December 31, 2016
Daily Scripture Readings
Commentary and Explanatory Notes
For millennia, God’s people have followed common schedules of daily Bible readings. The schedule, or, Lectionary, followed on this site comes from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, which was and is still used by people of many denominations. Its first morning and evening readings, called “Lessons,” begin with Genesis, and take us through the Old Testament, with a few interruptions. The second lessons focus on the New Testament. The readings are divided into twelve sections, or, Tables, one for each month of the year. This method takes us through the Old and New Testaments book-by-book, building an ever growing knowledge of the order and content of the Bible. The morning readings are listed first; the evening readings are under them. Thus, the January 2 morning readings are Genesis 1 and Mathew 1. The evening readings are Genesis 2 and Romans 1. They are listed as follows:
Genesis 1, Matthew 1
Genesis 2, Romans 1
Interposed into this order are several readings that emphasise important events in the life of Christ. Other readings are about the Apostles, or others whose lives were examples of faith and Godliness. In times past, people went to Church on these days. Many still do, but most will read the lessons at home or in private.
The Scripture readings are followed by a Commentary of explanatory notes on selected chapters of the day’s readings. The comments are intended to help people learn what the Bible says, and understand what the Bible means, thereby, making reading the Bible more enjoyable and profitable. The brevity and non-technical language of the comments is intentional, and done in the hope that they will be helpful to people at all levels of Bible knowledge and Christian maturity, but especially to those who are new to the Bible, or desire a refresher in the Scriptures.
The Lectionary is designed to take us through the Old Testament once, and the New Testament twice each year. The commentary will follow the Old Testament for one year, and the New Testament the following year. Following the Lectionary and Commentary, then, will develop a solid, working knowledge of the Bible in only two years. This knowledge will be a foundation for further and fuller study of the Word. Yes, it does take time, and work. Everything worthwhile does. But the knowledge and understanding you will gain is worth it.
The goal of all Bible study is more than just knowledge and understanding of its meaning and contents. Our real goal is to be shaped by the Bible. We want to think God’s thoughts. We want to see things from His point of view. We want our attitudes, desires, values, words, actions, and feelings to be shaped by the Bible rather than the world. We want our entire selves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). As we read the Bible, we are letting God shape us in our innermost being. We are letting the word of Christ dwell in us (Col. 3:16). This is what God wants for us, and it is what true Christians want also. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17.
A Table of Lessons for January
Philippians 2:9-13, Luke 2:15 -21
Commentary, Luke 2:15-21
Christ was circumcised eight days after birth, receiving the sign of the Covenant God made with His people through Abraham. He received the sign of the Old Covenant because He obeyed all the commandments of God. Only one who is perfectly righteous in His being and in His obedience to God can be the perfect sacrifice for sin. It is noteworthy that the sign of the Old Covenant has passed away with the inauguration of the New Covenant. Baptism, the sign of the New Covenant, has replaced circumcision.
The real message here is the surpassing and absolute righteousness of Christ. He kept every part of the will and commandments of God. He kept both the letter and the spirit of the law, which is the only way to actually obey God.
Because Christ kept the law perfectly, He was able to be the unblemished Lamb of God; able to offer Himself for our sins and suffer for our transgressions. Another sinner could not accomplish our forgiveness, even by dying for us. Another sinner could only die for his own sins. But Jesus Christ the Righteous was able to live without sin, and, thus to pay for ours.
“Almighty God , who madest they blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law of man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
~1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 105
Genesis 1, Matthew 1
Genesis 2, Romans 1
Commentary, Genesis 1 and 2
“In the beginning, God.” These words set the tone for the entire Bible. The Bible is about God. More specifically, it is about God’s grace in action toward humanity. We could say it is the story of God’s redemptive work on planet earth. It begins with the One who Is, the Eternal One without beginning or end, who is the beginning and end of all else.
The “beginning” is the beginning of the physical universe. The “heavens” are the stars and galaxies beyond our planet. Earth is the planet on which we live. Thus, in one short sentence we see that God encompasses everything from His Eternal Being, to the vast creation He made, to the tiny planet on which we dwell and on which the great drama of Redemption will take place.
Very few words are used to describe God’s act of creating. He spoke, and it was done. His power is so absolute He needs only to speak and His will is infallibly accomplished. Nor does the Bible record human achievements, such as writing or the invention of the wheel. They are not the subject of this book. God is the subject. Redemption is the verb. People are the direct objects. This is true throughout the Bible.
A major point of the first chapter is the complete goodness of the Creation. Death and decay are unknown. Man and animals do not eat each other. Natural disasters are non-existent. Indeed the first chapter of the First Book reveals a world at peace as it reflects and enjoys the holiness of God. Even Man, as male and female, are at peace in the glory of God. Without sin, they live in freedom and peace with each other, and with God. Thus the chapter ends appropriately, “And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Genesis 2 expounds the creation of Man in greater detail. It continues to show the perfect peace and harmony of Adam and Eve with God and creation. Eve is bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh, but more importantly, Eve and Adam are at one in spirit. Bishop J.C. Ryle summarises the chapter’s teaching as:
Man’s kinship with God, (ver. 7).
Man’s worship of God, (ver. 3).
Man’s fellowship with God, (ver.16).
Man’s service for God, (ver. 18).
Man’s loyalty to God, (ver. 17).
Man’s authority from God,(ver. 19).
Man’s social life from God, (ver. 24).
Genesis 3, Matthew 2
Genesis 4, Romans 2
Commentary, Genesis 3 and 4
Genesis three sees the entire Creation fall from perfect peace in God into absolute misery in sin. The essence of man’s sin is the desire to be “as gods,” (3:5). Verse 6 says the fruit was to be desired to “make one wise.” Adam and Eve wanted to make their own choices and decisions about good and evil, and right and wrong. Instead of obeying God and trusting His wisdom, they wanted to be wise themselves and trust their own wisdom to decide what was “right” and “true” for themselves. They essentially kicked God out of their lives, and enthroned themselves in His place. They became as gods to themselves. That has been the desire of all people ever since.
The “wisdom” of Adam and Eve, like ours, was faulty. How can the ideas of a finite creature compare to the All Wise God? Their decision, and the decisions of their progeny, do not make things better than what they receive from God. Instead, they cause confusion, despair, strife, and death. Nature becomes their enemy. Storms and earthquakes attack them. The labour of their hands and the sweat of their brow produce thorns. Childbirth is pain. Strife and self-seeking become part of human relationships.
Because of sin, all people and all creation are now under the wrath of God, and unable to make themselves right with Him. Unless God crucifies His right to be angry and to exact the punishment for our sins, we will dwell in His wrath forever. Thus we understand the meaning of Genesis 3:15. There will be a constant war between the seed of woman and the serpent (Satan). But that war will be won by one Man, The Seed of Woman. Yes the serpent will bruise His heel, but He will bruise the serpent’s head. The Seed is Christ. The bruising is the Cross on which He redeems His people.
