A Refusal to Trust God

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:6-12 ESV

The very fact that a remnant of the nation of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan was a sign of God’s covenantal commitment. He remained faithful to keep all the promises He had made to the descendants of Abraham. Despite their centuries-long abuse of His grace and constant refusal to keep their commitments to keep His law, God had not completely wiped them off the face of the earth. He had punished them by sending the Babylonians to conquer and capture them, but He had not abandoned them. In fact, He had been the one to make their unlikely return to the land of Judah a reality. Yet here He was again, having to call His rebellion people to repent and return to Him. God desired to bless them, but could not do so as long as they remained unfaithful and unwilling to confess their sins and repent.

Their stubbornness and self-righteousness are evidenced by the question they posed to God.

“How shall we return?” – Malachi 3:7 ESV

In a sense, they were declaring their innocence. How could they return when they had never really abandoned God? When King Cyrus of Persia had decreed that the Israelites could return to the land of Judah, they had been part of the remnant that had agreed to do so. They had been part of the brave few who had made the difficult journey home and spent years rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. It had been their hard work that had caused the temple to rise from the rubble, and it was their sacrifices and offerings that had helped to reinstitute the sacrificial system. So, how could God demand that they return? What more could they do?

But God knew they were simply going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful, showering their affections on the false gods of the neighboring nations. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with non-Israelites, in direct violation of a divine prohibition. And these unholy unions had caused the people of Israel to embrace the gods of the Canaanites. The result was syncretism, a toxic blend of religious beliefs that resulted in a watered-down and ineffective spiritual experience. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, treating Yahweh as one more lover among many. And, to make matters worse, God accused them of theft.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. – Malachi 3:8 ESV

They boldly denied the accusation by questioning the accuracy of God’s statement. In their minds, they had done nothing to offend God. They had continued to offer the mandatory sacrifices and bring the appropriate offerings as the law required. But God disagreed. When presenting their mandatory tithes and offerings, they had regularly short-changed God by offering far less than He had required. This all goes back to the commands God had given the people of Israel long before they had settled in the land of Canaan. Just prior to their crossing of the Jordan River, Moses had delivered to the people God’s laws concerning the offerings of firstfruits and tithes.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. – Deuteronomy 26:1-2 ESV

God had assured them that Canaan was fruitful and abundant, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they were not to put their trust in the land or its productivity. They were to trust in the God who had fed them with quail and manna all during the years they had wandered in the wilderness. He would be their source of provision. By offering Him the first of their harvest, they would be displaying their complete dependence upon Him. And God would use these resources to provide for those in need among them.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. – Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ESV

Every third year, they were to dedicate the first of all their produce to God. And they were to do it as a form of worship, expressing gratitude for all that God had done for them. As they placed their gifts before the altar, they were to declare the undeniable reality of God’s faithful.

“‘…he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:9-10 ESV

And yet, God states that the people of Israel had been robbing Him of their tithes and offerings. They had been keeping back what was rightfully His. And as a result, “the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” were having to do without. God’s ordained system of social welfare had been disrupted by their disobedience and greed. Had they obeyed God’s commands, they would have been a model community that displayed mutual love and care. There was to be no needy or neglected in Israel. Since God was their ultimate provider, no one would do without. And God calls them to put Him to the test and see if His promises will not prove true.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10 ESV

All they had to do was obey. If they would simply keep the Lord’s command and do as they were told, they would experience the unprecedented and unparalleled blessings of God.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:11 ESV

The land was fruitful because God made it so. The soil was perfect for raising crops because God had deemed it so. But He could also bring drought, famine, and pestilence upon the land. God could bring enemies against Israel who would their farms and plunder their flocks and herds and empty their grain stores. But God preferred to bless them, and He would as long as they faithfully kept their covenant commitments.

And God reminded the people that their faithfulness would have far-reaching implications. Not only would the needy among them be properly cared for, but the nations would look on in amazement as they witnessed the supernatural blessings that Israel enjoyed.

“Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:12 ESV

Obedience was intended to result in divine blessing, which was to serve as a witness to the nations. God wanted to abundantly prosper His people so that the greatness of His name might be proclaimed throughout the world. As His chosen people, they had been set apart so that they might display His glory. As they faithfully followed His will and lived according to His exacting standards, they would be blessed by God and give indisputable evidence that He was the one and only God.

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

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

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

Cleansed As By Fire

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:1-5 ESV

The Israelites had dared to question the justice of God. They had willingly violated His commands and had suffered no consequences. So, in their minds, He was either impotent or indifferent to their behavior. But they were in for a rude awakening. Just because God had not yet punished them for their sins did not mean He was powerless to do so. He was the very same God who had sent them into exile 70 years earlier for having committed many of the very same sins against Him. He was gracious and merciful, but He was also righteous and just and determined to hold His people to their covenant commitments. God could not and would not leave their sins unpunished.

