred objects.” – Numbers 4:4 NLT

According to God’s instructions, the Kohathites had a very specific role to play. And in order for them to do that job, Aaron, the high priest, and his sons had to prepare all the sacred objects for transport.

“When the camp moves, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle first to take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark of the Covenant with it. Then they must cover the inner curtain with fine goatskin leather and spread over that a single piece of blue cloth. Finally, they must put the carrying poles of the Ark in place.” – Numbers 4:5-6 NLT

Every item had to be carefully prepared according to God’s painstaking instructions. If Aaron and his sons failed to do everything just as God had commanded, it would have devastating consequences for Korah and the rest of his clan.

“The camp will be ready to move when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the sacred articles. The Kohathites will come and carry these things to the next destination. But they must not touch the sacred objects, or they will die.” – Numbers 4:15 NLT

“Do not let the Kohathite clans be destroyed from among the Levites! This is what you must do so they will live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects. Aaron and his sons must always go in with them and assign a specific duty or load to each person. The Kohathites must never enter the sanctuary to look at the sacred objects for even a moment, or they will die.” – Numbers 4:18-20 NLT

All the holy objects were to be covered with cloths to prevent the Kohathites from inadvertently touching them. And the larger items had poles inserted into the specially crafted rings that allowed them to be carried safely and securely without risk of death. It should have been considered an honor to carry these priceless objects that were essential for the worship of Yahweh. Yet, we learn that Korah was not content with the God-ordained role he and his clan had been assigned. He wanted more.

Driven by jealousy and a desire for greater prominence, he enlisted the support of others and, together, they incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly” (Numbers 4:2 NLT). It was a coup.

Korah appealed to other men in the camp to join him in his rebellion. He stirred up men from the tribe of Reuben by getting them to see that Moses had taken away the right of the firstborn of every tribe to serve God by replacing them with the sons of Levi. His argument was that every single Israelite was holy; not just Moses, Aaron, and the Levites.

He accused Moses of exalting himself above everyone else. He and his compatriots went to Moses and said, “You have gone too far! Everyone in Israel has been set apart by the LORD, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3 NLT).

Although Korah was from the tribe of Levi, he and his clan were not allowed to serve as priests, and he found this slight to be unacceptable. He viewed their role as “moving men” to be less-than-acceptable and more than a bit demeaning.

In his defense, Korah was basing his argument on a statement given by God when the people of Israel were still in Egypt.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

But what Korah failed to remember was that the entire nation had done irreparable damage to their holy status when they had been encamped at Mount Sinai. While Moses had been up on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had decided to turn their back on God and worship a newly constructed golden calf (Exodus 32). And as punishment for their sin, God had given Moses orders to execute all those who had taken part in the idolatrous festivities.

So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. – Exodus 32:26-28 NLT

It had been the Levites who stood by Moses’ side and carried out God’s orders. As a result, Moses rewarded them for their show of faithfulness and obedience.

“Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:29 NLT

But Korah wasn’t satisfied with God’s will. He demanded that a new plan be put in place. Yet, Moses attempted to reason with his disgruntled kinsman.

“Does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the community of Israel to be near him so you can serve in the Lord’s Tabernacle and stand before the people to minister to them? Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites. Are you now demanding the priesthood as well?” – Numbers 16:9-10 NLT

Moses couldn’t understand why Korah considered himself and his clansmen as second-class citizens. Why was he unable to view their God-ordained role as vital and worthy of their best efforts? And Moses tried to warn them that their complaint was really with God, not himself or Aaron.

The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against! For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?” – Numbers 16:11 NLT

Korah was walking on thin ice. He was venturing into uncharted waters that would not bring him to a far-from-pleasant destination. And Moses attempted to reason with Korah’s compatriots, but they refused to listen to what he had to say.

“We refuse to come before you! Isn’t it enough that you brought us out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us here in this wilderness, and that you now treat us like your subjects? What’s more, you haven’t brought us into another land flowing with milk and honey. You haven’t given us a new homeland with fields and vineyards. Are you trying to fool these men? We will not come.” – Numbers 16:12-14 NLT

The stage was set. The lines were drawn. Korah and his disenchanted companions stood their ground and refused to heed the warnings of Moses. They were done taking orders from Moses and Aaron. As far as they were concerned, it was their time to shine and they would not be satisfied until they were the ones calling the shots.

But they failed to recognize that their complaints had reached the ears of God. He had been listening to their arrogant demands and knew that their discontentment was ultimately directed at Him. And it’s interesting to note that the very people who were responsible for transporting the holy objects from the tabernacle were carrying resentment for the very one for whom the tabernacle had been constructed.

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.

 

Lamps, Levites, and Leadership

Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” And Aaron did so: he set up its lamps in front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses. And this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Then let them take a bull from the herd and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. 10 When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, 11 and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord. 12 Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord to make atonement for the Levites. 13 And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the Lord.

14 “Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. 15 And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. 16 For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. 17 For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, 18 and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

20 Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the people of Israel to the Levites. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, the people of Israel did to them. 21 And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. 22 And after that the Levites went in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.

23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. 25 And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” Numbers 8:1-26 ESV

Chapter seven recorded the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe’s contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So, for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the tabernacle to meet with God, where “he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim” (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

This was a joyful celebration because God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst.  And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal “stand-ins” for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the firstborn males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the firstborn males were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the firstborn Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt.

