What We Offer to the Lord

I. Introduction

I’ve always joked that if I was ever asked to teach a lesson from the book of Leviticus, I would focus on the evils of shellfish. I’m allergic to shellfish – did any of you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? And after another one of his disastrous dates where he eats some shrimp and his face gets all puffy and swollen and they have to go to the drugstore and buy a bottle of Benadryl? That’s what happens to me, I was going to bring in some shrimp gumbo and teach a lesson that would be unforgettable and maybe end in a hospital visit.

Well, we’re studying Leviticus this week, but, for some reason, the Holy Spirit didn’t lead me to do any shellfish experiments. That’s a good thing for all of us, I think. Turns out there’s a more meaningful lesson in Leviticus today.

One of the best investors of the last fifty years was a nice Jewish fellow named Bernard. His clientele was hand-picked; you practically had to be invited to invest with him. He was always generous and never lost money. His background on Wall Street was impeccable, and investors bragged about how well their investments were performing. By September 2009, there was $36 billion invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.

I’m sure you know the name by now. Of that $36 billion, Bernie Madoff reported that he had grown their investments to $65 billion, but he hadn’t. In fact, he had spent or lost half of it. A lot of this money was stolen from Jewish charities like Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Yeshiva University, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation. Thousands of people who thought they had a great retirement invested with Bernie Madoff found their entire savings gone.

If you had given your money to somebody to invest for you – you give them $100 because they promised to make it grow to $200 and give it back to you – but instead you found they invested it in a nice dinner at Perry’s Steakhouse and ate it, how would you feel?

If the court system said that out of the $100 you invested, you can have $50 back but you have to give $30 to your lawyer, would you feel justice was served?

What if the court made the scammer give back your $100 in full, would that make everything right? Would the scammer then be guilt-free?

As Christians, we are saved by the grace of God, and all of our sins are forgiven, paid by the penalty on the cross. And as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that doesn’t mean we have no sin. And even though we are forgiven, solid Christian living and the gracious forgiveness we receive from God does not mean we do not have obligations and repercussion because of our sin. Today we’re going to see what God asks us to do when we have sinned because it’s the right thing to do.

II. Atonement for Sin

Throughout first half of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions for how to lead His people and how to maintain a relationship with the Lord. The concept of sacrifice was established, where the innocent could pay the price of the guilty or as a method of worship. There are several types of sacrifices for which God provided instructions.

Let’s look at the types of sins and the sacrifices that go with them.

Leviticus 1 describes the Burnt Offering. Leviticus 1:3-4,

If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.

What is atonement? Sometimes it’s spelled At-One-Ment. We are sinful people, inherited separation from God because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Atonement is making peace with God, asking for forgiveness. It’s our reconciliation, that we may still have a relationship with the Almighty God even though there is sin in us that He cannot abide.

This burnt offering provides a one-ment with God. The burnt offering required a blood sacrifice of an innocent animal. This offering was not shared by the priests; the offering was completely consumed, completely dedicated to the Lord. Verse1:17 says this aroma was pleasing to the Lord; the Lord is pleased, not for the death but for the reconciliation.

Today, we no longer sacrifice burnt offerings. We now have eternal reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is misunderstood by many of those outside the Christian faith – the sacrifice of the Son of God is not what pleases Him. It is the reconciliation with His children that pleases the Lord.

III. An Offering of Gratitude

God’s desire to have a relationship with us, especially considering throughout history how we have rejected the Lord, should fill us with gratitude that the Lord pursues us until we turn from sin and turn to Him. The offering described in Leviticus 2 is the grain offering and is offer to express our gratitude, our faithfulness to God, our commitment to a life that is pleasing to the One who created us.

Leviticus 2:14-16,

If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.

So our gratitude to the Lord is shown by our willingness to give to God the best of what we have, our firstfruits. And again, when this offering is burned by the priest, verse 9 says the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. Unlike the burnt offering that was totally consumed in dedication to the Lord for our sins, this offering belongs to the Lord and for the use by Aaron and his sons, the Levitical priesthood.

Today, we don’t bring grain offerings, but we still offer our firstfruits in gratitude to the Lord. Today, this is our tithe. Where God has blessed us, we acknowledge our thanks that all things are provided by the Lord, we give thanks for allowing us to be good stewards of His gifts by returning the best of what we have, the best of which already belongs to the Lord.

IV. An Offering of Fellowship

The next offering is one of peace and fellowship. Leviticus 3:5 says the offering should be an unblemished animal from the flock that is burned on the alter as food, and the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. The food is to be shared by all the people, including the priests, and a portion is to be set aside for the Lord.

Our fellowship, one with another, is why we’re here. We learn to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. We learn how to be gracious and giving, as the Lord has been gracious and giving toward us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves in celebration of the Lord’s love for us.

Our relationship with each other is so very important to the Lord. Matthew 5:23-24 says,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Our relationship with each other is so important that if we are at odds, God wants us to forgive each other far more than He wants our offering. Why is this?

I believe there are several reasons for this. A rift between brothers and sisters is like a wound or a sore in the body of Christ. It keeps the church from functioning well, and it keeps us from showing the light of Christ in our lives to others. If we are at odds with one another, it shows that we truly don’t understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died for us, not because we’re basically good people and we deserve a good sacrifice once in a while. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

V. The Sin Offering

We’ve had three offerings so far – the burnt offering for atonement, the grain offering of thankfulness, and then the barbecue, the offering of fellowship. These are essentially offerings of worship for our communion with God and with one another. All three of these were offered on the altar in the compound of the Tabernacle.

The fourth offering is similar to the offering of atonement, but it’s not made so much in worship but in payment for our sins. And like Jesus, who paid for our sins on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, this offering is made outside of the camp. Leviticus 4 describes the offering in payment for our sins.

The common word throughout this chapter is the word “unintentional.” This offering assumes the follower has the right heart and is following the Lord’s commands, and the sins he commits are unintentional. While the Lord will not look upon sin, this indicates that not all sin is viewed the same way. The unintentional sin can be atoned by a sacrifice to the Lord as payment. The defiant, intentional sin is different. Look at the book of Numbers, chapter 15 for a moment. Numbers 15 also addresses offerings made to the Lord, and Numbers 15:22 also addresses offers for unintentional sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says,

But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.

We talk about sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is something we do. Lying, cheating, stealing are sins of commission. And then there is the sin of omission – something we should have done, but didn’t. We should have tithed, we should have shared Christ, we should have offered help to our neighbor. Unintentional sins can be either be by omission or commission.