These verses deal with the present spiritual condition of the people of Israel by pointing to a future judgment to come. Through His messenger, Malachi, God warns of another messenger who will appear on the scene in the future, declaring the coming of the Lord.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The God they seem to believe was distant and disinterested was going to show up in their city and make an appearance in the temple.

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The Lord was going to make His presence known in the very place where they were offering blemished and unworthy offerings to Him. Malachi warns the people that the day was coming when Yahweh would make a personal appearance in His holy temple. And it’s important to note that the people of Israel had expressed their sorrow and confusion over His seeming absence and silence when they had offered their sacrifices to Him.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. – Malachi 2:13 ESV

God would not always remain silent or hidden. He would one day respond to their sins and reveal Himself in all His might and power. But God states that His appearance will be preceded by “my messenger” (malʾakhi). While this is a variation of the prophet’s name, it does not refer to Malachi. Verse 5 of chapter 4 reveals this messenger’s identity.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. – Malachi 4:5 ESV

Malachi is recording a prophetic pronouncement from God that has a now-not-yet aspect to it. The reference to this future messenger and his designation as Elijah are all cleared up by a series of statements made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist.

“This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

And Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” of whom the prophets spoke.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

In a later exchange with His disciples, Jesus further clarified John the Baptist’s role as the “messenger” of God who would prepare the way for His coming.

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. – Matthew 17:10-13 ESV

And even before John the Baptist’s birth, an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zechariah the priest, declaring that his barren wife would bear him a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

The people of Israel longed for a divine “messenger” who would appear on the scene and reestablish the glory days of Israel. They were familiar with all the prophetic passages that spoke of a coming one who would be a son of David and set up His kingdom on earth. They dreamed of the day when this mighty warrior-king would make his appearance and put Israel back on the geopolitical map. They had no king and were living in the shadows of their more powerful pagan neighbors. So, they would have understood Malachi’s mention of  “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight” as a reference to this long-hoped-for Messiah or savior.

And while God assures them that the Messiah is coming, He warns that His appearance will not be quite as joyful for them as they had hoped.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3 NLT

Their idea of the messenger of the covenant was a deliverer who would fulfill all of the blessings that God had promised as part of His covenant commitment. But they failed to remember that the covenant was bi-lateral in nature. God’s blessings were contingent upon their obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But as Malachi has already pointed out, they had not kept their part of the agreement. Like their ancestors, they had continued to disregard God’s laws and dishonor His holiness by bowing down to false gods. So, when this messenger of the covenant appears, He will come to purify and cleanse the people. He will be like a refining fire that purges all the dross from the gold so that what remains is pure and undefiled. This agent of God will perform a miraculous cleansing of God’s people so that they are able to come before Him in sinless purity.

“Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:4 NLT

God will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will purify and cleanse their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this coming day of the Lord and the miraculous life-altering ministry of the Messiah.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

In order for cleansing to take place, judgment will have to be leveled against all those who stand before God as impure and defiled by their sins. That is why God warns that, in the future, when the Messiah comes, He will “draw near to you for judgment” (Malachi 3:5 ESV). This cannot be speaking of Jesus’ first coming because Jesus clearly stated, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47 ESV). But at His second coming, Jesus will come as judge. In His righteousness, He will expose all sin and deal a blow to Satan and his demons.

In the present, Malachi is warning the Israelites that their sins are offensive to a holy God. And in the future, those sins will be exposed and dealt with. In order for cleansing to take place, all their sins will need to be revealed, confessed, and burned away. God wanted His people to understand that their current sins will one day face a future judgment. Their unrighteousness was a problem that needed to be addressed. They couldn’t ignore it or continue to justify it. Because God’s judgment of sin is inevitable and inescapable.

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.

Compromise and the Loss of Conviction

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:10-17 ESV

As verses 1-9 revealed, Israel had a leadership problem. Its priests were not living up to their role as the nation’s God-appointed shepherds. They were defiling the sacrificial system by offering unacceptable animals and, therefore, robbing the people of the atonement for sin they so desperately needed. On top of that, they had neglected their God-given responsibility to accurately teach the Mosaic Law to the people. They had twisted God’s words and taken liberties with God’s law, causing the people to stumble because of their deceptive instruction.

Through their immoral and unethical behavior, these unreliable leaders had caused irreparable damage to the nation. And now, Malachi turns his attention to the remnant of Israel who had returned to the land of promise but who were not living up to the covenant commitments God had established for them. In these verses, Malachi becomes the spokesperson, addressing his fellow citizens as brothers and sisters.

Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? – Malachi 2:10 NLT

Malachi was the prophet or messenger of God but, evidently, he was also a member of the tribe of Judah and part of the local community there in Jerusalem. He had a right to address his fellow citizens and remind them of their covenant commitment to God and one another. What he had witnessed taking place in the capital city was shocking and unacceptable to him. The people of Israel were not only turning away from God, but they were turning on one another. And he sums up their actions in one verse.

Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. – Malachi 2:11 NLT

They were guilty of idolatry and adultery, and both sins were examples of unfaithfulness. Centuries earlier, when the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan for the first time, God had warned them about intermarrying with the nations that occupied the land.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

But the people of Israel had failed to honor God’s ban on intermarriage. Almost as soon as they entered the land, they began to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. They had hoped that these marriage alliances would lead to peace with their enemies but instead, their actions led to a mingling of their religions and a growing compromise of their allegiance to Yahweh. And now, centuries later, the people were back in the land and still attempting to win over their enemies by intermarrying with them. But these marriages of convenience resulted in spiritual compromise and led to further unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Israel.

Evidently, Israelite men were committing adultery by abandoning their Hebrew wives and marrying foreign women. In doing so, they were willingly breaking the marriage vows they had made before God, and Malachi calls them out for it.

…you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. – Malachi 2:14 NLT

Through it all, their wives had remained faithful and unwilling to give up on their marriage. But these faithless men had been driven by their desires, not the will of God. And then they wondered why God was not accepting their offerings or answering their prayers. They had broken their marriage vows and violated God’s commands but still expected His blessings.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” – Malachi 2:13-14 NLT

They were guilty of double unfaithfulness. Not only had they left their wives for foreign women and taken on the false religions of their new spouses, but they were attempting to worship Yahweh and idols at the same time. They dared to enter His temple and present offerings as if they were faithful followers who loved and adored Him alone.

This was a serious problem during the days of Malachi. Ezra, one of his contemporaries and a leader of the nation of Israel after their return to Canaan, had been informed just how blatant and widespread this problem was.

“Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” – Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

Don’t miss that last line. It would appear that even the priests of Israel were guilty of this crime against God. They were leading the way in adultery and even idolatry. And yet, Ezra had recognized the extent of the problem and the need for the people to repent.

“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.” – Ezra 9:13-15 NLT

But evidently, the people had not joined Ezra in his call for repentance. This led Malachi to point out the ongoing problem of adultery and idolatry that still plagued the land of Judah. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. They were living according to their own passions and pleasures and refusing to obey the commands of God. That led Malachi to remind them of their covenant commitment and God’s non-negotiable requirements regarding marriage and divorce.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. – Malachi 2:15-16 NLT

The actions of the people of Israel stand in stark contrast to the faithfulness of God as displayed in His unwavering commitment to their wellbeing. Despite all they had done to betray and abuse His love, He had remained committed to His covenant promises. Yes, He had punished them for their sins against Him, but He had also shown them undeserved mercy and grace by returning them to the land of promise so that they could restore their relationship with Him and display their renewed commitment to Him. But this was how they had repaid Him for His love.

In verse 17, Malachi gets to the heart of the matter. Not only were the people displaying unfaithfulness to one another and to God, but they were justifying their actions as good.

You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. – Malachi 2:17 NLT

God was angered by their blatant displays of unfaithfulness but also by their self-righteous justification of their behavior. They were actually trying to claim that their behavior was in keeping with God’s will. Through some inexplicable leap of logic, they had convinced themselves that God was pleased with their actions. Because they had not experienced any direct consequences for their sins, they assumed that God must have approved of their behavior. But Malachi assured them that God was “wearied” by their in-your-face display of disobedience and disrespect.

Their moral compromises had led to a loss of conviction. They were no longer able to discern right from wrong. And since God seemed to have remained silent about their behavior, they regarded his silence as approval. In doing so, they questioned the very nature of God’s justice. To a certain degree, the people had begun to question the very presence of God. While they had successfully returned to the land and completed the building of the walls, the construction of the temple, and the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, they were having a difficult time seeing the hand of God. From their perspective, there had been no supernatural display of His glory. Their return to the land had required a lot of hard work and they had little to show for all their efforts. They still had no king, no army, and found themselves surrounded by nations much larger and more powerful than themselves. So, they had taken matters into their own hands by intermarrying with their enemies and accomodating themselves to their worship of their false gods. And, since God had not struck them down, they assumed their decisions had His blessings. But they were about to discover just how wrong their assumptions really were.

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 Sovereign Switch

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
    the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
    and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
    and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.” – Genesis 48:1-22 ESV

As Moses begins to bring the book of Genesis to a close, he also narrates the closing days of Jacob’s life. As the patriarch of his family, Jacob had a responsibility to pass on his blessings to his sons, preparing the way for the future of their clan after his departure from this life. He had lived a long and was ready to pass the mantel of leadership to his 12 sons, allowing them to guide the next generation as they awaited the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to him so many years earlier.

Jacob, while 147-years-old, was far from senile. His eyes were failing but his memory was as sharp ever. He could recall with vivid detail the day when God had ordered him to leave Mesopotamia and return to Canaan. Along the way, God had appeared to him and delivered the following promise:

“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. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

But now, Jacob and his family were living in the land of Egypt. Because of the devastating famine that had ravaged Canaan, they had been forced to seek refuge in Goshen, taking up residence in the land graciously provided to them by Pharaoh. Due to Joseph’s high rank in the Egyptian administration, they were provided with ample food to meet all their needs, even as their clan continued to grow in number.