But later, God chose to use the Levites as substitutes for the firstborns of Israel. The male descendants of Levi would serve in their place. So on this day, the people were commanded by God to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the sole responsibility of serving God onto the members of this one tribe. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God’s service.

But this chapter opens with a brief, yet important command from God concerning the golden lampstand. At first glance, these verses appear out of place. They don’t seem to fit the context. But upon closer examination, they begin to make sense.

God commands Moses to have Aaron light the golden lampstand within the tabernacle. The design for this vital tabernacle fixture was given much earlier and provides important details that will help explain the inclusion of verses 1-4. God had been very specific about the lampstand’s construction.

“Make a lampstand of pure, hammered gold. Make the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals. Make it with six branches going out from the center stem, three on each side. Each of the six branches will have three lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals.  Craft the center stem of the lampstand with four lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. There will also be an almond bud beneath each pair of branches where the six branches extend from the center stem. 36 The almond buds and branches must all be of one piece with the center stem, and they must be hammered from pure gold. Then make the seven lamps for the lampstand, and set them so they reflect their light forward. – Exodus 25:31-37 NLT

Notice the emphasis on the almond buds, blossoms, and petals. There are four separate references to this particular flower. The lampstand was to resemble a budding almond tree, which was the first tree to blossom and bear fruit in the spring. So, the lampstand was to be a visual symbol of life and fruitfulness, but also of light.

With the lampstand having been lit, God then instructed Moses to set apart the Levites. An elaborate ceremony was conducted to consecrate the Levites and to remind the Israelites that this one tribe had been chosen by God to serve as their substitutes.

“Of all the people of Israel, the Levites are reserved for me. I have claimed them for myself in place of all the firstborn sons of the Israelites; I have taken the Levites as their substitutes. – Numbers 8:16 NLT

God wanted to make it perfectly clear that the Levites had been given the sole responsibility of mediating before God on behalf of the people of Israel.

“I have claimed the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons of Israel. And of all the Israelites, I have assigned the Levites to Aaron and his sons. They will serve in the Tabernacle on behalf of the Israelites and make sacrifices to purify the people so no plague will strike them when they approach the sanctuary.” – Numbers 8:18-19 NLT

As part of the ceremony of consecration, the Levites “purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes” (Numbers 8:21 NLT).

After that the Levites went into the Tabernacle to perform their duties, assisting Aaron and his sons. So they carried out all the commands that the Lord gave Moses concerning the Levites. – Numbers 8:22 NLT

The lampstand was lit, the Levites were cleansed, and their ministry in the tabernacle on behalf of the people began. But fast-forward to chapter 16 and there you will find recorded a rather dark moment in Israel’s history. It took place as they continued their journey from Egypt to Canaan and it involved a significant rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. A small group of individuals, jealous of the power wielded by Moses and his brother, decided to stage a coup. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On “incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly” (Numbers 16:3 NLT).

Their argument was that Moses and Aaron were nothing special because the whole nation had been set apart by God.

“You have gone too far! The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?” – Numbers 16:3 NLT

Moses responded to their demand for equality and equity with a challenge.

“Tomorrow morning the Lord will show us who belongs to him and who is holy. The Lord will allow only those whom he selects to enter his own presence. – Numbers 16:5 NLT

Korah and his companions were declaring themselves to be on equal standing with Moses and Aaron. They felt like they were being slighted and treated like second-class citizens. But their complaints were ill-founded and unwise. They were actually questioning the will of God. And what makes this scene so fascinating is that Korah was a Levite. In fact, Moses points out this very fact when he states, “Korah, you and all your followers must prepare your incense burners. Light fires in them tomorrow, and burn incense before the Lord. Then we will see whom the Lord chooses as his holy one. You Levites are the ones who have gone too far!” (Numbers 16:6-7 NLT).

It seems that Korah and his cohorts were dissatisfied with their God-ordained role as servants in the tabernacle. They wanted power. They were looking for something more prestigious and worthy of honor. In fact, they wanted to be priests, just like Aaron and his sons. So, Moses confronted them for the insubordination that had led them to stage an attempted insurrection.

“Now listen, you Levites! Does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the community of Israel to be near him so you can serve in the Lord’s Tabernacle and stand before the people to minister to them? Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites. Are you now demanding the priesthood as well? The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against! For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?” – Numbers 16:8-11 NLT

But despite Moses’ words, Korah and his companions remained unrepentant. They “stirred up the entire community against Moses and Aaron, and they all gathered at the Tabernacle entrance” (Numbers 16:19 NLT).

At this point in the story, the glory of God appeared before the people and the Almighty declared His intent to destroy the entire nation for its rebellion.

“Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” – Numbers 16:21 NLT

But Moses and Aaron interceded on behalf of the people and begged God to spare them.

“O God,” they pleaded, “you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Must you be angry with all the people when only one man sins?” – Numbers 16:22 NLT

As a result, God determined to wipe out the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. – Numbers 16:32-33 NLT

But the story doesn’t end there. Even after this tragic event, the people continued to rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

But the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering again against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the Lord’s people!” – Numbers 16:41 NLT

In response to their continued insolence and rebellion, God sent a plague that left 14,700 people dead. Had not Aaron interceded, purifying the people with incense, even more people would have died.