There is no offering prescribed for a defiant sin. One cannot praise the Lord with all his heart, yet at the same time thumb his nose at the Lord’s commands. His guilt remains on him; how awful, how terrible, to pay the price for one’s own sin, for Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. A defiant sin acts like a wedge between us and the Lord and drives us away from His love and compassion. Romans 1:21 talks about defiant sin; it says that while wicked men knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but instead claimed to be wise and instead made themselves foolish. God therefore gave them over to their own sinful desires.

God doesn’t force us to love us. In fact, God gives us exactly what we want. If we want an eternity in the presence of Jesus, we can have it simply by confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior. And if we do not want God’s influence in our lives, He will make that part of our eternity instead. Defiant sin is a terrible thing. But the unintentional sin of the Christian is paid for by the blood of Christ.

VI. The Guilt Offering

The last offering described by Moses is the guilt offering. This is repayment of the harm caused by the sin. While many times sin can be against another person, sin is always against the will of God. Leviticus 5 says that if one sins, one must make full restitution.

Leviticus 5:1-5 mentions several ways one could sin; verse 1 talks about keeping silent when he should speak, perhaps of witnessing a crime but choosing not to do anything about it. Verse 2 and 3 talk about our actions, of doing things that offend the Lord. And verse 4 talks about the sins of the tongue, of cussing and swearing and breaking oaths. Look at the last part of verse 4 –

even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.

When does a sin become a sin? When you commit the sin, or when you learn about the sin?

A couple of months ago, headed to work out Highway 59, I exited Williams Trace. I approached the intersection; the light was red but there was nobody in the intersection. After looking carefully, I turned right on red, a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas.

The red light camera thought different. They took not only a nice picture of my license plate but also a nice video and posted it on the web for me to see. And I watched the video and had no idea why they were sending me a ticket.

I didn’t come to a complete stop; while that camera has been there for years and I’ve worked there for years, I apparently had never approached that intersection on red with nobody in front of me. Since I didn’t come to a complete stop first before turning, I got a ticket. I was guilty. Was I guilty when I first received the ticket, or when I turned the corner on red without coming to a complete stop?

We are guilty of sin when we commits the sin, whether we realize we did it or whether we even knew it was a sin. But when we realize we have committed a sin, we are to confess the sin.

When I was growing up, apparently I was a boy. Boys can be trouble sometimes, so I’ve heard. But not me. When something bad happened around the house, when the lamp was broken or, say, you were five years old and tipped over 2 50 lb bags of dog food in the garage and ran over it with your tricycle, making wonderful little crunching noises until all the dog food was a fine powder that covered the entire garage… hypothetically, of course. My mother would line the three of us kids up, my sister, my brother, and me, and say, “If one of you don’t confess, all three of you will get a spanking!” And my sister would crack under the pressure and confess. Every time. So… she was really the guilty one, right?

My sister and I are close and we joke about this now, but I realize studying for this lesson that it’s a long ago sin, but I’m guilty. I’ve never made restitution, and I should leave my offering on the altar and make sure things are right with her after all these years. I would have apologized earlier, but it was all her fault I didn’t. No, no, I mean I confess my transgression and go make things right. It doesn’t matter when I knew it was wrong, it’s never the wrong time to go apologize and make things right.

When the sin is committed against another person, restitution must be paid more than in full. Look at Leviticus 5:16 –

He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven.

Bernie Madoff stole billions that he can never repay, and for his crime he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Remember the $100 that our so-called friend promised to invest for us but spent it at Perry’s steakhouse? If we discover that we have sinned against another and we have to make restitution, do more than what is expected to make up for it. Pay back $120 instead of the $100 borrowed. And if they want you to walk a mile for them, walk two. And if they strike you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek, too.

VII. Conclusion

We talked about five offerings in Leviticus 1-5. An offering for the atonement of sin so that we may have fellowship and worship of the Lord. An offering of gratitude, to give to the Lord the best we have to offer. An offering of fellowship, of loving our neighbor as ourselves and a celebration of belonging to the body of Christ. And then an offering for our sins and an offering for our guilt and to make restitution and go over and above to make sure things are right between ourselves, the Lord, and between each other, no matter when we discover we have sinned.

And we can give thanks that God himself loved us so much that He provided the ultimate offering as payment for our sins, His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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Amazing Deliverance

I. Introduction

Who in this class has a collection? Dolls, thimbles, something else?

I used to collect pennies when I was a young teen. I’d go through my grandfather’s big jar of coins looking for specific pennies I didn’t have. The oldest penny I had was from 1916, if I recall correctly. Once, based on something I read, I took a magnet to my grandfather’s old coins and discovered two 1943 pennies made of steel. These coins bring back memories, as I’m sure the thimbles and dolls collected by some of you also bring back memories.

We try to protect precious memories. One of the most important memories I have is the day I married Diane for the second time. God had delivered me from my own bad mistakes and healed a broken marriage in a way no person could have done, and He did it on a specific and perfect timetable that I can look back on and remark upon His miracle. We celebrate this anniversary annually; it marks a new beginning of our family. It’s important to do something to commemorate our anniversary because it renews our memories of this important day. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten.

Today we’re going to study how God asked His people to remember when God moved His hand to deliver His people from bondage. Have you ever found yourself trapped by something? A struggle that you cannot free yourself from? Traps can be physical, like those 50 ships, including 2 passenger ferries, stuck in the Baltic Sea when it froze over a couple weeks ago. One of the cruise ships had 1000 people on it; ice breakers sent to rescue them also got stuck as the ice froze over as fast as it was broken. Traps can be emotional, they can be financial, the can be spiritual.

So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites. Who needs deliverance? Why do we need deliverance? How can you experience the Lord’s amazing deliverance?

God delivers us from life’s traps. It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.

Last week Theresa taught us about 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and how each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart. Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, really bad acne, um, halitosis, I forget the whole list. Still, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague. Let’s see how He prepares His people.

II. Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 –

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.

God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance. This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar. To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select an unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice.

Besides teaching us to commemorate the hand of the Lord, and how the Lord will deliver us, we also the beginning of the concept of atonement, or substitutionary death. Why was it important for the lamb to be unblemished, free of any defect?

How did Jesus meet this criteria? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says that we were not saved by perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29 the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. The lamb was innocent of any wrong doing. Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, you and me. And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail. We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh. If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death. Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations. God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creations; the old has gone, the new has come!” God delivers us.

I remember vividly when I gave my life to Christ. I was old for a Christian, having spent my life claiming to be a Christian but living for myself, and gave myself to the Lord in the fall of 1998 at the age of 37. Got baptized in a swimming pool in Singapore. Do you have a new life in Christ? When did it begin? How has god provided a full life since then?

III. Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency. Exodus 12:6-11 –

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Remember the traps we talked about? Being stuck in the ice, financial traps, emotional traps? God tells the Israelites to eat in haste. Why is there urgency is being delivered from those traps? God is forever, but our earthly lives are not. Eventually, the sand runs out of our hourglass. We are now on a mission, the Great Commission, and we have a deadline. And we don’t even know when the deadline is, but it surely is coming. Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

What does God expect from us? God expects us to be obedient to Him, to trust in Him because He know all. God expects us to become more and more Christ-like, to become sanctified through the Word. God expects us to be a light to all, to be submissive to each other and strengthen each other. God expects us to spread the word, make new disciples that will continue to spread the gospel long after we’re gone.

God wants us to remember all these things. If we are going to experience the deliverance from God and expect others to also experience God’s deliverance, it’s urgent we practice obedience now. God expects us to take our mission seriously and urgently. And whatever traps us now, there is an urgency to surrender that to God and just let Him deliver us. We cannot move forward as long as we let something hold us back.

We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God. When Julie taught us that the smallest amount of sin in our lives would cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah, it was a vivid picture of how far we are from trying to earn our way into heaven. God tells his people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel. These are not baking instructions. Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12, “How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Blood is life. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood. They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on. Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” It is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.

For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage. For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

So is it any wonder that God told the Israelites to make their preparations with haste?

IV. Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God. Verse 12-13 –

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn. Who was judged this night? Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess. And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them. Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature. God says, “I am the Lord.” He stands apart, holy. All other gods are demons. Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God. And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson. It gets our attention like nothing else in this world. And it’s unavoidable. It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods. When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished. When Israel believed, thousands lived. And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven. And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night? Everyone, was it not? Who received mercy that night? What was the sole distinguishing mark that granted the Israelites divine mercy?

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Who needs mercy now? And who receives mercy? This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath. His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him. But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him. He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage. We are free in Christ.

God is our deliverer. Psalm 68:20, “God is unto us a God of deliverances; And unto Jehovah the Lord belongeth escape from death.” Psalm 40:17, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 144:2, “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer.” God’s divine mercy has freed us from our traps through Jesus Christ. There is no reason to remain in bondage, halleluiah.

V. Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus. Exodus 12:14 –

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

Why did the people of Israel need a permanent statue? What would this memory do for them when they faced hard times later?

Do rituals save us? What rituals do churches observe today?

1 Corinthians 11:23-28 describes why we eat of the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Rituals can enslave us if we make the ritual the point instead of a remembrance. The whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember the divine sacrifice Jesus made for us and to remember to examine ourselves to see if we are living lives pleasing to the Lord. That is the reason we commemorate God’s amazing deliverance and pass those memories down to future generations. So that they, too, may be delivered from their bondage.

VI. Conclusion

Trying to commemorate a deliverance that hasn’t occurred is meaningless. How can we be certain we have experienced God’s love in salvation?

Our goal today was twofold: We want to be certain each of us has experienced God’s amazing deliverance, and we want to be sure to commemorate our deliverance so that we never forget and that others know of God’s plan for salvation. And if you are in a trap or bondage that you have not surrendered to the Lord, it’s about time we give it to the Lord and surrender to Him. We are free in Christ.

We can experience a new beginning when we trust in the Lord for our deliverance and obey His instructions. The Lord gives us a sense of urgency, for we do not know the day when the Lord returns. God’s deliverance is an amazing display of his divine mercy for which we should be eternally thankful. We can show our thanks for our deliverance by continually remembering and celebrating the Lord and all He has done for us. Give thanks today and remember.

Compassionate Action

I. Introduction

It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.

What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?

Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.

We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.

The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.

How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.

What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?

Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.

I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.

For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.

So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.

But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?

I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?

II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice

Exodus 2:23-25,

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.

God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?

Psalm 121:1-2,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?

Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.

While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.

But Proverbs 3:34,

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.

III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself

And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.

God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.

How does God reveal Himself to you?

What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?

Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.

What characteristics of God are revealed to us?

Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful

God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.

An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”

A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”

Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.

But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.

Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) –

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!

He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.

God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.

IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action

Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.

When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.

God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?

I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.

Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?

And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”

What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’

V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders

It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 –

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?

God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.

And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.

God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.

Reconciliation

Sweet treats for everybody; I’d like to pass out some candy favors today; little pieces of sweetness as a symbol of the wonderful friends we’ve developed in this class.

(For my illustration today, I’ll pass out little candy favors to everybody, but “accidentally” overlook Margaret.)

Sometimes big conflicts can fracture a relationship. Sometimes, little things do. Perhaps it’s something as simple as accidentally overlooking somebody, or even perhaps intentionally overlooking somebody. Everyone except Margaret received a piece of candy. I know I’m partially at fault, but maybe I’m ashamed that I overlooked her. Perhaps the look on her face let’s me know she’s upset and I don’t want to deal with her emotions. Left unchecked, a little thing can fester into a big thing, and then one day we find we’re no longer on speaking terms.

I need to get things right; I’m sorry I left you out. Would you like a piece of candy?

Loss of friendship hurts. It hurts us, it hurts them. Dealing with the hurt is hard; sometimes there is mistrust or pain from verbal abuse and name calling. And if neither side apologizes or owns up to their contributions to the argument, the friendship is never healed. We just sort of coexist on the same planet. If somebody has caused pain to us or to a loved one, if hostility has been expressed by the other person or let’s face it, by us, reconciliation may seem a long way off.

If we feel the hurt was intentional or insensitive, we just don’t feel like reconciliation. In fact, sometimes we’d rather seek revenge. “They don’t deserve my friendship.” After a while, the separation becomes semi-permanent. Some want to just leave well enough alone; perhaps it’ll work itself out all by itself. Or perhaps, we just completely ignore the other person, avoiding any contact, because is there really a need to go through all that emotional pain again? Or perhaps we spend months or years waiting for the other person to come apologize to us. Each of these approaches end with a permanently broken relationship.

Q: Why do we ignore or avoid the other person rather than work toward reconciliation? Is reconciliation something you say, or is it something you do? Why?

Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Usually before you can reconcile with somebody, you have to forgive them. We often get confused about what forgiveness is; often we think we will forgive them if they ask for an apology, as though forgiveness is something we are offering to them. Forgiveness is not for them; who is forgiveness for?

Reconciliation comes after forgiveness and requires both parties to participate. Reconciliation is a change in both people who were once at odds with each other. While forgiveness is something we should always do, reconciliation is only something we can initiate, and also depends on the other person to reciprocate. Chris’s lesson last week talked about how to decide if the other person is ready for reconciliation and today we’re going to build on that. God wants us to take whatever steps are necessary toward reconciliation with anybody we’re alienated from. Let’s turn to Genesis 43 and sort of summarize what’s going on so far.

