Wednesday, December 30, 2015

End of Year 2015!

Dear friends and family,
Thanks for your prayerful support over the past year. We hope you have had a ‘Merry Christmas’
season and ‘Happy New Year’ to you. In South Africa they have modern grocery stores and nice restaurants but ministry can be very challenging. The history of the Church in South Africa is troubling which makes the ‘Story of Christianity’ here a confusing one. While South Africa is called the 'rainbow nation' the people seem to be separate and suspicious of those outside their group. At the end of the day, South Africa is a beautiful but it also a very complicated place.

Pastor Yoms receives his Ph-D. 
Over the last few months there have been a number of protests at the University of Stellenbosch.  Local South African students started a movement called ‘Open Stellenbosch’ demonstrating against the use of the Afrikaans language and the dominance of the Afrikaans culture at the University. The majority of South Africans who don’t speak Afrikaans consider the use of Afrikaans a hindrance to them and others like them. Then students of all different backgrounds protested across the country against a 10% increase in student tuition. Students blocked buildings, disrupted classes and took over the main library before the exam week. In response to the demonstrations the government withdrew the increases in tuition. After this, workers on the university campus protested the practice of Stellenbosch University of hiring third party contractors to work on campus.  These employers pay lower wages and without any benefits. These last demonstrations got out of hand when trash cans and even a couple of vehicles were burned.  

These events happened right around us although those we’re working with are a little removed from these issues.  We’re working with 'international students' coming from outside South Africa who are doing their graduate studies in English. The students we are trying to serve are coming here from across the continent of Africa and also as far away as Korea. Many of these are Pastors so our emphasis on teaching Biblical Theology through the Bible’s own stories can have a far reaching impact. We’ve made a number of dear friends from places as diverse as Nigeria, Botswana and Korea. We all share English in common and we’re all in one stage or another of transitioning to life in a foreign culture.

Koreans and Africans learning stories. 
Our story group has been meeting for about 10 months now and it’s slowly progressing, but not as rapidly as it would in a pure ‘oral culture’. I'm working with Masters and Ph.D. students who are not typical Africans or typical oral learners. However they are still finding the ‘Biblical storytelling’ helpful and those in our group enjoy the approach and see the merits of it. We’ve been able to story through the gospels and Genesis and we’re currently up to the Exodus. So telling the Biblical story along with having students over to our house, meeting with students and showing basic hospitality is essentially our philosophy of ministry. We are doing this through the local church, Christ Church Stellenbosch, where I’m on staff and my role has expanded so that now I'm also the missions’ pastor. I've been invited to teach Biblical storytelling in Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Gambia and South Sudan. Malawi and Nigeria are the most likely stops for me in 2016.
Christmas Eve at our flat. 

Today we moved into a new house.  We looked at a least nine different places and when the house we really wanted fell through we were a bit discouraged. We were one of the last 5 potential renters down from 13 when the owner decided to sell rather than rent. The same day the place we wanted fell through we received a call from a couple in the church who had decided to go to the states for a year so to make a long story short we staying in their house. The rent is a little more than we had hoped but it’s a nice house and it will be great for entertaining and showing hospitality. It’s also fully furnished and it’s only a 10 minute walk from campus. Our girls are excited about the move since they’ve been a bit cooped up in relatively small apartment for a year. We’ve suffered some severe setbacks lately, so we are asking that you would please pray for us and our children. We feel particularly needful of prayer as we enter this ‘New Year’. Have a great a ‘New Year’ and thanks again for your prayerful support.

With Love from the Stoms Family,
Jay, Laura, Clara, Katherine and Lauren.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Simeon and Anna at the Temple with Jesus (Luke 2:21-40).

God had promised Abraham a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. His descendants multiplied but ended up enslaved in Egypt. Then God delivers them from Egyptian slavery and calls them to be a ‘holy nation’. They began to take possession of their land, but the chaotic period of the Judges showed that they would need a king to be a ‘kingdom of priests’. God found a king after His own heart in David and David’s son, Solomon, developed the ‘Nation of Israel’ into an Empire. But, Solomon introduced an idolatry that split Israel and the ‘Northern kingdom’ was scattered by the Assyrians and the ‘Southern Kingdom’ was carried into ‘Exile in Babylon for 70 years’. The Persians conquered the Babylonians, allowing the Jews to return to their land. But Israel remained dominated by various pagan empires and at the time when Jesus was born God’s people were waiting for 'God’s King' to restore the kingdom and deliver God’s people.

Caesar Augustus ordered a census throughout the Roman world, so Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem in Judea to register. They went to Bethlehem, the town of Israel’s King David, because Joseph was from the line of David. In the Bethlehem Mary gave birth to a son who she wrapped in cloth and placed him in a manger. Then shepherds came saying that an angel had told them the child was ‘Christ the Lord’. The people there were amazed and Mary treasured the news in her heart. You can watch and or listen to the story of 'Simeon and Anna’ that happened after Jesus’ birth below. The story is coming from Luke 2:21-40.  
As faithful Jews, Joseph and Mary showed they trusted God by doing what was required in the ‘Law of Moses’. But they also had to submit to the ‘Roman Empire’. Their trip, prompted by Caesar’s census, took them from Nazareth in Galilee up to Bethlehem in Judea. They went to Bethlehem, the city of David, because Joseph was from the line of David. While in Bethlehem Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and she wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a manger. When the shepherds found the newborn wrapped in cloth and in a manger, they knew they had found ‘the Christ’. So the shepherds told everyone the ‘good news of great joy’ about the child. Later when Mary and Joseph had the child circumcised, they named him Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived. When the time of preparation after childbirth was over they took Jesus to Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice acceptable to the Mosaic Law. Then after fulfilling their obligations the family returned to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus grew strong, became wise and the grace of God was upon him.

The parents of God’s coming king, Mary and Joseph, were faithful to give the child the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. They were also faithful to give him the name Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived. They observed the period of purification after childbirth and they faithfully took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. They also offered a sacrifice of either “a pair of doves or two pigeons” 
acceptable for the poor. In Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph met a righteous and devout man, Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he saw the ‘Lord’s Christ’. The Spirit led Simeon into the temple where he met Mary and Joseph. There Simeon took the baby in his arms and told the Lord that he was ready to depart this life in peace for he had seen the Lord’s salvation. The Holy Spirit led Simeon to recognize the child as the long anticipated Christ of God, and the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Moreover the Holy Spirit enabled him to see beyond his own salvation and that of Israel for he saw the child as a light of revelation to Gentiles.

