Jesus and Joseph, and what they have to say to their brothers

The story of Joseph keeps coming back to my mind this week. I can’t help but think that Jesus has something to say to us from this story – especially in what Joseph had to say to his brothers.

I have to admit, it hasn’t been a good week since my last post. I spent the week running from God and avoiding him. Oddly enough, I have kept up with my reading through the bible… sort of. I am stuck in the middle of Jeremiah. Do you know how hard it is to read God’s word and really hear what it’s saying when you are at the same time avoiding the God who inspired it? I realized that this is why I avoided reading the bible to begin with.

I am not a particularly good Christian. In fact, I see myself as one of the worst Christians I know. I’m a rebel and a coward. This blog is not about presenting myself as a good role model at all but a desperate attempt to finally reconcile with God in some meaningful and lasting way. That I would begin to actually be a good friend to God. I know I’m not right now (or at least I think I’m not), and I must admit that right now I’m just in need of his forgiveness and grace. Which leads me to the question:

Does God hold grudges?

Most of us, I believe, still think that he does. The Bible tells us that for those who confess their sin and repent, that God forgives and forgets, but still we often fail to believe that God forgives so freely. At least I do.

A Lesson From the Life of Joseph

Many (including myself) see Joseph as a kind of archetype of Jesus. Their are similarities between the two. For example, Joseph was treated by his brothers in the same way as Jesus was treated by his brothers, the Jews. They plotted to kill them out of jealousy. Both Joseph and Jesus were prepared by God to be the savior of the world. And finally, there are striking similarities between the way they both forgive their brothers. (Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”)

As the story goes, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his favored relationship with their father Jacob. Offended by his dreams of grandeur and air of superiority which he freely and foolishly shared with his family, they plotted their revenge. Murder was discussed but in the end, they sold Joseph into slavery to Egypt.

After years of testing and character development, Joseph went on to become second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and was instrumental in providing the wisdom and guidance the world needed during a seven-year long severe famine.

Through a series of events which you can read about near the end of Genesis, Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob and his brothers in Egypt. He became their benefactor, protector, and savior.

Years passed and so did Jacob. Now, with their father gone, Joseph’s brothers thought that now surely Joseph would exact his revenge on them for how they had treated him. So they lied to Joseph. Here is the story from Genesis 50:15-21

But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.  So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

I think that in many ways we are like those brothers of Joseph. We know we have done God wrong. (I know I have.) And we wonder, will God remember and punish me for my sins? Will God make me pay for what I’ve done?

Many of us are often like Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin in the Patriot when he says, “I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me, and the cost is more than I can bear.”

We are just waiting for the hammer to fall. But, when we think like this, don’t we forget the cross? Don’t we forget that the hammer already fell long ago and drove nails into the holy perfect loving Son of God?

This is why God no longer holds our sins against us! They were already held against God’s own Son, our savior Jesus!

So, we don’t need to live in constant suspense thinking, ‘When will I be punished?’ But instead we can do as Paul recommends in Romans 5:12:

“So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (NLT)

I read this the other day and underlined it. Do you ever read something in Scripture and wish you could just grab the words off the page, put it in your heart, and then actually live it? That was my experience as I read this. I wanted to download it to my brain like in the Matrix, and start being a good friend to God!

But in the meantime, while I may be a ways off from being a good friend to God, it’s important just to know that God isn’t holding a grudge, that once confessed, my sins aren’t going to come back upon me, that his forgiveness is real and can be trusted.

Listen to God as he speaks kindly to us, assuring us of his forgiveness and his good intentions. Here are a few thoughts from Scripture to encourage us all:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)

“God is love” and love “keeps no record of being wronged”. (1 John 4:16 & 1 Corinthians 13:5)

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Exodus, a Rebellious People and a Patiently Forgiving God

In the first blog I included a verse about God’s love to those who fear him. But what is often overlooked and rarely spoken of is that God’s holy loving presence is deadly to rebels, to sinners, to the ungodly. Sin cannot be tolerated! (This isn’t just a problem for sinners in the Old Testament but also in the early church – see Acts 5). The problem in Exodus is that the Israelite camp is full of rebels and sinners. How can God continue to be with them and among them and not have casualties along the way? This is the problem God is dealing with in Exodus.

