The Fall of Man

  I.      Introduction

As you may have noticed, my bible is entirely electronic.  I have a traditional paper study bible, and over the years, I’ve highlighted all the significant passages.  Every word of the book is highlighted.

There are have been, for my entire life, horrible stories in the news.  Mass murderers, earthquakes, shootings.  Recently there have been stories of 500,000 refugees fleeing from Middle East countries to Europe, with predictions of up to 35 million people.  And I’m not convinced it’s entirely a refugee situation, as ISIS flags have been seen among the groups and imams saying that the refugees should breed with the Europeans in order to conquer those countries for Islam.

If God is all powerful and all good, why does he let terrible things like this?  Why doesn’t He stop it?  Nonbelievers struggle with this more than believers do, I think.  God could have created robots to be good all the time.  But is that really free will?  God created us to love him voluntarily.  And along with the freedom to love Him comes the freedom not to love Him.

As we’ve studied recently in Revelation, we know that the entire bible points to Jesus as the redeemer of mankind.  Regardless of the problem, Jesus is the solution.  Today we’re going to talk about the source of all the problems.   William Griffith Thomas, a theologian in the early 1900’s, said about Genesis 3, “This chapter is the pivot on which the whole bible turns.”  Open your bible to the cause of all of our problems in Genesis Chapter 3.Slide2

II.      The Sham, Genesis 3:1-5

While this is a familiar story, let’s study it carefully today for additional insights.  Let’s begin with Genesis 3:1-5,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent is not identified here by name, so let’s identify him.  Who is the serpent?  Coincidentally, the last lesson I taught was from Revelation 12, which in Revelation 12:9 says,

The great dragon was hurled down (out of heaven) – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Slide4

The serpent is introduced as a created being and as one who spoke against the word of God.  We know that when God creates something, it is good and it is perfect.  So where did the serpent come from?  There are two accounts that talk about the origin of Satan, in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14.  Both of these verses talk about how beautiful and pure Satan was at the beginning of Creation.  Satan was so beautiful that he believed that he himself was God.  Pride, self-generated pride, was Satan’s downfall, worshiping God’s creation instead of worshiping the Creator.

So here is the serpent, saying crafty things to Eve.  And I’m going to call her “Eve,” even though that’s not her name yet.  In the previous chapter, Adam says, “She shall be called ‘woman’ because she was taken out of man.”  It just sounds funny to me to just keep calling her “woman.”

There is a new Disney Movie coming out next year, and I happened to see the trailer for it.  It’s a live action remake of “Jungle Book” and here’s an edited clip that I think is illustrative:

Satan’s first strategy is to get Eve to question the very word of God by misrepresenting what God said.  Satan asks Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  But that’s not what God said to Adam.  God said to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Notice how the Evil One focused on the negative.  “God is being mean to you, telling you what’s not allowed.  There are so many rules for you.  You deserve to have whatever you want.”  God’s message was generous, gracious, permissive, “You may eat from *any* tree except the ones that may harm you.”

Notice also how Satan talked to the woman instead of the man.  Some studies make a big deal out of how God provided the instructions to the man, how it was his job to protect the woman, and while that may be true, I want to focus instead on how Adam had received the knowledge first hand, and Eve relied on what somebody told her God said.  Adam talked to God, but Eve had talked to Adam.  It’s important in our spiritual life that we are communicating directly to God through His Word and through prayer.  Going to church and listening to Dr. Young has tremendous benefits and is good, but it cannot replace personal study.  We want to be able to respond to any challenge with, “The bible says…”, not “my pastor says…”.  In this case, Eve may have found it easier to ignore God’s commands because she didn’t hear it firsthand.

Eve’s response to the serpent reveals a lot of subtle shifts.  While God said, “You are free to eat from any tree,” Eve phrases it defensively, “We may eat fruit from the trees.”  God doesn’t sound so generous the way Eve phrased it.

Eve also overstated how restrictive God had been with her.  Eve says that Gold told Adam, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it.”  God didn’t say anything about not touching it.  Probably not a good idea to touch it, but God didn’t prohibit them from touching it, just from eating from it.

God’s Word is precisely and absolutely true.  Satan twists God’s word to get Even to question what God says.  In verse 4, the serpent says, “You won’t die.”  This is a direct contradiction to what God said.  This is the very first heresy in the bible, that sin is not punishable by death.  Romans 6:23 states it clearly, “For the wages of sin is death…” We can still hear this heresy today.  How can a loving God send people to Hell?  God wants us to enjoy life, so you should do whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter how destructive it is to your lives and the lives of those around you as long as you are enjoying yourself.

Satan goes on to say in verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Listen to how mean God is.  Do you want to spend the rest of your life with eyes closed, or do you want to be like God?  Satan tells us that God is restrictive, God won’t punish sin, God is looking out for himself.  Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that God has provided everything necessary for the good of man, and that’s God’s true motives are looking out for man’s best interests, but Satan’s half-lies and half-truths says that God is just looking out for his own interests by withholding the best parts of the garden unfairly.

The scam is complete.

