Day 58: “The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites”

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Read Exodus 1:6-22

 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

 

God does what He says He’ll do.

Long ago, He told Abraham He would create a nation from Abraham’s descendants and here it is. The Israelites are now so numerous that the Egyptians are afraid of them.

And they haven’t been absorbed into the Egyptian culture.

If we hadn’t skipped it, you’d remember a story in Genesis (34) where Jacob moved near a town called Shechem, and the men there wanted to merge together with Jacob’s family. Let’s marry your girls, and you marry our girls and we’ll become one people, was the idea.

That story ended in a bloodbath, but my point is I don’t think that was an uncommon approach to things.

It didn’t happen here.

It’s as though God chose the one place where there was no possible chance of His people being intermixed with any other people.

And then He grew them.

Like a large oak tree, they spread and spread, until the Egyptians realized they were outnumbered.

I wonder why the Israelites didn’t realize it? Why was it possible for the Egyptians to brutalize them? I don’t know. Possibly, the Israelites just weren’t paying attention. They were off living their own lives on the edge of Egypt. Also, the Egyptians had all the power structures. They were the rulers of the land.

At any rate, they forced the Israelites into slavery – just as God told Abraham they would, long before there even were Israelites – and despite that, the Israelites kept on growing.

As though nothing humans could do could stop God doing what He planned.

So there we have it. The Israelites are being brutalized, absolutely degraded and beaten.

And they are God’s special nation.

They know it. They still have all the stories, all the promises. But it seems as though God has forgotten them. 

Ever been there? Ever felt totally let down by God? Hopeless? Helpless? Overwhelmed and abandoned? Like your babies are being killed? Your dreams? Hopes? Loves?

Have you ever watched the future you planned just blow up, fizzle out, or vanish?

Then you’re getting it. You’re at exactly the right place to read Exodus. You’re identifying with the Israelites, and wherever there is trouble or disappointment in your own life, that’s the connection.

That’s why we read the Story.

To see what God does.

Intro to Exodus

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Read Exodus 1:1-5

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

If you’re just joining us now, and didn’t start at the start of Genesis, let me fill you in.

We’re going to start reading the second book of the Bible, Exodus. As we do, imagine an old man named Moses (we’ll meet him very soon) sitting down to record his story, along with his understanding of its meaning.

He begins with God, because to him that’s where everything begins. Then he briefly explains the origins of life and humankind and the story of deeply ancient history as he understands it. These are the first twelve chapters of Genesis.

He’s writing what he’s heard. This is how he and others understood history from the stories they’d been told.

Those first twelve chapters tell of amazing things, weird things, hard-to-believe things, but they set the stage for the whole Story. They show how God made humankind, and then an enemy came along and tricked us into doubting God and taking life into our own hands.

I compared it to a dragon offering us his poisonous dragon-food which we ate. It created a craving in us for more and more, but it’ll kill us in the end.

Really, the whole rest of the Story is about how God – the hero – tries to rescue us from the dragon and his poisonous, addictive, food.

At chapter twelve of Genesis, Moses introduces us to Abraham, his great-great-I-don’t-know-how-many-greats grandfather.

He tells how God met Abraham and made some wonderful promises to him, but how Abraham had to wait a long, long, time before the promises were fulfilled.

A thing I especially like about the story of God and Abraham is how God works both directly in Abraham’s life – giving him a much-longed-for son – while at the same time starting a far bigger story that will reach way past Abraham and the son. The bigger story starts with a promise God makes to Abraham: that He will bless the whole world through Abraham and all his children.

Moses goes on to tell us about the land that God promised to Abraham, but at the end of Genesis neither Abraham nor any of his grandkids owns it. In fact, all the grandkids are in Egypt, because there was a famine everywhere else.  

Now, we’re going to read Moses’ second book, Exodus, and see how that bigger story continues.

And I hope we’ll see how it continues not only through Exodus and the whole Bible, but all the way to your life and mine, because God keeps doing it. Moses wrote the story for his generation, but God wrote it for us, too.

What He does in a point of time, ripples through all time.

Even today. Even here, in my life and yours.

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.