January 31, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, February 1-7

February 1

Gen. 45:16-28,  Mt. 20:17-34
Gen. 46,  1 Cor. 13


Genesis 45:16-28

It is Joseph’s desire that his brothers “shall haste and bring down my father hither” (45:13).  Whatever mixed and conflicting motives may have resided in him, it seems that bringing his father and family to Egypt was in Joseph’s plan from the first visit of his brothers.

The pharaoh agrees, possibly hoping the others will be as wise and helpful as Joseph (see Gen. 47:6), and possibly aware of the value of an ally in Canaan after the famine.  Treating his family well will also please Joseph, and Pharaoh wants to keep this very helpful man happy.  The chapter ends with Jacob’s decision to go to Egypt.

Genesis 46

Dating Joseph’s life and times is difficult, and the dates proposed by historians often vary by more than a hundred years.  Yet, realising the dates are approximations, a few notes may help put Joseph in historical perspective.  Canaanite raiders have been invading Egypt for centuries, but  around 1900 B.C., the Hyksos, from upper Mesopotamia and Canaan, use horse drawn chariots to conquer much of Egypt and establish a new kingdom there.  By the time Joseph arrives in Egypt, between 1800 and 1760 B.C., the Hyksos control the eastern part of the delta and Goshen.  They quickly adopt Egyptian ways, and call their king, “Pharaoh.”  This means Joseph’s pharaoh is a Hyksos, not an Egyptian.  The Egyptians will be able to re-take Egypt sometime around 1700 B.C.  They also conquer Canaan and Mesopotamia, essentially eliminating the Hyksos empire.

While moving to Egypt, Israel (Jacob) stops in Beer sheba, where his father, Isaac, had lived.  God visits him in “visions of the night.”  The visions reveal one of God’s primary reasons for taking Israel to Egypt; to make them a great nation. During the time in Egypt, the children of Israel will become a great multitude.  But they will also become great in other ways.  They will preserve the stories of the Creation, Fall, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph.  These stories will unify them, and give them an identity as one people.  They will not just be a great horde; they will be a great nation.  More importantly, the stories will cause the Hebrew people to look to God as their God and their hope.  They will cause the Israelites to begin to see themselves as the people of God.  Under the inspiration and leadership of God, Moses will commit these stories to writing, and they will be seen as what they are, the story of God’s calling and redemption of Israel.  Thus we also see here the transforming power of Scripture, and God’s Divine preservation of it.  Through it the Hebrew people see that God has brought them to Egypt to prepare them for Canaan.  They see that God has been working toward this for generations, and they see that He is using them here and now.

February 2, Purification of Mary

Mal. 3:1-5,  Lk. 2:22-40
Mt. 20:1-16,  1 Cor. 14

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40

Two ceremonies take place on this fortieth day after the birth of Christ.  First is the ceremony of the purification of Mary.  According to Leviticus 12:1-8, a woman who gives birth to a son is to remain in seclusion for forty days.  This is a time of rest and healing for the woman, and for the son.  By the fortieth day, her bleeding has stopped and she goes to the Temple to give an offering of two doves.  The doves are presented to the priest, who offers them on the Altar.  He then pronounces the woman “clean,” meaning free of bleeding and ceremonial uncleanness, and able to return to normal community life.

Second is the presentation of Christ in the Temple.  The Child is presented to the Lord by the parents in act of dedication, which recognises that He belongs to God.  He is blessed by the priest in two benedictions, and the father gives two shekels of silver to the Temple, symbolising that God is given Him back into the parents’ care. 

It is very likely that the couple stays for the regular prayers and sacrifices of the daily Temple services.  It is a very happy and moving day for them, reminding them of the blessings of God, and of their duties toward Him.

