I recently read Eugene H. Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read a few of his books in the past, and they have effectively formed me for life and godliness–and for pastoral minstry. I’m now “harvesting” quotes from this book, so let me share one gem with you, one from his chapter called, “Wayne and Claudia”: “When I became a pastor, I resolved on a double focus for keeping my vocation on track: worship and community. At this point in my ‘long obedience,’ that resolve had been thoroughly tested and had developed and extensive root system. It had to it if was to survive. The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship had been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into programs. . . . It struck me as a violation of the holy, a secularization of the sacred. Taking the Lord’s name in vain. I determined to reintroduce the rubric ‘Let us worship God’ for my congregation, and then really do it. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The entertainment model for worship in America was pervasive” (254). Now you can see why I enjoy this book so much. Peterson has become a spiritual director and pastoral mentor for me over the years. I thank God for him and would encourage you to also consider reading him. The Pastor would be a great place to start!
This Sunday we reach the end of our journey with Joseph. I trust that you have been blessed, comforted and spiritually-formed through this study. I know that I
certainly have. The Old Testament author has done his work to draw us into the
story, and we are blessed by it. Perhaps even changed. Today we are reminded
of the staying-power of grudges, but even more the power of the dream. In ch.
45 we see Joseph forgive his brothers for their cruel treatment of him, and we think
that all is well. But now we see that the brothers doubt his forgiveness.
Betrayal and grudges die hard. The effects of our sins can be long-lasting.
But happily forgiveness is bigger than sin. Joseph truly has forgiven his
brothers, and he assures them of that. But he’s even more interested in the
dream. Today we are invited to move beyond the petty fights and disagreements
that sometimes weigh us down, and to embrace the dream: that whatever has
happened to us in the past, God will work it out for our good. What others
intend for harm, he intends for good. Thanks be to God!
In this scene we see Jacob give his final blessings to his children. It starts with a blessing for Joseph and his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and concludes with the blessings for Joseph’s brothers. This sort of fatherly blessing was relatively common in the Ancient Near East. Jacob’s father, Isaac, also blessed him before death. However, as you may recall, it was an unusual situation, as Jacob stole his older brother, Esau’s, blessing (see Gen. 27). I find it interesting that what Jacob so eagerly stole, he now eagerly gives away to his sons. A close reading of the blessings of chapter 50 indicate that they were not only blessings. Curses are also included. I don’t know if this was common, but I guess it was the way the Lord led Jacob at that moment. I find his blessing for Joseph especially powerful (see 48:15-16). So what would a modern-day blessing look like? I’ve not heard too many stories of fathers blessing their children on their death-bed, but I’m more concerned about the blessings we give (or don’t give) on a daily basis. Perhaps a simple, “Jesus loves you!” or “God bless you!” is more than enough. What words of blessing can you pass on to others, that will encourage them and direct them to the God of all blessings?
I enjoy the throne room scene in this chapter. We can imagine Pharoah and his court in all its pomp and glory. Then in walks an old Hebrew nobleman, Jacob, shuffling a long, leaning on his staff. This is supposed to be Jacob’s audience with Pharaoh, but the author portrays it more as Pharaoh’s audience with Jacob. Who is the esteemed one here? Jacob is the elder statesman, and the elderly were highly esteemed in the ancient world. Also, notice how Jacob blesses Pharaoh–not the other way around. It strikes me that Jacob is fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant before our eyes, as he blesses the King of Egypt. Joseph also blesses the world (again, Abrahamic Covenant–see Gen. 15 & 17) as he saves Egypt and the surrounding nations from famine. We may feel bad for the Egyptians, who gave everything they had to Joseph (including themselves!) in exchange for food. But one commentator explains that slavery was an acceptable way for an ancient person to avoid poverty. These people were trying to survive the famine, and as slaves, Joseph would provide for their needs. So in this story, the Lord used Joseph to save lives and bless the world. This makes me wonder how I/we are being used to do the same. How are we being a blessing to the world?
This week we’ll finish our study of the Joseph narrative of Genesis. Since our last conversation was based on ch. 45, and our last one will be based on ch. 50, I’ll seek to fill-in a few of the gaps in the story this week. Today we see Jacob and Joseph finally reunited. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for all their lives (or at least since Joseph was taken away). What a joyful reunion that must have been! What I find interesting is how Jacob sends Judah on ahead to get directions from Joseph, considering that he was the one who initiated their separation (see ch. 37). Now he’s called upon to bring them back together. This is an immigrant’s story. Jacob is called to leave his homeland and move to a foreign country. This must have been hard for him to do as an old man, so the Lord assures him that he will be with him as he goes (vv. 3-4). Sometimes the Lord calls us to move to another country (literally or figuratively). But if he calls you to go, then rest assured that he will “go down to Egypt with you” (v. 4). Question for Reflection: If the Lord ever calls you to move on in your life, whether it be an actual move or a change of vocations, a return to school, etc., would you be willing to do it?
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve recently reflected on Genesis 42
to 44 in an effort to help you follow the Joseph story and to prepare you for chapter 45. This is the climax of the story. I don’t know about you, but I find the entire narrative engaging, especially this scene where Joseph reveals his identity and God’s plan. I confess that I have a hard time getting through this chapter–I find it so moving. I’m touched by the way Joseph forgives his brothers after they treated him so cruelly. Moreover, I’m amazed at his sense of God’s providence in all things. As he says: “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (v. 5). Oh to be as gracious and spiritually mature as Joseph! May the Lord move us in this direction as his people. So, whom do you need to forgive? How will you release your anger toward that person(s)? Also, as you look back on your life, what negative situation has the Lord redeemed and turned into something good?
I recognize that Joseph is the hero of our story, and much of our discussion focuses on him, but as I reflect on Genesis 44, my attention turns to Judah. You’ll recall that at the outset of our story, he is the one who suggests that Joseph be sold to the Midianite merchants (see ch. 37). And then in chapter 38 we see him leave his family, marry a Canaanite woman, and commit sexual immorality. Judah is one of those characters that we don’t like or trust. He’s ungodly. But as the story moves along, we begin to see a change in him. In fact, in chapter 43 we see him take leadership in the family, and even show sacrificial love to Jacob by guaranteeing the safety of Benjamin. What is happening to Judah? But check out chapter 44. Here we see Judah take leadership again, this time pleading with Joseph to spare Benjamin from slavery. His words move us: “Please let your servant remain here as my Lord’s slave in place of the boy” (v. 33). It seems to me that what Judah experiences a long the way is a spiritual transformation. He has moved from darkness into light. And as a result, as we’ll learn in chapter 45, Joseph couldn’t contain himself any longer. It was obvious that his brothers had changed, and Judah–perhaps the worst of them–was leading the way. This story gives us hope that the Lord can and does change–even transform–people. So how has he formed or even transformed you? And what are you doing to partner with him in the process of personal transformation?