Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 26 July 2015
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Leaving a Legacy (Joseph)
For a long time, God was known foremost by his dealings with three men and their families. Before his people even knew his name – Yahweh – or heard a single prophecy about Jesus, God – for centuries – was simply known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Exodus 3:1-6 / Acts 3:13-16: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus …
For centuries, there was not too much known about God except that he was the God with whom Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had a history and the history with God of these men and their families set the course for all of their descendants and the world. What happened? What were the lessons for the generations to come?
In previous weeks, we had a look how everything began with God making promises to Abraham whom he plucked from a foreign country, seventy-five years of age, married but with no children. God said to him:
Genesis 12:1-9: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
These promises were repeated to Isaac and Jacob and God never retracted anything but expanded the promised blessings:
Genesis 26:2-5 / Genesis 26:23-24 / Genesis 27:26-29 / Genesis 28:10-15
God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that a) they would have descendants b) who would become a great nation c) through whom all nations would be blessed. God promised e) land f) which would produce an abundance of grain and new wine. God promised to make them a magnet and multiplier of blessings. Nothing could harm them and any curses spoken against them would simply bounce back on those that cursed them. As far as promises of God go, this is hitting the jackpot. What more can you want?
The promises were great but, as with promises that we may have received, God is patient in making them come to pass. Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob would possess any land [Abraham managed to purchase his burial plot in the Promised Land] or an abundance of crops [they would remain nomads]. None of them got glimpses of a great nation forming and there was stuff happening all of the time – betrayal and famines, lives on the run and conflict. Yet, God did not waste a single generation but established legacies for his people through the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and we are still being touched by them today. God placed foundations into the first few generation which would enable their descendants finally to inherit all of the promises. Foundations first, then the Promised Land.
For Abraham, his son Isaac became the breakthrough of faith. He left a legacy of faith – believing God to overcome any barrenness that stands in the way of his promises. For Isaac, his son Jacob – the younger son – the life story of his younger son – (it was not so much even about Isaac’s life story) – became the high watermark of valuing the anointing – pursuing God and hanging on to him by all means: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). This left a legacy of desiring God.
Abraham with his son Isaac was about believing God – trust – and Isaac with his sons – especially Jacob – was about desiring God – prevailing with him in your pursuit and appreciation of his blessings.
Now we come to Jacob and his sons and especially his son Joseph. What was the legacy which they left? After faith and desiring God or loving God, what other building blocks do you need to inherit the promises of God and become the great nation with its own lands that God wants you to be and have?
Jacob’s family had a problem and they had inherited the problem from him. He would leave a great legacy of desiring God and pursuing him and his blessings, whatever the cost, but he would also leave a withering legacy of sibling rivalry, deception and (across the board) absolutely poisonous family relationships.
Even in the womb, Jacob would fight his brother for the right to be the firstborn who would inherit the blessings of God and when he could do no more than grab the heel of his brother at birth and come second, he later tricked his famished brother into selling him his birthright for one dish of warm lentil stew and, with the help of his scheming mother, deceived his blind father by assuming the identity of his brother when the time came for the aging patriarch to bless his firstborn son. Not surprisingly, the brother nursed a grudge against Jacob planning to kill him as soon as their father had died which made Jacob run for his life and then run into more family trouble in exile.
If you want to be cynical, here is your chance: Oh, happy family of God! Yet, God works with flawed people – even you and I – because what he is going to accomplish through people is his work, not ours (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Genesis 25:22-26: The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
Genesis 25:29-34: Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 27:18-29: He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.
Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”
Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied.
Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”
So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”
Genesis 27:41-43: Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran.
When Jacob married, he married two sisters, the one he loved and the other he didn’t which from the outset made his own family home a place of tension and heartache. His favourite wife, Rachel, bore him two sons. The one that he never loved, Leah, bore him six sons, including the firstborn. Then, the maidservant of Rachel bore him another two sons and the maidservant of Leah added two more sons so that the complete number was twelve – twelve sons.
Jacob favoured the oldest son of his favourite wife, Joseph, and set him apart from his brothers. This swelled the boy’s head but God was in it too. Like with Jacob who was chosen by God, Joseph had a special calling from God but, like his father Jacob, he pursued his calling (which was to be his without human striving) with selfish ambition, pride and arrogance.