February 3

Gen. 47:1-12,  Mt. 21:23-46
Gen. 47:13-31,  1 Cor. 15

The pharaoh is a good administrator.  He knows there is great unrest from Egypt to Mesopotamia due to the famine.  He also knows that the peoples and kings in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys are making dangerous and continuous raids on his eastern front in Canaan, and he knows they will invade Egypt when they are able.  Remember that this pharaoh is a Hyksos from Canaan, not a native Egyptian.  His father or grandfather conquered eastern Egypt with the horse and chariot.  Though he and his people have become very Egyptianised, the native Egyptians resent him, and would rebel if they thought they could conquer him.  Jacob’s family is large and armed.  Remember his grandfather, Abraham, had four hundred soldiers to rescue Lot.  Placing them in eastern Goshen will ensure a powerful pharaoh friendly force in the area.

Joseph also acts to secure the area for Pharaoh by controlling the economy.  Using grain, he is able to gain money, livestock, and twenty percent of future crop harvests for Pharaoh.  Thanks to Joseph, the pharaoh now has increased his military, political, and economic control of the area, which still has a large population of native Egyptians.

Joseph probably hopes the Hebrews will remain in Egypt.  He will change his mind after his father’s death, but he has schemed and manipulated them to get his family there, and he probably hopes they will make Goshen their permanent home.  As the result of Joseph’s work, they are a powerful family in an enviable land, far removed from the sacrifices and dangers of war torn Canaan.  It seems that his brothers and children also like Egypt, for they remain there long after the seven years of famine end.  Joseph lived to see the third generation of Ephraim’s children, all of whom were born in Egypt.

But Jacob still hopes the people will return to Canaan to possess the land God has promised to give to them.  Knowing he will die in Egypt, he asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan.  This act will give the Hebrews a memorable tie to the land of Canaan, the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

February 4

Gen, 48,  Mt. 22:1-22
Gen. 49, 1 Cor. 16


Genesis 48

The blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim carries a double meaning.  First, it is an adoption ceremony in which Jacob calls them his own sons.  This makes them equal in inheritance and prominence  with Reuben, the first born of Jacob, and all the other sons of Jacob.  Second, it formally recognises Joseph as the clan leader, to be followed by Ephraim.  This position should have belonged to Reuben, but in the Providence of God it goes to Joseph.  The entire clan has already recognised this, including Reuben, and we read of no dispute over the position.

Joseph, however, disputes his father’s blessing of Ephraim. He seems to think his father has made a mistake, for Manasseh is Joseph’s first born, and Joseph naturally assumes he will be head of the clan.  He gently attempts to move his father’s hands to the “correct” position.  Jacob gently refuses.  It is Ephraim, not Manasseh, whom God has elected to be the head.

God’s election is not always according to man’s ideas.  Sometimes the least are the greatest and the last are first.  We even see this in the line of Christ.  Though of the house and lineage of David, He is not the first born of the first born, in direct succession back to David.  He is of the people, not the palace. Yet He is the true King of Israel.  Like wise, the Hebrews are shepherds, not builders of military or commercial empires.  Nor are they the most Godly or moral people.  Yet God has elected them to be the recipients of His grace, simply because He wants to show His grace.  This is as true in the New Testament era as it was in the Old.  It is not your inner worth that makes God love you.  You are completely unworthy of His love.  He elected to love you because He is love.  His love originate in His lovingness, not your lovability.

Here again we see God Providentially working in His people.  He has given them a safe place to live, and here their numbers are increasing dramatically.  We also see God unifying the people.  Their identity as a people, or nation, is growing.  It seems their faith is growing also.  The coming centuries will be good for Israel, as God prepares to take them back to Canaan.

Genesis 49

The dying Jacob calls his sons together.  This is normally a time for him to pray God’s blessings on the men and their families.  But Jacob’s words carry the sting of curse as well as the balm of blessing.