Even during their self-imposed exile in Egypt, Jacob and his sons had been fulfilling God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. And while they may not have recognized it, their small clan was slowly evolving into a great nation. When they had arrived in Egypt, they had only been 70 in number, but during the 17 years that Jacob lived in Egypt, “they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly” (Genesis 47:27 NLT).

God was at work, blessing the offspring of Abraham just as He had promised to do. And while their detour into Egypt may have appeared to them as an unexpected glitch in God’s plan, it had part of the plan all along. While in Egypt, they were sequestered safely in the land of Goshen, protected by the hand of Pharaoh, and amply provided for by Joseph. They were safe, secure, and sovereignly provided for by God Almighty.

Yet, Jacob’s days were numbered. He would not be leaving Egypt or returning to the land of Canaan. And he would not live to see his growing clan transformed by God into a mighty nation. But, as the patriarch, he could do his part to pass on his blessings to those who would carry on after his death.

Joseph, upon hearing that his father’s health was diminishing, brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to pay their last respects to their grandfather. These two boys had been born to Joseph and his Egyptian wife, “Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On” (Genesis 41:45 ESV). So, they were half Egyptian and half Hebrew. But Jacob was not phased by this seemingly disqualifying detail. He too had fathered sons from non-Hebrew women. And to illustrate his full acceptance of Joseph’s two sons, he announced that he was adopting them as his own. They would be given equal standing with the rest of his sons and afforded full rights as his descendants.

The scene that Moses describes is somewhat confusing and can leave the impression that Jacob was an old, doddering man who didn’t know what he was doing. As he called for Joseph to bring the two boys forward so that he might bless them, Jacob appears to mistakenly place his hands on the heads of the two boys. Moses is quite precise in his language, stating that Joseph purposefully placed his older son, Manasseh before Jacob’s right hand. It was from Jacob’s right hand that Manasseh would have received the blessing of the firstborn. But at the last second, Jacob switched his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim.

Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). – Genesis 48:14 ESV

Joseph was unaware of this “slight of hands,” because he had “bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). He did not notice Jacob’s subtle, yet significant change of plans until it was too late.

While the blessing that Jacob uttered seems equitable in nature, his switching of the hands gave greater precedence to the younger son. Jacob asked that God would bless both boys and make them fruitful, but he seems to have intended that Ephraim receive the blessing of the double blessing due to the firstborn.

Under the inspiration of God, Jacob deliberately gave Ephraim the privileged first-born blessing and predicted his preeminence. This was the fourth consecutive generation of Abraham’s descendants in which the normal pattern of the firstborn assuming prominence over the second born was reversed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

This was a deliberate action on Jacob’s part, not the feeble-minded mistake of an old man. He knew exactly what he was doing. The text does not reveal why Jacob made this decision, but it would seem that he was acting under divine inspiration. This was the will of God. This conclusion is not based on conjecture, but on the words written by the author of Hebrews. In chapter 11, the great “Hall of Faith,” Jacob is included in the long list of Old Testament saints who exhibited faith in the promises of Yahweh. And Jacob’s demonstration of faith is tied to his blessing of the two sons of Joseph.

By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV

The switching of his hands and the pronouncement of blessing had been an act of worship. Just had been proven true in his life, God was going to use the younger son to accomplish His will.

But when Joseph realized what was happening, he tried to intervene and correct the mistake by switching his father’s hands. Yet Jacob refused to budge. His decision had been deliberate and was final. He informed Joseph, “I know, my son; I know,…Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT).

The die was cast. The blessings were awarded. And Ephraim would eventually be the name associated with the northern tribe of Israel after the nation was split in two. God would fulfill the blessing and make of Ephraim a great nation.

Moses makes it quite clear that this was a deliberate action on the part of Jacob.

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. – Genesis 48:20 ESV

And while Joseph was not happy with the results, it was exactly what God had intended all along. His ways are not our ways. His plans do not always align with our own. Every detail of the story was happening according to God’s divine will and the ultimate outcome of each decision would not be fully revealed or realized for centuries. But there were no mistakes in God’s sovereign agenda.

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 Land of “Evil” and Blessing

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. 

13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:7-19 ESV

Joseph settled his family in the land of Goshen, which was located in the northern-most region of Egypt. As the text reveals, it was also known as  “the land of Rameses.” It seems likely that Moses used this name because his readers would have been more familiar with that designation. Rameses was the name of a modern city in the region and it means, “Ra [the sun god] has created it.” Moses wanted his readers to understand exactly where their ancestors had settled with they first entered Egypt. The mention of Rameses gave them a much clearer idea of where Jacob and his family began what would become a four-century long stay for the people of Israel.