God had chosen Abraham and Israel to bless the world and this is what Messiah Jesus came to do but not in way that most Israelites expected. Simeon spoke of Jesus as a sign to be spoken against and he told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart also. Mary would see her son rejected by the nation he came to console and be crucified in the Jerusalem he came to redeem. The child who would cause the falling and rising again of many in Israel would himself fall at the hands of the political and religious leaders. He would be defeated, put to death, and in so doing he would bear the penalty for sin. Then he would rise again from the dead and bring comfort and redeem his people. Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about their child. The child was the long anticipated Messiah but he would cause the falling and rising again of many in Israel. Ironically, Israel was living under Gentile domination but Messiah Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles. Also in the temple Mary and Joseph also found an elderly widow, a prophetess, named Anna. Anna had lived with her husband seven years but her husband had died. So Anna lived as a widow and she was now 84 years old. She stayed in the temple area where she worshiped God with fasting and prayer on a regular basis. When Anna saw the child she gave thanks and spoke about the child to those who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

God’s ‘coming king’ would bring about God’s reign in a most unexpected way. The Messiah would deal with the oppressive forces of this world and turn the tables on human evil. But he would do this by taking it upon himself in order to break its power in our lives. He would embrace the consequences of sin and evil without participating in it and would suffer its penalty. This was not what most expected but the story tells us that some did recognize and embrace Jesus as God’s ‘anticipated but unexpected’ king. The shepherds responded to the message of the angel by seeking the Christ child in Bethlehem. When they saw the child in a manger they told everyone about him. When the shepherds told everyone the people were amazed and Mary treasured and pondered the news in her heart. Simon had been promised by God that he would not die before he saw the ‘Lord’s Christ’ and he was led into the temple where the Spirit enabled him to embrace the child. Moreover Simeon saw the child as his savoir but also as the savior of the world. Anna, a prayerful 84 year old widow, saw the child andtold everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem about him. Simeon and Anna were led by God to speak of the child and Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about their child. All of these lived lives of faith and hope at a time when God would have seemed distant and unconcerned. They heard the ‘good news which God had prepared in the sight of all people’ and the Holy Spirit enabled them to recognize and embrace the child as God’s king and the world’s true Lord

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2).

In order to better understand the story of the birth of Jesus Christ we should know something of the background story to the story of Jesus that we find in the Old Testament. In the beginning of the Bible we are told that God created man in his own image to do ‘God’s Will’ on the earth. Adam was to consecrate the creation in submission to the God and His Word. Yet, man believed a lie, declared independence from God and brought ‘evil and suffering’ into the world. So God banished man from His presence. Then man deteriorated so that God judged the world by a flood but promised to preserve man and the world in order to redeem it. Then God called Abraham promising him a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. His descendants multiplied in Egypt but they ended up enslaved. They cry out and God delivers them from Egyptian slavery called them to be a ‘holy nation’. They began to take possession of their land, and consecrate it to the Lord, but the chaotic period of the Judges showed that they would need a king to be a ‘kingdom of priests’. God found a king after His own heart in David and promises David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon, developed Israel into an Empire and built the Jerusalem Temple as a dwelling place for God among His people. But, Solomon introduced an idolatry that split Israel and lead to ‘CIVIL WAR’. The ‘Northern kingdom’ was scattered by the Assyrians and the ‘Southern Kingdom’ was carried into ‘Exile in Babylon for 70 years’. The Persians conquered the Babylonians, allowing the Jews to return to their land but the ‘return from Exile’ fell desperately short of the ‘glories of the prophesied kingdom’ and Israel remained dominated by various pagan empires. So the OT ends with God’s people waiting for God to send His 'anointed King' and restore the kingdom and deliver God’s people. Now you can watch and or listen to the story of the 'Birth of Jesus and of the announcement of his birth to the shepherds that is coming from Luke 2
The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted everyone throughout his empire counted in a census in order to tax his subjects. Caesar issued his decree and people throughout the Empire had to return to their hometowns mostly out of fear of retribution. So Joseph left Nazareth in Galilee to go up to Bethlehem in Judea, the town of Israel’s King David, because Joseph was from David’s family line. Joseph took his fiancee Mary, who was expecting a child, and sometime after they arrived in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ she gave birth to a son. She wrapped her baby in cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the ‘inn or guest room’.

Are you thinking of a fully booked roadside ‘inn’ in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’? While the translation ‘inn’ in Lk 2:7 is possible, Luke in Lk 10:34 uses a different word in the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’ when the Samaritan took the bandaged man to a commercial ‘inn’.  But in Lk 2:7, Luke uses the same word he uses in Lk 22:11 where the disciples say, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the ‘guest room’, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ The word in Lk 2:7 more likely refers to a ‘guest room’ crowded with relatives. They were staying, either in a two story house where animals were stored at night on the ground floor or they were in a one story house with a main room and a ‘guest room’. The main room would have had a lower area by the door which (See Kenneth Bailey) was used to shelter animals at night. In either case the manger that was there to feed animals at night became the ‘resting place’ for the child because the ‘guest room’ was full of relatives for the census.

It is not that the people of Bethlehem where ‘too busy’ to help a pregnant woman. Neither should we think of them as being ‘so bad’ that they turned away a woman about to give birth to fend for herself. Are we really to think that in city of David, Bethlehem, a descendant of King David would not be able to find any relatives to give him accommodation? No, the story is told to give us a vivid contrast between the ruler of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus, and the child who was born as God’s king ‘Christ the Lord’. To advance his empire Caesar Augustus issued a decree and the lives of the ordinary common people were disrupted so that they could be taxed. Caesar wanted to expand his kingdom and he did it at the expense of common people and woe to all who didn’t comply. However, when God wanted to advance His kingdom purpose He appointed an ordinary villager to give birth to what would otherwise have been a very ordinary common child. Yet, this child was anything but ordinary for he was God’s anointed and the alternative king to Caesar who would usher in a kingdom very different to that of Caesar Augustus.

That night shepherds were in the fields outside Bethlehem watching their flocks. Suddenly an ‘angel of the Lord’ appeared to them, light shown around them and they were terrified. The angelic messenger tells them not to be afraid for he was bringing good news of great joy all people. The ‘good news’ was that a Savior had been born in Bethlehem who was ‘Christ the Lord’ and this was ‘good news’ not just for Israel but for all people. The shepherds were told to look for the sign of a baby born in Bethlehem wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger then they would know they had found ‘Christ the Lord’. So while Augustus was exerting his power over his subjects, one of those very subjects was being raised up by God to be God’s alternative to Caesar and the world’s true Lord. Then a great company of angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” The angels departed and the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph, with their newborn child wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. Seeing the promised sign as told to them by the angel they were convinced that the child was the savior, Christ the Lord! Those hearing the testimony of the shepherds were amazed and Mary treasured the ‘good news’ and pondered it in her heart. Then the shepherds returned to their fields, praising God for sending a savior and for seeing the Christ child, just as they had been told by the angels.

Luke mentions the manger three times though we’re not actually told that there were any animals there at the time. While the manger does speak of Jesus’ humble beginnings, the child wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger was the sign to confirm to the shepherds that what the angel had said was true and that they had found the Christ. This was significant because it was the shepherds who were told who the child really was. The shepherds had been given the good news by the angel but the others would hear about the child from the shepherds. When Mary and Joseph heard what the shepherds had to say it would confirm what they had been told about the child. Up to this point only Joseph and Mary knew the truth about the child which they themselves were previously told by angels. The news of a rival king to Caesar could have potentially harsh consequences but Mary treasured the news and pondered it in her heart. 

