Posts Tagged ‘promise’

Genesis 50 

15 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?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘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.

 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Death.  Fear.  Insecurity.  Sorrow.  Conspiracy.  Deception.  Paranoia.  The abuse of power.

Sympathy.  Compassion.  Humility.  Graciousness.  Generosity.  Trust.  Reliance.

The Kingdom of this world, contrasted starkly with the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s brothers have been dependent on their shared connection with Joseph to Jacob for security from Joseph’s wrath.  The atrocities of their youth have followed them for decades now, and they have not accepted the forgiveness that Joseph gave them before, when they came to him as a governor.  They have refused to let go, they have refused to lay back into the mercy God gave to Joseph.  They are captured in the hell of their choosing.  Why?  Because they haven’t understood God.

Joseph has experienced comfort and strength in God.  He has trusted in God, and God has shown Joseph his calling in Egypt.  Joseph has known peace and purpose in being able to literally save a generation of people with the wisdom of God.  Joseph tells his brothers, now, as before when they were reconciled; “What you intended for harm God has made for good!  I have saved many lives!”  For Joseph, the Kingdom of Heaven is very near.  He is living harmoniously with his neighbors, and communing with God, fulfilling his calling dutifully and without prejudice.

But the brothers expect vengeance.  The brothers expect a return on their cruelty.  Even now, after decades of Joseph’s generosity, they can imagine only pretense and falsehood.  Now they are genuinely afraid.  They are self-interested and self-absorbed.  Conspiracy and deception are the places they toss and turn at night, imagining the depth of Joseph’s hatred, building the prison cells and torture chambers that Joseph has secreted away, waiting for the day.

Because they have not understood God.

Have we accepted God?  Or do we hide in the dark corners, afraid of the Judge, imagining the litany of sins that He might read to us?  Do we fear his wrath?

I may deserve His wrath, just as Joseph’s brother’s surely did not deserve anything but Joseph’s wrath for hating him, for plotting against him, threatening him with death, and selling him off to foreign traders.

But Joseph saw past the sins.  Joseph chose to be gracious.  And that is something he learned from God.  We don’t see where, we don’t see how.  But God has surely shown Joseph the same thing He has been lobbying you and me with- the desire to show mercy.

I wonder if Joseph saw through it all that time.  If he knew that his brother’s still did not trust him.  I wonder if he gave the lavish meals, the good pastures for their flocks, gave them all of the good things that Egypt and Pharaoh offered them, and all along, saw the distrust in their eyes.

But he kept giving it to them.  He never stopped giving it to them.

And then he blessed them.

There’s an interesting contrast, when Joseph says in verse 21, “Don’t be afraid, I will provide for you, and your children.”  And then a few verses later, he says “I am about to die- but God will surely come to your aid…”

Joseph has done everything he can to show the depth of his forgiveness to his brothers.  But even Joseph will die.  But do not be afraid, because though I die, God does not- He will surely come to your aid.

Where does Joseph get this generosity?  This courage?  The depth of faith to lie on his deathbed and rely on God?

He has experienced it himself.  He has seen God’s promises, known God’s love, felt the arms of God’s compassion.

God has shown Joseph love that doesn’t stop loving, gifts that are sourced in the desire to give and the generosity of the Giver, not the merit of earner, and grace that is ruled by grace, not ruled by a fickle temper.

Joseph is a mirror for God.  Cast aside, sold off as rubbish.  Yet rising up to give good things, speak into the darkness of chaos and misunderstanding.  Humbly serving behind the curtain of Pharaoh, and not seeking power, but seeking to serve.  And spending endlessly to convince the darkness that light is present and ready.  Even if the darkness does not see it.  Even if the darkness doesn’t believe.

Joseph is not forgiving his brothers so that they will believe and be forgiven.  He is forgiving his brothers because God has shown him that it is the best way.  It is His own way.

God forgives because it pleases him to forgive.  It makes Him a better God.  And he will continue to offer it to us, even as we turn, even as we refuse, even as we accept it be it uncertain or distrustful.  While it is for us, it serves Him too.