In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain, all except the youngest, Benjamin, who stayed home with Jacob. Since Joseph was the governor of Egypt now, the brothers came to see him and bowed down with their faces to the ground, fulfilling the prophecy of the dream Joseph had as a boy. Joseph recognized them, but the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph in return for a lot of reasons. They had sold their brother into slavery years ago, and would not have expected him in this position and dressed so richly.

Joseph challenges his brothers to see if their hearts have changed, and accuses them of being spies. When the brothers mention that the youngest is still at home with their father, Joseph devises a test; he agrees to sell the brothers the grain they need, but they’re going to have to leave one of the brothers behind as hostage. Secretly in each brother’s sack of grain, Joseph puts the silver they used as payment back in their sack. Joseph then throws Simeon in jail and says that Simeon won’t be released unless the youngest brother is brought to him as well.

When the brothers arrive home, they discover the silver in the sacks and become frightened; they’re certain they’ll be accused as thieves if they return. Then Jacob starts complaining. First, years ago, he lost Joseph. Now the brothers have lost Simeon, and they want to take Benjamin away, too. Jacob refuses to le them go back to Egypt.

Then in Genesis 43, all the grain is gone, and Jacob finally says, ok, you must return to Egypt for more food. The brothers remind him that all the brothers must go, including Benjamin. Jacob complains, why oh why did you tell him you had a younger brother. Their answer is simple; the man asked, we told him.

Ok, Jacob says. You can take Benjamin. But take a lot of gifts with you this time, some balm and some honey and spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Also take along double the amount of silver. And Jacob places all his trust in the Lord in verse 14, “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you.”

By verse 19, the brothers had arrived back in Egypt and brought to Joseph’s house. They’ve been invited to dinner, and they’re scared.

So [the brothers] went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “Please, sir,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed low to pay him honor.

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

Joseph wants to desperately for his family to be reunited again, but can he trust his brothers? This last time he tested them, they delayed their return. Perhaps they weren’t ready. Are they ready now?

Genesis 44:1-5,

Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’ “

Why do you think Joseph put the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag? Joseph is seeking confirmation that the hearts of his brothers have changed. The brothers are now caught with the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. What are the possible responses Joseph could expect?

The brothers make a rash promise in verse 9; they believe they are innocent, so they say that if any of them is found with the cup, they will die and the rest of the brothers will be slaves. Fortunately in verse 10, the steward says that whoever has the cup will be a slave and the rest will be set free, and of course Benjamin has the cup.

Once, these same brothers threw Joseph in a well. They left him for dead, but then changed their mind and sold him into slavery. Their motive was probably jealousy and envy since Jacob clearly favored Joseph by giving him his Technicolor dreamcoat. Now the other favored son is in trouble. Joseph has an ideal test. Will the brothers sacrifice Benjamin, or will they try to save him?

The next several verses are very touching and show the changed hearts of Joseph’s brothers; in verse 16, Judah says that since they cannot prove their innocence, all of them will be slaves. The brothers will not abandon Benjamin. Joseph says that’s nonsense, only the youngest is a slave, the rest can go.

Judah came forward. He said, “Please, master; can I say just one thing to you? Don’t get angry. Don’t think I’m presumptuous—you’re the same as Pharaoh as far as I’m concerned. You, master, asked us, ‘Do you have a father and a brother?’ And we answered honestly, ‘We have a father who is old and a younger brother who was born to him in his old age. His brother is dead and he is the only son left from that mother. And his father loves him more than anything.’

“Then you told us, ‘Bring him down here so I can see him.’ We told you, master, that it was impossible: ‘The boy can’t leave his father; if he leaves, his father will die.’

“And then you said, ‘If your youngest brother doesn’t come with you, you won’t be allowed to see me.’

“When we returned to our father, we told him everything you said to us. So when our father said, ‘Go back and buy some more food,’ we told him flatly, ‘We can’t. The only way we can go back is if our youngest brother is with us. We aren’t allowed to even see the man if our youngest brother doesn’t come with us.’

“Your servant, my father, told us, ‘You know very well that my wife gave me two sons. One turned up missing. I concluded that he’d been ripped to pieces. I’ve never seen him since. If you now go and take this one and something bad happens to him, you’ll put my old gray, grieving head in the grave for sure.’

“And now, can’t you see that if I show up before your servant, my father, without the boy, this son with whom his life is so bound up, the moment he realizes the boy is gone, he’ll die on the spot. He’ll die of grief and we, your servants who are standing here before you, will have killed him. And that’s not all. I got my father to release the boy to show him to you by promising, ‘If I don’t bring him back, I’ll stand condemned before you, Father, all my life.’

“So let me stay here as your slave, not this boy. Let the boy go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? Oh, don’t make me go back and watch my father die in grief!”

Do you think Joseph sees the evidence of changed hearts? The brothers are all united here, even though they were allowed to go. Judah’s words and actions indicate that they are not willing to repeat the act they committed against Joseph many years ago. Judah originally had the idea to sell Joseph to the caravan. Now Judah is showing that he’s learned from his past mistakes. He’s learned how his actions have hurt his family, how his father grieves, and he’s reevaluated his life. Joseph can now see that Judah is a changed man.

Joseph spent much effort is seeking their hearts. His efforts will be different than the effort we should produce, unless you’re a servant of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Our efforts should include prayer, first of all. What other efforts can perform to see if another has a changed heart?

And now, the happy ending in Genesis 45. Joseph breaks down crying and reveals to his brothers that he is Joseph and asks if his father is still alive. Verse 4-7, instead of blaming his brothers, he demonstrates that he’s forgiven them and gives all the credit to God, who had a plan all along.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

This is the first occurrence in the bible of the word “remnant.” God’s people are rebellious, over and over again, and yet God always spares a remnant of righteous people who will survive.

Joseph urges his brothers to bring their father to Egypt, and then in verse 14, Joseph finally gets to hug his little baby brother after 22 years.

And they all lived happily ever after. And the moral of the story is…?

God is teaching us through the story of Joseph about the great joy there is in reconciliation. More than just forgiveness, reconciliation is restored relationships. In our married class, God has provided us with a spouse with whom we can express our love to each other. Sacrificial love, agape love, serving love, affectionate and intimate love. Such closeness can bring hurt, though. Uncaring words to a stranger bounce off; uncaring words to a spouse hurt. Thank our heavenly Father that we have such wonderful Christian spouses that share the same goals; how much more difficult in those marriages that do not share a love of Christ.