Genesis 37:2-11: This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Genesis 37:17-36: … So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”
He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
The family had a problem. What was it? Faith – believing God – and desiring him are not enough to grow into the promises of God. You cannot become a great nation – you cannot become a great church (complete with brothers and sisters in Christ, spiritual father and mothers) – you cannot be effective in the kingdom of God – when the family is divided – bitterly and murderously. And what divides a family the most? It is the question of who is in charge. Who is in leadership? Which brother is above the others? Jacob sought primacy over his firstborn brother which led to quarrels and murderous threats. Joseph claimed an elevated position over his eleven brothers and even his parents which made the others jealous and caused a rebuke from his Dad. This is how it seems to be even today – in church (in every church) and life in general. All conflict (when conflict arises) ultimately seems to revolve around leadership and the hacking order. “The issue is never the issue. The issue is always control” (Tommy Tenney; cf. Acts 15).
How will God fix this problem in his people? How did the story of Joseph and his brothers continue? Before I take up the story again, I want to stress again the importance of legacies and the power of passing on spiritual breakthroughs to your children and children’s children. This works in the positive and the negative. Jacob did carry the blessings and promises of God and these – along with his personal breakthroughs – from the beginning – could be passed on by prayer and the laying on of hands but – to mention again also the negative side – he also passed on sibling rivalry, striving and conflict to his children. This works. Therefore, we want to be careful what we carry and clean up what we carry – less of me and more of him, Jesus Christ.
I repeat what I said in previous weeks. God gave Abraham a breakthrough when Isaac was born – a breakthrough against barrenness – and what Abraham attained by faith was then available to the next generation – even to us. God made sure that the breakthrough would be passed on, as we can pass on our breakthroughs.
Isaac married Rebekah and she was also barren which meant that he had to face the same obstacle as his dad, Abraham. How can the promises of God – about becoming a great nation – come true when there are no children? Yet, Isaac did not have to struggle like his dad but, having been blessed by his dad and inheriting his breakthrough, he simply prayed for his wife and the barrenness was broken. She fell pregnant and even had twins.
Genesis 25:19-21: This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. [V26: Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.]
Abraham passed on his breakthrough to Isaac and this is an important lesson because it is often hard to gain a breakthrough but easy to pass on to the next generation and others. At the end of his life, Abraham seemed to fall short of possessing many children by Sarah and he possessed no land but, look at it differently, he had gained a breakthrough which immediately blessed Isaac, the next generation, and was laying a foundation for all of God’s promises to come true. It’s worth spending a life on gaining a breakthrough for your children and their children.
This is what God told Abraham after he had passed the biggest test of his faith (when he was prepared to sacrifice his son and trust God with the future):
Luke 22:18-22: The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
And God also explained the abiding significance of Abraham to his son, Isaac:
Genesis 26:2-5: The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
Genesis 26:23-24: From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
For Abraham’s sake, God blessed his son Isaac and gave him descendants. For Abraham’s sake, barrenness was not going to stand in Isaac’s way. The breakthrough of Abraham, his dad, had become his own.
Exodus 20:5-6: … I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I encourage you to make this perspective your own. Your life matters. Your breakthroughs matter. Our breakthroughs in this church in this generation matter for the next. It’s worthwhile to exercise faith, contend for the promises and go through testing times because nothing is wasted and can be passed on to the next generation. [Wouldn’t it be nice, if God said one day: For Edgar’s sake, for Gary’s sake, for Amy’s sake, for your sake, I will bless the next generation?]
With God, Abraham overcame the curse of barrenness but the broader legacy was his faith – the faith that keeps believing God regardless of the obstacles to God’s promises (and barrenness was only one obstacle among many). Faith is the foundation for everything in God and Abraham established the legacy – also for us who exercise the same kind of faith for God’s promises (faith for a child to be born – to be born again as a child of God):
Romans 4:16-24: Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Galatians 3:6-9: So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Galatians 3:14: He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
In other parts of the Bible, this principle of passing on breakthroughs and thus providing a spiritual covering for those in your care and coming after you is affirmed:
Exodus 17:8-16: … As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning …
Samuel – 1 Samuel 7:13-17: So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines...
Adam & Christ – Romans 5:12-21: ... For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Elijah & Elisha – 2 Kings 2:12-13: Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more ... He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah...
2 Kings 6:17: And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
John Alley: The Apostolic Revelation, Rockhampton: Peace Publishing 2002, p136: Spiritually, in terms of the dynamic of covering, Elijah himself was the horses and chariots of Israel. That was the anointing. By this grace, great spiritual power flowed through the life of this man so that God could do, through the anointing, what he needed to at that time in the life of Israel ... The assumption we usually make is that the horses and chariots of fire surrounded the city, because the account refers to the hills being full of them. However, the text is specific that the hills were full of “horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). THIS WAS THE ANOINTING! Elisha had received Elijah’s anointing in double portion, and the manifestation or sign of this anointing was the horses and chariots of fire – a sign common to both prophets!