Genesis.  The beginning, but also part of the middle.  And a blurry view of the end.  Not too bad.

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Genesis 49

1 Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
2 “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; 
listen to your father Israel.

Michael Simpson wrote a book some time back, an amazing, mind-altering book, called Permission Evangelism.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet him and talk with him a few times, when he’s visited my homechurch, and I continue to be amazed at how God has revealed himself to Michael, and at how Michael has been able to share that experience into other people’s lives- into their experiences.

Last time Michael was in town, he preached an awesome message of God the Father’s love and affection for us.  He gave a testimony about his journey towards discovering and accepting that love.  He had this crazy idea that God loves us through other people.  That our experience of some one person’s love for us is actually the experience of being loved by God, Himself.

He used a great image to help illustrate the concept:  He said God looks into this mirror- He is love, and His reflection, the image of his love, is in this mirror.  Imagine that God has shattered this mirror now- it’s in billions of little bits, each little shard showing a small size view of the whole- the image of God’s love.  And He puts that little shard in each person- each act of love you experience from somebody is a shard- a piece of God’s love for you.

Or at least that’s what I remember him saying.  Whether he said it exactly that way or not- the image is embedded in me now.

When Israel/Jacob gathers his boys around his bed, he delivers this massive, epic blessing(slash)curse.  But what he’s doing is speaking into his son’s lives his experience of God.  He’s handing over the shards to each boy.  Every little “prediction” is somehow a reflection of Jacob’s experience of life with God.  God has shown him at some point in his own life some aspect of himself in creation, and Jacob’s sharing that.  In other words, we see in his blessings the experience of Jacob with God- we see who God has been to Jacob.

In Reuben, God gives evidence of strength.  God gives.  That stands to be said.  And Reuben lives with excellence in character and power.  But we also see how rebellion is rewarded, when the strength and excellence are removed.  Jacob is showing that God is inclined towards blessing first- offering good things first.  When we take those gifts for granted, when we abuse the gifts, then they are subject to review, or retraction.  But God starts with the blessing.

Simeon and Levi are case studies in wisdom and self-control.  Or the lack of it.  God has shown Jacob that reaction, anger and violence are not strength.  God does not value strength as the world understands strength.  God does not value the short-sightedness of quick reactions.  

With Judah, again, Jacob repeats the forceful insistence of God’s blessing!  Judah has kept favor in his life, and the blessings of God are about to open up on him and his family.  Jacob has experienced this same kind of overwhelming flood.  The intensity of God’s affection and the abundance of his pantry is unrivaled, and it is poured out on us.  

There is also in this blessing the subtle reminder of the very first promise of God- to send a deliverer, a conquerer, a king who will not disappoint.

In Zebulon, Jacob tells of God’s harbor.  He speaks of how God has been a safe place to dwell.  A place to hide.  A place to regroup and rehabilitate.

Issachar gains insight from Jacob’s experience of life with God.  It has been difficult.  There have been moments of great effort, of confusion, of not being in control.  But though it has been difficult, it has always been a good place, and worth the work.

Dan.  For Dan, Jacob has a reminder- God’s justice doesn’t always come from the front.  Sometimes you don’t see it coming.  But it’s there.  And if you are riding on something other than the righteousness of God, sometimes the Justice that comes can cause the rider to fall.

In Gad, Jacob has experienced a sort of redemption.  Jacob tells Gad that sometimes it seems like a loss, sometimes it seems like a storm that will sweep you away.  But as it is written, joy comes in the morning.  There will be times in your life, in your experience when the onslaught seems to overwhelm, but you will revive your strength, you will arise again.  You will not be beaten.

Jacob has experienced richness and pleasure in God.  It’s interesting to me that Asher’s blessing isn’t so much to experience that richness, but rather, he will serve it to others.  A blessing in it’s own right.  Is it not gratifying to be a source of immense pleasure for somebody else?  That is the blessing Asher receives, and it speaks to Jacob’s experience of pleasing God, and being a source of pleasure!

Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fauns.  What an image!  Jacob is drawing on the experience he has had of being at peace with his creator within His creation.  Beautiful and resplendent!  Serene and prolific.  There is freedom, and LIFE.  And it grows.  It expands.  It continues.

And Joseph- the blessings for Joseph are almost too overwhelming.  He is a climbing vine, a source of envy for others, strong despite attack from outside, calm, not intimidated.  He is in the arms of the Mighty One, He is within the crook of the Greatest Shepherd, and his foot rests upon the Rock of God.  He is the recipient of all the blessings of God, “Blessing of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and the womb.”  I’m pretty sure that’s about everything.

One cannot give a blessing that he has not himself experienced.  How could he describe it?  How could be have the strength and wherewithal to offer it, had he no grasp of it himself?

These blessings show Jacob’s experience with God.  Jacob’s experience with God gives us insight into God’s character.

And God’s character has not diminished or changed since Jacob’s lifetime.  All the blessings above are still available, still a part of God’s cornucopia.  He paints in your life with the exact same palette of colors.  The same selection of brushes.  And the Artists desires to paint the same sorts of paintings.  In our lives.  

What are the shards in your experience?  How have you been loved?  How many shards of that first image of love have you looked into?

Genesis 48

11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
   “May the God before whom my fathers 
  
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,

the God who has been my shepherd 
  
all my life to this day,

16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm 
  
   —may he bless these boys.

May they be called by my name 
  
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, 
and may they increase greatly 
  
on the earth.”

Genesis is a beginning.  Literally.  Genesis opens with the phrase “In the beginning,” or “At first.”  But as is often the case the beginning is … just the first thing in a series of many things.  So Genesis is a beginning, and it’s a journey- a middle.

We’ve met lots of people- Adam and Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, Noah, Abram, Sarai, Lot, Lot’s daughters, Isaac, Isaac’s servant, Jacob, Esau, Laban, Rachel, Leah, Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, (and Tamar), Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin.  We’ve met Potipher, the Egyptian Royal captain, and his cougar-wife.  We’ve met a royal baker, and a royal cup-bearer.  Pharaoh himself.  But he’s not the first king- we’ve also met the mysterious Malchizekek.

But we’ve also met somebody else.  Creator God, who speaks and creates, and hovers over unformed things.  Creator God who builds and creates and proliferates LIFE.  God, who walks in the garden in the cool of the afternoon relishing what He finds to be very good.  An all-powerful God who creates a community to spend time with, and enjoy.  An all powerful God who makes us free to love Him back, or … not.

The God who sews garments to cover up something He made good, because of the fear that sin created.  The God who, when disobeyed, rather than retaliate and answer in wrath, promises to set things right, and keeps things from getting any worse.  The angel with the sword flashing back and forth between us and the Garden of Eden.

We meet his presence in angels- messengers.  Messengers who come to break through the barriers and communicate God’s promises, over and over.  Despite rebellion.  Despite disbelief.

And we meet God, a shepherd.

As Israel lays in his bed, he places himself in the role of a sheep- and tells Joseph that God has been his shepherd.

After all the things Israel has experienced, after all the different ways He has experienced God, and God’s presence in his life, this is how he describes God.  A shepherd.

The lasting words of God reverberate in that description: I will be with you.

God is introducing himself to you, right now, today.  Not as somebody who will shepherd you.  But as somebody who always has.  God is a shepherd.  He is guiding you to safe places to lie down.  He is choosing ripe, green grass for you.  He finds a place where you can wade in the water and drink without fear of predators, without fear of drowning.  You may wander out of sight, and get lost, get stuck, get tired.  But he is the Good Shepherd and He will come out, leaving the flock to find you.  You will hear his voice, and call to him, and he will pull you from the mud, pull you from the briar- and return you on his shoulders to where you are safe.

This is the God of Genesis.  He’s a fixer.  He’s a lookout.  He’s a shepherd.

Genesis 47:

23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
 25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
 26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
 28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
                “I will do as you say,” he said.
 31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.[d]

The last scenes of Genesis are set.  Jacob, the place on the young tree where the trunk ends, and the branches burst out in array, is leaning on a bedpost, old and ailing.  Jacob, Israel, whose turbulent life crossed the deserts and plains of modern day Syria, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and crossed paths with God in visions, dreams, and once, in the shadowy form of another man.

