Day 57: “In order to preserve a numerous people”

Before you read: After “blessing” all his sons, Israel had one last word for them: “Don’t bury me in Egypt. Bury me in the land of Canaan.” When he died the sons did as he asked, leaving Egypt to bury him in the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried. Then they returned to their families, flocks, and fields in Egypt.

Read Genesis 50:15-26

We are at the end of Genesis, the first “book” in this big Story-about-everything.

Genesis explains all the beginnings. If you can remember way back to the very start, it told how God created everything, then how the snake tricked humans into letting sin in. After that, sin grew until God destroyed the whole world in a flood. After the flood, the story follows the family line of Shem, first son of Noah, all the way to Abraham.

Chapter twelve starts a new kind of thing. God begins a plan to bless the world through a family: Abraham’s family. So the story follows his sons Isaac and Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons and they become Israelites, named after the new name God gives Jacob.

God promises to give the Israelites the land of Canaan but they’re not there yet. Working through a tangle of treachery, jealousy, and famine, God has brought them to Egypt and now Israel is dead and the brothers are scared.

What if?

What if Joseph has only been pretending to forgive them? What if, now that their father is dead, Joseph finally punishes them for what they did?

“Dad said don’t do it.” They tell him.

I doubt he did.

But it doesn’t matter. Joseph is so over it.

Listen to him, “God intended … to preserve a numerous people, as He is doing today.” For Joseph, it’s all about God. Never mind what he’s been through, never mind who intended what, never mind even all the distractions of running Egypt – never mind all that. What matters is God doing what He said He’d do.

That is the single thought that fills Joseph’s mind, all the way to death, “Bring me back to Canaan when God comes for you.”

God’s not done yet, he assures his brothers.

It’s an odd way to end a book, this. I find it unsatisfying. I want to leave you – us – with some profound insight or conclusion but this isn’t a conclusion. It’s a cliff hanger. God has started something and it’s not finished yet.

Hmm.

Maybe that’s the whole point of Genesis.

And of us.

Day 56: “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel”

Before you read: Israel and Joseph were finally reunited, “falling on each other’s neck” and weeping. Pharaoh met Israel (Jacob) and gave him the land of Goshen, where Israel and his sons settled. Now, seventeen years later, Israel is about to die, so he gathers his sons for a final pronouncement.

Read Genesis 49:1-28

“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel.”

This passage signals a change.

Back at the beginning of Genesis, in the first twelve chapters, all the little stories were about God relating to individuals: one person at a time. Then at chapter twelve, with Abraham, the focus of the story zoomed out and we began to see God working with a family.

Now, at the end of Genesis, the family has become a group of tribes.

God never stops being personal. He always deals with each person uniquely – including you and me – but as the story progresses we see more and more of the scope of his plan. Remember, he promised Abraham a nation and with that nation he plans to bless ‘the whole world’. His plan is global.

He’s been choosy though. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael; and Jacob, not Esau. Somehow, the promise is uniquely tied to one individual line in the family of Abraham (now called the Tribes of Israel).

So, which one now?

Which of the twelve sons of Jacob gets the Abrahamic promise? I’d have guessed Joseph, but I’d be wrong.

Judah gets it.

Listen, “Your father’s sons shall bow down before you.” (v 8) It’s the same thing Isaac said to Jacob (27:29).

Also, the “scepter shall not depart from [you].” Wow. That means there will always be a ruler – a king – in the line of Judah.

We today might think – big deal.

So what?

Promises about our great grandchildren might leave us cold, but think about it. God is saying, “I’m bringing something from your life that will outlast you and get better and better. In the Story I’m writing, you are the source of great things.”

Judah was willing to give his life for Benjamin’s, and he is the one God sets apart for special blessing. With it, God washes away Judah’s pain, and the humiliation of his union with Tamar (Day 46), and assures him of His great favor and love. With this blessing God shows Judah and Tamar a whole new perspective on their lives and the lives of their children.

They aren’t the writer’s of their own story, which means all their mistakes can’t ruin it.

They may have written themselves as losers but never mind.

God writes all the losses into wins.

Day 55: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt”

Read Genesis 45:21-46:7

Imagine: A group of shepherds straggles into Egypt together with all the other people looking for food. This group is larger than most, about eighty including wives (46:26-27). Others might stare, because they aren’t Egyptian, in fact, they’d be called “Hebrew” – a derogatory name meaning ‘trashy outsiders’.

