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:

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

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.

Continue reading “Joseph’s greatest test (Genesis 42:1–20)”

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.

Continue reading “Joseph’s love story (Genesis 41:44-52)”

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?

Continue reading “Governing with God (Genesis 41)”

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.

Continue reading “Living in grace and disgrace (Genesis 40)”

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.

Continue reading “Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)”

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?

Continue reading “Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)”

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.

Continue reading “Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)”

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?

Continue reading “Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)”

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.

Continue reading “Why is the first book in the Bible called Genesis?”

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: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Continue reading “Pastoral care case: Genesis 16”

Loving God and people (Matthew 22:34-40)

What’s the most important thing God ever told us to do? The answer describes kingdom life, what the king intends for his community.

The fight is on!

Jesus is in one corner. Opposing him is a tag team of Israel’s leading fighters. They’ve stopped fighting each other to bring down the people’s champion. Three rounds:

  1. Pharisees lead the attack by testing his support for Caesar. Jesus sends them back in their corner: give Caesar the currency in his name, but he’s not the ultimate authority (22:15-22).
  2. Next, Sadducees take a swing at his resurrection hope, but Jesus finds their vulnerability. They failed to factor in God’s power, the I AM, the life-giving Being (22:23-33).
  3. Then an unnamed hand gathers reinforcements to bring down God’s anointed.

This fight is the final week of Jesus’ life. It’s building towards the final assault on God’s anointed. He’s been in this fight since he was born, when Herod gathered together all the ruling priests and scribes of the people to investigate this king of the Jews (2:4). Now the leaders are gathered against him by an unspecified hand (same verb, passive voice):

Continue reading “Loving God and people (Matthew 22:34-40)”

Joseph: servant of the king (podcast) (Genesis 37–50)

How did the patriarch Joseph contribute to the story of the kingdom of God? This podcast (20 minutes) shows us how to hear the story of Joseph as the story of God.

We’ve now surveyed Genesis in four podcasts. The previous three:

The Scripture Index contains 75 articles on Genesis if you’d like more detail.

 


Image: Egyptian throne, Tutankhamun exhibition.

Why did Paul never speak of Jacob?

If Jewish people find their identity in Jacob, why do Christians focus on Abraham?

Conversations make you think, especially conversations with people who see things differently to you.

Last year, I was chatting with a Rabbi about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She knew Christians emphasize Abraham, but for Jewish people the emphasis falls on the third person of the patriarchal triad. Jewish identity is children of Israel — literally, descendants of Jacob. The man Jacob was Israel in the first generation.

That’s why the name Jacob regularly referred to the nation of Israel in later generations, especially in poetic passages. The nation is not Abraham, but it is Jacob. Examples:
Psalm 53 … let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
Isaiah 43 1 … he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel …

In the Psalms and latter prophets (Psalms – Malachi), Abraham’s name appears only 11 times, while Jacob’s name appears 127 times. The nation’s identity was primarily in Jacob, not Abraham.

So, why are Christians more focused on Abraham? Continue reading “Why did Paul never speak of Jacob?”

Jacob and the kingdom of God (podcast) (Genesis 25–36)

This podcast (27 minutes) discusses the significance of Jacob for the kingdom of God.

Jacob was Israel in the first generation. His life story is told in Genesis 25–36 in a way that his descendants could relate to, for the promises he received were being fulfilled through them.

 

Previous podcasts

Abraham and the obstacles to God’s kingdom (podcast) (Genesis 12–25)

Abraham lived his entire life for the kingdom of God.

This podcast (28 minutes) surveys Genesis 12–25 as the foundational story of the kingdom of God.

God founded his human rescue project in Abraham and Sarah. They left the region of the Babel-builders to establish a nation under God — a representative kingdom of God among the nations. The obstacles they faced are the obstacles that threaten God’s kingdom project. They trusted God, even though restoring God’s kingdom would take many lifetimes.

When I first blogged these thoughts four years ago, it became my most popular post (downloaded more than 10,000 times). Enjoy this podcast version.

 


Previous podcast: The world is God’s kingdom (Gen. 1–11)

The world is God’s kingdom (podcast) (Genesis 1–11)

If you grew up thinking of the Bible’s opening chapters as a collection of disconnected stories (a creation, a fall, a murder, a flood, a Babel tower), you need to hear this podcast (38 minutes).

The first eleven chapters of Genesis set up the plotline for the Bible’s whole narrative. The intrigue of this story puts a Gresham novel in the shade.

 


Previous podcasts:

For related posts on Genesis 1-11, see the Scripture Index.

The king who heals creation (Exodus 15:22-27)

Open Exodus 15:22-27.

The euphoria of coming out from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule didn’t last long. The Hebrews soon discovered they were still in a broken world.

They had not returned to Eden’s Garden where the rivers of God’s presence gushed forth in all directions to water creation (Genesis 2:10-14). No, they were in parched wilderness, without water, for three days (15:22). Continue reading “The king who heals creation (Exodus 15:22-27)”

The significant song (Exodus 15)

Open Exodus 15:1-21.

What makes a great song? Lyrics that voice what you feel? Rhythm that moves you? Layers of rich harmony? Chord progressions that take you places?

A song rang out over the  MCG at the final siren on 29 September 2018. It was the song every Eagles fan wanted to hear. The right song in the right moment sweeps you up and carries you like a raft on a white-water stream.

The first song in the Bible was that kind of song — the greatest victory song you could imagine. We waited 65 chapters to hear it. There’s only been one mention of a song, a song Jacob turned down. After 20 difficult years, Jacob slipped away quietly, rejecting the party Laban offered with mirth and song pretending everything is okay  (Genesis 31:27). Our world is still full of escapist songs that don’t quite ring true.

Finally we get the true song, the authentic celebration. The song celebrates the moment they were released from serving Pharaoh to serve a new king. With his chariots on the sea floor, Pharaoh had no power to enslave them again. You can’t stop the music: Continue reading “The significant song (Exodus 15)”

When the threat of force sinks under its own weight (Exodus 14:15-31)

Open Exodus 14:15-31.

The Red Sea event proclaimed a definitive message: God made a way where there was no way — literally through the sea (14:21-23).

Even there, Egypt’s military power pursued them: “all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen” (14:23). In ancient warfare, chariots were the equivalent of tanks: a protective, fast moving vehicle, able to outrun an enemy.

But the pathway God provided did not support chariots. They bogged down in the sandy sea floor. That’s when the Egyptians realized they were up against a foe they could not defeat: “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:25).

When God’s people had passed through, Moses stretched out his hand again and the way through the sea closed. In this moment, the powerful chariots of Egypt’s mighty army become became junk on the sea floor.

Earth’s true ruler does have a way to release his world from the reign of evil and death. All the treacherous rulers and deadly weapons on earth cannot obstruct the purpose of the true sovereign, and his people.

The Red Sea event addresses the big justice question, “Can love defeat violence?” In YHWH versus Pharaoh, the power of love triumphs over the love of power.

The true ruler doesn’t need the power of an army to enforce his will. Nature itself responds to its true king. Even the sea. Even the uncontrolled places beyond human rule.

Continue reading “When the threat of force sinks under its own weight (Exodus 14:15-31)”