Ruben dissuaded his brothers from killing Joseph, and seems to have been absent when they sold Joseph to the Ismaelites..  But as the eldest of the sons, and as the heir apparent, he should have boldly ended the conspiracy against Joseph.  His failure makes him unstable as a pot of boiling water, liable to boil over at any moment.  His is not the steady head needed to lead God’s people.  He has desecrated his father’s couch, meaning he has detested that which his father loved, Joseph.  Therefore he will not “excel,” meaning he will not lead the clan, nor will his branch of the Israelite people.

Simeon and Levi have instruments of cruelty in their habitations.  That is, they have a cruel streak in their natures, like that in the other brothers.  The “slaying” of verse 6 is poetic, rather than literal, and refers to their treatment of Jacob, not even caring if he died in the hands of the Ishmaelites.  They will be scattered in Israel, rather than taking Ruben’s place as head.

Judah will be praised by his brothers.  Through him the house of David will be established, leading at last to the Messiah and His Kingdom.  “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”  But Judah is not innocent either.  He should have stopped the mistreatment of Joseph.  Instead, he persuades the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave.  Perhaps his motives were good, thinking slavery would be better than murder.  But he should have stood against his brothers, no matter the cost.  Judah himself never holds the clan headship.  That goes to the brother he helped cast into slavery.

The other brothers are likewise told they will not inherit Ruben’s position.  Only Joseph will lead the clan.  His father, Jacob, received the blessing that should have belonged to Esau, his progenitor (vs. 26).  Likewise Joseph. not the first born but the elect of God received the blessing and estate of his progenitor brothers.  Even Benjamin is forbidden from seeking the leadership.  He will be a mighty warrior, but not head of the family.

Now Jacob charges his sons to bury his body beside those of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah in the land of Canaan.  This request may be as symbolic as sentimental.  He may be telling his sons that they are not Egyptians.  Their heritage is elsewhere, and they should not allow themselves to be distracted from it by the baubles of Egypt.

February 5

Gen 50:1-14,  Mt. 22:23-46
Gen. 50:15-26  ,  2 Cor. 1

Commentary, Genesis 50

Jacob’s funeral caravan is enormous.  Many of Pharaoh’s own house, as well as ministers of state and religion make the journey, accompanied by a large military force.  This is another brilliant move by Pharaoh.  It pleases his number one man, Joseph, and it is a great show of force in Canaan.  It says to Canaanites and Mesopotamians that Pharaoh owns and controls Canaan.  It is so much a part of his empire that he even buries his dead there.

Joseph and his people continue to live in Egypt for many decades.  His grandchildren and great grandchildren are born and raised there in peace and security.  But Joseph is not buried in Egypt.  He tells his people to take his bones hence, meaning out of Egypt and back to Canaan, where he hopes to be buried beside his fathers. 

Genesis ends with the Hebrew people firmly established in Egypt, yet holding some remembrance of the hope of dwelling in Canaan as a free and independent nation.  They still do not understand that they are called to receive more spiritual blessings than material ones.  Nor do they understand that God is calling them to be a unique people unto Himself.  But they do understand that God has much more ahead for them as His people.  Thus, they hold onto their hope.

We close the comments on Genesis with a few words from Dr. Griffith-Thomas’ Genesis: A Devotional Commentary:

“The great promise of redemption recorded in chapter iii, is taken up and gradually prepared for through a long line from Seth through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“From the sacrifice of Abel straight onward to the sacrifice of Isaac, the vision of Jacob at Bethel, and the story of Joseph, we have picture after picture of redemption, which find their full meaning, vividness, and glory, in the New Testament Revelation, until at length in Jacob’s benediction we have a striking reference to the primal fact of sin and the primal promise of salvation… .  The red thread of redemption binds every chapter together, and gives the book one of its essential marks of unity.”

February 6

Exodus 1,  Mt. 23
Ex.2,  2 Cor. 2


Exodus 1

Genesis is the story of God choosing His people.  From Able to Seth, from Noah to Abraham and his descendants, God is choosing and marking a people for His own possession, who will be the recipients of His grace and favour.  Exodus is the powerful story of God’s deliverance of His chosen people.  We could say Genesis is the story of the election of God’s people: Exodus is the story of God’s redemption of His people.  Their redemption is from slavery in Egypt, and the means of their redemption is the blood of the lamb.