God is often perceived as being static, decorous, and formal.  He’s perceived as being distant, prone to commands and cursing, mighty acts of judgement that come from some lofty place.  He is not the friendly grandfather that we see in characters like Santa Claus.  Rather, he’s the grumpy old man at the end of the block who has a barrel full of baseballs that came over the fence, but were abandoned by boys who would sooner go home to get another ball than attempt to recover the long ball from his yard.

But none of that appears in this prospectus on God.

In this first glimpse of God, He and what He has created are very intimate.  God is the woo-er, coming in dreams, coming in smokey visions and revealing who He really is.  Assuring recipients of these visions and dreams that He is good, that He has a special calling and purpose for them, and that it is good.

In a land and culture where the meek must please and satisfy the wants and needs of their gods, the God of the Bible comes to serve and prosper the wants and needs of his people.  In a culture where people sacrifice their animals, and spill their own blood in sacrifices of self-mutilation, we see a God who covenants Himself to a person- walking between the slain animals in an expression of promise with fateful consequences while Abram looking on.

While the peoples around bribe and flatter their gods, the God introduced in the Bible pours blessing out, offering himself in community, saying “I will be with you,”  not “come and be with me.”

And now, we witness His reliability unfolding.  Generations ago, He made a promise to Eve.  Then He told an old man to build a boat, and that he would be a blessing to every family on Earth.  Then He told another old man to not be afraid, that he would a father in his old age.  That he would father nations of nations.  Even though it seemed to take forever, the longer it took the more amazing it became.  And it happened.  

Then, He provided for Isaac a divinely appointed wife, with whom the promises to Abram would continue to blossom.

Not that it was easy.  Not that it was a constant source of pleasure and joy.  But nevertheless and never you mind, despite the many pains and problems that life in a sin-touched world presents, God is faithful to His promises, and Jacob is the place where the stump ends and the branches of the tree spring out.  While the winds shake the tree, rattling every dry leaf and every heavy nut right off, it prospers through dry seasons and pleasant ones.

The promise is still vibrantly alive and expanding.  A boy is born, and through tragedy finds himself able to buffet the crushing waves of famine that would have cut the top off the tree like a tornado.  And by the boys shrewdness and God’s insight, He is able to literally save a generation from death and dryness.

Now, a very, very old and wearied man takes rest in God, leaning upon the head of his bed, and worshipping this faithful God, this God who has loved him when he was running and when he was still.  A God who his father loved and told stories of- stories of a perfectly picked wife, and of a terrifying climb up the mountain Moriah and the most beautiful ram he has ever, ever seen at the most perfect moment.  A grandfather who traveled all over and was shown tremendous grace everywhere he went.

And the stage for the Exodus is being set, where God reintroduces Himself to his own people, to give them new life, again, and to reissue his same promise, again, to be their God and deliverer.

Genesis 46

1 So Israel set out with all that was his,  . . .   2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
  3 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you . . .”


On the road again!  It seems like all of the really amazing things happen to Jacob around the periods of traveling and transition in his life.  And every time he goes somewhere, there’s a vision.  And the vision is always a reminder and assurance of the only promises God ever seems to really feel compelled to make.

In Genesis 28, Jacob was making a “strategic extraction” after he found himself persona non gratis amongst his brother.  I’m sure he was a little scared at the time, because he left with nothing more than a staff and directions to Taco Bell.
But on the way, he has a dream and God astonishes Jacob, telling him “14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth,” and “15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
In Genesis 31, a few pages and 20 years to the right, Jacob is making another “strategic extraction” after hearing his brothers-in-law making some not-so-neighborly remarks in his general direction.  He has more than he arrived with, and can’t move with his typical ninja like stealth.  But God comes, again, with a vision and an assurance that though the times are different, and the circumstances are (a little bit) different, His promise remains the same.  He says to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Later, God again tells Jacob to move.  He directs Jacob to leave Shechem (where, by the way, there are a LOT of very angry guys waiting to heal up), and move to Beth’el.  God gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and attaches His ongoing promise to proliferate Jacob’s family to that new identity.  “11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[f]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