Joseph – Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010, p51-52: “THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive (Acts 7:18-19).
It is important to note that Stephen did not say there arose a king who knew not God and destroyed their race. Rather, he said, “There arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph.” Joseph’s personal victories brought him to a position of favour and authority that released a corporate covering over his family...
Peter – Matthew 16:18-19: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...
Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Paul – Romans 11:13: I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry.
Ephesians 3:1-3: For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
[Cf. Acts 20:29: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.]
The apostles – Acts 8:14-17: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
John – Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010, p47: Notice that Jesus commissioned John to write seven letters that became the apostolic mandates for seven different churches throughout Asia [book of Revelation]. But did you catch the fact that John was not told to write letters to the natural leaders of those churches? Instead, he was instructed to write the letters to the seven angels of the seven churches! Wow! What we learn from this passage is astonishing; we see that true apostolic ministries have angels assigned to them. These angels are commissioned to carry out the mission directed by a particular apostle’s mandate and metron. The word metron means the realm or boundaries of a leader’s spiritual influence (see Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:13). In this case, John had authority over seven specific geographic regions, and so he had seven angels assigned to him. [Cf. Luke 19:17-19.]
One pastor writes – John Alley: The Apostolic Revelation, Rockhampton: Peace Publishing 2002, p127-128: The word ‘covering’ is not new around the church. We have all heard references to spiritual covering, like: - “Who is your spiritual covering?”, “What is your spiritual covering?”, or “You should be under covering,” etc.
Generally this expressed the need for everyone to be a member of a church. The pastor of that church (or the church itself) was seen as your spiritual covering. To say you were ‘under covering’ meant that you ‘belonged’ somewhere in the body of Christ, and by belonging to a specific church this provided you with your bona fides as a Christian. This meant you were not independent, you were submitted and accountable, you had a shepherd (someone who watched over your soul, someone who could presumably correct you if you were deceived or went wrong) and because of that you would be seen as a genuine Christian. Thus you were under ‘covering’.
Covering is in fact a great deal more than that, and largely occupies another dimension entirely. Spiritual covering is actually a power dimension. It is not only accountability; there is actually an objective spiritual protection in good spiritual covering. This is not just the protection of having a pastor who will correct you if you are wrong – although that is a protection. Neither is it just the protection of having relationships in the local church – although that too is a protection. Under true covering, spiritual power is flowing and at work, because something appointed by Christ is in place.
A spiritual covering is a spiritual force field, which helps bring in good things (blessings), and helps keep out bad things (protection). Every believer and all the church is meant to be under the blessing of this ‘force field’, which is the power of the life of Christ.
This life and power is provided by those anointing of Christ that flow through apostles, directly or indirectly.
Three weeks ago, I was stunned in Vietnam. On the Thursday, I prayed for Pastor Nhon, the President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Vietnam, who used to be not quite as open to the Holy Spirit as some others. He was “slain” in the Spirit for the first time. He said that when I prayed for him, he saw a white light and it became stronger until he could no longer stay upright. After he had received this fresh infilling with the Holy Spirit, that same day the Holy Spirit sovereignly fell onto the twenty-seven orphans in his care (three hours away) and every single one began to speak in tongues (primary age children). What happened? I suspected and still think that God honoured his leadership and as soon as the leader was open to more of the Holy Spirit, all of the children in his care could receive as well. Pastor Phi, without being prompted by me, confirmed this interpretation.
What we carry is important. We do have the power of passing on spiritual breakthroughs to our children and children’s children and we do leave legacies – positively or negatively.
[When we see something in our children that we don’t like, we may not just scold them but maybe examine ourselves whether we may not have passed on a bad legacy. Consider also the saying that the culture of a community is set from the top. This is a secular saying but we can now understand its spiritual underpinnings and truth.]
I come back to Joseph and his brothers. How did God fix the problem of murderous divisions, selfish ambition and pride – all centred ultimately on the issue of who is in leadership and who has control in the family?
The short answer is that God used suffering to humble the lot – especially Joseph whom he had chosen to lead and provide for his brothers. This is a familiar theme in the Bible. Suffering brings humility which qualifies for leadership:
Hebrews 2:9-12: What we actually see is Jesus, after being made temporarily inferior to the angels (and so subject to pain and death), in order that he should, in God’s grace, taste death for every man, now crowned with glory and honour. It was right and proper that in bringing many sons to glory, God (from whom and by whom everything exists) should make the leader of their salvation [Jesus Christ] a perfect leader through the fact that he suffered. For the one who makes men holy and the men who are made holy share a common humanity. So that he is not ashamed to call them his brothers, for he says: ‘I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praise to you’.
