Monday, November 26, 2018

Exodus 1:15-22

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

Scripture affirms the equity of life. Take a moment to read Isaiah 58:6 and Micah 6:8. All people created in the image of God, regardless of their skin color, their sexual orientation, and so on, deserve respectful and humane treatment. Just because we are different racially or culturally or just because we disagree on lifestyle matters never gives us the right to treat another human being in an unkind, uncivil, unloving manner.

Scripture affirms the sanctity of life. Take a moment to read Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 127:3, and Psalm 139:13-16. I know that some people will argue that a child is only the potential of life in utero, but tell that to a child's beating heart between 8-12 weeks after conception. Plus, my wife and I have spent time in the NICU: make your argument with a child fighting for his or her life outside the womb at 24 or 25 weeks. Whenever talking about the humane treatment of other persons, should we not fight the hardest for those who cannot stand for themselves? Shouldn't we have a heart for the unborn?

Scripture affirms times for civil disobedience. Take a moment to read Acts 5:29 and Romans 12:18. When the equity and/or sanctity of life is denied to a particular group of people, it is certainly fitting to seek to secure those rights through non-violent means. For instance, recall little black boys and girls blasted across sidewalks with water hoses in Birmingham, AL. What did those children want? They wanted the same rights as little white boys and girls. What were they doing? Just sitting in non-violent protest.

The first instance recorded of civil disobedience in Scripture appears in Exodus 1. Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler in the world, ordered Hebrew midwives to immediately dispose of male Jewish babies upon their birth. In other words, he repudiated both the equity and the sanctity of life. Only Shiphrah and Puah - the two midwives that Exodus 1:15 mentions by name because they probably served as head nurses over all the others - refused Pharaoh's order. 

The manner in which Shiphrah and Puah defied the order of the governing body is not definitively laid out, but the words recorded in verse 19 give a pretty good clue. Douglas Stuart contends that these two midwives likely forged a plot among all the Hebrew midwives to inform Israelite women to do "everything possible to give birth before we are summoned to your home. We'll take it from there. But whatever you do, don't call on us before the baby actually comes." 

Much more important than the manner in which Shiphrah and Puah defied Pharaoh is the lesson that their civil disobedience teaches us. God can take unassuming people to do extraordinary things for others and for His Kingdom purposes. 

Some individuals might protest that these women were deceitful and thus question how God is honored through that. But the brutality of Pharaoh and the hardness of his heart left him undeserving of loyalty and truth. [If a Christian family in Nazi Germany provided safe haven for Jews and a member of the Gestapo knocked on their door to ask if they were hiding anyone, how should the family respond?] 

God clearly had no problem with the midwives approach to the situation in which they were confronted. Not only were an increasing number of children born as a result of their manner of civil disobedience, the Lord even blessed Shiphrah and Puah with families of their own. 

Still, Pharaoh had zero intention of seeing his designs thwarted. Fearful that the growing number of now oppressed Hebrew boys would pose a future military threat to his earthly kingdom (cf. Ex. 1:8-14), Pharaoh ordered Egyptians to drown all newborn Israelite sons in the Nile River. 

The Hebrew midwives had acted in a form of civil disobedience, but they could not stop the brutality of Pharaoh's order now. In fact, Pharaoh's edict is just one of many similar attempts of Satan to use a despot to snuff out the birth of the Messiah.

In Genesis 3:15, the Lord pronounces that the serpent would bruise His Son's heel but that Jesus would crush Satan's head. People recover from bruised heels but not from crushed heads. Consequently, Satan was at work through various antichrists to snuff out the seed by which the Messiah would come. 

Pharaoh first tried to do it through the order he issued to the Hebrew midwives, but two obscure ladies took a stand for innocent babies and for God's Kingdom. 

Pharaoh then tried to do it through the order he issued to the Egyptians, only his own unnamed daughter had compassion on a three-month-old baby boy that she discovered in a basket floating down the Nile River. This male child named Moses would eventually deliver his people from their bondage in Egypt (cf. Ex. 2:1-10).

Move forward to the New Testament and King Herod. Like Pharaoh, he was concerned for his earthly kingdom. Like Pharaoh, he simply served as an instrument of the wicked one. 

