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.