But the strange thing is their women and children are riding in Egyptian carts. Why? How did they get them?

So Israel (Jacob) and his family come, dusty and empty handed, into the bounty of Egypt.

It’s a big deal in the Story about everything and much will come of it.

“God spoke to Israel in visions of the night” (46:2) He told him not to be afraid to go to Egypt.

Why would he be afraid?

Because of the promise.

God told Abraham (12:7), “To your offspring I will give this land”. The land is Canaan, and later God tells Israel the same thing, “the land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring”. That land, too, is Canaan.

The Abrahamic promise – to build a nation out of one family and bless the whole world through it – is closely tied to a particular place: Canaan.

Not Egypt.

Israel understood that leaving Canaan meant leaving God’s blessing and the hope of the promise.

So God, the wonderful, reassuring God who knows our hearts, visits Israel yet again in a dream and gives him permission and blessing to go to Egypt. “Don’t worry,” he says in my words “this is all part of the plan. I will be with you in Egypt just as I have always been. I’m not limited to any place. I’m still fulfilling my promise to you, I’ll just do it there instead of here. You will become a great nation, and I will eventually bring you out of Egypt and back to Canaan. But now I want you to see Joseph again.”

It’s all different from what Israel had thought it would be. This is a bend in the road he hadn’t seen coming – a twist in the plot.

Sometimes an author will do that.

Day 54: “God sent me before you”

Read Genesis 45:1-20

Contrary to all their fear, Egypt opens its arms and welcomes the family of Israel. They can weather the famine in the land where the food is, all because of the special relationship Joseph has with God.

I want to go back, though, to the start of the chapter – to that moment just after Judah makes his electrifying offer. I asked, “How would you feel?”

Joseph feels overwhelmed. He takes this as proof that God has been working among his brothers and they are ready for reconciliation.

Nowhere else, through all his troubles, does the story record Joseph crying. But here he sobs: loudly. This touches him like nothing else. This is what he’s yearned for all along.

What joy! What release!

The brothers, on the other hand, are uncomfortable – speechless.

Well, yeah.

Then Joseph says this: “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.”

“God sent me ahead of you.

Let me paraphrase:

Don’t beat yourselves up. Even when you were blowing it, doing wrong, God was still working His good purposes through you. You tried to destroy me but you failed because God was always with me.

Let it go.

In fact, God was even blessing you in it. He put me here to save us all. Now his promises to Abraham can still come true. We can all have many descendants. Can’t you see God at the back of everything that’s happened? Can’t you see him turning everything into good?

God can bring good out of evil – evil done to us, and evil inside us.

Joseph ought to know.

And when you think about it, it makes sense. If God couldn’t overcome evil, if evil was able to wreck his plans, then he wouldn’t really be the author of the Story – evil would be.

The brothers can’t grasp it.

Can you?

Day 53: “Then Judah stepped up to him and said”

Before you read: The brothers bring Benjamin back to Egypt, and Joseph shows him favoritism while eating with them all. Then Joseph sets up Benjamin as a thief and threatens to keep him as a slave. All the while, he has not revealed himself to them. He tells them they can go home safely, but must leave Benjamin there.

Read Genesis 44:18-34

Wow. Did you catch that?

“Please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.”

Judah offers himself to slavery, to protect Benjamin and send him home to their father. Is this the same man who, years ago, plotted to kill Benjamin’s brother?

Something has changed.

Listen to him now, “No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”

He cares.

Maybe it was watching his father suffer when Joseph was lost; or maybe he’s already lost his two sons; or maybe he’s simply matured. Whatever the reason, he’s a different guy now. In fact, he’s ready to sacrifice his own life for Benjamin.

Joseph has been trying to find out what the brothers are like now. Are they still hard-hearted enough to sell one of their own? He’s spent time with them: eating, drinking, watching, and learning. He’s set up an elaborate plot to snag Benjamin and finally now he’s giving the brothers a chance to cut and run. Will they do to Benjamin what they did to him?

They don’t.

All together they trudge back to Joseph and beg for Benjamin’s life.

And Judah asks to be taken instead.

Imagine standing there after Judah has spoken. Imagine you are Joseph. Are you mad that Judah would do this for Benjamin but not for you? Or are you just glad his change is so real?

What if you’re Benjamin – how do you feel about Judah right now?

I’d feel humbled.