III.      The Shame, Genesis 3:6-7

Eve, tempted by the serpent, now justifies her sins.  Verses 6,

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

God has given Eve desires that are in line with His creation.  It is good to be satisfied with food that God has provided.  It is good to appreciate God’s beautiful creation, things that are pleasing to the eye.  It is good to gain in knowledge and wisdom.  But the things of this world will cause us to stumble if we do not satisfy them in a way that pleases the Lord.  It’s like Eve is saying to herself, “God wants me to be happy, and these things will make me happy.  So even though God says ‘no,’ I’m going to do them anyway because I know what is best for me.”

But this justification isn’t in line with God’s word.  It say the tree was good for food.  But was there other fruit in the garden that was good for food?  Of course there was, and God said they could eat from any of it.  Was there anything else in the garden that was pleasing to the eye?  Are you kidding?  They were in the Garden of Eden, *everything* was pleasing to the eye.  God had provided for everything man and woman needed.  But Eve was deceived, and believed by sight – not by faith – that she should have this forbidden fruit.  She deserves this forbidden fruit, and it’s not fair that God should withhold it from her.  How does she know God is telling the truth unless she experiences the fruit for herself?

Failure to appreciate God’s goodness leads to distrust of His goodness.  Distrust leads to dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction leads to disobedience.  Admiring the beautiful fruit was not a sin.  Even touching it was not a sin.  But disobeying God by eating of the fruit led to spiritual death.

Eve has been deceived by the serpent that this is God’s desire for her.

Then the verse goes on to say,

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

If Eve was deceived, Adam’s response was rebellion.  Adam knew firsthand that God had withheld the fruit of this tree from him.  Adam was not deceived; Adam sinned with understanding.  Man wants to be independent, to be in control of our own destiny, to make decisions for ourselves.

I spoke to someone at work this week about some of our past work experiences; he told me about working at a nuclear facility.  The US government decided that everyone that had been working there less than 5 years had to take a psychological profile, and since he had only been there 4, he had to take the test.  There were a lot of yes/no responses, and if you didn’t get them all right, you had to see the psychologist and explain your response.  The question that got him in trouble was, “Someone is in control of my life, true or false.”

He answered “true.”  And in my head, I’m also thinking “true.”  God is in control of my life, and He is most definitely someone.  My colleague’s response was “true” for a different reason.  He was in control of his own life, and he was someone.

Of course, it dawned on me that both his response and my response would probably land us on the psychiatrist’s couch.

I think this independence, to say to God, “You’re not the boss of me,” is pride, pure and simple.  If I am my own boss, then nobody else can tell me what to do, including God.  To take a step further, pride will lead me down a path that I can tell God who He is and what He can do.  God can’t tell me what the truth is about sexual immorality, about gluttony, and judgmentalism.  I know what is best for me.  I am worshipping God’s creation, me, instead of worshipping the awesome powerful God who created me.  It’s the same pride that had Satan cast out of heaven.

When Adam’s rebellion led him to sin against God, the entire human race from that moment on fell.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 5:12,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

Because of this sin, in verse 7 it says,

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Knowledge of good and evil necessarily requires us to have knowledge of evil.  I was not a particularly rebellious kid, I made good grades in school, I didn’t get into much trouble with the law.  My police record is clean, though Mr. McIntyre in 5th grade said he would be making notes in my permanent record.  But in my 30’s I got a wild streak that led to indiscretions, and let’s just say I’m glad that iPhone cameras were not available back then.

My point is that during this wild period, I saw man’s depravity up close, in those around me and in myself.  My phrase for that period in my life can be summed up by the phrase, “what was once seen cannot be unseen.”  As I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I long for days of innocence where there were some things I was happy I didn’t know.  Have you ever felt the same way, perhaps after watching a movie or reading a news article about some horrific crime?  I can tell you that in my case, I am not edified or built up for God’s purpose.

Adam and Eve surely felt the same.  Before, they freely walked in God’s garden; after the fall, they covered themselves in leaves and shame.

IV.      The Blame, Genesis 3:8-13

Let’s continue with verses 8-13,

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

In verse 7, they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, but I’m guessing that fig leaves aren’t a very efficient form of covering because they’re still naked.  Not only is there shame, but now there is also guilt.  And with guilt, we hide from the Lord.  Have you ever tried to sin while reading the bible?  We all have temptations we are dealing with, and we all fall short of God’s glory, but for just a second, think of your own personal struggle, and when you knowing did something shameful.  Were you hiding from God at that time, like Adam?  Do you think that when God asks, “Where are you?” that He doesn’t already know the answer?

God gave Adam and Eve a chance to confess their sins, but instead they get tripped up by admitting they knew they were naked.  Busted, now they know that God knows they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit.  But rather than confess, the rationalizations and the finger pointing begins.

Adam’s first response it to blame both Eve *and* God.  “The woman, who *you* put here, gave the fruit to me.  I’d have never sinned if you hadn’t have given me a woman.”  And the woman blamed it on the serpent.  And the serpent, well, he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Adam accused both the woman and God for his transgressions.  This is the first accusation in the bible, and it came immediately after the serpent appeared in the Garden.  Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is the accuser of all Christians, accusing us before our God day and night.  Accusation, lies, name calling, shifting blame, even if it is true, comes from Satan.