And when we fight with each other, we are given a chance to forgive each other, such as God forgives us of all the many things we do that could bring judgment on us. But with our spouse, His grand design is more than just forgiveness. When we wound each other as we eventually do, lingering unforgiveness can lead to distance in our marriage. We think somehow the distance will keep us from getting hurt even more. But is God’s plan for us merely to live separate lives in the same house, or are we to cleave and become one flesh? The lesson God teaches us through the story of Joseph is that changed hearts lead to reconciled relations. We learn these lessons first hand with our spouse. If there is coldness, bitterness, separateness, then changed hearts are needed. We should be seeking reconciliation daily to be as close to our spouse as we possibly can.

Craig introduced our new class motto this week, Ephesians 5:33. Here’s how God wants us to live, verses 22-33, from The Message,

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

Does that sound like we’re merely supposed to coexist with each other, or does God see our relationship with each other as special?

Reconciliation with our Christian brothers and sisters is also important to God. God tells us in Matthew 5:23 that gifts and service to God are secondary to our relationships with each other.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

God knows it’s not always possible. It requires changed hearts, and God allows us to harden our hearts. But Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As far as it depends on you. Seek a changed heart for yourself. Seek a changed heart in others. Then reconcile with each other.

And what reconciliation does God wants most of all? Our reconciliation with Him. We are born with hardened, selfish hearts. God watches, waits, calls to us, waiting for a sign that our hearts have changed. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:10 that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. God wants more than just to forgive us for our sins. God wants to reconcile with us. God wants a relationship with us.

When Joseph reconciled with his brothers, there was joy in the reconciliation. There is joy when we reconcile with our spouses, our families, our friends. And there is joy in heaven when we show a changed heart and seek a relationship with our Creator.

And then, they all lived happily ever after.

When All Hope Seems Lost

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 –

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 –

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 –

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 –

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 –

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 –

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 –

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 –

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.

God’s Dysfunctional Children

Dysfunctional: abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group.

We’ve been studying a dysfunctional family now for the last several weeks. They’re a mess! We had Abraham; Abraham had been promised by God that he would have so many children, as many as there were stars in the heavens. How long did Abraham wait before God answers? Over 80 years – and Abraham thinks that maybe it’s time for him to do things his own way. A godly decision would be to continue to wait on the Lord. A dysfunctional decision would be … to sleep with the maid, Hagar. And it was his wife’s Sarai’s idea! And then when Hagar gets pregnant, Sarai gets mad at Abraham and Hagar and tells Abraham to fix it. I’m sure Abraham was like, “but this was your idea, wasn’t it?” and Sarai would be like, “don’t give me that, just fix it.” So Abraham sends Hagar and her son, Ishmael, to live in the desert, and the bible says that Ishmael’s descendants live in hostility toward their brothers. Wonder why. Stars in the heavens, indeed, with these little supernovas going off.

Abraham finally has a son with Sarai, Isaac. Isaac probably grew up a little distrustful of Dad because Dad almost sacrificed him on an alter. Isaac marries Rebekah, and they have two children, Jacob and Esau. They play favorites with the children; Isaac likes Esau best, Rebekah likes Jacob. As Isaac lay dying, Rebekah and her son Jacob make a plan to steal the blessing from Esau. Then Esau’s mad as a hornet and wants to kill Jacob, so Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s home.

Jacob and Laban trick each other for years over Laban’s daughters and livestock, and Jacob eventually marries two daughters, Leah and Rachel. And Jacob runs from Laban back to Esau hoping that his brother won’t kill him. The two brothers sort of patch things up, and Jacob settles down with his wife Leah, who he didn’t really want to marry, but he has 6 sons with her, so I guess they got along ok. Two more sons with Rachel, and then for good measure, two son’s with Rachel’s slave Bilhah and two sons with Leah’s slave Zilpah. Twelve sons in all by four different wives, all living together. And of course, Jacob has learned from Isaac that he should play favorites, so he likes Rachel best, and her son Joseph best. One big happy, dysfunctional blended family.

We’ve actually learned quite a bit from this dysfunctional family.

a) The human nature is rebellion against God.

While we can point fingers at Abraham and Sarai and all their children and grandchildren and say, “what were they thinking?” stop for a moment and reflect on your own life. You are a believer in God. Have you ever rebelled? Romans 3:9-12 says,

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Not even one. Your life and my life is full of thoughts that rebel against God. Your life and my life is full of actions that betray the Lord. This can be caused by many different things; circumstances in our lives that cause us to wonder if God is in control. Or a lack of appreciation for our relationship with God, or our desire to do things our way instead of God’s way. All of this comes from our natural rebellious state. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all people of God and didn’t seek rebellion, but often fell into rebellion because they didn’t remain focused on God. We aren’t so different; we rebel, we pretend we are not rebelling, we miss God’s calling because we’re doing it our way instead of God’s way. We are the Lord’s dysfunctional children.

b) God is in control.

God knows more about us than we know about ourselves; God was able to accomplish His plans. God knows every human heart, and knew that Isaac and Rebekah would have favorites and that Jacob and Esau would feud. But God is in control no matter how much we rebel. The lessons learned by this family teach us that our own rebellious nature makes things harder on us and on the others around us. Whether we justify our behavior because “I deserve this” or “he did that first” or “she said that to me,” we initiate a chaos in our lives as our actions and reactions fail against God’s omnipotent plan for us. We blame the chaos in our lives on the actions of other people, and pretend that our own rebellious actions have no effect at all.

And now we come to the story of Joseph, born in the middle of a dysfunctional family. A grandfather who slept with a maid, cousins who dislike us, and uncle that wanted to kill his father, a mother who died at childbirth and half-brothers from a step-mother and two other slave mothers. Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 37:1-4,

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

I spent some time trying to figure out what Joseph was up to here. It appeared to me that Joseph was snitching on his brothers, but I think it goes deeper than that. The phrase “bad report” can also be translated “evil whisperings” or “malignant defamation.” Joseph was 17 by this time, and he’s probably old enough to decide that his brother’s comments were some sort of evil or threat against his father. Perhaps some of his trials are the result of a commitment to do the right thing. The right thing is not always easy to do, especially when others around us are not doing the right thing, either.

Joseph’s brothers hate him. Coming from a father with 2 wives, 2 concubines, and twelve half-brothers, all the half-brothers are affected by bad decisions from their parents. God is aware that our rebellious nature is inevitably going to lead to our chaotic lives. The sins of our parents cause damage in our lives and the lives of our children. Exodus 20:4-6, in God’s instruction not to worship idols, God says,

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 34:6-7,

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God is well aware that the rebellious nature of men and women lead to chaos in their children’s lives. But that is not an excuse to blame our rebellious disobedience on our parents and grandparents; look at Jeremiah 32:18-19,

You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

The disciples asked Jesus a similar question in John 9:1-3,

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

God knows about our chaos. He knows that our lives are in chaos because of not only our rebellion, but also the rebellion of our parents. But our dysfunction circumstances are not an excuse for even more dysfunctional rebellion. We are responsible for our own actions.