And now, today.  In Genesis 46, Jacob is reveling in his own prodigal son’s return.  A son who was dead is alive.  And an invitation is before him to move again.  God revisits him, repeating the old promise, reassuring Jacob.  3 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

God’s promises to Jacob, regardless of Jacob’s life, regardless of Jacob’s destination, have always been the same.  “I will make a great nation of peoples from your family.”  And “I will be with you.”

God’s promise to me, and to you, isn’t really any different.  It isn’t really any less objective either.  Because it’s God’s promise to us, not the other way around.

He may not be planning to “make a nation” out of your family.  But He does have some function, some purpose, some reason for you.  Some point to your existence.  You have some unique place in the universe that nobody else can adequately fulfill or perform.  And it’s a God-level, Jacob-like degree of ultimate importance we’re talking about.

I don’t think that God’s promises are really all that different from one person to the next.  He promises over and over in Jacob’s life to prosper him- but it is so that he can succeed at God’s purpose for him (which is to make a nation of people- so think lots of name-bearing off-spring.  Like boys).  And He promises over and over to “be with you,” to Jacob.  Repeatedly.

And not just when times get tough.  Not just when times are good.  Not just when Jacob is a good boy.  Usually when he’s not.  This guy, though in his old age seems submitted enough- has led a life of fighting, of friction, of trouble-making, and “strategic extractions.”

This is the God I’m meeting not just in Jacob’s life, but throughout the entire book of Genesis.  That promise of prosperity to fulfill God’s purpose, be it to build a boat, build a people, restore the integrity of His creation- it is repeated in every generation of humanity.  And ours is no different.  Because God is no different.

The God I’m meeting in Genesis made something amazingly, very good.  And He liked it.  He made so many special things, but he made one thing in particular, and gave it something particularly wonderful.  Us.  He said, “Now, let us make man, in our image.”  Everything else was according to its kind.  But this- this will be different.  It will be in our kind.

And when things got sideways, God didn’t give up.  He didn’t give up then, and he’s not given up now.  He says, after Eve had disobeyed, that One will come who will smash the serpent’s head.  That’s a promise.  And he makes that promise in every generation.

Genesis 43

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

“May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man… [and] as for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

What a moment.  I wonder if this is the moment that Jacob the deceiver, now Israel who struggled with God, has finally quit struggling.

This man’s name relates directly and explicitly to his determination to wrestle with God.  His history is one of friction, terse ambition, and conflict.  Yet he is the one who is favored.  His name will be the name of a nation of people.  His name will be known for thousands of years beyond his own life.

The picture I’ve linked to- it’s called “Jacob Wrestling with an Angel” by Gustave Dore.  I love it.  I don’t know much about painting, or criticism.  I have no idea if it’s any good, or if it’s trite.  But I love it.  So I guess it’s good.  I love how Jacob is on the lower ground, and his body looks tense, like he’s really working, but the angel has his wrists in his hands.  And his face is totally … blank.  Like he’s not really exerting himself.

Though he struggled, fought, schemed, managed, and argued, he was the recipient of favor.  There was struggle and contention within the womb of his mother.  He “grasped” his brother’s heel, even at the moment of birth.  Rather than emulate his older brother, he actually turn away from his brother’s habits and pleasures- while Esau would hunt, and boy scout about, Jacob would stay near the house, and learned more … domestic arts.

He seemed opportunistic, taking any chance to gain something for himself.  Like a claim to birthright.  Like a blind father’s blessing.  He wanted that badly enough to stand in front of a blind man and lie right to him.

When that plan turned bad, he ran away from home, fleeing to his uncle’s home several days journey from his angry brother.  There he attempted to gain a wife, and was in contention with his uncle, turned father-in-law, when his bride turned out to be somebody other than he’d agreed to.

