Learning From God's Word: Genesis
There is, here, a real sense of the majesty of God. He is "beyond description." We cannot comprehend Him. We can hardly put into words this sense of God's greatness. We are transported into an eternal dimension, which is so different from our earthly existence. We read, "In the beginning, God ... " (1:1). Many live as if God was absent, as if humanity was the only reality. Here, it is we who are absent from view. Here, we see God only. Humanity only comes into view when God chooses (1:26-27). Everything about this is God-centred rather than man-centred. The light comes when God says, "Let there be light" (1:3). Prior to God's Word of command, in 1:3, we see "the Spirit of God hovering" (1:2). The Spirit is on the alert, ready to move into action, ready for the Word of God to be spoken, ready to empower the Word so that it becomes mightily effective. All that follows - described as "very good" - comes from God, from His Word and His Spirit. Only good can come from God. The reality of evil has not yet come into view. When it does, everything changes except one thing - the love of God for His creation.
Here, we see the privilege and responsibility of being human. As well as the privilege - created in the image of God (1:26-27), there is also the responsibility - in relation to (a) the creation: "farm the land and ... take care of it " (15); (b) the Creator: "you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (17). Human life is lived within two horizons - (i) the temporal or earthly horizon: we have relationships with one another: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (18); (ii) the eternal or heavenly horizon: we are related to God. Human relationships do not fully satisfy us. There is a longing for God our Creator: "He has put a sense of eternity in people's minds" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He has given us good things to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 4:4). He has also created us to be "inwardly ... renewed" by feeding on the "things" that "last forever" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
From the majestic perfection of God nad the privileged responsibilty of humanity, we now move to the evil subtlety of Satan. An intruder has sneaked into the privileged place between God the Creator and mankind. His creation. Chapter 2 ends with the absence of shame. Chapter 3 begins with the presence of Satan. The work of Satan, successfully executed, ensures that chapter 3 ends rather differently from chapter 2 - "the Lord God sent the man out of the Garden of Eden" (23). This was "Paradise Lost." Was there a way to "Paradise Regained"? There are two answers to this question: 'No' and 'Yes.' Taking ourselves as the starting-point, the answer is 'No' - God will not permit us to take salvation into our own hands (24). Starting with God, we answer, 'Yes' - this is the answer of verse 15: Christ (the woman's descendant) will be crucified (the bruising of His heel), but the outcome of this will be the defeat of Satan (the crushing of his head).
This chapter tells the story of the progression of humanity, the increase of sin and, in it final sentence, the development of worship. There are interesting snippets of cultural information (20-22). There may be progress in the horizontal dimension - agriculture, music, industry, but history reveals, again and again, that all is not well in our relationship with God. Sin was on the increase (1-16). Things were getting out of control. Could they be turned around again? A strongly positive answer to this question is not spelled out in detail in this chapter. There is, however, a hint of God at the end of the chapter. He is still at work, calling sinners to worship Him, and people are beginning to respond. This is the note on which the chapter ends - "At that time people began to worship the Lord" (26). At the end of a chapter which is, at best, informative - the progression of culture, and, at worst, depressing - the increase of sin, this is the ray of hope, the word of encouragement.
"Enoch walked with God" (22-23). Following this striking statement about Enoch's remarkable walk with God, we are introduced to Noah (28-32). Like Enoch, "Noah walked with God" (6:9). "Noah" means "Relief" - "Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this child shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands" (29). This seems to be a rather mundane statement. The deeper signicance of this "relief" becomes clearer as we look more closely, chapters 6-9, at the place of Noah within the purpose of God. By building the ark, Noah brought relief from the storm of God's judgment. What an awesome judgment of God the flood was. In the midst of this judgment, there was relief (salvation). The ark is a picture of Christ. Those who are in Him are saved. Those who are outside of Him are lost. Christ is the "child" of our salvation. He takes salvation into His hands, taking it out of "the painful labour of our hands." Now, looking to Christ and what He has done for us, we can say, with confidence, that we are "safe in the arms of Jesus."
