Does the universe repay us as we deserve? (Genesis 42:21–28)

“What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28)

People expect to be rewarded for doing right, and to suffer when they harm others. Religions teach that this will happen in the next life if not in this one, whether that’s understood as eternity or reincarnation. Does the Bible teach this?

You can certainly find cases of people who felt like this. Joseph’s brothers believe their past has caught up with them when they find themselves in an Egyptian prison:

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Joseph’s greatest test (Genesis 42:1–20)

How did Joseph handle the most difficult temptation of his life?

When we idealize our heroes, we diminish their struggles. Joseph’s temptations were real, but Mrs Potiphar wasn’t the big one. His greatest test was his brothers — what he’d do to them once he had the power to give them what they deserve.

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Joseph’s love story (Genesis 41:44-52)

Who was Asenath? Why did she marry Joseph? What do we learn from their story?

Did you know that Joseph married an Egyptian?

Genesis 41 (NIV)
45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. …
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.

Joseph is an amazing character. Despite being catapulted to power from prison, Joseph is one of the few not corrupted by power. But his lifestyle choices in exile still present problems for observant Jews.

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Governing with God (Genesis 41)

Do politics and religion mix? How did Joseph make it work with Pharoah?

From prison to palace in a single day! Are you encouraged by Joseph’s story? It’s more than personal encouragement. It’s God doing something enormous, global even. What does Joseph’s story teach us about the kingdom of God?

God gave the king of Egypt a dream (Genesis 41:1). Is religion meant to influence politics? Aren’t church and state too explosive to mix? I guess God’s not very good at staying out of the political arena.

So how does the kingdom of God relate to the kingdoms of the world? The heavenly sovereign has wisdom for earthly rulers. He’s the king above all kings. But how God does this is crucial:

  • We misrepresent God when we withdraw from politics, as if God has no interest in the secular domain.
  • We misrepresent God when we engage with the fights and factions of earthly politics, to force our will on the secular world.

Is there a third way? Joseph brought God’s wisdom to the secular world. In a land far from family and faith, with a meteoric rise from prisoner to prince, Joseph represented God well in Egyptian politics. Can we learn from him?

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Living in grace and disgrace (Genesis 40)

Joseph’s story shows us how God deals with injustice.

You’re in good company if you’ve noticed that life isn’t fair. Joseph had every reason to be bitter over how his brothers sold him out, and his boss falsely accused him. Prison walls offer no choices. Every morning Joseph wakes to this meaningless existence.

Others feel the same in this prison. Joseph finds meaning in caring for them. But one morning they’re more glum than usual, troubled by dreams.

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Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)

“Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams,” his brothers said as they threw Joseph in a pit (37:20). He had big dreams of ruling the sun, moon and stars (37:9). Instead, we find him in a dungeon with no control over his own life, ordered to serve prisoners (40:4).

So, serving prisoners is what Joseph does. One morning a couple of them looked more dejected than ever. “Why the long face?” he enquires (40:7). Turns out they had dreams too.

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The reconciling gospel (podcast) (Philippians 4:1-4)

What God did in sorting out our relationship with him reveals how to approach our relationships with each other.

The final chapter of Philippians calls us to treat each other the way God treated us (Philippians 2:6-11). The reconciling God is our joy, even while we’re still sorting things out. That’s why we rejoice in the Lord always (4:4).

This podcast (22 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Burswood 2022-09-25.

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Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)

How did Joseph cope with treachery and accusations from a sexual predator?

Role-reversal stories help us break down our stereotypes and cultural bias. As a boy, I was warned against seductive females like Potiphar’s wife, but I don’t remember being warned against mistreating women as the men of Genesis did: Pharaoh (Genesis 12:15), Abimelek (20:2; 26:8), and Hamor (34:2).

Maybe the real issue is power rather than gender. Those three guys were all kings or princes. And Potiphar’s wife held all the power while Joseph was merely a slave.

Women are devalued in patriarchal society. Judah’s mistreatment of Tamar isn’t resolved until he realizes that, even though she used her sexuality against him, She is more righteous than I (38:26).

So, rather than treating gender as the problem in the conflict between male and female, could we make some progress by identifying abuse of power as the real issue? The role-reversal story of Genesis 39 suggests that might be a productive approach.

What happens when the woman has all the power, and the male is her slave?

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The gospel in Romans

How does Paul understand the gospel in Romans? Is this how you understand it?

Open Romans.