The next thing God commanded Moses to do was to have each tribe bring a staff with the name of their tribe inscribed on it. They were to place these staffs inside the tabernacle in front of the Ark of the Covenant. God ordained this to be a final affirmation of leadership.

“Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you.” – Numbers 17:5 NLT

The next day, when Moses entered the tabernacle, “he found that Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds!” (Numbers 17:8 NLT).

God had settled the debate once and for all. He had reconfirmed the priestly role of Aaron and his sons. He had dramatically reminded the Levites of their status as His servants. And He had warned all the people of their need to submit to His divine will. Everyone had a part to play. No one was to covet the role of another. There was to be no disunity or jealousy. Every priest, Levite, Nazirite, and citizen of the nation of Israel was expected to live in submission to the will of God – no questions asked, no complaints registered.

And even the Levites were informed that the length of their service would only last 25 years. Once their service was complete, they were to relinquish their duties to another. God’s will and the holiness of God’s people was to be the highest priority of all involved.

“Chapter 8 deals with two issues: lamps and Levites. Both the proper setting of the lamps and the distinction of the Levites from the community are further elements in the purification of the nation in preparation for the holy task God had prepared for her. . . . May one suggest that as the lamps were to be properly focused on the bread of the Presence, so the Levites were to have their proper stance within the community as well?” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

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.

You Reap What You Sow

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 ESV

Back in chapter one, James encouraged his readers to seek wisdom from God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5 ESV

And he added that God is the source of all good gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17 ESV

Through their relationship with Jesus Christ, the Christians to whom James wrote enjoyed access to the indwelling Spirit of God and the life-transforming truth of the gospel. According to James, a Christ follower is to be characterized by obedience to the word of God. It’s not enough to hear it; you have to live it out in everyday life.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. – James 1:22 NLT

And James pointed out that a person who claims to be spiritual but fails to control their tongue is practicing a hypocritical and powerless form of religion.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

James described the tongue as a powerful and virtually uncontrollable source of destruction – even within the body of Christ. With his lips, a believer can declare his faith in Christ and then turn around and spread vicious rumors about a fellow Christ-follower. Ironically, the same tongue could be used to glorify God and vilify other believers.

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! – James 3:9-10 NLT

Now James explains how to determine whether you are operating according to godly wisdom and displaying an understanding of God’s will and ways. It’s all in how we behave. Our outward actions reveal whether we are walking in step with the Spirit of God. The things we say and do are the most accurate barometers of our spiritual health. They provide irrefutable evidence of the condition of our hearts. That’s why James demands that Christ-followers put the wisdom of God into practice through humble obedience to His will.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. – James 3:13 NLT

The apostle Paul stressed the non-negotiable nature of the Spirit’s involvement when it comes to living a godly and honorable life.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides us with the power to tame the tongue and produce the fruit of righteousness.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

The Spirit is a God-given source of wisdom and supernatural strength, and His primary role is to guide and empower believers as they navigate the sometimes difficult path from salvation to future glorification. And Paul would have us remember that the Spirit wants to influence every area of the believer’s life – from his attitudes and actions to the words that come out of his mouth.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:25-26 NLT

And James points out how easy it is to try and mask our lack of godliness through deceit and lies. When we fail to live in obedience to the Spirit, our lives inevitably produce a whole range of destructive deeds and Paul provides a shocking but incomplete list of them in his letter to the Galatians.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

We’re either living in step with the Spirit of God or giving in to the desires of our own sinful natures. And it’s fairly easy to determine which path we have chosen based on the “fruit” our lives produce. That’s why James warns against attempting to cover up our godless lifestyle through lies and deceit.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. – James 3:14-15 ESV

When the wrong fruit appears in our lives, we’re tempted to cover it up by portraying ourselves as super saints and spiritual rock stars. We posture and pretend, trying to convince others of our superior spirituality. But all the while, we are living a lie. Yet we end up excusing and justifying our behavior and, in doing so, we display a form of wisdom that is anything but godly. Driven by selfish ambition and jealousy, we rationalize our behavior and promote a brand of wisdom that comes from the enemy and not God.

Jesus gave a perfect example of this self-righteous but self-deceiving kind of wisdom when He told the following parable to His disciples.

Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 NLT

The Pharisee was self-deceived. He wrongly viewed himself as spiritually superior and worthy of God’s praise. But Jesus declared him to be a self-righteous and pretentious hypocrite whose pride left him unjustified before God. He had lived this lie for so long that he eventually believed it to be true. He went home believing he was fully accepted before God, but he was wrong.

You can attempt to disguise the jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart but, in time, it always makes itself known. And James states that “wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:16 NLT). In other words, those two traits are never alone. They’re always accompanied by other, equally disturbing “fruit” that produce death rather than life. 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17 ESV

God’s wisdom, which is available upon request, is capable of producing a host of outcomes that positively impact the life of the recipient and all those around him. It produces a desire for peace rather than jealousy and strife. In place of self-promotion, it displays a heartfelt concern for the well-being of others. It is reasonable rather than contentious and confrontational. It manifests itself in mercy toward others and produces fruit that is for their benefit. Godly wisdom allows no room for favoritism or partiality. It fosters unity and encourages an atmosphere of humility and selfless service to others.