The parallels between their redemption from Egypt, and our own redemption from sin are remarkable.  They are enslaved to a cruel Pharaoh; we are enslaved to sin and Satan.  Their bondage is bitter unto death: the wages of our sin is death.  Their redemption is accomplished by God alone; our salvation is accomplished for us by God alone.  They are saved by the blood of the lamb; we are saved by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God.  They receive the Law in the desert; we have the Bible in the spiritual desert of this world.  They wander in the wilderness; we wander through trials and temptations, sometimes seeking God, sometimes refusing to follow Him.  In both we see an invisible hand guiding His people, and a powerful grace that does not give up until we reach the promised land.

Genesis closes with the Hebrew people living comfortably in Egypt.  Joseph has died, but his brethren still retain the Pharaoh’s favour, and continue to increase in number and power in Goshen.  But a new king arises that does not know Joseph.  It is impossible to know just who this king is, but we  know that around 1700 B.C. the native Egyptians are able to gather an army and mount a series of campaigns that conquer the entire Hyksos empire.  By 1650 Egyptians rule Egypt again, and the native Egyptian pharaoh, who did not know Joseph, sees the Hebrews as allies of the Hyksos, and enemies of the Egyptians.  He forces them into bitter, punitive bondage, which soon escalates into an attempt to completely annihilate the Hebrew people.

Exodus 2

The genocide causes the Hebrew people to turn to God in a serious cry for deliverance.  The stories of the patriarchs, and God’s promises to give the land of Canaan to their descendants,  are carefully preserved and taught.  Joseph’s story is also preserved, and his unburied sarcophagus reminds them of his intention to be buried in Canaan.  These things combine to give the people hope that their slavery will end, and they will leave Egypt in freedom.  Their slavery actually induces them to seek and trust God.

Moses is born into this era of sorrow.  Hoping that Pharaoh’s daughter will spare the child, his mother and sister place him in a basket near where she bathes in the Nile.  She does spare the child.  She even adopts him.  But One greater than the sister and mother of Moses is working here.  The God of Moses directs the events for His own purposes according to the counsel of His own will.  He brings the Egyptian princess to the water.  He moves her to have compassion on the infant.  He even makes it possible for Moses’ own mother to nurse and care for the child.  It must be through his mother that Moses learns of his Hebrew identity.

Knowing his people suffer while he enjoys the benefits of the Egyptian court seems to cause turmoil in Moses’ heart.  Does he want to ignore his heritage and be an Egyptian?  Or does he need to give up his privileges and be a Hebrew?  Seeing a Hebrew mistreated by an Egyptian, seems to force him to decide.  He decide for his people, and slays the Egyptian.  The next day,  realising his crime is known, he flees Egypt to take refuge in the desert.  Now he is a shepherd, as his people were before him.  Here God will grow him and prepare him for his great life work.   It is around the year 1350 B.C.

February 7

Ex. 3,  Mt. 24
Ex. 4:1-17,  2 Cor. 3


Exodus 3

Again we see the hand of God guiding events in human lives and human history.  In His Providence, God brings Moses to the home of Jethro, who is a descendant of Midian, a son of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:2).  Jethro is called a priest, meaning a person who serves in the corporate worship  of God.  He lives in the area known as the mountain of God, probably meaning the mountain on which the Midianites have an altar for worshiping God.  It is also the mountain on which God will give the Law to Israel through Moses.  This brings Moses under the tutelage of a God fearing man, and into the fellowship of God fearing people.  God will use these things to grow and shape Moses for forty years before sending him back to Egypt.