The strife and turmoil caused by sin are immediately evident in Cain and Abel. Note that God has already established a system of sacrifices in which the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God is portrayed. The rejection of Cain’s sacrifice is due to the lack of blood, or, life, in it. It could not show the death of Christ, the giving up of His life for the sins of His people. Rather than purchase a lamb to sacrifice, Cain kills Abel. Thus, instead of being welcomed back to God on the basis of the Sacrifice, Cain multiplies his guilt, and reaps the fruit of his sins.
Gen. 5, Mt. 3
Gen 6, Rom. 3
Commentary, Genesis 5 and 6
Many wonder where Cain’s wife came from. We are not told. Cain’s story in chapter 4 is only given to show the depths of sin into which mankind continues to fall. Having accomplished that, Genesis hurries on to the story of Seth, for Seth is the chosen vessel. In him, and his son, Enos, after two hundred years of darkness and rebellion, “began men to call upon the name of the Lord.”
Chapter 5 gives the first several generations in the genealogy of the Messiah. We see His line traced through Seth to Noah in Gen. 5. We see it traced to Abraham in Gen. 10 and 11. We see His line traced from Abraham to Joseph in Matthew 1. So, the main point of Genesis 5 is that Seth, who carries on the knowledge and worship of God, begins the line through whom the Saviour will be born.
The sons of God in 6:2 are the descendants of Seth who have been spiritually adopted by God. They are called sons of God in the same way the Jews are called children of God in Deuteronomy. 14:1, and Christians are called sons of God in John 1:12. The point of chapter 6 is that the Sethites do not remain faithful to God. They intermarry with the unbelieving descendants of Cain, who are physically big and strong, but spiritually are as small and weak as babies. Though men of physical prowess result from these marriages, the spiritual condition of the Sethite sons of God plummets to the level of the Canites. Thus they are included in the description in 6:5; “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” so much that it grieved the heart of God (6:6). It would do well to meditate on your sin, and how it also grieves the heart of God.
The result is God’s decision to cleanse the world of the human race. Only the house of Noah, a descendant of Seth who still walks with God (6:9), will be saved. Verses 13-22 record the call of Noah and the construction of the Ark.
Gen. 7, Mt. 4
Gen. 8, Rom. 4
Commentary, Genesis 7 and 8
Genesis 7 makes two points of great importance. First, in verse 21, “all flesh died that moved upon the earth.” The wickedness that caused God to repent of creating man is, by the flood, washed off the face of the earth, and meets its just and justifiable end. The wages of sin is death. Second, in verse 23, “Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” God remembers mercy, even in wrath, and in mercy, he spares Noah, just as He spared Adam and Eve after the Fall. In chapter 8 God providentially preserves Noah through the flood, and recession of the waters, finally bringing him safe to dry and renewed land again.
January 6, Epiphany
Epiphany is the traditional Twelfth Day of Christmas, and celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Christ did not become flesh just for the Jews. He came to die for the sins of the whole world. This does not mean every single person will be saved. It means that the scope of the Messiah’s work is global, not limited to the Jewish people. It is the whole world, not one nation. Christ’s offer of grace transcends national, ethnic, and geographic barriers. His grace is for all who believe from the whole world.
Gen. 9, Mt 5:1-21
Gen. 11, Rom. 5
Commentary, Genesis 9 and 11.
Genesis 9 shows God placing Man in a renewed world. In a way, Noah is a new Adam. He is placed in a new world, and good possibilities lie ahead, if he and humanity follow God. In a similar way, the ark is like Christ. It carries the people of God through the flood of God’s wrath to the new land of God’s promises. Only those who enter the Ark will be saved.
Though Genesis 10 is not in the reading for today, it contains genealogy records, which are very important as we trace the linage of Christ. They take us from Noah to Babel, and will be used to trace the line of God’s chosen people.
Unfortunately Noah and his descendants follow the spiritual path set by Adam. Genesis 11 records their moral and spiritual decline after the flood. It is amazing that the miraculous salvation from the flood is so quickly forgotten. But we are no different today. The Lord Himself came to earth, and lived and died for us. Like the ark, He carries His people through the flood of God’s wrath, and delivers us safely into the New World of His grace. Yet the world is consciously putting that out of its collective memory. Even many “Christians,” who once wept with joy at the knowledge of the Saviour, have all but forgotten Him today.
The Tower of Babel is part of man’s continuing attempt to build culture and unity on human folly rather than God’s wisdom. They were not trying to get to heaven by means of the tower. Calling it a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” is an idiom, similar to our “sky scraper.” Its real purpose was to unify man and create a society on earth based upon human ideas. Such a culture is always bound to fail, as demonstrated by the death and destruction upon which all utopian societies have been built. They fail because they are based upon the premise of the inherent goodness of all people. This premise states that all people are basically good, and, if given the chance, will work together and create a world of universal peace and happiness. But that premise is false. People are sinners, and will pervert and misuse every kind of government and culture, no matter how lofty its founding ideals or how good they appear in theory. This is why human history is marked by a continuous march of war, oppression, and crime.
God could have allowed man to build the tower, and to fail in his attempt to build utopia. Instead, He intervenes in a way that shows the dissolution of this utopia is the direct judgement of God. He confounds their language, effectively destroying their ability to communicate and co-operate in building the Tower and Utopia. No one who lived at that time could deny that this was the judgement of God on human pride and sin.
The genealogical record is enlarged, bringing us to the conclusion of the first eleven chapters of Genesis…, Abram. He, or rather, God’s election of, and work through, him, is the subject of the next fourteen chapters of Genesis.
Gen. 12, Matthew 5:22-48
Gen. 13, Romans 6
Commentary, Genesis 12 and 13
Genesis 12-25 are part of a larger section of Genesis, which proclaims God’s work with and through the people of Israel. The chapters deal primarily with the men called to be the human leaders of Israel, whom we usually call the Patriarchs. The section begins with the call of Abram, and ends with Joseph and the people of Israel in Egypt.
To this point, the events recorded in Genesis have taken place in the area we know today as modern Iraq. Eden, the building of the ark, and the Tower of Babel, all occurred in this area. Here, writing, the wheel, the 60 minute hour, and 60 second minute were invented. The Bible calls it the land of the Chaldees, and Abram lived in the city of Ur of the Chaldees. Abram is called to leave this land, and the geographic center of the Bible moves to Canaan, which we now know as Israel.