Augustus Caesar, enthroned in Rome, had issued a census in order to tax his subjects and expand his empire at their expense. Augustus had defeated all rivals in a bloody civil war and he had turned the Roman republic into an empire with himself as its sole ruler. He claimed to have brought peace to the whole world and having declared his dead adoptive father Julius Caesar to be divine he had declared himself to be the ‘son of the divine’. Augustus had ushered in the empire wide peace but any nation that dared to upset that peace would be crushed by the Roman military and any individual leading an uprising would be nailed to a Roman cross. Augustus contracted his ‘poets and historians’ to tell the story of Rome as culminating in himself. So many people thought of Augustus as the ‘Savior and Lord’ of the world.   
Meanwhile, in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ the ‘city of David’ a savior was born who was ‘Christ the Lord’. So while Caesars’ subjects sought to comply out of fear of retribution at the very same time Jesus was born. The Lord Jesus Christ was born as a descendant of David in the town of David. David was Israel’s king whom God had promised a perpetual kingship over the people of God. Jesus of Nazareth was unknown to Augustus and his immediate descendants and most of Jesus life was relatively invisible to anyone outside of Israel. Moreover, Jesus would end up being crucified on a Roman cross and later Roman emperors would try to exterminate Christians. However, in just over three centuries the emperor himself would become a Christian. Then not long after that the empire itself would become officially Christian. This story points us to the truth that the baby lying in a manger and announced by lowly shepherds was Christ the Lord and that Caesar was not!  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Moses initial interaction with Pharaoh (Exodus 5-6).

God had promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The blessing would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and through Isaac’s son, Jacob. Jacob’s twelve sons end up in Egypt where they multiplied but they became enslaved. The cry of the Israelites went up to God and God remembered his covenant (Exodus 2:16-25). So God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses had been raised the ‘son of Pharaoh’s daughter’ but he fled Egypt when it was found out that Moses had killed an Egyptian for beating an Israelite. After Moses spent 40 years as a shepherd the Lord called him to rescue the Israelites out of Egypt and to will lead them into their ‘promised land’ (Exodus 3:7-10).  This brings us to the story of Moses’ initial interaction with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Watch or listen to the story here and read the comments below.
The book of Exodus begins with the covenant apparently forgotten and with no sign that God was with His people. God calls Moses and acts in the plagues to advance His purposes and to make His presence known. In obedience to the Lord, Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh, “The Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go and offer sacrifices in the desert.’ ” But Pharaoh wouldn’t let Israel go because he didn’t know the Lord and he took their request as an attempt to avoid their hard work. So Pharaoh made things harder on the Israelites by making them get their own straw. Now they would have to fetch their own straw before mixing it with mud, then the decaying straw would strengthen the bricks when dried in the sun. Yet, Pharaoh demanded that the Israelites make the same number of bricks. When the Israelites failed to meet their quota of bricks, Pharaoh had the Israelite foremen beaten. The foremen appealed to Pharaoh for relief, but Pharaoh harshly refused to give them more straw or reduce their quota of bricks. Then the Israelite foremen rebuked Moses and Aaron by saying, “May the Lord ‘judge you’ for making us a stench to Pharaoh.”
So Moses complains to the Lord that ever since the Lord had sent him to Pharaoh the Lord hadn’t rescued the Israelites and that Pharaoh had only brought more trouble on them. The Lord reminds Moses that He had heard the groaning of the Israelites, and that He had remembered His covenant. The Lord confirms that He would redeem Israel and that He would do this by sending His mighty acts of judgment on the Egyptians. In this way the Israelites would know that YHWH was Lord  and their God and that they were the Lord's people. The Lord was confirming that He was faithfully working out His covenant promise to give the Israelites the land He had sworn to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses tells the Israelites that YHWH was the Lord and that He would fulfill His covenant to redeem them by bringing His mighty acts of judgment upon the Egyptians. But, the Israelites wouldn’t listen to Moses because the cruelty they were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians.
Moses wants to know why Pharaoh would listen to him if the Israelites wouldn’t even listen to him.
The Lord tells Moses to go ahead and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go even though Pharaoh would not listen. The Lord would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that through His mighty acts of judgment the Lord would redeem Israel and that both Israel and Egypt would know YHWH was the Lord. The Lord sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and Aaron was to throw Moses’ staff down before Pharaoh. Aaron threw the staff down and it became a snake. However, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing with their magic arts so that their staffs also became snakes. While the Egyptian magicians could duplicate the sign, YHWH showed His supremacy when Aaron’s staff swallowed up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians. The power of YHWH was shown to be superior to that of the Egyptian magicians but Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he refused to let the Israelites go. Yet this was all according to the Lord’s plan and it was just what the Lord said would happen.
In this story God acts to fulfill his covenant promise by freeing Israel from Egypt and to give them the land of Canaan. The Lord chose to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians through his mighty acts of judgment. In this way the Lord would show His superiority over the gods of Egypt and reveal His power to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. In one sense, the story tells us that Pharaoh stubbornly resisted the Lord’s requests. But at the same time, the Lord would orchestrate the plagues in such a way so that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The Lord would do this to multiply His mighty acts so that Israel (6:6-7), their children (10:1-2), Egypt (7:3-5) and all the earth (9:16) might know that YHWH is Lord. We ourselves must acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord our God. Moreover, we are to demonstrate our belief by patiently waiting for God’s deliverance while trusting that God is with us and is able to fulfill His plans and purposes on our behalf.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3-4).

God had promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The blessing would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and through Isaac’s son, Jacob. A famine in Canaan led Jacob’s twelve sons into Egypt where they were taken care of by Jacob’s son, Joseph, who rose to prominence in Egypt. There Israel multiplied but they became enslaved when a Pharaoh who didn’t knew Joseph came to power. The Israelites were oppressed but the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied. Fearful that the Israelites would fight against Egypt the Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew baby boys be thrown in the Nile. When Moses was born his parents hide him, then Moses’ mother put her baby in a basket and placed in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby so Moses was raised as the ‘son of Pharaoh’s daughter’. When Moses was 40 years old he saw and Egyptian beating a Hebrew, so he killed the Egyptian. Pharaoh found out about this and he tried to have Moses killed, so he fled to live in Midian. There Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest and he became a shepherd. Then the Pharaoh died and the cry of the Israelites in their oppression went up to God, and God remembered his covenant (Exodus 2:16-25). This brings us to the story of Moses and the burning bush. Watch or listen to the story here and read the comments below.
In this story God calls Moses to confront Pharaoh and to liberate Israel from Egypt. The Israelites were to be formed into a ‘community of worshipers’ that Moses was to lead to their own land, a land to be ‘wholly consecrated’ to the Lord! Moses upbringing in Egypt as the ‘son of Pharaoh’s daughter’ is long past and we find him shepherding the flock of father-in-law’s in the wilderness around Sinai. The ‘angel of the Lord’ appears to Moses from within a bush that is on fire but doesn’t burn up. The direction of Moses life changes forever when he investigates why the bush is not burning up.  The Lord calls Moses from the fire and Moses responds, “Here I am!” The Lord tells Moses to take off his shoes for he’s standing on holy ground. Moses covers his face being afraid to look at God. The God of their fathers tells Moses that He has seen the affliction of his people in Egypt and has committed to rescue them out of Egypt and to will lead them into their own land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:-10).  