What was Paul’s gospel? A survey of how he uses gospel in Romans could give an indication.

Previously, we summarized the gospel, tracing its roots in Isaiah, through Mark’s Gospel and Peter’s preaching, to the eternal gospel of Revelation. But was this Paul’s gospel?

The word gospel (noun or verb) occurs twelve times in Romans, clustering around the opening and closing chapters like a framework. Let’s check it out.

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Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)

Why interrupt Joseph’s story with the scandal of Judah and Tamar?

Judah is quite the cad in Genesis 38. But why interrupt the story of Joseph with a scandalous story about Judah?

That’s the puzzle for modern readers. As one of them said, All commentators agree that ch. 38 clearly interrupts the flow of the Joseph story (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, NICOT, 2:431).

It makes more sense if we listen to the narrator who labelled Genesis 37–50 as the generations of Jacob, not Joseph’s story. Jacob was setting up his family, and he intended Joseph to rule.

But wasn’t Judah supposed to rule? King David descended from Judah. Didn’t Jacob intend the lion from the tribe of Judah to receive the ruler’s sceptre? (49:9-10)

Yes, but let’s not jump there too quickly. There are issues with Judah’s character, issues that call into question whether Judah is fit to rule. Would you trust a leader who would sell his brother into slavery? (37:26). Genesis 38 gives us more reason to question Judah’s character.

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Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)

Why did his brothers sell Joseph into slavery?

Genesis is the foundational story of the kingdom of God. It starts with all God’s creatures in the care of his human servants who live in his garden. When they rebel, God sets in motion his plan to bring everything and everyone back under his sovereign care, starting with a prototype kingdom through the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We saw how the different stages of this story are clearly marked by the tô·lē·ḏôṯ formula, the final one being, These are the generations of Jacob. (37:2). Observing these cues helps us avoid twisting the story into our own image.

But why is this Jacob’s story? People usually treat Genesis 37–50 as the story of Joseph. His name is mentioned 151 times, twice as often as Jacob/Israel (73 times). We’ve heard Jacob’s name more frequently in previous chapters (150 times in Genesis 25–36), so why does the narrator say we’ve now reached Jacob’s story?

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Why is the first book in the Bible called Genesis?

You’ll know how the story fits together if you know why it’s called Genesis.

Genesis is a Greek word (γένεσις) meaning birth, how something came to be, the account of a family.

The Septuagint translators (c. 200 BC) used genesis to translate tô·lē·ḏôṯ — a Hebrew word meaning a record of descendants or successors. The narrator used this word at key points. Watch for it, and you’ll see how the book fits together.

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Pastoral care case: Genesis 16

Here’s a practical exercise in pastoral care, hearing people in their pain.

Wherever you care for people — family, small groups, churches, counselling — you’ll feel the whole gamut of emotions. Empathy for their pain. Disappointment with how they treat each other. Hope that they’ll sort things out. Powerlessness to sort it out for them.

We’d love to have our churches full of mature people who have the faith of Abraham and Sarah, but sometimes our people feel more like the problem than the solution. So, here’s some honest pastoral encouragement for you. Your clients are Abraham and Sarah, as we meet them in Genesis 16.

They have this amazing call on their lives to establish a kingdom that will bless all nations. Ten years they’ve walked with God in the land of promise, but they still have their old names and they’re struggling to trust God.

We’re shocked to learn that Abram is sleeping with someone who isn’t his wife. Actually, that’s not what happened, and if that’s our judgement we won’t be able to listen to them.

So, here’s your pastoral care exercise. Read Genesis 16 carefully. Observe the three main characters. Identify what they’re feeling, and what they do in response. Jot down your observations.

Sarai: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Abram: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hagar: . . . . . . . . . . . .

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The royal law (podcast) (James 2:1-8)


Keep the royal law? Aren’t we under grace? Why would any New Testament book call us to keep the royal law?

The phrase in James 2:8 is literally the law of the king. What king? (Hint: did the writer belong to the royal family?)

What law? Is this something new? Or was it part of the Old Testament law?

James envisages nothing less than the complete restructuring of society. The governance of King Jesus fundamentally changes how humans treat each other, the value we place on each other and how we use the resources God has given us.

In the preceding verses, James spells out exactly what kind of values form the foundation for the kind of community he believed the king had decreed for his kingdom.

This podcast was recorded at the final gathering of Riverview Joondalup, 2022-06-26.