  V.      The Fall, Genesis 3:14-21

God is holy, and His holiness demands that all sin and evil must be eliminated.  There are repercussions for sin.  Psalm 46:6-7 says,

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;

    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness

In the account of Creation, God provided 3 blessings.  In Genesis 1;22, God blessed the great creatures of the sea and the air and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in Genesis 1:28 after creating man and woman, he blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in 2:3, God rested on the 7th day, blessed it and made it holy.

As the result of the fall, though, there are now 3 curses.  The first curse is given to the serpent in verses 14-15,

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

The serpent will suffer physical changes and lifestyle changes, crawling in the dust for the remainder of its days.  I know some people keep snakes as pets, and I personally don’t have a problem holding one of touching one, but I can’t say I’d ever want to cuddle up with one.  They’re not exactly lovable creatures, and I’m sure a large part of that is the result of the serpent’s deception.  But let’s look at the second half of this.  Some commentaries see nothing more than ongoing hatred between man and snakes.  But the phrasing indicates more than this is going on – it extends to the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

The offspring of the serpent could refer to the one who possessed the serpent, Satan, the Evil One.  And the offspring of the woman, literally “her seed” may refer to the virgin birth of Jesus since the verse does not say “their seed.”  This verse contains the masculine, third-person singular “he” in the phrase “he will crush your head.”  A seed of the woman will crush the head (i.e. provide a fatal blow), not to the descendants of the serpent (we don’t expect all snakes to be killed by mankind), but by the one who started all of this, Satan himself.

This is the first prophetic promise that God already knows the problem created by man’s sin, but has already begin a plan to redeem mankind from his sin.   In Romans 16:20, Paul writes that the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  There is a continual struggle of each generation for the good to overcome the evil while the evil tries to overcome the good.  Until our Redeemer, the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, finally defeats Satan and in Revelation 20:10 throws Satan in the lake of burning sulfur.

We’ll get to more of this in a moment, but let’s discuss the other two curses first.

The second curse belongs to the woman –

To the woman he said,

 “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;

    with painful labor you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

    and he will rule over you.”

The relationship between the wife and her husband were changed forever.  Judgement fell on Eve and her offspring in what was uniquely hers as a woman.  While death has entered the world, life will continue, but the pain of childbirth will be a continuing reminder of Eve’s role in bring the fall to all mankind.

Also, her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  There are several possible meanings here, but the one that seems true to me and is in line with the New Testament is that wife will seek to dominate the relationship and will no longer intuitively submit to her husband as his “helper.”

The third curse belongs to Adam, all mankind, and to the earth –

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

 “Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.”

While Eve was deceived, Adam rebelled, and it is this sin of pride and rebellion that draws the most severe discipline.  No longer will Adam and his wife be able to stroll through the garden and eat of the many fruits, but now Adam will have to work his entire life.  The world is no longer beautiful and pristine, but now tainted by sin.  The world itself has fallen.  Romans 8:20-22 puts it this way,

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The world is in bondage to decay and death, just as all man, through the sin of one man, is in bondage to decay and death.  I want to point out a subtle change in the words of scripture – Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”  But after the fall, Adam and Eve have sons Cain, Abel, and Seth.  Look at how Genesis 5 begins –

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.  

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

While we are all made in God’s image, we also carry the genetics of sin with us.  Seth was not just made in God’s image; now the scripture say Seth was made in Adam’s image.  God’s perfect image has been corrupted and that corrupted images and likeness were passed along to the descendants of Adam.  Nobody teaches us to sin.  Because of our corrupted nature, we know all too well how to sin on our own.  We do not teach our children to lie, somehow they already now.  We have to teach them to tell the truth.  The sinful worldly self comes naturally.  The self that longs to be good must be trained and taught.

We long for the day we can again has a relationship with our Father in Heaven without the stain of sin separating us.  But on our own, we have no solution, we have to strategy of success, we have no hope.  How do we live when we are banished from Paradise with our Father?   Let’s look at the rest of Genesis 3 and see if there is a hint of the hope yet to come.

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

“The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”  God in His omniscience, has all knowledge of good and evil, and he didn’t have to commit evil.  Man committed a sin to learn this knowledge.  It’s like a doctor and a patient diagnosing an illness.  Our understanding of that illness is different.  Our understanding of good and evil is both like God’s understanding and unlike it.  Now man will seek to make decisions based on a poor understanding of good and evil, a problem that plagues all of us today.  God has perfect divine understanding of good and evil and He asks us to trust him.  Sometimes we do.  Most of the time we want to do it our own way.

And this sinful self must not be allowed to live forever.  An eternal, sinful life of separation from God would be, literally, a living hell.  But God’s grace provides a solution.  He allows us to die so that we may then live.

Notice how Adam and Eve’s fig leaves have been replaced with animal skins.  Because of their transgressions, an innocent life was shed for man.  This, too is a prelude for what is to come.  No matter what the sin, how rebellious and prideful our decisions are, God is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary so that we may have hope.

VI.      Conclusion

We all inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, and we might think this is unfair to be blamed for something one man did thousands of years ago.  But we are not punished for Adam’s sins, we inherit his nature.  We each have our own sins.  We didn’t chose to have a sinful nature, but let’s be honest, we would have.  Adam was the perfect man, created by God, and placed him in the perfect environment, the Garden of Eden.  And every day, God walked with Adam in the cool of the day to instruct Adam and draw closer to him.  And even with this perfect man, perfect environment, perfect relationship, Adam still sinned.  Through Adam, death entered the world.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we could do better.  We choose our own sin.