Then his wives were in struggle between themselves, each straining for the favor of her husband.  And then his children- they too struggled between each other, jockeying for favor.  Jockeying for position in the line of succession, the line of blessing.

In all this- the story of his life up to this point, is like holding up a mirror to the race of humanity.  Struggle.  Against.  God.

And now… there’s no more energy to fight.  No more energy to struggle.  Joseph is gone, Simeon is gone, all of their food is gone, and now he struggles to protect Benjamin from a similar fate.  But there are no more alternative routes.  No more victories.  So he finally gives in.

May God grant you mercy and if I am bereaved, then I am bereaved.

I think it is more than appropriate to say that Jacob/Israel, as much as anybody, can serve as an adequate representative for the race of humanity.  And the gem is less in how Israel represents us to God, but rather how God relates to him in spite of the struggle, in spite of the constant friction.

God chose Jacob to be a special kind of conduit to the people of the world.  He blessed Jacob abundantly, taking a poor man with a knap sack and a strange dream in the desert and giving him 2 wives, at least 13 children, and more goats than you could shake a stick at.  Important to distinguish between the children and the goats- though it’s an easy mistake to make.  Both climb everything, eat grass, crap where ever the spirit moves them to, and do nothing but bleat all the time.  Moving along.

God was determined to make a way.  He had made a promise to Eve that somebody would come along who would take back the life she’d given away.  He had promised Noah that he would be a blessing to the whole world.  He had promised Abram a family that rivaled the stars in the sky and the sands of the deserts.  He actually promised Abram much more- He promised that He himself would be torn and shredded if He did not keep His promise to Abram.  God promised Jacob that he would never be alone.  Ever, no matter what.  God had a stack of promises.  Promises He initiated, promises that He was bound to.  Promises that He was BOUND to keep.

All of His promises were connected to the abundance of LIFE.  And not the striving, stressed out life that was usually happening- but a LIFE that was better.  God makes promises to us that we will gain something awesome from living His LIFE.

What we learn too, is that sometimes God’s promises, as solid and true as they may be, aren’t necessarily what we expect, or when we expect.  Abram was promised a nation of families- but it took decades.  Decades of years passed before Isaac was born.  And Isaac was only one child.  But then Isaac had a child.  Two.  And they fought.  But then Isaac had a grandchild.  And another.  And another.  And then…

Passages like this one, and those around it, can seem baffling when taken out of the context of the whole book.  Or even out of context of the whole Pentateuch.  But what I see, having combed through everything leading up to this point, and knowing what’s coming- is a God that can be trusted even when I can’t be.

God is building his answer to the first promises and like any good builder, He’s building it carefully, using the materials He has, and the place that He has them.  And He has a plan.  The boards are warped, and full of knots.  The ground is rolling and far from flat.  The rocks are shaped in peculiar ways, and don’t stack well.  The nails are different lengths, different guages, and piled up loosely in the bottom of a cracked pail.  But this will be a mansion with many rooms when God is done.  A city of mansions.  Filled with Jacob’s who finally stopped struggling, and called on the mercy of God.  And when the struggling stopped, and the calling began, the blessings just kept coming, as they always had.  But now, all the dams were broken, all that blocked and slowed and diverted the flow of God’s word and work were cleared away, and they could finally move.  Finally run, without bends, turns, oxbows or reservoir.

On the surface, these stories appear to be about Joseph, or about his brothers, or about Jacob.  But really, this whole book, and every story in it, is about God the Father, the Creator, the Promiser, the LIFE lover, and Busted-Stuff-Repairer.  Sometimes, you just have to back up a little bit to see it.

Genesis 42:

6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

 8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
 22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

  He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
 25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

Families are indeed curious creatures.  If you have one, you must agree.  They have these histories- they become genetic.  Part of the DNA of each person.  In this segment of Genesis a strange reunion takes place.  The conceited son who was ambushed, sold off in spite, and left for dead on the highway of their shared memory is reunited with 10 of his 11 brothers.  But rather than leap down from his place, clutching them and exclaiming, he upholds his new identity as an Egyptian governor, keeping safe distance.