As we read the story of Noah, we learn of the place of Noah within the divine revelation of the Gospel of grace. "Noah found grace" (8) might be turned around to read, "Grace found Noah." "Amazing grace ... I once was lost but now am found." The significance of Noah, highlighted in 5:29, is expressed in the words, "Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law's demands ... All for sin could not atone, Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling." To think of the flood exclusively in terms of judgment is to see only one side of what God was doing. As well as judging, He was also saving - "In this ship a few people - eight in all - were saved by water" (1 Peter 3:20). The ark points forward to Christ, "who came back from death to life", Christ who "saves" us (1 Peter 3:21).
What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. We read that, once all were in the ark, "the Lord closed the door behind them" (16). What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? - The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? - God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12). "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9): This is the spiritual significance of what we read in Genesis concerning the flood. Christ is the Door. Those who enter through Him will be saved (John 10:9). We must listen to what God says concerning salvation. If we listen to what the world says, we will conclude that all will be saved. If we listen to the Lord, we will come to Christ and find salvation in Him alone.
At the end of the flood, God said to Noah, "Come out of the ship" (15). We are "in Christ". He is the Source of our salvation. God has brought us into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He does not bring us into Christ only for our own benefit. He sends us out into the world to bring others to Christ. Noah and the remnant of faith had been preserved so that they might be fruitful (17). This is still God's way. In love, He lays claim to our lives so that we can be fruitful for Him (John 15:16). This fruit comes to us as we abide in Christ (John 15:4-5). We are not sent out alone into the world. We are sent out as those who are in Christ. From a position of strength, we go forth, resting on our Shield and our Defender, to bring strength to others. Strengthened in "the ship", we step out with Christ and for Him.
'When you see a rainbow, remember God is love.' The love of God is revealed in the rainbow. It is more fully revealed in the Cross: 'We sing the praise of Him who died ... Upon the cross we see, in shining letters, "God is love." He bears our sins upon the tree. He brings us mercy from above." When we read the Old Testament stories - such as the story of Noah, we must learn to look beyond the story itself, seeing its place within the fuller Story, the Story of God's salvation: 'I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me.' This is the greatest story of all - "the Story ... of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love ... the story of wonderful redemption, God's remedy for sin.' 'This is our story. This is our song, praising our Saviour all the day long.' This is the 'story to tell to the nations, the song to be sung to the nations, the message to give to the nations, the Saviour to show to the nations.'
Names are important to God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, "calls His sheep by name' (John 10:3). Among the many names, there is an interesting reference to "Nimrod, the first mighty warrior on the earth ... a mighty hunter whom the Lord blessed" (8-9). When we note that the first amiong the "cities in his kingdom" is "Babylon" (10), alarm bells ring. Yes, we are told that "the Lord blessed" Nimrod, but, when we read of the development of the city of Babylon, we are not reading of God's blessing so much as Babylon's rebellion. With the privilege of God's blessing comes the responsibility of maintaining His blessing. There are mighty warriors according to the flesh, and there are mighty warriors according to the Spirit. There is something we must never forget - "The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God" (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Between the list of names in chapter 10 and 11:10-32, there is the story of what happens when we make ourselves the focus of attention rather than God - "Let's make a name for ourselves" (4). What a contrast there is between the tower of Babel, with the human builders trying to make a name for themselves, and the great declaration of Proverbs 18:10 - "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower." In the one case, there is scattering - "From that place the Lord scattered them all over the face of the earth" (9). In the other, there is safety - "A righteous man runs to it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10). Following on from Proverbs 18:10, we read, "A rich person's wealth is his strong city and is like a high wall in his imagination" (Proverbs 18:11). "God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame" (1 Corinthians 1:27).
The blessing promised to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) takes us right on to the book of Revelation, to "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (Revelation 21:10). The story of Abraham is more than a human story. It is part of God's eternal purpose which will find its ultimate fulfilment in the coming of God's eternal Kingdom. From the outset, we see this as a Divine Story. It has human elements (Genesis 12:10-20), but, in its deepest meaning, it is God's Story. Recognizing this divine dimension, we use the God-given name - Abraham (Genesis 17:5). The name 'Abram' (exalted father) draws attention to the man. The name 'Abraham' (father of many) points to God's purpose. With Abraham, we worship the Lord (Genesis 12:7-8). We say, 'He is exalted' - Christ must increase, and we must decrease (John 3:30). We read of Abraham, and we look beyond him to Christ. Looking to Christ, we say, 'Christ triumphant, ever reigning, Saviour, Master, King." To Him, we say, "Yours the glory and the crown.'