But just as we choose our own sin, we also choose our salvation.  God has begun a sacrificial system where an innocent life may be sacrificed as an atonement for sin.  If we try to work off our debt by trying to be good, we will fail. Because of our sinful nature, we are no longer suitable sacrifices for our own sin.  We need a savior.  We need a suitable sacrifice for our sins. Earlier I read from Romans 6:23, but I only read the first half of it.  Here is the entire verse:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For God so loved the world.  For God so loved you.  For God so loved me, that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  And that is the one and only solution to the fall of man and our sin.  Jesus Christ.

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.

God’s Will Be Done Despite Us

I’m looking for a role model this week. As I studied Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, I couldn’t help but think, “What is wrong with these people?” First they give us an excellent example of walking with God, then they give us a horrible example. These are the great patriarchs of the bible, yet they make one bad decision after another.

In the last couple of weeks, we studied Abraham’s journeys and how God promised to make him the father of many nations. Then Abraham and Sarah had a son Isaac, and before Abraham died, he sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for him. Last week, Chris taught us that Eliezer first prayed for a woman that would offer to take care of his camels because, as we know, if you can take care of a camel, a man should be easy.

Eliezer brought back Rebekah, and Isaac and Rebekah immediately fell in love and got married. God’s covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled through these two. At the ripe old age of 175, in Genesis 25:7, Abraham dies, and he’s buried next to Sarah. Altogether, Abraham had 12 sons, but it will be through Isaac and Rebekah that God will extend his blessings.

In Genesis 25:19, we pick up the story of the Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac is 40 years old, just a puppy, really, and he and Rebekah are having trouble conceiving, just like Abraham and Sarah did. Isaac goes to the Lord in prayer.

Genesis 25:21-23,

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

So far, so good. Isaac has a concern about Rebekah and immediately goes to the Lord in prayer. Rebekah has a concern about her pregnancy, and she immediately goes to the Lord in prayer. The Lord answers their prayers and reveals His will to them; Rebekah’s going to have twins, and the older one will answer to the younger one. So why am I having trouble finding a role model this week?

Well, one reason is I think these are perhaps the last good decisions we’ll read about today. After this, the behavior of Isaac and Rebekah and their children becomes less God-oriented and more self-oriented. Let’s read ahead, verses 24-26:

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.

“Esau” is a Hebrew word that means “hairy,” and “Jacob” is a Hebrew phrase that means, “he grasps the heel,” and also an idiom for “he deceives.” The boys grew up; scripture tells us that Esau was Isaac’s favorite and became a skillful hunter. A real outdoors man. A man’s man. That’s perfectly natural since it sounds like he looked like a big red hairy bear. And Jacob was content to stay home with Rebekah and cook and do the housework and stuff. It says in verse 27-28,

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Rebekah probably loved Jacob either because Jacob helped out with the housework or because Rebekah had to shave him less. And Isaac, who loved wild game, loved Esau more because he looked and smelled like wild game.

Man, I’m thirsty today. Does anybody have a spare bottle of water? (At this point I trade my entire wallet to Glenn for a bottle of water.)

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow. ‘He grasps the heel’ can also mean ‘Glenn.’” The rest of you are wondering how much money was in that wallet.

We’re about to see that Esau makes a similarly expensive purchase. Genesis 25:29-34,

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. )
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

What was this birthright? We’re not really sure, though tradition tells us that it’s 2/3rds of the father’s estate. Esau as the older son was to inherit the bulk of Isaac’s land and livestock.

But remember what the Lord said? The Lord told Rebekah earlier that “the elder shall serve the younger.” This was pretty strong language at the time; not only was Rebekah’s two sons destined to found two great nations, but the younger son would be the leader. In Isaac’s time, tradition held that the elder was always the one who inherited the estate.

But God does not respect man’s traditions. God is almighty and all seeing, and He has plans for us individually and as a group that often conflicts with the plans we make for ourselves. God has already decreed that Jacob will be the leader of these two sons.

We know that Rebekah already knows Jacob will be the blessed son. Did Jacob know? I think it’s likely since Jacob was her favorite. Perhaps Jacob thought that by stealing Esau’s birthright, he was just helping God’s plan along. “First sell me your birthright.” I believe Esau must have been unsuccessful at hunting that day, otherwise he could have fed himself. But Jacob definitely takes advantage of Esau’s hunger. What should be the Christian response? Right, just give Esau some stew. But Jacob bargains with him instead and makes an unfair, lopsided trade. Jacob takes advantage of Esau.

Esau’s definitely hungry, and he exaggerates by saying he’s about to die. What is worth more, his birthright or a bowl of stew? But Esau is so focused on meeting his immediate, material needs that by comparison he “despises” his birthright. Just for the record, I do not despise my birthright, and I’d like my wallet back.

We can look at Esau and see what a bad choice he’s making. He’s trading away a blessing that he would inherit for immediate gratification. He’s hungry. But I think the lesson for us as Christians is powerful. What is the blessing that God promises to us? What are some examples of immediate needs that we satisfy instead of relying on the blessing God promises?

God will accomplish His will, with or without us. He gives us life and waits to see what we will do with that life. His will is that we dedicate our love to Him and dedicate our love to others by placing our faith in Him and being obedient to His Word. But we come up with every excuse to satisfy our immediate “needs” first.

