‘Genesis’ means ‘beginning’. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right – (a) The priority of God (1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God’s Word (3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God’s Spirit (2). All was ‘empty’, all was ‘darkness’, yet the ‘Spirit of God’ was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God’s priorities, set out in the Bible’s first three verses – Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God’s Spirit, ‘hovering over’ our lives to transform them. For those who make God’s priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).
God speaks, and it is done (3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (4,10,12). This is the pattern of God’s original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, ‘Your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10). We say, ‘let it be to me according to Your Word’ (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this ‘walking in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16,22-23), and He sees that it is ‘good’ (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God’s creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1:7). We are to let the Spirit’s ‘living water’ flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow – this is the way of fruitfulness.
The Bible’s opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the ‘lights’ makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply ‘lights’. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God’s people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God’s Spirit, we are to pray that ‘the water of life’ will flow freely ‘for the healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way – created in the image of God (26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over ‘all the earth’ and ‘every living creature’ (26,28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God’s image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now – in Jesus Christ – we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that ‘all things were created by Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been ‘completed’ (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
We read of ‘the breath of life’, producing ‘a living being’ (7). Separated from God through our sin, we have become spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18; 2:1). Through the Spirit, we have been ‘born again’. This new birth is brought about by the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). As the river watered the garden (10), so our lives are to be watered by ‘the river’ which flows ‘from the throne of God and of the Lamb’ (Revelation 22:1). As we read of the ‘tree’ which features in our fall into sin (9; 3:2-6), our thoughts turn also to the ‘tree’ which forms the foundation of our salvation – Christ ‘Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness’ (1 Peter 2:24). In our hearts, we say, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14).
We noted, in 1:1-3, the importance of getting our priorities right – God, God’s Word, God’s Spirit. Here, we emphasize the importance of these priorities. We are under God. We must remember that He is God (15). We are to obey God’s Word (16-17). Here, we learn that the act of obedience is an act of freedom. In Christ, we are set free to obey God. God says, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden’. He does not then say, ‘You are free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. He says, ‘You must not’. The act of disobedience is not an act of freedom. By choosing the way of sin, we show that we are in bondage. We are not free. We are the captives of sin, and we need to be set free – by Christ (John 8:32,36). We come to know God, choosing good rather than evil, as we follow the way of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Hebrews 5:14).
We come here to the creation of woman. Her creation is bound up with the creation of man. She is created from man’s ‘rib’ (21-22). The ‘rib’ is taken from his side, emphasizing that man and woman are to be together, side-by-side, not one in front of the other. The ‘rib’, rather than the head or the feet, emphasizes this togetherness rather than any superiority-inferiority relationship. The ‘rib’ is close to the heart. Woman is close to the heart of man. Both are close to the heart of God. The contrast between humanity and the animals is again clear. Among the animals, there was ‘no suitable helper’ for the man (20). The animals had been ‘formed out of the ground’ (19). Humanity has come from ‘the breath of life’ (7). Like the animals, we come from ‘the dust of the ground’, but there is more: the Breath of God, created in His image to glorify Him!
We have read about the beginning of creation (1:1). Now we come to the beginning of sin. In these verses, we have temptation. Note that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin when we do what the tempter suggests (6). Temptation comes from ‘that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan’ (Revelation 12:9). Satan reverses the priorities of God, God’s Word and God’s Spirit. God is ‘our Father’ (Matthew 6:9). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan quotes and questions God’s Word (1). He not only questions God’s Word . He contradicts it (4). Satan is spiritual, an evil spirit. We must be aware of his schemes, and , in Christ, we must take our stand against his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). When Satan says, ‘Did God really say?’ (1), we must wage war for God, filled with His Word and Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve’s story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. In His words, ‘Where are you?’, we catch an early glimpse of the Gospel of salvation: ‘the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). Adam and Eve had lost their way. Now, God was looking for them to bring them back to Himself. In the question, ‘Where are you?’, there is the searching question, ‘What have you done?’, but there is also the passionate appeal, ‘Will you not return to me?’. This is the call of mercy: ‘Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, “O sinner, come home”’ (Sacred Songs & Solos, 414). Our loving Father is waiting patiently to welcome the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20).
Having chosen the way of sin, we are ‘naked’ and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that ‘there’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin’. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the ‘filthy rags’ of ‘our righteous acts’ (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Putting our trust in Christ, we need not be ashamed in God’s presence (Romans 10:11). There must be no ‘passing the buck’ – the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent (12-13). We are to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness comes to us through the Cross where the suffering Saviour becomes the victorious Victor and the subtle serpent became the defeated devil. This is the message of verse 15: through the Cross, God has provided for us a full salvation!
Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in verse 22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word ‘I’. We must begin with God – ‘God so loved the world…’ (John 3:16). No sinner can open the door of heaven: ‘Christ only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in’. Sin leads not to heaven but to ‘death’. If we insist on trying to get to heaven by our own good works, we will earn our ‘wages’ – ‘the wages of sin is death’. Come as a sinner to Jesus. Come to Him, saying, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling’ ( Church Hymnary, 83). Look to Him alone for salvation, and know the truth of God’s Word: ‘the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).