In Matthew chapter 2, Herod ordered the slaughter of all baby boys two-years-old and younger in the town of Bethlehem as a response to the news that the Christ had been born (cf. Micah 5:2). Only God directed a poor carpenter and a young maiden to carry His Son into the land of Egypt, away from the cruel hand of Herod (cf. Hosea 11:1). The Lord used a young couple with an illegitimate child in the eyes of the world to do an extraordinary thing for others and for His Kingdom. 

This male son named Jesus, taken from a lowly Bethlehem manager, would come out of Egypt (like Moses) to deliver His people from their bondage to sin. 

How will God now use you to take a stand for others and for His Kingdom? Never let Satan deceive you into thinking that you cannot make a difference. Think of the little children in the streets of Birmingham. Think of Shiphrah and Puah. Think of a baby boy pulled from a river. Think of a compassionate unnamed princess. Think of a poor carpenter and his teenage wife. Think of the Son of God born in a feeding trough. 

You do not have to hold a prestigious title in order to promote justice, to treat others with love and respect, to protect the well-being of those in need, or to advance the glory of God!


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

How do you believe God might be calling you to set aside a personal earthly kingdom agenda so as to make a difference for His Kingdom:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "Stephen claimed at his trial that Moses 'received living words to pass on to us' (Acts 7:38), and his words apply just as much to us as to his first-century audience. The gap of thousands of years between the Lord's word to Moses and Stephen and on to our possession of Holy Scripture means nothing. There is a contemporary reality about the word of God, so that when we read Exodus we are not just learning of the past, we are learning for the present. This is a living word for us. The people of God - we - are still the twelve-tribe-unity scattered in the world, subject to the world's hardships, suffering the world's sorrows. We would like an answer to our question, 'Why?', but God does not come down to explain Himself. Experiences without explanations - that is what the first chapter of Exodus is all about. Our only comfort is that God comes to us in the day of darkness and lovingly reassures us that, 'It is all right, it is all planned and it will all be well'" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - About verse 16, Douglas Stuart writes: "it was certainly true that Israelite midwives were in an ideal position to kill babies. They attended the birth and had time at any of various points of looking after an emerging or just-delivered child to suffocate or strangle him. Perhaps the pharaoh believed this could be done without most mothers even realizing it, assuming as he might arrogantly have done that women in the throes of childbirth would not be sufficiently alert to spot such a felony if it were subtly practiced.
     There is nothing about delivery stools (or birth stones or birth stools or the like) in this verse. What the Hebrew says is probably quite simple: 'When you help the Hebrew women to give birth, look at the genitals. If it is a boy, put him to death. If a girl, let her live'" (Stuart).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Pharaoh's attempt to exterminate the sons of Israel anticipated all the antichrists of history. Wherever there is a reign of terror or a culture of death, Satan is trying to destroy the work of God. The slogans change, but the sin remains the same. ...
    There is also an analogy here to the life of the soul. Pharaoh had two strategies for preventing God's people from growing: slavery and death. These are the same weapons Satan uses when he tries to destroy a human being. First, sin leads to slavery, for as Jesus said, 'Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin' (John 8:34). Then once we are enslaved, sin leads to death: 'For the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23). What we need is exactly what the Israelites needed: a Savior to deliver us from slavery and to rescue us from death by destroying our enemy. Just as God provided a savior for Israel (Moses), so He has provided a Savior for us (Jesus). Where once there was bondage and death, now Jesus brings liberty and life" (Ryken).

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Genesis 50:15-21

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

You might know the story of how Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery when Joseph was a teenager. Many events occurred prior to this treacherous act and many events unfolded after it, but Genesis chapters 39-41 reveal how the Lord remained with Joseph and caused him to prosper in Egypt (cf. Gen. 39:2-3; 39:21-23; 41:39-40).

Some years later, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt during a famine to ask for food. Although they did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them. Genesis 45:1-15 records how Joseph forgives his siblings for their mistreatment of him.

It is with that background that we arrive to Genesis 50. Sadly, Jacob has now died. Consequently, the brothers concoct a story that their father pleaded on his deathbed for Joseph not to exact revenge on his brothers. In other words, they did not believe that Joseph had ever truly forgiven them.