Time passes. Genesis 25 turns to Genesis 26, and there is a famine in the land. God appears to Isaac and reassures him that the promise God made to Abraham is being fulfilled with Isaac and his children. There are some parallels here with Jacob and his father Abraham. When famine came, Abraham went down to Egypt and gave a half-truth to the Pharoah that Sarah was his sister. When famine comes this time, God tells Isaac in Genesis 26:2-3, don’t do that. Stay here and live in the land I gave you. So Isaac stays in Gerar. And some of the Philistine who live there ask Isaac, just like Pharoah asked Abraham, “who is this woman?” And Isaac says, “Rebekah is my sister.”

This isn’t even a half-truth. Rebekah isn’t his sister. But Isaac lies because he thinks that because Rebakah is beautiful that the Philistines will kill him so they can have her. And what happens when Isaac is caught in a lie? Verse 10, the king says, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” Isaac is a man of God, caught in a lie, and being chastised by a pagan. How humiliating.

I see a couple of lessons here. One lesson is that every promise God makes comes with a test to see if we are faithful. The test and God’s promises are a packaged set. God made a promise to Abraham, and then tested him with a famine to see if Abraham remained faithful. God told Abraham to occupy a new land – the promise – and Abraham was obedient. But then God tested him, and Abraham sinned by leaving the land God promised him and going to Egypt. God makes a promise to Isaac and tested him with a famine to see if Isaac remained faithful. And Isaac was faithful by remaining in the land, but then he sins by lying about Rebekah. As we mature in our Christian faith, we need to remember that with every promise of God comes a test. Unless we truly trust God, it isn’t really faith, is it?

We all balance faith with fear. Abraham and Isaac are not lesser people because they failed the test, but it does emphasize that we cannot pass all the tests. Abraham fled to Egypt because he didn’t trust that God could deal with natural disaster. Isaac trusted that God could deal with the natural disaster, but felt he had to “help” God when dealing with Philistines. When God tests us, the only proper response is to obey the Lord and trust in Him, and each of us will find that, between our fear and faith, we will fail that test. And that is why God had to send a savior for us. Because we cannot do it alone. Jesus will do it for us.

Another lesson is that God instructs our father, and then He instructs us. God tests us each individually; we each have our own test before God. The successes and failures that Abraham experienced cannot spare Isaac from being tested. Parents cannot take endure these tests on behalf of their children, and children cannot rely on the test their parents endured. Every one of us has a promise from God, and every one of us has our faith tested in a unique way. Some of the tests I face are similar to the ones you face. And some of them are uniquely different.

Was Jesus spared these tests? Did the fact that He was God’s son spare Him? No, he was tested in every way, from 40 days in the desert to his death on the cross. Let’s turn to Hebrews 5:7-9,

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Jesus’ prayers were answer because of… reverent submission. Is that the same as willing obedience? And where did Jesus learn obedience? Through suffering, through the individual tests He endured. And what did these tests that led to His death produce in Him? He was made perfect and became the source of eternal salvation.

When we are disobedient, God accomplishes His will without us. It’s unfortunate that as a person of God, Isaac was caught in a lie and then chastised by the pagan king. It’s unfortunate that when we sin, God uses people to correct us. If we’re fortunate, we are caught by forgiving Christians. If we’re less fortunate, we’re caught by unforgiving Christians or even pagans. Either way, God will accomplish His will.

But when we are obedient, God blesses us. Christ was obedient unto death and was made perfect by His sinless life, the tests He endured, and His obedience through suffering. When Isaac returned to obedience in Genesis 26 verse 12, God blesses him.

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.

So be thankful for the tests that you are enduring. They increase your faith. Be obedient, for that pleases God and He will bless you. But most of all, thank Jesus that when you fail, He did not.

Isaac lived a good long life, and by Genesis 27, Isaac is old and weak. Genesis 27:1-4,

When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”
“Here I am,” he answered.
Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

Do you recall the promise God made to Rebekah? The elder will serve the younger. And do you recall who Isaac’s favorite son is? We’re getting ready to see a rapidly unfolding series of events with everybody trying to get their own way. In these first few verses, we see Isaac trying to bestow his blessing on Esau, even though he knows it is Jacob that should receive the blessing.

Genesis 27:5-10

Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

Would you just look at all the bad behavior happening. First, Isaac tries to impose his will over the Lord’s and giving his blessing to Esau. Now we see Rebekah overhearing Isaac and deciding that since Isaac is being disobedient, Rebekah is going to have to be disobedient. She is going to have to impose her own will over her husband’s. Rebekah’s favorite son is Jacob, he should get the blessing, so no doubt she feels justified in tricking her husband to get her way. After all, in the end, she’s just trying to fulfill God’s promise, right?

Genesis 27:11-13,

Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

Jacob knows it’s wrong and he’s afraid of getting caught. His mother knows it’s wrong, too. But they’re so bent on getting the blessing for Jacob that they don’t stop to consider if lying and cheating is what the Lord would have them do. God never has us commit a sin in order to accomplish His will. The end never justifies the means. Two wrongs do not make a right. Three lefts make a right, but that’s a completely different thing altogether.