The name of Abel appears among ‘the heroes of the faith’ (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel’s sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain’s was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward – via the Old Testament sacrificial system – to the greatest sacrifice of all – ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace – ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). Abel’s sacrifice was an act of faith: ‘By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did’ (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never ‘faith’ in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing ‘the firstborn’ to God. ‘In the course of time Cain brought some…’.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the ‘mirror’ of God’s Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness – ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from ‘the presence of the Lord’ to ‘the land of wandering (Nod)’ (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives – Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of ‘the mark of Cain’ – ‘so that no one who found him would kill him’ (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when ‘sin’ is a good bit more than ‘crouching at the door’, it can be ‘mastered’ through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet ‘by faith still speaks, even though he is dead’ (Hebrews 11:4). Cain ‘went out from the presence of the Lord’. He became ‘a restless wanderer’ (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord – ‘By faith he was commended as a righteous man’ (Hebrews 11:4), he was ‘justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God’s Word say to us about Cain? – ‘Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother… because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous’ (1 John 3:12). Cain’s sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: ‘At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord’ (26).
From the story of Cain – taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) – , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been ‘created…in the likeness of God’ (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been ‘blessed’ by God (2) – ‘Count your blessings’.
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention – Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch’s life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch’s story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, ‘he died’. Enoch’s life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had ‘walked with God’ (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into ‘what we hope for’, ‘what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to ‘the Lord’ in Noah’s life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).
The story of Noah is the story of God’s grace – ‘Noah found grace’ (8). Noah lived in very difficult times (5-7), yet ‘Grace found Noah’. His testimony could be summed up: ‘Amazing grace…I once was lost but now am found’ (Mission Praise, 31). Expanding on the thought of 5:29 – ‘this one (Noah) shall bring relief from our work and from the toil of our hands’ – we may allow our thoughts to turn to Christ and say to Him: ‘Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law’s demands…All for sin could not atone, Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling’ (Church Hymnary, 83). In these two statements – ‘Noah found grace’ and ‘this one will bring…’, we see both salvation and service. We are saved to serve. Once we ourselves have been found by grace, we are to seek to bring others to Christ that they also may be saved by Him and become His servants.
To view the flood exclusively in terms of judgment is to see only one side of what God was doing. As well as judging, He was also saving – ‘In this ship a few people – eight in all – were saved by water’ (1 Peter 3:20). The ark points forward to Christ ‘who came back from death to life’, Christ who ‘saves’ us (1 Peter 3:21). God was working out His purpose of salvation. In Noah’s day, the remnant of faith was very small, yet the promise of God’s love was given to them – ‘I will establish My covenant with you’ (18). Even when wickedness threatens to overwhelm us, we still have God’s promise of love, ‘the new covenant in Christ’s blood’ (1 Corinthians 11:25). ‘The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). Knowing that Christ loved us and died for us, we are to be like Noah (22). We are to walk with the Lord and serve Him.
Here, we pick up on the words of verse 16 – ‘the Lord closed the door behind them’. What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? – The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? – God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12). From the ark, we learn of (a) the one way of salvation – The ark had only one door. Jesus is ‘the Door’ which leads to salvation (John 10:9); (b) the eternal security of salvation – All were safe inside the ark. In Christ there is eternal security (John 10:28); (c) the absolute necessity of salvation – Outside of the ark, there was certain death. Refusal to come to Christ for salvation leads to judgment: ‘How shall we escape…?’ (Hebrews 2:3).
Following the flood, we have this simple yet striking declaration: ‘the ground was dry’ (13). Safe from judgment! This is the message which comes to us from the Cross: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The judgment has fallen upon Christ. We are no longer swept away in the judgment. We can stand on solid ground: ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand’ (Church Hymnary, 411). He is our Support in ‘the whelming flood’. God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ship’ (15). We are in Christ. He is the Source of our salvation. God has brought us into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He does not bring us into Christ solely for our own benefit. We are sent out to be fruitful (17; John 15:16). We are to ‘abide in Christ’. This is the way of fruitfulness (John 15:4-5). We are not sent out alone. Strengthened in ‘the ship’ (in Christ), we step out with Christ and for Him.
‘When you see a rainbow, remember God is love’. The rainbow reminds us of the gracious promise of God (13-15). If the love of God is revealed in the rainbow, it is more fully revealed in the Cross: ‘We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the Cross… upon the Cross we see in shining letters. ‘God is love’, He bears our sins upon the tree. He brings us mercy from above’. When we read the Old Testament stories, we must learn to see their place within the fuller Story, the Story of God’s salvation: ‘I will sing the wondrous Story of the Christ who died for me’. This is the greatest Story of all – ‘the Story of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love,… the Story of wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin’. ‘This is our Story. This is our Song, praising our Saviour all the day long’. This is ‘the Story to tell to the nations’ (Church Hymnary, 258,381,132; Mission Praise, 59,744).
What a sad episode this is! It teaches us that yesterday’s victories can become today’s defeats, if we do not keep close to God. We read, in Hebrews 11:7 of Noah the man of faith, but here we have a very different picture. The lesson is clear – ‘The arm of flesh will fail you; Ye dare not trust your own’. We must not look to our own strength to keep us in the way of faith and obedience. It cannot be done. We fail. ‘God can do anything but fail’. We must affirm our faith in God – ‘All my hope on God is founded’. In man, there is no sure foundation – only ‘change and chance’. There is nothing that will last – ‘only pride of man and earthly glory’ (Church Hymnary, 481,405). Can we be guided through change and chance? Yes, but we must learn from Noah’s fall – Past grace is no guarantee of present growth – , and we must keep our eyes on Jesus, ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12: 2).