God has been guiding history toward Abram. He is a new Noah, a new Seth, and, in a way, a new Adam. Thus, the Covenant, which is God’s promise of grace and blessing, is renewed with Abram. Many mistakenly think people in the Old Testament were saved by works, specifically keeping the moral and ceremonial law. But no person has ever been saved by works. Grace alone saves sinners, and the Covenant with Abram is the continuation of the grace of God on fallen man. When Adam sinned, God did not require him or his descendants to make themselves right with God by the law. He dealt with them in grace. His Covenant Promise was always that if people turned to Him in faith He would be their God, bless them, and forgive their sins. By His grace, they would experience something similar to the joy and fellowship with God Adam and Eve had in the Garden. It would not be perfect, because they would not keep the Covenant perfectly. But it would be far better than the culture created by human endeavour before the Flood and in the Tower of Babel. They would be His people. They would worship Him and serve Him in gratitude for the grace poured out on them.
The Covenant includes the promise of the Saviour by whom the Fall and the Curse will be cancelled. Through the Saviour, sin is paid for and forgiveness is offered. This same Saviour will finally restore those who have followed Him in faith to full and complete perfection and fellowship.
In Genesis 13 Abram is safely returned to Canaan after a brief sojourn in Egypt. But strife among the chosen people causes Lot to depart from them. This is a crushing blow to Abram, who probably wants Lot to stay nearby rather than leave completely. But God reiterates His Covenant of Grace. That Covenant is still in effect. The defection of Lot does not diminish it, nor does it diminish the promise of uncounted descendants. Many of those descendants are the spiritual children of Abram through faith in Jesus Christ.
Gen. 14, Mt. 6:1-16
Gen. 15, Rom.7
Commentary, Genesis 14 and 15
Chapter 14 records a war waged by the pagan tribes of Canaan against the eastern kings named in verse 1. If Lot had remained with Abram, he would be safely away from the battle, But Lot lives in Sodom, and is captured when that city falls in battle. He is being taken to Assyria, probably as a slave, when Abram raids the camp and frees Lot.
The most striking event in this chapter, however, is not the battle, won by Abram and a few other small tribes against a much larger army of professional soldiers. It is the appearance of Melchizedic, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, to whom Abram pays a tithe of all the spoils taken from the invaders. He is regarded as an Old Testament appearance of Christ, the great and eternal High Priest of God.
In chapter 15 Abram is reminded that it was God who gave him victory in battle, and saved Lot. God was, and is his shield. He is also Abram’s great reward. The land and the descendants are wonderful, but they are secondary to God.
Abram has a difficult time understanding this. His mind is still on the land and the descendants when, in verses 2 and 8, he asks God how he can know he will receive the land. In spite of this misunderstanding, verse 6 records a very important fact about Abram: he believed God. His wife was past child bearing age, and he didn’t own even a tiny piece of Canaan. But he believed God would give him descendants and land. He took God at His word. We also have a word from God. We call it the Bible. It is the word of God as surely as if it had come from His own mouth. Let us, like Abram believe God.
God accounts Abram’s faith as righteousness. In other words, Abram believes God is dealing with him in undeserved grace. He has not earned Canaan, nor has he earned God’s favour. Yet God has promised to give him both, and Abram receives them by faith. Thus, we see throughout the Old Testament salvation by grace through faith, not by works.
Abram may have thought the promise was going to be fulfilled at that very moment. But God tells him his descendants will not take ownership of the land until they have been strangers and servants in another land for four hundred years. Immediately after this shocking revelation, God reassures Abram that the promise will happen.
Gen. 16, Mt. 6:17
Gen. 17, Rom. 8
Genesis 16 and 17
Abram’s faith, like everyone else’s is feeble. In chapter 16 he decides God needs his help to produce an heir through which his descendants will inherit Canaan. The idea is suggested by his wife, Sarai. She is probably more concerned about having someone to care for her and her husband in their old age, than about promises of inheriting the land and numerous descendants. A son of Abram might be kindly disposed toward her, and guarantee security and care for the rest of her life. Abram sees this as a way to get an heir, and probably convinces himself it is God’s will. It is not God’s will. It is a terrible sin. The suffering of Hagar and Ishmael, and the continuing enmity between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac would never have happened if Abram had not committed it. Our sins can have consequences for millions of people yet unborn.
In Genesis 17 we see the beginning of Old Testament circumcision. Most of the tribes and peoples of the ancient near east and Africa practiced male and female circumcision at or near puberty. Most of it had a sexual connotation. Old Testament circumcision is completely different. It symbolises putting off sin, and complete dedication of body and soul to God. It also symbolises Abram’s acceptance of and commitment to the Covenant God makes with him. In this sense it is very much like Christian baptism, which replaces circumcision in the New Testament. At this time Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, “Father of Multitudes.” The Jewish custom of naming the child at circumcision, and the Christian practice of naming a child at baptism both come from this.
Gen. 18:1-16, Mt. 7
Gen. 18:17-33, Rom. 9
God appears to Abraham as three Men, an obvious revelation of the Trinity. He is drawing Abraham more deeply into Himself, and growing Abraham’s faith in the process. Sarah, as she is now called, had been unable to conceive, but, as long as she was having her monthly issue of blood, she and Abraham had hope that God would give them a child. In 18:11, her monthly issue has ceased, so bearing a child seems completely impossible. She even laughs in derision at the idea of it (18:12). But God, for His own purposes, had closed Sarah’s womb, and now, for His own purposes, He opens it. He has waited until now so no one can doubt that the child is a miracle in fulfillment of God’s promise.
The revelation of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah continues Abraham’s education in faith. The depravity and gross immorality of the city shows the depth of wickedness of humanity. Their destruction graphically portrays the wages of sin. It also shows the unfathomable greatness of the mercy of God, for Abraham, too, is guilty of sexual immorality with Hagar. Abraham, then, deserves the same fate as the people of Sodom. He is not spared, because he is good. He is spared because God is gracious. It is as though God is saying, “This is the fate of those outside of the Covenant, and you are in the Covenant because of My grace, not your goodness.”
Abraham asks God to spare the city if righteous people are found there, and God agrees. But God knows there are no righteous people there. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If any are spared from the wrath to come, it will only happen because God has mercy on them. This reinforces to Abraham, that he is spared by grace, not by his own goodness.
Gen. 19:1-29, Mt. 8:1-17
Gen. 19: 30-38, Rom. 10
Lot’s cowardice is as despicable as the sexual sins of the people of Sodom. Lot had the benefit of knowing Abraham, and, therefore, of knowing the will and grace of God. Yet he intentionally turned away from God, and chose to dwell in this wicked city. When the men of Sodom learn of the presence of the angels, whom they mistake for mere men, they demand that Lot send them out to them, that they may “know” them (see also Gen. 4:1). This is no peaceful invitation. They have surrounded Lot’s house, and there is a threat of violence in their demand. Lot should post himself at the door of his house and defend the angels with his life. Instead he offers the men his two, virgin daughters to be raped, abused, and probably, killed. This is no act of moral courage. It is terrible wickedness coupled with incredible cowardice. A normal man would rather die defending his daughters than allow these men to take them. But Lot does not even have a father’s natural love and protective attitude toward his daughters.