I’d feel unworthy of such a sacrifice. Even though Benjamin isn’t actually guilty of theft, he’s still the reason they’re all in trouble. It’s his punishment, deserved or not, and there goes Judah offering to take it instead.

How would you feel?

Day 52: “My son shall not go down with you”

Before you read: Joseph kept the brothers in jail for three days, then released all but Simeon and sent them home with grain and – secretly – with their money returned to their bags. He also told them that to release Simeon and buy more grain, they must bring their youngest brother next time they come, as proof that their story is true and they are not spies.

Read Genesis 42:35-43:14

The spotlight is back on Jacob. Let’s remember him with a few words: tricky, Esau, Laban, Rachel and Leah, wrestling with God, limp – is it all coming back?

I thought he’d grown strong in his relationship with God and his trust of Him but now I’m not sure.

Frankly, he makes me mad. He loved Rachel more than Leah and now, with Rachel gone, He shows blatant favoritism to her sons Joseph and Benjamin. Look back to when he learned of Joseph’s ‘death’ (37:35), “All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted.”

Grieving is important, but it seems as if he’d rather have Joseph alive than all his other children.

But God knows how to handle Jacob. Last time He made him limp. This time He makes him hungry. Eventually the food simply runs out and Jacob is forced to see that keeping Benjamin means death by starvation. Bypassing Reuben, he entrusts Benjamin to Judah, finally giving up with a weary, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Even feisty Jacob can’t fight God forever.

If only he knew!

If only he knew who is asking for Benjamin.

If only he knew the crazy, over-the-top grace God is giving him and the way He is bringing everything together – all for Jacob’s joy. It’s grace that I – in my great wisdom – don’t think he deserves at all but then, that’s exactly what grace is: undeserved.

Jacob doesn’t know what God is doing. He doesn’t trust what God is doing and he doesn’t deserve what God is doing. But he does give up.

He does surrender Benjamin and that’s all God needs.

God was asking Jacob to give Him Benjamin because He wanted to give back to Jacob both Benjamin and Joseph.

We wish He’d explain these things to us, but He often doesn’t.

He just asks us to give Him what we love.

 

 

Day 51: “He remembered his dreams…”

Read Genesis 42:1-17

The boys are back.

It might not be a stunning surprise to Joseph to see his brothers. He might have considered the possibility beforehand; after all, the whole world was coming to him.

Still, nothing could have prepared him for the reality of looking into their eyes, hearing them talk, watching them interact with each other; and just being close enough to smell them, to touch them.

What an astounding turnaround! These men who had despised him and sold him for twenty pieces of silver; these men who tore him from his life, now kneel before him; and he, who had been helpless then, was now unrecognizable in his glory and power.

What to do?

It would be easy to make a fatal mistake here.

He could kill them – and lose everything; or he could rush in with forgiveness, wanting reconciliation, only to learn they weren’t willing or ready for it.

He does neither.

Instead, he throws the boys in jail.

And accuses them of being spies.

It’s the beginning of a long, cat-and-mouse sort of game where Joseph tries to learn whether his brothers have changed at all. Are they ready for reunion, or would they still kill him if they could?

“He remembered his dreams.”

Of course he did! There are his brothers on their faces in front of him.

Surely, he had given up on those dreams somewhere in all the dark years of prison, but then came Pharaoh’s summons and now here he is. He knows this amazing turnaround, his brothers all bowing before him, is no crazy, random fluke.

It’s God making good on the promises he had given in the dreams.

Joseph’s life is a story, written by God, and the dreams were foreshadowing. God was showing Joseph what was coming.

When it comes, Joseph can see the all-important truth: nothing simply happens. It’s all made to happen: deliberately, carefully, lovingly.

It’s a truth we all need to know.

Day 50: “God has made me fruitful”

Read Genesis 41:37-57

And just like that all the world comes to Joseph.

He’s second only to Pharaoh, straight from the dungeon to world power.

But his new job isn’t actually so different from all his other ones. It’s bigger. It has better perks. But it’s management, which he’s been doing all along. He managed Potiphar’s house, then the jails, now Egypt.

In fact, if he hadn’t done so well with the other jobs, he wouldn’t be here now. If he had chosen to sulk, or be angry and bitter – and who would blame him? – none of this would have happened. But since he was working hard he met the cupbearer, was remembered to Pharaoh, and knew what to do.

He was ready.