James’ point is clear. Those who seek the wisdom of God will receive it. And when they avail themselves of it and live in obedience to it, it will produce a harvest of righteousness. The wisdom from above is fruitful but it must be cultivated by those whom God has chosen as His caretakers. If we obey His Word and live in keeping with His Spirit’s guidance, we will “plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18 NLT).

The apostle Paul reiterates this promise of fruitfulness when we choose to avail ourselves of God’s wisdom. But the choice is ours and we must make it every day of our lives.

You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:7-10 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.

The Wisdom of Experience

1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
    and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
    and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
    and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
    when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
    in the assembled congregation.”

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
    and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. – Proverbs 5:1-23 ESV

This sounds like strange, if not hypocritical, advice coming from a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). It would appear that wise sayings weren’t the only things that Solomon made a habit of collecting. This king with the overactive libido had an eye for the ladies. So, it seems a bit disingenuous for Solomon to be giving his sons a lecture on avoiding the “forbidden woman.” How could he presume that he was the right man to give counsel not to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15 ESV).

Yet, Solomon was the perfect person to be passing on his life experiences to his as-yet-unmarried sons. He wasn’t simply spouting pious-sounding platitudes he had discovered along the way, but he was sharing the painful life lessons he had been forced to learn as a result of his own pride and stupidity. Verses 12-13 are actually Solomon’s personal testimony.

“How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.”

Solomon is offering up a painful confession. And yet, Solomon’s admission would not have been news to his boys. In fact, it is likely that, while they all shared Solomon as their father, they each had a different mother. They suffered from no delusions that their father was a one-woman man. Each knew that their dad had been less-than-faithful to their own mother. And the older they became and the more knowledge they gained about the Word of God, they would have known that their father’s actions were out of step with the will of God.

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

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had made the decision to violate the command of God. His personal preferences and passions took precedence over God’s will. He would have been very familiar with God’s command concerning the kings of Israel.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon had decided that he knew best and he began to fill his home and his harem with beautiful women, collecting them like treasures to showcase his power and prestige.

But over in Proverbs 14:12 we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” That phrase “in the end” seems to pop up on a regular basis in the Proverbs. It refers to a day of accountability, not necessarily the day of the judgment of the Lord, but of a day of consequence. Every action has an outcome. Every path we take in life has a destination or an end. If a young man or woman chooses a life of immorality, it will have an outcome, and probably not the one they were expecting. Sin never does.

Solomon is speaking from experience when he states, “the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil – in the end she is as bitter as poison” (Proverbs 14:3-4 NLT). He knew what he was talking about and he wanted his sons to know that what appears to be tempting and tantalizing doesn’t always turn out quite as advertised.

One of the characteristics of foolishness or a lack of godly wisdom is the inability to foresee consequences. We are either oblivious to them or simple choose to ignore them. But more than likely, it is just a case of ignorance. A child touches a hot stove because they don’t know any better. They are ignorant of the consequences. But there comes a time in all of our lives when we become aware of the consequences of sin and still stubbornly continue to commit them. We think those consequences won’t apply to us. We refuse to consider “the end.” We choose to live in the pleasure of the moment, putting off any thought of the consequences, or simply refusing to believe there will be any negative ramifications for our actions. But to think that way is not only foolish, it’s deadly. We can end up losing everything – our honor, all we’ve achieved in life, the fruit of all our labor, the blessings of God, and the love and respect of those we once held dear. Like Solomon, we will find ourselves sadly looking back at our actions and saying, “How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace” (Proverbs 5:12-14 NLT).

In the end, you will have regrets because the path you chose had consequences. But nobody thinks about the potential consequences when facing the alluring temptation of sin – except the godly. But obviously, Solomon is an example of the godly man who took his eyes off the Lord and began to seek satisfaction and significance somewhere else. It began with the allure of the forbidden fruit of many wives, but it wasn’t long before that sin produced an even greater one: the worship of their false gods. Solomon’s lust for women turned into a loss of love for God.

Sin is so tempting, and it’s allure is real, making it a constant problem for men and women alike. And while Solomon wrote his proverbs a long time ago, some things never change. We still need to hear his words of wisdom and warning. He spends an entire Proverb warning his sons against the dangers of the immoral woman or prostitute. It was a problem then and it remains a problem today. Promiscuity is alive and well, and it may be even more acceptable today than ever before. The increase in casual sex and a growing comfortableness and complacency with sex outside the confines of marriage make this message particularly timely for our sex-saturated society. Solomon’s warning to his sons was necessary in his day and it is needed in ours as well. But it sounds so antiquated and puritanical! At least that’s what many in our society would say. But it is a warning against the lies of all temptations. Satan is the father of lies and the great deceiver. He loves to package his product in such a way that it hides the dangers within. He is the master of manipulation and deception, creating the allusion of pleasure, but all the while hiding the true consequences. The prostitute is a perfect illustration of his methodologies. She is attractive, flattering, enticing, and appeals to man’s basic instincts. She knows man’s weakness and aims right for it. The apostle John warned us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

That is Satan’s strategy. Everything he offers is designed to appeal to what we crave and desire, to fulfill our insatiable need for pleasure, and to satisfy our hunger for significance. A prostitute goes out of her way to make her “client” feel wanted, important, and significant. She offers to provide him with physical and emotional pleasure and to satisfy all his needs. But in the end, “her feet go down to death.” Like all sin, the consequences are dangerous and deadly. It never delivers as promised. It is the ultimate in false advertising, yet we fall prey to it each and every day in so many ways. We take the bait and suffer the consequences of broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, destroyed reputations, and shattered lives.