Yet God has mercy on Lot and his family for Abraham’s sake (19:20). He brings them out of the city, though without the flocks and servants they had before. Sadly, his wife dies in the destruction, because she willfully disobeys God and looks back at the city.
Here is an opportunity for Lot. He can return to God. He can repent of his sin. He can flee from the eternal wrath that awaits his soul if he remains apart from God. But, rather than turning to God, he sinks into depression and turns to wine for consolation. Fearing they will never find husbands, his daughters conspire to conceive children to care for them in old age. They entice their father to drink, then lie with him. The sons born of this sin will become progenitors of the Moabites and Ammonites, whom God spares again when Israel returns from Egyptian slavery. Later, a Moabite woman, Ruth, will return to the Covenant and marry Boaz, thus becoming the great, great grand mother of King David of Bethlehem. Truly God’s grace and mercy is beyond human comprehension.
Gen. 21:1-21, Mt. 8:18-34
Gen. 21:22-34 , Rom. 11
Sarah immediately becomes jealous for her son’s inheritance, not wanting him to have to share it with Ishmael. This is pure greed and conceit. Sarah should have loved Hagar and Ishmael. They, in turn, should have honoured and loved her. Together, they should have been able to live together in reasonable happiness, despite the less than ideal circumstances that caused them to become family. Sarah’s real fear is that Ishmael, as the first born son, will become the head of the clan instead of Isaac. This is another lapse of faith, for God has clearly indicated that Sarah’s son will be the heir (Gen. 17:21). We would think the experience of miraculously giving birth and nursing a child would give Sarah confidence to trust God with her son. But it does not. Instead, she schemes and plots to secure Isaac’s headship of the clan. Just as her plot to secure an heir through Hagar resulted in sin and suffering, so also does her plot against Ishmael. Nor was Hagar without blame, for Gen. 16:5 says she despised Sarah.
Sarah’s hate is so vicious she wants Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael. Fortunately, God is more gracious. He allows Hagar and her son to be expelled, and to come near death, but does so that they may know His miraculous mercy upon them. It is only after they realise they cannot save themselves that God miraculously saves them and establishes Ishmael as the head of a great nation also.
Gen, 22, Mt. 9:1-17
Gen. 23, Rom. 12
Genesis 22 and 23
In chapter 22 God continues to grow the faith of Abraham and Sarah. They have plotted and sinned, as well as trusted God, to get an heir by which to possess Canaan and gain the beginning of myriad descendants. Through all of this, God has shown that He is capable of accomplishing His will, and is faithful about fulfilling His promises. Now God stretches their faith again, by telling them to sacrifice the son on whom their desire and hope has been centered. Will they obey God and trust Him to keep His word? Or will they refuse Him, and cling to their son? It is important to remember this is a test and teaching event for Abraham. God abhors human sacrifice, He does not call us to do it.
There is an implied question in this chapter: what does Abraham desire most? Is it the land and descendants? Or is it God? The real gift God is giving to Abraham is God Himself. Fields and flocks and worldly fame are fleeting. Abraham will lay them down when he lays down his body in death. But God will be the true dwelling place for Abraham and all generations of his true descendants, those descended by faith rather than flesh. They will dwell in Him forever.
We also need to know that God is calling Abraham for the purpose of blessing all nations through him. He is not calling Abraham merely for Abraham’s benefit. He is calling him to use him in His mighty work of redemption. Abraham is another person in the line through which the Saviour will come into the world.
Abraham chooses to trust God. He seems to have two ideas firmly in his mind. First, he will obey God. Second, he believes God will not require this. This God, who has proven Himself to be full of grace and mercy, who has forgiven sins and blessed those who deserve His wrath, will not murder this child. He will provide a substitute (22:8).
Abraham was right. God stayed his hand and provided a lamb to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Many believe Mount Moriah is the very place where the Temple was later built; the very Mount Zion where the sacrificial lambs were offered for generations. Those lambs, like the one sacrificed in Isaac’s place, were symbols of Christ, the Lamb of God. Just as God provided the lamb to die for Isaac, He provides The Lamb of God to die for us.
Hebron holds a prominent place in God’s work of redemption. Mamre, where God appeared to Abraham was in Hebron. The future sites of Jerusalem and Bethlehem are within the bounds of Hebron, so the capital of Israel, the Temple, and the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ will take place in the area known to Abraham only as Hebron. Its prominence begins humbly, as the burial ground of Sarah and Abraham. This may seem an odd thing to be a cause of prominence, but the cave of Machpelah, where Sarah is buried, is the only part of Canaan to belong to Abraham. After all the years of growing Abraham and Sarah in the faith, including the death of Sarah (who goes to the real Promised Land in Heaven), Abraham finally owns a piece of Canaan. And there his tabernacle of flesh will lie beside that of Sarah until the Resurrection Day.
Gen. 24:1-32, Mt. 9:18-38
Gen. 24:33- 67 , Rom. 13
Abraham is beginning to show his age, and now turns his concern to finding a wife for Isaac. Unlike his failure of faith and morality with Hagar, finding a wife for Isaac meets God’s approval and is blessed by Him. Mesopotamia means “between the waters” and refers to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here Eleazar is divinely guided to the people of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, still dwelling in Haran in what is now Turkey. Here he meets Rebekah. Though of a family of substance, she draws water for the flock, and also willingly draws it for Eleazar’s people and animals. Eleazar realises this is the woman God has chosen for Isaac. It is interesting to note that Rebekah’s brother is Laban, who will cause her son, Jacob much trouble in the future. She willingly goes to Canaan to marry a man she has never met, because she knows this is the will of God. She is very much like Abraham, who also left his father’s house and people, and, by faith went into a new land which God would show him. Like all of us, she has her faults, particularly in her dealings with her sons. Nevertheless, she is a noble example for us.
Gen. 25:1-18, Mt. 10
Gen. 25:19-34 , Rom. 14
Isaac and Ishmael have been able to repair their relationship well enough to attend their father’s funeral together. Perhaps the foolish acts of youth seem small and less harmful in the light of maturity, making forgiveness and brotherly love something to be sought and cherished. Abraham is buried beside Sarah in what is still the only part of Canaan he ever owns personally. His family and clan still roam the area as nomads, following their flocks and herds. We see God’s faithfulness to Ishmael in giving him descendants and land in the area. Isaac also begets many offspring, and chapter 25 hurries toward its main points, the birth of Jacob and Esau, and Esau selling his birthright.