What a lot of names! Why is all this included in God’s Word? It may describe the historical context of God’s unfolding purpose of providing salvation for sinners, but what does it say to us? The inclusion of so many obscure names emphasizes that everyone – however obscure – is important. ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) – not only the ‘important’ people but all people. Names are important to God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls His sheep ‘by name’ (John 10:3). Among the many names there is an interesting reference to ‘Nimrod, the first mighty warrior on the earth…a mighty hunter whom the Lord blessed’ (8-9). First among ‘the cities of his kingdom’ was ‘Babylon’ (10). Alarm bells ring! – Babylon’s rebellion! The privilege of God’s blessing brings the responsibility of maintaining His blessing. We must be ‘mighty warriors’ for God (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:10-20).
Human pride sets itself up against the authority of God. This is the oft-repeated story of the ‘Tower of Babel’. The end of godless men is sure – ‘Tower and temple, fall to dust’ (Church Hymnary, 405). Sin can be analyzed psychologically in terms of the human attitude of proud independence – ‘let us make a name for ourselves’ (5), sociologically in terms of sin’s pervasive influence on a whole society (this was the sin of a whole society), and theologically in terms of the divine judgment which human sin brings upon itself (5-9). What a contrast there is between the Tower of Babel and the great declaration of Proverbs 18:10 – ‘The Name of the Lord is a strong tower’. In Babel there is scattering (9). In the Lord, there is safety – ‘A righteous man runs to it and is safe’. Do not imagine yourself to be strong (Proverbs 18:11). True strength is in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Another list of names! Again, there is something here for us – God is moving on. These many names summarize the times between Noah and Abraham. We must look beyond this list of names. We must see them in connection with His Story. History can be tedious, until we see it as His Story. From the human standpoint, things seem to have come to a dead end: ‘Now Sarai was barren; she had no child’ (30). There are, however, no dead ends when God is at work. From verse 30, we move on to 12:1-3. We read on though the story of Abraham. We learn of the faith of Sarah and the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 11:11-12). We follow the Story on to Christ, who is the fulfilment of the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). This is the Story of ‘the God of Abraham’, the ‘God of love’. Through Christ our Saviour, we will ‘sing the wonders of His grace for ever more’ (Church Hymnary, 358).
This is a divine Story, carried forward by God’s grace and power. God’s very great promises (1-3) find their ultimate fulfilment in the coming of God’s eternal Kingdom (Revelation 21:10). We have not reached our heavenly destination. We are still caught in the tension between obedience (4) and disobedience (11-13). We are conscious of our human failure, yet we rejoice in the divine faithfulness. We read of Abraham’s sin (10-20), yet we look beyond this to God’s salvation. This is not simply the story of Abraham. It is the Story of Abraham’s God. This becomes clear in the change of name. Abram (‘exalted father’) draws attention to the man. Abraham (‘Father of Many’) points to God’s purpose (17:5). Like Abraham, we are to worship God (7-8). We are to say, ‘He is exalted’. We are to say, ‘Christ must increase, and I must decrease’ (John 3:30).
Life is full of choices. Lot made a selfish choice (10-12). He allied himself with ‘the men of Sodom (who) were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord’ (13). Abraham made a godly choice, and he was blessed by the Lord (14-17). The lesson of Abraham’s choice is the lesson of Matthew 6:33 – Seek God’s glory and find His blessing. We read later of Lot’s restoration (19:29). This is ‘amazing grace’! How much better it would have been if Lot had chosen the Lord’s way in the first place! The choices we make reveal the people that we are. The worldly man, Lot, thought only of himself. The spiritual man, Abraham, concerned himself with doing the Lord’s will. The worldly man takes for himself (11). The spiritual man receives from the Lord (15). Our sin comes from ourselves. Our salvation comes from the Lord. Confess your sin. Receive God’s forgiveness.
Following an account of military conflict, we come to a passage that is full of Christ (18-20). In Melchisedek, we see Jesus. In Hebrews 7:3, we learn that Melchisedek resembles the Son of God. We read on, in verse 4, ‘See how great he is’, and, in our hearts we say, ‘How great is our Lord Jesus Christ’. Melchisedek is ‘the King of Salem (peace)’ (18), pointing to Christ through whom we have ‘peace with God’ (Romans 5:1). Melchisedek brings ‘bread and wine’ (18), pointing to Christ whose body was broken for us and whose blood was shed for us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Melchisedek spoke of the divine deliverance from enemies (20), pointing to Christ’s victory over Satan (Colossians 2:15). In this episode we see the origins of tithing. It is not a legalistic practice. God had been good to Abraham. In grateful worship, Abraham responded, giving the tenth to Him (20).
God is greater than our circumstances. God had given great promises to Abraham, yet there appeared no sign that His promises were being fulfilled. The circumstances seemed bleak, and Abraham felt despondent. Abraham was full of questions. In verse 2, he asks, ‘What can you give me…?’. This is the question of salvation. What does God give? He gives salvation. In verse 8, he asks, ‘How can I know…?’. This is the question of assurance. We ask for assurance. God gives it – the assurance of salvation, the assurance that salvation has been given and received. Where are we to look for answers to these questions? Are we to look to our circumstances? Are we to look to our feelings? No. We look to the ‘Almighty God’ (2,8). Trusting in Christ, the ‘Passover Lamb…sacrificed for us’, we receive a sure salvation (6:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
From salvation and the assurance of salvation, we turn to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation (1). Abraham yielded to temptation (2). Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. In Abraham, we see the conflict between ‘the old man’ that he was and ‘the new man’ God was calling him to become (17:5; Galatians 5:17). He chose the way of unbelief. Listening to the voice of Satan, speaking through Sarai, he walked straight into immorality. Unbelief and immorality belong together (Romans 1:18). We must guard our hearts with respect to both what we believe and how we behave. We must not imagine that Satan will win the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. Satan will try to overcome God’s gracious purpose, but he will not succeed (Revelation 20:10). ‘Hallelujah!… the Lord our God the Almighty reigns’ (Revelation 19:6).