Moses provides a brief description of what was probably Jacob’s only encounter with Pharaoh. Due to his son’s position of high rank in Pharaoh’s court, Jacob was given an audience before this powerful world leader and Pharaoh treated Jacob with dignity and respect. When he inquired as to Jacob’s age, the patriarch stated, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years” (Genesis 47:9 ESV).

It’s fascinating to consider why Moses included this verbal exchange between the all-powerful Pharaoh and the weak and elderly father of Joseph. One man was the epitome of power and influence, while the other was in the latter stages of his life and completely dependent upon his son’s kindness and Pharaoh’s mercies. And when Jacob answered Pharaoh’s question, it’s interesting to note the specific words he used. Jacob stated that, while he had lived to be 130-years old, “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9 ESV). In comparison to his father and grandfather, Jacob considered himself to be a youngster. Abraham had died at the ripe old age of 175, and Isaac had died at 180. 

But Jacob referred to his relatively short life as having been “evil.” The Hebrew word he used is רַע (raʿ), which, in the Scriptures, is most often translated as “evil,” but can also mean painful and full of sorrow. But it seems ironic that Jacob used this particular Hebrew word to describe his life on earth because it was very similar to the name of the Egyptian god for whom the region known as Rameses was named.

“Ra is the Egyptian word for ‘sun’. As a solar deity, Ra embodied the power of the sun but was also thought to be the sun itself, envisioned as the great god riding in his barge across the heavens throughout the day and descending into the underworld at sunset.

“According to scholar Richard H. Wilkinson, Ra is “arguably Egypt’s most important deity” not only because of his association with the life-giving sun but also through his influence on the development of later gods

“He was known as the Self-Created-One who appears in creation myths as the deity (interchangeably known as Atum) who stands on the primordial mound amidst the swirling waters of chaos and establishes order, gives birth to the other gods, and creates the world.” – Mark, Joshua J.. “Ra (Egyptian God).” World History Encyclopedia

It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that Jacob described his life on earth as having been raʿ or evil, and the name for the land in which he was about to relocate was named for an Egyptian god named Ra. And each word is pronounced “rah,” in either Hebrew or Egyptian. Was Jacob using this word on purpose, or did Moses choose to use it in order to express an opinion to his readers.

There may be a bit of foreshadowing taking place. Moses knew the rest of the story and, in choosing to use this word, he may have been hinting that the coming days the Israelites would spend in Rameses (Ra [the sun god] has created it) would also be filled with evil. While Goshen would prove to be a hospitable sight in the early days of Jacob’s sojourn, Moses appears to be telegraphing that the good graces of Pharaoh would soon turn evil. The land that Ra had created would eventually become inhospitable and unwelcoming.

But this rather short aside by Moses is followed by his description of Jacob’s settlement in the land.

Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded – Genesis 47:11 ESV

And having successfully relocated his family to Goshen, Joseph ensured that they had plenty of food to eat because the famine was far from over.

In the following verses, Moses shifts his attention on the leadership skills of Joseph, outlining his ongoing plan to provide for the ongoing needs of the people of Egypt while successfully enhancing the power and wealth of Pharaoh.

It is essential to remember that the famine was widespread. Egypt was no better off than Canaan, but because of Joseph had been blessed by God and equipped with divinely inspired leadership, he had been able to set up a strategy that took advantage of the seven years of fruitfulness that had preceded the seven years of famine. He had overseen the creation of a vast supply network of storehouses filled with grain. So, when the famine came and no one was able to grow crops, the people could come and buy grain from Pharaoh’s well-stocked granaries.

Moses goes out of his way to describe the gravity of the situation.

…there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe… – Genesis 47:13 ESV

But because of Joseph’s ingenuity and planning, the people were able to purchase all the grain they needed, with the profits going directly into Pharaoh’s royal treasury. God was blessing the nations just as He had promised to Abraham, and He was doing it through Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was blessing Pharaoh, who worshiped the false god, Ra.

According to the World History Encyclopedia, “Ra’s presence on earth was recognized by sunlight and the growth of crops as well as the changing seasons.” And yet, the survival of the Egyptians was based on the good graces of the Joseph’s God, the true creator of heaven and earth. Ra had proved incapable of sustaining the food supply of the very people who worshiped and offered sacrifices to him. But the God of Joseph had managed to provide more than enough food to feed the people of Egypt, with plenty left over to meet the needs of Jacob’s family.

As the years passed and the famine continued, the people eventually ran out of money, so they were forced to exchange their livestock for grain. When the famine failed to end, they were left with nothing to trade except their land and their own bodies. Desperate for food, they essentially sold themselves into servitude to Pharaoh.

What’s fascinating to consider is that, all the while the Egyptians were exhausting their savings, selling of all their livestock, and sacrificing their land and their freedom in order to survive, Joseph was caring for the needs of Jacob and his family. Their livestock and land remained their own. They were never required to pay for a single ounce of grain. So, they prospered and their flocks flourished while everyone else around them was forced into penury and servitude.