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Building for a new Jerusalem (Nehemiah 5) (podcast)

Nehemiah revealed the core kingdom values. His insight is still challenging.

Nehemiah did more than rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. In Chapter 5 he’s discipling the community that will be the new Jerusalem.

Though appointed by the king of Persia, Nehemiah insists they treat each other as their heavenly king expects. More than any of the leaders who preceded him, Nehemiah has the revelation that lays the groundwork for Jesus’ approach to the kingdom of God.

This podcast (27 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Joondalup 2022-06-12.

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How church works (podcast)

What did early churches do when they gathered? The New Testament provides almost no direct description of the elements of their meetings. Why?

The Old Testament gives all the details of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the priests and their garments, the liturgies to be performed and the offerings acceptable to God. Why is the NT missing all these details? What’s different?

This podcast covers the only explicit list of things the early church did when it met:

1 Corinthians 14:26 (my translation, compare NIV)
What are we saying, family? When you gather, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let everything be focused on construction.

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Hiding leaven in buckets of flour (Matthew 13:33)

Here’s a fun reading of Jesus’ parable about someone trying to hide their leaven in three bucket-sized flour containers.

Apparently, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven a woman took and hid in three buckets of flour — until the whole lot fermented! (Matthew 13:33) What’s that about?

Jesus believed the kingdom of God was rising. You can try to punch it down, but once the leaven is in the dough it only rises more. Jesus expected God’s reign to permeate everything, the whole lot.

The parable’s core meaning is clear, but the details are puzzling:

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Planting seeds is better than cracking hard hearts (Matthew 13:11-17)

How do you get through to a resistant culture? Wisdom from a master teacher’s experience.

Jesus faced a daunting task: sowing the kingdom of God in a world gone feral. Refusing our one true sovereign, earth was overrun by self-proclaimed rulers. Even back in Jesus’ time that was a long story: the powers of Rome, Greece, Babylon, Assyria, all the way back to the oppressive Pharaoh of Moses’ day.

Those powers conflict with the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God’s anointed has been raised up as our global leader. Those who hold the political, social, and economic capital have little interest in yielding to him. You could say it would be easier to get a camel through a needle’s eye.

But Jesus wasn’t planning a war to rid us of these leaders. He used stories. His stories were not bombs to destroy existing power structures; they were seeds of what could be, opening people’s eyes and ears and hearts to the hope of life under God’s reign. Seeds can grow into trees. Living roots can crack hard rock. Life is more powerful than death. That’s why the sower went out to sow his seed (Matthew 13:3).

“Why don’t you deliver a clear, direct message that everyone can understand?” his disciples wondered (13:10). “Because they don’t understand,” was Jesus’ reply (13:13).

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God’s call and the human response (Isaiah 6:1-13)

How do kingdom servants handle the dissonance between God’s authority and people’s unresponsiveness? They’re both real, as God showed Isaiah.

“Why speak in parables instead of explaining the kingdom clearly?” Jesus realized people want autonomy rather than authority. It’s why, “they close their eyes, block their ears, and obstruct their hearts so they won’t see, hear, and respond” (Matthew 13:10-17).

In mediating the heavenly king’s message to his earthly kingdom, prophets struggled with the same frustration. Calling Isaiah as his spokesman, God revealed to him both sides of the kingdom relationship:

  • the heavenly king, devoted to his people (Isaiah 6:1-8);
  • the earthly kingdom, with closed eyes, blocked ears, and obstructed hearts (Isaiah 6:9-13).

The second part only makes sense in the context of the first. Only if God is sovereign does it make sense to keep calling people to live as his kingdom. When Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in response to a question about the kingdom, the context of seeing God on his throne is assumed.

Jesus and Isaiah were kingdom proclaimers in different contexts. To handle this quotation well, I’d like to devote this post to Isaiah’s proclamation of the kingdom of God established by the Sinai covenant. Then we’ll do a follow up post on Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God as a new covenant that includes Israel and the nations under God’s throne, and how we as kingdom proclaimers handle the same frustration that Jesus and Isaiah faced.

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Farming frustration and harvesting hope (Matthew 13:18-23)

The Sower Parable is inspiring insight into the frustration we feel and the fruitfulness we anticipate for God’s farm.

Jesus’ kingdom stories are at the heart of Matthew’s Gospel. The lead story is one Jesus titled the parable of the sower (13:18). So, who was the sower? What was he planting? And why bother when many seeds don’t grow?

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