By custom Esau was to be head of the clan after Isaac. But God had chosen Jacob, and we have run into the confusing subject of election and predestination. Esau cares nothing about his birthright. He is more concerned about having fun than becoming the leader of God’s people. Jacob wants Esau’s position, but for selfish and vain reasons, not because he wants to serve God and His people. The two are completely unfit for the task, yet God passes over Esau and chooses Jacob. He even chooses Jacob before the boys are born ( Gen. 25:23, Rom. 9:6-18). We cannot know the why or how of election. We can only conclude with Paul that God has “mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will, he hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18).
Gen. 26:1-17, Mt. 11
Gen. 26: 18-35, Rom. 15
Another famine in Canaan. This time God instructs Isaac to stay in the land. He stays with the Philistines, who occupy the area we know today as the Gaza Strip. The Philistines are not yet enemies of the Hebrew people, but Isaac, like his father had in Egypt, fears the Philistines will kill him to take Rebekah. So he tells her to say she is his sister.
Abimelech, learning Rebekah’s true identity, orders the Philistines not to touch her. Feeling safe among them now, Isaac sows crops and reaps a great harvest. The rest of the chapter records his increase in wealth. This is the blessing of God on him in fulfillment of the Covenant with Abraham, renewed with Isaac in 26:2-5.
Gen 27:1-29, Mt. 12:1-22
Gen. 27:30-46, Rom. 16
Truly it is only by God’s grace that He continues to work with the descendants of Abraham, for their sin does nothing to earn His favour.
Isaac knows well the meaning of Gen. 25:23. He also probably knows that Esau has sold his “birthright” to Jacob for a “mess of pottage.” Yet he clearly wants Esau to become head of the clan. The blessing he plans in verse 4 is intended to officially appoint Esau heir and chief of the clan. Esau was a big man, bold, courageous, and a natural leader. Jacob was sneaky and a “Mamma’s boy.” Isaac probably thought Esau would be a better leader for the clan than Jacob. So, rather than trust God, and obey His clear word, Isaac moves to appoint Esau.
Rebekah hears Isaac’s plot, and immediately moves to secure the blessing for her favourite son, Jacob. Rather than trusting God to keep His promise, she sets out to accomplish Jacob’s appointment by deceit. Her concern is not for the will of God, of course. She merely wants Jacob to be head of the clan. It is possible that she earnestly believes Jacob will be a better leader than Esau. But even if her motive is to do the best for her people, her actions were wrong, and she did not trust God to keep His word.
Esau now wants the birthright he casually sold to his brother. His desire is for the position and power, of course, not the responsibility. He seems to have little consciousness, if any, that he is to be the leader of God’s “Church,” rather than a clan chieftain like those of the Canaanite tribes. The point is that the position is no longer his. It belongs to his brother through his own actions.
Jacob, though fearful (27:12) also schemes to secure the position through deceit. Instead of encouraging his mother to trust God, he joins her plot and steals the blessing.
A blessing obtained through deceit would normally be null and void. But Isaac, realising that God has anointed Jacob in spite of his attempt to anoint Esau, says the blessing and appointment stand. Esau does receive a mixed blessing (27:39-40). It includes good in the fatness of the earth and the dew of Heaven. But it also indicates that he will serve Jacob, and will live by the sword. They could have all lived together in peace and happiness if they had trusted God and obeyed His will.
Gen. 28, Mt. 13:22-58
Gen. 29:1-14, I Corinthians 1
Isaac also bids Jacob go to Laban. Esau’s choice of pagan wives grieves Isaac and Rebekah, and both want a suitable bride for the human leader of God’s people. His commission to go includes a more formal blessing by Jacob, recognising him as the leader of the clan, and God’s chosen vessel through whom the Covenant will continue. This is probably a public and very solemn ceremony.
Jacob leaves Beer sheba, near the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea. He travels north along the western shore of the Jordan through the area we know today as Israel. He probably crosses the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee. There he turns northeast toward Haran, a town in Padan aram (modern Turkey) where Abraham’s father died, and where Laban still lives on the banks of a tributary of the Euphrates. It is a journey of about four hundred miles. While still in Canaan, Jacob is confronted by God in a dream which becomes a turning point in his life. He goes to sleep concerned with worldly wealth and power, wondering how he will be able to keep his position and avoid being murdered by Esau. He awakes concerned about his relationship to God and his role in God’s plan for His people. Yesterday he lived entirely for Jacob; today he lives partly for God. The dream reiterates God’s Covenant with Abraham and Isaac. But now Jacob realises he is the chosen recipient of grace through whom the Covenant continues.
These verses find Jacob safe in Haran and employed by his uncle, Laban. Here Jacob meets the woman he loves and will marry, but only after much vexation and trickery by Laban.
Gen. 29:15-35, Mt. 13:1-31
Gen. 30:1-24, 1 Cor. 2
The trickery of Laban leads to terrible unhappiness for his daughters and Jacob. If Jacob divorces Leah, Laban will not allow Rachel to marry him. If he remains married to Leah he can not marry Rachel without committing the sin of polygyny, which will cast a pall over the rest of his life, and the lives of Leah and Rachel Leah somehow allows Laban to convince her to trick Jacob and marry a man who loves another woman. Rachel is forced to see her future husband married to her sister. Jacob is angry at Laban. His daughters probably are also. The chances for a happy and peaceful home are very slim.
In time, Jacob and Rachel enter into a troubled marriage. She is the favoured wife, but Leah conceives while Rachel is barren. Her sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, will become heads of the tribes of Israel. Levi’s descendants will become priests, Judah’s will become the largest tribe, through whom David, and Christ will come. Leah’s life was not as happy as we would wish, but, by God’s grace, her legacy is priceless.
More sin causes more disruption and disintegration of Jacob’s family. Rachel is unable to conceive a child. Though clearly favoured over Leah, she is envious of her sister and intent on becoming mother of the head of Abraham’s clan. If she cannot bear a child, she will have one through a surrogate, and she demands that Jacob marry Bilhah, her servant girl. If Bilhah bears a son, Rachel plans to claim him as her own. Poor Bilhah has no say in this matter. Her forced marriage adds more misery to a miserable situation.
Jacob is already miserable trying to please two fractious wives. A third will multiply, rather than nullify his problems. Without a Bible, as we have, he has very little knowledge of God, and seems to spend very little effort trying to understand and practice the knowledge he has. He seems to forget that his dream in Genesis 28 was to be the beginning of a new life with God. To Jacob it was the beginning of a time of testing God. He is still thinking he will worship God if God does certain things for him. So he willingly marries Bilhah, who conceives Dan and Naphtali. Leah, now jealous of and angry at Rachel, gives her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob as a fourth wife, and she bears Gad and Asher.
By now Jacob has ceased to bear any resemblance to a real husband. His wives lives center around their sons, and see Jacob’s only as a provider of life necessities and a sire for their children. After a confrontation (30:14-16), Leah and Rachel make arrangements for Jacob to be with Leah. She conceives a son, Issachar, and later, Zebulon. Finally, Rachel also conceives, calling her son Joseph. These sons of Jacob will become heads of families in Israel.