The people of Egypt, in a desperate attempt to survive the relentless effects of the famine, relinquished all rights to their property,  possessions, and personal rights.

Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:19 ESV

And one can only imagine how they felt about the Israelites who were prospering in the land of Goshen, which had been created by their god, Ra.

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.

 

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.

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 Fight to the Finish

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.

36 Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” Genesis 31:33-42 ESV

Reading this portion of the story is like watching a fight between two heavyweight boxers. Both Laban and Jacob are seasoned veterans of the ring, with an arsenal of well-honed skills at their disposal. And they each have proven themselves more than willing to resort to cheating if the circumstances call for it. They’re not afraid to fight dirty if that is what it will take to come out victorious.

So, as the angry and offended Laban confronts his nemesis, Jacob, tempers are at an all-time high. Upon discovering that Jacob had stolen away in the night, carrying his daughters, grandchildren, and personal household gods, Laban had set out in hot pursuit. Now, he was standing in front, full of fury and righteous indignation, accusing his son-in-law of everything from ingratitude and insensitivity to outright theft. But Jacob countered with a declaration of innocence and a vow to put to death anyone found in possession of Laban’s property.

Convinced of Jacob’s guilt, Laban ordered a thorough search of Jacob’s belongings. He began in the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. But his efforts proved fruitless. He could find no trace of the missing household gods. And there is a certain sense of irony in all of this because Laban was in the strange and helpless position of having to “search” for his own gods. All the while he looked, they remained hidden and silent, because they were powerless and incapable of speech. Laban’s gods couldn’t reveal, much less, save themselves. All during this story, they remain invisible and impotent, hidden away and unable to come to Laban’s aid. And it is not surprising that God’s Word has much to say about the idiocy of idols.

“What good is an idol carved by man,
    or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
    a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,
    ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
    ‘Rise up and teach us!’
    Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside.” – Habakuk 2:18-19 NLT

“Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless!” – 1 Samuel 12:21 NLT

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

One can only imagine Laban’s growing frustration as his search for his “lost” gods came up empty-handed. But his stubbornness would not allow him to give up and admit defeat. So, the search continued, this time to Rachel’s tent. And while Laban had been busy ransacking the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, Rachel had taken the household gods she had stolen and hid them in the saddle of her camel. Then, as Laban approached, she took a seat on the saddle. Verse 25 indicates that Jacob “had pitched his tent in the hill country,” so it seems likely that the saddle was lying on the ground near Rachel’s tent. And her pilfering of her father’s household gods seems to suggest that Rachel shared her father’s reverence for them. While the names of these gods are not revealed, it is readily apparent that they were of great value to Laban. He had traveled for three days in an attempt to recover them. And Rachel was willing to risk her life in order to keep them. The idols would have represented hope for future blessings and fruitfulness. Perhaps Rachel was hoping that one of these household gods could help her produce another son. Up to this point in the story, Rachel has only been able to conceive one time, and at the birth of that son, she had exclaimed, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family” (Genesis 30:24 NLT).

Perhaps Rachel believed that her first pregnancy had been the work of her father’s gods and she hoped that they would bring her further good fortune. It is clear that she was willing to risk a great deal in order to keep the gods in hiding and in her possession.

Firmly seated upon the saddle, with the idols hidden underneath her, Rachel begged her father’s forgiveness for not rising to greet him, using “the way of women” as her excuse. Laban remained unsuspecting of his daughter’s treachery and continued his search, “but he could not find the household idols” (Genesis 31:35 NLT).

And Jacob, completely oblivious to what his wife had done, must have been gloating on the inside as he watched his father-in-law’s frustration reach a fever pitch. But at some point, he lost his patience and demanded that the search end.

“What’s my crime?” he demanded. “What have I done wrong to make you chase after me as though I were a criminal? – Genesis 31:35 NLT

Jacob had endured enough of his father-in-law’s insulting behavior and demanded an apology for the last 20 years of abuse he had been forced to endure.

“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night.” – Genesis 31:38-39 NLT

Jacob had Laban on the ropes and he was pulling no punches. With each powerful blow, Jacob attempted to deliver the knock-out punch that would send his opponent to the mat. He recounted his tireless and selfless efforts to serve Laban. He reveled in his sense of self-righteousness, detailing the many ways he had treated Laban with nothing but respect. Jacob paints himself as the consummate victim, even describing himself as a helpless slave.

“Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times!” – Genesis 31:41 NLT

He had Laban staggering under a steady barrage of accusations. Those watching this epic battle would have observed that Laban was about to go down for the count. And them, Jacob delivered the final blow that would bring this fight to an end.