The call of Moses is unique.  He is going to appear before one of the most powerful men in the world of his day.  Only the Babylonians and Chinese have civilisations, cultures, wealth and military power that compare to Pharaoh’s. He is going to command Pharaoh to release  descendants of his people’s enemies, so they can return to an area known for its hostility to Egypt, to set up a new kingdom there.  God knows he will need great faith to accomplish his mission.  So God calls him through a miraculous sign and meeting.

Exodus 4

God knows and intends that the pharaoh will not release the Hebrews.  He intends to do mighty signs and wonders that will bring Egypt to its knees in fear, and Israel to its knees in worship.

But first, Moses must be brought to his knees.  En rout to Egypt, his wife, Zipporah, gives birth to a son.  According to the Covenant, the child must be circumcised.  The Midianites probably practiced circumcision, but Zipporah does not want it done to her son.  Only when she sees that her husband will die, does she consent, and then she is forced to circumcise the child herself.  Angry, she throws the bloody foreskin at Moses.  But both have been humbled.  Moses, who has probably acquired a sense of self-importance, has learned that he is not indispensable to the deliverance of Israel.  Zipporah has learned that her son belongs to God, and, though he is the son of the man who will do great things, he is not above the law and will of God.  Now, much humbled, and relieved of all delusions of grandeur, the family travels to Egypt.

January 24, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, January 26-31

January 26

Gen. 37,  Mt. 16
Gen. 38
Gen. 39,  1 Cor. 7


Genesis 37

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)

Genesis 38

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 this 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.  He 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.

Genesis 39

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.

January 27

Gen. 40,  Mt. 17
Gen.41:1-36,  1 Cor. 8


Genesis 40

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.

Genesis 41:1-36

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.

January 28

Gen. 41:37- 57 ,  Mt. 18:1-20
Gen. 42:1-24,  1 Cor. 9


Genesis 41:37-57

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.   Parts of eastern Egypt fall to invaders, some of whom come from Canaan.

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.  

Genesis 42:1-24

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. 

January 29

Gen. 42:25-38,  Mt. 18:21-34
Gen. 43:1-14,  1 Cor. 10


Gen. 42:25-38

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.

Genesis 43:1-14

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.

January 30

Gen. 43:15- 34 ,  Mt. 19
Gen. 44:1-13,  1 Cor. 11


Genesis 43:15-34

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.

Genesis 44:1-13

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.

January 31

Gen. 44:14-34  , Mt. 20:1-16
Gen. 45:1-15  , 1 Cor. 12


Genesis 44:14-34

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.

Genesis 45:1-15

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.

January 18, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, January 18-24

January 18

Gen 27:1-29,  Mt. 12:1-22
Gen. 27:30-46,  Rom. 16

Commentary, Genesis 27

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.

January 19

Gen. 28,  Mt. 13:22-58
Gen. 29:1-14,  I Corinthians 1

Genesis 28

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.

Genesis 29:1-14

These verses find Jacob safe in Haran and the employed by his uncle, Laban.  Here Jacob meets the woman he loves and will marry, but only after much vexation and trickery by Laban.

January 20

Gen. 29:15-35,  Mt. 13:1-31
Gen. 30:1-24,  1 Cor. 2


Genesis 29:15-35

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. 

Genesis 30:1-24

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 again, calling her son Joseph.  These sons of Jacob will become heads of families in Israel. 

January 21

Gen. 30:25- 43 ,  Mt.13:31-58
Gen. 31:1-22,  1 Cor. 3


Genesis 30:25-43

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.  

Genesis 31:1-22

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.

January 22

Gen. 31:24-55,  Mt. 14
Gen. 32:1-23,  1 Cor. 4


Genesis 31:24-55

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.

Genesis 32:1-23

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 comes 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.

January 23

Gen. 32:24- 32 ,  Mt. 15:1-20
Gen. 33 , 1 Cor. 5


Genesis 32:24-55

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).

Genesis 33

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, to 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.” 

January 24

Gen. 34,  Mt. 15:20-39
Gen. 35,  1 Cor. 6


Genesis 34

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 gathering 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.

Genesis 35

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.