God wants these Israelites to be different from the sinful corrupt world around them. Different from the proud Egyptians. Different from the Canaanites whose land God is giving over to his chosen people. But they are not.

Apparently, there are so few actual godly people of faith among them that God is ready to start over with Moses. He says this regarding them:

Exodus 32 9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

These people were rebellious, hard headed, hard hearted, complainers, doubters, unfaithful, and wicked. In spite of all that God had done for them, bringing them out of slavery, through the Red Sea, and promising them a bright future in a land flowing with milk and honey, they still don’t trust him. They hardly even believe in him (“is God really among us or not?”) though they saw his miracles and even his glory! They are willing to abandon him at the drop of a hat (Golden calf incident). They constantly complain to Moses, “Did you bring us and our family out here in this desert to kill us? Were there not enough graves in Egypt?” “We want water!” “We want meat like we had in Egypt!”

They had no faith that He who delivered them would provide for them, keep them safe, and sustain them. And as God tests them, they fail… time and again.

But, would any of us be any different?

Here is the account of when God appeared to all of Israel:

Exodus 19:16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

God, the Creator of all the universe, appears in his glory and with a booming voice delivers the Ten Commandments publicly to over a million terrified Israelites. “Have no other Gods… make no graven image…”

Exodus 20:18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” NIV

Don’t be afraid… but fear! I once looked up this word translated “fear of God” and in the Hebrew it means to reverently trust in God.

God reiterates the second command again:

Exodus 20:22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. NIV

Moses then receives more laws about being a decent human being and the people all agree to the covenant:

Exodus 24:3 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.

Then Moses goes up to meet with the LORD to recieve the rest of the law and instructions regarding worship and the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God into stone tablets.

Even after God speaks to the whole congregation the Ten Commandments, what do the Israelites do while Moses is on the mountian, in full view of God’s glory on the mountain, but make a golden calf.

Seriously? The very thing God reiterates to them specifically (as if he was predicting this very thing), this is what they decide to do? Come on people!

But, would any of us be any different?

Philip Yancey in his book Dissapointment with God, writes about the hiddenness of God and our struggle with faith. He points out that here in Exodus, God is not hidden at all. Did this produce faith? Not in the least. The whole of the Israelite community abandons God and his explicit instructions.

So, what made Moses different? Whatever it is, this is what we need in our own lives if we are to be different from the corrupt and rebellious world around us.

Hebrews 11:25 said this of Moses: “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Scripture also later states that Moses was the most humble man who ever lived. Moses trusted God. He was obedient and faithful to God.

Why was he all these things?

As I reflect back to Genesis, specifically Jacob, I believe it has everything to do with God’s choosing. God had chosen Moses to be different from birth. God was watching over him, shaping his character, nurturing trust in Moses all these 80 years of his life (40 of them spent as a shepherd in Midian) before finally calling him to rescue the Israelites.

As I reflected on this, I realized that God had also chosen these Israelites and what God had been working into Moses heart his whole life, God is now working into the heart of a nation. What we read here in Exodus and following are just some of their growing pains.

How long has God been working on you? Don’t get discouraged. If your reading this, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been 80 years yet (but given your long attention span, I would gamble that your not that young either). Even though he was frustrated with the Israelites, He didn’t give up on them, and he won’t give up on you either. Not if you don’t give up on him.

Do we choose faith or does faith choose us? Either way, if you choose to trust God, it hardly matters does it? You are in his family and among his chosen people. We must say “yes” to God each new day and then this promise comes into play in our lives:

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 NLT

Prayer:

“Dear God, please make us more like Moses. Humble, trusting, and obedient. We do want to be a good friend to you. Forgive us for all the times we have been rebellious and distrusted you. Thank you that as we trust in you that you are at work in us to will and to do of your good pleasure. We say “yes” to you God!”

What are some of your favorite parts of the Exodus story? What are some thoughts that this blog brought up for you? Leave a reply below!