“In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. That is why he appeared to you last night and rebuked you!” – Genesis 31:42 NLT

Jacob’s decisive one-two punch was Yahweh, the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac. Laban’s household gods had been no match for the Almighty. For 20 long years, as these two men had done battle, Jacob had enjoyed the blessings of Yahweh. Jacob concedes that all his success had been the work of Yahweh. And Jacob wanted Laban to know that Yahweh could and would undermine any attempts to keep him from returning to Canaan. There was no going back. Jacob would not be tricked again. And the scene seems to end with Jacob standing over his defeated foe as Yahweh raises his gloved hand in victory. That match is over but, for Jacob, the real fight is about to begin.

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.

Driven By the Wrong Desires

1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” Genesis 27:1-13 ESV

Chapter 26 ended with a brief snapshot of Esau’s life. When he reached the age of 40, this eldest son of Isaac married two different women from the among the sons of Heth. And Moses comments that Esau’s wives wives “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). This seems to be a reference to the disappointment his parents felt that he had failed to take for himself a wife from among the clan of Abraham. It is important to recall that Rebekah had been a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. It had been highly important to Abraham that his son, Isaac, have a wife from among his own people. And when Abraham had sent his servant to Haran to seek a suitable bride for Isaac, he had made him swear an oath.

“I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” – Genesis 24:3-4 ESV

So, Esau’s decision to marry not one, but two, Hittite women, left Isaac and Rebekah bitter and frustrated by their son’s rebellious behavior. By marrying Canaanite women, Esau ensured that any children they bore him would be, in a sense, impure. He had married outside his clan and, in doing so, had brought dishonor to the family name.

But, as Moses revealed earlier, Isaac had a special love for Esau.

Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home… – Genesis 25:28 ESV

This entire chapter is going to place a special emphasis on physical appetites and desires. Each of the characters seem to be consumed by what the apostle John called “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2L16 ESV). They each display an unhealthy obsession with self and allow their own personal agendas to cloud their decision making.

While Isaac and Rebekah had been grieved by Esau’s choice of wives, Isaac still appreciated his son’s culinary skills. In the waning days of his life, Isaac showed little concern about the spiritual heritage he would leave his eldest son, but instead, he used Esau to satisfy his own selfish desires.

“Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” – Genesis 27:2-4 ESV

Basically, Isaac manipulates his son in order to get what he wants. He couches his request in the guise of a blessing, and offers Esau something that was already his by right. But Isaac has attached a condition. If you bring me food, I will bless you. And this offer appealed to Esau because, years earlier, he had mistakenly sold his birthright to Jacob, in exchange for a bowl of stew. The birthright and the blessing were two different things. The birthright was usually given to the firstborn son and guaranteed him the largest portion of the family’s estate upon his father’s death. But Esau had flippantly traded that right away. Yet, despite his reckless decision, Esau was still the firstborn and, as such, was guaranteed a special blessing from his father. So, Isaac’s request provided Esau with a chance to make up his losses. By selling his birthright, Esau had given up his right to be the chief of the tribe and head of the family, but he still held out hope that his father would reward him with a double-portion as the eldest son of the family.

Like his father, Esau was driven by his own brand of lust and desire. So, he quickly took up Isaac’s offer and headed out in search of wild game.

But there had been someone eavesdropping on the conversation between Isaac and Esau. Rebekah overhead what her husband had said and immediately went into protective-parent mode. According to Moses, Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:28), and she would do anything to protect her favorite child. So, when she heard that Isaac planned to give Esau the blessing, she saw her chance to guarantee Jacob’s future for life.

There is no way to tell if Isaac or Rebekah knew about Esau’s sale of his birthright. It would appear that they were still operating under the impression that Esau still retained the birthright and had every right to expect the blessing of the firstborn. Rebekah’s motivation is purely selfish. She desires that her favorite son be the one who inherits all the Isaac leaves behind. And she is willing to use deception to make it happen. But keep in mind, that Rebekah has already been promised by God that Jacob will be the more powerful and successful of the two sons. When she was still carrying the two boys in her womb, God had given her a prophetic pronouncement regarding their future.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

But Rebekah decided to take matters into her own hands. She was going to do whatever it took to ensure the outcome that God had promised. While Esau was gone, she called Jacob and informed him of her plan.

“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” – Genesis 27:8-10 ESV

Unwilling to allow God to accomplish His will on His own terms and according to His own timing, Rebekah chose to implement her own cleverly concocted plan. She decided to help out the Almighty. And everything about her plan is deceptive and potentially destructive. She shows no concern for Esau, and displays no respect for the wishes of her own husband. In her desire to get what she wanted, she was willing to disobey God, deceive her husband, and defraud her own son.

Interestingly enough, Jacob doesn’t reject his mothers plan, but simply exposes the holes he sees in it. He displays a fear of getting exposed but not a fear of deceiving his father and cheating his brother out of the blessing. He knew his father was half-blind, but he also knew that his father was no fool. He and his brother looked nothing alike and Isaac was sure to see through their little charade. But Rebekah had a plan. She had already thought through all the variables and had come up with a fool proof strategy for pulling the wool over Isaac’s already cloudy eyes.