Amazing grace – this is the marvellous theme of this chapter. Abram became Abraham (5). Sarai became Sarah (15-16). What they were belonged to their sinful past. What they became was the work of God’s grace. What a contrast there is between human sin and divine grace. We look at ourselves. We see sin, and we lose hope. We look at the God of grace, and we say, ‘Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious’ (Romans 6:14). Abram and Sarai appeared to be hopeless cases. They had failed the Lord, but He did not fail them. He made them new people. They became the father and mother of nations. To those who do not deserve His love, God still renews His ‘covenant’, His promise of love (2). He still says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). In the Cross of Christ, we have the greatest ‘sign of the covenant’ (11; Romans 5:8).
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (14). We need to hear these words as God’s call to greater faith. Sarah, like Abraham, had heard God’s promises, yet ‘she laughed to herself’ (12). We can hear God’s Word, and still remain, in our hearts, men and women of unbelief. The Word of God does not benefit us when we do not receive it with faith (Hebrews 4:2). God knows what is in our hearts, just as He knew what was in Sarah’s heart (13-15). He knows the human heart, ‘deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), yet He continues to love us. He does not give up on us. He perseveres with us. He could have given up on Sarah as a hopeless waste of His time, but He did not. ‘The evil heart of unbelief’ is always with us, but God is constantly at work to create in us ‘a clean heart’ ( Hebrews 3:12: Psalm 51:10). ‘Soften my heart, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 606).
In the face of the threatened judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, we find Abraham engaging in mighty intercessory prayer. He is not concerned only about himself and his own salvation. He is prayerfully committed to seeking the salvation of others. This is a mark of spiritual maturity – a deep concern for the salvation of sinners, leading to earnest intercessory prayer for them. Abraham drew near to God (23; James 4:8). He pleaded with the God of grace to have mercy on the city (23-25; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1:15; John 3:17). With a deep love for the people, Abraham prays with boldness and persistence (27,32; Hebrews 4:16). A great many people refused to honour God, yet His purpose was not hindered. The remnant seemed impossibly small. It was the beginning of blessing for all nations. ‘To God be the glory, Great things He has done’ (Church Hymnary, 374).
In Genesis 3, we read of humanity’s fall into sin. Here, we see the awfulness of human sin and the awesomeness of divine judgment. We must take God with the utmost seriousness. If we refuse to take Him seriously, He will continue to take us seriously – in His judgment! Sin leads to judgment – that’s the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is sadness in the story of Lot. A compromised believer for whom the world had no respect, he chose Sodom. This choice brought him nothing but sin and shame – ‘and now he wants to play the judge!’ (9). The amazing thing is that God did not give up on this ‘backslider’ – ‘the Lord was merciful to them… He brought Lot out of the catastrophe’ (16,29). What a great thing it is to have God’s salvation: ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ to ‘escape the corruption in the world’ (2 Peter 1:3-5).
These are stories of deception and deceit. Lot is deceived by his daughters (30-38). Abraham deceives Abimelech (1-18). Even with the divine provision for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. Even those to whom we had looked for help can turn out to be a hindrance. Lot was drawn into incest. This had drastic effects – ‘the father of the Moabites, the father of the Ammonites’ (37-38)! Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and overcome by him. Abraham concealed the whole truth by telling a half-truth (12). Abraham was regarded as ‘a prophet’ (7). He ought to have lived the life of a prophet, a true life. We are to be true – the people of God.
We have here the contrast between Isaac, the child of promise, and Ishmael, the fruit of unbelief. Ishmael was born as a result of impatience, the failure to wait upon the Lord. In the birth of Isaac, the initiative belonged with God, and the glory belonged to Him. In Christ, we are the children of promise – ‘children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). God did not forget Ishmael. There were blessings for him (17-21). The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between common grace and saving grace. Many people know much of the grace of God in ‘the common things of life’ (Church Hymnary, 457). There are so many blessings for them to count. Still they fail to appreciate God’s greatest gift – His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thank God for this and that and… Jesus!
Here, we see Abraham in his relationship with the world (22-34) and his relationship with the Lord (1-14). Abraham deals honestly and wisely with the pagan king, Abimelech, who acknowledges Abraham’s closeness to God – ‘God is with you in all that you do’ (22). We are to be honest and wise in our relationship with the world (Romans 12:17; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:12). Our relationship with the world is to be grounded in our relationship with God. In the testing of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Christ is the Lamb whom God will provide (8). In verse 14, we read, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’. On Calvary’s hill, Christ died to bring us to God, so that we might learn to live for Him in this world (1 Peter 3:18; 2:24).
After the renewal of God’s promise (15-18), Abraham went to Beersheba (19). He returned to the place where he had ‘called…on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (33). This is a good ‘place’ to be, the ‘place’ of calling on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. As we read of the death and burial of Sarah, we must remember this: the Lord is the Everlasting God. The death of Sarah took place in God’s time. Her death signified that her work had been done. She had mothered the child of promise. Beyond the death of Sarah, there was the continuing purpose of God. The cave at Machpelah (23:19-20) became the burial place for Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. We see the continuity of history, and we thank God for His continuing faithfulness down through the generations.