God tells Moses to go to the successor of the Pharaoh who wanted Moses dead, and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses’ response is, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” Moses had tried to deliver the Israelites and he had put his position and influence on the line. He was willing to fight for his people and he even killed an Egyptian for beating an Israelite. But Moses was forced to flee and live in exile in Midian as a shepherd for 40 years. Moses tells the Lord, ‘who am I to confront Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt’. As a deliverer of the Israelites, Moses had been a miserable failure so he saw himself as totally inadequate for the job. Now he was a shepherd and the last guy in the world to go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

As Israel’s deliverer Moses was a dismal failure, so he saw himself as incapable of confronting Pharaoh and rescuing the Israelites. Moses had tried to rescue the Israelites in his own way and in his own strength and so he failed. However, now having confessed his own inadequacy, Moses is God’s man for the job. Moses confessed inadequacy would be overcome by the Lord’s personal presence. Moses said, ‘who am I’ and the Lord said, ‘I will be with you’! The Lord was not with the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, when he took matters into his own hands. But now the humble shepherd was now ready to lead Israel out of Egypt God’s way. So the Lord tells Moses you’re the guy and ‘I will be with you’ so things will be different.  

Now the sign that God had sent Moses would be that the Israelites would be rescued out of Egypt. The Lord told Moses, ‘I will be with you’ and He would enable Moses to do what he had previously failed to do. When Israel was out of Egypt and gathered at Sinai in worship that would be the sign that the Lord had sent Moses. When the Israelites were gathered together at Sinai as a worshiping community then Moses would know that it the Lord done it. The Israelites would be shaped into a worshiping community at the very place were Moses led the flock of father-in-law to graze, the very place the ‘angel of the Lord’ had appeared and the Lord had called Moses from out of the fire.

The Lord was calling Moses to do what the Lord said that He would be with Moses to do. The Lord would do what the Lord had promised Abraham 400 years earlier He would do (Gen.15:13-14). The Lord said the Israelites would be rescued and the Lord would be with Moses to make it happen. The Lord was calling Moses to do what Moses knew he was utterly dependent upon the Lord to do. Moses had been living as a shepherd in exile in Midian for 40 years because he had failed as Israel’s rescuer. Now the Lord was calling Moses to step out in faith and trust that God would be with him to do what could only happen if God made it happen.

Moses had said ‘who am I’ to go to Pharaoh and to rescue the Israelites and the answer to Moses’ inability was ‘I will be with you’. So Moses now wants to know what he should say when the Israelites ask the name of the God who has sent Moses. In other words, Moses says okay I’m inadequate for the job and I hear you saying you’ll be with me but, ‘Who are you? And what is your name?’  The God of our fathers lead Jacob and his family into Egypt during a time of famine when Joseph was in power in Egypt, but now Joseph is a distant memory and the Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years. Not only that but they’re suffering under Egyptian oppression so really God ‘who are you’?

God tells Moses, ‘I AM who I AM’! Moses was to tell the Israelites ‘I AM’ has sent me to you! The name God gave to Moses, Yahweh, comes from the Hebrew verb to be. The Septuagint translation of the name emphasizes the ‘self-existence’ of God. The translation ‘I AM who I AM’ and the context itself suggests that ‘God is who He is’. That is God is who ‘He has revealed Himself to be’ and He is not a God of our own making. He is the one who promised Moses ‘I will be with you’. He is the one who made a covenant with Abraham promising him multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. He is the one who would further reveal Himself by rescuing Israel out of Egypt, forming them into a worshiping community and leading them into a land of their own. He is the one speaking to Moses from the fire and He had previously manifested Himself when a smoking firepot with a blazing torch passed between the animal pieces and bound Himself to Abraham in covenant. He is the one who would later, lead the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 3:13–15). Yahweh is the one who is faithful to His promises and is fully capable of fulfilling all His promises.

When God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and rescue the Israelites Moses said you’ve got to be kidding do you know, ‘who am I?’ God was saying, ‘I know who you are Moses and I will be with you’. But now God was saying to Moses, ‘Moses, do you know who I AM? God’s answer was ‘I AM who I AM’ now you go and tell the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’! The Lord would be with Moses so Moses was to step out in faith and he was to tell Pharaoh, ‘that the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, wants us to take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God.’ But Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go, so Yahweh would lift His hand and strike the Egyptians with miraculous signs. Then not only would Pharaoh let them go but the Egyptians would give the Israelites their articles of silver and gold and fine clothing so that in this way the Israelites would plunder the Egyptians (3:18-21).

Now Moses wants to know what to do if the Israelites fail to listen to him or believe that the Lord had appeared to him. So the Lord gives Moses two special signs to convince the Israelites that YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had appeared to Moses. Moses was to throw down his shepherd’s staff which Moses did and it turned into a snake. Moses jumped back but the Lord said, “Grab it by its tail” and when Moses did it turned back into a staff. Then the Lord had Moses put his hand inside his cloak and when he did his hand become leprous. Then the Lord had Moses put his hand back into his cloak and when he did his hand was healed. Then if the Israelites were still unconvinced then Moses was to pour some water from the Nile River on the ground and it would turn to blood (4:1-9).

So the Lord gave Moses these signs to convince any doubting Israelites. But Moses claims that he has never been a good speaker and he’s not one now even though Lord had spoken to him. The Lord challenges Moses by saying who makes people speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see. The Lord promises to be with Moses and enable him to speak and teach him what to say. After all this Moses simply says, ‘Please, Lord, send someone else’. The Lord becomes angry with Moses, but He remains committed to Moses. Aaron, Moses’ brother will be Moses’ spokesman and Moses will tell Aaron what to say. Now is the time, those in Egypt who wanted to kill Moses were dead. Moses was to go and perform the miraculous signs before Pharaoh. But Pharaoh would refuse to let the Israelites go so Moses was to tell the hard-hearted Pharaoh that the Lord says, ‘Israel is my firstborn son, let my son go, so he can worship me. But since you have refused, I will kill your firstborn son!’ ” So the two brothers, Aaron and Moses, go to Egypt and gather the elders of Israel and tell them everything the Lord had said, and Moses performed the miraculous signs. Now when the elders of Israel hear that God had seen their suffering and had promised to rescue them, they bowed their heads and worshiped (4:10-31).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Israelites and Moses in Egypt (Exodus 1-2).