And now this: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my sufferings.” Joseph’s heart must be overflowing with gratitude and joy as he holds his second son. He’d named his first “Manassah”, which means forgetfulness, as a tribute to God for helping him truly ‘forget’ or get over, missing his home and family. Now, he praises God for giving him such a full, rich life here in Egypt, “the land of my sufferings.”

I think there’s something in each of us that wants to be ‘fruitful’.

It was the very first command (Gen. 1:28) and it sounds, when God says it to his brand-new creation, more like permission than an order: ‘Yes, I made you to be fruitful, go ahead.’

Obviously, fruitfulness in Genesis, and here in Joseph’s life, is literally about having children; but it’s more too. It’s connected with work, with what a person does and how they contribute to life in this world. The fruit of a tree has both a seed and flesh – reproduction and nourishment. I think God intends each of us to be fruitful, however that looks in our circumstances.

There must have been times when it seemed to Joseph that he would die without producing any fruit at all – other than a nicely ordered dungeon, and he learned to be okay with that.

But God was planning something far better.

He usually is.

Day 49: “He was quickly brought from the dungeon.”

Before you read: Two years – two years! – after the cupbearer gets out of jail, Pharaoh has some bad dreams. He wants them interpreted but no one can do it. Finally, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about his ability to interpret dreams.

Read Genesis 41:14-36

“So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon.”

I love that! The NLT uses the word “hurriedly” – Joseph was hurriedly brought from the dungeon.

It’s such a great contrast to the nightmarishly slow-motion feeling of Joseph’s life so far.

Suddenly, in an instant, everything changes: Here come footsteps. The door swings open and a royal messenger announces, “Pharaoh wants you.”

Now all is hurry. You look like you live in a dungeon – do something! Change your clothes. Shave! (Or maybe they don’t shave, but you get the idea.) The seconds tick by while Pharaoh waits until, astoundingly, Joseph is there – standing face to face with the supreme ruler of the mightiest empire in the world.

If it were you what would you be thinking?

I’d be thinking about me, how I mustn’t blow this chance. Seeing my whole life teetering on what I did in the next few minutes, I’d be panicky and desperate. I really think there would be such clamoring in my head that God’s voice would never get through. The sight of Pharaoh in all his splendor would undo me.

Joseph seems completely unruffled.

He’s able to communicate with God while standing in front of Pharaoh, able to put his own needs aside and serve the one human who could change his whole life.

Almost as if it never was up to Pharaoh what happens to Joseph.

Why, Joseph acts as though he needs nothing from Pharaoh! In fact, he gets so caught up with what God shows him of the future, and so concerned about it, that he starts telling Pharaoh what to do!

Like he’s not a slave at all.

Like he’s Pharaoh’s equal.

He’s acting as though it’s no big deal talking with someone that important, that powerful.

Like he does it all the time.

Day 48: “Please … mention me to Pharaoh”

Read Genesis 39:21-40:15

 

‘Interpret my dream, too,” says the Baker.

‘Okay. You’re going to die.’

And he does.

And the Cupbearer lives and is restored to Pharaoh: just like Joseph said.

But, in one of the saddest lines of Joseph’s story, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23). So Joseph languishes.

“But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (39:21).

The Writer of the Story wants us to know that though Joseph’s situation keeps getting worse, God is still with him and loving him.

I have heard stories of people who, in great suffering, have felt God’s presence with intense sweetness, so sweet that they can say – and mean it – “I’m glad for the suffering because of how I experienced God in it.”

And Joseph is changing. Remember his stupid pride as he kept telling his brothers about his dreams of greatness? Now listen to him, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” He doesn’t pretend to understand what dreams mean.

Goodness knows, his didn’t turn out like he thought.

I think his suffering, and the steadfast love of God, have changed his perspective. It’s not about him any more. Now, God gets all the credit.

Still, he is forgotten. As his one chance at freedom withers away, it’s easy to imagine him waiting and hoping; hoping and waiting, day after day, until finally he realises it’s not going to happen.

No one is coming for him.

Waiting is a big theme in this Story.

God operates more slowly than we like.

And the thing is, we don’t know he’s operating at all. We have no proof. Joseph only knows one dreary day after another.

But not really. He also knows the steadfast love of God.

It’s quite likely his days aren’t dreary.

Maybe we need to wait until we don’t mind waiting; until the pull of the thing we are waiting for lets go and we become able to experience God instead – right where we are.

Maybe God waits to give us what we want until we finally want the right thing.