The life of God's people - those who worship Him (Genesis 13:4) - is always set in the context of wickedness. There are always choices to be made. Like Abraham, we can choose to worship God, or we can be like Lot and choose to go the way of wickedness. The choices we make reveal the people that we are. Those who choose the way upon which the Lord's blessing rests show that their hearts belong to the Lord. Those who choose the way upon which the Lord's judgment rests show that their hearts belong to the world. the worldly man, Lot, thought only of himself. The spiritual man, Abraham, concerned himself with doing the Lord's will. There is a great difference between Lot and Abraham - "Lot chose the whole Jordan plain for himself"; "The Lord said to Abraham ... 'I will give you all the land you see to you'" (Genesis 13:11,15). The worldly man takes for himself. The spiritual man waits to receive from God.
Following the conflict in Genesis 14:1-16, there is a great sense of the peace of God in Genesis 14:17-24. Here, we have a glimpse of Jeus Christ, the King of love and Prince of peace, the Great High Priest, who comes to us with bread and wine (Genesis 14:18). He comes to us with blessing. He comes in the Name of God Most High. In His Name, the Name of our Creator, we have the victory (Genesis 14:19-20). He gives us so much. We are to give ourselves to Him (Genesis 14:20). There is another king who lays claim to our lives - "the king of Sodom." This king does not speak in the Name of the Lord. He comes from Satan, and he is to be resisted (Genesis 14:21-24). Our strength comes from the Lord, and not from anything which Satan can offer to us. In our hearts, we must learn to say with real delight in the Saviour: 'I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold ... than riches untold.'
In Genesis 15:2,8, Abraham asks two questions: " ...what will you give me?" " ... how can I be certain ... ?" For us, these rae the questions of salvation and the assurance of salvation - God has given us His salvation, and we have the assurance that this salvation has been given and received. Where are we to look for answers to these questions? We are to look to the "Almighty Lord" (Genesis 15:2,8). How are we to receive God's answers? - By faith: "Abraham believed the Lord" (Genesis 15:6). Through Christ: When we read Genesis 15:10, our concern is not with thse animals. It is with the fact that they were sacrificed, and that this sacrifice points forward to "Christ, our Passover Lamb (who) has been sacrificed" for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). In Him, we have both salvation and the assurance of salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
We move from salvation and the assurance of salvation to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation - "Why don't you sleep with my slave? Maybe I can build a family through her." Abram gave in to temptation -"Abram agreed with Sarai (Genesis 16:2). The evil influence of Sarai continued: "Sarai mistreated Hagar so much that she ran away" (Genesis 16:6). When we read of Satan and his activity, we must not imagine, for a moment, that Satan wins the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. This becomes clear as the story develops. The Lord's purpose will not be thwarted by the activity of Satan. The "Almighty Lord" will be victorious. This chapter ends with the birth of Ishmael. It is not a high- point in the purpose of God. It is a sign that Satan is trying to overthrow God and His gracious purpose. This leads to a 13-year gap in God's speaking to Abraham (Genesis 16:16-17:1), but that is only a hiccup, after which God continues to carry forward His great purpose of salvation.
The contrast between Sarai (Genesis 16) and Sarah (Genesis 17) is striking. It is the contrast between human sin and divine grace: "Don't call your wife by the name Sarai anymore. Instead, her name is Sarah (princess). I will bless her ... " (Genesis 17:15-16). What she was is a thing of the past. What she will become is the work of God's grace. The Lord intends to bless her and make her a blessing - "she will become a mothe rof nations and kings will come from her" (Genesis 17:16). Human experience can always be viewed from two very different perspectives - the perspective of sin and the perspective of grace. We must learn to look at our lives and say, "Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious" (Romans 6:14).
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). God was intent on doing something great - "through him (Abraham) all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 18:18) - and nothing was going to stop Him. Even if a great many people - Sodom and Gomorrah - refused to honour God, His purpose would not be hindered. He would find a remnant for Himself. the remnant may have seemed impossibly small, but it was to be the beginning of blessing for all the nations. the smallness of the beginnings serves to emphasize the greatness of the blessings. This is not man's doing. It is the work of God, and all the glory belongs to Him, the god of salvation, the God of grace, the god of glory.