God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world (Gen. 12:1-3). The blessing would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and through Isaac’s son, Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons but due to a famine they end up in Egypt where they are taken care of by Jacob’s son, Joseph, who rose to power in Egypt. The 'Book of Exodus' begins with Israel multiplying but becoming slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh sought to exterminate the Hebrew baby boys, but God was raising up Moses who would rescue Israel from Egyptian bondage. In this story we find God shaping the life of Israel’s future deliverer and working in severe circumstances through ordinary people to accomplish God’s good purpose for His people. Watch or listen to the story here and read the comments. 
Joseph and his brothers died but the Abrahamic blessing continued because Israel became exceedingly numerous though they were in Egypt. A new Pharaoh, who didn’t know or care about Joseph, came to power in Egypt who thought the Israelites were too numerous. He feared they would fight with their enemies against Egypt and leave the country.  They put slave masters over Israel and forced them to build store cities for Pharaoh. The Egyptians worked Israel ruthlessly in ‘brick and mortar (See Gen. 11:3)’ and in their fields. Joseph had built great stores of grain for Egypt so that both Egypt and Jacob’s family flourished despite the famine. But when Joseph was forgotten the Pharaoh forced Israel to build him store cities. With God’s help Israel was multiplying and with Israel’s help Egypt was prospering. 

Yet, Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites, but the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and Egypt came to ‘dread’ them (Exodus 1:12). The Pharaoh sought to eliminate the Israelites as a distinct people by commanding the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew baby boys. But the midwives didn’t obey Pharaoh and God gave the midwives families of their own because they feared God more than Pharaoh. A Levite couple had a son, who was a fine child, and they hid him for three months until they could hide him no longer. The mother waterproofed a basket with tar and pitch (see Gen.6:14), put her child in the basket, and placed it along the banks of the Nile as the child’s sister stood by to see what would happen to him (Exodus 2:1-4).

Pharaoh’s daughter, who came to the river to bath, sees the basket and has her slave girl retrieve it. They find a Hebrew baby crying and she feels sorry for the child. She sends the baby’s sister to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. Ironically, the Pharaoh’s daughter ends up rescuing the child and paying the baby’s own mother to nurse him. When the child grew older he became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and she named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” God’s chosen deliverer of Israel, Moses, would actually become the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. As an adult Moses was watching the Israelites at their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, so Moses looked around, killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. The next day Moses saw two Hebrews fighting and he asked the one in the wrong why he was hitting a fellow Hebrew. The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge… are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” Moses realized people knew about what he had done (Exodus 2:11-15)

When Pharaoh found out what Moses had done he tried to kill Moses, who fled to live in Midian. In Midian, Moses was sitting by a well when the seven daughters of the priest of Midian came to draw water for their flock. Some shepherds tried driving them away, but Moses rescued them and watered their flock. The girls returned home and explained to their father how the Egyptian rescued them from the shepherds and watered their flock. Moses ends up staying with them and the man gives Moses his daughter, Zipporah, to be Moses wife. Moses and Zipporah had a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I’m an alien in a foreign land.” Now during this time the king of Egypt died and the Israelites groaned in their slavery. Their cry for help went up to God, who heard their groaning, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (Exodus 2:16-25).

The Israelites greatly increased in number even outside Canaan in a strange land. The Pharaoh who knew not Joseph oppressed forced hard labor upon the Israelites but the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied. The Pharaoh tasked the Hebrew midwives with exterminating the Hebrew baby boys but they feared God and refused to obey Pharaoh. Then when Pharaoh told his own people to eliminate the Hebrew baby boys, Moses was born. Then when his parents could hide him no longer, it was the Pharaoh’s own daughter actually rescued Moses. Throughout the story the Israelites are challenged to trust that God was working out His plan and God was working out His plan through rather ordinary or even unlikely people. The purpose of God triumphed for when Israel was oppressed they multiplied. When the midwives feared God then not only did Israel become more numerous but God gave the midwives their own families. When Pharaoh commanded his people to throw the Hebrew baby boys in the Nile it was Pharaoh’s own daughter who rescued Moses. Now the Old Testament rescuer, Moses, points us to the Lord Jesus Christ who through his death and resurrection rescues God’s people from sin and death and Satan.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Joseph and his brothers in Egypt (Gen.42-47).

The command to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply” is restated to Noah and it becomes a promise to Abraham (Genesis 1:28, 9:1,12:2). God will give Abraham a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. In the Joseph story, Abraham’s descendants are in the land and have become a large family through Jacob’s twelve sons. Jacob favors Joseph, the sons are full of jealousy, and Jacob’s family is in no position to bless the world. Watch or listen to the story here and read the comments below.
Famine brought Joseph’s family to Egypt where God had elevated Joseph so that he managed Egypt’s food supply. Unknowingly, the brothers bow before Joseph as in Joseph’s dream (42:6-8). Joseph tested his brothers to determine whether they had changed in the twenty years that Joseph had been in Egypt. He gave them the opportunity to leave Simeon in Egypt with their pocket full of silver. Then they are given the opportunity to solve their problem by abandoning Benjamin in Egypt and grieving their father. Yet, through these tests they were reconciled to Joseph, to each other and to God.  Joseph’s brothers intended to harm Joseph but Joseph realized that it was God who sent him to Egypt and elevated him to prominence in order to bless Jacob’s family and the world (42:24, 28, 45:7).

Jacob sent his sons, without Benjamin, to buy grain in Egypt. Jacob didn’t trust his sons to take care of the youngest son, Benjamin, Joseph’s brother. In Egypt the brothers bow before Joseph, but fail to recognize him. But Joseph recognizes his brothers and he accuses them of being spies. The brothers claim they are the honest sons of one father, and their youngest brother was with their father in Canaan, but one of them was no more. Joseph put his brothers into prison for three days to test them. Joseph shows them kindness by letting the brothers return with food to their families. He sets up a very specific test by holding Simeon and refusing to let them return to Egypt without Benjamin. The brothers acknowledge that they are being punished for what they had done to Joseph (42:21). Reuben had told them not to kill Joseph and Judah had said they would be better off selling him to the Ishmaelite traders. Reuben’s plan to rescue Joseph failed and Reuben became an accomplice by going along with their plan to make it look like Joseph had been killed. Joseph imprisons Simeon, puts their silver in their sacks and sends his brothers home (42:37-38).

Joseph orchestrated his test to see if they would act differently. Given the opportunity would they abandon Simeon in exchange for silver (37:28, 42:33–34)? The brothers tell their father that they were accused of being spies. Being accused they explained to the man in Egypt that they were twelve sons of one father; the youngest son was with their father in Canaan and one was no more. Joseph refused to let them return to Egypt without their youngest brother. But Jacob refused to risk losing Benjamin as he had once lost Joseph. Reuben proposes that Jacob put Reuben’s two sons to death if Benjamin didn’t return. But why would Jacob be consoled by killing two of his grandsons? Jacob’s responded, “Joseph is dead, Simeon is gone and if anything happens to Benjamin you’ll bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow (42:37-38).”