Seventeen years had passed since Genesis 45. During all that time they feared their crime against Joseph was too great. This anxious spirit zapped them of the joy they could have known with their father and their brother if they had rested in the freedom of Joseph's forgiveness rather than let fear enslave them.

Richard Hoefler tells of a little boy visiting his grandparents while trying to learn how to use his first slingshot. Out in the woods, the boy grew frustrated by his inability to hit a target. 

Walking back to his grandparents farm, he spotted his grandmother's duck. The boy took aim and actually hit the duck with a stone. To his dismay, the duck fell over dead. 

In a panic, the boy hid the carcass of his grandmother's duck in the woodpile, only to find his little sister Sally watching. Although she witnessed everything that happened, she said nothing at the time.

Later, after lunch, Grandma said, "Sally, help me wash the dishes."

Sally responded, "Johnny told me he wanted to do that today." Then she whispered in her brother's ear, "Remember the duck."

Johnny did all the dishes.

That afternoon, Grandpa asked if Johnny and Sally wanted to go fishing. Grandma interjected that she needed Sally to help make dinner, but Sally just grinned and explained that Johnny said he preferred to assist with dinner. 

"Remember the duck," she whispered again. So Johnny stayed home while Sally went fishing.

After several days of doing both his and Sally's chores, Johnny finally broke. He went to his grandmother and confessed to killing her duck. Hugging her grandson, Grandma said, "I know, Johnny. I saw everything from the kitchen window. Because I love you, I already forgave you, but I was wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

Just as Johnny let himself be enslaved by Sally, many people become enslaved by the father of lies. Satan whispers in your ear, "Remember the duck." Therefore, like Joseph's brothers, you live in constant fear that God could never forgive you of some past sin. This anxious spirit zaps you of the joy that you should experience with your Heavenly Father and with Christ your Brother.

The story of Joseph and his brothers at the end of Genesis reveals the important lesson of our need to live in the freedom of forgiveness instead of the bondage to fear (cf. Isa. 38:17; Mic. 7:19; Heb. 8:12, 10:17). 

Notice how Joseph weeps because his brothers are afraid of him (Gen. 50:17). He lets them know that their fears are groundless, recalling what he had said the first time he disclosed his identity to them (cf. Gen. 45:5-11). "What he promised to them before his father arrived in Egypt he now reaffirms after he has gone. In these two passages we have expressed the key idea that informs the whole Joseph story, that through sinful men God works out His saving purposes" (Gordon J. Wenham).

Indeed, what Joseph's brothers intended for evil, God purposed for good (Gen. 50:20). Joseph recognized how the Lord used the events of his life to bring physical deliverance for his people, and he freely forgave his brothers. 

What humanity intended for evil at Calvary, God purposed for the greatest good. Christ paid the price that sin owed (a debt we could never repay on our own) in order to bring spiritual deliverance for His people, and now He stands ready to freely forgive.

Read John 8:34-36, and live in your freedom!


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

What sin from your life do you have trouble surrendering to the Lord in belief that He has truly forgiven you of it:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "I submit the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable. I refer to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is parallel to the story of Joseph, because Joseph prefigured Christ in nearly every way. ... He was the favored of His Father, but He became a slave (and later rose to the highest position of power) in order to seek us out and save us. Most significant, He was hated by His brethren, the very ones the Father was using Him to save. He was innocent of any wrongdoing (cf. Isa. 53:7). Yet we hated Him. Against Him cruel and evil men poured out wrath. He was unjustly arrested, unjustly tried, unjustly convicted. Then He was killed without mercy. Never in the entire history of the world has greater evil been done - for this was an extreme of evil practiced against One who was not only innocent of crimes but was also actually sinless. 
     Yet from this greatest of all evils - evils that parallel but infinitely exceed the abuse inflicted on Joseph - God brought forth the greatest possible good: the salvation of a vast company of people" (Boice). 
     I will add here that Joseph's forgiveness of his brother's evil committed against him models Christ's forgiveness of us. "Father, forgive them," He cried out from the cross (Luke 22:34). Should we, then, not also freely forgive even the evils that are committed against us and then to let people know that they can live in the freedom of our forgiveness?!?! 