In a rather forgettable chapter, we find these gracious words - "God ... remembered Abraham"; "Lot was allowed to escape from the destruction that came to the cities where he was living" (Genesis 19:29). What a great thing it is to be "remembered" by God. What a great thing it is to have God's salvation - "everything we need for life and for godliness" - by which we are able to "escape the corruption that sinful desires cause in the world" (2 Peter 1:3-4). While we have this provision of God for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. The sad episode, recorded in Genesis 19:30-38, makes it so clear that we must be careful. Even those, whom we hoped would be a help to us, can turn out to be a hindrance. Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. If we fail to maintain our devotion to the Lord, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and we will be overcome by him.
We do not see Abraham in a good light here. There is, in this incident, a reminder of the deceitfulness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Our only hope of real change is in the Lord who says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stubborn hearts and give you obedient hearts" (Ezekiel 36:26). In the human heart, there is conflict - the flesh and the Spirit wrestling with each other (Galatians 5:17). If the Spirit is to display the victory of Christ in our lives, we must "put on the whole armour of God", receiving "power from the Lord and from His mighty strength" (Ephesians 6:10-11). This strength comes in this way: "take salvation as your helmet and the Word of God as the sword that the Spirit supplies" (Ephesians 6:17).
There are two very different kinds of laughter in the story of Sarah. there is the laughing in Genesis 18:13-15. This is the laughter of unbelief, laughing at the Lord, with the proud attitude that God's Word cannot be taken seriously. There is the laughter of faith, the laughter which rejoices in the Lord - "God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about me will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6). This is the rejoicing of Sarah at the birth of Isaac. Hagar and Ishmael are not forgotten - God's sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). The final section - Genesis 21:22-34 - sees Abraham acting more nobly than he did in Genesis 21. It ends with Abraham worshipping the Lord, the everlasting God (Genesis 21:33).
Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac - "You did not refuse to give Me your son, your only son" (Genesis 22:12). God did give His only Son for us - "God did not spare His only Son but handed Him over to death for us all" (Romans 8:32). While there may be comparisons made between the sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus, we must emphasize the great difference - the sacrifice of Isaac did not happen, the sacrifice of Jesus did. For Isaac, there was a way out. For Jesus, there was no other way. Abraham's faith was proved genuine without the sacrifice of Isaac. Our faith only becomes a reality through the sacrifice of Christ (Galatians 2:20-21; Galatians 3:13-14).
Genesis is known as "the book of beginnings." We can also learn from the endings. here, we read of the death of Sarah. As we read of the generations coming and going, we come to rest in the truth that only God is eternal. This is the great truth, proclaimed in Psalm 90. He alone is "God, from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 90:2). From Psalm 90, we learn the lesson: "Teach us to number each of our days so that we may grow in wisdom" (Psalm 90:120. The experience of bereavement is very distressing - "Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to cry about her death" (Genesis 23:2). Nevertheless, we look beyond the things that are temporal to the things that are eternal, and we know that our suffering is light and temporary while our eternal glory is greater than we can imagine" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
The story of how Isaac and Rebekah came to be married is told in vivid detail. It is a touching story. There is a real sense of God being in control of the events - God working out His perfect plan for Isaac and Rebekah. "The Lord knows what he is doing with us. We must hold on to this truth when it seems that our circumstances have become a tangled web, a long and winding road which appears to be leading nowhere. Whatever our feelings may sometimes suggest, we must affirm our faith - "As for the Lord, His way is perfect." There is no better place to be than in the centre of God's will. We must pray for the Lord's leading so that we can truly testify, "The Lord led me in the right direction" (Genesis 24:48).
Following the accounts of Abraham's second marriage and his death (Genesis 25:1-11) and the twelve tribes of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18), we move on to the story of Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:19-34). Esau was born first - yet, in line with God's purpose of grace, "the older will serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). God's grace does not operate according to human standards. Salvation is by grace so that it may be seen that it is not by works. Jacob was born holding on to Esau's heel - "so he was named Jacob (Heel)." He was well-named, but God made something of him! Esau showed "contempt for his rights as firstborn" (Genesis 25:34). He missed out on God's blessing because he did not treasure it highly.Jacob was not superior. Esau was not inferior. Grace lifted Jacob and the glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau, but he refused to come, to submit. The fault lies with Esau.