Why do you think Joseph’s brothers hate him?

Is Joseph responsible for the hatred of his brothers? Yes and no. In telling Jacob that his brothers were up to no good, Joseph was doing the right thing. That was his own action, and doing the right thing stirred up their anger. The right thing isn’t the easiest thing, and it may make those you are closest to mad at you.

But Joseph’s brothers hated him because of their father Jacob’s actions, too. They were jealous. Joseph was the second youngest son, but Jacob’s favorite. That’s not Joseph’s fault; he didn’t choose his mother or his order of birth. Joseph is dealing with people who hate him because of his own actions, other people’s actions, and just plain circumstances.

Do you think Joseph should have told his father what his brothers were up to?

In Genesis 37:5-10, Joseph shares his dreams with his brothers,

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Knowing that his brothers already hated him, did Joseph do the right thing by sharing his dreams with his brothers.

Some commentaries go into a study of discernment and speaking the truth in love here. I think there’s a lot to be said for that; sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes kindness should temper our words. On the other hand, Joseph has a faith and a walk with God like no other person in Genesis so far. If he knows what God says, should he keep his brothers in the dark, or should he tell them what he knows, even if they hate him for it?

I think it’s important we temper the truth with kindness. There’s nothing in the scripture here to indicate Joseph’s tone; he doesn’t appear arrogant. I think Joseph was correct in sharing the dream with his brothers because his brothers were a part of the dream, even if the dream added to his brother’s hatred of him. Why do you think Joseph shared the second dream with his family after the reaction they had to his first dream?

When we share the truth about God with others, whether they are believers or not, it’s important to be kind. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to speak the truth in love. What do you think that mean, to speak the truth in love?

Let’s read Genesis 37:12-19

Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Joseph is persistent in doing the right thing, following his father’s instruction. Jacob sends Joseph to check on the status of his brothers and the flocks, and sends him to Shechem about 60 miles north of Hebron, and when he gets there he travels another 15 miles to Dothan. Joseph’s brothers see him coming and plot to kill him. They call him “that dreamer” so they’re obviously still mad about Joseph’s dreams and perhaps plot to kill him to prevent the dreams from coming true.

Genesis 37:21-25

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Rueben was the oldest of the ten brothers there (Joseph was the 11th, and Benjamin wasn’t with them). Rueben has second thoughts about killing Joseph and convinces the other 9 brothers to throw him in a well instead. I don’t know where Rueben goes at this point; he’s making some sort of plan to rescue Joseph and he’s taken off somewhere. The other 9 brothers are callous; while Joseph is at the bottom of a dry well without food or water, they sit down to have a meal. Then a caravan comes by.

God’s control is amazing – many weeks before Joseph is thrown into the cistern, God has sent a caravan to be there at the right spot to pick up Joseph and take him to Egypt to complete God’s plan. How awesome is that?

Genesis 37:26-30,

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Judah comes up with an idea to sell Joseph for 20 sheckels of silver, the price of a slave. I find his justification for this interesting; “let’s not kill him, he’s our brother. Let’s sell him instead.” When we look at such simple reasoning, it looks silly, but we all do this. We convince ourselves that instead of doing something really horrible, we only did a little bad thing, then we pat ourselves on the back for how much we restrained ourselves.

Reuben returns at this point and finds Joseph is gone and Reuben’s upset. I don’t know what Reuben thinks happened; eventually, he must find out Joseph was sold, but for now, Reuben participates in this next deception in Genesis 38:31-36,

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

“All his sons and daughter came to comfort him” shows the hypocrisy of his children; the sons knew Joseph was alive and they were responsible for Jacob’s grief, yet they came to him to comfort him. Meanwhile, Joseph has been sold again, this time to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s trials are the result of his own actions, the actions of others, and his circumstances.

• What were Joseph’s actions that led to his trials?
• What were the actions of others that led to his trials? (Father’s favoritism, brother’s hatred)
• What were circumstances that tried him? (being born 11th of 12 sons)
• And a final question to think about: how long did Joseph have to wait to see the dreams from the Lord fulfilled?

Joseph waited on God for years and years and went through many more trials. Joseph accepted the trials that came with obedience. He could have used his circumstances as an excuse not to follow God; he could have said, I’m the 11th of 12 children; it’s up to Reuben to do God’s will. He could have found an excuse in the actions of others; I don’t have to follow God’s will anymore because this person said something to me or that person did something to me. Or he could have found an excuse in his own actions; hey, I did my part, now it’s up to somebody else.

But God understands our dysfunction; He knows who we are and He knows how we got here. He knows our circumstances. He knows our grandparents were in rebellion to Him and our parents were in rebellion to Him and that we are in rebellion. And He loves us anyway. What God wants for us is our spiritual maturity and a focus on Him, regardless of our circumstances. We are responsible for our own actions. Joseph came from a dysfunctional blended family, yet Joseph has a solid relationship with the Lord. The Lord wants us to learn patience and to wait on Him to complete His plan.

Wrestling with God


As we’ve learned the last few weeks, God has a plan for Jacob. Jacob knows this, too, but he’s still trying to do things his own way and for personal reasons. Jacob was the second son born of Isaac and Rebekah, and God had told Rebekah that the elder would serve the younger. Esau was born first and became Isaac’s favorite. Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite, but he was a deceiver and an opportunist. When Esau came home from hunting and was hungry, Jacob took advantage of Esau’s bad judgment and sold Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for a bowl of stew. If these two brothers weren’t fighting already, they’re fighting now.

When Isaac approached death, Isaac wanted to lay his blessing on Esau, but his eyesight was so poor, Rebekah and Jacob believed they could trick Isaac. They concocted a plan to give that blessing to Jacob by dressing him up in Esau’s clothes. They lied to Isaac. And when Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob.

Their family is now in complete chaos. Rebekah sends her favorite son to live with her father to save his life, and there’s no indication she ever saw her son again. When Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, he gets a taste of his own medicine. Jacob falls in love with Rachel and gives 7 years of work to Laban for her hand, but Laban tricks him, and Jacob marries Leah instead. Laban gives Rachel to Jacob also, but only in exchange for another 7 years of labor. The deceiver had been deceived.

After 20 years of mutually destructive behavior, Laban and Jacob are no longer getting along, and Jacob flees. Again. God tells Jacob to go back home. Jacob’s caught in a tough spot; Laban and his children hate him, but if he goes home, Esau wants to kill him. Jacob may have gained wealth from working his whole life, but his life is in shambles.