So what’s the solution? Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment. Solomon warns his sons in graphic detail of the dangers facing them. He doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore it. He paints a vivid and compelling picture of the dangers of sin. He talks openly about the consequences. He wanted them to know the truth and he was willing for his sons to learn from his own mistakes.

Our congregations need to hear the truth. The enemy is filling their minds with lies day after day, and he has more resources available than ever before. The media provides him with a constant venue for propagating his lies and distributing his message of falsehood. We need to speak truth. We need to share the wisdom of God’s Word. We need to promote the non-negotiable requirement of living according to God’s way – unapologetically and boldly. The dangers are real. The consequences are devastating. Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment are needed more than ever before.

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.

 

Unwavering Faith In An Unfailing God

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

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

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:14-26 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Famine and Fruitfulness

20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” 26 So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s.

27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.

29 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed. – Genesis 47:20-31 ESV

With his family comfortably settled in the land of Goshen, Joseph returned to his duties of stewarding the well-being of Pharaoh’s empire. Throughout the year seven years of famine, he used the grain he had stockpiled during the seven years of plenty to feed the starving citizens of the country. But didn’t set up a welfare state. Instead, he sold the grain to the people. And when their money ran out, he traded grain for livestock. When their supply of livestock was exhausted, the people were allowed to trade in their land holdings for grain, amassing an extensive real estate empire for the state. Then, when the people no longer had any money to spend, livestock to sell, or land to trade, they were left with only one option: To become the indentured servants of Pharaoh. And while this may appear as an egregious example of government overreach, Joseph was actually using the government’s administrative capabilities to protect and preserve the people and the nation.

Joseph allowed the people to continue living on the land, raising crops as they had done before. But he imposed a 20 percent tax on all agricultural production. This levy, while high, would allow Pharaoh’s administration to continue their food assistance program throughout the remaining years of the famine. The people were allowed to keep four-fifths of whatever they harvested, but the remaining one-fifth went into the royal granaries. And the people did not see any of this as a land grab or a form of government-led extortion. They were grateful to be alive.

“You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” – Genesis 47:25 ESV

Yet, it should not be overlooked that, while the people of Egypt were slowly handing over their resources, lands, and freedoms to the state, the people of Israel were enjoying the blessings of God in Goshen.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel settled in the region of Goshen in Egypt. There they acquired property, and they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly. – Genesis 47:27 NLT

It seems that the Israelites were able to take advantage of the dire situation in Egypt by buying up land that their Egyptian neighbors were being forced to sell. All during the famine, Joseph provided Jacob and the rest of his family with food. Jacob had entered Egypt a very wealthy man, and he used his formidable resources to accumulate a growing real estate portfolio in Egypt. As his family grew, so did his land holdings. God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Jacob years earlier.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

At that time, Jacob had no idea that the fruitfulness and multiplication of his family would take place in Egypt and not Canaan. But that had been God’s plan all along. Even Joseph understood that reality. Everything that had happened in his life had been according to the preordained, sovereign will of God Almighty. He would later emphasize that fact to his brothers.

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” – Genesis 50:19-21 ESV

So, Jacob’s migration to Egypt had been God’s will. He had planned it, orchestrated it, and was now fulfilling it in real-time. But Jacob would not live long enough to see Canaan again. In fact, none of his sons, including Joseph would ever set foot in the promised land again. Jacob would live an additional 17 years, dying at the ripe old age of 147. But as he looked around him, he could see the signs of God’s blessings everywhere. He had lived to see his long-lost son restored to his side. He was the proud patriarch of a rapidly growing clan living in a fruitful land that God had miraculously provided. And while he had never owned an acre of land in Canaan, he had been able to take title to a large portion of the land in Egypt’s rich Nile delta.

But Jacob never saw Egypt as his home. To the end of his life, he still retained his love and longing for the land of Canaan. He had not forgotten God’s promise to provide the land of Canaan as his inheritance. And, while he knew he would never make it back there alive, he made Joseph swear that his body would be returned to Canaan for burial, in the very same plot of land that Abraham had bought to bury Sarah. Even in death, he wanted to be associated with the land of promise. And Joseph swore an oath to fulfill his father’s dying wish.

For Jacob, Egypt was simply a temporary, but necessary diversion in the journey toward God’s fulfillment of the promise. Whether or not he knew the details that God had shared with his grandfather, Abraham, is unclear. In Genesis 15:13, Moses records God’s announcement to Abraham that his descendants would spend 400 years in a foreign land. But at the end of that end lengthy period of time, they would return to the land of Canaan. And whether Jacob had a four-century delay in mind, he knew that the day would come when God returned His people to their land.

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

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

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

All According to Plan

16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

21 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” – Genesis 45:16-28 ESV

It didn’t take long before the news that Joseph had been reunited with his family began to spread like wildfire throughout the royal compound. Soon, even Pharaoh himself had been informed that Joseph had brothers from whom he had long been separated. This news pleased Pharaoh and he determined to show his love and respect for Joseph by making the generous offer of gifts and land to his family. Pharaoh suggested that Joseph’s brothers return home and bring back the rest of their clan, including their aged father, Jacob. He even underwrote the cost of their trip and equipped them with wagons, pack animals, and enough supplies to sustain them all the way to Canaan and back. And he promised that, upon their return, he would give them “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV) in which to live.