Gen. 30:25- 43 , Mt.13:31-58
Gen. 31:1-22, 1 Cor. 3
Despite Laban’s duplicity toward his daughters, he does not want them to move four hundred miles away. Nor does he want to be deprived of the services of Jacob, who, by God’s blessing, has caused Laban’s flock and herds to prosper. He tells Jacob to name the pay it will take to keep him in Haran. The bargain is one Laban thinks will keep Jacob poor. Sheep with dark spots, and sheep that are all brown will belong to Jacob. Goats that are white, or have white spots on them will also belong to Jacob. Such markings and colours were rare. Jacob is intentionally choosing the least likely colours to be his payment for continued employment to Laban. Laban readily agrees, removing all of Jacobs animals from the herd and sending them a three-day journey’s distance from his own (30:35-36) to ensure that the two herds do not interbreed and produce more of Jacob’s coloured animals.
The rods of verse 37, are placed in the water channels (gutters) where Laban’s animals drink. Jacob probably consideres them magical charms to make Laban’s animals produce offspring that will belong to Jacob. The charms do not work, but the Providence of God does, and Jacob finds himself growing very wealthy while his father in law’s wealth declines.
Laban has always been a cheater, but, seeing his own wealth decline while Jacob’s soars makes his attitude toward Jacob decline also. Jacob is warned by God to leave Padam aram and return to his home in Canaan. Fearing Laban, Jacob sneaks away undetected. Leah and Rachel, still angry at their father, agree to go with him (31:14-15).
Laban, probably accompanied by his sons and a small mounted army pursues them. Easily overtaking the slow caravan of families and flocks, the angry Laban catches Jacob in three days on the northern edge of a rugged mountain range called Gilead. Jacob has opted to traverse the eastern side of the Jordan, possibly planning to go around the Dead Sea, then go north west to Beer sheba. He is probably camped on the plateau beside the rugged Gilead range, about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, when Laban overtakes him.
Gen. 31:24-55, Mt. 14
Gen. 32:1-23, 1 Cor. 4
Being warned that God is with Jacob, Laban feigns anger over idols, stolen by Rachel. She hides them by placing them under a blanket and lying about her period, at which the men leave her tent. Reminded of his past sins against Jacob, Laban makes a treaty of peace and returns to Haran in Padam aram.
Now Jacob must face the brother he cheated. Having been repeatedly cheated by Laban, he now understands what he has done to his brother. He fears Esau’s wrath, who is coming at him with four hundred armed men. Greatly afraid, Jacob finally turns to God. This is another turning point in Jacob’s life. He will be more God-centered now. He is beginning to see that he is not the center around whom God revolves. He is a piece on God’s chessboard. He plays a part in God’s plan of Redemption, but the plan is not just about Jacob.
Gen. 32:24- 32 , Mt. 15:1-20
Gen. 33 , 1 Cor. 5
Jacob moves about thirty miles south and camps on the north side of the Jabbok River. There he divides his camp, and sends gifts of flocks and herds to his brother. Sending all ahead of him, he crosses the Jabbok alone and afraid. Now God moves decisively to confirm Jacob’s tiny and uninformed faith. Somehow, God appears to Jacob in the form of a man who picks a fight with Jacob. The two wrestle, a desperate, hand-to-hand fight for Jacob. It is almost symbolic of the way Jacob has wrestled with God in the past, when Jacob fought to resist the will of God. “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” are not words of faith. They express Jacob’s desire for safety from his brother.
Jacob’s encounter with God is the most significant event in his life to this point. It is not a lesson in prayer, or getting things from God, as it is usually presented in well-intentioned sermons and books. It is God beating a little spiritual sense into Jacob. Dr. W. H. Griffith-Thomas clearly declares what God is doing:
“The wrestling was an endeavour on God’s part to break down Jacob’s opposition, to bring him to an end of himself, to take from him all self-trust, all confidence in his own cleverness and resource, to make him know that Esau is to be overcome and Canaan obtained not by craft or flattery, but by Divine grace and power.”
“The self life in Jacob is to be overcome, the old nature is to be conquered, the planning is to be rendered futile, and the resourcefulness made impotent. Instead of gaining Canaan by cleverness he must receive it as a gift from God. Instead of winning it, he must accept it from Divine grace.”
“From this time onward there was a very distinct change in Jacob; and although the old nature was still there, Peniel had effect and exercised transforming influence.” (W.H. Griffith-Thomas, Genesis, A Devotional Commentary, pp. 302-306).
Instead of waging war and death, Esau welcomes his brother, and the two appear to become friends. Esau has become rich and powerful, as shown by his ability to put four hundred armed men into action. He does not accept Jacobs gifts. Instead he journeys south to Seir. Jacob crosses the Jordan near Succoth and settles outside of the town of Shechem, about 25 miles north of present day Jerusalem. Rather than returning to his father’s house, according to his vow at Bethel (Gen 28:21) Jacob buys a field and settles among the pagans. He piously names his house, Elelohe Israel, “God, the God of Israel,” but this does not dismiss the sin of breaking his vow to God. As with his ancestor, Lot, Jacob’s identification with unbelievers has dire consequences. As Dr. Griffith-Thomas says again, “the results, as we shall see, were disastrous, as they always are when people try to blend worldliness and godliness, Society and Christ, Mammon and God. The world always wins; religion always recedes.”
Gen. 34, Mt. 15:20-39
Gen. 35, 1 Cor. 6
Dinah acted foolishly. Rather than being content to stay with the people of God, she sought adventure and friendship among the pagan people. The result is trouble. Shechem, a Canaanite, loved her, and she fornicated with him. Among the self-indulgent Canaanites such things were permitted and encouraged as good and moral behaviour. God does no regard it so; not then, not now.
The Canaanite agreement to circumcision is neither offered nor accepted on religious terms. It is a social contract that the sons of Jacob pretend to offer. Many today offer social programs as reasons to join the Church. Music, entertainment, good clean fun are offered in place of Christ and the Bible. And many flock to such gatherings without ever hearing of the Saviour and the Light and Life He offers.
The sons of Jacob have no intention of bringing the Canaanites into the “Church” for any reason. Their actions are for the purpose of revenge. Even God’s justice is far from their minds. Even the motives of the unbelievers are more just and good than those of the elect in this matter.
The murder of the Canaanites brings fear on the house of Jacob. Just as his own sin brought his family into temptation and trouble, now their sin brings consequences into his life. “No man is an island, entire unto himself.” Our actions have consequences for ourselves and others, especially our families.
In truth there was no good way out of the situation caused by Dinah. Marrying an unbeliever would have been against what God would have wanted for her. Yet it would be the “right thing to do.” Once the deed is done it cannot be undone or made right. Only the grace of God can give the balm of forgiveness and give a happy home.