Rebekah and Jacob work on their deception. Jacob gets two young goats from the flock, and Rebekah cooks it up just the way Isaac likes it. Jacob dresses up in Esau’s clothes, and Rebekah covers Jacob’s hands and neck with goatskin so he will feel just as hairy as Esau.

Then in verse 18, Jacob lies to his father. Verse 18-20,

He went to his father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”
Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.

Not only is Jacob lying, but he’s invoking the name of God in his deception. Isaac’s suspicious because he hears Jacob’s voice and tells Jacob to come closer. Isaac can’t see very well, but the goatskin on the hands and neck makes the deception complete. Isaac gives Jacob his blessing.

In verse 30, Esau returns from hunting, prepares a tasty dish for his father Isaac, and asks for Isaac’s blessing. The deception starts to unravel here; verse 32, Isaac says, “Who are you?” And Esau says, “I’m your son, your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac has a fit at this point, and he realizes he’s been deceived by Jacob. Isaac has made Jacob lord over Esau and given Jacob all the servants and grain and wine. Esau’s mad, too; in verse 41, Esau promises that when Isaac’s dead, he’s going to kill Jacob. And then Rebekah finds out about Esau’s plans; in order to save Jacob, she tells him to flee to his uncle Laban’s house.

So many things gone wrong in this story. What happened to that godly man Isaac who prayed to the Lord for his wife to have a child? What happened to that godly woman Rebekah who went to the Lord with her concerns about her unborn children jostling inside her? Isaac, because of his love for Esau, tries to disobey God and give his blessing to Esau. Rebekah tricks her husband and justifies it because of her love for Jacob. She may have even justified it by thinking she’s doing the Lord’s will for Him. But Rebekah and Isaac have their personal favorites that set Isaac and Rebekah on opposite goals. Jacob dishonors his father, lies to his father, and even lies that the Lord is blessing him. Esau is tricked, becomes angry, and wants to kill his brother. The family disintegrates. Rebekah send her favorite son away, and the bible never mentions if Rebekah gets to see Jacob ever again. Jacob is on the run, fleeing for his life. All of these tragedies, all of these sins, all borne from Isaac’s sin. It’s a chain reaction.

Isaac tried to have his own way. So did Rebekah. So did Jacob. So did Esau. In the end, God’s plan prevailed, but because of man’s disobedience, all of these people brought harm to themselves. Their lives are in chaos. God’s plan will prevail no matter what we do, but when we are in obedience, God blesses us, and when we are selfish, we cause harm to ourselves and to the ones we love. God knows best if we will just trust in Him.

After studying this week’s lesson, I found the role model from today’s lesson. And it wasn’t Abraham or Isaac or Rebekah or Esau or Jacob. The role model is Jesus. No matter how bad we are, how selfish we are, how disobedient we are, God keeps His promise. God teaches us as only He can, by rewarding our obedience with His blessings, by testing us to increase our faith, by using our failures to show us our weakness, and by saving us by giving us a savior.

We have a champion. Someone we can place our faith and trust in. Our awesome God who always keeps His promises.

Choices We Make

We’re reading Genesis 13 and 14 today and following Abram, Sarai, and their nephew Lot around the middle east. Lot’s father had died in Ur in the land of the Chaldees, and Abram had taken Lot in with him on his journey with God. Last week, in Genesis 12, the Egyptian Pharoah asked Abram to leave Egypt, and to take his little dog, too. Genesis 13:1-4,

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Abram is seeking the Lord. We don’t even know why Abram called on the name of the Lord, and I don’t think it matters. Abram’s made some goofy decisions in his life previously; last week, Abram told his wife to lie to Pharoah and say she was his sister. That was a bad decision; God is truth, and Satan is the father of lies. As Fred taught us last week, we cannot receive God’s blessings if we keep one foot in Babylon. We must follow God with all our heart. Now, we know Abram meant well; he was trying to save his own life. But that’s a lack of trust in the Lord; the Lord does not ask us to sin to accomplish His will. One commentary I read said trying to solve a problem by committing a sin is like “putting a baby in a pen with a rattlesnake and hoping that the presence of the baby will awaken a sense of compassion in the snake.” A snake is a snake. A sin is a sin.

Abram isn’t making the same mistake; he is calling on the name of the Lord. And as soon as he does, fighting breaks out. Genesis 13:5-7,

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

Society seems to think that because we are Christians, we never have quarrels. I think sometimes we Christians think the same thing. But quarrels occur; scripture cautions us that “in our anger, do not sin.” One mark of a mature Christian is, or course, the peace of Christ within him, but another mark of a mature Christian is how he resolves conflict. With love, compassion, and without sin. Abram has called upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord has given him a problem to solve. Abram answers it admirably, Genesis 13:8-9,

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

This town just ain’t big enough for the two of us. Well, actually, there wasn’t a town, and the land was big enough. Abram and Lot had so much stuff they were crowded in the land near Bethel, and Abram gives Lot a choice. Pick any land you want, and I’ll go the other way, and then we’ve removed the source of our conflict.

Lot’s choice is going to affect history for millennia. We know Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions, too. Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan and set out toward the east and pitched his tent near Sodom. Sodom was already the Las Vegas of biblical times where what happens in Sodom stays in Sodom.