Joseph, pleased with Pharaoh’s kind and gracious offer, convinced his brothers to return home and bring their families to Egypt. He knew that, according to Pharaoh’s dreams, there were at least five more years of famine remaining, and his clan’s only chance of survival lay in Egypt. So, Joseph ordered all the supplies Pharaoh had suggested and then he showered his brothers with additional gifts. He gave each of his brothers a set of new clothes, but to Benjamin “he gave five changes of clothes and 300 pieces of silver” (Genesis 45:22 NLT).

Benjamin and Joseph were both the sons of Rachel and, therefore, they shared a close bond. Joseph’s affection for his younger brother had been amplified by their long separation. And now that they had been reunited, he showed favoritism to Benjamin, much like his father had done to him. But because of his wealth, Joseph was able to bless his brother with far more than a single multicolored robe. He gave him a virtual wardrobe of expensive garments and rewarded him with 300 pieces of silver, a king’s ransom that would set Benjamin up for life.

And while Moses doesn’t reveal the reaction of Joseph’s brothers to this obvious act of favoritism, it is quite easy to speculate that it didn’t escape their notice. But it’s unlikely that it produced the same degree of jealousy that had driven them to sell Joseph into slavery. No, this time, they were grateful to be alive, reunited with their brother, and enjoying the favor of Pharaoh, one of the most powerful men in the world.

But Joseph seemed to know that his brothers had not completely changed. As he distributed his gifts among them, he warned them, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way!” (Genesis 45:24 NLT). Over the course of the long journey back to Canaan, he knew that his brothers would have ample time to think about the inequity of the gifts they had received. Not only had Joseph given Benjamin more garments and a large sum of money, but he had also sent his father “ten male donkeys loaded with the finest products of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other supplies he would need on his journey” (Genesis 45:23 NLT).

Every day of the journey they would see those 20 donkeys bearing the gifts that Joseph had given to their father, and be reminded that all they had received was a single change of clothing. And to make matters worse, their younger brother could go five days in a row without wearing the same outfit, and he probably had several pack animals just to carry his hoard of cash.

So, Joseph reminded them not to fall back into their old habit of jealousy and bitter infighting. They had been blessed by God and enjoying the outpouring of His providential provision. They had much for which to be grateful and, upon their return, they would find themselves living in a rich and fertile land, free from the effects of the famine and under the protection of Pharaoh himself.

“The picture of Joseph is a picture of restoration—not just the restoration of the good fortune of Jacob, but, as a picture, the restoration of the blessing that was promised through the seed of Jacob. This picture is also a blueprint for the hope that lies for the people of Israel at the end of the Pentateuch. They are to go into the land and enjoy it as God’s good gift (Deuteronomy 30:5).” – John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary

Joseph was fully convinced that this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. He had already told his brothers, “It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Genesis 45:5 NLT). His destiny had been preordained by God and there had been a divine purpose behind every facet of his life, from his sale into slavery and his ultimate imprisonment to his rise to power in Pharaoh’s court. His entire life had been set apart by God for a specific purpose: To preserve and protect the seed of Jacob.

“God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – GEnesis 45:7-8 NLT

So, his brothers made the long journey home and delivered the exciting news to their father: “Joseph is still alive!” (Genesis 45:26 NLT). And this unexpected announcement left Jacob in a state of shock. After all these years, the son whom he had long thought dead was alive and well and living in Egypt. Buoyed by the sight of the caravan loaded with gifts and grain, Jacob came to his senses and embraced the reality of the too-good-to-be-true news. His son Joseph really was alive and he was going to have the joy of seeing him again before he died.

But the real point of the story is not the coming reunion of Jacob with Joseph. No, Moses wanted his readers to understand the remarkable nature of God’s sovereign will and how the Almighty used the life of one man to prepare the way for an entire nation. As Israelites, they would have been familiar with the story of Joseph, but Moses wanted to remind them that their very existence as a people was the result of one man’s life. Long before any of them existed, Joseph had been born, favored, betrayed, sold, enslaved, accused, imprisoned, released, rewarded, and elevated to a place of power and prominence. And every peak and valley of his roller-coaster life had been the sovereign handiwork of Yahweh. The very fact that Jacob and his family ended up living in Egypt had been ordained by God and made possible by the life of Joseph. And Moses wanted his Israelite audience to know that Jacob’s journey to Egypt had been predicted and preordained by God.

Long before Jacob had been born, his grandfather, Abraham, had received a promise from God.

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

The first phase of the promise was about to be fulfilled. As a result of Pharaoh’s generosity and Joseph’s ingenuity, Jacob and his family would find themselves living in “a land that is not theirs.” Their relocation was part of God’s plan. And it would be in this foreign that a relatively small family, just 70 in number, would grow to be a mighty nation, the chosen people of God. In His divine wisdom, the Almighty had chosen to fulfill His promise to Abraham by sending a small and insignificant clan to a foreign land where they would be able to grow in number until the time came for them to inherit the land God had given them for their inheritance.

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.