from Best Academic Commentary - "Most traditional commentators who hold that the Testament of Jacob is integral to the narrative argue that, since Jacob makes no clear reference to his sons' treatment of Joseph, he cannot have known what they had done to him. Therefore they suggest that this plea is, in Sternberg's words, a 'desperate fabrication.'" (Wenham).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The sovereign plan of God, designed to save many people alive, in some way incorporated the evil of the brothers and used it as the means of bringing about the good. On the basis of his confidence in the ways of the Lord, Joseph was able to comfort his brothers and relieve their fears. 
     Relationships among God's people may sometimes be tense, especially when ... leadership changes hands. But believers can use this to demonstrate God's sovereign design, even through human failures. They may do so through forgiveness and kindness" (Ross).

Friday, November 2, 2018

Genesis 29:31-35

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

Horatio Spafford planned a vacation for his family to England. Because of a business meeting, he sent his wife and their four daughters ahead of him on a ship called the Ville de Havre.

Midway across the Atlantic, the ship tragically collided with another vessel. In less than 15 minutes, the Ville de Havre sunk. The Spafford's four daughters were among the 266 passengers on the ship who perished. Anna, however, miraculously survived. Upon her rescue she telegrammed her husband two words: "Saved alone."

Immediately boarding the next ship out of New York, Horatio Spafford left to join his grieving wife. In close proximity to where the Ville de Havre had met with disaster, Spafford penned these words: "When peace like a river attendeth my way,/ When sorrows like sea billows roll;/ Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,/ It is well, it is well, with my soul."

The words to the hymn It is Well remind us to Whom we must look amid the many storms of our lives. In some ways it helps to form the same message that a young woman named Leah eventually embraces.

Reading in Genesis 29:31-35 about Leah naming her first four sons may seem inconsequential on the surface. Yet, the circumstances surrounding those births and the names of those sons reveal an important lesson for us in our faith journey.

Genesis 27:33 reminds us that Isaac intended to bless his oldest son Esau in accordance with Hebrew tradition, only Jacob tricked his father out of the blessing. In the midst of this deception, Isaac all but says, This is not what I deserve.

Jacob's trickery would arouse Esau's anger, forcing Jacob to flee from his family home to go live with his uncle Laban. Since Jacob was a Mama's boy and Esau was a burly hunter, Jacob rightfully feared his older brother.

Much to Jacob's delight, once he arrived to Haran he fell in love with Laban's youngest daughter Rachel. He agreed to work 7 years for Rachel's hand in marriage. After 7 years of hard work, Jacob's night for marriage came. With a thick veil over his bride's face, he took his vows.

Much to Jacob's chagrin, Genesis 29:25 highlights that he awoke to find Leah at his side. Laban told Jacob that Jewish custom demanded the older daughter marry before the younger one (Gen. 29:26). The trickster Jacob had been tricked, and from his tremendous disappointment he all but says: This is not what I deserve.

Jacob had worked hard with something in mind only to be disappointed. It is this disappointment that proves to have devastating results for Leah.

Think about it. Laban had given his oldest daughter's hand in marriage to a man who loved her younger sister. Worse yet, just one week later, Laban allows Jacob to marry Rachel in exchange for 7 more years of labor (Gen. 29:27-28). This was Leah's circumstance; consequently, she was always seeking after the love of her husband.

Women in that culture dealt with different challenges than women in today's Western society. A Hebrew woman's identity was wrapped up in marriage, and she brought honor to her husband by bearing him children (especially sons).

While Jacob's preferred wife Rachel was barren, God opened Leah's womb. She first has Reuben, whose name means "Behold, a son." Then she has another son, whom she calls Simeon or "God has heard." Next, she bears a son whom she names Levi, meaning "Attached."

"Behold a son - love me!" ... "God has heard my plight - love me!" ... "Another son for you - love me, attach yourself to me!"

Yet, despite giving Jacob three sons, he was not attached to Leah. His heart was for Rachel, and Leah was devastated. It seems reasonable enough that Leah would all but say, This is not what I deserve.

A former high school student that I taught and who also participated in a Bible study group that my wife and I led could certainly relate to the type of devastation Leah must have felt. During his senior year, the student lost his mother to cancer. That in and of itself is severe, but his senior year worsened.