Let’s skip ahead to Genesis 14. In verse 1, we’re introduced to a whole lot of kings with unpronounceable names. I’m not going to attempt to pronounce them, so I’m going to ask Diane to do it. Wait, let’s just count the kings, that’ll be easier. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. That’s 4 kings. And Genesis 14:1 says they went to war against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. That’s 5 kings, and it says in verse 4 that the 4 kings ruled over the 5 kings, but after 12 years they had enough and rebelled. The 4 kings went to war to crush the rebellion. I think I’m going to root for the 4 kings because the 5 king team includes Sodom and Gomorrah. Which, coincidentally, is where Lot pitched his tent.

The four kings were very successful and routed many unpronounceable kingdoms that were either allied with the five kings or at least happened to live near them. One of those little kingdoms along the way was the Amorites. The four kings forced the five kings into retreat. In verse 8, the five kings have their backs against the wall, so they draw their battle lines. Here, the five kings are going to make their stand, in the Valley of Siddim. The five kings weren’t the brightest bulbs in the tulip patch, if you know what I mean. The Valley of Siddim was known for their tar pits, and the five kings not only were defeated, but when they tried to flee, they fell into the tar pits and got stuck. The rest fled into the hills. The four kings, as was the custom, seized all the goods in Sodom and Gomorrah as plunder. That plunder included Abram’s nephew Lot and all his possessions because he was living in Sodom.

One of the men who escaped came and told Abram what had happened. Why would one of the five kings come and tell Abram? Because Abram was friends with Mamre, Escho, and Aner who were all Amorites, that little kingdom the four kings conquered on the way to defeating the five kings. Uh oh. When the four kings were fighting against the evil five kings, they trampled an ally of Abram and took his nephew captive. I’m no longer rooting for the four kings, they turned out to be bad people, just like the five kings.

And interesting sidenote here – verse 13 says all this bad news was reported to Abram the Hebrew. This is the first use of the word “Hebrew” in the bible. I suppose because we’re not to confuse Abram with an Amorite; Abram is a Hebrew but he’s allied with the Amorites.

Abram is rich and powerful; it says in verse 14 that he has 318 trained men born in his household. Abram and his trained warriors attacked the four kings, routed them and chased them up the coastline. In verse 16 we read that Abram recovered all the goods, brought back his nephew Lot and all his possessions as well as women and other people.

A fascinating character shows up here; Melchizedek, king of Salem. Melchizedek’s name means “righteousness” and Salem means “peace.” Melchizedek is the king of righteousness and peace. He appears, blesses Abram, shares communion with him, and accepts a 10% tithe, then disappears back into history again. Melchizedek is both a king and a priest in Jerusalem. Psalm 110:4 promises our savior will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7 tells us that Jesus Christ is our King of Righteousness and King of Peace in the order of Melchizedek. We spent an entire lesson on Melchizedek last year when we studied Hebrews; all we’re going to mention today is that the Levitical priesthood was a temporary system; the priesthood of our savior lasts forever and ever.

In verse 17, the rout of the four kings is complete, and one of the original five kings comes to see Abram, the king of Sodom. Don’t you know he must have his tail between his legs and he’s looking up to Abram as the one who freed him. The king of Sodom tells Abram he’d like his people back, but that Abram can keep all the captured property for himself. Abram tells him he’s made a promise to the Lord not to profit from the king of Sodom; after all, Abram had no fight with Sodom. His nephew Lot was living there peacefully until the four kings attacked.

The first of those four kings, by the way, was Amraphel, king of Shinar. The plains of Shinar is where Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah, began to build the tower of Babel which became the center of Babylon. This is where the source of much of the world’s conflict has lasted for thousands of years, and scripture tells us will continue through the last days prophesied in Revelation. Because of Lot’s choice to dwell in the land of Sodom, he is living in the land of the five kings, captured by the four kings, and then Abram goes to war against the four kings to free his nephew, setting up a conflict with Babylon that lasts from approximately 1900 BC to the end of time, nearly 4000 years so far.

There’s a brief look at the history. Now let’s get a good look at the people and see if there’s a lesson for us. What was so bad about Lot’s decision? The answer lies back in Genesis 13:10-13 –

Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

Where in those versus do you see Lot looking to the Lord for guidance? I think the 5 key words are found in verse 11, “So Lot chose for himself.” Let’s turn to 2 Peter 2:7-9, where Peter is teaching us that God will rescue the righteous while condemning the ungodly:

and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

Lot was a righteous man, but when Abram gave Lot a choice, a decision to make, Lot chose for himself. We know Lot was righteous; yet he made a choice that was pleasing to the eyes. He chose land that would prosper himself. It doesn’t sound like a bad decision; he looked over his options and saw plenty of grass for his cattle, plenty of water for his lands, and plenty of opportunity. Sure, it was located next to Sodom and Gomorrah, but who cares? They probably won’t bother him.

But they did bother him. Here in Genesis 13:11, we see “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.” Lot has taken one small step toward Sodom. In verse 12, it says, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom.” That’s more than just one small step toward Sodom, now Lot has pitched his tent near Sodom. By the time we get to Genesis 19:1, we find Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.

Lot placed himself close to sin, then closer to sin, and then in the gateway of the city of sin. Let me ask you a question about Lot’s decision that put him in the city of sin. Do you think Christians should avoid people who are engaged in sinful lifestyles?

