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.

 

When Dreams Come True

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lord Was With Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mixing Prayer and Payola

1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” 19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, 20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp. Genesis 32:1-21 ESV

After a 20-year absence, Jacob was about to come face-to-face with his estranged brother, Esau. Years earlier, they had not parted on the best of terms. Angered at having been swindled out of his birthright and blessing by Jacob, Esau had been plotting his brothers murder. But their mother had intervened and sent Jacob to go live with her brother, Laban, in Mesopotamia. She had hoped this would prove to be a temporary separation, and had assured Jacob that, as soon as Esau calmed down, she would send word that it was safe to come home. That message was never delivered.

So as Jacob and his caravan drew closer to home, he became increasingly more concerned about what might happen when he finally encountered his brother. He had no way of knowing whether Esau had calmed down or if he would still be harboring thoughts of revenge.

Somewhere along the way, Jacob had an encounter with some angelic beings. It had been 20 years earlier that Jacob had received a vision from God in which he saw “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12 ESV). Now, as he returned to the land of promise two decades later, he had another divine encounter. Moses provides no details about this meeting, but simply states that Jacob called the place Mahanaim, which means “two camps.” Perhaps he saw the angels of God encamped in the region and decided this was a good spot to stop for the night. The presence of these heavenly messengers must have provided Jacob with a sense of comfort and security, and prompted him to set up camp nearby.

But his anxiety is on full display as he instigates a plan designed to assuage the anger of his disgruntled brother. Jacob sends messengers ahead with a carefully worded greeting for Esau.

“Humble greetings from your servant Jacob. Until now I have been living with Uncle Laban, and now I own cattle, donkeys, flocks of sheep and goats, and many servants, both men and women. I have sent these messengers to inform my lord of my coming, hoping that you will be friendly to me.” – Genesis 32:4-5 NLT

Jacob was attempting to get some idea of his brother’s emotional state. How would he react to the news that Jacob was back in Canaan? Would it cause him to rejoice or simply reignite the long-simmering rage that lie hidden in his heart? And as the messengers departed, Jacob was left to wait, worry, and wonder about what was going to happen next. Moses doesn’t provide a timeline for how long it took the messengers to make the round-trip from Laban’s home back to Jacob’s encampment. But as the minutes stretched into hours and, possibly, days, Jacob’s anxiety must have reached an all-time high.

And when the messengers returned, the news they delivered was far from encouraging. Jacob was petrified by what he heard.

“We met your brother, Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you—with an army of 400 men!” – Genesis 32:6 NLT

This doesn’t sound like Esau is preparing to roll out the red carpet. And the army of 400 men doesn’t sound like the local welcome wagon. Moses reveals that “Jacob was terrified at the news” (Genesis 32:7 NLT). So, he immediately went into self-preservation mode, coming up with a plan for buying off his vengeance-seeking brother.

He divided his household, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two groups. He thought, “If Esau meets one group and attacks it, perhaps the other group can escape.” – Genesis 32:7-8 NLT

Fearing the worst, Jacob divided his possessions, including his family members, into two separate groups, preparing to use them as guinea pigs to test the degree of his brother’s anger. He was hoping that Esau would be moved to show sympathy when he encountered the innocent women and children. By staggering the departure of the two groups, Jacob hoped to test Esau’s resolve. Would he be willing to slaughter his sisters-in-law and nephews or would the sight of them soften his hardened heart? If Esau proved to be inappeasable, Jacob was willing to risk the deaths of his loved one, hoping that at least one of the two groups would have time to escape and survive.

It’s interesting to note that, having committed himself to his own plan, Jacob also decided to get God involved. But his prayer almost comes across as an afterthought. It’s almost as if, once he had come up with his strategy, he asked God to bless it.

“O Lord, please rescue me from the hand of my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to attack me, along with my wives and children.” – Genesis 32:11 ESV

Jacob had not yet sent the first wave of flocks and family members to meet Esau, so he decided to ask God to step in and save the day. And, in his prayer, he reminds God of His earlier promise to protect and preserve him.

“…you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” – Genesis 32:12 ESV

It was Jacob who had chosen to divide his household into two camps, exhibiting his willingness to risk their lives to save his own neck. He was fully prepared to send them out like innocent lambs to the slaughter. Fortunately, Jacob delayed his plan and decided to sleep on it. The next morning, he changed his mind and sent a delegation with a sizeable “bribe” to soften up Esau.

he selected these gifts from his possessions to present to his brother, Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 female camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. – Genesis 32:13-15 NLT

Jacob was a wealthy man and he attempted to use his formidable resources to buy off his brother. But, the ever-wary Jacob, chose to send these gifts in waves, creating a buffer zone between himself and Esau. He hoped that the cumulative effect of each successive wave of tribute would slowly transform his brother’s desire for revenge into a growing lust for treasure.

Jacob’s plan and the logic behind it were simple. When Esau encountered each caravan of servants and livestock, he would want to know to whom they belonged. And each servant had been instructed to respond, “They belong to your servant Jacob, but they are a gift for his master Esau. Look, he is coming right behind us” (Genesis 32:18 NLT). One after the other, these traveling treasure troves would come into Esau’s sight and possession. And Jacob hoped that this progressive payment plan would reap huge dividends.

“I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” – Genesis 32:20 NLT

Jacob had asked God to rescue him, but was putting all his hope and trust in his own intellectual and financial capital. He was attempting to use his sizeable, yet still limited, resources to save the day. And having invested all that he had, he was forced to wait and wonder what the morning might bring. But little did Jacob know that his next confrontation would not be with his unhappy brother but with his holy and all-powerful God.

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

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