God-Sent

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. – Genesis 45:1-15 ESV

This chapter contains one of the most powerful illustrations of God’s sovereignty of God to be found in all the Scriptures. The story of Joseph’s life, when viewed from a human perspective, is one of tragedy and betrayal, coupled with moments of good fortune followed by bad luck. Joseph is portrayed as a young man who becomes the innocent victim of his brothers’ jealousy and hatred. The youngest of 12 sons, Joseph had been the apple of his father’s eye and was elevated to a position of honor among his brothers. But his favored status and penchant for sharing dreams that appeared to further enhance his superior status made him a social pariah among his older siblings. Their anger for him grew so intense, that they began to plot his death. But rather than simply snuffing Joseph out, they decided to cash in by selling him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders.

These callous and hate-filled men took their brother’s multicolored robe, ripped it in pieces, and then led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They showed no remorse or regret for their actions. And, in time, they went on with their lives, erasing any memory of Joseph from their minds.

But while Joseph had been abandoned by his brothers, he was not forsaken by God. His entire life is an ongoing illustration of God’s sovereign and providential care. Though he ended up being sold as a slave to a wealthy and influential Egyptian, Joseph’s fate was God-ordained, a point Moses makes quite clear.

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. – Genesis 39:2-3 NLT

Yet, it didn’t take long before Joseph’s good fortune took a dramatically dark turn. Having spurned the sexual advances of his master’s wife, Joseph was wrongly accused of rape and thrown into prison. But even in that grim and unexpected environment, God protected and prospered Joseph.

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:21-23 NLT

From the pit to the palace to the prison, Joseph enjoyed the providential protection of God. And along the way, God revealed Himself to Joseph by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. This special skill proved quite useful, allowing Joseph to make connections with two fellow prisoners, one of whom would play an important role in Joseph’s release from prison.

But two years would pass before Joseph received an order to appear in Pharaoh’s court. He was ushered into the royal palace and into the throne room where he was asked to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. This was yet another divinely-ordained moment in which the sovereign will of God was clearly at play. Pharaoh’s dreams had not been arbitrary or coincidental. They had been a part of God’s carefully orchestrated plan.

Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do.” – Genesis 41:25 NLT

And Joseph had recognized that the dreams and their meanings had been the handiwork of God.

“As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen. – Genesis 41:32 NLT

And they did happen. But not before Joseph was installed as the second-most-powerful man in all of Egypt. He was given authority to prepare the nation for the seven years of famine that God had ordained. And Joseph’s new position allowed him to implement a strategy to gather enough grain during the seven years of plenty so that the nation of Egypt could successfully survive the coming famine. And when the famine came, its impact was felt far beyond the borders of Egypt, all the way into Canaan, where Jacob and his sons still lived.

It had been the famine that forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt in search of food. And it was in Egypt that his sons encountered their long-lost but unrecognizable brother. And the last few chapters have revealed the story of their dramatic and often tension-filled reunion.

But as Joseph stood looking down on his brothers and heard Judah share his heartfelt desire to serve as Benjamin’s substitute, he couldn’t hold back his emotions any longer. He fled from the room and, having regained his composure, returned to reveal his true identity. But, more than that, Joseph was ready to let his brothers know the true nature of all the events surrounding his life. And what he had to share left them staring back in shock and awe. The Egyptian governor was actually their brother.

This news must have stunned the brothers and increased the level of their anxiety and fear. Now, not only were they accused of stealing the governor’s silver goblet, the governor was actually the boy they had sold into slavery. Things were going from bad to worse. Their minds were racing as they considered the full import of this shocking news. If the governor truly was their long-lost brother, he might use his royal power to pay his brothers back for their crime against him. But Joseph’s unexpected announcement left them staring back in silence.

…his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. – Genesis 45:3 NLT

But sensing their fear and trepidation, Joseph invited them to draw closer, then attempted to assuage their growing anxiety.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” – Genesis 45:4-5 NLT

Joseph reveals a strong understanding of the concept of divine sovereignty. He had fully grasped the significance of all the events surrounding his life and determined them to be the work of God. Yes, they had made the decision to sell him as a slave, but it had been preordained by God. Joseph was fully convinced that it had been God who sent him to Egypt, not his brothers. They had simply been tools in the sovereign hands of God. This does not dissolve them of guilt or responsibility. Each of them had participated in the crime against their brother willfully and deliberately. God had not forced them to do so. But He had used their envy-fueled actions to accomplish His divine will. And the most ironic part of it all is that God would use their act of selfishness to bring about their ultimate preservation. Joseph repeatedly stressed this point.

“It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” – Genesis 45:5 NLT

“God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. – Genesis 45: NLT

The famine was only into its second year and Joseph knew that things were going to get far worse. So, he begged his brothers to return to Canaan with an invitation for Jacob to join him in the land of Egypt. They were to tell their father all that had happened and deliver the good news that his favorite son was alive and well. The son whom Jacob had given up as dead, God had elevated to a place of power and prominence.

“God has made me master over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:9 NLT

Joseph had gone from wearing a multicolored robe to the garments of a king. He had been elevated from the status of the favorite son of Jacob to the favored officer in Pharaoh’s court. All according to the sovereign will of God. And Joseph was convinced that he was the key to the survival of the house of Jacob, which is why he ordered his brothers to return home and bring the entire clan of Jacob back to Egypt.

“Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” – Genesis 45:13 NLT

God had sent Joseph ahead to prepare the way. Now, Joseph sent for Jacob in order to preserve a nation – all according to God’s plan.