The night before he was scheduled to leave on a Spring Break trip with his two best friends, the young man suffered a freak accident playing on an inflated bounce castle. The accident required surgeons to perform emergency life-threatening surgery to repair a ruptured artery. Instead of skiing in Colorado, he recovered in a hospital bed watching DVDs with me.

That's not all. This young man had always dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father and his brother by attending the West Point Academy. He had received word of his acceptance in February; now, due to the severity of his injury, West Point would no longer admit him.

Reuben - not what I deserve. Simeon - not what I deserve. Levi - not what I deserve.

But this is where we come to Leah's fourth son, whose name means "Praise." It does not seem at this particular point in her life that Leah puts her hopes or her identity or her central desire in the love of her husband. Here, Leah just says, "God be praised."

Perhaps this blog entry is written for you. Maybe you are hurting because you feel like your hopes have been crushed. I think of the many friends I know who have endured one or more miscarriages. Maybe you are hurting because your identity has been brought into question. I think of former students who were emotionally damaged by mean-spirited posts put up about them on social media. Maybe you are hurting because your heart has been broken. I think of men and women who have endured a divorce not of their own choosing.

Everyone has felt his or her own doses of devastation, but I pray that our circumstances - whatever they may be - do not end in a spirit of devastation. The central lesson for us from Leah's devastating experience emerges from the birth and naming of her fourth son Judah.

It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ came and lived a sinless life only to die a sinner's death. It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ conquered the grave as risen Lord.

Salvation emerges beyond the ashes from this story in Genesis that involves deception and disappointment and devastation. And salvation can emerge beyond even the ashes of our own stories.

Yes, "God be praised," the penalty I owe, Jesus paid. The death I am due, Jesus overcame. This is not what I deserve.

That's why Horatio Spafford could write amid his inexplicable devastation: "My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought/ My sin, not in part but the whole,/ Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,/ Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul."

Can you sing that today?


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

Write out a short prayer that you could say amid challenging seasons of your life to remind you to yet trust and praise God:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "The fourth son was called Judah, which means 'praise.' By this time, Leah had stopped seeing the birth of sons as a means by which her husband's love could be gained and instead merely praised God for the birth of the children.
     ... God changed Leah. He gave her grace to live in a less-than-perfect situation. He multiplied her joy in childbirth. He gave her sons who became the fathers of the greatest Jewish tribes. Levi was the father of the priests. Judah was the father of the tribe through which the Messiah came. Is that not interesting? The Lord Jesus Christ was not born of the line that came from Rachel, even though she was the one Jacob loved. He came from Leah" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "This episode of the birth of Jacob's sons culminates with the birth of Joseph (30:24), which is the cue for Jacob to return home (30:25). This episode, which in fact spans about seven years, lies right at the center of the Laban-Jacob narrative and of the whole Jacob cycle itself. It presupposes all that has gone before, most obviously Jacob's flight to Haran and his involuntary bigamous marriage to Leah and Rachel. Here the unhappy tensions caused by that relationship are displayed most poignantly; the whole episode is governed by Leah's longing for Jacob's love and Rachel's craving for children. Leah's frequent pregnancies only aggravate Rachel's frustration at her own childlessness. But Leah's success in producing offspring leaves her deeply disappointed, for, far from drawing her husband closer to her, it leads her to be excluded from the marriage bed, so that only Rachel has access to Jacob. These dark passions govern the whole narrative, most obviously in Rachel's appeal to Jacob for children (30:1-2) and in Leah's trading mandrakes for sex (30:14-16), but also in the names given to the children, nearly all of which comment on the relationships between the sisters and their husband" (Wenham).


from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Leah, the unwanted and unloved wife, gives birth to the forebears of four important tribes in Israel. Moses and Aaron would be born in the tribe of Levi; the Lord would choose the Levites to serve Him in His temple. David would be born in the tribe of Judah; the Lord would choose the royal line of kings from the tribe of Judah. As later Israel read the story of Laban's deception and Jacob's wrong choices, they would have become aware of a deep mystery: their sovereign Lord can fulfill His promises even through human deception and scheming" (Greidanus).