The servant was sent on a mission. He was ‘to get a wife for… Isaac’ (4). When Christ entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), He was on a mission. He had come for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2-3). The servant was not to ‘get a wife… from… the Canaanites’ (3). The Church is to be made ‘holy,… a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’ (Ephesians 5:26-27). The servant carried out his mission carefully and prayerfully (12-14). Jesus was careful to fulfil the words of the prophet – entering Jerusalem ‘on a donkey’ (Matthew 21:2-7). In His journey to the Cross, Jesus was concerned with this one thing – ‘to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work’ (John 4:34). The servant prayed, and the answer was given (15-16). Not my will but Thine, Lord!
The detailed account of Isaac’s marriage highlights the guidance of God. He directs the life of His people. This is our testimony – ‘the Lord… has led me on the right road’ (48). The great lessons of this story are stated in verse 27 – (a) the ‘steadfast love’ of the Lord; (b) the ‘faithfulness’ of God; (c) the guidance of God – ‘the Lord has led me’; (d) worshipping the Lord – ‘Blessed be the Lord…’. We are to seek God’s guidance, rejoicing in His love and trusting in His faithfulness. Looking to Christ, who went to the Cross for us, we are to say, with Him, ‘I have come to do Thy will, O God’, ‘I will praise Thee’, ‘I will put my trust in Him’, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given Me’ (Hebrews 10:7; 2:12-13). To those who do His will, praising Him and trusting Him, God will give much blessing – ‘an overflowing blessing’ (Malachi 3:10).
In verse 60, we read of the blessing of God upon Rebekah – ‘Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies’. This refers to the long-term fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Through the death of Christ, the Lamb of God, ‘a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation,’ will sing the song of salvation, ‘Salvation belongs to our God …and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 7: 9-10). This is what we must pray for in our own community. In homes where Christ has not been honoured, there will be transformation. The Lord’s messengers will be received – ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ – and the Lord’s Name will be praised – ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matthew 21:9). Such blessing will be given to those who spend time with God (63; Joshua 1:8).
What will we leave behind us? What will we pass on to the next generation? In this passage of many names, there is a challenging contrast between the influence of Abraham and Ishmael on the next generation. In verse 11, we read, ‘After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac’. In verse 18, we find that ‘Ishmael’s descendants lived in hostility toward all their brothers’. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, there is a great prophecy concerning the death of Christ. We read of His suffering, as He becomes ‘an offering for sin’. We learn also of His glorious future – ‘He will see His offspring and prolong His days’ (53:10). Unlike Abraham (175 years) and Ishmael (137 years), Jesus did not live a long life on earth (33 years), yet ‘He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied’ – ‘many’ will be ‘accounted righteous’ (11).
Esau was a fool. He chose his own way rather than the Lord’s way. Jacob was a ‘heel’! ‘Born with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel…, he was named Jacob (Heel)’ (26). A crafty twister, a manipulating cheat, there was nothing about him that merited God’s blessing. He was not superior to Esau. Like Esau, Jacob was a sinner. Esau was not inferior to Jacob. Both were guilty before God. Why, then – in God’s purpose – does ‘the elder’ (Esau) ‘serve the younger’ (Jacob) (23)? The answer is grace, the ‘amazing grace’ of God. Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau. By grace Jacob valued the birthright (God’s blessing). His way of seeking God’s blessing was devious. Nevertheless, he was seeking for God – and God, in His grace, found him and made him a new man (32:28). ‘Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin!’
‘History repeats itself’. Sin has a ‘like father, like son’ quality about it – Isaac is like Abraham (7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Deceived by ‘the father of lies’ (the devil), ‘man’ denies the truth (John 8:44). ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar’ (Romans 3:4). In verses 19-22, there’s ‘the story of the three wells’ – ‘Dispute’, ‘Opposition’, ‘Room’. Things went from bad to worse, then there was progress. There is room for both, when there is no more quarrelling. Isaac worshipped God, and was recognised as God’s man (25,28). We are to be recognised as God’s people, but remember – verse 34 – even the Lord’s people can make mistakes!
The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God – in grace – really bestows His blessing on Jacob. Beneath Jacob’s deceit, there was a real desire to be blessed by God. To Esau (the late arrival), Isaac says, ‘I have blessed him – yes, and he shall be blessed. I blessed him, and blessed he will remain’ (33). Once the blessing had been given, it could not be recalled. The blessing could not be undone. Power bestowed by God could not be removed. This had nothing to do with ‘Jacob’s righteousness’. It had everything to do with God’s faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us – ‘All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ’. To this, we say ‘Amen’ and ‘To God be the Glory’ (2 Corinthians 1:20)!
What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’ (41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is ‘God Almighty’ (3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation. We look at the complex series of events involving Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God looks beyond all of that to Jesus Christ. He looks beyond the nation of Israel. His purpose concerns ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). ‘The blessing of Abraham’ refers not only to the ‘land’ (4). There is also ‘the promise of the Spirit’ (Galatians 3:14). We are to live ‘by the power of the Spirit’, and not ‘according to the flesh’ as Esau did when ‘he went to Ishmael (the child of Abraham’s unbelief…)’ (9; Galatians 4:29).