At last Jacob comes to Bethel, the house of God. At last he begins to walk more fully with God. So many decades have passed. So many sins have delayed this event, and wreaked havoc on the lives of the people of Israel. How much misery would have been spared them if all had only trusted and obeyed God. The years of wrestling with God have taken their toll. Yet, in grace, God renews the Covenant. His purpose has not been averted. The people through whom He will give the Old Testament and the Saviour are damaged but intact.
Rachel dies in childbirth, and the sadness of the human condition presses itself upon Israel. Her son is named Benjamin, and now the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel are complete.
January 25, Conversion of Saint Paul
A young Pharisee is on a mission to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and execution. He was born in Tarsus, a port city on the eastern Mediterranean about a hundred miles north east of Antioch. In those days the area was part of Asia Minor; today it is in Turkey. His Jewish parents were also Roman citizens, a privilege the young man also inherited. He moved to Jerusalem to become a student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. There he became known as Saul of Tarsus.
This is not his first mission to kill Christians, but it will be his last. The people he is after follow Jesus of Nazareth, a man Saul considers a heretic and a traitor against the Jewish people. On this trip, Jesus, who has been executed by the Romans in Jerusalem, miraculously appears to Saul. It is an encounter that will change history. Saul becomes a believer and a leader of those he formerly persecuted. Through him the Gospel moves into western Asia, Greece, Spain, and possibly, England. He changes his name from the Hebrew, Saul, to the Greek, Paul, because he wants to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, often called Greeks because Greek was the official language of the Roman Empire. Paul’s New Testament books were originally written in the Greek language.
Often imprisoned, stoned, and beaten, Paul earnestly believes Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish religion and the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. He contributes fourteen books to the New Testament, and his converts and students become important leaders in the Church, including Clement, Bishop of Rome.
Paul died in Rome due to the persecution of Christians by Nero, who falsely accused them of starting a terrible fire in the city in 64 AD. The Apostle Peter was crucified in Rome in 66 AD; Paul was executed in AD 69.
Gen. 37, Mt. 16
Gen. 39, 1 Cor. 7
In spite of all the sin and strife caused by polygyny, Jacob’s one true love is Rachel. She dies in childbirth near Bethlehem, and her firstborn, Joseph becomes Jacob’s favoured son. He also becomes the new central figure in the Genesis narrative.
Joseph’s dreams have one clear meaning; his brothers, and, even his father, will serve him (Gen. 37:10). This dream will be literally fulfilled when Joseph rules Egypt and gives his family sanctuary during a severe famine. The image of stars representing people is also found in Revelation 6:12 and 13. The brothers decide to kill Joseph, but Judah persuades them to sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. Descendants of Joseph’s uncle, Ishmael, they have no more mercy on Joseph than his brothers have. They take him to Egypt and sell him into slavery. Meanwhile, Jacob sinks into grief. Nor is he willing to take comfort in his remaining sons and daughters. Instead he resolves to go down into the grave unto his son (37:35)
Here is a sordid account of the grievous sin into which the children and grand children of Jacob fall. If there is a lesson to be gleaned from this chapter it must be the ease with which it is possible to fall into sin. These people are the seed of Abraham. They are the chosen people, the Old Testament Church. Yet their sin is as terrible and despicable as that of the Godless tribes of Canaan. If not for the patience and grace of God, they, too, would be cast away from God.
But God perseveres, and His perseverance is the real story in Genesis. Israel as a nation, and the individual people who make up that nation, are neither chosen nor kept in God because of their goodness. They are chosen and kept by grace alone. God chooses and keeps them for His own purpose; to bring the Saviour into the world, by whom sin can be forgiven and sinners reconciled to God.
Even Joseph is not a tower of virtue. He seems to delight in telling his dreams to his brothers and father, boasting about his future rule over them. He appears to relish his coat of many colours, a sign of his favoured position with his father. In short, he is prideful and cruel. It is only by grace that God is with him in Egypt. He causes all that Joseph does to prosper so that his new master puts him in charge of all that he has. Unfortunately, or so it seems, Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, who refuses. Angry, she tells her husband it was Joseph who seduced her, presenting his garment as evidence. The result of this is that Joseph is cast into prison. This probably means he is put to slave labour in the hardest and most dangerous jobs in Egypt. “But the Lord was with Joseph” (39: 21) and the chapter ends with Joseph in charge of the prison.
Gen. 40, Mt. 17
Gen.41:1-36, 1 Cor. 8
It now seems unlikely to Joseph that he will ever receive homage from his brethren and father. Nearly three hundred miles of desert, and the walls of an Egyptian prison separate him from his family. Joseph probably thinks he will never leave the prison, and never see them again. Like anyone else in apparently hopeless situations, he probably battles deep, deep anger and despair, constantly reliving the unfair events that brought him to this place. But God is ready to move Joseph, and his brethren, one step further toward moving Abraham’s descendants to Egypt for four hundred years. He accomplishes this by giving prophetic dreams to people, and giving Joseph the ability to tell them what their dreams mean.
The chief butler and chief baker are first. Joseph gives the butler the happy news that his dream means he will be freed and restored to Pharaoh’s favour in three days. To the baker he gives the sad news that he will be executed in three days. It happens just a Joseph says.
The Pharaoh has two dreams. In the first, seven starving cattle devour seven “fatfleshed” ones. In the second, seven “lean” ears of corn devour seven full and good ears. “Corn” in American use refers to a unique grain originally grown by the American Indians. In Great Britain during the reign of James I, it refers to all grain crops. The “corn” in Pharaoh’s dream is probably wheat. The seven ears, what we would call “heads” signify great abundance, seven times the normal harvest.
The pharaoh knows his dreams are significant, but none of the Egyptian priest can understand or interpret them to him. Now the butler remembers Joseph, whom he has conveniently “forgotten” all of this time. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph’s ability to interpret his own dream in prison. Pharaoh immediately orders Joseph brought to him.
Joseph says, “God hath showed Pharaoh what He is about to do.” The seven good cows and the seven good ears represent seven years of abundant crops. They will be followed by seven years of insufficient or non-existent harvests. Therefore, Pharaoh should store grain during the seven good years, so his people will have food during the lean years.
Gen. 41:37- 57 , Mt. 18:1-20
Gen. 42:1-24, 1 Cor. 9
Pharaoh sees the truth of Joseph’s words, and sets him over the task of gathering and storing grain. The good years come and go, and the lean years begin, causing terrible famine in the eastern Mediterranean Sea basin. People from Europe, northern Africa, Canaan, and northern Mesopotamia, afflicted by the famine, flock to Egypt. Some come as beggars, some as traders, some as invaders to steal the grain.