When their food ran out Jacob tells his sons to go to Egypt. Judah reminds his father that they can’t go back to Egypt without Benjamin. Judah takes responsibility saying that if anything happens to Benjamin Judah would bear the blame all his life. So Israel tells them, “Go; take gifts for the man, double the silver and Benjamin and may God be merciful so that you all return (43:2-15).” In Egypt the brothers tell Joseph’s steward they had brought back the silver they found in their sacks. The Steward tells the brothers that their God had given them treasure. Then Simeon is returned and they are taken to Joseph’s house where they bow before Joseph. Much to their surprise, they are seated in their proper birth order and when their food was served Benjamin’s portion was five times that of his brothers. Benjamin is shown special favor (like Joseph was) but now the brothers were able eat and drink together without being jealous.  

Joseph filled his brother’s grain sacks, put their silver back and put his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Joseph sent his steward who caught up with the brothers and said, “You have stolen my master’s silver cup.” This they denied but when they opened their sacks and the cup was in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers bow before Joseph and Judah says, “We are all now your slaves.” But Joseph said, “Only the one with my cup will become my slave.” Joseph gave his brothers the opportunity to become angry with Benjamin (44:16–17) and to abandon him in Egypt. Judah said that Benjamin is their father’s youngest son, the only son of his mother left and if he is harmed they would send their father’s gray head down to the grave in sorrow. Judah pleads to be made a slave in Benjamin’s place for he could not bear seeing the misery that would come upon his father (44:18-34).  Overwhelmed with how much his brothers had changed Joseph reveals himself as their brother, who they sold into Egypt. Moreover, Joseph sees what they did as God’s plan to save lives. Joseph threw his arms around Benjamin, kissed his brothers and wept over them.

Joseph tells them to bring their father and their families to Egypt where Joseph would provide for them during the famine. Joseph gives them abundant provisions for the journey and tells them not to quarrel. Jacob didn’t believe that Joseph was alive and ruling in Egypt until he saw all the gifts Joseph sent. Then Jacob said, “My son Joseph is alive and I will go to him before I die.” Later God would tell Jacob that in Egypt He would make Israel into a great nation and they would return them to Canaan. In Egypt, Joseph threw his arms around his father Jacob and Israel said, “Now I am ready to die, since my son Joseph is still alive.” God had made it clear to Jacob that this temporary migration was all according to plan (46:3–4). The Israelites multiplied in Egypt and when it was time for Israel to die, he made Joseph promise to carry him out of Egypt and to bury him with his fathers in Canaan. Joseph swore to Israel, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff with hope in a future resurrection (Heb.11:22).

The story reveals how God orchestrates the events of his world to fulfill His good purpose for His people. The Sovereign God used the flawed character of His people to accomplish that good purpose. What the brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (45:7, 50:20). God was fulfilling His covenant promise to multiply redeemed images to bless the world. Wherever Joseph was he was a blessing, but the brothers needed to be reconciled and the Israelites needed to be multiple. Joseph willingly forgives his brothers for he looked beyond their treacherous acts to the sovereign hand of God. The story helps us to know and trust that God is in control of everything that happens in our lives in this world. Consequently we can see beyond our personal struggles to God’s bigger plan to fill the world with redeemed images who will do God’s will on the earth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 39-41).

God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The fulfillment would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac and not Ishmael, and through Isaac’s son Jacob and not Esau. Jacob disguised himself as Esau, so that Isaac gave Jacob the Abrahamic blessing (Gen.12:1-3). Esau planned to kill Jacob, so Jacob went to live with his Uncle Laban and eventually married Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Jacob had twelve sons through Leah, Rachel and their maidservants. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, gave birth to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and later Rachel died while giving birth to Jacob’s twelfth son, Benjamin (35:18-19).   These twelve sons of Jacob became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.  

Now Jacob loved his son Joseph more than his other sons and so his brothers hated Joseph. Joseph told his brothers two dreams that he had and his brothers took to mean that Joseph planned to rule over them. This caused his brother’s to hate Joseph all the more. Given the opportunity Joseph’s brother sold Joseph to some Ishmaelite traders who took Joseph to Egypt where Joseph became a slave. The brothers smeared blood on the special robe that Jacob had given Joseph to make their father think that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal (37:31-33). This takes us to the story of Joseph in Egypt from Genesis 39-41. Watch or listen to the story and read the comments below.
In this story Joseph resists temptation but ends up in prison. Yet, God was with Joseph in prison and everything he did succeeded (39:3, 23). Then after Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams the Pharaoh made Joseph his second-in-command in Egypt. Joseph implements a plan that preserved both Egypt and his own family. This story begins with Potiphar not needing to concern himself with anything in his house with Joseph in charge or so he thought (39:6). Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph and tries to seduce him but Joseph refuses to sin against God. Once when Joseph was alone in their house Potiphar’s wife grabbed Joseph’s cloak but Joseph ran out leaving his cloak behind. Potiphar’s wife claimed that Joseph attacked her but that he fled when she screamed.  So Potiphar put Joseph in the prison where the king’s prisoners were kept.

Joseph resisted temptation but was falsely accused and thrown in prison. Yet, the Lord was with Joseph and the prison warden put Joseph in charge of everything in the prison (39:20-21). One night Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker, who were in prison with Joseph, both had dreams which they couldn’t interpret. Joseph said that interpretations belong to God so they told Joseph their dreams. The cup-bearer saw a vine with three branches that blossomed, its grapes ripened and he squeezed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. The baker dreamed that he was carrying three baskets on his head and the top basket was full of baked goods that the birds were eating. Joseph said in three days Pharaoh would restore the cup-bearer but hang the baker and that is exactly what happened (40:20-23).

The cup-bearer forgot about Joseph until two years later when Pharaoh had two dreams. In the first dream Pharaoh saw seven fat healthy cows come out of the Nile then seven thin ugly cows came out of the Nile and ate the fat cows. In the second dream, Pharaoh saw seven healthy heads of grain then seven withered heads of grain sprouted and swallowed the seven healthy heads. Pharaoh’s wise men were unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. The cup-bearer told Pharaoh about the Hebrew prisoner, Joseph, who had accurately interpreted his dream. So Pharaoh sent for Joseph and Joseph said that God would interpret Pharaoh’s dream (41:9-16). Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams and Joseph said that there would be seven years of abundant harvests followed by seven years of famine. So Joseph told Pharaoh to store a fifth of the harvest from the abundant years and to put a wise man in charge of Egypt. Pharaoh put a robe on Joseph, gave him a ring, a gold chain and Joseph was made second-in-command in Egypt (41:37-43).