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

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

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

 

The Test of a Lifetime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Man With the Plan

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 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.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 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. 43 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. 44 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.” 45 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.

46 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. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 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. 49 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.

50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. – Genesis 41:37-57 ESV

With his successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph’s fortunes were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. There would be no return to the prison or his former life of slavery. Instead, he would find himself appointed to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh had been greatly impressed by Joseph’s wisdom and insight and seemed to believe that this young man had a divine anointing.

“Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” – Genesis 41:38 NLT

This statement was not a confession of belief in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is unlikely that Pharaoh knew anything about the God of the Israelites. He simply believed that Joseph had supernatural powers that were attributable to some divine source. It appears that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be possessed by and under the influence of some unknown deity. He acknowledged that Joseph’s superior intellect and wisdom had to be divinely inspired. There have been some scholars who suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph was actually a diety in human form. They use the name given to Joseph by Pharaoh as possible evidence.

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. – Genesis 41:45 ESVR

The exact meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name has been hotly debated and remains unconfirmed. But one intriguing suggestion has been “the god speaks and lives.” The very fact that Pharaoh elevated Joseph so quickly and bestowed on him such high honors would seem to indicate that he viewed this young Hebrew as much more than just another wise man. He had plenty of those in his royal court and they had proved to be useless in solving the riddle of his dreams.

Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and prominence must have shocked Joseph. In a matter of minutes, his entire life had been turned upside down. This former household slave and prisoner now had power and possessions beyond belief. Pharaoh rewarded him with expensive gifts and arranged a marriage between Joseph and the daughter of a high-ranking priest.  This “religious” marriage seems to further suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be some kind of deity. His Egyptian wife’s name lends further evidence to this idea. One interpretation for its meaning is “she belongs to the goddess Neit.” It may be that Asenath was also viewed as a child of the gods and that Pharaoh was arranging a special marriage between what he believed to be two deified human beings.

But regardless of what Pharaoh’s beliefs and motives might have been, his intentions are perfectly clear. He was placing this young foreigner in a position of great power and influence. In a sense, Joseph was one step away from the throne of Egypt. And as a symbol of his limitless authority, Joseph was given a signet ring that bore the royal seal and carried with it the full backing of Pharoah.

“You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” – Genesis 41:40 NLT

Joseph was placed in a royal chariot and paraded around the streets of the royal capital, with Egyptian soldiers commanding all the onlookers to kneel down before him. This forced display of honor and obeisance was meant to let the people know that Joseph was due all the respect of Pharaoh, whom they believed to be a god. Joseph was to be treated with the same level of reverence and awe, and anything he said was to be taken as divinely inspired and worthy of obedience. And Pharaoh clearly articulated the unparalleled nature of Joseph’s authority when he said, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval” (Genesis 41:44 NLT).

Joseph was 30-years old when he assumed this new position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and he wasted no time in implementing the advice he had given when he had interpreted the dreams. Joseph began a tour of the land of Egypt, assessing the status of the royal agricultural and livestock capacities. Based on the divinely inspired meaning of the dreams, Joseph knew he had seven years to increase production in order to prepare for the seven years of famine that were to come. And, just as God has said would happen, the first seven years were marked by remarkable bounty and blessing.

As predicted, for seven years the land produced bumper crops. During those years, Joseph gathered all the crops grown in Egypt and stored the grain from the surrounding fields in the cities. He piled up huge amounts of grain like sand on the seashore. Finally, he stopped keeping records because there was too much to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

God was faithfully fulfilling the words He had spoken through Joseph. And, not only that, God was blessing Jacob, rewarding him with two sons. In naming his boys, Joseph attempted to convey his gratitude to God for all that He had done. The name Manasseh means “he who brings about forgetfulness.” This young child was a loving reminder from God that Joseph’s difficult past was to be forgotten. There was a much brighter and far more important future out ahead. The name Ephraim means “to bear fruit,” and reflects Joseph’s belief that God had not only bestowed fruitfulness to the land but on his life as well. Despite his immense wealth and potentially pride-producing power, Joseph never lost sight of God’s authority over his life. He was fully aware that his promotion had been God’s doing and that he was enjoying the undeserved blessings of God’s divine favor.

But just as God had warned, the seven years of plenty were quickly followed by seven years of intense and widely dispersed famine. This divinely ordained disaster spread throughout the land of Egypt and beyond, and its impact was devastating. Without grain, the people were unable to eat or feed their livestock, and soon, they were forced to turn to the government for assistance. But because Joseph had done his work, the royal warehouses were filled and he had more than enough supply to meet the growing demand.

And, as has been so readily apparent throughout the story of Joseph’s life, the sovereign hand of God was at work behind the scenes, preparing for the next phase of His divine plan. This famine was not localized, but “was severe over all the earth” (Genesis 41:57 ESV). People all throughout the surrounding regions were suffering the same fate as the Egyptians, but they had not been warned or been able to prepare for this unforeseen disaster. They didn’t have the luxury of a godly leader like Joseph who could have helped them take advantage of the seven years of bounty. So, when the famine hit, they were left with empty grains bins and nothing to feed their starving herds and flocks. And, before long, they heard the rumors about food in Egypt and made the long and arduous journey to find help in their time of need. And there in the land of the Pharaohs, they discovered Joseph, who “opened up the storehouses and distributed grain” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

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

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

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