Meanwhile, Joseph is becoming Egyptianised. With no Bible, and no fellowship with the people of God, the stories of Creation, the Fall and Flood, and the call of Abraham and his seed, are nearly forgotten, and Joseph is quickly enfolded into Egyptian culture. He even marries the daughter of a high ranking Egyptian priest.
Jacob and his sons are also afflicted by the famine. He sends ten of his sons to Egypt. Benjamin, second son of Rachel, is the new favoured son, and Jacob keeps him in Canaan.
Once in Egypt, the brothers come face to face with Joseph. He recognises them, but they do not recognise him, for he looks like an Egyptian, and even speaks the Egyptian language. In verse 7, “Joseph’s brethren came and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.” Remember his dream in chapter 37? Here is the beginning of its literal fulfillment. But it will not be completely fulfilled until Benjamin and Jacob also come before him.
Joseph’s treatment of his brothers may be due to mixed motive. He may be exacting a little revenge. He may be trying to see if they are still motivated by anger and jealousy. He may simply still be formulating his plans about how to deal with them. Whatever his reasons, his treatment of them seems to have as its goal to bring the rest of his father’s family to Egypt, where they can live in peace and prosperity.
Gen. 42:25-38, Mt. 18:21-34
Gen. 43:1-14, 1 Cor. 10
Joseph probably has no idea that Egypt is the land in which the seed (descendants) of Abraham will dwell as strangers and slaves (Gen 15:13). Nor does he realise he will play a key role in bringing Abraham’s descendants into the land of servitude, where they will serve for four hundred years. Joseph is also not interested in returning to Canaan, the Promised Land. He likes Egypt, and plans to stay in this land of prosperity and culture and military power. He has become rich and powerful in Egypt, and has no intention of giving all that up to herd sheep in the middle of nowhere. It is amazing how much the Hebrew people long to own Canaan, yet how easily they forsake it for easier living in other countries. Lot, Naomi, and Esther are examples of this. Even Nehemiah, prior to learning of the distress and need in Jerusalem, was content to serve a Gentile king in Sushan rather than face the trials and dangers of Jerusalem. Joseph, too, wished to remain in a foreign land, so he plots to bring his family to Egypt. He may envision them all becoming Egyptians and dwelling there forever. The sons of Jacob think all of this is happening as God’s punishment for their treatment of Joseph. Thus, years after their crime, they are still afflicted with grief and guilt.
Jacob is unwilling to let Benjamin go, which also means he is willing to leave Simeon in prison in Egypt. He probably believes Simeon is dead already (42:36). But the continuing wheat famine forces him to seek food again, and Egypt is the only source he knows of. He decides to send his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt.
This time he sends gifts to the ruler in Egypt. From the fruits and spices we may conclude that the famine is due to a form of wheat blight, rather than drought, for other crops, though not plentiful enough to sustain the population, appear to be producing fruit. Bread is the foundation of the near eastern diet in Jacob’s time, so a wheat blight would cause widespread crop failures, and the resulting famine.
Jacob’s sinfulness and ignorance of God are evident throughout the narrative. Yet his faith is evident also. He is putting everything he has in God’s hand. His legacy, his hope for the future, his sons, and, through them, their wives and children are going to Egypt with these men. Abraham had to trust God with one son (Gen. 22:1-13), but Jacob thinks he is being asked to sacrifice them all. If, by God’s grace, they reach Egypt safely, will this grain master deal honestly with them, or will he kill or enslave them as he did Simeon? All of this is plaintively expressed in his words, “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” He seems to mean, if I lose my children, I lose everything.
Gen. 43:15- 34 , Mt. 19
Gen. 44:1-13, 1 Cor. 11
Joseph seems to have believed Jacob would come to Egypt to get Simeon. He receives his brothers warmly, but does not reveal his identity yet. We naturally think this reunion would be a good time for Joseph to be honest with his brothers. But he bides his time, planning yet another trick for them.
The trickery in this passage seems to suggests that Joseph’s motives were not entirely pure. In fact, he seems to enjoy causing fear and sorrow for his brothers, though some commentaries believe he is testing his brothers’ trustworthiness. Either way, Joseph’s cup seems to be a special mark of his eminence. Stealing it would be an intense personal offense and a terrible breach of etiquette. Joseph has it planted in Benjamin’s grain to “frame” him for theft. When his soldiers catch the Hebrews, the sons of Jacob are so sure of the complete innocence of every brother, they agree that, if the cup is found among them, the one possessing it will be killed. They are horrified and terrified when the cup is found… in Benjamin’s sack.
Gen. 44:14-34 , Mt. 20:1-16
Gen. 45:1-15 , 1 Cor. 12
Judah is the third son of Leah. He is a willing conspirator in the plot against Joseph, but that is merely the beginning of his sorrows. Like Esau, he marries a Canaanite woman. Their sons are so wicked God slays them (Gen. 38:7 and 10). After their deaths, not reconising his daughter in law, Tamar, and believing her to be a harlot, he lies with her, and she conceives (Gen. 38:18). Learning his widowed daughter in law is pregnant, he is incensed with anger and vows to burn her alive. But she shows him the ring and bracelets he gave to the “harlot,” thus, showing that he is as guilty as she. In her defense, she probably wants a child to secure her safety and security now that she is a widow. Her motive is survival. Judah’s motive is lust.
The event seems to be a turning point for Judah, and the ensuing years have a softening effect on him. As he stands before Joseph, hate and anger seem to be replaced with kindness and compassion. He is more concerned about the well being of his father, Jacob, than for his own. He once sold his brother into slavery because he was angry at his father. Now he offers his own life for his father’s happiness. What a wonderful change of heart, proof that the grace of God continues to work in the life of this very unworthy man and family.
Whether content that his brothers have suffered enough, satisfied that they have passed the test, or simply moved at Judah’s concern for his father, Joseph now reveals his true identity. Joseph also understands that God has been working in all of these events and circumstances. It was not really his brothers who sent him to Egypt. “God did send me before you to preserve life” (verse. 5). Asian, African, European, and Hebrew life has been preserved because God sent Joseph to Egypt and gave him knowledge of the coming famine and wisdom to prepare for it.
Joseph, too, is a changed man. The pit, slavery, and prison must have made deep and painful spiritual/emotional wounds in his soul. Yet there is no hint of anger or hatred in his words. He holds forth only welcome and peace and full forgiveness. Perhaps there is a hint of penance here also, for Joseph had pridefully worn the coat of many colours and the favoured son position. He had earned the anger of his brothers, though their actions were wretchedly despicable. For years the brothers had struggled with their feelings of guilt and anger. For years Joseph dealt with anger over their actions, and happiness in his position in Egypt. Here that is all over. Here he makes peace.
The other brothers also make peace. All is forgiven. The past is put behind them. Now they walk together as brothers should. Finally we see a little Godliness in the people of God.