Just another night (11)? No! – this was a night to remember, a night Jacob would never forget. God came to him with His wonderful promise of love: ‘I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’ (15). At Bethel (‘the house of God’), powerfully transformed by the presence of God – ‘Surely the Lord is in this place’ (16) – , Jacob consecrated himself to the Lord. ‘If’ (20) means ‘Since’. See Romans 8:31 – ‘If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us?’. Giving the tenth (22) – this is not legalism, a kind of repayment scheme. There can be no ‘salvation by works’. We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our giving must always be a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving to the God of grace: ‘Loving Him who first loved me’. We are saved ‘to do good works’ (Ephesians 2:10) – not because we do good works!
The tables are turned on Jacob. The trickster is tricked! The ‘trick’ was according to the ‘custom’ that the elder daughter should be given in marriage before the younger one (23,25-26). Seven years became fourteen years (18-20,27,30). Jacob did receive his heart’s desire, but there was a lesson to be learned: Going God’s way is better than getting your own way. ‘All things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28) – this doesn’t mean that we always get what we want. We must learn to ‘let go and let God have His wonderful way’, and to say, ‘This God – His way is perfect’ (Psalm 18:30). Out of love for Rachel (18,20), Jacob served Laban for an extra seven years. We would serve Christ better if we loved Him more. Jesus still asks the question, ‘Do you love Me?’ (John 21:15-17).
Leah progressed beyond her own concerns (32-34) to the most important thing: ‘This time I will praise the Lord’ (35). Of the many children, the most significant, in terms of God’s purpose of redemption, was Joseph (22-24). An answer to prayer, it was the work of divine grace (22). ‘Rachel was barren’ (31) yet the Lord gave her this testimony: ‘God has taken away my disgrace’ (23). We move from one Joseph to another – the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see an even greater work of grace: the birth of our Saviour. Rachel was to have a second son, Benjamin (24). Through Christ, God has many sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-5). Rachel rejoiced in the gift of a son, her son. We rejoice in the gift of the Son, God’s Son. Through the Spirit of God’s Son living in our hearts, we are God’s children and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6).
Jacob was still a complex character, trying to arrange his own prosperity (37-43). There is, however, another, better reason for his prosperity – God had promised to bless him, and God did bless him (28:15). Inner desire, favourable circumstances, the divine Word – all three were present in Jacob’s decision to leave Laban and ‘go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan’ (18). (a) Inner desire – Jacob had been badly treated by Laban, and he did not want to work for him any longer (2); (b) Favourable circumstances – Jacob had grown ‘exceedingly prosperous’ (43). He didn’t need to keep on working for Laban; (c) The divine Word – Inner desire and circumstances were not enough to confirm God’s guidance to Jacob. He needed God’s command and promise (3). Let God ‘guide’ by His ‘light and truth’ (Psalm 48:14; 43:3).
As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob’s dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: ‘If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac (the God before whom Isaac bowed in reverence) had not been with me…’ (42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, who was renamed ‘Israel’ (32:28), confessed his faith: God is with me. Later on, the nation of Israel confessed its faith in God: ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…’, it would have been disaster. ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’. The Lord is with us still. With the Psalmist, we say, ‘Blessed be the Lord’. He is the God of our salvation (Psalm 124).
Jacob and Laban were not exactly the best of friends. Nevertheless, they came to an agreement that they would not continue feuding with each other (52). Jacob prepares to meet Esau (1-21). From verses 9-12, we learn some important spiritual lessons – (a) Make sure that God is your God, and not only the God of your father and grandfather (9). (b) Confess your unworthiness of ‘all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness’ of God (10). (c) Pray to God for salvation – ‘Save me I pray…’ (11). (d) Stand on the promises of God – ‘You have said…’ (12). Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: ‘Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!’ (Amos 4:12). Confess your sin, pray for salvation, stand on God’s Word – make it personal!
At the place called Peniel, Jacob ‘saw God face to face’ (30). We see ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), this was not an admission of defeat. It was the declaration of victory – the victory has been won, the victory is complete. ‘Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). For Jacob, crossing the Jabbok involved a spiritual ‘crossing over’. Jacob became Israel, a new man (28). After he had been ‘touched’ by God, Jacob was ‘limping’ (31-32). This was a reminder of his own weakness. His true strength was in the Lord. Wait on the Lord, and renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
From Jacob’s meeting with God, we come to his meeting with Esau. Before we start thinking of this as a big ‘come down’, we should note Jacob’s word to Esau: ‘truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God’ (10). Jacob is describing his meeting with Esau in terms of his encounter with God at Peniel: ‘I have seen God face to face (32:30). Before we dismiss Jacob’s words as ‘a bit over the top’, we should remember Jesus’ words: ‘as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40). We are not to choose between loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to love both (Matthew 22:37-38). We honour God. We are to honour other people. The two go together – reverence for God our Creator and respect for people, created in God’s image (1 John 4:20-21).
This chapter is about sin – the name of God is not even mentioned! We might well say of this chapter: ‘the less said the better’. We should, however, notice that Jacob is still turning out to be a big disappointment. Despite all Jacob’s potential (28:15-17,20-22; 32:28-30), there is still, in him, a great deal of self and not very much of the Lord. We see this in verse 30: ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious… my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household’. Where is God in all this? It seems that Jacob has become so preoccupied with himself and his own interests that he has forgotten all about God. Amazingly, the next chapter begins, ‘God said to Jacob, “Arise…”’. God was still calling him to higher things. What love! God doesn’t give up on us. He keeps on calling us back to Himself.