At the age of 30, after 13 years as an Egyptian slave and a prisoner, Joseph became Pharaoh’s second-in-command. The seven years of abundance came and Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain. When the famine came the people cried to Pharaoh for food and the entire world came to Joseph to buy grain (41:46-57). So God was with Joseph and blessed him even when Joseph was a slave and a prisoner and eventually Joseph was exalted to a position of authority in Egypt. All along God was working behind the scenes in Joseph’s life to preserve Israel and bless the world. Even today God is with those who trust in him, and He works out everything in our lives for our good (Romans 8:28). We cannot assume that God will turn our adverse circumstances around in the same fashion as Joseph’s were. However, this story encourages us that God works even through the difficult times in our lives for our good. God promises to work out everything in our lives according to His plan to restore this world and redeem a people for Himself (Romans 8:19-21, 28, Acts 3:21).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Joseph and his Brothers in Canaan (Gen.37,39).

God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The fulfillment would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac and not Ishmael, and through Isaac’s son Jacob and not Esau. Jacob disguised himself as Esau, so that Isaac gave Jacob the Abrahamic blessing (Gen.12:1-3). Esau planned to kill Jacob, so Jacob went to live with his Uncle Laban and eventually married Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Jacob had twelve sons through Leah, Rachel and their maidservants. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, gave birth to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and later Rachel died while giving birth to Jacob’s twelfth son, Benjamin (35:18-19).   This takes us to the story of Joseph and his brothers in Canaan (Genesis 37, 39:1-6). Watch or listen to the story and read the comments below.

Jacob and his family were settling down in Canaan, their promised homeland. When Joseph, Jacob’s son through his beloved wife Rachel, was seventeen he brought Jacob a bad report about his brothers. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons and gave Joseph a special robe. Joseph’s brothers resented their father favoring Joseph and the bad report about them didn’t help (Gen. 37:2, 5, 9). Jacob’s father Isaac had favored his brother Esau and now we find Jacob doing the same thing. Like Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau before them now we find the sons of Jacob at odds with one another. 

Joseph had two relatively straight forward dreams.  The brothers were gathering wheat when Joseph’s bundle stood upright while the bundles of his brothers bowed down to it. In the second dream the sun and moon and eleven stars bow before Joseph. His brothers understood from the dream that Joseph planned to rule over them and they hated Joseph all the more. Even Jacob rebuked Joseph for suggesting that Jacob and Rachel would also bow before Joseph.  Joseph seemed oblivious to how his dreams affected his family. The dreams stirred up jealousy and hatred in his brothers but Jacob kept the matter in mind (See Luke 2:51).

Now Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers while they were grazing their flocks in Shechem (Gen.34). Joseph was wandering around in the fields when a man told Joseph that his brothers had gone on to Dothan. When his brothers see Joseph approaching they plotted to kill Joseph and put an end to his dreams. They would kill Joseph, throw him in a cistern and say he was killed by a wild animal.  Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob through Leah, persuaded the brothers not to kill Joseph. He wanted them to throw Joseph in the cistern so he could rescue him and return Joseph to their father (37:19-22). Ironically, Joseph was helped by the Canaanite man only to be betrayed by his own brothers.  

When Joseph arrived, his brothers tore off his robe and threw him into the cistern. As they sat down to eat some Ishmaelite traders passed by on their way to Egypt.  Judah suggests that it would be more profitable for them to sell Joseph as a slave than to kill him. So they sell Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites who take Joseph to Egypt (37:26-28). When Reuben returned to the cistern Joseph was gone. Reuben was the firstborn but he slept with his father’s third wife Bilhah, and Jacob found out (29:32, 35:22). Rescuing his fathers’ favorite son might put Reuben back in his father’s favor. However, Reuben’s leadership and his plan proved to be futile (37:29). Reuben went to his brothers who dipped Joseph’s robe in goat’s blood so that it would look like a like a wild animal had killed Joseph.

The brothers took the bloody the robe to their father to identify. Jacob concluded that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal so Jacob mourned for Joseph. Then the brothers who had caused their father’s grief tried unsuccessfully to comfort him. Jacob said he would go to his grave grieving the loss of son, Joseph. Meanwhile, the Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph became a slave in Egypt but the LORD was with Joseph. The Lord blessed everything Joseph did so Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household. Then the Lord blessed everything in Potiphar’s house so he only concerned himself with the food he ate.  Joseph was a slave in Egypt, but God was with Joseph and made him successful even in his adversity. God even used the malicious acts of his brothers to preserve Jacob’s family and to accomplish His plan for them. 

Through adversity Joseph acted honourably and at the right time God honoured Joseph. In a similar fashion the Lord Jesus would rejected by his people, betrayed by a brother, and sold for a few pieces of silver. Yet God would see Jesus’ suffering and in time God would exalt Jesus for the good of his people (John 1:11, Isa.53:11, Phil.2:8-9).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jacob Wrestles with God (Gen.32).

God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The fulfilment would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac. Later Isaac’s wife, Rebekah gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. Now Isaac wanted to bless Esau but Rebekah disguised Jacob as Esau so that Isaac unknowingly blessed Jacob with the Abrahamic blessing (Gen.12:1-3). Isaac made it clear that Jacob would indeed be blessed so Esau planned to kill Jacob. So Jacob went to Paddan Aram to the home of his Uncle Laban. On his way to Haran, Jacob fell asleep and dreamed of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. Above the stairway was the Lord who promised Jacob multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The Lord also promised to watch over Jacob and to bring him back to the land. Jacob called the place Bethel, God’s house.

In Paddan Aram Jacob met his Uncle Laban and eventually married Laban’s two daughters, Rachael and Leah. Leah bore Jacob six sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Rachael gave her maidservant, Bilhah, to be Jacob’s wife and Bilhah had two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Leah gave her maidservant, Zillah to be Jacob’s wife and she bore two sons, Gad and Asher. Then the Lord gave Rachael a son for Jacob who she named Joseph. The Lord prospered Jacob and Jacob sought to return to his homeland. Laban pursued Jacob but the Lord warned Laban not to the harm Jacob. The two men made a covenant not to interfere with each other so Jacob went on to his homeland.  This takes us to the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Listen to or watch the story and read the comments below.
Sometime after Rachael gave birth to Joseph, God told Jacob to return to the ‘promised land’ (Genesis 31:3, 13). God protected Jacob from his Uncle Laban’s wrath but now would he protect Jacob from his brother, Esau (31:24, 29, 52). 20 years earlier Esau had consoled himself with the thought of killing Jacob (27:41). Now as Jacob was on his way home, God gave Jacob a vision of angels (32:1-2). Jacob’s years away from the land are bracketed by two visions of angels (28:12, 32:1). Then Jacob sent messengers to Esau who returned saying that Esau was coming with 400 men (32:6). Jacob humbles himself before Esau with the hope of restoring their relationship (Gen. 32:5). Now that Jacob would have to face Esau, he divided his family into two groups so that if one was attacked, the other might escape (Gen. 32:8). So Jacob prays acknowledging that he is unworthy of God’s love (Gen. 32:9-10). Jacob left home with nothing, but now he had a large household! Then he prays for the Lord to rescue his household from Esau. Afterwards Jacob sends tribute to appease Esau then he planned to spend the night alone in preparation (Gen. 32:13-23).  