The promise to Isaac was to be fulfilled in Christ - "Through your descendant all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 26:4). There were to be "numerous descendants", but there was only one descendant through whom God's great salvation was to come to the world: Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the true and living Way - the Way to God. In Genesis 26:19-22, there's the story of the three wells - 'Argument', 'Accusation', 'Roomy.' Progress is made after things seemed to go from bad to worse. Isaac "worshipped the Lord" (Genesis 26:25). Abimelech recognized that Isaac was a man of God - "We have seen that the Lord is with you" (Genesis 26:28). The quality of our life is to be such that others will recognize that we belong to the Lord. At the end of the chapter - Genesis 26:34, there is a warning: even those who love the Lord can make mistakes!
This is the story of deception. It ia very human. It is difficult for us to see how God works out His perfect plan through all of us. By faith, we believe that God is in control, working out His purpose of salvation, even where self-centred men and women (here, it is Rebekah and Jacob) are plotting to get their own way. 'My will be done' - this is what we are hearing from Rebekah and Jacob. Behind it all, there is God, and He is saying, 'My will be done.' From the fact that God was working out His purpose here, we must not conclude that He condones the devious way in which Rebekah and Jacob acted. Rather, we are to believe that God's purpose does not depend on us. Though we fail Him often, He will not fail us. He can turn things around for His glory, so that it may be seen that is His doing, and not ours.
Into a story, full of deception, comes grace - superabundant grace. Jacob was just looking for a good night's rest (Genesis 28:11), but he got more than he bargained for. This was a night to to be remembered - a night he would never forget as long as he lived. This was the beginning of a new Jacob. There were to be further experiences of divine grace. The most striking of these spiritual experiences is described in Genesis 32:22-32. When we look at Jacob's deceit, we might expect that he had disqualified himself from being useful in the purpose of God. To think like this is to forget the grace of God and the God of grace. God comes to Jacob (and to us) not once but many times. He comes with His precious promises: "I am with you ... I will not leave you ... " (Genesis 28:15).
Jacob receives his heart's desire - Rachel, but not in the way he intended. God was teaching Jacob patience. Doing God's will is more important than getting our own way. We may receive our heart's desire, but it will be as a side-effect of doing God's will and not as the be-all and end-all of our lives. The sons of Leah (Genesis 29:31-35) are given names with meanings. There is, in Leah, a progression towards a more spiritual attitude. (a) Reuben ('Here's my son') - "Now my husband will love me" (Genesis 29:32). (b) Simeon ('Hearing') - "The Lord has heard that I'm unloved, and He has also given me this son" (Genesis 29:33). (c) Levi ('Attached') - "My husband will become attached to me' (Genesis 29:34). (d) Judah ('Praise') - "This time I will praise the Lord" (Genesis 29:35). Her earlier concerns [(a) - (c)] are valid, but her response to the fourth birth highlights a progression beyond her own feelings to a deeper commitment to praising the Lord.
Jacob was prospering. His family and his flocks were increasing. In Jacob's prospering, we must see more than human factors. God was in this. This is the teaching of the Scriptures. We are to see the Lord in the whole of life, and not only in a carefully demarcated area labelled 'spirituality.' The most significant event in this chapter is the birth of Joseph, the son of Jacob, upon whom the remainder of the book of Genesis is centred. It is easy to lose sight of the most important thing when so many other things are happening. This is what we must not do. We must learn to see what is most important. We must learn to centre our lives around the most important priority. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted into a life with many interests and no real centre.
Stories like this are so human - with all the complications of relationships between people. there is, however, a depth-dimension. If we read these stories on the surface without digging deeply for spiritual truth, we will miss their point. What we must see is this - God was with Jacob (Genesis 31:42). This is the truth we must never forget in all the complexities of our own very ordinary experiences. He is there, even when we are least aware of His presence. He will never leave us. He is the faithful God, who graciously accompanies along all the pathways of life's long and winding road.