2 Corinthians 12:7: … Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
In Joseph’s case the preparation for leadership was most painful and maddeningly frustrating. Just when he thought that there was light at the end of the tunnel, there was another descent into suffering and then another one – even worse than before (not least because it is cruel to get your hopes up just to have them dashed again) and for no good reason. After his brothers had sold him as a slave to Egypt, he ended up in the household of Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh’s army. He served well, was promoted but then lost everything again when he refused to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife. Is this fair? You get promoted but then lose your leadership again because you are righteous? Yet, Joseph passed this test. Would you? How many leaders are not standing up for what they know is right for fear of losing votes and their position?
Genesis 39:1-20: Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined …
In prison, Joseph was again promoted but his leadership and service were met with ungratefulness which condemned him to languishing in prison, forgotten, literally facing closed doors. How long would we last without becoming bitter?
Genesis 39:20-40:23: … But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.
After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.
When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”
“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”
“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” …
Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand— but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
To cut a long story short, Joseph’s brothers had learned from the guilt and grief that their behaviour had brought into the family so that, tempted (by Joseph) to give up a second brother, they chose to fight and sacrifice themselves for one another.
Genesis 44:17-34: But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”
Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
“Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
“Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
“Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’
“So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Meanwhile, Joseph had learned humility which included forgiving his brothers for what they had done. He recognized that God was in charge and that his leadership was about sacrifice and service, not personal satisfaction. Contrary to the ambitions of his youth, leadership in God’s family was not about him.
Genesis 45:4-15: Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honour accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 50:15-21: When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
This concludes the story of Jacob and his sons. They left a legacy of unity – loving one another securely – because the leadership issue is settled. They would be there for one another and the one serving the most and sacrificing the most – righteous even when it is inconvenient, forgiving and not holding a grudge against anyone – would be the greatest leader. Jesus spelled out the importance of this legacy, which he himself would also leave behind, to his disciples, the designated leaders of the early church:
Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
I want you to consider leadership. We need leaders but consider what is required. Are you prepared for the preparation? Unity even in our church hinges on whether we inherit what has first come into the people of God through Jacob’s sons.
Genesis 50:19-21: But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
For three Sundays, I have now preached on the families of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph. We have talked about the core legacies but, in passing, did you notice how creative God has been – how hard it is to pin him down? I am only mentioning this to encourage even more openness to God doing new things – what may look new to you.
When Abraham was desperate to have a son and his wife was barren, he fathered a son with his wife’s maidservant, a legal and acceptable practice in ancient times. Yet this solution produced Ishmael and was rejected by God (Genesis 16-17). But when it came to Jacob, Abraham’s grand-son, he fathered sons with the two maidservants of his two wives and all of these sons were fully accepted as heirs of God’s promises and became patriarchs, together with their brothers, of the people of Israel. What changed? Why did God act differently in different circumstances? Is it because Ishmael was a human strategy to give up on the breakthrough which would conquer Sarah’s barrenness while later this was no longer an issue? I don’t know but I find this fascinating.
Likewise, the sons of Isaac – Jacob and Esau – seemed to compete with one another because the promised blessings of God would only rest on one of them. Only one of the brothers would belong to the line of God’s people who would become a great nation and possess the Promised Land. The other would not belong. Yet, in the very next generation twelve brothers shared equally in the blessings and all became patriarchs of God’s chosen people. They would all belong equally. Why did a change come in here? Is it because the unity issue needed to be settled first before brothers could inherit the promises together? I am guessing but I am fascinated that God refuses to be completely figured out by humans.
One last observation, and this one also looks over the three Sundays of preaching on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the three core legacies of the first three generations have an interesting correlation to faith, love and hope – the core values which the apostle Paul frequently puts together.
1 Thessalonians 1:3: We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:8: … putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
1 Corinthians 13:13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Cf. Colossians 1:5; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6.
With Abraham and his son Isaac, there was a breakthrough of faith. With Isaac and his son Jacob, there was a breakthrough of loving God – valuing the anointing – and with Jacob and his sons, there was a breakthrough of loving one another – sacrificing for one another and serving in leadership. [Jesus highlights this two-fold emphasis on love: Matthew 22:36-40.] What is missing in these first few generations is a greater focus on hope but, after 400 years in Egypt and having descended deep into slavery (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6), hope would be precisely the main thrust in God’s next decisive dealing with his people. The people cried out in despair but God taught them to hope against all hope and defeated Egypt before their very eyes and brought them out of slavery. Faith, love and hope. This is not bad to have in your life. Amen.
[One may also observe that God encouraged the first few generations to seek his ‘hands’ before he would give them fuller revelation of his ‘face’.]