I think we gain some insight into Jacob’s character development at the end of Genesis 31; this is where Laban confront Jacob and Laban essentially agrees not to kill Jacob. Jacob defends his actions with these words in Genesis 31:42,

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.

Jacob acknowledges God is Abraham’s God and Isaac’s God, but I don’t see that he has acknowledged God is his own God. Jacob’s progression of faith is such that he knows who God is and even recognized God’s sovereignty, but he has not truly placed his trust in the Lord.

Well, maybe Esau’s no longer mad at him; it’s time to return home. Do you think 20 years away from home has eased the old wounds? Or do you think 20 years away from home has hardened Esau’s heart and made him more bitter? Do you think putting off his conflict for 20 years has fulfilled or delayed God’s promises to Jacob?

We pick up our story in Genesis 32 as Jacob begins his journey home. The angels of the Lord meet him. This must have been comforting to Jacob and it reminds him that the Lord had promised him back in Genesis 28 that the Lord was with him and would never leave him. Jacob was stressed out, not know what his reception would be like when he returned. In the Old Testament, the appearance of angels offered great comfort but often appeared just before times of great trial, like the appearance to Lot just before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Jacob is about to undergo an ordeal where he has to face up to his own deceitful character. Jacob had put himself in this predicament because he had stolen the blessing from Esau instead of relying on God, and now he’s going to have to face Esau and do things God’s way.

Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to Esau in verse 3.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ “

Jacob wants to tell Esau, oh hey, I’ve been gone 20 years, you probably wondered where I went. I went to see our uncle Laban he says Hi. I’m coming back now, and I’m bringing goats! P.S. Please don’t kill me. Verse 6,

When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Oh, this isn’t going to be good. Jacob’s coming with cattle and donkeys and sheep and goats and servants. Esau’s coming to meet him with 400 warriors. Verse 7-8,

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

I think I’d be afraid, too. Jacob is completely outmatched; Esau will have the anger and the manpower to crush Jacob’s little donkey and goat army. Jacob starts laying out his plans; he’s expecting Esau to attack, and Jacob makes plans for half of his party to escape should the other half be destroyed.

Jacob has a decision to make. Doing the right thing means reconciliation with Esau. We all want to do the right thing, don’t we? But doing the right thing is not easy. This is a crossroads that every believer must eventually face. What do I do, and how will I do it? When God calls me to do a most difficult thing, will I do what God wants? Or will I take the easy way, and do what I want?

Unfortunately, sometimes we take the easy and selfish way. In this class, we are closer to our spouse than any other human being on the planet. We should examine ourselves daily to see how God wants us to treat our spouse, but we’ve all discovered (and are still discovering) that being married comes with a few challenges. Will we do what God wants us to do? Or will we find some excuse? It’s too easy to say that we don’t have to do the right thing because our spouse does this or our spouse doesn’t do that. But God calls us to trust in Him. We face the same sort of decision Jacob faces. Will we do it God’s way, or will we do it our way?

God has promised Jacob that the land of Canaan will be his. In order to claim this promise, Jacob is going to have to face Esau in an honorable way, in a way that is obedient to the Lord’s will. But the last time Jacob saw Esau, Esau wanted to kill him. Loving God will require Jacob to love God more than he fears Esau. Doing the thing we resist most will gain peace with God. We must show God that we fear Him most in order to prove we love Him most.

What holds us back from experience the completeness of God’s love for us? Is it fear, like Jacob experiences? We’re afraid to do something that God wants us to do? Is it anger that holds us back when God wants us to forgive? Is it something worldly God wants us to surrender but we want to keep it selfishly? In Jacob’s case, he had selfishly destroyed his relationship with His brother, and God is calling him to repair it. Jacob had spent 20 years of his life, not wanting to face this moment. If Jacob was going to receive God’s promise, he was going to have to face the repercussions of his own actions.

And finally we see Jacob start to break, to finally start to realize that the God he knows, the God of Abraham and Isaac, is his God. Jacob has worked himself into a bind that he cannot fix with his usual deviousness and deceit, and now he needs help that no man can provide. And we see Jacob go to his knees in prayer, the first recorded time that Jacob prays . Genesis 32:9-12,

Then Jacob prayed,

“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ “

Effective prayer:
• Personal
• Humility
• Obedience
• God’s will

The prayer has many important elements of a prayer that God hears and responds to. He addresses God as God of his father and grandfather again, but he’s added “O LORD,” Jehovah God, the proper name of the one true God. Jacob’s God, Jacob’s Lord. No longer is God merely the God of his fathers, but it’s the “Lord who said to me.” It’s Jacob’s God.

He’s approaching the Lord with humility; Jacob praises God for His kindness and faithfulness, and he knows he is unworthy of this favor. When we pray with a sense of pride or a sense that we deserve this favor, our prayers are ineffective. When we know that we cannot achieve anything on our own, that whatever ability we have in itself comes from God, then we realize how much we need God in our lives. God is so much bigger than us, but our own egos tend to inflate our sense of worth. We are important to God, we are very important – but we’re not worthy of the love and grace He gives to us.

And Jacob is approaching God as an obedient servant; God told Jacob to return to Canaan, and as Jacob approaches God in prayer, Jacob tells God he trying to be obedient to Jehovah God. One of the keys to effective prayers is to come to the Lord with a sense of obedience. Jacob has a lot of guilt in his life, being deceitful with his father and brother. As Jacob prays, he’s acknowledging that obedience to the Lord is important.

And Jacob for the first time is his life seems to be praying for God’s will instead of his own. His prayer to God tells God that Jacob believes God’s promise that the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will be fruitful and multiply, but Esau is coming to slaughter the mothers and the children. When we pray with God’s long-term plans as our primary motive, we are far more likely to pray for the right thing and to do the right thing.

Now it is time for Jacob to fulfill his promise to the Lord that he made years earlier, back in Genesis 28:22 that Jacob will do the Lord’s will and return to Canaan. But there is an obstacle. It’s Esau. The anger in Esau is a direct result of Jacob’s bad behavior, of which Jacob must now repent. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that if we have a gift for the Lord our brother has something against us, we are to do 3 things in order – 1) leave the gift at the alter, 2) go and be reconciled with your brother, 3, come back and offer the gift. Often times our path to the Lord requires us to travel right through the family member we have the most difficult relationship with. Jacob is learning the Lord’s lesson that in his new spiritual growth and being obedient to the Lord, he is going to have to face Esau and his 400 warriors and reconcile with his brother.

Even after praying to the Lord, I think Jacob is still scared. In verses 13-21, Jacob arranges for a series of gifts to be sent ahead of him. Hundreds of goats, hundreds of sheep, camels, cows (my cow), bulls, and donkeys. Each herd is sent separately in waves, and each servant is to tell Esau that they are gifts from Jacob. And Jacob spends the night in the camp before meeting Esau the next day.