In Genesis 32:1-21, we read about Jacob's relationship with Esau. It seems to be a very ordinary story - until something extraordinary happens (Genesis 32:22-32). What an amazing experience of divine grace there was for Jacob at Peniel ('Face of God)! - "I have seen God face to face, but my life was saved" (Genesis 32:30). When we hear of God's perfect holiness, we imagine that there is no way we could possibly stand in His presence - "O Lord, who would be able to stand if you kept a record of sins?"(Psalm 130:3). In the presence of the God of perfect holiness, we discover - through divine revelation - something else: perfect love. "O perfect love, all human thought transcending" - How are we to respond to such amazing love? - "Lowly, we kneel in prayer before Thy throne" (Genesis 32:31).
So often, life can be looked at from the purely human point of view - events involving people. So often, God is left out on the sidelines. It is important that we do not do this. We must learn to see the deeper significance of the things that are going on in our lives. This is brought out well in this chapter: "He set up an altar there and named it 'God is the God of Israel'" (Genesis 33:20). Life is full of incidents which can be viewed on the surface level. Here, we have the meeting of two brothers. There is more than that here. God is there. He is not obtrusive. He waits for us to recognize His presence. He waits for us to acknowledge Him as our God.
The Name of the Lord is missing from this chapter. Sin - this is the stroty of human life. We do not, however, have to go any further that the first word of Genesis 35 to discover that God is there. He has been waiting in the wings, ready to speak His Word into the human situation. Often, God appears to be absent, but He is not. He is both the god of judgment and the God of grace. Sin is an offence to God, yet sinners are forgiven by God. There is a 'rollercoaster' feel about the progress of the stories in Genesis. Genesis is such a low. In Genesis 35, God Himself picks it up again. Life is like that. there can be deep valleys and high mountain-top experiences. In the valley, let us not imagine that the Lord cannot lift us. On the mountain-top, don't forget the Lord. He brought us there.
What great plans God had for Jacob! This was grace. It had nothing to do with Jacob. It was grounded in God's goodness. In Genesis 35:7, we read of a place called El Bethel (God of the House of God). The house of God is important. God is even more important. It is His presence which makes our worship truly live. It is His preence which fills our worship with His blessing. God is good. He has so much to give to us, so much to say to us, so much to do for us. When we come to the house of God, let us come with expectaation of His blessing. Let us not only come to the House of God. Let us come to the God of the House of God.
"This is the account of Esau and his descendants. There are so many names. there is so little of any real note. What a contrast between this and the story of Jacob, leading on to Joseph and then, on from there, to the Exodus and, beyond that, to Christ. There are routes which are full of the blessing of God. They take us on the continuing story, which runs from Genesis to Revelation, the story of God's salvation. There are also dead-end streets which are going nowhere. The direction of our life is determined by the choices which we make. We can choose to go our own way. There is a better choice, a better way. We can choose to go God's way.
At first, the story of Joseph looks like it's going to end up in a dead-end street. Joseph is sold as a slave. He is taken down into Egypt. Humanly speaking, Joseph was being rejected by his brothers. God, however, had other ideas. He had a great purpose for Joseph. His purpose was revealed in a dream. This was no ordinary dream. This was a revelation of God's plan. The remaining chapters of Genesis tell the great story of the unfolding of God's plan - in Egypt.
This is a sinful and shameful chapter. As we read it, we must hear and heed the warning. Do not let things drift. Keep close to God. "I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear, my foes are ever near, around me and within, but Jesus, draw nearer and shield my soul from sin." "Day-by-day, O dear Lord, three things I pray - to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow more nearly, day-by-day." - This should be our prayer.
What a change there was in Joseph's circumstances. He was in charge of Potiphar's household (Genesis 39:4). He was in prison (Genesis 39:20). There was one thing that did not change: the love of God - "His unchanging love" (Genesis 39:21). Whatever happens, we can depend on this: God's love is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable - "All may change, but Jesus never. Glory to His Name!"
Dreams can be interpreted by Joseph, but the glory is given to God (Genesis 40:8). When we bring God's message to the people, we must remember this: it is God Himself who gives the Word. We cannot create the Word. We can only receive it from God , and then we are are to pass it on to others. We must take care that we hear and speak only what God Himself says to us. We must not allow our own ideas to drown out the Word of the Lord. God is to be glorified in our hearing and our speaking.