In fact, he actually comes down pretty hard on his brothers, yelling at them, and accusing them of mortal crimes.  He throws them in jail for 3 days just to make them sweat.

It says in the scripture that “he remembered his dreams about them [bowing down to him].”  Yet he keeps all of that to himself.

Apparently, though time has passed, and they have collectively agreed that Joseph was killed tragically long ago, the guilt has not passed.  Though they may never talk about it openly, the sounds of their brother weeping and pleading from the bottom of the cistern still echo in the space between them.  And now, at a distance from their father, those memories are not distant.  They are right there, on the surface.  Having another moment of glory, slimy and black on their collective memory.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother.

What a horrible moment this must have been.  Full of tension.  Full of angst.  All the way around the stage, everyone tense, everyone eager for resolution.  Nobody knowing how it might happen.

Did Joseph’s conceit return?  Was he gloating in the memory of his dream, with the sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf?  Is this the return of the old Joseph?  What in the world is God’s spirit doing right now?

Does God gain glory from this moment?  Brothers in conflict?

In the New Testament epistle called 2 Peter, the author speaks of God not being slow… as some understand slowness.  I don’t know what the Greek words are for all of this- but I have been comforted by the idea of this phrase.  

God is not subject to linear time the way that we are.  The way that Joseph and his brothers were.  God holds time within himself.  Each moment of our history is evident to him.  I believe that every moment of history exists as the present for God.  He is the creator and sustainer of every moment.  Each moment of our lives is utterly rooted in God and in his sustenance.  He is more than sunlight feeding a plant.  He is the sunlight, the soil, the ability to convert the sunlight into energy usable by the plant- he is the time it takes for the plant to convert the sunlight.

My point in saying this is that I see moments like these, where time seems to slow down, and each moment is adrenalin times 100- when each second is like fire and ice mixed together in a torturous pathology, God is still present in these moments.

In that moment when my father was dying, and me and my brothers sat around his bed- where was the glory of God in that?  Each of us experiencing our own private anxiety about losing our father.  Each of us reliving all of the moments of our lives with him, good and bad.  Between each breath.  Each of us secretly fearing the next moment.  Secretly hoping that something miraculous might happen, each knowing that it was impossible.

His glory seemed slow in coming.  But God doesn’t “do” time like we “do” time.  His kind of doing time sees the apple, the manger, the cross, and the last trumpet all at the same time.  Maybe that’s what we’re seeing here.  A sliver of the spectrum.

Joseph conceives of a plan.  He wants to see his littlest brother, Benjamin.  It seems, from the text, that Jacob is protecting Benjamin, desperately, almost as though that might somehow save Joseph from his past.

Joseph uses his power and swag to fill the bags of his brothers not only with grain but with the money they used to purchase it as well.  He must have known it would cause them great terror.  Maybe.  Maybe it didn’t occur to him that they might see it is as an opportunity for Egypt to take them all away for good and for ever.

In either event, he keeps one brother as collateral- a guarantee that they will return, and they will bring the little brother, Benjamin.

But when the brother’s get back to their father and tell them what happened, he is in despair at the loss of another son.  And utterly refuses to let another child go down to Egypt.  He is still mourning the loss of Joseph, and is thrown into mourning for Simeon as lost.  And he will not lose another.

But Rueben, desperate to regain his conscience, and fully lost in remorse over Joseph, offers the lives of his own children as a promise that Benjamin will return unharmed from Egypt.

Are you in mourning over something that is behind you?  Or frightened of something in front of you?  I have been.  I am.  At times like this it’s easy to wonder where the hell God has gone.  But we have for us many examples, in scripture, and even in the collective lives of our families and friends, stories of God’s faithfulness.  The written comfort from 2 Peter is often on my lips, and in my ears.  God is true.  He is faithful to his own character.  It sometimes drags out for us- sparks glowing into embers, into flames into a full-on all consuming fire that seems like it will go forever.  But it won’t.  It can’t.

Only God and his words can go forever.  And his words, his promise, is that He is with us.

“He is not slow in keeping his promise, as some reckon slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

2 Peter 3