This is an interesting paradox. Because Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, this blessing was now a curse. The blessing that was promised by God was now the very thing that might get Jacob killed. The only thing that Jacob has to offer Esau is the very thing he stole from Esau in the first place.

No doubt praying to the Lord has given Jacob some wisdom on how to resolve the conflict with his brother. God gives us a brain and expects us to use it; just because we trust in the Lord doesn’t mean we give up and wait for the Lord to fix things for us. We pray and we act together.

In Genesis 32:22-23, Jacob send his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and all his sons and servant across the river, and he spends some time alone with God. Verse 24-31,

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Jacob is wrestling with “the man” and because of the word play in the original Hebew, it’s unclear exactly who Jacob wrestled with. Was it really a man? Perhaps it was an angel, or perhaps Jacob wrestled with his own conscience. The phrasing is probably intentionally ambiguous so that we focus on the wrestling and not the person. Ultimately it is the Lord that Jacob wrestles with, and Jacob realizes this. Up until this night, Jacob thought his struggle his whole life was with Esau or Laban, but it’s not. He realizes that his whole life, he’s been wrestling with God.

Jacob has made a spiritual journey that we all must travel. Often Christians will talk about “wrestling with God.” The struggle between our own will and God’s will is a daily battle. We want to do one thing; often God wants us to do something else. Some people struggle with addictions; others struggle with trying to keep their words and actions in harmony with what Christ wants from them. Sometimes God wants us to do something, but we don’t. And we wrestle with God. Or another time God wants us to stop doing something. And we wrestle with God.

Something that impressed me about Jacob’s struggle is that God will let us win. If we are so set in being disobedient to God, God does not force us to be obedient. C.S. Lewis once said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'” If we are so determined to have our own way, God will let us have it. Non-christians who want nothing to do with God, who want to have no relationship, nothing, zero. God will let him have his way, to spend eternity without God in his life.

God will also let Christians have their way. Christians that want to believe that their own special disobedience is ok can, indeed, continue their disobedience. One can be a Christian and continue to find they still have within them the evils of the heart listed in Matthew 15:19; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander. We are all unclean, and like it or not, we are probably guilty of one or more of the things on that list. We continually practice deceit like Jacob, and we continue to be disobedient. In fact, we have been disobedient so long, we no longer hear God calling to us in that area of our lives. We continue and continue to sin until we can no longer hear God, and then we wonder why God doesn’t hear our prayers. But we know that an effective prayer begins with obedience and humility; that is why David prayed in Psalm 139:23,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

David knew that praying to God to show him his own sin leads God to reveal his own offensive character to him, and that it would be painful and uncomfortable but would eventually lead to a closer relationship with God.

So Jacob wrestles with God, and God does not overpower Jacob. God is so much more powerful, but yet God is gentle with us as we wrestle with Him. God with a mere touch cripples Jacob. We think we can wrestle with God and win, but we really can’t. A mere touch from God is all it takes for God to win. God has control of the situation all along.

When Jacob wrestled with God, what was he wrestling over? What choices did he have?

Jacob is wrestling with the sin in his life by seeking to reconcile with his brother who he had defrauded when they were 20 years younger. This reconciliation is the right thing to do and Jacob knows it, but it places his life at risk. Esau wants to kill him. Will Jacob trust in himself and save his own life? Or will he risk his life doing God’s will? Jacob and God are wrestling over who gets to control Jacob’s life.

Once it’s clear to Jacob that God is in control, Jacob finally submits to God. His life of disobedience has come to an end. This is what God longs for, for each and every one of us, for us to give up selfish control of our own lives and seek God’s will in our lives. Jacob finally submits and does not ever want to lose the presence of God in his life. Jacob says, “I will not let you go.” Jacob thought by fighting with God and doing it his own way would yield the best possible outcome, and instead ended up fleeing from his father-in-law and afraid of his brother’s wrath. Perhaps he thought if he could fight God and win, he could fight anybody and win. But only by submission to God does Jacob finally begin to see that true strength lies in submission.

Jacob’s plea to God to never leave him is rewarded two ways. One is by God’s changing his name from Jacob to Israel. Jacob means “he grasps the heel;” Jacob was a heel, a deceiver. But now his name is Israel which means “struggles with God.” Jacob will continue to have days where he struggles to do God’s will, but gone are the days Jacob takes pride in his deception. The second sign is his limp, a sign of Jacob’s humility. He’s no longer the arrogant and prideful man, but a humble man whose strength comes not from himself but from his faith in God. Physically, he was weaker, but spiritually he was stronger.

One of the most important blessings one can receive from God is the promise He will never forsake us, that he will never leave us. When we are resisting God, we are walking in darkness. When Jacob’s life was darkest, family members trying to kill him and all alone in the camp along the river at night, he needed God to show him the way. Once Jacob wrestles with God and submits, daylight comes. Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

When we submit to God and seek Him, we walk out of darkness and into the light, just like Jacob.

God says to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” This is an important event in the Old Testament, because in Exodus 33:20 God will tell Moses that no one may see God’s face and live. God protects Jacob by withdrawing from him before daybreak and not showing his full glory to Jacob, but even so, Jacob does not come away unscathed. His limp will forever remind him of his struggle with God and remind him where his strength comes from. Paul had a similar struggle with the Lord when he pleaded for the Lord to take away his thorn in his flesh, but God tells Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. It’s only by submission and asking for God’s will that we get out of His way and let Him accomplish what He was going to do, with or without us.

When Jacob was in darkness, afraid and alone, he probably felt like God was very far away. How far away was God? When we wrestle with God, God is closer to us then than at any other times in our life. It feels like we’re alone in the dark, but God is there with us. It feels like a great struggle we face all alone in the dark, but it’s because we are not in submission to God that we feel we are alone. God is with us in our struggle. Once we turn from our rebellion and to Him for our strength, we walk out of the darkness and into the light and begin to see God’s blessings in our life. We, too, wrestle with God, and when we are submissive to his will, we see the day break.

Jacob finally begins to receive God’s blessings in Genesis 33. Jacob must have confidence that the Lord was with him the next day, but still fearful that Esau wanted to kill him. But the Lord was at work on Esau; Genesis 33:4 says Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him, and they wept together. God can do great miracles if we only submit to His will and let Him.

Effective prayer depends on our obedience and humility and a focus on God’s greater plans. When we wrestle with God, we often feel alone and in the dark, but God is closer to us when we wrestle with him and submit than at any other time of our lives. And when we submit with humility, we walk out of that darkness and into the light.