She even assured her reluctant son that, if they were caught, she would personally endure any curse that Isaac leveled against him. She would take the heat. If nothing else, Rebekah was committed. She was completely sold out to her son’s success and would do anything to see that he got all she believed he deserved.

At this moment, Rebekah’s desires had completely taken precedence over God’s will. Nothing she was doing was necessary. And yet, God allowed it to happen. According to His sovereign will and in line with His providential plan, He permitted each of these individuals to operate according to their own selfish agendas, without ever sacrificing a single element of His own divine will.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Isaac lusted for food. Esau coveted a blessing. Rebekah yearned to get her own way. And Jacob craved significance.

All four of them could have saved themselves a lot of hurt and heartache if they could have heard the words of the apostle John.

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

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.

Song of the Savior

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56 ESV

After hearing Elizabeth’s Spirit-inspired pronouncement of blessing, Mary could no longer contain her emotions. She broke into song, composing what has come to be known as the “Magnificat.” That title is derived from the Latin translation of the first line of her song: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The word magnifies is magnificat in Latin, and can also be translated as “glorifies” or “exalts.”

In this rather short song or psalm of praise to God, Mary attempts to articulate her extreme gratefulness to God for having chosen her for the unfathomable and unprecedented task of bearing the coming Messiah. She was blown away by the magnitude of this weighty responsibility and recognized that she had done nothing to deserve it. The God of the universe had graciously chosen to extend to her the honor of giving birth to His own Son. And her heart was filled with praise and gratitude.

But notice the words Mary uses to describe Yahweh. First, she refers to Him as Lord (kyrios), which can also be translated as “master.” It was a title that conveyed an awareness of sovereignty or power and expressed an attitude of respect and reverence. Mary viewed God as her Lord and Master, and herself as His humble servant.

But she also described Yahweh as “God my Savior.” He was theos, the transcendent God of the universe, but also her personal sōtēr or Savior. In essence, Mary is stating that Yahweh is the “God of my salvation.” This was a common Old Testament designation for God and one with which Mary would have been quite familiar.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV

She goes on to describe Yahweh as “mighty” (dynatos) and “holy” (hagios). She believed her God to be all-powerful and completely capable of doing what He had promised to do – even orchestrating her pregnancy through the power of the Holy Spirit. And while this miraculous turn of events might raise eyebrows and cause some to question her moral integrity, she knew that her God was holy and pure in all His ways. Not only that, He was a God of “mercy” (eleos), one who shows kindness or goodwill towards the miserable and the afflicted. He was the God of the downtrodden and the lowly, who had a track record of coming to the aid of the disenfranchised while scattering “those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51 NLT).

Mary inherently knew that God was working in ways that were contrary to the normal ways of men. Rather than choosing the wealthy, wise, influential, and powerful, God had turned His attention to the humble, lowly, and inconsequential. And the apostle Paul would later articulate the rather controversial and contradictory ways of God when he wrote to the believers in Corinth.

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1Corinthians 1:24-29 NLT

From a purely human perspective, none of this made sense, but to Mary, it was a clear indication that Yahweh was at work. He was doing what He always did, overturning the status quo and championing the cause of the less fortunate.

“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1:52-53 NLT

Mary seemed to understand that her story was that of the Israelite people. There had been a time when they were an obscure and unimportant nation, small in number, and devoid of power. Yet God had shown them mercy and grace. And it was Moses who reminded them that their status as God’s chosen people had been undeserved and unearned.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you… – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Mary may have been young, but she was wise beyond her years. She fully grasped the significance of what was going on and expressed an understanding of the bigger picture at play.

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” – Luke 1:54-55 NLT

By showing mercy to Mary, God was extending mercy to His chosen people. He had promised to send them the Messiah and now He was about to fulfill that promise. Mary was blown away by the fact that she had been chosen as the conduit through which the “seed” of God’s promise would come. When God had made His covenant promise to Abraham, assuring him that his future offspring would become a blessing to the nations, He had been referring to the coming Messiah. And the apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

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

Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, would make His unlikely entry into the world through the womb of a young virgin girl. He would humble Himself by taking on human flesh, leaving His rightful place at His Father’s side, and subjecting Himself to the restrictive and far-from-regal confines of a human body.

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 ESV

And it would all begin with His divinely orchestrated and perfectly timed birth.

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

There was much about her future son’s life that Mary did not understand. It’s unlikely that she had any concept of the suffering and death that would mark His life. She knew He would be the Messiah, and she hoped that He would bring salvation to His people. Her hopeful expectation was that He would be the next King of Israel, and she would be right. But there was much that had to happen before that day came. He would have to suffer and die. His crucifixion would have to come before His glorification. And His ascension and return to His Father’s side would have to precede the consummation of His Kingdom and His coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords. But while there was much Mary did not understand, she knew that her God was sovereign over all and fully faithful. So, she gladly sang His praises.

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

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

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