Jacob sends his family and his possessions across the river and stays behind alone. Before Jacob faced Esau he would have to wrestle with this unusual man all night long. This would be the fight of Jacob’s life and a fight which Jacob was determined not to lose (Gen. 32:24). When the man saw that he couldn’t overpower Jacob, he simply touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (Gen. 32:26). As daybreak approached the man told Jacob to let him go. But Jacob wouldn’t let him go until the man blessed him. When asked, Jacob told the man his name and the man changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Esau had said how Jacob was rightly named for he had twice deceived Esau, but now Jacob would be called ‘Israel’ for he had wrestled with God and man and had overcome. When Jacob wanted to know the man’s name the man blessed Jacob. Then Jacob called the place Peniel because there he saw God face to face and lived (32:30). As the sun rose it was a new day for Jacob and as he left Peniel he walked with a limp. God hindered Jacob’s ability to walk, gave him a new name and worked a permanent change in Jacob’s life. He was now Israel but for the rest of his earthly life he would still be part Jacob.

Following the Lord is like a wrestling match in which we are called to relentlessly cling to God. Jacob’s encounter with God didn’t lead to life of ease but to a painful crippling. After striving with God the clever and able Jacob would now walk with a limp. In the same way God calls us to cling to Him even when it seems like God is against us. In this life we are promised troubles—but we are to ‘take heart’ for Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). Our Lord Jesus wrestled with God and with men even to the point of death on a cross. As ‘true Israel’ Jesus clung to God and prevailed over sin and death on our behalf. Jesus struggled with God so that we might share in his victory. Jesus endured the cross for us and now through our struggles we can become more like him (Phil. 3:10–11). This story encourages us to relentlessly cling to Jesus with all our strength, for he promises to never let us go.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jacob's Dream at Bethel (Gen.28).

God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The fulfillment would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac. When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, became pregnant the babies in her womb were jostling and the Lord revealed that there were two peoples in Rebekah’s womb and that the older son would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23). Now when Isaac was old and blind he wanted to bless Esau before he died. But Rebekah disguised Jacob as Esau and Jacob claimed to be Esau, so that unknowingly blessed Jacob. Isaac said the nations and his brothers would serve him. Also, Isaac restated the blessing given to Abraham (Gen.12:1-3) that whoever cursed him would be cursed and whoever blessed him would be blessed. Later Esau came in to be blessed and Isaac trembled violently when he realized he had blessed Jacob. Isaac told Esau that he had given the blessing to Jacob and that Jacob would be blessed! Isaac made it clear that even though Jacob had acted deceitfully the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant belonged to Jacob. Esau wept bitterly and comforted himself with the thought of killing Jacob. 

When Rebekah found out that Esau wanted to kill Jacob she told to flee to her brother Laban in Haran. When Esau was no longer angry Rebekah would send for Jacob. Then Rebekah told Isaac that her life wouldn’t be worth living if Jacob took a Canaanite wife. So Isaac commanded Jacob not to take a Canaanite wife but to a wife from among the daughters of Laban, his mother’s brother. Isaac blessed Jacob and said, “May God Almighty bless you and your descendants with blessing given to Abraham.” Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way to Laban, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. Now this takes us to the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10–22). Watch or listen to the story and read the comments.   
Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah, sent Jacob to Haran to get a wife from Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Yet, Jacob was also fleeing from his brother Esau, who wanted to kill Jacob for taking Esau’s blessing. The scene quickly darkens reminding us that this is a dark time in Jacob’s life. The setting of the sun also recalls the time when God made His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15). That put a stone under his head shows us that Jacob now has nowhere to lay his head. He rests his head on a stone, falls asleep and sees in a dream a stairway resting on the earth and reaching up to heaven. So Jacob is being exiled from the ‘promised land’ for stealing his brother’s birth-right and his father’s blessing.

Jacob sees this stairway intersecting heaven and earth and the angels of God are ascending and descending on the stairway. Above the stairway is the Lord who speaks to Jacob saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your fathers Abraham and Isaac.” Jacob is being ‘exiled’ but the Lord speaks to Jacob. The Lord chooses to reveal Himself to Jacob while Jacob is running for his life. This is the God of Jacob’s father’s Abraham and Isaac and He promises to give that the land promised to Abraham and Isaac would be given to Jacob and Jacob’s descendants. Jacob’s descendants will be as innumerable as the dust of the earth and they will spread out in every direction and all people throughout the earth will be blessed through them.

The Lord also promises that Jacob’s journey will be a successful one. Not only will Jacob find a wife and have children but the Lord will be with Jacob and watch over Jacob wherever Jacob goes. The God of Jacob’s fathers is identifying Himself with Jacob and promises Jacob innumerable descendants to bless the world. In addition to these massive promises the Lord adds the promise of God’s own personal presence so that the Lord will watch over him wherever Jacob goes. So the Lord of his fathers will be with Jacob, the deceiver, and will not only watch out for Jacob wherever Jacob goes but the Lord will bring Jacob back to this land. The land where Jacob is laying his head will be his and the Lord will fulfill His promise for Jacob.  

Jacob awoke and thought of how he didn’t even realize that the Lord was in that place. The reality of the presence of the Lord in that place was awe inspiring for Jacob. Jacob must have felt like he had really messed up and so even as Jacob was fleeing Esau God shows up and reveals Himself to Jacob. Jacob was unaware of God’s presence and had no idea that God would show up and confirm that Jacob would inherit the Abrahamic blessing. He was fleeing because his brother Esau wanted to kill him but the God of Abraham and Isaac shows up to bless Jacob. The presence of was so real, so awesome that Jacob in holy ‘fear’ Jacob said, “This is an awesome place! This is the house of God! It is the gate of heaven!” So for Jacob that place would become for Jacob the house of God and very gate of heaven!

So early that very next morning when Jacob woke up he took the stone from under his head and he set it up as a pillar. For Jacob the stone would become a kind of monument or a reminder of the Lord’s presence. Jacob poured oil on the stone and he called the place Bethel (God’s house). Then Jacob vowed that if God would be with Jacob, watch over him, provide him food and clothing, and bring him safely to his father’s house then the Lord would be Jacob’s God and Jacob would give God a tenth of whatever he would receive from the Lord. So Jacob vows that if God will do what God had said then God will be Jacob’s God. Jacob adds the further condition of the provision of food and clothing and a safe return to his father’s house. So Jacob makes this conditional vow to that is dependent upon God fulfilling his promises to Jacob. Jacob has done nothing to deserve God’s favor and his conditional vow shows that Jacob has a long way to go but