Several of us saw The Bucket List last night. Excellent movie, and for once I was pleased to see that the upright Christian man, Carter, lived a righteous life and Hollywood didn’t make him out to be a religious wacko for a change. Do you remember the scene at the bar where the woman propositioned him? How do you think his life would have changed if he had made a different decision?

Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions. Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking across the water? Jesus called to him, and Peter was able to walk across the water. And then Peter saw the waves and storm all around him and took his eyes off Jesus. Peter looked at the world around him. And then what happened? Peter began to sink because he took his eyes off the Lord.

When we are in bondage to sin, Satan has an easy time with us. Given the choice between good and bad, all he has to do is make the bad decision look like fun. Excessive drinking looks fun and loud and can lead to drinking and driving or alcoholism. A one night fling that leads to children out of wedlock or abortion and broken families. Drug abuse, excessive gambling, Satan’s work is easy.

As Christians, we are no longer in bondage to sin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be ensnared by sin. We are aware of good and evil and we can see better what Satan is up to. So Satan doesn’t offer us such clear-cut choices between good and evil. Satan offers us a poor choice and a really bad choice. Deceived, we sometimes take the poor choice and take one step closer to Sodom.

A need to work late, a female coworker, and an over-inflated confidence in his ability to resist sin. A Christian man finds himself in an affair with a coworker. When discovered, it wrecks one or more families. How did it happen? He took one step closer to Sodom and soon he found himself sitting in the gate of sin.

A disappointment in a missed birthday or that she had to pick up his underwear off the floor yet again. A seed of bitterness takes hold, she begins to criticize things about her husband. Criticized, he works late at the office with a female coworker who tells him what a good job he’s doing.

Or a mother, hurt because her daughter doesn’t call like she used to, tells her daughter she’ll never amount to anything. The daughter, feeling down and unloved, is disappointed that her husband missed her birthday and criticizes him. The husband, criticized, works late at the office.

So many small opportunities to sin. Of course, we’re forgiven. When we accept Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. But 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and God’s righteous people are tasty morsels if we take our eyes off the Lord. We, too, will be given an opportunity to pitch out tents toward Sodom. We will convince ourselves that we are walking with God, and not even noticing that we are holding hands with the devil.

Every choice is important, and every choice made apart from the Lord can lead to the path of destruction. Most Christians don’t pack their belongings and move to Sodom and Gomorrah. If we take our eyes off the Lord, we pitch their tent a little closer to Sodom today than we did yesterday. We skip one week of church, then we skip another. As Christians, we are to worship the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. How are we doing with that? Are we truly worshiping with everything we are, or have we found a compromise somewhere, some “rule” that we feel isn’t applicable to us? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to search you and to tell you how you’re doing.

After the Lord, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. How are we doing with that? Think about where you live. Who is your neighbor? Or where you work, who is your coworker? What are their needs? If you truly love your neighbor as yourself, why don’t you truly know their needs? You know your own needs, don’t you? Or have you found one step toward Sodom as an excuse, that you’re too busy or you’ve convinced yourself that they would rather have their privacy? What’s the best way to find out what your neighbor needs? Ask them. Ask them how you can help.

Who is your closest neighbor? I have no doubt your closest neighbor is your spouse, your covenant mate, given to each other in love. Do you love your spouse as you love yourself? From Proverbs 31 to Ephesians 5 to 1 Corinthians 13, our God tells us how we are to love our spouse. How are we doing with that, or have we allowed ourselves to pitch our tent a little closer to Sodom? Something we hide from our spouse, something we’re not comfortable talking about, a little rudeness or selfishness we’ve allowed into our marriage? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Ask your wife how you can be a better husband; ask your husband how you can be a better wife.

In Genesis 13:14-18, Abram took a different approach than Lot.

The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Abram was looking to the Lord and was in a covenant with God; no matter where Abram went, the Lord had promised to bless him. Lot, instead, chose something that was pleasing to the eyes. Lot chose the richness of the world and let it appeal to his eyes. Lot settled near Sodom, or as Fred said last week, he still had one foot in Babylon. He chose for himself. Abram chose what was pleasing to the Lord, and settled for everything. We experience God’s many blessing when we keep our eyes on Him. If Lot sought the Lord’s will first, perhaps instead of settling near Sodom, he might have made a different choice. Perhaps Lot might have repented of the strife between his family and Abram’s and asked Abram if he could stay instead.

Every little choice is important; every action we do, every word we utter, every thought we have, should be in harmony with the Lord’s will. We all sin; that’s why we need a savior. But we don’t need to settle for sin. Don’t compromise. Don’t fool ourselves that we can walk with God and hold hands with the devil. That one little choice we make that goes against the will of the Lord is one step closer to Sodom. And then another choice, and nex thing we know, we’re pitching our tent toward Sodom. And then we’re sitting in the gate of Sodom, and when destruction comes we wonder how we got here.

We have a choice. We can choose to seek the Lord’s will first, or we can choose for something pleasing to our eyes or our senses. Don’t be fooled by our own righteousness; the bible is replete with examples of righteous people that make poor choices when they took their eyes off the Lord. A lifetime of good decisions can be undone by one bad decision. Lift up your eyes and look to the Lord for everything and He will protect you and bless you. Every choice is important.