Joseph's exaltation is a great picture of Christ's exaltation. Joseph was sent to prison. Christ was sent to the Cross. Joseph was exalted to a place of honour. Christ was raised to the place of highest honour. When Joseph came, people said, "Make way " (Genesis 41:43). We say of Jesus, "Make way, make way for the King of kings." "The whole world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain" (Genesis 41:57). Before Jesus Christ, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord - to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Joseph is putting his brothers to the test - to see if they will truly repent of their sin against him. God does this with us . He speaks to us through our circumstances concerning our need of repentance. we look at ourselves. We look at the events of our life. We wonder about our actions, "Did I do right, or do I need to repent?" In all of this, Joseph never ceased to love his brothers. God never ceases to love us. In love, He calls us to repentance.
It appears that Joseph is being devious. There is, however, a deeper sense in which Joseph believes that the purpose of God is being fulfilled in these events. He affirms his faith in God (Genesis 43:23). He emphasizes the need for God's blessing (Genesis 43:29). Whenever life seems to weave a complex web, we must hold on to this: God is in control. No-one else may seem to believe this, but we must not lose sight of the sovereign God, the God who is working out His perfect plan.
The story of Joseph and the brothers continues. It's such a human story. It would be very easy to miss the hand of God in all of this. Life is like this. One thing leads to another. There seems to be no obvious threa, holding the whole sequence of events together. In this chapter, there is only one reference to God (Genesis 44:16). Sometimes, He seems to be hidden away. He may be hidden, but He's not absent. He is there. He is 'the God who is there.' However much He may retreat to the wings, He does not leave the stage altogether. He never abandons us.
Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. An invitation is given by Pharaoh. Jacob is to bring the whole family to Egypt. As the story develops, it becomes clear that God is in it. There is much more direct reference to God now. Joseph seeaks openly of his faith in the Lord: "God sent me ahead of you ... God sent me ahead of you ... It wasn't you who sent me here, but God ... God has made me lord of Egypt" (Genesis 45:5,7-9). Joseph and his brothers had parted company. It looked like their paths would never cross again. God can bring people together again, people who appear to be living in different worlds. he is the God of reconciliation. He is the God of nnew beginnings.
Behind the re-uniting of the family, there was God. This is made clear in Genesis 46:1-4. When God is at work, His purpose cannot be thwarted. He is fulfilling His plan of salvation - "I will make you a great nation." God's saving purpose is more than a purely national thing. This is only the early stages of what God is doing. He has His eye on the whole world.
Jacob's life is nearing its end. God's work moves forward by stages. One man slips into the background. Another emerges. It is not the man who is important. It is the Lord. All of our attention is to be directed towards Him.
The best thing we can leave behind us is the blessing of God. There is nothing better than this. If our influence has been of God, then our life has been useful. It has been beneficial to others. It has been pleasing to God.
This must have been a very moving scene. Jacob speaks to each of his sons. He speaks to them about the future. He says to them, 'I am the past. You are the future.' - "Come here, and let me tell you what will happen to you in the days to come." Our future - whether it will be blessing or curse - is shaped by our response to God in the present. Reuben was "out of control" (Genesis 49:4). Simeon and Levi were "men of violence" (Genesis 49:5). They were not to receive and enjoy God's blessing. Joseph is the greatest example of a man who was being blessed by God (Genesis 49:22-26). Here, we see the hand of God at work in the most wonderful way.
Time moves on relentlessly. God has been at work in Joseph's life (Genesis 50:20). Now, the time has come for Joseph's life to reach its end (Genesis 50:26). In Scripture, we read the stories of people who loved God, and people who had no real love for Him. We read about them. we must also learn from them. We must make up our mind: What is important to us? Will we plan evil? or Will we submit ourselves to God's good plan (Genesis 50:20)? This is the great question which the stories of Genesis - and the whole of Scripture - put to every one of us. It is a question which demands an answer. It is a question which keeps on coming back to us. It comes to us with persistence. It breaks through our complacency. It calls us to decision. It is this decision which will shape our future for good or for evil. When we commit ourselves to walking in the Lord's way, we can move forward confidently in the sure knowledge that God is with us. Beyond the care of man (Joseph) - "Don't be afraid! I will provide for you and your children", there is the care of God - Joseph says, "I'm about to die. God will definitely take care of you ... "(Genesis 50:21,24). As our life moves on, it is very reassuring to know that God is in control.