‘God appeared to Jacob again … and blessed him’ (9). The Lord’s blessing does not come only once. Again and again, He blesses His people, leading us on to a closer walk with Him. God knows what we have been – ‘Your name is Jacob’ (10). He knows how often we have failed Him, yet still, He loves us. Still, He holds out before us a new and better future – ‘Israel shall be your name’ (10). God is inviting us to enter into a future of fruitfulness (11): ‘I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that you fruit should abide’ (John 15:16). Special mention is made of ‘the place where God had spoken with him’ – ‘Bethel’ (the house of God) (15). We cannot expect to be fruitful witnesses if we are not faithful worshippers. Listen for God’s Word. Take His Word with you – and share it with others.
Two prisoners looked out from the same cell. One saw the sunshine and the other saw mud! There are two ways of looking at every situation – ‘Benoni’ (son of my sorrow), ‘Benjamin’ (son of the right hand) (35:18). Spot the missing name in chapter 36? – God. Many never think of God (Psalm 10:4). Esau’s hardness of heart was more than personal. It has continued for generations – ‘two nations… two peoples…’ (25:23). He has ‘spiritual’ descendants too. God’s Word warns us: ‘See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God…like Esau’ (Hebrews 12:15-17). Salvation does not come to us because of our good works (Romans 9:10-13). Every attempt to save ourselves meets with the divine condemnation (Malachi 1:1-4; Romans 3:19-20). Thank God for your own salvation. Never feel superior because of it. Pray that hard hearts will be brought to Christ (1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Romans 1:16).
Here, we have human sin and divine grace. We see jealousy (11) and its effects: ‘where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice’ (James 3:16). We see God working out His purpose: ‘you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’ (50:20). In his dreams, Joseph was given a glimpse of the ‘new thing’ (Isaiah 43:19) God was about to do. Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless: ‘cast… into a pit’, ‘sold’ into slavery (24,28). God was in this situation. Each of us is in a ‘pit’, but we are not alone. Jesus has gone into the ‘pit’ for us, and He has come out of it victorious: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?’. Slaves of Satan, we have been set free by Christ (Romans 6:17-18; Hebrews 2:14-15). God was with Joseph. He is with us.
‘Judah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain Adullamite…’ (1-2). This is the sad story of so many people: Drawn away by an unbelieving man/woman from the fellowship of God’s people, the story then goes from bad to worse. A whole catalogue of disasters follows. God is mentioned in only two verses (7,10). Both speak of human sin and divine judgment. God’s Word is clear: Believers are not to be joined in marriage to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Lower your spiritual defences at this point, and you are asking for big trouble! Satan is ready to sweep in and cause chaos. This sad story of sin and shame stands as a warning to us. Do not rush into sinful choices. Put God first, and let Him lead you in His perfect way: ‘Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well’ (Matthew 6:33).
In chapter 38, we read of unbridled lust. Here, we read of sexual restraint: ‘how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (9). Sin brings complications, and so does obedience! There is, in fact, only one complication – sin. We live in a sinful world, which has no real interest in obedience to God. We must be realistic: ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Obedience and persecution – we see both in the story of Joseph. He was tempted, but he did not sin (7-9). Temptation is not sin. God provides ‘the way of escape’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christ is ‘the way’ (John 14:6), God’s way of escape. We go to Him when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:16; 4:15-16). Joseph was put into prison, ‘but the Lord was with him, and showed him steadfast love’ (20-21) – ‘persecuted, but not forsaken’’ (2 Corinthians 4:9).
God gave Joseph power to overcome temptation (chapter 39). Now, He gives him power to interpret dreams. Here, Joseph the dreamer (37:5-11) becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams. Joseph may be viewed as a prophet: ‘Surely the Lord does nothing, without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As a true prophet, he gives the glory to God alone: ‘Do not interpretations belong to God?’ (8). Joseph became the forgotten man (23). For Joseph, life had become very difficult. He had known prosperity (39:2-3). Now, he was suffering adversity. God is in both our prosperity and our adversity. He uses adversity to produce in us a heart of humility. What was Joseph doing while he was in prison? He was keeping close to God, waiting patiently for his ‘time to speak’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
‘After two whole years’, Joseph was still the forgotten man. Then Pharaoh had a dream (1). This was the beginning of the next stage of God’s plan for Joseph. In the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph directs attention to God: ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer… God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do… God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do… the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass (16,25,28,32). Joseph spoke with divine authority because ‘the Spirit of God’ was living in him (38). God was at work in Joseph, enabling him to forget his hardship and to be fruitful in his affliction (51-52). This is the work of divine grace – a reversal of human expectations. By God’s grace, hardship and affliction lead not to bitterness and resentment but to a deeper love for the Lord.
‘Joseph’s brothers… bowed themselves before him’ (6). Remember Joseph’s dream (37:5-11)! God is fulfilling His purpose. This has nothing to do with the glory of Joseph. It has everything to do with the glory of God. Joseph was exalted to a place of honour because he was a man of God: ‘I fear God’ (18). All the glory belongs to God alone! Joseph’s treatment of his brothers seemed harsh. In verse 24, we see another side of him: ‘he turned away from them and wept’. Joseph loved his brothers. Behind his ‘harsh’ words, there was love. He wanted them to recognize their sin (38:18-33). He was paving the way for his reunion with them in brotherly love. God loves us. Sometimes, His ways seem harsh, but they are always for our best (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-11). He shows us how much our sin hurts Him so that we might see how much He loves us.
The roles have been reversed. At the beginning of Joseph’s story, it seemed that the brothers had control over his destiny (37:19-20). Now, Joseph has the upper hand. Ultimately , it was the Lord who was in control. In all the events of Joseph’s life, God had been leading him towards the re-uniting of the family through which He would work out His purpose of grace. Joseph, the man at the centre of God’s purpose, knew the God of grace and desired that others might also know the blessing of the gracious God (29). Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother. The others were step-brothers (29:31-30:24; 35: 16-18). Joseph had a special affection for Benjamin (30). In the love of Joseph for Benjamin, we see God’s love for us: ‘My compassion grows warm and tender’ (Hosea 11: 8); ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3).
God is fulfilling His purpose: ‘the brothers fell before Joseph to the ground’ (14; 37:7,10). God’s purpose is moving towards its ultimate fulfilment: ‘that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Phillipians 2:10). As God’s purpose moves forward, the brothers are being changed from men who sold their brother into slavery to men who will welcome him again as their long-lost brother (37:28; 45:15). God wants to change us – ‘Jesus, You are changing me, By Your Spirit You’re making me like You. Jesus, You’re transforming me, That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do.You are the potter and I am the clay. Help me to be willing to let You have Your way. Jesus, You are changing me, as I let You reign supreme within my heart’ (Mission Praise, 389). Bowing the knee to Jesus Christ begins here and now.
In the reunion of Joseph with his brothers, there is a great testimony to the God of grace: ‘Do not be distressed… because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life… God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God… God has made me lord of all Egypt’ (5,7-9). Joseph was the pioneer. He went ahead of the others. He paved the way for them. Jesus is ‘the Pioneer of our salvation’. He will ‘bring many sons to glory’. He will welcome us as His ‘brothers’ (Hebrews 2:10-12). Jesus is also the ‘Perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2). He is leading us to ‘a better country – a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). Let ‘every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11). Let it begin here on earth.
Jacob goes to Egypt. There were three factors in Jacob’s guidance: Inner desire – He wanted to see Joseph; Circumstances – Joseph wanted to see him and his sons were going to take him; God’s Word – God told him to go. With God’s command, there was also His promise – ‘I will there make of you a great nation’. There was no need for fear because God would be with him (3-4). Life would not be easy in Egypt – ‘every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians’ (34). We live in a world which does not honour Christ as ‘the Good Shepherd’ (John 10:11,14), ‘the Great Shepherd’ (Hebrews 13:20-21), ‘the Chief Shepherd’ (1 Peter 5:4). In Christ, we are ‘a holy nation’. Why has God made us His ‘own people’? – ‘that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him… ’ (1 Peter 2:9). ‘The nations are waiting for us, waiting for the gospel we will bring’ (Songs of Fellowship, 539).
Jacob and Joseph – the two stories are one. Christ and the Christian – our story is bound up with His story. Jacob reflects on his life – ‘What has it all amounted to?’. He does not sing his own praises (8-9). Let the glory be given to God and not kept for ourselves. Joseph provided food for his family (12). Jesus has provided for us something better than food (Matthew 4:4) – ‘an eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12). Grateful to Joseph for what he had done for them, the people said, ‘You have saved our lives… we will be slaves’ (25). Saved by Christ, we are to be ‘slaves’ of Christ (Romans 6:17-18). We belong to Christ. We are to serve Him. We look to Him to ‘give us seed (His Word)… that the land may not be desolate’ (19; Mark 4:14; Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 126:5-6). We ‘sow’. We ‘reap’. ‘God gives the growth’ (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) !
No more fear (46:3). No more pride (47:9). Now, no more doubt – God will bless (15-16, 19-21). Let it be confidence (Philippians 1:6), humility (John 15:5) and faith (Hebrews 11:1; Philippians 3:14). Man’s way is set aside – ‘his younger brother shall be greater than he’ (19). We are ‘saved by grace’ (Ephesians 2:8). There is one way of salvation – God’s way (John 14:6). Israel was promised a ‘land’ (21). In Christ, we are being led on to ‘a better country… a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). Jacob said, ‘I am about to die’ (21). Jesus says, ‘I died and… I am alive for evermore’ (Revelation 1:18). He says, ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John 14:3). No more fear, pride, doubt – Christ saves ‘to the uttermost’ (Hebrews 7:25).
Jacob blesses his sons, ‘blessing each with the blessing suitable to him’ (28). The most significant blessings are reserved for Joseph (22-26). This is not simply the blessing of Jacob. This is the blessing of ‘the Mighty One of Jacob… the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel… the God of your father… God Almighty’ (24-25). God blesses us ‘with blessings of heaven above, blessings which are mighty beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills’ (25-26). He does this for us in Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of the divine purpose within which Joseph was privileged to take his part. ‘God… has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3). What blessings He has given to us – the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, eternal life (Ephesians 1:7,13-14)! ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits’ (Psalm 103:2).
It was a time of ‘very great and sorrowful lamentation’ (10). Jacob had died (33). Soon, Joseph would be gone (26). God was still there. He had been there in the past (20). He would be there in the future (24-25). Times are hard. We rejoice: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’. An earthly life has ended. We say, ‘His mercies never come to an end’. We cannot cope. We discover that ‘His mercies are new every morning’. Everything seems to be changing. We trust in God’s unchanging love: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’. It seems hopeless. We say, ‘I will hope in the Lord’ (Lamentations 3:22-24). ‘Bad’ things are happening to you. Do you need to be ‘reassured… and comforted’? – ‘God meant it for good… Do not fear’. The Lord ‘will provide for you’ (20-21). Whatever happens, remember this – God is in control, and He loves you (Romans 8:28)!